UND star Jake Sanderson dealing with another injury; will miss NCHC Frozen Faceoff
The Fighting Hawks blue liner has already missed 14 games this season.
GRAND FORKS — Jake Sanderson's nightmarish run of injuries and misfortune this season is not over.
UND's star player, perhaps the best in all of college hockey, is dealing with yet another setback — an injury he sustained late in Saturday's game against Colorado College while diving into the crease to keep a puck out of the net and preserve a 2-1 UND win.
It is completely unrelated to the injury that kept him out of the lineup for four weeks in February and March, and it's one that will keep him out of more games.
Sanderson, a sophomore defenseman, is listed as week-to-week.
He will not play in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Frozen Faceoff this weekend.
UND is set to play against Western Michigan in the semifinals at 7:37 p.m. Friday in St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center. The championship game is scheduled for 7:38 p.m. Saturday.
More important, the national tournament is looming.
UND (24-12-1) will open NCAA tournament play on March 24th or 25th at one of four NCAA regional sites. The Fighting Hawks are guaranteed to be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.
If they win twice there, they'll advance to the NCAA Frozen Four from April 7-9 in Boston.
Sanderson has already missed 14 games this season — two due to an illness in November, two due to an injury in December, four due to the Olympic Games in February and six due to an injury he suffered at the Olympics.
He's also had two playoff runs pulled away from him in international competition this season.
Sanderson was the captain of the U.S. World Junior Championship team, but the under-20 event was canceled after just one game because of COVID-19 positive tests.
Sanderson was a member of the U.S. Olympic team, too, but he missed Opening Ceremonies because he tested positive for COVID-19 before departing for Beijing. Then, he was injured in his first game and couldn't play in USA's quarterfinal loss to Slovakia.
The defenseman from Whitefish, Mont., returned to Grand Forks in February to prepare to make a run at college hockey's playoff. He finally returned from a 10-game absence on Friday night.
"It means everything for me to come back and play with the guys," Sanderson said after scoring a pretty goal in Friday's 2-1 win over the Tigers. "It's my favorite thing to do."
But one day later, he sustained another injury.
Sanderson played until the final buzzer Saturday, helping seal a 2-1 victory and a trip to St. Paul. But he notably skated off the ice and skipped the traditional handshake line to get treatment.
Sanderson, the No. 5 overall pick of the Ottawa Senators in 2020, opted to return to college for his sophomore season, and has been electric when he's in the lineup. His point-per game pace of 1.13 is the highest by any defenseman in the nation this season.
Sanderson was voted second-team all-NCHC despite only playing in 10 of 24 regular-season games and he was named a finalist for the league's defensive defenseman of the year award.
"He's made a huge impact in our program here for quite a while now," UND coach Brad Berry said. "That's part of him. It's not only his God-given ability that he uses consistently from game-to-game and practice-to-practice, but his compete level is so high. When you have a combination of those two, it makes you an elite player.
"He's a great player but even a better person."
UND has been dealing with injuries to key players nearly the entire season.
Since mid-November, Jackson Kunz sustained an injury at Miami and missed four games; Sanderson missed the Minnesota Duluth series with an illness; Matteo Costantini missed four games with an illness; Ashton Calder suffered an arm injury against Minnesota and missed over a month; Sanderson sustained an injury and missed a series at Colorado College; captain Mark Senden suffered an injury at Colorado College and missed a game; alternate captain Gavin Hain suffered a significant leg injury in January against Cornell that will likely keep him out the rest of the season; Brady Ferner suffered an injury after St. Cloud State that kept him out for a month; Senden and Louis Jamernik suffered injuries on the same shift against Omaha that kept them out for four and two games, respectively; Sanderson got injured at the Olympics; leading scorer Riese Gaber suffered an injury at Minnesota Duluth that kept him out five games; top-pair defenseman Ethan Frisch suffered an injury against Western Michigan that kept him out three games; first-line center Connor Ford was ill and missed a game against Colorado College and now it's Sanderson for the third time.
Despite all of that, UND has continually found ways to win close games.
The Fighting Hawks made a charge all the way to the top of the NCHC standings, winning the Penrose Cup as NCHC regular-season champions for a third-straight season.
UND went 11-3 in 14 games without Sanderson this season. One of those losses came in overtime.
UND is 9-1 in its last 10 games. Seven of the nine wins have been one-goal games.
Other UND absences
In addition to Sanderson's absence this weekend, Hain (leg) also will remain out. Hain hasn't played since early January and isn't expected back this season.
UND forward Carson Albrecht sustained an injury during Saturday night's win over Colorado College and is day-to-day. Albrecht will travel to St. Paul with the team.
UND will play Western Michigan without two of its top blue liners. In addition to Sanderson's absence, Tyler Kleven will have to sit out and serve an NCAA-mandated one-game suspension, because he was called for his third game misconduct penalty Saturday night.
If UND reaches the championship game, Kleven is eligible to return for that.