Griffs prepare to face reigning national champions

By Dominic Chamberlain

Sports Editor

The Griffs’ hockey team will be traveling to Grand Forks, N.D. to take on the North Dakota Fighting Hawks this weekend in a game on Friday and on Saturday to start their regular season.

As the Griffs are preparing to start their regular season schedule against the Hawks, it is important to point out that this is a young team with only three seniors on the roster. However, despite big name players leaving the team over the offseason, there still is some key guys that returned for another season and will be leaders for this team. Senior defenseman Geoff Fortman returned and is now the team’s captain. The Griffs also see the return of junior forward Ryan Schmelzer, who is now the assistant captain for the team. These guys not only bring a high level of production on the ice, but also bring leadership for this team and these guys will be very important players when the team plays the Fighting Hawks.

The Griffs are coming off an exhibition game loss to Guelph, losing 6-2. The Griffs have a good core of leadership that isn’t allowing the loss to affect their mentality going forward. Fortman expressed what he feels the role of him and the other leaders is in preparing for the upcoming games.

“On the ice we’re close to ready,” said Fortman.  “I think guys are confident, but I think what us as a leadership group need to do is reinforce the confidence. I think after last weekend, it was a tough loss, losing 6-2 no matter how it happens isn’t fun. As a leadership group, we need to reinforce that we played well and did good things and we just need to be more consistent. I think that as long as we stay positive, the team will as well.”

The upcoming games against the Hawks will be a big test for the Griffs, as the Hawks are currently the number one team in the country and the defending national champion.  The Hawks return their top scorer from a season ago, sophomore forward Brock Boeser. He led the team with 60 points (27 goals and 33 assists). The Hawks also return junior goaltender Cam Johnson. He was a very important factor in his team’s success, as he finished the season with (24-4-2). He had a save percentage of .935 and had an average goals against of 1.66. The Hawks bring the advantage of experienced players and experience of performing at a very high level.

Facing the Hawks is not only a big test for the Griffs, but also a great opportunity for the team.

“It’s going to be a great experience,” Head Coach Dave Smith said about the opportunity. “It’s the defending national champions, and the preseason number one. It’s an opportunity for some shared experiences off the ice, but also a chance to go into an environment that is hostile and full of fun. So, there’s a challenge in going into that environment that you need to tackle that says that we’re going to be ourselves in a hostile environment. We’re not going to try and be them and we’re not going to try and be something that we’re not, we’re going in to be Golden Griffins in the North Dakota building.”

Preparation will be key for the Griffs this week. Coach Smith spoke to how his team is preparing.

“Well,” said Smith, “[We’re] really taking lessons for the game and practices and continuing to work on things to be able to play the way that we want to play. It doesn’t matter if we’re going to North Dakota or RIT or RMU. The atmosphere is a little different and the history is a little bit different, but we are still the team that we are putting focus on. ”

The Griffs will be coming into the game as underdogs. When asked whether playing against the reigning national champions will serve as extra motivation, Schmelzer replied that they would.

“Yea,” said Schmelzer, “obviously that bumps it up a little bit, because you always want to be remembered as the team that beat the reigning National Champions. But at the same time it’s another game that we are looking to get better in and improve.”

There was a widely expressed view for the Griffs’ expectations for the games to play hard and get better. Coach Smith’s expectations are, “Play as hard as possible and get better.” Schmelzer’s expectations for the game are, “Just come out and play hard and play the way that we want to play and we’ll take care of the rest.”

Win or lose this weekend, the Griffs have the great opportunity to play a team that plays at such a high caliber and this will give the team the experience of playing such a talented team.

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