Saints face tough test on first road trip of 2017-18

The Saints first road trip of the year is their longest of the year, as they make the trek out to North Dakota to take on the Fighting Hawks in non-conference play.

St. Lawrence and North Dakota haven’t played since 2013, the last time SLU made the trip out to Grand Forks. Much has changed since those two games, which the Saints and Fighting Hawks split. Both teams have new head coaches, and no players remain on either squad from the 2013 season, so unfamiliarity will play a bit of a role early on, particularly on Friday.

While no players remain from North Dakota’s team in 2013, they still have plenty of players who won a National Championship in 2016, defeating ECAC rival Quinnipiac 5-1. Last year was a down year, by North Dakota standards, simply because they missed out on the Frozen Four by virtue of a double overtime loss to BU in the regional semifinal, as always, the Fighting Hawks have re-loaded and will again be one of the elite teams in the NCHC and in college hockey.

North Dakota opened their season on the road against Alaska-Anchorage, taking a win and a tie from the Seawolves, while the Saints were swept by Big Ten opponents Michigan and Penn State at home to kick off 2017-18.

The Saints will have to be at the top of their game when they face North Dakota, but with two games under their belt against Michigan and Penn State, the Saints should be ready to come out firing early on. One of the Saints best assets is their size, with players like Alex Gilmour, Carson Gicewicz, Keenan Suthers and Bo Hanson, in addition to a number of players who play a grinding style of hockey. They’ll have to use this to their advantage and outwork North Dakota in puck battles and faceoffs in order to control the puck and prevent the Fighting Hawks skill from taking over the game.

That’s not to say the Saints don’t have speed and skill as well, but their ability to control the puck will allow their skill players to have enough opportunities to beat North Dakota’s defense and Cam Johnson. Through two games, North Dakota has only allowed two goals and their head coach, Brad Berry, is well known for his defensive acumen, so the Saints face a stout test this weekend in scoring goals.

It won’t be any easier on the defensive side of the puck for SLU. North Dakota is quick and skilled, with seven NHL draft picks on the roster, including Nashville’s 2017 second round pick, Grant Mismash. Mismash suited up last Friday, but was out of the lineup on Saturday. Barring a serious injury, he should be in the lineup this weekend, meaning five of North Dakota’s top six forwards are NHL draft picks.

The Saints and Fighting Hawks are both 1-for-9 on the power play, but North Dakota is a perfect 8-for-8 on the PK, SLU allowed two power play goals last weekend in ten shorthanded situations. A tighter PK, and less penalties, will be important in helping the Saints stay with North Dakota late in the game, and will allow for more ice time for SLU’s skill players.

The bottom line is, to beat North Dakota, SLU has to be smart with the puck, and their sticks. They took a bunch of hooking penalties last weekend, and forcing the PK to play to much is never a good strategy, and turning the puck over literally never works. SLU has the size and grit to compete with the Fighting Hawks, but only if they’re playing them at even strength. Regardless of wins, this is a good experience for the boys, and they should be two entertaining games.