UND has the right mix

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The amazing consistency of the University of North Dakota’s men’s hockey program fell under the direction of a new boss this season.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/03/2016 (2433 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The amazing consistency of the University of North Dakota’s men’s hockey program fell under the direction of a new boss this season.

Brad Berry, UND’s new head coach, knows exactly why he was ready for the high expectations that have largely been met as the team heads to it third consecutive Frozen Four of NCAA hockey.

Berry, now 50, moved out of the UND comfort zone where he played college hockey and had been an assistant and associate coach.

“The biggest thing for me being ready for this position was going to Manitoba to coach with Scott Arniel with the Moose and going to Columbus and coaching a couple of years in the NHL,” Berry said via phone, his team fresh off a Midwest regional tournament triumph to earn a place at next week’s Frozen Four tournament in Tampa. “Ultimately, that’s the type of players we recruit to.

“We have good four-year players here but we also have high-end draft picks here that want to go onto the NHL, so experiencing the American Hockey League and the NHL as far as dealing with players on a day-to-day basis helped me out a lot.

Eric Classen / UND Athletics files Jets fans are taking note of UND’s standout defenceman Tucker Poolman, a 2013, fifth-round draft pick of the club.

“Getting out of the comfort zone of college hockey, going to pro, has helped me. I knew I’d have to get away from the college game if I had greater (aspirations). When I went to the AHL with the Moose from 2006 to 2008, that was a very instrumental foundation for me as a coach. I learned ways to handle players one-on-one, how to handle situations and how to talk to players. All of that was so instrumental in what I’m doing today.”

One of those high-end players he’s currently dealing with is of great interest to the NHL’s Jets and their fans.

Twenty-two-year-old defenceman Tucker Poolman is Winnipeg’s fifth-round draft pick from 2013 and just coming to the end of his second college season.

Poolman’s mobility, size, hockey sense and shot are a big part of the Fighting Hawks’ trustworthy and deep back end. And that foundation is one of the main reasons the team is headed to another Frozen Four.

“We have very similar teams, from goaltending to defencemen to the group of forwards,” Poolman said this week about heading to his second straight Frozen Four. “The structure is pretty similar also. We just try to come out and play real hungry hockey, real focused hockey.”

The hunger and the focus are big parts of UND’s engine this season, said Berry, who was promoted from assistant coach after Dave Hakstol left to coach the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers.

“To me, the driving force is a hunger on this team,” Berry said. “We knew last year we were going to be with a big junior class. We also knew that just knocking on the door was not the high bar we wanted to have. We knew about expectations and pressure. We’re honest about those things here.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES UND coach Brad Berry learned a lot at as the assistant coach to Scott Arniel with the Manitoba Moose and the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“Maybe our program isn’t for everybody because of the pressure to win.”

UND has now been to the Frozen Four in eight of the last 12 seasons.

Not having won any of those — the last national title is from 2000 — is integral to the current hunger.

“The important thing to know about where we are today is that we have a last unchecked box to get to,” Berry said. “It’s been 16 years since this program had a national title.

“We’ve had very good teams and players in that time, people who have come through here who are outstanding but were unable to do that. We talk about this daily and weekly.

“We have a very strong culture, something a lot of teams would love to have. We have a team-first culture. We have top-end players who have a team-first mentality, who will do whatever it takes with whatever role is given to them.”

UND won its final eight regular-season games to capture the National Collegiate Hockey Conference title with a mark of 19-4-1.

In the league’s final-five tournament, UND was upset by Duluth and then tied Denver — its Frozen Four semifinal opponent — in the third-place game. As its conference’s winner, the team was easily in the 16-team NCAA tournament and its four-team regional last weekend, UND played what some said was its best hockey of the season, sidelining two hot teams, Northeastern and Michigan.

UND is 2-2-1 against Denver this season.

“We’re definitely going to be looking at the video and at the mistakes we made in Denver (two losses in February) and I believe it’s been dead even with them overall (2-2-1), so it’s going to be a battle and it’ll just come down to the small details of execution, I think,” Poolman said. “On the weekend, compared to the NCHC tournament, our team has more of a sense of urgency. The season was on the line so that was a help for our team in general.”

The last four teams standing include No. 1-ranked Quinnipiac, No. 2 UND, Boston College and Denver. At 32-6-4 overall on its season, UND has had few lulls.

“We had the feeling we left something on the table,” Berry said of the NCHC tournament two weeks ago. “The eight in a row, that was tough to do.

“There’s been a big jump in our game from the start to the end but I’ll say this about our group — consistency is the biggest compliment you can get as a player and as a team.”

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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