Fresh Starts for North Dakota, CC
Starman Looks at NCHC Game of the Week
by Dave Starman/Columnist
(Fresh off his fifth World Junior Championship broadcast appearance Dave reunites with his teammates Shireen Saski Starman and Ben Holden for tonight’s NCHC Game Of The Week. It is the backend of a doubleheader that features one of the more special college hockey rivalries, as Atlantic Hockey foes Air Force and Army faceoff in the first game. Eric Frede and Jim Paradise on the call from West Point).
Colorado College heads to Grand Forks this weekend for a big showdown for both teams. These are two teams that have headed in different directions lately but also are in a race to the top of the NCHC and wins are vital. That sense of urgency creates an interesting matchup.
North Dakota, the NCAA’s 2nd half darlings in recent years, head into this weekend in a good place. It ended December with sweeps of NCHC rival Western Michigan in Kalamazoo (one of those wins seen on CBSSN) and then swept Northern Michigan. What makes those wins impressive is those are two teams that can bring it for 60 minutes so you have to admire a undermanned NoDak roster that handled those 240 minutes pretty well.
Colorado College is looking for a weekend that can jump start it towards .500 in the highly competitive NCHC. The Tigers stand 2-5-3 in the league and for them the formula is simple, win league games, win the NCHC, make the NCAAs. Even simpler is, win the next game, and that is entirely possible with this bunch that has shown flashes of high compete level this season. They have put together good 20 minutes but not a full 60 to hang their hats on.
If you like goaltending you have a must-watch game here. Zane Gothberg of North Dakota is slowly developing into one of my favorites and I don’t toss goalie praise around often. Gothberg, almost on a weekend by weekend basis has developed into a better fundamental goalie. Watch him in the crease and you see an excellent technician as well as someone who can be an athlete. Though the style is not even remotely similar, his plan and approach to puck stopping remind me a lot of Mike Richter, the former Badger, Team USA and New York Rangers star. At the NCAA level he and Steve Summerhays of Notre Dame would be a good comparrison.
Gothberg is one of the best in the NCAA at using his stick. Somewhat of a lost art in goalie land, Gothberg’s ability to get low shots to corners or to use his stick to corral loose pucks in the slot is making life easier on his young defense corps. The fewer battles they need to fight in the slot, the fresher they will be come tourney time. Little things become big things at crunch time and this is one to keep and eye on.
CC netminder Josh Thorimbert has been terrific this season. Coach (and former CC netminder) Scott Owens openly has said that Thorimbert has given CC a chance to win just about every game they play. Thorimbert is also a solid technician that can combine athletics and style. He presents a big image in the net and rarely beats himself stopping shots. When he gets beat 9 times out of 10 you can look at the goal and say, “Wow, that was a pretty good goal.” Leakers deflate a team, good goals are part of the game and that can help the psyche of the team moving along. He doesn't allow games to fall apart.
CC gets back two defensemen that were terrific at the recently completed World Junior Championships. Gustav Olafsson returns from a Silver Medal winning performance with Team Sweden and Jaccob Slavin was a bright spot for Team USA. Slavin was the 9th defenseman coming to development camp just prior to the tourney and played top-four minutes. His continued rise should be a factor in CC’s second half success.
Olafsson is a smooth skating offensive-minded player who can defend and has an excellent defensive stick. How much value did he have on for Sweden? With first place on the line in their pool on the last day of the round robin, they played the Russians and Olafsson got matched up against perhaps the most skilled player in the tourney, Mikhail Grigorenko, a high first-round draft choice of the Buffalo Sabres. He kept the big Russian pretty quiet and the Swedes won the game.
North Dakota shows up tonight with a full roster minus the recently departed Adam Tambellini. That departure prompted Coach Hakstol, when asked about it, to comment, “This is not an easy place to play at, or be successful, nor should it be.”
Tremendous quote that former coach Dean Blais somewhat echoed this morning when we spoke. Blais, who will be tied by his former defenseman Hakstol for games coached at UND at 410 tonight said, “When you look around that arena, they don’t hang banners for participation, they hang ones for championships.” Those two quotes set the tone for the program moving ahead this season as well as to future recruits.
The team is healthy and boasts a great pair of top lines with Rocco Grimaldi between emerging star Luke Johnson and Drake Caggulia and the recently reunited line of Mark MacMillan between Brendan O’Donnell and Michael Parks. The latter trio seems like they have been playing together since mites and in some ways they have been together since before they started at the NCAA level.
North Dakota boasts a mobile defense, solid goaltending and depth. Their compete level is what Hakstol feels sets them apart and they become “below average” when it doesn’t happen.
For these two teams the path to March is clear. For CC it is about consistency and being able to overcome a lack of depth to string together consistent 60 minute games. They have the skill to be a hard out and their back end is good. For North Dakota it is about being able to play at a high compete level to offset what they see as a team that is not your typical North Dakota skilled team but rather one that is more the sum of its parts.
They start the march to March tonight in Grand Forks at 8:30 ET.