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Ask an Expert: North Dakota Edition

Next up, we talk with Grand Forks Herald writer Brad Schlossman about North Dakota, who starts the season as the consensus number one team in the country.

WCH: We're now at the start of the season. Are you surprised that T.J. Oshie and Ryan Duncan are still in North Dakota and not playing in the pros?

BS: Am I surprised that they didn't turn pro? Yeah, I am. The Sioux lost five guys the summer before and the current culture of college hockey is to leave when an offer presents itself. Everyone knew the Blues would come hard at T.J. and other teams at Ryan. As UND went on its stretch run, I didn't think they would be back. Am I surprised that they kept their word after promising they'd come back early in the summer? Not at all. I know many around college hockey still thought they would leave. But if you knew these guys, you knew they wouldn't change their minds because of how loyal they are to each other.

WCH: Is Philippe Lamoureux capable of leading this team to a national title. Is there any extra concern after his 0-save performance against Manitoba last weekend?

BS: Lamoureux was very sharp at the end of last season. He finished with a .913 save percentage. When you consider that he was at .886 at Christmas, that's pretty impressive. He didn't get off to a great start against Manitoba, but I thought it was extremely tough to judge the goaltenders because of the limited work they saw. I wouldn't put much stock into that one period. This weekend should be much more telling.

WCH:The past two years, the Sioux have struggled in late October/early November, and then ended the season as one of the country's hottest teams. What do they need to do to be more consistent?

BS: In the last three years, the Sioux have had a high turnover in their key players. This year, they have a bulk of those guys back. So I think the pieces are in place for a stronger start. The schedule -- playing No. 3 Michigan State and No. 2 Boston College to open the season -- won't make it easy on them. But they were much sharper in the exhibition game against Manitoba than they were a year ago in that same game.

WCH: Can Ryan Duncan become the first repeat-Hobey Baker winner? Do you think his production will drop at all now that Jonathan Toews is gone and more attention will be placed on him?

BS: I think one thing that a lot of people overlook is that Duncan didn't play with Oshie and Toews the entire season last year. He was barely with those two in the first half and he was still putting up big numbers. Taylor Chorney did an awesome job getting him the puck on the power play. That's often overlooked. I think Duncan will be fine without Toews. Can he put up 32 goals again? That's awfully difficult to do in back-to-back seasons as Marty Sertich found out. History and odds will tell you he's not going to win Hobey this year. That's the smart bet. But Duncan has been counted out constantly throughout his career (usually because of his size) and he always proves people wrong.

WCH: Is there any extra pressure on this team because they are coming into the season as the clear-cut favorite?

I don't think there is any doubt that there is more pressure around this Sioux team. Because of the high-profile returners, there is a buzz around town about this team that I haven't seen in a while. You get the feeling that anything less than a national title will disappoint the fans. No doubt, it would disappoint the players, too.