Previews: A healthy UND could make a run for honors

North Dakota senior Danny Kristo (7) was the team’s second-leading scorer in 2011-12 with 19 goals and 26 assists. (Photo credit: Michelle Bishop)

North Dakota’s mens’ hockey team’s success in its final season in the WCHA may find itself directly related to how busy the team’s training staff and team doctors are.

A case in point is second-year freshman forward Rocco Grimaldi. Yes, you read that right. Let us explain:

A second-round draft pick of the Florida Panthers in 2011, Grimaldi was tabbed as the WCHA rookie of the year heading into last season. A preseason injury hobbled him, though, limiting him to four appearances and eventually forcing him to take a medical redshirt after undergoing season-ending surgery.

He is again being tabbed as the league’s rookie of the year this time around. Even better, if he and his UND teammates can stay healthy, they should be able to make solid runs this season on both the league and postseason fronts.

Grimaldi is far from being UND’s only weapon up front. Brock Nelson, the team’s leading scorer in 2011-12 (28 goals and 19 assists) is gone, but head coach Dave Hakstol sees the return of seniors Danny Kristo (19 G, 26 A), Corban Knight (16 G, 24 A) and Carter Rowney (18 G, 15 A) for one last go in Grand Forks.

UND will also be deep on the blue line. Senior captain Andrew MacWilliam (2 G, 5 A) and junior Derek Forbort (2 G, 11 A) will anchor the UND defense that only gave up 2.57 goals per game last season.

The biggest question mark has to do with UND’s goaltending. Aaron Dell and Brad Eidsness, the only goalies that saw time for the team last season, are both gone. This leaves nobody with any clue as to what will happen there, although highly-touted freshman Zane Gothberg and Alabama Huntsville Clarke Saunders should, between them, allay UND fans’ fears.

Setting aside questions concerning the goaltenders, this year’s UND team looks poised to make a run in its final WCHA campaign before National Collegiate Hockey Conference play begins next season. If Hakstol’s big weapons remain healthy, a long run in the postseason may be in store.

Head coach: Dave Hakstol (North Dakota (’92)
2011-12 record: 26-13-3 (16-11-1 WCHA)
Predicted WCHA finish in 2012-13: 2nd
Home ice: Ralph Englestad Arena; Grand Forks, N.D.
-Capacity: 11,634
-Average attendance in 2011-12: 11,155

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