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MIDWEST REGIONAL: UND's balance has Hawks playing at a championship level

CINCINNATI--The talk around the Midwest Regional at U.S. Bank Arena is about the elite lines of North Dakota and Michigan. For UND, it's the CBS Line of Nick Schmaltz, Brock Boeser and Drake Caggiula. For Michigan, it's the CCM Line of Kyle Conno...

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Nick Schmaltz (8) and Adam Gaudette (8) wait for the puck to drop during a face-off in the first period of Friday afternoon's 2016 NCAA Men's Midwest Regional game at the US Bank Arena in Cincinnati. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald

CINCINNATI-The talk around the Midwest Regional at U.S. Bank Arena is about the elite lines of North Dakota and Michigan. For UND, it's the CBS Line of Nick Schmaltz, Brock Boeser and Drake Caggiula. For Michigan, it's the CCM Line of Kyle Connor, JT Compher and Tyler Motte.

What places UND at a different level, however, is what Northeastern coach Jim Madigan calls "the blend" of the Fighting Hawks.

"This team has a very good blend of speed, grit and physicalness," Madigan said. "We didn't react. We were off to start the game. When you're off against that team, it's a tough time to be off because they skate."

That blend of skill and toughness overwhelmed Northeastern in the NCAA tournament opener 6-2 on Friday afternoon.

When Madigan talks about UND's blend, he's referencing both the high-end ability of the first line, as well as the grinding style of the others. For example, UND's second line filled with the big bodies of Luke Johnson, Rhett Gardner and Austin Poganski can be a physical torment.

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The blend, which sparked a 17-6 edge in shots on goal after the first period, also hints at depth. All four UND lines scored against Northeastern, jumpstarted by Johnny Simonson's first goal since Oct. 23 against Vermont. Simonson, a hardworking fourth-line center from Grand Forks Central, has played in every game but one this season but hadn't found the back of the net in almost five months.

By the time the CBS Line registered a goal midway through the second period, UND already had a comfortable 4-1 lead after goals from Tucker Poolman, Johnson and Bryn Chyzyk.

"That's been our M.O. all year," UND coach Brad Berry said. "Obviously, a couple of lines have gotten a lot of accolades throughout the year and deservedly so. Then again, the team-first mentality is in our culture: It's about nobody's bigger than the program. It's nice to see other guys hit the scoresheet. I know there's a lot of guys happy for a guy like Johnny Simonson, Bryn Chyzyk, when they did score tonight. In order to have success down the road, you're going to have to have guys chipping in."

No one in college hockey has been able to match up with the CBS Line which dominates shifts with possession and chances. And the CBS Line still put on their show against the Huskies, behind goals from Boeser and Caggiula, the last a highlight reel variety that has become old hat for that trio.

"I know we have tremendous depth and all four lines can contribute whenever we need," Caggiula said. "That's what makes our team so special. We don't have a line one, line two, line three, line four. We just have four lines that know how to make plays, and it's great when all four lines are contributing."

As dominant as UND's top line has been, the Fighting Hawks have the capability to play at a championship level with depth and toughness. If it plays three more times like it did Friday, UND will be raising its first national championship banner since 2000.

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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