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Sanderson becomes latest UND student athlete to continue Olympic tradition

Fighting Hawks defenseman joins UND alums headed to games in China

UND sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson, 19, is one of the young players to watch on the Team USA men’s hockey team at the 2022 Olympic games in Beijing, China. Photo by Russell Hons/UND Athletics.

When University of North Dakota defenseman Jake Sanderson takes to the ice as part of the USA men’s hockey team for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, he’ll join a long list of student athletes from the University who’ve competed internationally at the highest level.

“’He’s progressed through his age group representing the U.S. on a world scale,” said UND men’s hockey coach Brad Berry. “Now it’s time for the Olympics. That’s a situation where it’s a great opportunity for him at a young age, and he’ll probably have plenty of opportunities later on for the Olympics.”

Many athletes dream of participating in the Olympics, but most hockey players don’t get to do it before they turn 20. Because of COVID concerns, the National Hockey League decided not to send its players to the winter games in Beijing. This opened the door for Sanderson and other college-aged players to take their place.

Jake Sanderson

“I’ve been lucky enough to put the USA jersey on a couple of times playing in junior hockey and the World Juniors, but I think the Olympics will be a whole different thing,” he said. “It’s a much bigger stage. It’s pretty awesome; I’m excited.”

UND has now had representatives at 16 of the last 19 Winter Olympics in men’s ice hockey. Joining Sanderson at this year’s Olympics are two former UND players: Corban Knight with Team Canada, a center who played at UND from 2009-13, and Matej Tomek with Team Slovakia, a goalie for UND during the 2016-17 season.

Three other former UND women’s hockey players are on the rosters of national Olympic teams. Michelle Karvinen, a forward who played at UND from 2010-14, will participate in her fourth Olympics as an assistant captain with Finland’s team. She captained UND’s team during her senior season and was named the top forward in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Japan. Susana Tapani, a forward who played for UND during the 2013-14 season, is also on the Finnish team. Josefine Jacobsen, who played as a forward for the University from 2011-2014, will serve as captain of Denmark’s Olympic team, making its debut at the games.

For the first time in 12 years, the U.S. women’s hockey team won’t have UND alums Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando on its roster. The Grand Forks, N.D., twins became the only native North Dakotans to win Olympic gold in 2018 when they played integral roles in defeating Team Canada in the championship game. They announced their retirement last year and were inducted into the North Dakota Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Hall of Fame during a ceremony at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Michelle Karvinen, a former UND women’s hockey player, will participate in her fourth Olympics with Team Finland. Archival photo.

Golden opportunity

The invitation for Sanderson to join the Olympic team came just after the International Ice Hockey Federation’s annual World Junior Tournament – being played in Alberta, Canada – was cancelled Dec. 29 because of COVID. Sanderson had been named captain of Team USA for the prestigious tournament of players under 20. He would have defended the championship he and UND teammate Tyler Kleven won last year.

“I was asked if I wanted to go to the Olympics right after the tournament was cancelled,” he recalled. “I talked to my parents about that and really didn’t need any convincing to go. It was something I’ve always wanted to do if the opportunity was there. I’m honored and lucky enough to have that.”

Berry describes Sanderson as an elite player who will only get better by playing at the highest levels of competition, whether it’s in the Olympics or at the World Junior Championships.

“We endorse that here at North Dakota,” Berry said. “It’s a situation where I know having players go to the World Juniors and coming back, we get better players back.

“They’re more experienced, they’re more confident and they have a lot of swagger in their game,” he explained. “We think we’re going to get a better player down the stretch in Jake Sanderson.”

In a recent article on NBC’s Olympic website, Sanderson – who will wear No. 8 during the Olympics – was listed as one of 10 players to watch on the U.S. hockey team. The 6-2, 189-pound sophomore defenseman from Whitefish, Mont., was selected fifth overall by the Ottawa Senators in the 2020 NHL entry draft, making him the highest drafted player in the history of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) in which UND plays. He was also the 21st UND player selected in the first round of the NHL draft.

Sanderson is UND’s second leading scorer this season with 7 goals and 17 assists in 21 games. In his last game Saturday night before he left for the Olympics, Sanderson scored the game-tying goal against St. Cloud State University, enabling the Fighting Hawks to take 5 of 6 points on the weekend to remain in second place in the NCHC.

Coming back better

“We fully plan to have a long playoff run here and Jake Sanderson will get back Feb. 20, which will give us a few weeks before the playoffs,” Berry said. “We’ll miss him for three weeks on our schedule, but at the end of the day, we’ve got a lot of really good players who are going to take the opportunity with the ice time Jake had here.”

UND hockey coach Brad Berry said he expects Fighting Hawks players who compete in Olympic or World Junior tournaments to be better players when they return to the team. Photo by Russell Hons/UND Athletics.

Although the Olympics begin Friday, the U.S. men’s hockey team won’t see action until Thursday, Feb. 10, when they faceoff against China at 7:10 a.m. Central time. Going half-way around the world to potentially play 8 games in 10 days doesn’t faze Sanderson.

“With the work I put in every day and with the preparation I have for our college games, it’s just hockey,” he said. “It’s the same game on the same ice. It’s not really anything different, but it will be the highest-level hockey I’ve played so far. I’m super excited to be coached by some amazing coaches and play with some amazing players.”