League play begins

HOCKEY North Dakota will start its conference play this weekend against Miami.

After many long months at home, the UND men’s hockey team will travel to Oxford, Ohio, to take on No. 1 ranked Miami in its first series of the season competing in the inaugural year of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

“We’re going to a building that we’ve never played in, and there’s a little bit of unknown there,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “We always look forward to traveling as a team on the road. It’s obviously a little different flavor than being at home. The fact is that we’ve been at home for the past couple of months, so huge challenge in front of us, but it’s exciting to get on the road.”

It’s more than just a road series for the Green and White. As the first game in the new conference against the top-ranked team in the league, Hakstol predicts there will be excitement in facing off against Miami, which went undefeated in its contest last weekend against Ohio State.

“It should be a great weekend of hockey in the NCHC inaugural season,” Hakstol said. “It’ll be an exciting series all the way through. They’re the No. 1 team in the country and we’re going into their building, so there’ll absolutely be an edge to this series.”

North Dakota claimed three points last weekend against Vermont after tallying a victory over Manitoba on Oct. 6.

With the desire to improve and the experiences to move forward, the team is satisfied with where it is at.

“I think it was a good start for our team,” senior captain Dillon Simpson said. “Obviously there are some things we need to improve on, but I think we’ve done a good job of that this week focusing on those area we need to work on. It was the first weekend of the year and guys don’t know where they fit, but I think it was a good weekend.”

While many have yet to fall into their roles, the freshmen are continuing to develop within the team.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised with them,” Simpson said. “They’ve been working hard and doing really well.”

Tough test

The last time Miami was ranked at the top of major polls was the beginning of its 2011-12 campaign, when it began its season in a series against Bemidji State. Miami claimed the victory on Friday but fell to the Beavers on Saturday.

Riley Barber currently leads the nation in scoring with the five points he tallied last weekend. After contributing two assists last Friday, Barber bounced back with five points Saturday, including four goals, for a total of seven points for the weekend.

Simpson is looking forward to the challenge, but he isn’t looking past Miami’s capabilities.

“It’ll be a fun challenge for us going into their building and getting some points,” Simpson said. “They’re a really good hockey team. We’re going to have to be on our best if we want any points out of this weekend. Going on the road is always fun for us, and we’re looking forward to it.”

The team has been studying itself and focusing on capitalizing on its abilities. Although Hakstol is focused on his own team, he said he believes it is important to be ready for each opponent.

“We’ll prepare for the opponent as always,” Hakstol said. “We’ve got to play to the best of our capabilities. We’re very much into the early part of this season … We’re trying to build our team, and we’re continuing to do that this week. We’re all focused trying to play as well as we can play on Friday night.”

Elizabeth Erickson is the sports editor of The Dakota Student. She can be reached at elizabeth.e.erickson@my.und.edu