‘It Hit Us Pretty Hard’
Kawaguchi Playing Key Role in North Dakota’s Resurgent Offense
by Avash Kalra/Senior Writer (@AvashKalra) – College Hockey News
“You’re right, there aren’t many Japanese-Canadians in Grand Forks.”
Jordan Kawaguchi laughs, agreeing that perhaps he helps the diversity in North Dakota. But make no mistake, the junior forward originally from Abbotsford, B.C., does a lot more than that. He played in all 37 games for the Fighting Hawks last year (one of only three players on the roster to do so), and after a six-point (one goal, five assists) weekend against Miami, Kawaguchi was named the NCHC Offensive Player of the Week.
Perhaps even more significantly, Kawaguchi, already with four multi-point games this season, has helped lead a resurgent North Dakota team back to a level that, frankly, the storied program hasn’t reached in over two years. UND is enjoying a five-game winning streak for the first time since March 2017.
It’s early, of course, but remember, North Dakota has missed the NCAA tournament for two straight seasons after reaching the previous 15 (including eight Frozen Fours and a national title). Most significantly, the scoring tailed off dramatically over the last two years.
Kawaguchi and his classmates — including linemates Grant Mismash and Collin Adams — know this all too well.
“It hit us pretty hard,” Kawaguchi said, about missing the NCAA tourney as a freshman. “We [as a class] thought, ‘Wow, these guys won the national championship two years ago, and we come in and miss the tournament.’ But we’ve stuck with it. After last year, we looked ourselves in the mirror, and said, ‘We’re not doing that this year.’ The last two years have pushed us to be even better than we have before.”
North Dakota has started its 2019-20 campaign with seven wins in nine games — the only blemishes against Minnesota State (a road tie and loss against one of the top teams in the nation). In its current five-game winning streak, the Fighting Hawks have outscored opponents (Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, Miami), 21-8.
Kawaguchi has of course played a big role, leading the team in scoring, but those results have come after an uncertain summer.
“I had a bit of a weird offseason,” Kawaguchi said. “I had shoulder surgery after our season was done last year. I didn’t start skating until August. Just for the team, I think we came in in July and did summer training with all the guys, and everyone was there for a solid two or three weeks. Everyone got to know each other really well. That got our chemistry early.”
Add a long winning streak to that chemistry, and now North Dakota is a team with…
“Confidence,” said Kawaguchi. “We have confidence that we can go out and win games, score goals. The defense is playing really well. Going on the road builds even more chemistry.”
UND heads to Denver this weekend to take on a Pioneers team that lost its first game of the season last Saturday, 5-2, to NCHC foe Minnesota-Duluth.
“We’re there to win two games and we feel like we have a chance,” Kawaguchi continued. “They’re a really good team. And we just look at this as an opportunity.”
Kawaguchi, of course, has made the most of his own opportunities. Growing up with a father who played as a goaltender, Kawaguchi began skating when he was three. He watched his cousin, Devin Setoguchi, enjoy success at the NHL level. And for North Dakota, Kawaguchi seems to simply go about his business — hard-working, rarely flashy. And the results speak for themselves.
A former team captain as a BCHL player, Kawaguchi is an alternate captain for UND. He remembers the feeling of missing the NCAA tournament as a freshman, then as a sophomore. So it’s perhaps no surprise that the all-junior line has led the way for a team that, quietly, has seen 18 different players score goals this season. By comparison, UMD has had 11.
It’s helped, too, that Westin Michaud, a transfer from Colorado College, has scored a team-leading 5 goals, and sophomore goaltender Adam Scheel, has allowed just 15 goals in nine games played.
What happens next remains to be seen. For now, Kawaguchi has North Dakota rolling into the winter.
If he has anything to say about it, they’ll be playing deep into the spring, as well.