The North Dakota Fighting Hawks have one of the most dynamic lines in college hockey. Tabbed the “CBS” line, Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser and Nick Schmaltz have combined for 144 points on the season. However, in the NCAA regionals, it was a different line that proved to be the difference for UND.
That line, the “Heavy” line, consists of sophomore Austin Poganski, freshman Rhett Gardner and junior Luke Johnson. The line’s nickname is two-fold: Gardner and Poganski are the team’s heaviest and tallest forwards. Along with this, the line plays a hard, grinding style. They wear out their opponents and are tough to play against.
The effort of this line was reflective of the entire team’s effort in defeating Northeastern and Michigan. This depth will be relied upon again in the Frozen Four.
The leading scorer on this line is Poganski. He has nine goals and fifteen assists for 24 points. The Minnesota native is a draft pick of the St. Louis Blues, having been selected in the fourth round in 2014. The fact that he is property of the Blues seems very appropriate given his style of play and his background.
After he was drafted, he told Mick Hatten of the St. Cloud Times, “I think (forward) David Backes plays kind of the same style… TJ Oshie went to North Dakota and who is not a fan of his? Those are my two favorite players.”
David Backes, the captain of the Blues, is a fellow Minnesota native and played college hockey for Minnesota State. He is a two-way, powerful forward, and plays a hard, physical game. Poganski and Backes are built similarly as well. Backes is 6-foot-3 and 221 pounds while Poganski is 6-foot-2 and 204 pounds.
Perhaps the Blues saw shades of their captain when they selected Poganski in the draft. After putting up 14 points during his freshman year, he has emerged this year. Suraj Sukumar of Hockey’s Future has him ranked 11th among Blues prospects in his most recent rankings and notes, “He has become a force at both ends of the ice and has been one of the best college players since the start of 2016.”
T.J. Oshie was a star at North Dakota, playing three seasons before going directly to the Blues. Oshie is smaller than Poganski and Backes, but is another defensively responsible player.
Poganski has not produced near the offensive rate of Backes or Oshie in college, but his game is developing and he is trending in the right direction, something that the Blues and the Fighting Hawks must be pleased with.
“Heavy” line matchup
After matching up against Michigan’s high-powered “CCM” line (Kyle Connor, JT Compher, Tyler Motte) in the regional final, the “Heavy” line will have another tough matchup against Denver. Denver boasts what is known as the “Pacific Rim” line.
The “Pacific Rim” line consists of freshman Dylan Gambrell, junior Trevor Moore and sophomore Danton Heinen. The line has combined for 139 points and was especially dominant in the regionals against Ferris State and Boston University, contributing five goals.
North Dakota should be confident in its ability to shut down this line after its performance against Michigan. Poganski, Johnson and Gardner controlled play against the Wolverines’ top line. In the end, the “CCM” line had a minus-7 rating while the “Heavy” line was plus-5 and scored the game-winning goal.
Luke Johnson shared his thoughts on his line and how it is successful with Tom Miller of The Dickinson Press, “The reason we were put together is to shut top guys down and that’s what we did,” Johnson told him. “We want to close their time and space. All three of those guys are good players, and we had to respect them for that, but it was a great effort by our line.”
Johnson and his linemates will likely enter the matchup with Denver with a similar mindset. If they can perform in a similar manner, one would have to like the Fighting Hawks’ chances of advancing to the national championship game.
Last season, Blues prospect Jake Walman won the national championship with Providence. This year, Poganski and North Dakota will look to make it two straight years that a St. Louis draftee is on the nation’s top college hockey team.