UND set for showdown against old rival Wisconsin
MADISON, Wis. — The bus pulled into the Kohl Center on Thursday morning, Nov. 2, through the loading dock.
The University of North Dakota men’s hockey players hopped out, tossed their hockey bags in the locker room and walked down the tunnel that leads to the ice rink.
They gazed at the expansive venue that seats more than 15,000 people — the second-largest rink in college hockey — and took in their surroundings.
It was a good idea: For nearly every player on the roster, this will be the only trip to the Kohl Center in their college hockey careers.
Once a fierce conference rivalry, UND and Wisconsin are now in different leagues and their four-year nonconference agreement will expire after the Badgers’ trip to Grand Forks next season.
While UND coach Brad Berry says he plans to get Wisconsin back on the schedule in the future, it probably won’t happen for a few years.
UND’s nonconference schedule for next season is already filled up and much of 2019-20 and 2020-21 are, too. Berry said he wants to play teams from a number of different leagues. Last season, UND played games against all six college hockey conferences in the first half of the year.
Next season, nonconference matchups include Minnesota (in Las Vegas), Bemidji State (home and home), MSU-Mankato (home), Alaska Anchorage (home) and Wisconsin. The last nonconference series will likely be at Canisius in Buffalo, N.Y.
Berry also said he’s working on getting Michigan Tech, a former WCHA rival, back on the schedule.
“One thing we like to do is we like to have a cross-section of all the leagues as far as trying to play against ECAC, Atlantic Hockey, Big Ten… we want to have that flavor and variety within those leagues,” Berry said. “We’ll continue to schedule (Wisconsin). It’s just a matter of trying to fit them into a future schedule here.”
Only two players on the roster have suited up against the Badgers in the Kohl Center — seniors Austin Poganski and Johnny Simonson.
They were rookies in 2014-15 when UND swept a hapless Badger team that won just four games all season.
But under second-year coach Tony Granato, Wisconsin has rebounded and is back in the top-10 nationally. Led by first-round draft pick Trent Frederic, senior standout Ryan Wagner and St. Lawrence graduate transfer Kyle Hayton, the Badgers enter this weekend at 6-3 and ranked No. 7.
“There’s a lot of great things about both programs,” Granato said. “I think when you get them on the same ice together, it brings back all of those memories of the players, the national championships. The competition and intensity of those games are always a playoff type of atmosphere. That’s why they’re on the schedule. It’s going to be a fun weekend and obviously a big game for both teams.”
The Fighting Hawks are expected to play this weekend without Trevor Olson and Ludvig Hoff.
Both made the trip to Madison — as did the entire team because it is a nonconference series not subjected to National Collegiate Hockey Conference travel party limits — but neither skated Thursday.
Simonson, who has missed the last two weekends with an undisclosed injury, practiced and is questionable for tonight’s game.
If Simonson cannot play, UND will need to move a defenseman to forward or else play with 11 forwards and seven defensemen.
Snapping the Friday slump?
UND is 1-2-1 on Fridays, averaging 1.25 goals per game.
It is 4-0 on Saturdays, averaging 4.75 goals per game.
The Fighting Hawks will try to break that hex Friday, Nov. 3.
“When you drill it all down, Fridays haven’t been as successful as we want them to be,” Berry said. “One underlying theme is getting a goal early. When you score a goal early, you don’t chase the game and you have a little momentum right away. I think if you score a little early, the game changes a little.”
UND has scored its first goal of the game on Fridays, on average, with four minutes left in the second period. On Saturdays, it is averaging a goal around the midway mark of the first period.
“We just have to be prepared — be mentally sharp, be physically sharp,” UND defenseman Hayden Shaw said. “We need to get a lot better starts, obviously. That’s something we spent a lot of time talking about. I think we’re going to come out of the gates flying, playing our game right off the bat.”