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Luke Bast's return to lineup comes at key time for Fighting Hawks

The sophomore blue liner played larger-than-expected minutes last weekend against Bemidji State.

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UND defenseman Luke Bast fires a puck during a February 2022 game against Colorado College in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Photo courtesy UND athletics
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GRAND FORKS — The plan was not for Luke Bast to come in and play 20 minutes in his first game in eight months.

The UND defenseman, who had been recovering from an upper-body injury sustained in the fall, was expecting to be eased into the lineup.

But when Fighting Hawks alternate captain Ethan Frisch left Friday's game in Bemidji with a lower-body injury in the second period and junior Tyler Kleven suffered an injury in the third, Bast was thrown into the fire.

Bast played 20:12 on Friday and 15:50 on Saturday as the Fighting Hawks earned a win and a tie against Bemidji State.

"I wasn't expecting to play as much as I did Friday night," Bast said. "We had a few injuries there on the back end. But honestly, looking back at it, I'm kind of glad it happened that way. It kind of threw me in the deep end, got me acclimated a little quicker than we planned to. I was actually kind of happy it worked out that way."

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Bast, a sophomore from Red Deer, Alta., didn't practice at all for the first month-plus of the season. He returned in mid-November and had two weeks of skating with the team under his belt before the Bemidji State series.

"It's been long," Bast said of his road to recovery. "Patience and persistence has been the whole virtue for me. Obviously, there was something that happened in August there that set me back a bit, but I'm just glad to be back now."

The timing of his return has been critical for UND.

The Fighting Hawks (6-6-3) had to play without Frisch and sophomore defenseman Brent Johnson (illness) on Saturday night.

This weekend, they'll head to No. 3 St. Cloud State (7:30 p.m. Friday, 6 p.m. Saturday at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center) shorthanded on the back end again. Frisch will not be available to play, UND coach Brad Berry said.

Johnson is expected to be available, but it still means Bast could play a big role against the Huskies.

"He gave us some solid minutes," Berry said of last weekend's series. "He was dependable. He played with confidence. That's always tough when a guy hasn't gotten the reps in games early in the season and only has a couple of weeks of practice under his belt. He came in and was really solid and gave us some good minutes."

Bast became a key part of UND's Penrose Cup-winning team last season.

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With injuries to star blue liner Jake Sanderson and others, he was thrust into a big role during the Fighting Hawks' 9-1-1 run down the stretch.

"He's dependable with his puck touches," Berry said. "He makes good first passes to an outlet. He's a vocal player on the ice. It's easier to play the game when you're vocal and talking to your teammates. He loves the game. He competes at a high, high level."

Bast said he feels good fitness-wise after playing last weekend and credited athletic trainer Mark Poolman for having him ready.

"Pooly and I did a pretty good job maintaining strength and endurance over the course of those two months," Bast said. "A lot of props to Pooly for keeping me in shape for the most part.

"All things considered, I was happy. Obviously, I hadn't played a game in eight months. There are some things that need to be wrinkled out. It's a point in time for me. I'm happy with where I'm at right now. I'll just continue to build from that."

Another defenseman who stepped up last weekend was Union transfer Ryan Sidorski.

On Saturday night, Sidorski tied Riese Gaber for a team-high in shots on goal (four). The blue liner also led UND in blocked shots (three).

"I'd definitely say I'm adjusting well and finding my game a little more," Sidorski said.

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The fifth-year senior said his final year of college hockey is going well.

"It's been pretty special," he said. "The culture here is a little different than Union, but it's been good. I'm definitely adjusting to North Dakota as a whole, but I've loved my time here so far."

What has Sidorski liked about it?

"I think it's just the total compete in all the players," he said. "Everyone has a common goal of trying to get better. And it's just a good group of guys. There's no drama with this team. Everyone is super close."

Huskies without Meier

UND won't be alone in missing a key veteran defenseman for this weekend's National Collegiate Hockey Conference series.

St. Cloud State will play without fifth-year senior Spencer Meier, according to a report from The Rink Live. Meier has been battling an injury for a couple of weeks.

The Huskies may be getting a pair of forwards back, though. Kyler Kupka and Chase Brand have both returned to practice, The Rink Live reported.

UND at No. 3 St. Cloud State

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
Records: UND 6-6-3, St. Cloud State 11-3.
TV: Midco Sports (GF Ch. 27/622 HD).
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).
Stream: NCHChockey.com.
Of note: Midco Sports will be carrying the local St. Cloud broadcast.

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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