Puck drops quickly for Sioux

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - The University of North Dakota men's hockey team had an exhibition game the day after its first official practice. Seven days later - at 6:35 p.m. Saturday - the No.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - The University of North Dakota men's hockey team had an exhibition game the day after its first official practice.

Seven days later - at 6:35 p.m. Saturday - the No. 7 Sioux will open the regular season at Miami of Ohio.

The spines of their textbooks have barely been creased and already the Sioux players are cramming.

"I remember last year our first official practice was a pregame skate for our (exhibition)," UND junior forward Drew Stafford said, "so this year at least we got a day."

But NCAA Division I football teams are allowed up to 40 practice sessions before the first game, and basketball teams aren't allowed to play a regular-season contest until Nov. 18, which is more than a month after they're allowed to begin on-court, full-team practices.


According to the official NCAA manual, however, the hockey season is limited to 132 days, which may consist of two segments and excludes official vacation, holidays and final exam periods. And the first practice can't be held before the Saturday of the 25th full weekend prior to the national championship.

In this case, that's Oct. 1, which is not the earliest start ever - the Sioux kicked off the 2001-02season with a Sept. 28exhibition - although it is considerably earlier than the Oct. 30 opener of 1998-99.

The challenge then, in terms of putting together a schedule, is to maximize the number of games within the allotted 132 days, without creating a long layoff prior to the postseason. UND's decision to open the regular season the same week as practice has become the norm; four WCHA teams will debut today. By waiting until the 14th, Minnesota will have two off weekends during the grueling five-month regular season rather than three.

So how does a second-year head coach get any team, let alone one with 13 freshmen, game-ready in one week?

He probably doesn't.

"We're not going to accomplish everything in a week," UND's Dave Hakstol said, "but there are some things we need to get better at."

That's what the season is for. Having games solely on weekends will allow for twice-a-week lifting and in-practice conditioning, although injuries, of course, may not.

The Sioux freshmen arrived on campus Aug. 19 and started workouts three days later. There were scrimmages, an intense dry-land program called the Ironman and captain's practices.


Even before that, most of these players were working out independently. Freshman defenseman Brian Lee, for example, went directly from the high school season to a stint in junior hockey to prepping for the NHL Combine to mixing and matching UND's workout plan with that devised by his personal trainer.

By the time the coaches entered the picture last Saturday, only the systems had to be implemented - although, according to Stafford, the Sioux rely more on skill than strict schemes, anyway.

That might be to their advantage, as seven of 14 games before the Thanksgiving break will be against teams in's top 20.

"Every day it seemed like it couldn't get any worse, then the next day you went out and did something even harder," Lee said of the preseason training. "But everybody just worked hard and got through it and it puts us in good shape for the season."

Based on the totals from fitness testing, they're in the best shape of any team in Hasktol's five years on staff. So, if nothing else, the Sioux are off to a strong start off the ice.

"We'll see the benefits of that later in the season," Hakstol said. "It's not quite there yet."

But the season is.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Terry Vandrovec at (701) 241-5548

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