UND MEN'S HOCKEY: Shutdown defensemen

Ben Blood and Andrew MacWilliam both grew up playing football. That might explain a little bit about their hockey games. The defenseman duo has combined for just one goal this season, but both players have made significant impacts for the fourth-...

UND's Ben Blood (24) checks Minnesota Josh Birkholz (left)to the boards in the first period of WCHA action earlier this season in Grand Forks. Herald photo by John Stennes.

Ben Blood and Andrew MacWilliam both grew up playing football.

That might explain a little bit about their hockey games.

The defenseman duo has combined for just one goal this season, but both players have made significant impacts for the fourth-ranked Sioux.

Blood, one of the team's top shutdown defensemen, has registered a plus-17, which is one off of the lead among Western Collegiate Hockey Association players. He hasn't registered a negative rating in any game since Nov. 19.

MacWilliam, who has only been a minus one time in the last 11 games, has turned into the team's most dominant physical force. He registered a number of big hits during UND's recent six-game home stand.


"We have to do that as bigger guys," MacWilliam said. "That's something expected of us. If (an opponent) is getting hit every shift, it takes a toll on the body and we're doing our job right."

The two players have taken different routes this season.

While the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Blood has consistently been one of UND's top players, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound MacWilliam had a slow start.

"We were trying to figure out what was going on with Andrew early in the year," UND coach Dave Hakstol said. "All of the sudden, we found out he has mono and he probably played with it for quite some time, which is typical Andrew MacWilliam. He will play through anything --injuries, illnesses, whatever -- but that hampered him at the start.

"Since he's come back healthy and got himself back into game shape, I think he's been an absolute physical terror for our opponents. On a nightly basis, he's had three or four big body checks and he's had another six or seven good, physical contact hits. He's a real physical presence."

Blood, meanwhile, has done a little bit of everything for the Sioux. He's consistently played against other teams' top lines, he's been effective moving the puck and he even earned power-play time on Saturday.

"I think Ben has been one of our more consistent players at a high level all year," Hakstol said. "He's been very consistent while still continuing to improve small areas of his game. We've been very happy with Ben's development."

Hakstol refers to their physicality as a skill.


It has been honed throughout the years by Blood and MacWilliam.

"I remember at Shattuck, I'd get pissed off and want to knock guys down," Blood said of his time at a Minnesota prep school. "I think I've always been bigger than anyone else, so it has been easier for me to play physical. It's not something that's developed in recent years."

MacWilliam, whose father played football, said that his background in football might have helped.

"I've always been physical since I was young," MacWilliam said. "I liked to use my size as an advantage. I played football growing up and that's just something you embrace."

UND captain Chay Genoway said Blood and MacWilliam are deceptive.

"The big thing with both of them is that they have really good closing speed when they are going backwards," Genoway said. "As a player approaching them, coming one-on-one you forget how good they are at skating backwards and how quickly they can finish off a check. They are very good, big bodies who know how to finish checks."

Toned down

With the new rule in college hockey that makes contact to the head a mandatory five-minute major and game ejection, both players say they've had to adjust a little bit.


"I'm not as physical as I'd like to be," Blood said. "I just focus a little more on moving the puck and having a good stick. If I can make a big hit and knock a guy off the puck, I'm going to do that, but I don't go looking for it like I think I did last year and the year before. You definitely have to pick your spots. I think I make up for it with defensive play and shutting down opponents."

MacWilliam also has picked his spots more carefully.

"One of Andrew's challenges early on was that he wanted to be physical all the time," Hakstol said. "It's impossible to do that against good players every shift. But he's got a natural ability to use his physical part of his game. He's done a real good job of picking his spots. He can become real frustrating to play against throughout 60 minutes."

Reach Schlossman at (701) 780-1129; (800) 477-6572, ext. 129; or send e-mail to .

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
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