GRAND FORKS - Tyson Jost's early signing with the Colorado Avalanche last spring left the University of North Dakota a bit thinner than expected at center this season.
The injury to junior Rhett Gardner, who assumed the top-line center role, compounded that issue in a pair of losses last weekend at Minnesota Duluth.
Add on the fact that the team's leading scorer, center Nick Jones, has been battling an injury and is questionable for this weekend's series against defending national champion Denver (7:37 p.m. Friday, Jan. 26, 7:07 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27), UND coach Brad Berry and his staff may have to get creative with lines.
Berry didn't rule out either Gardner or Jones for the weekend series. In fact, he said the team received encouraging information on Gardner this week.
"We had some pretty good news as far as the injury wasn't as severe as what it was first thought to be," Berry said. "Now, it's a situation of whether he's available this weekend or not."
Two days before the rivalry series with the Pioneers, the coaching staff is still unsure what the lineup with look like on Friday night, though.
Gardner, the team's top faceoff man and shutdown center, hasn't played since sustaining an injury with a shot block against Bemidji State on Jan. 12. UND is 0-2-1 without him. Opposing teams have gone 7-for-13 on the power play with Gardner out of the lineup.
Jones is currently on a season-high, five-game point streak and leads the team with nine goals and 21 points.
Defenseman Gabe Bast, who was injured Friday night at Minnesota Duluth, also missed UND's last game.
"We're evaluating him through the week as we get closer," Berry said. "He skated yesterday. That's a good sign. We'll see as the week goes on."
There is some good news for the Fighting Hawks (12-8-6 overall, 6-6-2 National Collegiate Hockey Conference).
Forward Zach Yon, who missed Saturday night's game with an illness, appears to be available for the Denver series. And freshman goaltender Peter Thome, who missed last weekend's series with an undisclosed injury, is taking on a full workload at practice.
UND has lost 55 man games to injury this season and has used 26 different lineups in 26 games.
The Fighting Hawks split with Denver in Magness Arena in November.