Roller coaster of a season ends in triumph

Shane Gersich started the scoring for UND against QU. Photo by Russell Hons/Russell Hons Photography.

The drought is over.

It has been 16 years in the making but UND returns from the Frozen Four with the hardware.

The Fighting Hawks are national champions.

The journey has been anything but simple, as North Dakota began this season with a lot of question marks. The Hawks had lost their head coach, starting goaltender and an entire senior class. Nobody could predict what the season would look like.

First-year head coach Brad Berry, who marked off the final box on his season checklist, had immense talent and experience to work with, welcoming 11 freshmen and leading his alma mater to a 34-6-4 record on the season.

Berry also had plenty of injuries in his line-up; high expectations had him working with the hiccups to develop the team into a dominant force.

A huge part of the unstoppable squad was the “CBS” line: consisting of senior Drake Caggiula, freshman Brock Boeser and sophomore Nick Schmaltz. One of college hockey’s strongest lines, the trio accounted for 157 points on the season.

Caggiula, a senior, who is now an NHL free agent, accounted for some of the best plays in the lineup, making it into top 10 reels all season.

“Drake has a knack for making huge plays,” Boeser said. “He is a tremendous player and he can do anything because he is such a hard worker.”

In combination with linemate Boeser, leading defenseman scorer Troy Stetcher and goaltender Cam Johnson made school history by setting the record of four players to make All-American Honors in a single season.

For a team that started in fourth place in the polls, the majority of the season was spent holding onto the No. 1 seed with minor drawbacks dropping them to fifth place at the lowest part in the season.

The season was not without it’s challenges though. While the Hawks won most of the season series, Denver proved to be a challenge. While the Hawks took care of business against the Pioneers in Grand Forks, they were swept on the road for the first time since 2013.

UND’s struggles continued against its NCHC-rival as the two teams tied in the third place game of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff Tournament.

There were some who were worried that UND was limping into the tournament after struggling in the NCHC Tournament.

Those worries were put to bed as soon as the NCAA Tournament began.

With their offense refueled, the Fighting Hawks claimed yet another accolade by becoming NCAA Midwest Regional champions when they dominated Northeastern and Michigan. With the two wins, the Hawks were back in the Frozen Four for the third time in three years.

To keep the rivalry fresh, UND met with its toughest contenders on the season, Denver yet again. The stakes were far greater this time around as only one team could move to the championship game.

The last time the two teams met in the Final Four was in the 2005 Championship game. The Pioneers would go on to beat UND 4-1.

History would not repeat itself this year.

After a nail biting battle, the Hawks jumped over Denver 4-2 and claimed their seat in the championship game for the first time in a long time.

Unfortunately, during the game against Denver, junior forward Luke Johnson went out with a knee injury after a collision at center ice and would be forced to sit out in the championship game against Quinnipiac. Prior to the injury, Johnson had not missed a single game in his college career.

“It’s a huge loss,” UND Captian Gage Ausmus said. “He’s been one of, if not the best, players in the tournament. He always comes through, but we’ve been dealing with this stuff all year. It’s going to take all of us to replace Luke. It’s not ideal, but at the same time, we have to play our game and have guys step up in order to win.”

Losing Johnson was not taken lightly, as senior Colten St. Clair, who has been out of the lineup for most of the year due to shoulder injury, stepped up and played the last game of his college career in style.

The Fighting Hawks went on to win the championship game by stunning the Bobcats in a 5-1 final. Brad Berry became the first NCAA DI Men’s coach to collect a championship in his first year.

After a long journey, UND will hang its eighth banner with pride.

“It’s not about how you start,” Johnson said. “It’s about how you finish.”

Allyson Bento is a sports writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected]