GRAND FORKS — UND freshman forward Jackson Blake will play in the bronze-medal game at the World Junior Championship at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Then, the race home begins.
Whether Blake will play in UND’s series opener against Lindenwood at 7:07 p.m. Friday in Ralph Engelstad Arena is still up in the air.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Blake’s travel arrangements back to Grand Forks were still in the process of being booked.
“(Operations director) Pat Swanson was just talking to the USA people about the flight options,” UND associate coach Dane Jackson said. “Obviously, it’s a pretty long haul. It’s a lot better than coming back from Europe, I’ll say that.”
The last time UND was in this situation was January 2020.
Shane Pinto and the United States were eliminated in the quarterfinals on Jan. 2 in Czechia. Pinto missed UND’s game on Jan. 3 as he traveled back across the ocean but played on Jan. 4 and scored a goal in a win over Alabama Huntsville.
In 2017, Tyson Jost played in the gold-medal game on Jan. 5 in Montreal. He traveled the following day to Omaha and played that night on 30 minutes of sleep,
over the Mavericks.
Jost scored two more goals the following day in a series-finale victory, but ran out of gas in the final period. It was his fourth game in four days.
“I’m tired, I can tell you that,” Jost said after the series opener.
The coaching staff will talk to Blake once he gets back to gauge how he’s feeling.
“Most guys are fired up to get back and play, even though they’ve been through a gauntlet,” said Jackson, who has been on UND’s staff since 2006. “But we know we have a lot of healthy bodies. We have a lot of guys ready to go here, so it might be one of those where if he’s got some nicks and bruises and maybe some stuff we’re not sure about, and it’s been a super long travel day, maybe we’ll go with some healthy, fresh guys. But if he’s feeling really good and his body is healthy, then I think that would be a consideration putting him in.”
The other consideration would be using Blake as the 19th skater and putting him on the ice situationally.
The 19th skater was not an option for Jost’s usage in 2017. Back then, only 18 skaters were allowed. The 19th skater entered the rule book two years later.
“We could always throw Blaker out there on power-play situations or something like that,” Jackson said. “He’s always a pretty good guy to add to Karl (Goehring)’s PP, so I think that would definitely be something we’d think about.”
Who will fill in for Ness?
In the series opener, UND will be without Griffin Ness, a fixture as the team’s fourth-line center.
The National Collegiate Hockey Conference issued a one-game suspension to Ness for a contact-to-the-head major during Saturday’s 4-3 exhibition win over the U.S. Under-18 Team. Ness will sit out Friday’s game and be eligible to return Saturday.
“Griffin has been a real reliable guy for us on that fourth line,” Jackson said. “He has some good poise. He’s not a real burner or bigger, strong guy. But he’s cerebral. He’s really smart. He knows the next play. He’s reliable. We never take that for granted. He’s become an anchor on that fourth line. That’s disappointing he’s out. We were disappointed. But we have other guys who can do it.”
Jackson mentioned two candidates to fill that role — freshman Ben Strinden or sophomore Matteo Costantini.
Strinden has had stints at center this season.
“We have some other guys who have the ability to step up and do that job,” Jackson said.
UND head coach Brad Berry missed last weekend’s exhibition game against the U.S. Under-18 Team because of a family illness.
He’s expected to be behind the bench for this weekend’s series against Lindenwood.
Jackson and Goehring ran practice early in the week without Berry.
“The one thing we talked about with Brad being gone is he’s such a good man, we all respect him and care for him so much,” Jackson said. “One thing we said was, ‘Hey boys, let’s be prepared and sharp for when coach Berry gets back.’ I think that was kind of a motivating force for the guys.”
- Lindenwood is based in St. Charles, Mo., a St. Louis suburb. That’s not far from where UND defenseman Ty Farmer grew up in O’Fallon, Mo. “I’ve known about Lindenwood for a while. They’ve been working really, really hard over the years to build a D-I program. I know coach (Rick) Zombo a little bit from over the years. I know he’s been working hard to build a program there, so it’s excited that’s happening in my hometown.”
- UND players have been gathering to watch the World Junior games. Defenseman Ethan Frisch said: “We’re watching Jackson. I think he’s been playing really well. It’s fun to see him play in (Riese) Gaber’s spot on that second power-play unit, so it’s kind of fun to see him get that one (goal) in the exhibition game. It looked a lot like Gaber.”
- UND has nearly a full complement of players at practice this week. The only players missing have been Blake and Dane Montgomery (upper-body injury).