For North Dakota goalie Clarke Saunders, what a difference a year makes.
Last season, he was the starting goalie for the Alabama-Huntsville, who finished the season 2-28-1. However, towards the beginning of the season, the University announced they were going to reclassify their hockey program from Division I to club. During this time period, Saunders decided he was going to transfer to the North Dakota.
UAH later changed its decision, but due to the original announcement, players were able to transfer without having to sit out a season, which is the normal protocol. The school’s flip-flop left Saunders with a very difficult decision – continue with his decision to transfer to UND or stay at UAH.
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“I made some really good friends at UAH that I know I will have for the rest of my life,” Saunders said. “The hardest part about the decision was to leave them. I spent a lot of long nights thinking about the decision, but what really helped me decide was my teammates as they were happy for my opportunity and made me realize it was something I needed to do.”
For Saunders, the transition from playing as an independent at UAH to playing in the WCHA as a member of UND has been fairly seamless.
“My teammates here have been fantastic from Day 1,” Saunders said. “It could have been really tough coming in to a new program like this, but the guys on the team made the transition a lot easier. The competition level day in and day out has been a lot different in practices and games, so I need to focus on being at a high level every time.”
So far this season, Saunders and his teammates are 5-3-2 overall and ranked 10th in the nation. For the junior transfer, personally, the season is off to a good start as he is 3-2-2 overall with a 2.24 goals against average and two shutouts.
“Having two shutouts this early in the season is nice,” Saunders said. “but there is definitely room for improvement. I have set the bar high for myself, so I want to make sure I keep improving. I am going to keep working hard to make sure I am playing my best hockey at the end of the year when it matters most.”
• Notre Dame freshman forward Mario Lucia scored his first college goal in a 4-1 Irish win at Michigan on Friday. The Irish completed their first sweep at Yost Ice Arena in 35 years (Feb. 3-4, 1978) when Lucia’s father, Don, was a Notre Dame frosh. The Irish have a 8-3 record heading into a weekend series at home against North Dakota where they are just 2-2 on the year as opposed to 6-1 on road and neutral ice.
• In 14 meetings since the 2008-09 season, Alaska is winless against Northern Michigan (0-8-6-4). The Nanooks’ last win against the Wildcats was on Nov. 30, 2007. In fact, Northern Michigan is 15-1-6 all-time against Alaska at home. However, Northern Michigan comes into the series winless in its last four (0-3-1), while Alaska is 2-1-1 on the road and 6-4-2 on the season. The Nanooks have not been swept in a series so far this season.
• Bentley’s Brett Gensler leads the nation in points per game (2.11), is 2nd in goals per game (0.89) and 1st in assists per game (1.22). This after he registered a school Division I record 50 points last season and was among the national leaders in all three offensive categories. This season, he has at least two points in 8 of 9 games, and scored the game-winning goal with 2:44 left in Bentley’s 3-1 win against Connecticut Saturday night. This weekend they host Mercyhurst where he has scored eight points on four goals and fours assists in only three games (2.7 ppg).
• UNH is off to its best start through 10 games (8-1-1) since the 1968-69 season when the team went 10-1-0 in the first 11 games. The Wildcats key to success has been its defense where they have four shutouts on the season, and in fact have never allowed more than three goals in a game all season. Sophomore goalie Casey DeSmith is second in the nation in goals against average, allowing just 1.19 goals per game. He is also second in the nation in save percentage with 12 goals allowed and 292 saves for a .961 pct.
Michigan will face Cornell Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. … After losing its season opener at Northeastern, Boston College has won nine in a row and will face Dartmouth at home Saturday night looking to keep the streak alive. … Niagara goaltender Carsen Chubak leads the nation in goals against average (0.99) and save percentage (.970). … Nebraska-Omaha hosts Alabama-Huntsville this weekend looking to increase its unbeaten streak in series openers as they are currently 4-0-1. … Minnesota travels to Vermont for the first time in program history. … Alaska-Anchorage heads to Bemidji State as it is currently in a four-game winless streak, looking for its first win since Oct. 20 against Merrimack (6-3) and its first WCHA win. … CCHA Conference play starts this weekend and with it comes the competition for the Perani Cup Three Star Award, given to the player from each school who earns the most points throughout the conference season each time they are named a “star of the game” (5 points for 1st star, 3 points for 2nd star and 1 point for 3rd star).