What to watch during UND's exhibition game against Manitoba
It has been a long 203 days of waiting since UND's disappointing first-round playoff exit at the University of Denver in March.
But the wait is finally over.
UND will officially put last season in the review mirror when it takes the ice at 7:07 p.m. Saturday night for an exhibition game against the University of Manitoba.
UND head coach Brad Berry showed in the offseason that he's not shy about making changes, which means this game will be key for Fighting Hawks players looking to solidify their spots in the lineup.
Here are five things to keep an eye on during the exhibition:
Improved shooting percentage
Last season, UND routinely outshot opponents, but struggled to score goals.
That started on Day 1 with the exhibition against Manitoba.
UND outshot the Bisons 55-9, but needed overtime to win the game.
The pattern continued throughout last season as UND had a 7.8 shooting percentage, which ranked No. 52 of 60 teams in college hockey. The median shooting percentage in college hockey last season was 9.2 percent.
Can UND bump that number up beginning on Day 1 this season?
"Obviously, you want to see the freshmen and see how they integrate with the group early on," Berry said. "But I want to see some of our existing players take a step. When you lose players like Rhett Gardner and Nick Jones, who are good players, you want guys to take a jump opportunity-wise. It's going to be interesting. Once the lights hit and it's game night, it will bring out the best in our players."
There will be a couple of changes to UND's systems.
Berry said they've made some changes to the team's defensive zone coverage, to breakouts and to special teams. New assistant coach Karl Goehring will be running the power play, which will see some changes.
"Our defensive zone coverage is one thing we put a little tweak in here and you'll see an adjustment," Berry said. "Our play with the puck, coming through (zone) entries will be a little bit different in the fact of more numbers and quicker transition part of it. And then obviously special teams. On the power play we've added a couple of adjustments on breakouts and entries and in the zone as far as a couple of different looks. So there will be a couple of tweaks."
Who can stick on power play?
Throughout the fall, UND has given several players looks on the power play, which finished eighth in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference a year ago.
It would not be a surprise if the Fighting Hawks use more than 10 guys on the two power-play units against Manitoba as they try to nail down spots ahead of the regular season.
Also, don't be surprised if Jackson Keane gets a look on a power-play unit. Despite only scoring two goals last season, Keane has been efficient at scoring and distributing the puck from the top of the crease.
"Early on, we put a number of guys in different situations -- a blank slate approach," Berry said. "Now, we've drilled down into some specifics early on here. But we still want to try to give some guys some looks for opportunity. Nothing is better than real, game-like experience. You can scrimmage. You can do drills all you want at practice. But at the end of the day, when you get into the real-life games, that's the body of work you want to look at. I think we're really going to try to drill down on who we want, but obviously we want to give opportunities to guys."
Can a new Senden line keep its magic?
The line of Gavin Hain, Mark Senden and Cole Smith was consistently excellent for UND last season. But Hain is due to move up to a top-six role this season.
The question is whether Senden and Smith can keep up their magic without Hain.
A number of players are candidates to play on that unit, including freshman Harrison Blaisdell, junior Grant Mismash, senior Dixon Bowen and freshman Judd Caulfield.
Where do the newcomers fit in?
UND brought in six newcomers.
There's a good chance that not all of them will play against the Bisons, but it is a big audition for the guys who are in the lineup.
Westin Michaud, a senior graduate transfer, and Shane Pinto, a highly touted freshman, have been the most impressive through fall camp.
The other newcomers are forwards Harrison Blaisdell, Judd Caulfield and Carson Albrecht and defenseman Ethan Frisch.
"Last year, we dressed two extra forwards and one extra 'D,' and maybe we're leaning toward doing that again or else one extra forward," Berry said. "There's a balance. You want to get everybody in, but the reps are key too. We're playing Canisius next weekend and we want to get everybody going."