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North Dakota hopes new look will stop string of near-misses

September 23, 2015

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — After several near-misses at a national championship in the last decade, the University of North Dakota hockey team is looking for Brad Berry to lighten the load.

The former North Dakota defenseman has taken over for Dave Hakstol, the second-winningest coach in school history who left to coach the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers. Players say that while the expectations remain the same, Berry brings a different demeanor to the job.

“Hak is obviously really intense and very serious all the time,” junior forward Luke Johnson said Wednesday at the team’s media day event. “Brad is more laid-back. Both of them are very professional in what they do and guys love playing for both of them.”

Berry said he and Hakstol may not have the same game faces, but are similar in many ways.

“Obviously, Dave Hakstol was very focused and detailed. I like to think I am too, but I won’t have the facial features he has on the bench,” Berry said. “I want to be very communicative with our guys, in terms of good and bad. He had a great rapport with players, too, and I want to make sure I set the bar high.”

It might not always be a merry Berry.

“I think there are going to be times they see a side of me that they probably haven’t,” Berry said. “But again, I want to handle people as adults.”

Berry inherits a proud program that has sent dozens of players into professional hockey in the last decade but hasn’t won a national title since 2000. Hakstol took the team to the Frozen Four seven times in his 11 seasons.

North Dakota lost to Boston University in the Frozen Four semifinals last season. Afterward, Hakstol departed for the Flyers and standout goaltender Zane McIntyre, a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the best player in college hockey, gave up his senior season to join the Boston Bruins.

“The way it ended last year kind of left a sour taste in our mouths going into the summer. It was a pretty long summer,” Johnson said. “Guys really hit the gym hard this summer and took care of each other off the ice. Coming into this fall, guys are anxious to get the season going.”

Senior forward Colten St. Clair said he tried to forget about the bitter ending, but it stayed with him.

“At this time of year it comes back and that’s when you get hungry again,” he said.” A lot of guys have that mentality and it’s great to see, but obviously we aren’t very satisfied.”

North Dakota brings a whopping 10 freshmen into the program, including three who were 30-plus goal scorers in the U.S. Hockey League, one of the top feeder leagues in the country. Sophomore Nick Schmaltz, whose older brother, Jordan, also left North Dakota early to play professionally, said the player turnover is nothing to worry about with a program that attracts top-tier talent.

“This program is so good they bring in new guys and they fit right in,” he said. “Every year we expect our final game to be in the Frozen Four.”

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