Tuned In To CBS
North Dakota Top Line Reunited for NCHC Stretch Run
by Avash Kalra/Senior Writer
Hockey, as a sport, has enjoyed its fair share of famous nicknamed forward lines, from all-time classics — like the Philadelphia Flyers' "Legion of Boom," or the New York Islanders' "Trio Grande" — to more recent examples, like the LA Kings' "That 70s' Line." College hockey, of course, isn't immune to the trend, and this season, three nicknamed lines in particular could each make a reasonable claim to be the most talented forward line in college hockey.
Michigan has its "CCM line" (JT Compher, Kyle Connor, Tyler Motte), Denver has its "Pacific Rim line" (Trevor Moore, Danton Heinen, Dylan Gambrell), and North Dakota — looking to return to the NCAA Frozen Four for the third consecutive season — has its "CBS line" (Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser, Nick Schmaltz).
The CBS line paced the Fighting Hawks for most of the first half of the season, but their value was tested most notably by absences from each player this season. Heading into a pair of games at Denver earlier this month, the CBS line — despite dominating opposing defenses for the first several weeks of the 2015-16 campaign — had played only once as a combination in approximately two months.
Schmaltz, a 2014 first round NHL draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, and Boeser, a 2015 first round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks, each missed a pair of games while representing Team USA — playing on the same line, of course — at the World Junior Championship. Soon after, the sophomore Schmaltz and senior Caggiula missed four games due to injury.
Now, the line is back together, and although the reacclimation period was challenging (with Denver sweeping North Dakota last weekend), the reunion is timely nevertheless. The trio produced the game winner on Saturday night, with the freshman Boeser scoring in the third period to lead first-place UND to a weekend sweep of Minnesota-Duluth.
"First and foremost you have three special players," said first-year head coach Brad Berry, prior to Caggiula's and Schmaltz's returns from injury. "They're gifted offensively, as far as bringing different things to the table. Schmaltz — he's a very smart player, sees the ice very well. he's got a pass first mentality. He can distribute the puck effectively in the offensive zone. He's a very good playmaker who can create offense.
"Brock —- on the right side, he has a knack for getting open. When he gets the puck, he has such a quick, hard shot that's accurate. He makes the most of his opportunity. And Caggiula, he's got a high end motor. A very energetic player who plays with passion and energy. He has quick feet and quick strong hands."
Clearly, each player complements his linemates well, and that's led to success on the ice. Boeser leads North Dakota with 20 goals, Caggiula is second with 15, and Schmaltz — reflecting the strengths identified by his coach — leads UND with 25 assists. Each player plays in all phases of the game (even strength, power play, and penalty kill) and has averaged over a point per game this season.
When playing as a line this season, the trio has combined for a remarkable 30 goals and 43 assists in 20 games.
Moreover, Boeser — the NCHC's leading scorer — and Schmaltz have helped incorporate valuable experience gained while playing at the World Junior Championship earlier in the winter, where Team USA earned the bronze medal.
Boeser and Schmaltz each scored in the bronze medal game win over Sweden.
Said Berry of the tournament in Finland, "I thought it was great as far as them getting experience at the international level, playing with very good players.They learned a lot as far not only playing on a good team but playing against some very good international teams. It's experience they can draw upon."
Back stateside, Boeser has become the first North Dakota freshman since 2005-06 (T.J. Oshie, Jonathan Toews) to score 20 goals in a season, and clearly, he and his linemates are a major reason why North Dakota enters the final four games of the regular season in a first-place tie with St. Cloud State in the conference standings.
Indeed, while CBS is the self-proclaimed "America's Most Watched Network," the CBS line has become — unquestionably — Grand Forks' Most Watched Line.
But importantly, the Fighting Hawks continued to string together victories, even without the line together. UND went 5-0-1 in those six games, and that may prove to be the biggest sign that this UND team has the makings of a successful run toward an elusive championship this spring.
Another run to the Frozen Four, though, is weeks away, and for now, the goals remain of the short-term variety, as the Fighting Hawks chase the NCHC's Penrose Cup, awarded to the league's regular season champion.
"We don't look at that where we're at right now and project that without going through the weekly process," said Berry. "We're going through the weekends to try and take care of that.
"We look at the short term goals before looking at the long term."
North Dakota and the CBS line — looking to cement a legacy beyond just its nickname — close out the regular season with a pair of games at Nebraska-Omaha, followed by a home series finale against Western Michigan.