Quiet on the Western Front
Gersich Prepares to Lead North Dakota
The preseason in Grand Forks, N.D., is usually far from quiet, but this year — with a league rival winning the national title in April, with the loss of two of UND's top three scorers, with lowered expectations for the perennial powerhouse overall — the preseason for North Dakota has been just that.
Almost eerily quiet.
But imagine the potential mistake that overlooking a team that has advanced to 15 consecutive NCAA tournaments, including eight Frozen Fours, and that won the national championship 18 months ago could be.
After all — and quietly again — UND returns a 21-goal scorer from last season in junior forward Shane Gersich. Only two players in the conference — Denver's top line right-wing Troy Terry and Finnish sensation Henrik Borgstrom — scored more goals than Gersich last year. Terry and Borgstrom each had 22.
Gersich, though, became a true force last season, proving his on-ice worth particularly in even strength situations — often, especially in the NCHC, the hardest time to score. During his career at North Dakota thus far, Gersich has amassed 30 goals.
Only four of those have come on the power play.
"We just like working as a five man unit.," said Gersich. "For me, last season, the big thing was playing on both ends of the puck. Defense leads to offense, and I was fortunate enough to play with some pretty good players. I worked on my game every day, and I tried to get better every game."
After losing sophomore Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks) and freshman Tyson Jost (Colorado Avalanche) to NHL deals during the offseason, the Fighting Hawks will surely depend even more heavily on Gersich this season. Fortunately for them, the Chaska, Minn., seems up to the challenge.
While his freshman season was highlighted by scoring the opening goal of the national title game, his sophomore campaign was a revelation. Faster and stronger, Gersich improved in all facets. For instance, as a freshman, the Washington Capitals prospect had 59 shots on goal during the course of the season. As a sophomore — 153.
Gersich could have signed a pro deal in the offseason, too. But after a season that ended with a first-round double-overtime NCAA tourney loss to Boston University, he chose to return to the school he describes as being his dream program since childhood.
"I don't have any personal goals for this season," said a focused Gersich, matter-of-factly. "The only goal I have is to help the team win. That's all that matters to me — getting wins. For the team, it was a little bit of a disappointing season last year. But we've been hungry this summer, coming back and ready to go.
"I'm trying to lead by example every day with my work ethic and trying to show the young guys what it's about here. That's something I'm putting upon myself — to be more of a leader this year."
The evolving and maturing Gersich will also have the opportunity, again, to face the program for whom many once expected him to play — Minnesota, who visit Grand Forks for a pair of games in two weeks. Gersich's father and three uncles — including Neil Broten, who played for the gold medal winning U.S. Men's Olympic squad at 1980 in Lake Placid — played for the Golden Gophers.
Said Gersich, "There's no better place in college to get better than at North Dakota. For me, it's a good opportunity to do something special this year."
And as for the quiet preseason and — picked third in the NCHC preseason poll by the media — the atypically lowered expectations for UND?
"I don't pay attention to the preseason media or anything like that," continued the junior. "I don't think that stuff really matters. For us, we're just focused on our group, and we go from there. At the same time, we're at North Dakota, and we always have pressure on us.
"That's just the way it is."