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Mark Senden is quietly a driving force behind championship teams. . . and everything like that

The UND senior center captained his high school and junior hockey teams to championships. Now, he's back in St. Paul, where he made his mark with Wayzata.

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Mark Senden raises the Penrose Cup with teammates Zach Driscoll (33), Connor Ford (21) and Griffin Ness (11).
Mark Kuhlmann / UND athletics

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Mark Senden ended up on Jimmy Kimmel Live the last time he played in Xcel Energy Center.

After winning his quarterfinal game at the Minnesota Class AA boys high school hockey tournament, Senden was interviewed on live television. Standing on the ice in his full gear, he dropped the phrase, "and everything like that" six times in the span of 20 seconds.

The clip went viral. It ended up on Kimmel's late-night talk show.

"It definitely blew up a lot," Senden said. "I got some texts in the middle of the night like, 'Oh, you were on Jimmy Kimmel.' I was like 'I think you've got the wrong guy.'"

The irony of the unexpected blast of attention is that Senden is a guy who rarely receives any of it.

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What happened two nights later on that same ice sheet was much more typical Mark Senden.

He captained Wayzata to the 2016 state title game, where he produced what seemed to be a pedestrian stat line: no goals, no assists, two shots on goal and a plus-1 rating.

But his assignment that night was to follow around Eden Prairie star Casey Mittelstadt, who later went on to win Minnesota's Mr. Hockey award and become a top-10 NHL Draft pick.

Mittelstadt, who racked up six points in the quarterfinals and five in the semis, had just one point in the championship game, and it came on the power play. He was held off the scoresheet at even strength. Wayzata won, upsetting No. 1 Eden Prairie.

Senden was not one of the 12 players voted to the all-tournament team. That's not a surprise. His contributions are rarely publicly recognized.

He's never been a goal-scorer. Senden hasn't led any of his teams in goals during high school, junior hockey or college. But the UND senior has consistently been the quiet driving force behind championship-winning teams.

He captained Wayzata to its first and only boys hockey state title.

Then, he captained the Fargo Force to their first and only Clark Cup as United States Hockey League champions.

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Senden is now the captain at UND, where the Fighting Hawks took a squad of 14 new players, who were saddled with an array of key injuries, to a stunning run down the stretch to win the Penrose Cup as National Collegiate Hockey Conference regular-season champions.

"He's had success everywhere he's been and this is no different," UND goalie Zach Driscoll said. "You just watch the way he carries himself. He walks the walk. He never takes a shift off. He's the hardest-working guy day in and day out. When you have a lot of young guys and new guys, and they have someone like that to look up to, it's huge for our team."

Senden is back in the Xcel Energy Center this weekend for the first time since winning that state championship. His UND team will take on Western Michigan at 7:37 p.m. Friday in an NCHC semifinal game.

Senden won't command much of the spotlight heading into the matchup. He was not one of UND's all-conference picks. He's ninth on the team in scoring, 11th in goals.

His value comes in quiet ways. For example, NCHC MVP Bobby Brink of Denver was only held off the scoresheet for one weekend this entire season. It came against UND. Senden shadowed him that weekend.

"He just makes everyone around him better," UND coach Brad Berry said. "He's a team-first guy. He's a guy that doesn't command a lot of accolades. He'd rather have that team-first approach. He's a guy that exudes confidence and swagger within the locker room.

"There's a reason why he's won a state high school championship at Wayzata, why he's won a USHL championship in Fargo. . . and we're hoping we can make a run here to cap off the trifecta for him."

Demoralizing opponents

Senden already has won three-straight Penrose Cups and one NCHC playoff title at UND, but he's hoping to add to that in the coming weeks.

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"Two words come to mind," said Pierre-Paul Lamoureux, the associate coach of Senden's Clark Cup-winning team in Fargo. "No. 1, he's consistent. No. 2, he's relentless.

"He's really hard to play against. It's not necessarily crashing and banging. His play drives puck possession. It wears teams out game after game, shift after shift. When he's playing so relentless, and he's the captain of your team, he pulls the rest of his teammates into the fight. He never takes a day off. He never takes a shift off. When guys are looking around the locker room, and your captain is playing like that, they have no choice but to follow."

Lamoureux said Senden's demoralizes opponents.

"Shift after shift, he's playing in the offensive zone," Lamoureux said. "His skating is above average. He's strong on his feet. He's smart. He makes plays he sees. If he doesn't see it, he holds onto it and puck protects. He doesn't have any bad turnovers. He doesn't have any blind pass outs. When there's an opportunity to strike, he strikes. When you hem a team in for 30 seconds, those are heavy workload minutes for defensemen and a center. It wears a team out.

"Those are things that on a bench give a group confidence they can beat a more skilled team or a better team."

That's what UND has done this season while charging down the stretch. Despite being without many of its top players — leading-scorer Riese Gaber and top-pair defenders Jake Sanderson and Ethan Frisch to name a few — the Fighting Hawks are 9-1 in the last 10 games.

Senden said there are some common threads between championship teams.

"I think one thing I notice in common is how close everyone is, how much everyone is willing to sacrifice for each other, put their bodies on the line and do everything it takes, no matter what, to win," Senden said. "Also, it's being mentally strong and battling through adversity when it comes. Going down the stretch in the playoffs, obviously, there's going to be adversity. It's about being able to be mentally strong and just keep playing your game and keep doing what needs to be done to win the game."

This weekend, Senden is back in the Xcel Energy Center for the first time since 2016, when he slowed down Mittelstadt and brought Wayzata its only boys hockey title.

His assignment will likely be Western Michigan forward Ethen Frank, who leads the nation with 26 goals. Frank hasn't tallied a point against UND yet this season, though.

The NCHC's 2020 playoff championship was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Last season, it was played in Grand Forks because of the pandemic. Senden said he's glad to be back in the Xcel Energy Center this March, playing for another title — and everything like that.

"It definitely brings out some laughs thinking back on it," Senden said of his Jimmy Kimmel moment. "I'd like to think I got a little better at public speaking since then, but it's always fun to look back on that one and see old videos resurface of 'everything like that.'

"I'll get random people on Instagram sending me message, like, 'Is this you?' Yep, that is. It's still coming back up."

NCHC Frozen Faceoff

Semifinals: Denver vs. Minnesota Duluth, 4:07 p.m. Friday; UND vs. Western Michigan, 7:37 p.m. Friday.
Championship: Semifinal winners, 7:38 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul.
TV: CBS Sports Network.
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA FIGHTING HAWKS
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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