North Dakota was considered one of the favorites to win the NCAA championship last season, but league rival Minn.-Duluth ended the Fighting Hawks’ bid in an epic five-overtime regional final.
UND should always be considered a contender not only for the top spot in the league but the national title, and despite losing a significant number of key cogs, this season is no exception.
View From the Glass takes a look at North Dakota in Part IV of its seven-part, NCHC Snapshot series:
NCAA TITLES: 8 (1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000, 2016).
COACH: Brad Berry (seventh season, 138-63-24, .667).
2020-21 RECORD: 22-6-1 (18-5-1 NCHC, first place).
RINK (capacity): Ralph Engelstad Arena (11,634), Grand Forks, N.D.
MIAMI VS. NORTH DAKOTA LAST SEASON: 0-2.
ALL-TIME SERIES: North Dakota leads, 19-7-4.
SCHEDULE VS. MIAMI: At Miami – Nov. 12-13.
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F Jake Sanderson, D Tyler Kleven, F Riese Gaber, F Judd Caulfield.
KEY NEW FACES: F Connor Ford, D Brent Johnson, F Jake Schmaltz, F Jackson Kunz, M Matteo Costantini.
KEY LOSSES: G Adam Scheel, F Jordan Kawaguchi, F Collin Adams, F Shane Pinto, F Grant Mismash, D Jacob Bernard-Docker, F Jasper Weatherby, D Matt Kierstad.
NOTES: North Dakota lost its top five points-producers from 2020-21, but it still has plenty of high-level Division I-experienced talent and adds a handful of newcomers that should have UND once again in the top half of the standings.
A huge question mark for the Fighting Hawks heading into last off-season was goaltending, as Adam Scheel turned pro after a remarkable junior season, and Peter Thome graduated.
But the Fighting Hawks landed Bemidji State transfer Zach Driscoll, who has won 36 games and posted a .930 save percentage the last two seasons.
North Dakota has four netminders on its roster, but after Driscoll, the remaining three have played a combined total of four collegiate minutes. Swedish freshman Jakob Hellsten had an outstanding season with Leksands’ junior club, and he may end up logging significant minutes in 2021-22.
Only one of the eight skaters that generated at least 16 points in 2020-21 will be back, but the top returning scorer – Riese Gaber – wowed with his dynamic play and speed as a freshman, and he should be among the NCHC points leaders after going 11-10-21.
Also up front, Mark Senden tallied 14 points and Pittsburgh draftee Judd Caulfield is expected to take a step forward after going 4-7-11.
The Fighting Hawks added three NHL selections among their forward corps, all of which are coming off outstanding USHL campaigns.
Jackson Kunz (Vancouver) scored 23 goals and went plus-29 for Green Bay, Gamblers teammate and Bruins selection Jake Schmaltz – yes, another member of that family – went 19-34-53 and Matteo Costantini (Buffalo) tallied 22 points in 37 games for Sioux City.
On defense, fifth overall pick Jake Sanderson was instantly awesome as a freshman in 2020-21, notching two goals and 13 assists, and the Ottawa selection was second on the team with a plus-20 rating.
Ethan Frisch was also a standout on the blueline last season, recording 10 points and a plus-17 rating, and a pair of sophomore draft picks – Tyler Kleven and Cooper Moore, taken by Ottawa and Detroit, respectively, look to build on their momentum after eating up a ton of ice time and combining for 12 points last season.
North Dakota’s roster isn’t as intimidating is it has been in past seasons, but as loaded as UND was the past couple of campaigns, this may be a chance for those really, really good players who lost ice time to blue chippers now challenging for NHL jobs to flourish.