UND hockey media day an example of this team’s identity
GRAND FORKS — Jayson Hajdu walked briskly through the hallway outside of the University of North Dakota men’s hockey locker room Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 26, looking down at a clipboard in his hand.
He poked his head in the visitors’ locker room, where three TV stations were set up, and told Shane Gersich where to go for his next interview. Then, he was on the move, again, to find another player in the locker room.
This is the 11th year that Hajdu, the assistant athletic director for media relations, has run the UND men’s hockey media day — and it may have been his busiest.
In the past, there has always been one or two star players handling the bulk of media day interview requests.
Last year, every attending media outlet requested either Tyson Jost, Brock Boeser or both of the first-round NHL draft picks. In years prior, it was Drake Caggiula or Rocco Grimaldi or Danny Kristo or T.J. Oshie or Jonathan Toews or Zach Parise.
Not this year.
Not a single player was requested by every attending outlet.
Last year, a total of nine players were asked to do interviews. This year, 17 players were on Hajdu’s interview list.
The annual UND hockey media day Tuesday spoke volumes about this year’s team, which opens the season Saturday night, Sept. 30, with an exhibition game against the University of Manitoba (7:07 p.m.).
There is no one person who is expected to be the star of this team.
After losing three players early to NHL signings in the offseason — Jost, Boeser and Tucker Poolman — there are no first-round NHL draft picks left on the roster.
This Fighting Hawks squad will aim to win games with its improved depth, rather than relying on scoring from one or two key players. Everyone will have to chip in.
“It’s different in the sense that, in the last couple years, there’s been a high-profile player or two you could pick out right away,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “I feel like we have 26 high-profile players right now. Our depth is probably going to be our identity this year as far as scoring by committee and playing defense by committee. That’s the way we are.”
UND was voted No. 7 in the preseason USCHO national poll and predicted to finish third in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference by the league’s media.
But the Fighting Hawks aren’t attracting the same level of national attention as the last three offseasons, when they were coming off of NCAA Frozen Four trips — or an NCAA national championship in 2016.
UND lost in the first round of last season’s NCAA tournament in double overtime to Boston University in a game that the Fighting Hawks largely controlled.
That game may be a window into how UND wants to play this season.
It was Rhett Gardner, Ludvig Hoff and Christian Wolanin who scored the goals. It was Trevor Olson who had two assists. It was Dixon Bowen who had an assist and who appeared to score an overtime winner, though it was called back on video review because of offsides.
All of those players are back this season and will be slotted in similar roles.
Five of the team’s six defensemen in that game are back, too (Tucker Poolman had to miss that game because of an injury). Goalie Cam Johnson also returned for his senior season.
UND didn’t win that game, but it outshot a loaded Boston University team 59-29 and showed it can play well enough to win with that type of a team makeup.
“The guys who are coming back from the last couple years, they know what it takes to win a championship,” Berry said. “I think we have a very good group going forward that’s going to be a special group.”
It will just be different — like Hajdu’s unconventional media day.