After a two-year hiatus at the NCAA Tournament, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks are showing they’re ready to start a new postseason streak.
From 2003-2017, the national stage was a way of life in Grand Forks, where the Hawks flew annually for 14 years consecutive seasons, earning eight trips to the Frozen Four and a national title in 2016.
While the title came under coach Brad Berry during his first season, the roster was shaped by Dave Hakstol, who led the team to 289-143-43 overall record between 2004-2015.
Hakstol left the program to coach the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, but during his time at North Dakota, he led a program that developed upwards of 20 players into various roles in the NHL. Among those players were T.J. Oshie, Jonathan Toews, Travis Zajac, and Brock Nelson.
On the outside, Berry was inheriting a team that could virtually run itself, but on the inside pressure existed to take the team to the next level. As Hakstol’s assistant from 2000-2006 and 2012-2015, Berry knew firsthand the type of team he was adopting; but making a team one’s own can be challenging for a coach who players already know so well.
In no disrespect to Hakstol, Berry found what his predecessor couldn’t: that evasive title. But things have cooled down since, as the Hawks have failed to reach the 20-win mark in each of the past two seasons due to inconsistencies.
But if there’s any column where consistency stands out the most, it’s the one preceded by a “W,” and the Hawks have certainly made their mark there of late.
Unbeaten November (8-0-1) leads UND to a pair of NCHC Monthly Awards. Jordan Kawaguchi is the NCHC Player of the Month and Adam Scheel is the NCHC's Goalie of the Month. #UNDproud https://t.co/Bbi05Iv0iV— North Dakota MHockey (@UNDmhockey) December 3, 2019
Sitting at 12-1-2, the Hawks are ranked No. 3 nationally. They have continually shown up on time and avoided costly mistakes. The only blips on their record have come from current No. 1 Minnesota State, where the Hawks went 0-1-1, and then-No. 2 Denver, where the Hawks came away 1-0-1 in the series.
Sophomore netminder Adam Scheel has taken a huge step forward this season in securing the crease. While his .917 save percentage is middle-of-the-pack, it stems from the Hawks’ lack of shots allowed. With 37 goalies having faced fewer shots than Scheel, only eight have a higher SV%.
Goals are bound to happen, but the bulk of what Scheel is letting in are high-percentage shots. His 1.64 goals against average supports that as it places him eighth among all goaltenders.
Diving into the team stats, North Dakota’s consistencies paint a promising picture for points-percentage sustainability. Among teams that have played a minimum of 10 games, the Hawks sit second nationally in both goals-for with 62 (4.13 per game) and goals-against with 25 (1.67 per game).
With the league’s seventh-best penalty kill (90.4 percent), Scheel and co. and locking down opponents and turning away what little opportunities they allow as the league’s 10th least-penalized team (among teams to have played a minimum 10 games).
But there’s always room for improvement, and for the Hawks, it’s their 36th-ranked powerplay. Capitalizing on just 17.5 percent of their chances, the Hawks need to work out their man advantage to be able to secure leads when the wins matter most. But for now, Berry is focused on the positives.
“The biggest thing is knowing if there’s some momentum shifts or adversity in games, you can withstand that, you can persevere and pull games out,” Berry told Brad Elliott Schlossman of Grand Forks Herald over the weekend.
The Hawks will travel to Kalamazoo this weekend to close out the semester with a pair of games against No. 17 Western Michigan. The Broncos’ 7-5-2 overall record is not eye-popping, but having played a strenuous schedule against some strong teams, they are hardly a pushover as an NCHC rival.
The Broncos also hold a 6-4 record over Hawks through their past ten matchups, dating back to the start of the 2016-17 season.
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