Jake Sanderson to leave for Olympics on Sunday, but has sights set on St. Cloud State series first
The UND sophomore will go head-to-head against future U.S. teammates Nick Perbix and Sam Hentges this weekend.
GRAND FORKS — Jake Sanderson will board a flight Sunday morning and head to Los Angeles.
The UND sophomore defenseman will spend a few days there, practice twice with the U.S. Olympic Team, then fly to Beijing on Thursday for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
But Sanderson has not started packing a suitcase yet.
He said the fact that he's about to be an Olympian hasn't sunk in yet, because he's still dialed in on two college hockey games this weekend. UND hosts St. Cloud State in a series between top-15 teams at 7:07 p.m. Friday and 6:07 p.m. Saturday in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
"I think, personally, I haven't really turned the page yet to the Olympic part, just because I knew I had a couple more weeks left with the team and some really big weekends," Sanderson said. "I'm excited for the Olympics for sure, but it hasn't really hit me yet, because I'm not there, and I've still got St. Cloud on the clock."
It's a key series for UND.
The Fighting Hawks (13-10, 8-4 National Collegiate Hockey Conference) have lost all four games since Christmas break, getting swept at home against Cornell and on the road at Western Michigan. With those four losses, UND fell from No. 4 in the Pairwise Rankings to No. 13, which would place the Fighting Hawks on the NCAA tournament bubble.
"It's big," Sanderson said of the St. Cloud State series. "The slump. . . or whatever you want to call what our team is in right now. . . that's a huge weekend. We've had a great week of practice and we'll be ready on Friday and Saturday."
Sanderson will go against a couple soon-to-be U.S. Olympic teammates this weekend.
St. Cloud State defenseman Nick Perbix and forward Sam Hentges also will be leaving the Huskies on Sunday morning to go to Los Angeles.
"That will be funny," Perbix said of joining with Sanderson after this weekend. "It's a unique experience we're all going to go through together. This weekend, it's me and Hentges versus Sanderson."
St. Cloud State head coach Brett Larson also is heading to the Olympics as an assistant coach for the U.S. men.
"There's one thing I know about Jake Sanderson and this started last year," Larson said. "Sometimes as a coach, it's hard, because you're watching the systems or how the game is going and you don't recognize individual players. But he's a guy who stands out every time you play against him. You can see how good of a player he is. I remember a couple times last year going, 'wow, that's a good player' in the middle of a game.
"Starting Sunday, it will be fun to get to know him. I don't want to get to know him before that."
UND coach Brad Berry said Sanderson has done a good job managing all of the Olympic attention.
"He's excited, we're excited," Berry said. "But there's a bigger thing before that Olympics — it's two games against St. Cloud here. I've got to commend Jake. With all the stuff that's going on and different things, media attention, Olympics, all that stuff, he's really remained focused here. His foot's not out the door yet as far as leaving for three weeks. He's all in right here.
"He's had a really good week of practice and I know he's doing nothing but thinking about our weekend here and trying to have success."
Once the series is over, he can concentrate on packing his bags.
"That's probably something I should get to," Sanderson said. "I was told we're not supposed to bring a lot of stuff, just because we're getting a lot of apparel, so I don't have to bring a million things back."
Sanderson will for sure miss UND's next two series — home against Omaha and Colorado College. He will likely miss UND's series at Minnesota Duluth on Feb. 18-19, though that will depend on USA's performance.
The Americans are scheduled for pool play games on Feb. 10, 12 and 13. Qualification playoffs are Feb. 15. The quarterfinals are Feb. 16, semifinals Feb. 18 and medal games Feb. 19 and 20.
Sanderson will be following from afar, just like he did last year while he was at the World Juniors.
"When I was at the hotel and when I had time to, I'd always turn on NCHC hockey and watch the boys," Sanderson said. "I'd follow on Twitter, too, to keep up with them."
St. Cloud State at UND
When: 7:07 p.m. Friday, 6:07 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Records: UND 13-10 (8-4 NCHC); St. Cloud State 14-6 (6-4).
TV: Midco Sports (GF Ch. 27/622 HD).
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).
Of note: UND sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson will leave for the Olympic Games on Sunday after the series.