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Ashton Calder looks to become a threat on the power play for UND

Last season, Calder led the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in goals, but didn't score any with the man advantage.

092321 S GFH UNDHKYMEDIADAY ZachDriscoll AshtonCalder02.jpg
UND goaltender Zach Driscoll stops a point-blank shot from Fighting Hawks forward Ashton Calder (16) during morning practice at Ralph Engelstad Arena on Wednesday, September 22, 2021. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

Ashton Calder tied for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association goal title last season.

Calder, who played for Lake Superior State, scored 16.

The only players in the country who scored more were Wisconsin's Cole Caufield, the Hobey Baker Award winner (30), Minnesota's Sampo Ranta (19), Army's Colin Bilek (18) and UMass's Carson Gicewicz (17).

How many of Calder's 16 goals were on the power play?

The answer may surprise you: zero.

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Calder, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound forward from Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., scored 15 goals at even strength and one shorthanded last season for the Lakers.

Calder's last 22 goals, going back to his sophomore season, have been scored at either even-strength (20) or shorthanded (two). His last power-play goal came on Jan. 25, 2020, against Alaska Anchorage.

UND will be looking to change that beginning this weekend as it opens the regular season with a two-game series against Niagara (7:07 p.m. Friday, 6:07 p.m. Saturday, Ralph Engelstad Arena).

Calder, who transferred from Lake Superior State to UND in the offseason, is starting on UND's top power-play unit alongside Jake Sanderson, Riese Gaber, Connor Ford and Judd Caulfield.

He's playing a key position, too. UND put Calder and his right-handed shot in the left circle during the Fighting Hawks' preseason exhibition game against Bemidji State on Saturday. That's a spot some of hockey's best goal-scorers have popularized — Alexander Ovechkin, Patrik Laine and Nathan MacKinnon to name a few.

For the last two years, Shane Pinto has manned that spot for the Fighting Hawks. Pinto led UND in power-play goals both seasons (five as a freshman, seven as a sophomore).

"I think it's a situation where you try to accentuate what guys bring to the table," UND coach Brad Berry said. "Ashton Calder has a great shot. We have him on the flank there to be a threat, a one-time threat. It's all about having guys in situations where they can flourish."

Calder played in several spots at Lake Superior State.

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"Honestly, probably four or five," Calder said. "I played in the bumper spot in the middle a little bit, but I played a lot where I'm at now on the weak side. I feel comfortable over there. We've worked a lot on it in practice, too, so we're pretty comfortable with it."

Berry said he and his staff watched video of Calder and Ford, a Bowling Green transfer, from past years.

"But we also mesh it together with what we have here as far as power-play players and try to build some chemistry," Berry said. "I really like the way that unit (played in the exhibition). Those guys did a really good job moving pucks around. They scored a power-play goal. We didn't get a whole lot of opportunities. I think we had three. But they did a really good job. We worked on it a bit in practice this week and they look pretty sharp."

UND has to remake its top power-play unit, which lost four of its five players from last season. Pinto, Matt Kiersted, Jordan Kawaguchi and Collin Adams all signed NHL deals.

The only one back is Gaber, who was in a different spot during the exhibition. Gaber played between the circles last season — the bumper spot — but is in the right circle this season. Ford is in the bumper spot, while Sanderson is at the top of the zone and Caulfield on top of the crease.

Berry indicated the second power-play unit will be changing for the series against the Purple Eagles, one the Fighting Hawks know will be crucial come the NCAA tournament selection show in March.

"We're a team with a short-term focus, just focusing on each weekend and how we have to win both games," Berry said. "But when you look at the nonconference schedule, we have 11 nonconference games, and you need to win those games in order to elevate yourself in the national tournament (picture).

"We have such a hard, heavy NCHC league and we've done a good job of being at the top of the standings, but we have to have that focus like we have in the NCHC of trying to win games in the nonconference schedule."

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Niagara at UND

When: 7:07 p.m. Friday, 6:07 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena.

TV: Midco Sports (GF Ch. 27/622 HD).

Webcast: NCHC.tv.

Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).

Note: Former UND All-American and current Grand Forks mayor Brandon Bochenski will participate in the 'One Last Shift' event before Saturday night's game.

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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