A midseason look at UND hockey
GRAND FORKS — The first half of the University of North Dakota’s season was a rollercoaster.
It started with a three-game winless streak. Then came a five-game winning streak. That was followed by a three-game losing streak. The first half ended with a pair of splits against the last two NCAA national champions, Minnesota Duluth and Denver.
Injuries and offense have been problems.
Puck possession and team defense have been strengths.
UND sits at 9-7-1 at the holiday break. It’s not a bad mark, but it wouldn’t be enough to make the NCAA tournament if it started today. The Fighting Hawks are No. 16 in the Pairwise Rankings, which would be the final guaranteed spot out of the tournament.
One of the UND program’s most impressive streaks will be on the line in the second half.
The Fighting Hawks have finished in the top half of the conference standings for 16 consecutive seasons — the longest active stretch of any team in college hockey.
The last time they finished in the bottom half and had to go on the road in the first round of the league playoffs was 2002.
Right now, UND has some work cut out in order to finish in the top four of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth appear to be locks to finish in the top four. Among the teams that UND will likely battle for the final home-ice spots are Denver and Western Michigan.
The Pioneers probably have the easiest schedule of the bunch, and the Broncos not only are on the verge of winning the tiebreaker over UND by virtue of their sweep in The Ralph, they also are undefeated with star Wade Allison in the lineup this season (5-0-1).
Miami is lurking as a surprise team of the first half, too, thanks to a resurgent goaltender in Ryan Larkin.
It will be a challenging road for UND to get back into the top half, but there is plenty of time to do so (all eight NCHC teams are exactly a third of the way through the league schedule).
Three is a key number for UND’s offense.
Had UND scored three goals in every game this season — no more, no less — it would be 11-3-3 right now.
The Fighting Hawks have generally defended well and they can win a lot of games by getting to three. Right now, they’re averaging 2.59 goals per game, last among NCHC teams. Raising that number by a half a goal would make a significant difference.
UND has played eight NCHC league games and has yet to score a goal in the second period in those games.
The Fighting Hawks have scored seven goals in the first period and seven in the third period but they’ve been outscored 8-0 in the second.
Their next chance to break that scoreless second-period streak will be Jan. 11 at home against Colorado College.