Coach Brad Berry recognizes the importance of early season hockey after last season’s end result.
Before the year 2017 ended, the North Dakota hockey team had five overtime ties on their record. By the time the regular season ended, the team had 10, a rather high mark by any account. As a reference, Brad Berry’s teams had only seven overtime ties in the previous two seasons combined. For Berry and his players, it was those ties that may have sabotaged them as the season came to a close. The end result? UND missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 15 years. Last season also snapped a 14-year streak of 20 wins or more for the Fighting Hawks (last season saw them win 19 total games).
Coach Berry knows how important early season hockey is. He also aims to avoid having 10 ties by year’s end. In his mind, much of that is avoided in the month of November.
What are those building blocks from last season that you’re transferring to this season? How do you avoid an end result like last season?
It’s one of those things when I look at our record last year, the thing that sticks out to me is the ties. We had a lot of ties and if you win a number of those, you’re on the other side of things in the national tournament. For me, it’s not so much the loss at the end of the year.
Our group was playing well at the end of the year. We lost an overtime game to St. Cloud but beat Duluth, who eventually won the national championship. We didn’t get into the tournament because we tied 10 games. It was one of those things where we have to make sure we do the things in the season that prevents having to look at all those ties. When I look back in retrospect on the season, it’s about the details within our group and making sure we’re closing out games.
Your team was one of the best in the nation on the power play and, on the other side, killing the penalty. How do you continue to succeed in that area?
At the NHL level and at any level, you live and die by the power play and the penalty kill. Special teams are a significant part of success in an organization. That’s one thing at the beginning of the season we have to be sharp on and keep that going through the rest of the season.
It’s something we are going to work with on a consistent basis and it’s something we have to make sure we’re good at early on. Again, when you look at the ties we had, if you score an extra power play goal or you defend the goal and kill the penalty, that’s the difference between winning and losing a game. As I said, it’s very critical and we have to make sure we’re good at it early in the year.
You lose guys like Christian Wolanin and Shane Gersich to the NHL over the offseason. Who steps up this season in your eyes?
It’s early in the season as far as designating who that guy is and who will take over as a leader. I think we’re going to do it by committee. I think it’ll be situational because we have a great senior core. We have Rhett Gardner and Joel Janatuinen and Nick Jones and Hayden Shaw, those guys are great seniors who can help us in that regard as far as leading the way.
I think our middle class will have to take a step, and they will, you look at Jordan Kawaguchi, he had a strong finish last year. Collin Adams is a skill guy we’ll have to count on to elevate his offensive play. Grant Mismash too, he had a great start to the year, those guys will need to be even better this year. We have a really good freshman crew coming in too and they’ll have to earn everything they get. They’re going to be a very important part of us.
You also lose Cam Johnson. However, you have guys with experience in Peter Thome and Ryan Anderson, but you also have the true freshman in Adam Scheel. How are you approaching that position this year?
It’s going to be critical. It’s going to be a situation where those guys are going to get opportunities. They’re going to have to earn the net on a consistent basis and we’ll see who is going to establish themselves.
I go back three years when Cam Johnson came in, he was under Zane McIntyre and the next year he had to earn the net and he did. It’s something we don’t have a big body of work on. Peter played in eight games last year, he had a good showing, but now he’s going to have to take a step. Adam Scheel is here as a freshman after a good junior career and he’ll get an opportunity same as Ryan Anderson.
The Berry File
- Entering fourth season as UND hockey coach
- 74-35-17 overall record (.646 win percentage)
- 2016 NCHC Champions (34-6-4 record that season)
- 2016 NCHC Coach of the Year
- 2016 USCHO Coach of the Year
- 2016 NCAA Hockey Champions (5-1 victory over Quinnipiac)
- UND assistant coach under coaches Dean Blais and Dave Hakstol from 2000-2006 and again from 2012-2015. Assumed the head coaching role after Hakstol left for the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers.
- Assistant with AHL’s Manitoba Moose from 2006-2008.
- Worked as a scout for the Vancouver Canucks from 2008-2010 before becoming an assistant coach for the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2010-2012.
- Played at UND from 1983-1986 under legendary coach Gino Gasparini. Accumulated 74 points in 112 games for North Dakota.
- Had NHL stints with the Winnipeg Jets (1986-1990) and Minnesota North Stars, who later became the Dallas Stars (Berry played for the franchise from 1991-1994).