UND scoring goals from on top of the crease this season

GRAND FORKS — A lot of games ended a season ago with the shot counter heavily in the University of North Dakota’s favor but the scoreboard in favor of the opponent.

On some nights, perhaps, it was bad luck. On other nights, like four games against Denver, it was a star goalie on the other side.

But often times, UND wasn’t getting those shots from the prime scoring area.

Early this season, that has changed.

UND enters this weekend’s series against Bemidji State having scored 18 goals in four games. Nearly all of them — 15 of the 18 — have come from within five feet of the crease.

The only three that haven’t come from there are a Jacob Bernard-Docker point shot through a screen, a Gabe Bast pass from the wall that hit an opposing defender and a Grant Mismash snipe from just above the circle on a rush.

Otherwise, they’ve all come from around the net — an emphasis for the team this season.

“Hitting nets, staying at the net, looking for second opportunities,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “You know those weak-side plays, those slot-line plays and being around pucks that are loose there. You saw Shane Pinto’s goal, the only goal we scored Saturday night, was because of him staying around the net and making sure you hammer it home.”

Berry said the coaching staff also has stressed not throwing pucks to the net from the outside unless there’s someone lurking near the crease for a screen, tip or rebound.

“I think you’ve got to be more discerning on when to put a puck to the net and when to not,” Berry said. “We always say, coming into the zone, when you have net-front or a guy driving to the net, those are opportunities, absolutely. But when there’s no net-front or not guy for a second opportunity, hold onto the puck, cut back, possess the puck a little more, because obviously you’re giving the puck away if there isn’t anything. So, I think it’s about being more discerning on entry plays and OZP (offensive zone possession) plays.”

That doesn’t mean the coaching staff is completely satisfied with the team’s offensive attack.

Berry lamented his team missing the net on outnumbered opportunities in transition — including on a three-on-one rush — during Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Minnesota State-Mankato.

“The thing I think we do have to get better at is when we do have outnumbered opportunities — we had a three-on-two, a two-on-one and we missed the net,” Berry said. “At the very least, get it on net to at least give yourself an opportunity for the chances (around the net) and getting to the blue paint. We’ve done a better job, but Saturday night, you know what, we could have executed better on a couple of those outnumbereds and hit nets.”

UND looks to turn around faceoff numbers

At the end of practice Thursday, UND’s centers gathered in the neutral zone and started taking faceoffs.

This is not uncommon, but perhaps it had some extra emphasis this week.

After finishing No. 1 in the nation in faceoff winning percentage the last two seasons (55.5 percent in 2017-18 and 57.1 percent last season), UND is in a strange place early this season in the bottom half of the nation in faceoff winning percentage.

After getting beaten badly in the faceoff circle last weekend in Mankato (49 wins, 83 losses), UND is 41st nationally at 46.9 percent.

Center Jasper Weatherby has been UND’s best faceoff man at 55.4 percent, followed by rookie Shane Pinto at 53.9. Mark Senden is at 45.6 and Westin Michaud is at 35.6.

Injury update

There are two positives and one negative on the injury front.

UND forward Zach Yon and goaltender Harrison Feeney, both of whom missed last weekend’s series at Minnesota State-Mankato with injuries, have returned to practice and could be available for this weekend’s series against Bemidji State.

Yon, a senior from Roseau, Minn., was supposed to play in the season opener two weekends ago against Canisius, but sustained an injury the day before the game. He’s been unavailable for UND’s first four games of the season.

Feeney did not travel to Mankato last weekend and junior Peter Thome served as backup to starter Adam Scheel.

UND could be without defenseman Gabe Bast, though. The junior blue liner sustained an undisclosed injury in the third period Saturday night in Mankato. He left the ice and didn’t return.

Defensemen Ethan Frisch and Jonny Tychonick split games the first two weekends of the season. If Bast can’t go, it is likely that both will play against the Beavers.