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The student news site of University of North Dakota

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UND Hockey Leadership Looks to Start 2023-2024 Season Strong

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Aspen Jewkes

Last season felt like a disappointment to Riese Gaber and the rest of the University of Hockey North Dakota hockey team, but Gaber, now the Captain, is looking forward to setting the record straight this season.  

“A new opportunity this year. Obviously, things didn’t go the way as planned last year,” he said. “But that’s behind us. We have a clean slate this year to get back on track.”  

Last season, UND struggled in the first part of the season and was unable to make the NCAA national tournament. They had a winning season, but it was still not enough, something every member of the current leadership group recognizes.  

Going into this season, UND hockey looks different with 14 unfamiliar faces, seven first-year students and seven transfers. Eight of those players are defensemen, with UND completely overturning their D-core from last year. It is a new year and a new season, leadership and Coach Berry have a lot of focus on making sure what happened last year does not happen again  

“We get to start writing a new book, a new chapter this season, and it’s exciting,” Berry said. “You got 14 new players; we look at that as a positive as far as … guys that are excited to play in our organization and you can tell. There’s an exuberance and enthusiasm out there in the first few weeks.”  

Keaton Pehrson, an Assistant Captain and recent transfer from University of Michigan, is one of those 14 new faces and has taken on what the team experienced last season.  

“You kind of got to take on what they went through last year,” he said. “Because there’s guys returning to the program, the fan base, and everybody as a whole for this community went through that everyone wasn’t really happy with it.” 

Pehrson has internalized it, taking the same lessons away from it as the rest of the team despite just arriving in Grand Forks.  

“We got to pick that up too and wear that on our sleeve,” Pehrson said. “And be like, ‘Hey, it wasn’t good enough last year, I’m going to do everything I can to help this team and help my teammates and the program get back on top.”  

Carson Albrecht, a fifth-year senior and Assistant Captain, says the team this year feels different, and the biggest difference can be felt in both on and off ice-dynamics.  

“Everyone’s just clicking more,” Albrecht said. “Last year, there were just a lot of different groups, people hanging out with each other, not as a team. This year, everyone’s getting along really well.”  

It was something team leadership was really focused on at the start of the season according to the returning players who are members of the leadership group. 

“In the summer, we had a lot of talks about setting the standard and the example right away, and I think we did a really good job of that,” Gaber said. “Making sure that everyone’s included, and everyone hanging out a lot and doing things that would get us more comfortable with each other.”

Gaber says that having the Captaincy this year increases the pressure on him to be the best player and leader he can be in a positive way.  

“It just raises my standard a little bit. I know I got to be a little sharper and a little more dialed in every day,” Gaber said. “It holds me accountable and always keeps me mindful of how special and how big of an honor it is.” 

Jake Schmaltz is the youngest of the leadership group but also says he is stepping into his role now as a junior.  

“It’s kind of a different role,” he said. “We lost all of our Captains last year except Riese obviously, he’s the one returner, but I have just been more vocal in the locker room saying what needs to be said.”  

Louis Jamernik V is a senior, and also has been assessing his leadership philosophy going into the season. Saying he wants to lead by example and make sure to uplift his teammates and push them to be the best they can be.  

“It’s our job to make sure the culture is there,” he said. “Just little things like being more uplifting and wearing your heart on your sleeve … I’m going to lead by example and make sure everybody is happy. Because if everybody is happy, they do what they’re best at.” 

That leadership includes helping mentor the 7 newcomers coming in. This year’s UND Hockey team is full of promising rookies, including Jayden Perron who has been praised by Coach Berry and his teammates alike, but he is just one of multiple new additions.

Pehrson has taken Jake Livanavage, a freshmen defender from Phoenix, Arizona, under his wing, playing as his D-partner often. 

“I’ve played four years of college hockey already,” Pehrson said. “So, I have a lot of experience with it that’ll probably be useful for him.” 

Beyond team wide chemistry, there is an increased level of competition this year, according to Jamernik. One example he gave was that this year’s players were coming in on the weekends in the summer to work out, which did not happen last year. 

Every member of team leadership and Coach Berry talked about the excitement and energy this group is bringing on the ice in addition to off it. 

On the ice, the team is taking lessons they learned from last year. Berry and the other players emphasized clear communication, consistency, clean D-zone exits, and strong defensive plays as points of focus going into this season.  

On personal levels, each member of the leadership group is looking to elevate their game while also uplifting the team. Schmaltz wants to elevate the offensive side of his game without sacrificing his defensive capabilities. Albrecht is looking to get off to a strong start but also keep up his confidence in his game.  

“I’m really hard on myself,” Albrecht said. “Even today, I don’t think I have the greatest practice. So, I’m not in the greatest mood. But I just got to move on, and tomorrow is another day.”  

Jamernik is using lessons he learned from a stint at the Winnipeg Jets prospects camp this summer to improve his play for UND.  

“They were saying 80% or 85% of the game in the NHL is played on the wall,” said Jamernik. “I need to have the ability, as a player this year, and if I want to play higher levels after this, to make the plays on the wall.”  

Gaber, as mentioned, is using his Captaincy as motivation to take his game to the next level and set a good example. 

Pehrson says his biggest focus this season is remembering how long the season is, making sure he is always bringing energy on the ice and off it.  

“Just trying to get better each day,” Pehrson said. “It’s a long season guys have to put in the extra work, and they have to take care of their bodies.” 

Last season, the goaltending battle for who would be the starter went on until deep into the season. UND had one of the lowest save percentages in the NCHC last season. Ludvig Persson, transfer from University of Miami, Ohio, is coming in to take over the mantle of starter after Drew Deridder exhausted his eligibility and Jakob Hellsten transferred.  

Persson is ready to take on the challenge. “I’m trying to show up here and bring out the best of my abilities every single day and try to perform at my best level, and I can’t really think about what happened before.” he said. “Obviously, you can learn from your past … but you got to stay present to and keep working.” 

He says he is bonding well with the team and was glad for all the team-building work done in the summer.  

“It’s a lot of communication, and it’s a give and take. We have to be able to hold each other accountable,” Persson said. “I think that’s the key, to be able to be open, to have tough conversations but also give a lot of good feedback. But it’s a process, it’s not going to happen overnight.”  

Persson said his time in Miami taught him how to handle adversity, and he is ready to use the fresh start UND is providing him. 

UND’s non-conference opening month schedule is difficult, but the first game is an exhibition game against the University of Manitoba on Oct 7. Coach Berry and the players interviewed, Gaber, Albrecht, Pehrson, Jamernik, Schmaltz, and Persson are excited for the season to begin.  

Schmaltz thinks the team should come out with a strong start, saying that their slow start last year hurt them a lot in the standings, but he is ready for a team that feels different to perform differently.  

“Last year, I thought we were ready. But kind of just things didn’t really go our way in non-conference,” Schmaltz said. “So just making sure we’re ready and hit the ground running … because there’s no easy weekends.” 

 

Maeve Hushman is a Dakota Student Sports Reporter. She can be reached at [email protected] 

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