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UND closely monitoring Ludvig Persson's workload as season progresses

Feb. 22—GRAND FORKS — Brad Berry is in an odd position when it comes to UND goalie Ludvig Persson.

The UND hockey coach might have to convince one of his players to take it a little bit easier during the week of practice.

Persson has carried the load for UND this season, starting 27 of 30 games. Behind the scenes, he's also a tireless worker.

But UND needs its starting goaltender to be fresh and peaking for the stretch run, which includes a two-game series against Minnesota Duluth at 7:07 p.m. Friday and 6:07 p.m. Saturday in Ralph Engelstad Arena.

"The reason why he's had success is because he invests in himself every day," Berry said. "He's a worker. He goes to the Nth degree to be elite, which he is. This is a time of year we have to be smart. We have to make sure he has gas in the tank and he's fresh for the games he does play. That's part on us, part on him. I think it's a situation we have to monitor and give him a chance to be fresh.

"I'm not saying he's running out of gas. I'm just saying I think we have to be mindful of the workload he has in games plus practices. He's a worker. We have to make sure we monitor that."

Persson got off to a terrific start at UND after transferring from Miami University in the offseason.

He was named National Collegiate Hockey Conference goaltender of the week three times in the first four weeks of the year.

Through the first 14 games, Persson was 11-2-1 with a .924 save percentage. His wins came against some of the best teams in the country — No. 2 Boston University, No. 3 Denver, No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 8 Minnesota.

But as the season has worn on, Persson's save percentage has slowly dwindled.

After allowing 10 goals in a pair of losses to Colorado College last weekend, Persson's save percentage has dipped to .899. Since suffering an injury over Christmas break and battling an illness, Persson is at .881. Considering that, UND has emphasized rest and recovery during the week.

"You remind him about getting out of the net (in practice)," Berry said. "He doesn't want to get out of the net. He wants to keep the net. It's my job to say, 'Ludvig, it's time to get out of the net, take a breath.' Hopefully if he hears the head coach talk about this, it's 'OK, you're right, I've got to get out of the net.' I think communication is a big thing.

"It's the reason why he is where he is as far as having success and being a really good goalie. Now, it's just being smart and mindful."

Persson's teammates have pointed the finger at themselves for not protecting the front of the net as well as they did in the first half.

Last weekend, the majority of Colorado College's goals came from the top of the paint.

"We're working on protecting Ludvig," UND forward Jake Schmaltz said. "If he's seeing the shots, we know he has a really good chance to save them and we're not going to let up many goals. So, it's just boxing out, playing hard, letting him see the puck, then he'll take care of the rest."

Berry said defensive play has been a focus in practice this week.

"I think it's our play away from the puck, being stronger defensively, which gives us a chance to have the puck," Berry said. "It's been a pretty good foundation and strength of ours during the whole season. Obviously, last weekend, it wasn't."

UND (20-8-2) holds a one point lead ahead of St. Cloud State atop the NCHC standings with six games to go.

The Fighting Hawks are trying to win their fourth Penrose Cup in five years and sixth in 11 seasons of the NCHC.

Their next four games are at home before ending the regular season at Omaha.

"We're finally back at The Ralph, which is big for us," freshman defenseman Abram Wiebe said. "I think we're just excited to be back and start playing our best hockey again."

Minnesota Duluth comes to Grand Forks in an unusual position — seventh place in the NCHC standings.

The Bulldogs (10-15-4) are 10 points back of fourth-place Denver, which is in the final position for home ice in the NCHC quarterfinals.

UND swept Minnesota Duluth 4-2 and 2-0 in AmsOil Arena in November.

"They're a good hockey team," Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said. "It's a tough building to win in. The crowd's obviously a factor. They're a good team and they've always been good, so we've always had good battles with them. Some have been close to crossing the line, but that's what it should be. It's good intensity. We're not their No. 1 rival. That's certainly Minnesota, then probably Denver. But we've had good games with them."

Sandelin had particularly high praise for UND's leading scorer, Jackson Blake.

Blake hit the 40-point mark last season, becoming just the fifth player since 1990 to tally 40 points in each of his first two seasons. The other four are T.J. Oshie, Zach Parise, Ryan Bayda and Greg Johnson.

"This year, like they always do, they have some difference-makers," Sandelin said. "Jackson Blake is one of the best players in the country. He can change a game. Riese Gaber. Jayden Perron. (Owen) McLaughlin. They've got a veteran goalie in Persson and a veteran D-corps. I thought (Jake) Livanavage was really good when he was here. I thought he was one of their better 'D,' especially for a freshman.

"You've got to pay attention to those guys. And even when you do, Blake is special. He's a special player, a lot like his dad. I got to coach his dad. He's a special player."

How do you combat UND's top players?

"Pressure them," Sandelin said. "They turned over a lot of pucks against Colorado College. If you don't pressure them, I don't care who you are, they're going to make plays. We've got to put pressure on them when we can pressure, take time and space away. That's all you can do."

When: 7:07 p.m. Friday, 6:07 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena.

TV: Midco Sports (GF Ch. 27/622 HD).

Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).

Stream: NCHChockey.com.