University of North Dakota season preview

By DJ Powers

The University of North Dakota will open their 2005-06 regular season on Oct. 8 when they travel to the Nutter Center in Dayton, Ohio to face off against Miami-Ohio in the Lefty McFadden Tournament.

A large number of key departures and tremendously talented newcomers highlight the 2005-06 University of North Dakota season. In addition to the offseason personnel changes, the school has also been in a hotly contested battle to retain the Fighting Sioux name and logo that represent the school’s athletic teams.

The area that went through perhaps the biggest offseason change was the team’s defensive corps. UND lost four of their best defensemen — Matt Jones (PHO), Andy Schneider (PIT) and Nick Fuher to graduation, and team captain Matt Greene (EDM) to the Edmonton Oilers. The four players brought not only size and toughness but leadership and experience as well. In addition to the aforementioned departing players, The Fighting Sioux will also be without the services of Robbie Bina, who has opted to take a medical redshirt for this season. Bina suffered a serious neck injury back on Mar. 18 during the WCHA semi-finals versus Denver.

With the losses, UND will be looking to their four returning players to lead the offense. Junior Matt Smaby (TB) will see an expanded role this season after having been recently named team captain. Smaby enjoyed an outstanding rookie campaign that saw him play in 44 games and amassing three points (one goal, two assists). He finished second on the team in penalty minutes with 86. Smaby’s value to the team reaches far beyond the stat sheet. His hard-hitting style and quiet confidence served both he and his team extremely well last season.

Joining Smaby as part of the returning group are sophomore Kyle Radke, junior Scott Foyt and senior Lee Marvin. While their names don’t necessarily jump out as the most recognizable, they all bring a combination of experience and a great work ethic to the team.

With five new additions to the blue line, UND will be a much younger this season. However, the newcomers will bring size and some immense skill to the defensive corps.

The behemoth Joe Finley (WSH) has become the story of the Fighting Sioux defense ever since the Washington Capitals took him in the first round of the recent NHL draft. Finley comes to UND from Sioux Falls (USHL), where he had 13 points (three goals, ten assists) and led the Stampede with 181 penalty minutes. At 6’7/240 lbs. he won’t be hard to find out on the ice. While Finley is still very raw, his potential is seemingly limitless. Of particular note is his mobility. He skates remarkably well for a young man his size.

Brian Lee (OTT) is another defenseman selected in the first round in the recent NHL draft that will be coming to UND this fall. Lee was the 2005 recipient of the prestigious Mr. Hockey award, which is given annually to the top high school player in the state of Minnesota. Lee was also a member of Team USA’s 2005 IIHF WJC squad that competed in Grand Forks last January. He comes to UND from Moorhead HS (USHSW), where he amassed 40 points (12 goals, 28 assists) in 24 appearances. Lee’s tremendous poise with the puck and his ability to lead the rush are two attributes that have had many raving about him.

A second-generation Fighting Sioux defenseman, Taylor Chorney (EDM) was one six incoming UND freshmen this season to be taken in the recent NHL draft. The younger Chorney is the son of former All-American and UND team captain Marc Chorney. He comes to UND from Shattuck St. Mary’s (USHSW), where he had 38 points (six goals, 32 assists) in 55 appearances. Chorney is a defenseman noted for having outstanding foot speed who is also difficult to beat one-on-one.

Rounding out the newest members of the Fighting Sioux defensive corps are Zach Jones and Todd Alexander. Jones is the younger brother of recently graduated Sioux defenseman Matt Jones.

One of the Fighting Sioux’s strengths this season is goaltending. With a relatively young defense, the excellent goaltending tandem of junior Jordan Parise and sophomore Phillippe Lamoureux should provide some stability. Parise posted a 17-7-3 record that included two shutouts, while Lamoureux posted a 7-8-2 record. The two netminders’ goals against averages were nearly identical with Parise posting a 2.13 and Lamoureux posting a 2.19. The two ranked 12th and 15th respectively in the nation. Their save percentages were also similar with Parise posting a .917 and Lamoureux posting a .914.

As with the defense, the forwards will also be quite young. Of the 14 forwards currently on the UND roster, ten are underclassmen. Also like the defense, the forward lines took some significant hits. Colby Genoway (NYR), Rory McMahon, Quinn Fylling, James Massen (NJ) and Brian Canady have all graduated. Brady Murray (LA) opted to forego his final two years of eligibility to sign a pro contract. All of the players brought some outstanding skill and leadership but above all brought some irreplaceable character to the team.

With the departure of many key players, the Fighting Sioux will be relying heavily on returning players such as sophomore Travis Zajac (NJ), and junior Drew Stafford (BUF). Zajac enjoyed a sensational rookie campaign that was capped with a selection to the WCHA All-Rookie Team. He was also the lone non-University of Denver player selected to the Frozen Four All-Tournament team. Zajac finished second on the team in scoring with 39 points (20 goals, 19 assists) playing in all 45 games. He also led UND in power play goals (10) and short-handed goals (3). His superb play at both ends of the ice and attention to detail made him an invaluable commodity to the UND team.

As the season progressed last season, so did the play of Drew Stafford. He finished the season third on the team with 38 points (13 goals, 25 assists). He led UND in game-winning goals (five) and plus/minus (+13). With the injury bug that had hit the Fighting Sioux hard in the latter half of the season, Stafford stepped up, took charge and helped lead UND all the way to the Frozen Four. One of his most memorable performances came in the NCAA Tournament East Regional, where he tallied a goal in each game versus BU and BC respectively.

Joining the returning group of forwards are seven superb freshmen. Three – T. J. Oshie (STL), Andrew Kozek (ATL) and Matt Watkins (DAL) were all taken in the NHL draft this summer, while Jonathan Toews (pronounced “taves”) looks to be an early lock to go in the first round of the 2006 NHL draft.

Oshie comes to UND from Warroad High School in Minnesota (USHSW), where he amassed 99 points (37 goals, 62 assists) and was named a Mr. Hockey finalist. One of the things that Oshie will bring to UND is his sheer goal scoring capability.

Kozek is one of two Atlanta Thrashers prospects on the UND roster this season, joining sophomore Rylan Kaip. Kozek comes to UND from Surrey (BCHL), where he amassed an astounding 126 points (67 goals, 59 assists) in 86 games. In addition to his offensive ability, he brings some blazing speed to UND.

Watkins comes to UND from Vernon (BCHL), where he finished second on the team with 84 points (40 goals, 44 assists) in 74 games. He is noted for his outstanding on-ice vision and poise with the puck.

Toews could turn out to be the best forward coming out of this freshman class. He has been on scouting radars for quite some time and UND won the recruiting war over Tri-City (WHL) to get him. He comes to UND from Shattuck-St. Mary’s (USHSW), where he had an impressive 101 points (44 goals, 57 assists) in 58 games. Toews brings an exceptional set of skills to go along with a very strong presence on the ice.

Head coach Dave Hakstol recently spoke with Hockey’s Future and said that he would like to see his team steadily progress and improve each game.

“I think we just have to focus on the basics. We have to be concerned with what we’re doing day to day in practice and week to week in games. If we start at day one and continue to get better right from day one through the end of the year, then this is going to be a good hockey team by the second half. Our key is going to be individual development. That equates to a team that continues to get better and better throughout the year. I think a lot of people will take a look and say that youth is maybe one of our weaknesses this year. Personally I think it could be a strength. I think our incoming class is a tremendous class and has the potential to do some great things here. We’ll just take it a day at a time.”

(Number of NHL prospects on 2005-06 roster: 11)

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