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Canadians have big roles with No. 1-ranked North Dakota men's hockey team

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The North Dakota Fighting Sioux, ranked No. 1 in U.S. college men's hockey, won their first three games without allowing a goal, but don't assume coach Dave Hakstol has them playing a neutral zone trap.

Not even close.

"We play an aggressive, puck-possession game," says Hakstol. "We take pride in the defensive side of the game, too.

"We have a good solid defence corps and exceptional goaltending. We take pride in overall team defence, but I wouldn't term us a defence-minded team. I like to think we play the game the way it was meant to be played."

Hakstol, 38, a native of Warburg, Alta., is a former captain of the Fighting Sioux in his third season as head coach. He guided his team to the Frozen Four in his first two years in charge and, with most players from last season having returned, North Dakota could go all the way in 2008.

Canadians are playing big roles.

Ryan Duncan of Calgary, who won the Hobey Baker Memorial Award as top U.S. college player last spring, is solid in all areas.

"Ryan is a complete hockey player," says Hakstol. "He's only got one goal so far but he's off to a good start.

"His game isn't based on numbers alone. Overall, he's playing very well."

Duncan, a third-year player who is only five-foot-six and 160 pounds, was ignored in the NHL draft but will be a sought-after free agent because of his accomplishments. He's used up front with American T.J. Oshie.

Rylan Kaip of Radville, Sask., was named captain after a vote by the players. The six-foot-one centre is a senior and was an NHL draft pick of the Atlanta Thrashers four years ago.

"He's a prototypical Saskatchewan boy - hard-nosed and full of character," says Hakstol.

Kaip suffered a serious concussion and experienced post-concussion syndrome during his first college season.

"He's battled his way back through that to be a key player for us," says Hakstol. "He's one of our most consistent players.

"He's got a great chance to be a good player at the next level."

Sophomore defenceman Chay Genoway of Morden, Man., was named North Dakota rookie of the year last season. He's one of the smallest defencemen in his conference. He's also one of the most dynamic defencemen in college hockey, says his coach.

"At every level, he's been one of the quote unquote little guys rising to the top of the pack," says Hakstol. "He plays in all situations for us. We've got a lot of confidence in him."

He wasn't drafted by an NHL team but "he's going to just keep banging on the door," says Hakstol.

"He's in the body of a guy who's five-foot-nine but he plays like he's six-two. He's extremely competitive."

Ryan Martens of Selkirk, Ma., started his college career as a depth player up front but has earned full-time duty in this his third season.

"He doesn't have great speed but he does have good hockey sense," says Hakstol. "He has strong hands, he's strong on the puck and he has good hockey sense."

Third-year forward Andrew Kozek of Sicamous, B.C., has come a long way since being drafted by Atlanta two years ago.

"He didn't score a whole lot his first two years but he's got two goals in his first three games this year," says Hakstol. "He's really maturing.

"He's a different player than he was at this point in time last year."

Sophomore forward Darcy Zajac of Winnipeg is the brother of Travis Zajac of the New Jersey Devils.

"He's a hard-nosed, two-way forward who is a good penalty killer," says Hakstol. "He's doing a lot of good things.

"He's a real solid two-player who has a little bit of a knack around the net."

Matt Watkins of Aylesbury, Sask., was drafted by the Dallas Stars two years ago.

"He's stepping to the forefront," says Hakstol. "He was a third-line role player his first two years and now he's on a wing alongside Kaip.

"Those two guys have some great chemistry. Matt bases his whole game on his speed. He's a pure skater who has that extra gear. He's playing with a lot of confidence and playing strong two-way hockey."

Freshman forward Matt Frattin of Edmonton was drafted by Toronto last June after finishing second in Alberta junior league scoring with the Fort Saskatchewan Traders.

"It's a fairly big step from the Alberta junior league but, mentally and physically, he can handle it," says Hakstol.

Senior Kyle Radke of Bashaw, Alta., is playing left wing after starting out as a defenceman.

"We felt we lacked a little bit of physical presence up front and Kyle brings that," explains Hakstol.

Freshman forward Brad Malone of Miramichi, N.B., got off to a great start but suffered a right shoulder separation in a game last Friday and is out five-to-seven weeks.

Freshman forward Brent Davidson of Morden has yet to get into a game.

"He's a big strong kid who needs to gain another half step to be able to play at this level but with his work ethic he has a chance to do that," says his coach.

Goaltender Anthony Grieco of Brampton, Ont., has yet to play a game, but that's understandable given the perfect play of No. 1 goalie Jean-Philippe Lamoureux, an American whose grandparents live in the St. Albert, Alta., area.

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