Marauders’ march toward third straight ACHA D-II title seems inevitable

From The Bismarck Tribune

By Dave Selvig


Seemingly marching toward a third straight ACHA Division 2 national championship, the University of Mary hockey team continues to pile up wins in dominating fashion

The Marauders are 16-1 so far this season and 36-1 in their last 37 games.

In the current campaign, they’ve scored 66 goals and allowed 13.

Goalie Kyle Hayden, the reigning ACHA D2 Player of the Year, already has eight shutouts this season, breaking his single-season record of seven. Hayden’s been so good, Conan Hayton and his 1.38 goals-against average can’t get on the ice.

There were big players to replace — former player of the year Zach Garrett and stalwart defensemen Marshall Tschida and Andrew Heckaman — but they have not missed a beat.

Even head coach Dan Huntley struggles to explain it.

“I can’t figure it out,” the head coach said. “Traditionally, goaltending has always been our bread and butter, then our defensemen and then our forwards. This year, I thought our Achilles Heel would be defense. Our forwards have been really good and our defensemen have played really well. And then we have a goalie that doesn’t give up goals.

“Basically, I’m just trying to stay out of the way. The players have taken ownership of the team. They don’t need to be told much.”

Still, they take nothing for granted.

“Every team and every season is different,” Huntley said. “Winning two championships in a row, that doesn’t mean anything to this year’s team. What is this team’s legacy going to be?”

The Marauders started their debut season in 2018 15-0. The 16-1 this year is against a tougher schedule, however, which continues this weekend at home against St. Thomas on Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (2 p.m.) and Midland on Sunday (2 p.m.).

Loading up the schedule has always been Huntley’s modus operandi. It makes even more sense now as they transition to ACHA Division 1 next season.

“When we move up next year, I don’t expect it to be much different,” Huntley said. “We’re going to have success. The (Midwest College Hockey conference) is excited to have us in. It’ll make the other teams better.”

Being in an actual conference next season is something Huntley is very excited about. The Marauders will join Illinois State, University of Jamestown, McKendree, Midland University, Northern Illinois and Waldorf.

“You get to the end of January and personally, I find myself in a little bit of a rut because I don’t know how to motivate our guys,” Huntley said. “Every game is just another game. What do you say that is so different than what you said before?”

Whatever he says continues to work.

All but four of their 16 wins are by three goals or more.

Almost everybody is chipping in. Eighteen players have scored goals and half have four goals or more.

Seth Cushing, who had 23 goals last season, is leading with eight so far, one more than Tanner Eskro.

All-around ace Johnny Witke (BHS), who’s missed the last three games with injury, has five goals. Liam Massie, Derek Dropik, Jaren Hugelen and Tucker Cruse have five goals each.

Cushing (16), Century’s Alex Flicek (15), Witzke (14), Garrett Freeman (14) and Eskro (13) are already in the teens in points. Caleb Petrie (BHS), who’s out injured with a bum elbow, has 12 points. He will be back this season. Dropik (11) and Century’s Isaiah Thomas (10) also are in double figures in points.

Huntley said Cyril Nagurski (Century), one of eight Bismarck players on the roster, is “having the best season of his career.” Nagurski is on the third line of D.

Riley Scanlon also got high marks from the head coach. Scanlon moved from center to defense and has excelled.

“Riley’s been an unsung hero. He can distribute the puck. He has patience and he can make plays,” Huntley said.

St. Thomas comes to town this weekend with a 7-1 mark as the Marauders begin a five-game homestand. In fact, seven of their next eight games are at Starion Sports Complex in Mandan.

“It’s a great facility. We can pack it. It’s not too big. The ice is fantastic all the time. It’s hard, it’s fast. You go to some other places they’re bigger, the ice is soft, the bench is terrible, the locker rooms are old,” Huntley said. “There’s that pride that sets in from the workers in the facility to our players and to our fans.

“Obviously, the season is long. We have to maintain where we’re at and hopefully reach another level, but so far we couldn’t ask for much more from our players.”

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