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Friday rundown: UND faced with lineup decisions heading into playoffs

After playing with a shorthanded squad for the last month, the Fighting Hawks finally have options.

UND CC Jandric7.jpg
Colorado College's Jordan Biro and UND's Chris Jandric work for the puck in the third period of their game Friday, February 11, 2022.
Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS — For more than a month, UND has been playing shorthanded.

Many of its top players have been out. Jake Sanderson has missed the last 10 games. Riese Gaber has missed the last five. Ethan Frisch has missed the last three.

With their absences, UND coach Brad Berry hasn't had a lot of difficult lineup decisions to make. For many nights, including last weekend's series against Omaha, every healthy player was in.

But that's changing.

All signs point toward Sanderson, Gaber and Frisch playing this weekend in UND's quarterfinal series against Colorado College (7:07 p.m. tonight, 6:07 p.m. Saturday, and if necessary, 6:07 p.m. Sunday).

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That means some players have to come out — and some players will have minutes diminished — to no fault of their own. UND was winning with their shorthanded lineups, and players stepped up and earned their spots.

Here are a few difficult decisions that sit in front of the staff:

A. Who comes out on defense? UND will likely dress seven defensemen. The top six figure to be Sanderson, Frisch, Tyler Kleven, Chris Jandric, Cooper Moore and Luke Bast, who has really come on strong the last month. That leaves Brady Ferner and Brent Johnson battling for the last spot.

B. Who is on the second power play? It's hard to envision any changes to the top power-play unit with Sanderson, Gaber, Frisch, Connor Ford and Judd Caulfield. But the second unit will see some changes. Power play coach Karl Goehring can go in a lot of different directions. Bast was excellent on the right flank and might have played himself into a role there, something nobody could have expected two months ago.

C. Where does Matteo Costantini go? The rookie forward was a great fit with Ford and Caulfield, but Gaber needs to go on one of the big lines, presumably with Ford. It will be interesting to see where Costantini goes.

Although tough decisions sit with the coaching staff, they're happy to finally have options again.

"It hasn't been wholesale changes of throwing different lines together," Berry said. "We still have some tandems together — two guys playing on the same line. We've obviously added Gaber to one of our top lines here. So, it's a situation where there is familiarity with a couple guys on a line.

"We went through the last six weeks of the season with guys bouncing around playing with everybody. I don't think that's going to be an issue. I think it's more about how we have to play as a team — our identity and structure within our game — rather than the continuity of the lines."

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College hockey notes

1. Colorado College's penalty kill has really struggled this year, ranking 56th in the country. UND has scored on the power play in every game against the Tigers this season, but Colorado College will get some help there this time. Forward Noah Prokop, one of the Tigers' best penalty killers, missed the February series between the teams. He will be back this weekend.

2. The last three goals Colorado College has scored against UND are power play. One player who was sneaky good with the advantage in February was defenseman Nicklas Andrews. He wired home a goal, set up another and nearly tied the series opener with the extra attacker.

3. It's anybody's guess who will start in net for Colorado College. Dominic Basse started both games last weekend against Denver. Matt Vernon started both games the week before.

4. We'll run down the NCHC award finalists here. There are a few important things to note. The voting has already been done. The finalists are the top three vote-getters. Each team's head coach gets a vote, however, they cannot vote for their own players. One media member covering each team also gets a vote.

5. NCHC player of the year finalists: Bobby Brink (Denver), Ronnie Attard (Western Michigan), Ethen Frank (Western Michigan), Riese Gaber (UND). This will be a two-man race between Brink and Attard. I voted for Brink.

6. Herb Brooks Coach of the Year finalists: Brad Berry (UND), David Carle (DU), Pat Ferschweiler (WMU). All three did a terrific job this season, but Berry won a Penrose Cup after totally reconstructing his roster and having a wave of key injuries. I voted for Berry, who might have done his most impressive coaching job to date.

7. NCHC rookie of the year finalists: Carter Mazur (Denver), Massimo Rizzo (Denver), Max Sasson (WMU). Mazur is the heavy favorite here and got my vote.

8. NCHC goaltender of the year finalists: Zach Driscoll (UND), Ryan Fanti (Minnesota Duluth), Magnus Chrona (Denver). I voted for Driscoll, who led the NCHC in save percentage. But Fanti edged Driscoll by one point for first-team all-NCHC, so logic would say Fanti will win this one.

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9. NCHC forward of the year finalists: Brink, Frank, Gaber. Brink is the big favorite here.

10. NCHC offensive defenseman of the year finalists: Ronnie Attard (WMU), Nick Perbix (SCSU), Mike Benning (Denver). Perbix has exploded a few times this season — 14 of his 28 points came in two weekends. Attard has been electric all season for Western. I voted for Attard.

11. NCHC defensive defenseman of the year finalists: Ethan Frisch (UND), Jake Sanderson (UND), Justin Lee (Denver). Here we arrive at the Jake Sanderson problem. Sanderson is the best player in the league. You won't find many who argue against that. But he only played in 10 of 24 league games. So, what do you do with awards? I compromised in my votes. I left him off player of the year and offensive defenseman of the year ballots, but voted him defensive defenseman of the year. I suspect Sanderson will be left off of too many ballots to win, though.

12. NCHC defensive forward of the year finalists: Connor Ford (UND), Drew Worrad (WMU), Tanner Laderoute (Minnesota Duluth). This is my favorite award the conference hands out, because it recognizes really, really good players who might not have the points to win MVP, but could be better all-around players. In fact, seven of the eight winners have played in the NHL, and NCHC defensive forward of the year winners have played more NHL games than NCHC MVPs. I think Ford is a home run pick here. He got my vote.

13. NCHC senior scholar-athlete of the year finalists: Connor Ford (UND), Derek Daschke (Miami), Drew Worrad (WMU). Media members don't vote on this one.

14. Sportsmanship Award finalists: Mark Senden (UND), Kevin Fitzgerald (SCSU). Media members don't vote on this one.

15. Denver has two key injuries heading into the playoffs. Defensemen Antti Tuomisto and Sean Behrens both missed last weekend's series against Colorado College. Carle told Denver media that they're both week-to-week.

16. Miami also is fighting injuries. Defenseman Dylan Moulton, part of Miami's very good power play, suffered an injury last weekend. The RedHawks also have been without forwards Michael Regush and Joe Cassetti.

17. Teams with no known injuries heading into this weekend: Colorado College, Minnesota Duluth and Western Michigan. Omaha is just without defenseman Jake Harrison. St. Cloud State defenseman Seamus Donohue is day-to-day.

18. NCAA tournament locks (9): MSU-Mankato, Michigan, Denver, Minnesota, Western Michigan, North Dakota, Quinnipiac, Notre Dame and St. Cloud State.

Virtual locks (3): Michigan Tech, Minnesota Duluth and UMass. All have a 98 percent or greater chance to make the field.

On the bubble (7): Northeastern, UMass Lowell, Ohio State, Boston University, Omaha, Clarkson and Providence. It's worth noting that BU, Omaha, Clarkson and Providence are extreme longshots to get an at-large without winning their league's postseason title, though it is still possible.

Everyone else needs to win the conference tournament to get in.

All of the details are in CHN's Probability Matrix .

19. Former UND goalie Peter Thome, who spent four years in Grand Forks before transferring to St. Thomas for his fifth year, signed with the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL on Wednesday. Thome played in 29 games for the first-year D-I Tommies, posting a 4.53 goals-against average and a .876 save percentage.

20. On Wednesday night, former UND alternate captain Brad Malone scored an NHL goal for the first time since Dec. 3, 2015, when he buried one for the Edmonton Oilers. Malone had a two-point game, outscoring teammate Connor McDavid and opponent Alexander Ovechkin for the evening.

21. Former UND forward Nick Schmaltz had a seven-point game (two goals, five assists) Saturday for the Arizona Coyotes against the Ottawa Senators. It tied the record for the most points by a former NCAA player in a single NHL game. The only other NCAA player to do it was Red Berenson in November 1968.

22. Transfer portal season is underway in college hockey. The first prominent name to enter is Michigan State goaltender Drew DeRidder, who has one year of eligibility left.

NCHC playoff series notes

Miami at Denver: There are two things that can make Miami a scary matchup — its power play and goalie Ludvig Persson. But Miami struggles to defend and that's a recipe for disaster against the nation's No. 1 offensive team. The location of the game is a factor, too. Denver is 15-1-1 in Magness Arena this season and 10-7 away from it. The Pioneers could score a lot of goals this weekend, even if they are without Tuomisto and Behrens. Pick: Denver in two.

Omaha at Western Michigan: This series is a wildcard. The Mavericks can be really up and down. They've been quite good as of late, but they've been at home for all of those games. Omaha is 14-6 in Baxter Arena, 7-9 away from it. On its last road trip, Omaha got swept at Miami. Omaha should get one this weekend, but winning a series at Lawson is a tall order. Pick: Western in three.

Minnesota Duluth at St. Cloud State: This is one where the home site makes a huge difference. The Huskies are so good on their big, Olympic ice sheet. St. Cloud State didn't have the regular season everyone anticipated, but the Huskies have loads of firepower and they're fairly healthy. Pick: St. Cloud State in two.

Stories to read

Zach Driscoll gets his NCHC redemption

CC left to a standing ovation on its last playoff trip to Grand Forks

Q&A with Jake Schmaltz

Sophomore Riese Gaber leads UND's all-NCHC picks

UND's injury update

Tale of the tape

UNDCategoryCC
22-12-1Record9-22-3
6Pairwise42
3.20 (18th)Offense2.26 (47th)
2.66 (23rd)Defense3.29 (46th)
24.8 (10th)Power play16.7 (39th)
78.6 (39th)Penalty kill71.8 (56th)
55.5 (3rd)Faceoffs46.5 (54th)
50.9 (24th)Possession46.8 (45th)
.896 (40th)Goaltending.890 (50th)

National rank in parenthesis

The focus: F Matthew Gleason

The last time Colorado College came to Grand Forks, the Tigers were missing a big piece of their offense. Sophomore forward Matthew Gleason was out of the lineup due to an injury he sustained in January, but he’s been back for three weeks. The former Cretin-Derham Hall captain, who has six goals and 15 points, scored against the Fighting Hawks during the December series between the teams in Colorado Springs and is one of the Tigers’ best scoring threats.

CC Hockey vs Air Force Academy, Robson Arena
Colorado College forward Matthew Gleason skates the puck up the ice in a game earlier this season.
Casey B. Gibson / Colorado College athletics

The pick to click: F Riese Gaber

Last week, Riese Gaber practiced. He traveled to Omaha with the team. But on Thursday, you could tell he still wasn't himself at practice in Baxter Arena. Considering that, it wasn't a huge surprise when UND opted to hold him out another week. Gaber practiced again this week and was electric on Thursday, looking like his old self. He was playing fast and firing pucks like one of the best goal-scorers in the league. That's a good sign for UND.

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UND's Riese Gaber keeps the puck away from Colorado College right winger Ben Copeland during Saturday's game at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

The call: UND sweep

In the last three meetings between UND and Colorado College, the Tigers were unable to score an even-strength goal. All three came on the power play. If UND can avoid bad penalties and defend with its usual intensity, it can make it difficult for the Tigers to generate offense. Having Sanderson and Gaber back gives UND a big jolt of offense as well.
Friday: UND 4, Colorado College 1
Saturday: UND 3, Colorado College 2

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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