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Preview: Minnesota Duluth at UND

The Fighting Hawks and Bulldogs are both looking to move up in the NCHC standings.

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The UND Fighting Hawks and Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs hockey teams brawl in the second period of an NCHC hockey game at Ralph Engelstad Arena on Saturday, November 20, 2021.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — It was about this time last season when UND goaltender Zach Driscoll briefly lost his starting spot to Jakob Hellsten.

Driscoll came back in the last weekend of January and buzzed through the final two months of the season.

The transfer from Bemidji State posted a .935 save percentage in the final two months. He led UND on an 11-game point streak, won the Penrose Cup and earned all-National Collegiate Hockey Conference honors.

UND coach Brad Berry would like nothing more than to see one of his goaltenders do the same this season.

In fact, he would have loved to see it already.

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"You hope you can run a guy right away, and he can take it right to the end," Berry said. "But right now, we're going to have the guy that's playing the most consistent."

Berry didn't tip his hand on starting goaltender for the series opener against Minnesota Duluth.

But it appears one trend is emerging — Jakob Hellsten has been better at home and Drew DeRidder has been better on the road.

In 10 games at home, Hellsten has an .885 save percentage and a 2.42 goals-against average. Meanwhile, DeRidder has been pulled in three of his five Ralph Engelstad Arena starts, posting an .829 save percentage and a 4.30 goals-against average.

On the road, DeRidder has a .903 save percentage and a 2.66 goals-against average in eight games, while Hellsten has an .822 and a 4.59 in just two games.

The Bulldogs and Fighting Hawks are both trying to climb into the top four of the NCHC standings to have home ice for the first round of the league's playoffs.

Both teams enter this series just under .500 — UND is at 9-10-4; Minnesota Duluth is 9-12-1. But they've had contrasting issues.

UND's issue has been not keeping the puck out of its own net. The Fighting Hawks rank No. 48 nationally in team defense, allowing 3.30 goals per game.

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Minnesota Duluth's issue has been not putting the puck in the opposing net. The Bulldogs are in a four-way tie at No. 49 nationally in team offense, scoring 2.32 goals per game.

"All championship teams start off with good defense, which leads to their offense," Berry said. "I think in some areas, without getting into the weeds of this, some guys are having a tough time being consistent in their game as far as playing on the inside. It seems like some guys are having a tougher time than others as far as being responsible defensively. (It's important) having those guys who get those minutes, whatever they look like, that they're dependable, they're reliable and they're helping our team play in the offensive zone."

Schmaltz dinged in practice

UND has a new injury to add to the list.

Sophomore center Jake Schmaltz sustained an upper-body injury at practice this week and is doubtful for Friday's series opener against the Bulldogs.

Schmaltz has never missed a game in his collegiate career.

He was one of three players on last year's squad to play in all 39 games. The others were Judd Caulfield and Nick Portz.

Schmaltz's consecutive game streak is at 62 games, second-longest on the team behind Caulfield's 77.

UND also will be without forward Dane Montgomery, who hasn't played yet this season due to an upper-body injury.

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Minnesota Duluth will be without forward Blake Biondi, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Moorhead's Kyler Kleven also is expected to miss the series due to injury.

Tale of the tape

UNDStatDUL
3.43 (12th)Off2.30 (49th)
3.30 (48th)Def2.95 (38th)
31.6 (2nd)PP23.6 (17th)
82.1 (21st)PK78.7 (44th)
52.6 (15th)FO48.5 (43rd)
.867 (61st)SP.897 (41st)

National rank in parenthesis. Categories are offense, defense, power play, penalty kill, faceoffs and save percentage.

The focus: F Ben Steeves

Minnesota Duluth freshman forward Ben Steeves can rocket a puck.

There are two guys on UND's roster who don't need any lessons on that.

Steeves played with UND's Dylan James and Owen McLaughlin last year on the Sioux City Musketeers, who won the United States Hockey League's Clark Cup.

That trio formed a potent power play. McLaughlin ran it from the left side and looked to feed either Steeves (in the right circle) or James (at net front).

Now, they'll be on opposite sides.

Steeves is off to a tremendous start for the Bulldogs. He has a team-high 12 goals in 20 games, accounting for 23.5 percent of the Bulldogs' goals this season.

With Biondi out, Steeves has the next-best release on the team.

Pick to click: F Owen McLaughlin/D Ryan Sidorski

Remember the last series against Minnesota Duluth?

It was last February in Duluth, and lightning kept striking.

In Friday night's series opener, Luke Bast scored his first collegiate goal. That was followed by Cooper Moore's first of the season in a 4-3 UND win.

On Saturday night, Carson Albrecht scored his first collegiate goal. That was followed by this Twitter exchange between a fan and Minnesota Duluth broadcaster Bruce Ciskie:

danemontgomery.jpg

About 10 minutes later, Dane Montgomery, indeed, scored his first-career goal, too.

Three players got their first collegiate goals in the span of just over 24 hours.

Right now, there's only one skater on UND's roster who has yet to score a college goal. That is freshman Owen McLaughlin.

Defenseman Ryan Sidorski scored once in his three-year Union career, but has not scored at UND.

So, be on the lookout for McLaughlin (or Sidorski) this weekend to see if they can follow what Bast, Albrecht and Montgomery did a year ago.

The call: Split

The consistency has not been there for either team this season.

UND's sweeps have been Holy Cross and Lindenwood (plus series wins against Omaha, Bemidji State and Western Michigan). Minnesota Duluth's sweeps have been Arizona State and Cornell (plus a series win against Bemidji State).

Neither team has swept a conference foe yet this season, which makes it hard to predict it happening this weekend.

All signs point to a split.

The question is: Which team breaks through? Does Minnesota Duluth emerge offensively against UND's struggling defense? Does UND lock it down defensively against Minnesota Duluth's struggling offense?

Friday: Minnesota Duluth 4, UND 3
Saturday: UND 4, Minnesota Duluth 3

Minnesota Duluth 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).
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).
Stream: NCHChockey.com.

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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