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Brad Elliott Schlossman | The Grand Forks Herald | March 1, 2016

NCAA Hockey: Early uncertainty a thing of the past for North Dakota

  Despite all the questions early in the season, the Fighting Hawks have exceeded expectations.

Think back to October.

There was plenty of uncertainty with this UND men's hockey team.

Dave Hakstol, the central figure behind the most consistent stretch in program history, was gone. With Hakstol, UND seemed guaranteed great seasons, no matter the makeup of the roster. Without him behind the bench, who knew what would come?

Goalie Zane McIntyre, who saved the team on so many occasions a year ago, turned pro and signed with the Boston Bruins. All of the goalies on the roster had combined for one start -- and Cam Johnson got pulled in that one after 21 minutes.

There were 11 freshmen trying to adapt and Brad Berry was about to start he first head-coaching gig in his life.

Yes, we all knew there was some talent on this team, especially the defensive corps and on the top line. But it was hard to see this coming.

We're 34 games into the season. UND has lost five of them.

With one week to go, the Fighting Hawks have already guaranteed that another white banner will be raised to the rafters in Ralph Engelstad Arena next season. They've guaranteed the Penrose Cup will be hanging around the confines, too.

There's a good chance that when the all-National Collegiate Hockey Conference ballots are cast on Sunday, Berry will get the most votes for coach of the year.

NCAA Hockey: Top Five Plays
Despite all of the injuries on the team -- only three guys have played in every game this season -- Berry has guided UND through a campaign with barely a hiccup.

His team leads the nation with 26 wins. It has won more games on the road (13) than anyone else, too. He's four wins shy of tying the program record for winningest season by a first-year coach. That mark currently belongs to Gino Gasparini.

UND currently has an .809 winning percentage. No UND team since 1998-99 has broken the .800 mark.

Considering all of the challenges -- a coaching change, a goalie change, injuries to both scholarship goalies, injuries to top-line players and a rookie-laden team -- things shouldn't have been quite this smooth-sailing.

But as UND enters the final weekend of the regular season, everything mentioned before the start of the season seems to be forgotten.

Cam Johnson has been a fine replacement for McIntyre. In fact, he broke a 62-year-old school record for the longest scoreless streak. He is a nominee for the Richter Award and he's a candidate to win the league's MVP.

Some rookies have had their growing pains, but for the most part, they've adapted fine, too. Brock Boeser will likely win the league's rookie of the year award and is one week away from winning the NCHC scoring title, too.

And while Hakstol is gone, that remarkable consistency is still there. UND will soon visit the NCAA tournament for the 14th straight season -- a stretch that spans three head coaches.

Berry is the latest to do it.

Since Berry returned to UND in 2012, he has had at least two offers to join NHL coaching staffs.

Fortunately for UND athletic director Brian Faison, he declined.

This article was written by Brad Elliott Schlossman from Grand Forks Herald and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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