UND center Jake Schmaltz will return to lineup for St. Cloud State series
Will the sophomore's return help the Fighting Hawks' fading faceoff numbers?
GRAND FORKS — At the conclusion of practice Wednesday, UND's forwards gathered at one end of Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Volunteer assistant coach Jason Ulmer, a two-time national champion center, acted as a linesman. He dropped pucks repeatedly and monitored UND players' performances in the faceoff dot.
One player involved in those drills: sophomore center Jake Schmaltz.
That's a good sign for the Fighting Hawks, who have played without Schmaltz in five of 10 games since Christmas break.
Schmaltz, who sustained an upper-body injury on Jan. 27 at Miami and missed the last three games, will be back in the lineup for this weekend's home series against St. Cloud State (7:07 p.m. Friday, 6:07 p.m. Saturday, Ralph Engelstad Arena).
"He's playing," UND coach Brad Berry said. "He's had three days of practices on a regular line here. He's playing on all special teams. So, we're looking forward to him coming back. He's usually pretty good in the dot, too, so it gives us a different option for faceoff alignments."
Schmaltz, a seventh-round draft pick of the Boston Bruins, has three goals and eight points in 24 games.
His offense has gone cold lately — Schmaltz hasn't scored since the Vegas game in October — but he's been an important player in other areas.
Schmaltz's faceoff percentage of 56.2 percent is the best on the team, and without him, the Fighting Hawks had their worst night in the dot in a three-and-a-half years Saturday at Denver.
The Pioneers went 42-23 in faceoffs against UND in the series finale. It was UND's worst win-loss disparity since Oct. 18, 2019, at Minnesota State-Mankato. The Mavericks were 47-26 that night.
It was a big factor in special teams Saturday. Denver scored three power-play goals, while UND went 0-for-6 with the advantage, repeatedly losing draws to start power plays.
"Losing draws clean, when teams rip pucks back, it gives them more time to set up, especially on the power play," Berry said. "We gave up two penalty-kill goals off direct faceoff losses. You have to get that faceoff win and clear in order to have a good opportunity to kill the penalty."
UND has now lost the faceoff battle in five of the last eight games and its overall percentage has dropped to 51.9, ranking No. 20 in the country.
That's a strange spot for the Fighting Hawks, who have been college hockey's most dominant faceoff team in recent years.
UND has led the national in faceoff percentage in three of the last five years. It finished No. 3 and No. 6 in the other two.
"In years past, we've had a pretty good success rate or pretty good faceoff percentage," Berry said. "It's not all incumbent upon the centermen. If you're having a tough time winning pucks back, then you've got to lean on your wingers to dive in. That means the centerman, you just have to tie up or you have to make that puck lay there for a 50-50 puck battle for your wingers to come in."
Schmaltz (56.2), Louis Jamernik V (51.9) and Owen McLaughlin (50.2) have been UND's leaders. All three have taken more than 300 draws.
Ben Strinden (47.7) and Griffin Ness (40.8) also have taken more than 100 draws.
"I'll start with myself," Jamernik V said. "We need those draws, especially on the penalty kill. The one I lose (Saturday), they snap back clean and they scored right off that on the power play. It's things like that. . . at least get a tie-up. Those are things I need to do personally.
"As a team, we have to just know our roles and be consistent and at least make it hard on the other team. We worked on draws today, so I think we're going to be better this weekend."
UND will remain without forward Dane Montgomery, who has yet to practice this season due to an upper-body injury.
The Fighting Hawks also will play Friday's series opener without top-pair defenseman Tyler Kleven, who will serve a one-game suspension due to his fourth game misconduct penalty of the season. Kleven will be eligible to return Saturday.
Kleven has missed three games this season — one due to injury and two due to NCHC supplementary discipline. UND went 1-2 in those games, allowing six goals to Denver, seven to Western Michigan and shutting out Miami.
St. Cloud State will be without top-pair defenseman Dylan Anhorn, who sustained a season-ending injury last month. Huskies forward Chase Brand (lower body) is listed as week-to-week and defenseman Brady Ziemer (lower body) is day-to-day.
Anhorn's injury will keep from a Union reunion in The Ralph.
Anhorn was teammates with UND defenseman Ryan Sidorski the last three years at Union. They played against each other in December during the series at St. Cloud.
Earlier this season, Sidorski's other former Union teammate, Collin Graf, came to Grand Forks as a member of Quinnipiac's team.
"It's always pretty funny," Sidorski said. "I text them before the games. We have a little laugh about playing each other. Once you get on the ice, you kind of forget about it."
St. Cloud State shut out Denver 2-0 in its first game after Anhorn's injury, but it is winless in the four games since. The Huskies were swept by Minnesota Duluth and tied Miami twice.
No. 6 St. Cloud State at UND
When: 7:07 p.m. Friday, 6:07 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena.
TV: CBS Sports on Friday, Midco Sports on Saturday.
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).
UND in the faceoff dot
2022-23 — 51.9 percent (20th in NCAA)
2021-22 — 55.6 (3rd)
2020-21 — 56.2 (1st)
2019-20 — 54.1 (6th)
2018-19 — 57.1 (1st)
2017-18 — 55.5 (1st)