Preseason Top 16: #4 North Dakota
After finishing 4th in the regular season North Dakota won their third straight WCHA postseason championship and earned a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Their season ended with a loss to Minnesota in the final eight.
It was the best of times….
North Dakota was again at its best in the second half of the year, a tradition under Dave Hakstol, and they rattled off a 8 game winning streak and won 14 of their final 18 games of the season. They were 8-9-0 in WCHA play on January 20th and finished the league at 16-11-1.
It was the worst of times…
North Dakota sputtered out of the gate, first when Freshman forward Colten St. Clair was ruled ineligible, then when they started 2-6-0 in WCHA play, including being swept by both Wisconsin and archrival Minnesota. To add injury to insult, touted Freshman forward Rocco Grimaldi was lost for the season with a knee injury.
The Coach - Dave Hakstol (North Dakota '92)
Hakstol reached the Frozen Four in his first four seasons at the school, and in 8 seasons at North Dakota has won 2 MacNaughton Cups and the past 3 Broadmoor Trophies. He's won 213 games in 8 years, winning more games per season than soon to be NCAA career wins leader Jerry York.
Notable Current NHL Alumni
Players to watch
Even though he finished 2nd on the team in both goals and points with 19 and 45 respectively and he improved his defensive zone work to the point that he was one of the best defensive forwards on the team, Danny Kristo still opted to return to Grand Forks for his Senior year. He gives North Dakota a bonafide star and is a definite Hobey sleeper.
Corban Knight is also back for his Senior year. Knight had 16 goals and 40 points last year, plays well in his own zone, and also might be the best faceoff guy in the country.
Carter Rowney had 4 goals in his first two seasons combined, so North Dakota didn't expect him to be a huge contributor last year as a Junior. All he did was score 18 goals and have 33 assists and emerge as one of the more underrated forwards in the WCHA.
Defensively Dillon Simpson is a guy who could take a big step forward. He played as a 17 year old true Freshman for their Frozen Four team in 2010 and since then has improved in every facet of the game. He will probably quarterback the power play this year with his great passing skills and an improved shot, but he still needs work skating.
Andrew MacWilliam will captain the team this year. He had just 2 goals and 7 points last season but he's one of the tougher more physical players in the country. His main challenge is avoiding the untimely penalty.
He played in 4 games last season, but as he is eligible for newcomer of the year I am including Rocco Grimaldi in this section. The 2011 second round pick had a goal in those 4 games played last year and also a ton of tallies for the NTDP. If his knee surgery didn't sap him of too much of his elite speed he should be a huge boost to North Dakota.
Jordan Schmaltz was perhaps a surprise first rounder this summer by the Blues, but he was a 2 time first team all USHL performer and will already be one of the best passers on North Dakota's blueline. He could use some bulking up, but that should be no problem.
Zane Gothberg was the USHL goalie of the year and should push for immediate playing time. He had a .921 save percentage for Fargo last year.
Clarke Saunders is the other goalie being brought in. The transfer from Alabama-Huntsville had a .906 save percentage last season despite playing in front of a porous defense. He will be an underrated addition to the roster.
Non conference series to watch:
UND welcomes Boston University to the Ralph for their second home weekend of the year. The Terriers don't look to be a top contender in Hockey East this year, but any time two of the most storied programs in college hockey get together it is a treat to watch.
It seems cliche to say, but it all depends on the goalies. If Gothberg adapts to college hockey and/or if Saunders proves last year was no fluke then North Dakota could be Frozen Four bound and a real national title threat. If not, they could fade to midpack in the league. One thing is for sure though, they'll scuffle coming out of the gate and then go on a hot streak after Christmas.