UND drops post-Christmas break exhibition game
The U.S. Under-18 Team beat UND on Saturday afternoon for the first time.
There were at least a couple positives for the UND hockey team on Saturday afternoon.
No. 1: Nobody appeared to get hurt.
No. 2: It didn't count.
Looking nothing like the relentless team that clawed its way to the top of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings in the first half of the season, UND lost 2-0 to the U.S. Under-18 Team during a lazy Saturday afternoon exhibition.
The few fans who braved the 20-below New Year's Day temperatures to come to Ralph Engelstad Arena were subdued from the opening introductions all the way until the final buzzer.
Michigan commit Rutger McGroarty scored in the second period and Minnesota Duluth commit Isaac Howard scored in the third to give the U.S. Under-18 Team its first-ever win over UND. The Fighting Hawks had won the previous 10.
"Obviously, it's not the result we wanted," UND forward Riese Gaber said. "It's pretty disappointing. You've got to give them a little credit. They played really well and were a fast team. We knew what to expect. I don't think we brought our 'A' game and it definitely showed tonight."
UND dressed 21 skaters — two more than usual — and jumbled lines throughout the game to give some players who had limited roles in the first half of the season prominent minutes. None had statement games, though, as the Fighting Hawks mustered just 17 shots on net.
"It's one of those things where guys got opportunities," UND coach Brad Berry said. "Some guys got in our lineup tonight that wanted opportunities and we found a body of work on where they're at. We got some information on our group. We'll get guys back in their normal spots for next week, and we'll play a lot harder and we'll be a lot sharper."
The No. 5-ranked Fighting Hawks (13-6) return to regular-season play at 7:07 p.m. Friday against Cornell in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
"When we get back here on Monday, we go back to work," UND alternate captain Gavin Hain said. "Next Friday, it counts for real. We didn't play good today at all. We have to come out with a different mindset next weekend."
Missing players expected back
UND played without three regulars, though none are expected to be gone longterm.
Star defenseman Jake Sanderson, who had been captaining the U.S. World Junior Championship team in Red Deer, stayed in Alberta for a couple extra days after the event was canceled to spend time with his family. He's expected to return to Grand Forks early in the week and play against Cornell.
Forward Louis Jamernik was held out with a lower-body injury. Berry said Jamernik probably would have played had it been a regular-season game. He's also expected back next week.
Goaltender Zach Driscoll, who started all but one game in the first half of the season, sat out the exhibition after suffering a lower-body injury in practice Friday.
"He wasn't feeling right," Berry said. "We fully expect him to be up and ready to go next week."
Freshman Jakob Hellsten, who made his first start Dec. 11 at Colorado College, made his first appearance in Ralph Engelstad Arena during the exhibition. He stopped 16 of 18 shots.
"I thought he played well," Berry said. "I thought he was sharp. You couldn't fault him on the goals he let in. He made a couple of big stops in the game here, too. We just didn't get enough support around him."
Spicer returns home
It was a special game for one local player.
Former Grand Forks Central forward and UND commit Cole Spicer played third-line center for the U.S. Under-18 Team. He had one shot on goal in the game.
During postgame handshakes, Spicer shared long embraces with the Grand Forks natives on UND's roster — Jackson Kunz, Judd Caulfield, Dane Montgomery and Kaleb Johnson.
Berry also had an extended chat with Spicer, who will come to UND in the fall of 2022 or 2023.
Saturday's exhibition was a notable game for U.S. Under-18 Team first-line center Logan Cooley, who was the youngest player to make the U.S. World Junior roster. Cooley tallied an assist and used his blazing speed to generate chances for his line throughout the game.
Cooley, a potential top-five pick in this summer's NHL Draft, is uncommitted for next season.
While UND and everyone else will be trying to lure Cooley, the Fighting Hawks also have their sights set on what's in front of them: a chance to win a third-straight Penrose Cup as NCHC champions.
"We know we have better," Gaber said. "We know what it takes to bring our 'A' game. We've done it all first half. I'm confident in our group that we're going to have a good week of practice and we're going to be ready to go on Friday night.
"We let this one slip. But luckily for us, it doesn't count in the standings or anything like that. I mean, that's still no excuse, but we'll be better this weekend."
Note: Dean Blais, who recently was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game, was honored before the game.