Howdy, folks. It’s that time of year again. Every so often The College Hockey Blog will be unveiling our Preseason top 16 teams, one by one. If you want to see the top 16 in order, and links to each individual preview, click the tab at the top of the page. Today’s team is #7 North Dakota
Last year the Fighting Sioux won the MacNaughton Cup for the first time since 2004, but was bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by New Hampshire in a crazy game. A failure by Joe Finley to clear the puck out of the zone led to a faceoff and a goal for New Hampshire with less than a second left. With many of their top players back, the Sioux look to advance farther than the first round this year.
Let’s start with what the Sioux will miss: Ryan Duncan will be playing pro hockey in Austria this year. While I don’t think Duncan will have a great professional career, there is no doubt that he was a phenomenal college hockey player. Duncan led the team last year both in goals (20) and points (39). North Dakota will also be missing the 13 goals by Matt Frattin, as the Junior was kicked off the team last week stemming from a drunken driving arrest. Two alcohol related incidents in one summer is bad news. Granted he is a college kid and college kids like to drink (especially in Grand Forks) but the hockey players have to be smart enough to realize that the spotlight is always on them. Filling his spot will be Corbin Knight. Knight was the AJHL rookie of the year and had 72 points in 61 games for the Okotoks Oilers. The 5th round pick by the Panthers this year wasn’t slated to come to Grand Forks until next year, but he seems prepped to play college hockey.
The play in net will certainly be something to watch. Last year, Brad Eidsness had an up and down year – not unusual for a Freshman – but he will have to step up this year in order for UND to make the leap. He was 47th nationally in save percentage (.906) and 29th in GAA (2.56). Given the offensive talent in the WCHA the numbers seem more acceptable, but they still need to improve. He seemed to have taken a step forward towards the end of the regular season last year, but poor rebound control was a big problem as the Sioux ended the year on a 3 game losing streak, including the final game when Eidsness gave up 6 goals to UNH. I’m sure Sioux fans will be watching Freshman Aaron Dell. Dell had a 2.53 GAA and .924 save percentage last year for the Calgary Canucks of the AJHL. He also led the league in minutes played in goal.
Offensively I’m not quite sure where the goals will come from. Duncan and Frattin are gone, as is Ryan Martens. I love Sophomore Jason Gregoire. Even though he disappeared at times last year, he flashed tremendous potential, with soft hands and an absolute rocket for a shot. He had 12 goals last year and I wouldn’t be surprised if he doubled those totals this year, although he will need to get someone to pass him the puck. Sophomore Brett Hextall had 12 goals last year, but he strikes me more as a role player than a star goal scorer. Junior Evan Trupp has loads of talent, but thus far it hasn’t translated into production.
Defensively, Jake Marto looks to be the team’s 2nd best defenseman this year. The former North Dakota Mr. Hockey had a very good season last year, looking comfortable no matter whom he was playing with, and handling the puck well. He has a good one to learn from, as Senior Chay Genoway is one of the best defensemen in college hockey, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he is a Hobey finalist at the end of the year. Hopefully Derrick LaPoint will be healthy to start the year, if no other reason than to give the Sioux another capable body back there.
Assuming Eidsness takes a step forward this year, and they get someone to fill Duncan’s skates, I think the Sioux will be right in the mix in the WCHA, and a Frozen Four contender.