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Connor Ford wins NCHC defensive forward of the year

Ford is the fourth UND player to win the honor. The others are Shane Pinto, Rhett Gardner and Mark MacMillan.

Minnesota Duluth Men’s Hockey faces North Dakota at Amsoil Arena Friday
North Dakota forward Connor Ford (21) and Minnesota Duluth forward Kobe Roth (10) compete for the puck on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Any time UND has a big defensive zone draw, especially late in a game or at the start of a penalty kill, Connor Ford gets the call.

It rarely matters how tired he is. He is the man for that situation.

Ford has won more faceoffs than any player in the country this season, and he's been one of UND's toughest forwards to play against.

Those around the league took notice.

Ford was named the National Collegiate Hockey Conference's defensive forward of the year on Thursday.

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The UND fifth-year senior beat out Western Michigan's Drew Worrad and Minnesota Duluth's Tanner Laderoute for the honor.

"Connor Ford, first of all, in the dot, he's very strong and responsible and competitive, winning that first battle of play," UND coach Brad Berry said. "He's done a very good job. But also, he's always above pucks and responsible and creating offense in the offensive zone. He's a 200-foot player, not only in games, but in practices."

In addition to defending, Ford is UND's second-leading scorer with four goals and 27 points in 35 games.

"He's our top centerman," said UND forward Mark Senden, who also was nominated for the award. "He takes a lot of draws for us, whether that's power play or penalty kill. He does a tremendous job in the dot snapping it back to us. That helps out a lot. We put him out there for all the D-zone draws, basically, in the last five minutes of the game.

"He's just a tremendous guy. He helps out a lot defensively but he also brings a lot offensively as well. He's just a tremendous player, a good leader in the locker room as well. He's been around college hockey for a while and he knows the right things to say and what to do."

The award has been a prominent one in NCHC history.

Seven of the previous eight winners have played in the NHL. Winners of the NCHC's defensive forward of the year have played NHL games than winners of the NCHC's most valuable player.

"Just because someone is labeled a defensive forward doesn't mean he doesn't have any offensive ability," Berry said. "What that award encompasses is it means that player is very good offensively, but unbelievable defensively and a guy that plays a 200-foot game.

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"I think when you get to the NHL, the game is so fast, so quick and you have to be responsible defensively as well as creating plays and offense. I think coaches and general managers value that 200-foot player."

NCHC defensive forwards of the year

2014 — Nic Dowd, St. Cloud State
2015 — Mark MacMillan, North Dakota
2016 — Sean Kuraly, Miami
2017 — Dominic Toninato, Minnesota Duluth
2018 — Rhett Gardner, North Dakota
2019 — Justin Richards, Minnesota Duluth
2020 — Justin Richards, Minnesota Duluth
2021 — Shane Pinto, North Dakota
2022 — Connor Ford, North Dakota

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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