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UNC club hockey capitalizes on special teams opportunities to beat ECU, 9-1

UNC junior forward Zach Mangel (10) stays focused during the Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023 game against East Carolina University. UNC beat ECU with a score of 9-1.

Every Wednesday, the UNC club hockey team walks into practice knowing what to expect. 

The team only gets two hours of practice time on the ice per week and first-year head coach Adam Dauda devotes about a quarter of it to drilling special teams scenarios.

In North Carolina's 9-1 win against East Carolina University on Saturday, the Tar Heels found the back of the net three times during power plays. 

This success is not random. 

Last weekend, UNC beat Kentucky, 4-2, in a similar fashion, utilizing special teams on both the offensive and defensive fronts. While the Tar Heels only scored off a power play once, they also held the Wildcats to two goals during the seven penalties called against them. 

With ambitions to go to their first-ever American College Hockey Association Division 2 National Championship, Dauda said that special teams has been a "very big focus" for the Tar Heels.

“Nowadays, at any level, the special teams battle usually ultimately decides who is the winner of the game because there are so many penalties in the game," Dauda said. "If you can capitalize on [it], which we've done, it pays dividends at the end of the day.” 

Each of the three goals that North Carolina scored off of power play opportunities came from first-year students, with defensemen Nick Curley and Cam Glonek and forward Matt Grady all putting the puck in the mesh. 

Curley's goal was his first as a Tar Heel. Following a pass across the ice from Glonek with nine minutes left in the second period, he attacked the net from the left and shot it between the posts, taking advantage of a Pirates team that was down a man.

“I think we've just been able to capitalize off [power plays] just because of how well we communicate with each other and how [instinctual] that practice has really made our unit,” Curley said.

This performance signified a shift from last year, where the Tar Heels would often rely heavily on veteran or top-scoring players. This year, Dauda has made it a point to sharpen the instincts of all players in order to capitalize off of special teams opportunities.

“It’s just very optimistic for the future, seeing young guys step up and knowing years down the line they can continue to do that, hopefully, and even develop further,” he said.

A tough schedule awaits for the Tar Heels. Later this month, UNC will face a slate of in-state teams like UNC Wilmington, Wake Forest and rival N.C. State, as well as travel up to Lyndon, Kentucky for the ACHA Showcase where they will face Indiana, Louisville and Kentucky.

With the instincts already there, UNC will look to continue its special teams success in order to maintain its undefeated record. The Tar Heels are looking to clean up other parts of their play. UNC committed 23 turnovers on Saturday, indicating that the team needs to improve on maintaining possession. 

Still, North Carolina has built a solid foundation in its special teams efforts thanks to Dauda. In the closely contested matches that North Carolina will likely face later this season, already having special teams talent is vital.

“[Dauda] is a very detail-oriented coach with, obviously, a bunch of great experience,” Grady said. “He’s brought [special teams talent] to our program and implemented it right away, and it’s just been a joy to be a part of.”


@dthsports |

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