Fighting Hawks battling both mental and physical challenges as season nears end

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GRAND FORKS, N.D. (Valley News Live) -- The Fighting Hawks hockey team is tied for third in the NCHC standings heading with just three weekends remaining in the season.

As North Dakota gets set to embark on their second-to-last road trip of the regular season, we wanted to know, is it the mental aspect of the game that’s tougher at this point or the physical aspect? While the players we spoke with said it's kind of both, Head Coach Brad Berry said it's more mental.

“When momentum shifts in games having the mental wherewithal to have a push right after when it goes the other way,” Berry said. “I thought we did a lot better job Saturday night but in order to win two games you have to have that through the whole weekend.”

“With everything that’s going on around our team, kind of what people are saying about us, it’s hard to stay positive,” junior forward Rhett Gardner said. “We’re just focusing on our locker room and what goes on in there. We’re trying to stay positive through that.”

Sophomore defenseman Andrew Peski added, “Obviously physically we’re run down. It’s been a long season. A lot of guys have been playing a lot of games – but mentally just trying to stay in it. Plus the games get more intense when you think about tournaments – national tournaments – big crowds, lots of pressure."

"So I would say mentally it’s very tough as well.”

One of the things the coaching staff will have to think about is who will start in net for the Fighting Hawks this weekend. Senior Cam Johnson was pulled in last Friday’s loss to Colorado College while freshman Peter Thome started Saturday and got the win. As for who it will be against the Mavericks Berry said, "We’re learning more every day."

In the last series between the Hawks and the Mavericks back at the beginning of January, Johnson lost Friday’s game, while Thome collected his first career and only shutout in the Saturday win.