Dominic Zombo considered the question.
Is there any way to stop UNO teammate Josh Archibald?
“I'd like to say no,” said Zombo, who frequently centers a line that includes Archibald on his right wing. “I haven't seen anything yet. He's been managing to do something every night against every single team. He's just so dynamic, whether it's his shot or his speed. He's got a lot of ways to beat you.”
Archibald, the reigning National Collegiate Hockey Conference player of the week after scoring three of UNO's five goals while it was swept at New Hampshire, is the league leader with 14 goals — a total tied for third-best in the country.
He's used his speed to zip past unsuspecting, or off-balance, defensemen. He's surprised goaltenders with his laser-like accuracy on shots from the circle. He's finished difficult backhanders, lifting the puck high despite being in close. He's crashed the net to collect rebounds. He's scored on a penalty shot.
And that's just in the games. Practice is where the junior from Brainerd, Minn., hones his craft.
“He tries a lot of things in practice when he goes in on the goaltender, and he'll miss the net once in awhile, but he comes off that wing and he usually hits the net,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “That's where it starts. He's been coached by his dad at a young age. Something coaches say and he's taken to heart is, 'You're not going to score 100 percent of the time if you miss the net. So hit the net.' ”
Archibald's father, Jim, is a former North Dakota star known for his prodigious penalty-minute totals, which over time have obscured his skills as a scorer. Jim Archibald, who coached Josh almost exclusively before he joined the UNO program, scored 21 goals as a college junior and 37 as a senior.
“One of his big things was that you'd only play as well in games as you did in practice,” Josh Archibald said. “If I wasn't going 100 percent in practice, I'd hear about it at home that night.”
Blais said Archibald doesn't necessarily practice harder than everyone else. “he just practices more efficiently than a lot of the guys.”
Heading into a weekend NCHC home series with Minnesota-Duluth, Archibald has scored four goals in his last three games and overall has goals in 13 of the Mavs' 18 games.
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“He's finding ways to score, whether it's on rebounds, breakaways or shooting the puck,” Blais said. “His speed does so much for him, because he can get there.
“And he's learned that if you want to be a scorer you've got to keep doing the things that gave you success — get to the net, play with quickness. He's around the rebounds. Some guys find a way to not quite be there. They get behind the net or don't stop in front of the net. Josh is a product of doing things right.”
He's also been clutch, ranking tied for sixth nationally with three game-winning goals. He had overtime goals in each game of a road sweep at Denver on Nov. 1 and 2 and got the game-winner against Michigan on Nov. 15. And that doesn't count the shootout clincher he scored after a Dec. 7 tie with Colorado College that earned UNO another standings point. Archibald also had a game-tying third-period goal that night. He's tied for the national lead with seven third-period goals and with two overtime scores.
“I'm feeling pretty confident in myself, but that comes with playing with great players,” Archibald said. “We've got a great group, and I've just been in the right spot at the right time to get passes.”
Archibald started his college career on fire, with seven goals in his first 14 games as a freshman. But after playing for the United States in the World Juniors tournament, Archibald scored just three goals the rest of the season. Last year he had 19 goals in 39 games.
“As the years go on, you get more experience and you get more confidence in yourself and more confidence in your shooting ability,” he said. “I've gotten more confidence in myself, and my teammates have seen what I'm capable of. And they're getting me the puck more often — and I'm getting quality scoring chances because of that.”
In some ways, he's overtaken returning Hobey Baker Award finalist Ryan Walters as the Mavs' primary goal-scoring option. Walters is often on the same line as Archibald and Zombo, and while Walters has been getting the chances (he's eighth in the country with 4.2 shots on goal per game) and the assists (14), he's at a pace to finish below his junior year total of 22 goals.
“Walt is getting his chances,” Blais said. “... I think he's a little snakebit. He's maybe putting too much pressure on himself — he wants to do so well and help the team so much.”
Archibald has been able to pick up the slack. Next season, maybe, he could make a run at his dad's single-season total of 37 goals.
But the 21-year-old might have other things to consider, too. Blais watches the Pittsburgh Penguins often enough to envision a day when their 2011 sixth-round draft pick will be skating with them.
“I think when Josh realizes he'll make the team, he'll sign,” Blais said. “I think Pittsburgh's talent level right now is such that it will help us keep him his senior year — and he wants to get his degree, he's a good student.
“But I can see him putting on that jersey next year after we're done and staying with them. … Is he ready to do that now? Maybe not quite. But he's certainly a strong candidate.”
That's further down the road than Archibald wants to look.
“I'm a little more in the here and now,” he said. “I don't look too far forward. If things happen and I go, then I go. But right now I'm focusing on this year and doing as well as possible to help this team here win.”