Home game stretch extends to fourth weekend

UND men’s hockey team spends multiple weekends on home ice, looks toward strong finish

The UND men’s hockey team traveled to Colorado Springs in mid-October, after losing its first game of the season to non-conference opponent Bemidji State one week prior.

Not only did dropping the season opener serve as a wake-up call, it caused UND to explode for 10 goals  and a sweep against Colorado College the next weekend — the beginning of an unbeaten streak that lasted nearly a month.

This weekend, the NCHC foes will meet again with a mindset focused on improvement.

“I think they’re going to be a completely different team than what we saw,” UND junior forward Bryn Chyzyk said. “I know they’re going to be a hard team to play against — very well-structured defensively. Like every other NCHC series, it’s going to be an absolute war out there. Big series for our team.”

The Tigers claimed their first NCHC win of the season last weekend at Omaha, yet sit as the lowest-scoring team in the NCHC with 2.25 goals per game.

Thanks to a sweep over Niagara at home last weekend, North Dakota has completed its non-conference schedule with a near-perfect record.

UND showcased its depth when Austin Poganski, Bryn Chyzyk, Michael Parks and Stephane Pattyn each posted two-goal weekends against Niagara. For the first time since March 2011, UND had five players score at least two goals.

But that’s no surprise.

“It’s what we expect,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said last Saturday.

For Bryn Chyzyk, who was one goal shy of a hat trick Friday night, his linemates Drake Caggiula and Nick Schmaltz make it simple.

“Those two guys, all you’ve got to do is skate around with your stick on the ice.” Chyzyk said. “Their skill level is unbelievable.

“Our team goal is to grow every week. I think there were positives from that weekend. There are also things we’ve got to work on.”

Working toward improvement is the goal for junior forward Colten St. Clair, who is slowly making his way back into the lineup after sustaining an injury earlier this season, though no official timeline is known.

“That’s probably the biggest challenge in front of him is conditioning and timing,” Hakstol said. “There’s no quick road back. He’s a guy that’ll do the work He’s done everything he can to this point to keep himself at that level. Quite honestly, that’s going to be the next big challenge in front of him. He’ll do the work; we’ll take it day by day; and we’re not going to accelerate anything — but when he’s ready, he’s ready.”

Until then, UND’s capable lineup has shown consistency in improvement.

North Dakota currently holds the No. 1 spot in the NCHC in penalty killing at 87 percent and leads the nation with eight short-handed goals.

Last weekend, UND’s 85 shots on goal were the most in a 2-game series since tallying 96 against Boston University in Nov. 2013.

The familiarity in skating at home in what will be four weekends in a row has shown to be positive for the team.

“You can have different outcomes,” Hakstol said. “I think our players have done a good job of it thus far. I judge that mostly by the concentration and the consistency of our practices. Judging by that, we’ve done good job being at home and staying focused on trying to take advantage of these games.”

With a focus on clinching the top spot in the conference, the team knows the value in skating in front of a home crowd.

“We love going out there and playing in front of the fans at this beautiful facility,” Chyzyk said. “We’re only down to six games now at home, so we’re going to cherish each last one here and hopefully take care of business here at home ice.”

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