Something Rotten in Grand Forks?
by Dane DeKrey/Staff Writer
A month ago, if you were to say that North Dakota was going to be 7-6-1 in its first 14 games, you probably would have been laughed out of the room.
The laughter, however, has stopped, as a triumvirate of trouble has led to a deafening quiet by one of college hockey's most talented teams.
But the baby need not be thrown out with the bathwater according to head coach, Dave Hakstol, who felt his team has taken some large strides thus far into the season despite going winless in four of its last five games.
"We knew coming in that our success is going to be based on our development," said Hakstol, who has generaled the program to consecutive Frozen Four appearances since taking over for Dean Blais in 2004. "Obviously we want to have more wins and fewer losses, but I'm happy with the way our team is developing. We have a long ways to go, but in the first two months of the year, we've made some real, key steps forward."
It seems the steps which Hakstol refers to, go both ways, as inconsistent play by the green and white has been well-documented in the polls. October 16: 3rd. October 23: 10th. November 13: 3rd. November 27: 11th.
So, why the fluctuation?
After being mauled by Maine, UND lost junior goaltender Philippe Lamoureux to a foot injury. His replacements — highly-touted freshman Anthony Grieco, and sophomore Aaron Walksi.
Grieco came out guns-a-blazin', going 3-0-1 in his first four starts.
Captain Chris Porter expressed his content with Grieco's ability to come through in the clutch for the team.
"He really did a great job," said the Thunder Bay, Ontario, native of fellow Canadian, Grieco. "Anthony stepped into a tough situation, being young and asked to win games for us, he's been great for us."
But then, Alaska happened. UND was downed 6-2, 4-2 by the Seawolves of Anchorage, who swept the Fighting Sioux for the first time in 11 years. Grieco struggled, UND couldn't score, and, as has been the case all season, poor second-period play sewed the seeds of disaster.
Hakstol was the first to admit the team's poor mid-game play as the main contributor to UND's losses.
"Statistically, there's no question that it hasn't been a good period for us," Hakstol said. "It has to be a point of emphasis for us as far as carrying any momentum from the first period, and, also, bring a certain level of concentration into the third."
Making matters worse for UND has been good, but not great, play by the team's two franchise players — T.J. Oshie and Jonathan Toews.
Oshie simply can't catch a break. Having hit the inside of numerous posts, the feisty forward has yet to be rewarded for his borderline-chaotic play. As for Toews, while averaging a little over a point a game, he has yet to assert himself as the on-ice general many believe he has the capability to be.
The two have 23 points combined. To put that into perspective, Minnesota's Kyle Okposo and Jay Barriball have 34, and they are still wearing their freshmen diapers.
Even with Lamoureux back between the pipes, the Sioux are lacking the consistent play they are capable of, a fact that may prove damming later in the season. Being that UND plays in college hockey's best conference, the WCHA, now more than ever, every point matters.
"Every team in the WCHA plays well on any given night," said Porter. "Obviously our goal is to finish on top, but Minnesota is playing great, so is Denver; we're not looking past anyone right now."
Such seems like sound advice, given the current slump the team is attempting to bust out of.