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UND's future on defense shows more offense is coming

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UND commit Jake Sanderson, who plays for the U.S. Under-18 Team, skates in a game earlier this season. Photo by Rena Laverty / USA Hockey's NTDP
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UND's defensemen have long been known for playing a physical, punishing brand of hockey.

That's changed a bit in the last 10 years.

The Fighting Hawks have become the highest offense-producing defense , ranking in the top five nationally in points by blue liners in eight of the last 10 years.

Will that continue?

There are no guarantees. But with the two top-returning offensive defensemen in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and a commitment list full of defensemen who are adept at skating and have a history of piling up offensive numbers, it suggests this trend isn't going anywhere.


Next season's group starts with all-NCHC pick Matt Kiersted and first-round draft pick Jacob Bernard-Docker, who combined for 54 points from the back end last season. Other returners are seniors Gabe Bast and Josh Rieger and sophomore Ethan Frisch.

They'll be complemented with four freshman defensemen. One of them -- Cooper Moore -- was picked in the fifth round of last summer's NHL Draft. The other three -- Jake Sanderson, Tyler Kleven and Mitchell Miller -- will be picked whenever the 2020 NHL Draft is held.

Here's a rundown of the style of game each player is expected to bring to UND.

Jake Sanderson (2020): The most polished of the incoming group, Sanderson is an explosive skater, who can separate from defensemen. He showed his abilities in front of UND's coaching staff in an exhibition game last December in Plymouth, Mich. U.S. Under-18 Team coach Seth Appert said: "He's 6-2. Incredible skater. Incredible, explosive skater. Mean. Physical. Blocks shots. Moves the puck. Transitions it really well. He's on the power play. He has everything you want, really. He's our captain. He's a winner. The guys think the world of him. And he's the kind of guy you want in your room."

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UND commit Jake Sanderson, who played for the U.S. Under-18 Team, skates during a game against Notre Dame. Photo by Rena Laverty / USA Hockey's NTDP

Tyler Kleven (2020): Kleven may be the most physically dominant player UND has recruited since Andrew MacWilliam. But the Fargo native has some offensive tools, too. UND associate coach Dane Jackson said: "When you see him, you think a little about Ben Blood. His skating and skillset is quite good. He does play a punishing physical game, but I think he’s got some good skill and he can shoot it as well. He has some throwback elements, but he’s got some of the modern 'D' elements as well, as far as his ability to skate and have stick skills to move by guys."


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UND commit Tyler Kleven of Fargo, who plays for the U.S. Under-18 Team, makes a hit in a game against Northern Michigan this season. Rena Laverty / USA Hockey's NTDP

Mitchell Miller (2020): Similar to Christian Wolanin, Miller played forward for much of his life and transitioned to defense a couple years ago. He was one of the best offensive defensemen in the USHL last season, earning all-USHL first team honors. Tri-City coach Anthony Noreen said: "The first thing you notice is his skating. He might be faster with the puck on his stick than without it. He's able to create separation from defenders, join in the rush and be a real threat from the back end. He has elusiveness. He's able to use deception to create shooting lanes. Sometimes, it looks like he's out of room at the point, but he finds a way to create an opening."

UND hockey commit Mitchell Miller of the Tri-City Storm takes a shot in a United States Hockey League game this season. Photo by Eldon Holmes / Tri-City Storm

Cooper Moore (2020): Offense is Moore's forte. He's an explosive skater and is skilled at getting pucks to the net. He scores a higher number of goals from the defense position, reaching double digits in each of the last two seasons. Chilliwack coach Brian Maloney said Moore's defending is a work in progress, but offensively, "he's a phenomenal talent. He's a kid that has mobility and shoots the puck and passes like a pro. He's a special player."

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UND commit Cooper Moore played for the Chilliwack Chiefs during the 2019-20 season. Photo by Darren Francis / Chilliwack Chiefs

Scott Morrow (2021): Morrow is an excellent skater, who put up big numbers at Shattuck-St. Mary's last season. He'll play for the Fargo Force this year. Force general manager Cary Eades said: "He's got a lot of Travis Roche in him. He plays a bit of a rover, which is great this day and age. He's adept defensively as well. He has a good stick and understanding of the game. But he can really add to the offensive game, starting deep in his zone, breaking out pucks and joining the rush."


UND commit Scott Morrow skates with the puck during a game this season for Shattuck-St. Mary's. Photo by Vicki Kwapick.

Luke Bast (2021): Bast was an offensive producer for powerhouse Brooks in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, but didn't generate as much in his first season in the USHL last year. The undrafted, undersized defenseman from Alberta will go back to junior hockey for one more season before coming to UND, where he projects as a depth player.

UND recruit Luke Bast skates with the puck during a 2018-19 game with the Brooks Bandits. Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images

Trey Ausmus (TBD): Ausmus just completed his sophomore season at East Grand Forks Senior High. He's still too young to project how his game will translate at the college level, but he's currently producing big numbers for a defenseman his age in Minnesota high school hockey.

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Red River's Jake Grandstrand watches from the ice as Green Wave defenseman Trey Ausmus (20) takes possession of the puck following a collision in the second period of a boys hockey game at the East Grand Forks Civic Center. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

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 bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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