UND's Kristo Maturing into Two-way PlayerThings seemed to come easy for Danny Kristo in his first year of college hockey at the University of North Dakota. He piled up 15 goals, 36 points and was named the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's rookie of the year.
By: Brad Elliott Schlossman, Grand Forks Herald
GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — Things seemed to come easy for Danny Kristo in his first year of college hockey at the University of North Dakota.
He piled up 15 goals, 36 points and was named the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's rookie of the year.
The challenges came in bunches this year, though.
Kristo, a sophomore from Eden Prairie, Minn., scored just one goal in his first 20 games and worked to find his niche on the UND team. Just when he appeared to find it, he suffered severe frostbite on his right foot, sidelining him for six weeks.
But as the Fighting Sioux head to the NCAA Frozen Four in St. Paul, Minn., next week, they know they will be bringing along a player in Kristo who is nearing the top of his game.
After tallying just five points in his first 17 games of the year, Kristo has 23 points in the last 16 games. He's scored a goal in three of four playoff games and has become a reliable player in all areas of the game.
"I think the emphasis coming into the year was to become better defensively," Kristo said. "I think I've done that a little bit better. I still have a lot to work on, a lot of stuff in the D-zone, but I feel I've made some strides there."
Sioux coach Dave Hakstol agrees.
"His game is improving and rounding out in terms of being a two-way player," Hakstol said. "Danny is a very competitive player. It has never been out of a lack of wanting to be a good defensive player, but a matter of maturing as a player and maturing in a two-way role."
Kristo, who was known as more of a goal-scorer during his freshman year, has turned into more of a playmaker as a sophomore. Some of those skills were evident in the WCHA Final Five and the NCAA regionals.
He set up linemate Taylor Dickin several times in UND's 3-2 double overtime victory over Denver for the Broadmoor Trophy, and his touch pass to Brock Nelson, who roofed a backhand goal, iced UND's victory over the Pioneers in the region final.
"He's always had great playmaking abilities and dynamic one-on-one playmaking ability," Hakstol said. "I think right now what we're seeing is some good chemistry with his linemates. We're seeing that really come to the forefront more and more as they spend time together."
Kristo, who played with Brent Davidson and Nelson during the regional, first faced adversity at the start of the season, mired in a scoring slump.
"I thought I was working just as hard at the start of the year as I am now," Kristo said. "I thought I was playing well. Maybe the puck just wasn't going in, but I kept going. Ever since Christmas, it's been rolling pretty good. You just have to stay on it, work hard every day and it's going to come eventually. I've got to give credit to the guys on the team. They said, 'Keep going, keep going.' Eventually, it did come."
Kristo broke out of it with a three-point game against Minnesota-Duluth to open up the second half. That started a 12-game stretch in which he tallied 17 points.
Then he suffered the frostbite, losing a shoe in a snow drift while walking near campus in 33-below wind chills. It took six weeks for Kristo to recover and return to the lineup.
He scored a goal against Colorado College in the WCHA Final Five on his first shift back.
"Dan had instant success on that first shift in St. Paul," Hakstol said. "His game is still coming around. I think he's getting very close to being back at 100 percent. I hope that after a good six, seven days of practice, he will truly be at ... 100 percent.
"Even though he came back and immediately had an impact, there were still a lot of things in his game that had to come back to game speed," Hakstol said. "Fortunately for him and for us, he's been able to ... contribute to good team wins."