Face-off set against Broncos

Hockey team prepares to skate against Western Michigan in weekend series.

Junior forward Connor Gaarder skates in last weekend’s series against St. Lawrence at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Photo by Chester Beltowski.

In its final National Collegiate Hockey Conference matchup before the conclusion of the first half of the season, the men’s hockey team will travel to Kalamazoo, Mich., this weekend to face off against Western Michigan.

North Dakota claimed a split last weekend in a home series against St. Lawrence and currently sits three points ahead of the Broncos in the NCHC.

UND coach Dave Hakstol sees much competition within the upcoming series.

“Western Michigan is really good defensively in all areas of the game,” he said. “They play a real hard game away from the puck, and they’ve done that all season long. I think they play extremely well in their own building, and I would expect it to be a real tight game offensively for us. We’re going to have to play very well and really push the envelope.”

In its lineup this season, North Dakota has seen a decline in the number of faceoff wins with the departure of Corban Knight at the end of last season — his faceoff numbers consistently ranked high among the team.

The noticeable statistic has left the team searching for a more consistent way of attacking the low faceoff win numbers.

“All of our centermen have to work to improve that,” Hakstol said. “We’ve been inconsistent. We’ve had guys that, on Friday night, have had good nights, and then Saturday night, you look at the stats — and all of a sudden they’re at 3-for-11 (in faceoffs). So we’ve been inconsistent there.”

With the inconsistency evident with the team’s not full roster, Hakstol remains hopeful for the return of junior Mark MacMillan to the lineup — his absence due to an undiscosed injury earlier this season.

“It’s been a fact of our life over the past few weeks here,” Hakstol said. “We haven’t had a full practice or been able to make roster decisions until Wednesdays or Thursdays and I think we’ll kind of be on that same time-frame with Mark.”

It may not be certain, but what remains a constant for the team is improvement and growth.

“It just comes back to maturity for us,” Hakstol said. “I’ve been pretty happy with three of our last four efforts … we’ve got to continue maturing as a team. We’ve got to grow up and do a better job from night to night in our competitive levels on a consistent basis.”

Elizabeth Erickson is the sports editor of The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].