UND to have more lineup options available this weekend
The Fighting Hawks are set to have Thanksgiving dinner as a team a day earlier than the holiday itself.
GRAND FORKS — There was no question who would be in the lineup last Saturday night for UND.
With four injured players and another recovering from an illness, every healthy player suited up for the Fighting Hawks against Miami.
This weekend, the UND coaching staff will have a few more options.
Sophomore defenseman Luke Bast is expected to be available to play for the first time this season.
Bast has been bothered with a nagging upper-body injury since fall camp and did not join full practices with the team until last week.
"It's a long time he's been off," UND coach Brad Berry said. "But he's kind of gradually immersed himself into skating, being on his own. Then, with us, he did limited drills, then full practices. He's been skating here for a while now. He hasn't played a game yet. Obviously, his game shape is one side of it. But his execution has gotten a lot better over the course of the last week here. He will be available this weekend."
Bast has not played a game for UND since March 24, when he suited up against Notre Dame in the NCAA Albany Regional.
Last season, Bast was a pleasant surprise for the Fighting Hawks.
The Red Deer, Alta., product played big minutes down the stretch as a banged up UND team ran to the Penrose Cup as National Collegiate Hockey Conference champions.
He was used in a number of different roles, including on the second power-play unit.
If UND is still without injured defenseman Cooper Moore — he's questionable for the weekend — Bast is more likely to play.
The Fighting Hawks also expect to have rookie center Owen McLaughlin back in the lineup after he missed last weekend's series due to an illness.
"He'll be playing this weekend," Berry said. "Obviously, he was out with an illness that set him back a little bit. He's back. Last week, he practiced one time before the weekend. He had very little in his body for nourishment. Now, he's eating again and he's back in practice every day."
In McLaughlin's absence, rookie Ben Strinden played center against Miami and turned in his best weekend of the season. With McLaughlin back, and UND's other three main centers available (Jake Schmaltz, Louis Jamernik V and Griffin Ness), Berry will now have to decide how to use Strinden against the Beavers.
"He brings an element in both positions," Berry said of Strinden. "It's a situation where we are going to try to narrow down on one of them."
Forward Nick Portz, who sustained an upper-body injury Friday against Miami, is doubtful to return this weekend. Forward Dane Montgomery, who has yet to play this season due to an upper-body injury, remains out.
UND seeks improvement
The season has not started the way UND hoped.
The Fighting Hawks are 5-6-2 through 13 games and sitting at No. 27 in the Pairwise Rankings.
Most of the losses have come at the end of games. In four of UND's six losses, the game was tied in the third period. It also led in the third period during both ties.
"Hockey's not a perfect game," Berry said. "There are mistakes made on the ice, but it seems like right now, at critical times, those mistakes are in the back of our net. You've got to be dependable, you've got to be predictable to your teammates, and at the end of the day, we've got to try to play as clean as we can right now. That means simplifying our game and everybody trying to do their job.
"That's for our forwards to get pucks in and puck management, our D-men boxing out in D-zone coverage and being stronger at net front, and our goaltenders being better. I think everybody's a part of it."
UND has four nonconference games left — this weekend against Bemidji State and early January against Lindenwood.
Right now, the Fighting Hawks are 3-3-1 in nonconference.
"We're both sitting mid-20s right now in the Pairwise," UND forward Judd Caulfield said about the Fighting Hawks and Beavers. "Obviously, both of us want to be a lot higher than that. So, it's going to be a battle this weekend. It's not conference points, but we're going to be fighting for those Pairwise points. These are huge games for nonconference."
Thanksgiving at The Ralph
UND players and staff members had their Thanksgiving meal together as a team Wednesday night in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
That way, the players won't feel compelled to load up on turkey the day before playing a critical nonconference series.
UND will travel to Bemidji on Thursday and practice in the Sanford Center. Then, they'll have a team meal at the hotel Thursday night and play at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
"That will be good in the fact that we'll all be together," Berry said.
Recently, UND has played better the day after Thanksgiving when it has been on the road. Since 2012, UND is 1-4-1 at home the day after Thanksgiving and 3-0 on the road.
In 2019-20, the Fighting Hawks swept Minnesota playing on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. In 2015, UND beat Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich., the day after Thanksgiving en route to a sweep. In 2012, UND beat Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., the day after Thanksgiving.
Black Friday ticket sales
UND is running a ticket promotion for Black Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
There will be $15 adult and $10 youth upper-bowl tickets available for Saturday's game against Bemidji State in Ralph Engelstad Arena, a Dec. 31 exhibition game against the U.S. Under-18 Team and a Jan. 6-7 home series against Lindenwood.
There are extra tickets available for those games because the students are out of town.