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UND hockey players aware nobody is guaranteed lineup spot

UND's Ludvig Hoff (#27) and Dixon Bowen (#9) converge on the puck as Omaha forward Luke Nogard watches from the ice Saturday, Jan. 6. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS — University of North Dakota coach Brad Berry watched the college football national championship game Monday night, Jan. 8, with his 12-year-old son, Bauer, and noticed something that looked familiar.

Alabama benched starting quarterback Jalen Hurts at halftime, looking for a spark from backup Tua Tagovailoa.

It worked. Alabama rallied in the second half and beat Clemson in overtime to win the national title.

Three things stood out to Berry: Tagovailoa was ready to come in when called, he was humble after winning and that Hurts stood on the sidelines, smiling and cheering on his teammate.

"I think it was probably reminiscent of our weekend here against Omaha," Berry said. "We didn't play very well Friday night. Collectively, as a team, we had to make some hard changes in goal, up front and on our 'D' pairings. Guys bought in and responded.

"I have a 12-year-old son and him and I watched the (college football) game together. We saw, first hand, the guy that started the game and got them to the national championship went out after the first half. The young man came in and responded and got the job done, but the guy on the bench was an unbelievable teammate. He cheered him on and was all about the team. That's what we do here. You don't see that enough this day and age of being team-first. We recruit to it and we have a group that responded Saturday night."

Among the players sitting out Saturday were the team's leading goal scorer, rookie Grant Mismash, a guy one tally off the team lead in goals, Collin Adams, and an All-American goaltender who backstopped UND to the 2016 NCAA national championship, Cam Johnson.

Without them, UND still beat Omaha 7-0 in the series finale to get a split against the Mavericks.

While those players will surely soon be back in the lineup, the game possibly provided a window into this team's future.

With a full complement of healthy players available—and a deep pool at that—the UND coaching staff could take anyone out of the lineup at any time—even star players.

"At any point, they can take you out of the lineup and put somebody else in," senior forward Trevor Olson said. "It creates those fun competitions in practice. If you're not going to give it your all, they're going to look somewhere else. It's a great way to have practice, because everyone is on their toes instead of being relaxed."

Berry said that when he recruits players, he looks for players who are fiercely competitive but understand that they're not guaranteed a spot in the lineup every night.

He pointed to a Washington Post article about former UND stars and current NHLers Brock Boeser and T.J. Oshie.

In that story, Oshie said: ""One thing about North Dakota is we're so competitive, every player that goes there, that when you play against each other, I feel like it elevates your play a little because you want to out-play the other guy. That's the way it is in practice when you're there. Obviously before and after, you're the best of friends and you're roommates, but even in practice at North Dakota, you go hard and everyone just kind of knows that's just the way it is. You take nothing for granted. I think it feels that way when you get on the ice. A lot of North Dakota guys in the NHL this year, so you take some pride in that."

Berry said he explains to potential recruits how things work at UND, too.

"When you get recruited here, those things are all laid on the table before you get here," Berry said. "It's not like we're doing anything different than before we recruited you. That's how we've had success. That's what you've accepted and that's what we're going to do. Generally, things work out. We've had a great response by guys who did sit out this week in practice.

"Nobody else to sit out. I'm the first one to admit it. When I was a player, getting sat out, I did it a lot when I was younger. If you communicate, give reasons why, show video, show the level you have to play at on a nightly basis, it's being accountable."

This season, players aren't necessarily being taken out because they had a poor game, either. Sometimes, it's because the coaching staff wants to get the others in the lineup.

"I think it's a good thing," UND junior forward Rhett Gardner said. "Any internal competition is good. Last year, we didn't really have any of that, so guys who needed a message sent to them, it didn't really happen at times. This year, it's not a bad thing if you get taken out of the lineup. Sometimes, if someone gets taken out and new guys come in, it adds a spark."

Berry said he's still hashing out the lineup for Friday night's game at Bemidji State, which enters on a nine-game unbeaten streak.

"There are challenges each and every day of trying to win," Berry said. "Winning is the result, but knowing these guys are growing into men and doing the right things is the biggest thing."

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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