NCHC Playoff Preview: North Dakota at Denver

It’s quite simple, really:

Win two games this weekend to continue playing.
Lose two games this weekend and it’s all over.

North Dakota finds itself in an unfamiliar position, heading on the road for the opening round of the league playoffs for the first time since March 2002. That season, the Fighting Sioux played at eventual national champion Minnesota in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs, taking the Gophers to overtime on Saturday night (losing 4-3) after getting destroyed 7-2 in Friday’s opener.

This time around, UND finds themselves in a matchup against the Denver Pioneers. The Fighting Hawks experienced some weather-related issues and delays on their way to Denver, but they managed to practice at Cadet Ice Arena (Colorado Springs, CO), the home rink of the Air Force Falcons.

As has been well-documented, the last three national champions hail from the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, and fifth-place North Dakota (2016 champions) travels to fourth-place Denver (2017) this weekend for a best-of-three playoff series, with both looking up in the final regular-season standings at second-place Duluth (winners of the 2018 NCAA title) as well as Penrose Cup champion St. Cloud State and third-place Western Michigan, two other conference opponents with lofty postseason aspirations.

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries. The teams have played 24 times during the first six seasons of the new conference, but the feud goes all the way back to Geoff Paukovitch’ illegal check on Sioux forward Robbie Bina during the 2005 WCHA Final Five.

Since that 2005 Final Five contest (a Denver victory), the two teams have met ten times in tournament play. Denver won the 2005 NCAA title with a victory over North Dakota and claimed a 2008 WCHA Final Five win as well. UND has earned six victories and a tie in the last eight playoff games between the schools, including three consecutive victories in the WCHA Final Five (2010-2012), the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional final which sent the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four, 2016’s thrilling Frozen Four semifinal (a 4-2 UND victory) in Tampa, Florida, and the 2017 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

(It is impossible to bring up the Paukovitch/Bina incident without also writing that Brad Malone‘s check on Denver’s Jesse Martin during an October 2010 contest at Ralph Engelstad Arena fractured three of Martin’s vertebrae and ended the hockey career of the Atlanta Thrashers’ draft pick.)

This year’s version of the Pioneers looks noticeably different to UND fans, with four players graduated (forward Rudy Junda, defensemen Tariq Hammond and Adam Plant, and goaltender Tanner Jaillet) and a new bench boss (David Carle), the youngest in Division I men’s college hockey. Furthermore, Denver had five players leave eligibility on the table during the 2018 offseason, including three prolific goal scorers and a stalwart defenseman:

Forward Henrik Borgström (gave up two seasons of eligibility; drafted Round 1 #23 by the Florida Panthers in 2016): 45 goals and 95 points in 77 career NCAA games

Forward Troy Terry (gave up one season of eligibility; drafted Round 5 #148 by the Anaheim Ducks in 2015): 45 goals and 115 point in 115 career NCAA games

Forward Dylan Gambrell (gave up one season of eligibility; drafted Round 2 #60 by the San Jose Sharks in 2016): 43 goals and 132 points in 120 career NCAA games

Defenseman Blake Hillman (gave up one season of eligibility; drafted Round 6 #173 by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2016): 7 goals and 31 points in 123 career NCAA games

Free agent forward Logan O’Connor also gave up his final season of college eligibility to sign with the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL. O’Connor posted a line of 16-27-43 in 108 career NCAA games.

North Dakota was not immune to the early departure bug during the 2018 offseason, as defenseman Christian Wolanin (12-23-35 in 2017-18, 22-50-72 in 109 career games at North Dakota) and forward Shane Gersich (13-16-29 in 2017-18, 43-34-77 in 117 career games at North Dakota) each gave up his senior season to sign a pro contract (Wolanin with Ottawa, Gersich with Washington).

And the previous three summers haven’t been any easier for fans of the Green and White, as multiple players have left eligibility on the table to join the professional ranks (years of eligibility remaining at the time of signing):

2017: Forward Brock Boeser (2), Forward Tyson Jost (3), Defenseman Tucker Poolman (1)

2016: Forward Luke Johnson (1), Forward Nick Schmaltz (2), Defenseman Paul LaDue (1), Defenseman Troy Stecher (1), Defenseman Keaton Thompson (1)

2015: Defenseman Jordan Schmaltz (1), Goaltender Zane McIntyre (1)

In 2014, forward Rocco Grimaldi left after his sophomore campaign to sign with the Florida Panthers (NHL). In 2013, defenseman Derek Forbort signed with the Los Angeles Kings after his junior year. North Dakota also lost two players (Brock Nelson and Aaron Dell) to early departures in 2012 and two others (Jason Gregoire and Brett Hextall) in 2011.

After suffering an injury during a January 4th contest at Wisconsin, DU sophomore goaltender Devin Cooley (10-6-2, 1.89 goals-against average, .933 save percentage, four shutouts) was out of the lineup for five weekends before returning to the crease and pitching a shutout at Duluth on February 16th. Since that time, Cooley and freshman Filip Larsson (9-4-3, 2.29 GAA, .919 SV%, 1 SO) have basically split time between the pipes, Larsson, a sixth-round pick (#167 overall) of the Detroit Red Wings in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, has fared very well against UND this season, earning two victories and a tie while allowing only one goal in each game (0.95 GAA, .973 SV%).

Last year’s senior class at North Dakota (Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson) went 101-45-20 (.669) and became the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games. This year’s group (Ryan Anderson, Rhett Gardner, Joel Janatuinen, and Hayden Shaw) currently sits at 90-50-19 (.626) and will be unable to continue that impressive streak, as only eight possible victories remain on the schedule.

After getting swept at Canisius back in January, UND saw its non-conference record drop to 6-4-1 (.591) on the season. After going 9-1-2 (.833) in non-conference play in 2015-16 and 7-2-2 (.727) out-of-conference in 2016-17, Brad Berry’s squad went just 6-2-4 (.667) last season and snapped its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

Had one of those Canisius losses turned into a victory, UND (currently 18th in the Pairwise) would now be sitting at 14th. With a sweep over the Golden Griffins, North Dakota would be 8th. While it is true that a team’s overall record is indicative of their season-long identity, that particular weekend stands out for Fighting Hawks fans, as the Green and White outshot Canisius 82-30 over the course of two games but were outscored 5-2 in the series.

Looking ahead, UND would likely end up at 13th in the Pairwise with a sweep over Denver and 15th with two victories and a loss. Those precarious Pairwise positions would be mitigated somewhat by the fact that North Dakota would still have two games remaining on its schedule (at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff) to improve on those rankings.

A playoff series loss at Magness Arena this weekend would mark the end of the 2018-19 season for North Dakota, as they would likely drop to 21st with two losses and remain at 18th with a victory and two losses.

If the season ended today, St. Cloud State (1st in the Pairwise rankings), Duluth (4th), and Denver (7th) would be safely in the NCAA tournament, with Western Michigan (13th) on the bubble and North Dakota (18th), Colorado College (24th), Miami (38th), and Omaha (46th) even further back.

It is very likely that the DU/UND series will go to a decisive third game on Sunday, as Denver will be looking to end North Dakota’s season, and that will bring out the best in both teams. Over UND’s incredible run of home ice for the first round of the league tournament, they fared extremely well in Friday openers, with Saturday’s games invariably more tightly contested.

Here are the complete results for UND’s 38 consecutive home conference playoff games:

Year Opponent Game One Game Two Game Three
2018 Omaha 4-0 4-3 (OT)
2017 St. Cloud State 5-2 6-5 (OT)
2016 Colorado College 7-1 5-1
2015 Colorado College 5-1 3-2
2014 Colorado College 4-2 2-3 (OT) 4-3
2013 Michigan Tech 5-3 1-2 6-0
2012 Bemidji State 4-1 4-3
2011 Michigan Tech 8-0 3-1
2010 Minnesota 6-0 2-4 4-1
2009 Michigan Tech 5-1 4-3
2008 Michigan Tech 4-0 2-3 (OT) 2-1
2007 Mankato State 5-2 2-1
2006 Mankato State 2-3 (OT) 4-1 3-0
2005 Minnesota-Duluth 8-2 6-1
2004 Michigan Tech 6-2 4-3 (OT)
2003 Denver 1-4 3-2 (OT) 3-2 (OT)

On the injury front, North Dakota sophomore goaltender Peter Thome (upper body injury) has played well over the past three weekends in place of freshman netminder Adam Scheel, who suffered a lower body injury four weeks ago at Western Michigan. The timeline for Scheel’s return is officially listed as week to week, although he has been ruled out for this weekend’s action.

Thome (4-2-0, 2.02 goals-against average, .915 save percentage over his last six games) helped UND earn splits vs. Duluth and at Colorado College and a home sweep last weekend against Omaha. The sophomore from Minneapolis, Minnesota gave up exactly one goal in three of those six starts.

Forward Joel Janatuinen is also out this weekend (undisclosed), but North Dakota fans got some good news a week ago when forwards Nick Jones and Grant Mismash both returned to the lineup. Mismash, once feared gone for the season, is not fully healed but expects a larger role against the Pioneers. Junior defenseman Colton Poolman (undisclosed injury) has played the past eight games for UND after missing the Denver series back in February, the only two contests he has missed in his 113-game collegiate career.

North Dakota has been best in first periods this season, outscoring opponents 36-21 and outshooting teams by a collective margin of 372-253. When scoring first during the 2018-19 campaign, the Fighting Hawks are 11-4-2. In 35 games, UND has put 1113 shots on goal (31.8/game) while allowing just 816 (23.3/game).

Denver has shined in the third period this year, outscoring opponents 35-22 and outshooting teams by a collective margin of 334-304. When scoring first, the Pioneers are 13-5-2. In 34 games, DU has put 1015 shots on goal (29.9/game) while allowing 969 (28.5/game).

Currently, UND leads the nation in faceoff efficiency (57.0 percent); DU is 18th at 51.9 percent. North Dakota is 2nd in the country in puck possession stats, outpacing Denver in both Corsi (58.3 to 52.3 percent) and Fenwick (58.4 to 51.1 percent). Corsi measures the percentage of shot attempts by a team compared to that of its opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shot attempts by a team compared to that of its opponents.

According to KRACH, Denver has played the fifth-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks as the seventh-most difficult out of sixty men’s Division I hockey programs.

Denver Team Profile

Head Coach: David Carle (Denver ’12, 1st season at DU, 19-10-5, .632)

Pairwise Ranking: 7th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #8/#7

This Season: 19-10-5 (.632) overall, 11-1-3-3 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 23-10-8 overall (NCAA Midwest Regional Finalist), 12-6-6-4 NCHC (2nd)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.79 goals scored/game – 29th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.15 goals allowed/game – 10th of 60 teams
Power Play: 15.7% (22 of 140) – 44th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 81.1% (103 of 127) – 33rd of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Jarid Lukosevicius (16-9-25), Freshman F Emilio Pettersen (6-20-26), Junior F Liam Finlay (13-19-32), Freshman F Cole Guttman (11-10-21), Sophomore D Ian Mitchell (4-17-21), Junior D Michael Davies (4-8-12), Sophomore G Devin Cooley (10-6-2, 1.89 GAA, .933 SV%, 4 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 90-50-19, .626)

Pairwise Ranking: 18th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #19/NR

This Season: 18-15-2 (.543) overall, 12-11-1-0 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 17-13-10 (.550) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.60 goals scored/game – 37th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.40 goals allowed/game – 16th of 60 teams
Power Play: 14.9% (21 of 141) – 50th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 79.6% (109 of 137) – 36th of 60 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (10-16-26), Senior F Nick Jones (7-11-18), Senior F Rhett Gardner (8-7-15), Junior F Cole Smith (5-11-16), Freshman F Mark Senden (6-8-14), Freshman D Jacob Bernard-Docker (5-11-16), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (7-11-18), Junior D Colton Poolman (5-12-17), Sophomore G Peter Thome (5-5-0, 2.74 GAA, .884 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: February 2, 2019 (Denver, CO). DU’s Brett Stapley scored with just eighteen seconds remaining in the 3-on-3 overtime session to earn the extra conference point for the Pios. That point ended up being the difference in the standings between the schools, as Denver (11-10-3-3 in league play) finished in fourth place with 39 points, two ahead of fifth-place North Dakota (12-11-1-0; 37). In Friday’s opener, UND peppered Filip Larsson with nineteen shots on goal in the opening period (46 for the game) but lost 2-1 to the homestanding Pioneers.

Last Playoff Meeting: March 17, 2017 (Minneapolis, MN). North Dakota got an early third-period goal from junior forward Austin Poganski and made the lead hold up thanks to 21 saves by Cam Johnson. The 1-0 victory in the NCHC semifinals assured UND a berth in its fifteenth consecutive NCAA tournament (the longest active streak in Division I men’s ice hockey). The teams combined to go 0-for-7 with the man advantage. Denver had won thirteen games in a row coming into the contest.

A Recent Memory: April 7, 2016 (Tampa, Florida). In the semifinals of the NCAA Frozen Four, the two league rivals squared off in a tightly-contested contest. Senior forward Drake Caggiula scored twice early in the middle frame to stake UND to a 2-0 lead, but the Pioneers battled back with a pair of third period goals. The CBS line came through when it mattered most, with Nick Schmaltz scoring the game winner off of a faceoff win with 57 seconds remaining in the hockey game. North Dakota blocked 27 Denver shot attempts and goaltender Cam Johnson made 21 saves for the Fighting Hawks, who won the program’s eighth national title on the same sheet of ice two nights later.

Most Important Meeting: It’s hard to pick just one game, as the two teams have played four times for the national title. Denver defeated UND for the national championship in 1958, 1968, and 2005, while the Sioux downed the Pioneers in 1963. But the game that stands out in recent memory as “the one that got away” was DU’s 1-0 victory over the Fighting Sioux in the 2004 NCAA West Regional final (Colorado Springs, CO). That North Dakota team went 30-8-4 on the season (Dean Blais’ last behind the UND bench) and featured one of the deepest rosters in the past twenty years: Brandon Bochenski, Zach Parise, Brady Murray, Colby Genoway, Drew Stafford and David Lundbohm up front; Nick Fuher, Matt Jones, Matt Greene, and Ryan Hale on defense; and a couple of goaltending stalwarts in Jordan Parise and Jake Brandt.

Last Ten Games: UND has three victories and three ties over the past ten games, with Denver outscoring North Dakota 21-20 over that stretch. Four of the last six meetings have gone into overtime.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 146-126-15 (.535), although Denver enjoys a 74-54-4 (.576) advantage in games played at altitude. The teams first met in 1950, with North Dakota prevailing 18-3 in Denver.

Game News and Notes

North Dakota has not swept in Denver since 2003. Four current active UND players have multiple career goals against the Pios (Matt Kiersted, Colton Poolman, Hayden Shaw, and Cole Smith, with two each). Denver and North Dakota have been in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff every year since its inception (2014-2018), but of course only one of them can advance this season and become the only program to play in all six tourneys in league history. UND has advanced past the first round sixteen straight times, while Denver last missed the WCHA Final Five semifinals in 2013, the Pios’ final season in that conference. Since seven of Michigan’s nine titles were earned by 1964, I consider Denver (eight titles) and North Dakota (eight titles) to be the top two men’s college hockey programs of all time.

Media Coverage

All games of this weekend’s series (8:08 p.m. Central Time on Friday and Saturday; 7:08 p.m. Central Time on Sunday if necessary) will be available through Midco Sports Network, which is picking up the feed from Denver’s NCHC.tv broadcast. A high-definition webcast of the games will also be available to NCHC.tv subscribers. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

The Prediction

North Dakota does not want to get into a track meet with the Pios. UND definitely has a chance at taking this best-of-three series, with at least one of these tilts headed to overtime. If the Fighting Hawks can win the goaltending battle and end up on the plus side of the special teams ledger, they will head to St. Paul for the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. North Dakota has been at their best when the chips are down, and I see that trend continuing this weekend, with plenty of Green and White in the stands at Magness Arena to cheer them on this weekend and even more making the annual trek to the Twin Cities one week from today. UND 2-1, DU 3-2 (OT), UND 3-2 (OT).

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Omaha

After a trip to the Frozen Four in 2015, Dean Blais could only manage a mark of 35-34-6 over his final two seasons behind the Omaha bench. He was replaced by Mike Gabinet (Omaha ’04), and Gabinet finished up his rookie campaign with an eerily similar record of 17-17-2.

Maverick fans were certainly hopeful that improvement was coming this season, but Omaha sputtered out of the gate with a record of 0-6-1. Things have certainly leveled off since then with a mixed bag of results, and the Mavs bring an overall record of 9-20-3 into this weekend’s road series at North Dakota (16-15-2).

Omaha has had a bit more offensive success than North Dakota this season (2.59 goals scored/per game for UNO; 2.55 goals scored/game for UND), although they have not been able to keep the puck out of their own net. If three goals is the magic number for success in men’s college hockey, here’s how the two teams stack up:

Omaha scoring three or more goals: 17 times
(including both games vs. North Dakota in January)

Omaha allowing three or more goals: 25 times
(including both games vs. North Dakota in January)

North Dakota scoring three or more goals: 16 times

North Dakota allowing three or more goals: 14 times

North Dakota is allowing 2.39 goals per contest (15th-best in the country); while Omaha clocks in at an abysmal 3.72 goals allowed per game (58th).

More to the point, UND has allowed three or more goals in both games of a weekend series only twice this season:

October 19-20, 2018 vs. Minnesota State: 4-7 L, 4-3 W
January 18-19, 2019 at Nebraska-Omaha: 4-3 W, 3-4 L

That has usually translated into splits, as North Dakota has held opponents to five total goals or less in twelve of sixteen series this season (aside from Minnesota State [ten] and Omaha [seven], Duluth scored six goals in a home series and Western Michigan scored eight at REA in November).

Omaha has struggled mightily in conference play this year, with only five victories (5-15-2-1). UNO has allowed a league-high 82 goals in NCHC play this season while scoring the second-fewest (51). By contrast, North Dakota (10-11-1-0 in league play) has scored 52 but allowed only 53.

Two familiar names in UND hockey history – Morelli and Ward – have been leading the charge for Mike Gabinet’s squad. Senior forward Mason Morelli (grandson of Reg Morelli; 19-13-32 this season) and freshman forward Taylor Ward (son of Dixon Ward; 8-18-26) rank 1st and 3rd in team scoring for the Mavericks. Those two followed in the footsteps of Josh Archibald (son of Jim), Dayn Belfour (son of Ed), and Dominic Zombo (son of Rick) as “legacy” players who followed Dean Blais down I-94 from Grand Forks to Omaha.

North Dakota hockey fans will also recognize another name on the Omaha roster. Junior goaltender Matej Tomek (0-1-0, 4.73 goals-against average, .845 save percentage in five appearances) spent the 2016-17 at UND, appearing in two games while backing up Cam Johnson. Tomek, who spent last season with the Waterloo Blackhawks of the USHL, is a 3rd round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League (#90 overall in 2015)

Last year’s senior class at North Dakota (Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson) went 101-45-20 (.669) and became the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games. This year’s group (Ryan Anderson, Rhett Gardner, Joel Janatuinen, and Hayden Shaw) currently sits at 88-50-19 (.621) and will be unable to continue that impressive streak, as only ten possible victories remain on the schedule.

Currently, UND leads the nation in faceoff efficiency (57.3 percent); UNO is 56th at 44.9 percent. North Dakota outpaces Omaha in both Corsi (58.1 to 45.8 percent) and Fenwick (58.0 to 45.2 percent). Corsi measures the percentage of shot attempts by a team compared to that of its opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shot attempts by a team compared to that of its opponents.

After getting swept at Canisius back in January, UND saw its non-conference record drop to 6-4-1 (.591) on the season. After going 9-1-2 (.833) in non-conference play in 2015-16 and 7-2-2 (.727) out-of-conference in 2016-17, Brad Berry’s squad went just 6-2-4 (.667) last season and snapped its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

As a whole, the NCHC fared extremely well in non-conference action, collecting a combined record of 50-21-8 (.684) and sporting a winning record against four of the other five leagues across the college hockey landscape (losing the head-to-head with the ECAC, 2-3-1). Here are the inter-conference records, from best to worst:

NCHC: 50-21-8 (.684)
Big Ten: 34-22-5 (.598)
Hockey East: 52-44-8 (.538)
ECAC: 43-46-6 (.484)
WCHA: 22-38-5 (.377)
Atlantic Hockey: 14-44-6 (.266)

Not only could the NCHC as a whole field four or even five teams in the NCAA tournament, but North Dakota’s record against Minnesota (1-0-0) and Wisconsin (2-0-0) will also help them specifically in Pairwise comparisons against all of the Big Ten teams. If the season ended today, St. Cloud State (1st in the Pairwise rankings), Duluth (3rd), Denver (6th), with Western Michigan (14th) on the bubble and North Dakota (20th), Colorado College (31st), Miami (34th), and Omaha (44th) even further back.

According to KRACH, Omaha has played the second-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks as the fifth-most difficult out of sixty men’s Division I hockey programs.

This weekend marks the last weekend of the regular season, and UND is currently in fifth place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, four points behind fourth-place Western Michigan. At 10-11-1-0 (31 points) in league play, North Dakota will need to earn five more league points than the Broncos (11-10-1-1, 35 points) this weekend to secure home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs. Over the first five seasons of the league, the fourth-place finisher (final home ice spot) has averaged roughly 36 points (11-11-2-1). UND has hosted the first round of its league playoffs (WCHA/NCHC) for sixteen consecutive seasons.

If UND fans are hopeful that Miami can sweep WMU this weekend in Oxford, Ohio, there is this: MU hasn’t swept a league opponent since January 6-7, 2017 vs. St. Cloud State (a stretch of 30 series without a sweep) and are 2-12 in their last seven weekends against NCHC teams. The RedHawks lost a pair of one-goal games in Kalamazoo back in January

According to Jim Dahl of collegehockeyranked.com, UND is most likely to end up at #16 in the Pairwise with a sweep over Omaha and at #20 with a split. A Mavericks sweep would most likely drop North Dakota to #22.

On the injury front, North Dakota sophomore goaltender Peter Thome (upper body injury) has played well over the past two weekends in place of freshman netminder Adam Scheel, who suffered a lower body injury three weeks ago at Western Michigan. The timeline for Scheel’s return is officially listed as week to week.

Thome (2-2-0, 1.78 goals-against average, .928 save percentage over his last four games) helped UND earn splits vs. Duluth and at Colorado College.

Forwards Joel Janatuinen and Grant Mismash are also out this weekend, although Mismash has resumed skating. Senior center Nick Jones (undisclosed) is expected to return to the lineup against Omaha.

One bright spot for Omaha has been their power play efficiency; the Mavericks clock in at just under 24 percent (8th-best in the country). To this point of the season, 33 of UNO’s 83 goals have been scored with the man advantage. On the flip side, Omaha has been dreadful on the penalty kill, allowing 28 goals in 131 shorthanded situations (78.6 percent, 44th).

By comparison, UND’s power play has been stuck all season long and currently sits at just 15.0 percent (20 of 133; 50th). The Fighting Hawks have allowed 26 power play goals on 129 attempts (79.9 percent; 37th) for a special teams differential of minus-six.

Slow starts have plagued UNO this season, as the Mavericks have been outscored 43-24 in the first period and 42-27 in the second. The final frame has been a wash for Omaha (32 goals scored, 33 goals allowed). Overall this season, UNO is allowing 34 shots per game while generating an average of 28 shots on goal.

North Dakota has been best in first periods this season, outscoring opponents 34-20 and outshooting teams by a collective margin of 341-240. In 33 games, UND has put 1027 shots on goal (31.1/game) while allowing just 771 (23.4/game).

In a strange set of stats, Omaha senior netminder Evan Weninger has seen his numbers drop every season in college hockey:

2015-16: 13-8-0, 2.46 goals-against average, .923 save percentage
2016-17: 11-11-4, 2.94 goals-against average, .907 save percentage
2017-18: 15-14-1, 3.36 goals-against average, .899 save percentage
2018-19: 9-19-3, 3.56 goals-against average, .897 save percentage

Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (2nd season at UNO, 26-37-5, .419)

Pairwise Ranking: 44th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 9-20-3 (.328) overall, 5-15-2-1 NCHC (t-7th)
Last Season: 17-17-2 (.500) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 10-13-1-0 NCHC (t-5th)

Team Offense: 2.59 goals scored/game – 39th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 3.72 goals allowed/game – 58th of 60 teams
Power Play: 23.9% (33 of 138) – 8th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.6% (103 of 131) – 44th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Mason Morelli (19-13-32), Senior F Fredrik Olofsson (10-21-31), Junior F Zach Jordan (7-17-24), Freshman F Taylor Ward (8-18-26), Junior D Dean Stewart (5-15-20), Junior D Ryan Jones (0-11-11), Senior G Evan Weninger (9-19-3, 3.56 GAA, .897 SV%, 4 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 88-50-19, .621)

Pairwise Ranking: 20th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #19/NR

This Season: 16-15-2 (.515) overall, 10-11-1-0 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 17-13-10 (.550) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.55 goals scored/game – 41st of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.39 goals allowed/game – 15th of 60 teams
Power Play: 15.0% (20 of 133) – 50th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 79.8% (103 of 129) – 37th of 60 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (8-16-24), Senior F Nick Jones (5-10-15), Senior F Rhett Gardner (8-6-14), Junior F Cole Smith (4-10-14), Freshman F Mark Senden (6-7-13), Freshman D Jacob Bernard-Docker (5-11-16), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (7-10-17), Junior D Colton Poolman (5-10-15), Sophomore G Peter Thome (3-5-0, 2.80 GAA, .883 SV%)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: January 19, 2019 (Omaha, NE). The Mavericks scored three unanswered goals over the final 27 minutes of the hockey game to come from behind for a 4-3 win. Eleven different players figured in on the scoring for UNO, who got 31 saves from senior netminder Evan Weninger. One night earlier, UND’s Jackson Keane scored the game-winner with less than two minutes remaining for a 4-3 road victory. North Dakota outshot Omaha 71-44 in the two-game series.

Last meeting in Grand Forks: March 10, 2018. In the second and decisive game of the NCHC quarterfinal series between North Dakota and Omaha, Fighting Hawks’ forward Nick Jones scored the game-tying goal at 10:45 of the third period and the game-winner 53 seconds into overtime to propel the Green and White to their sixteenth-consecutive Twin Cities tournament weekend (WCHA Final Five/NCHC Frozen Faceoff). UND won Friday’s opener 4-0 on the strength of three second-period goals (by Christian Wolanin, Jones, and Joel Janatuinen).

Most memorable meeting: The game that UND fans will long remember is the outdoor game played at TD Ameritrade Park (Omaha, Nebraska) on February 9th, 2013. One day after winning a tight 2-1 contest indoors, North Dakota throttled UNO 5-2 on a sunny, melty afternoon. Mavericks netminder John Faulkner was pulled after allowing three goals on five shots in just ten minutes of game action. In my opinion, this hockey weekend solidified the notion that for UND hockey, it’s always a home game.

Last ten: North Dakota has won six of the last ten contests between the schools, outscoring the Mavericks 35-27 over that stretch.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 20-11-1 (.641), including a 9-6-1 (.594) record in games played in Grand Forks. North Dakota owns a record of 15-8-1 (.646) against the Mavericks since both teams joined the NCHC. The teams first met on November 19, 2010.

Game News and Notes

In 2015, both North Dakota and Omaha advanced to the Frozen Four but neither team made the championship game. UND fell to Boston University 5-3, while the Mavericks were upended 4-1 by eventual national champion Providence. Since joining the WCHA in 2011 (and later the NCHC), the Mavs have never reached the Twin Cities for the second weekend of the conference tournament despite having home ice in three of those eight years. North Dakota ended UNO’s season in the first round of the league playoffs one year ago (4-0, 4-3 OT). The Mavs are 2-11-1 on the road this season, UND is 10-6-1 at home. Hawks’ junior defenseman (and captain) Colton Poolman has two goals and twelve points in twelve career games against Omaha.

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend can be seen live on Midco Sports Network and Fox College Sports, with a high definition webcast of the series also available to NCHC.tv subscribers. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). The flagship station for the network is 96.1 FM (The Fox). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

The Prediction

If the faceoff percentages and fancy stats (Corsi, Fenwick) are any indication, North Dakota will have the puck most of this weekend. The results of this series will rest on the goaltending efforts of Omaha’s Evan Weninger. In nine victories, he has allowed fifteen total goals (1.67 goals allowed/game) with four shutouts; in nineteen losses, he has given up 79 (4.16 goals allowed/game). The Fighting Hawks are still in the mix for home ice and will celebrate Senior Night on Saturday, and both of those things should translate into some intensity from the Green and White side. The first team to three goals will win each contest, and it will be North Dakota on back-to-back nights. UND 4-3, 3-2.

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Colorado College

After winning just twenty total games over his first three seasons behind the CC bench, head coach Mike Haviland won fifteen games (15-17-5) during the 2017-18 campaign and took Denver to three games in the first round of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs (2-0 W, 2-3 L, 1-6 L).

The feeling among the Tiger faithful has always been that new blood behind the bench would eventually translate into new life on the ice, and CC fans are finally being rewarded for their patience. Colorado College (12-16-4) is averaging well over three goals per game since the beginning of last season after averaging just a shade over two goals per contest (215 goals in 107 games) in Haviland’s first three campaigns.

As Brad Schlossman pointed out, Colorado College is third in the NCHC in scoring offense this year after finishing last in that category in each of the past five seasons.

Many familiar names have been popping up on the scoresheet for the Tigers, with twelve forwards reaching double-digit point totals: senior Trey Bradley (12-15-27), senior Westin Michaud (10-13-23), senior Trevor Gooch (10-10-20), Senior Mason Bergh (5-15-20), junior Chris Wilkie (6-13-19 in 20 games), freshman Ben Copeland (9-9-18), freshman Grant Cruikshank (9-7-16), junior Alex Berardinelli (8-8-16), sophomore Christiano Versich (4-9-13), junior Nick Halloran (4-9-13 in 20 games), sophomore Troy Conzo (6-6-12), and freshman Erik Middendorf (6-4-10).

Ben Copeland scored five of his nine goals last weekend against Western Michigan. Sadly, it was announced back in January that Nick Halloran is out for the season with a lower-body injury, so the prolific Halloran-Bergh-Bradley line that was together all of last year is no more.

By comparison, only five UND forwards have collected ten or more points so far this season: sophomore Jordan Kawaguchi (8-15-23), senior Nick Jones (5-10-15), senior Rhett Gardner (8-6-14), freshman Mark Senden (6-7-13), and junior Cole Smith (3-10-13).

Nick Jones did not play in last weekend’s home series against Duluth but has made the trip to Colorado Springs; his availability is still in question. Grant Mismash collected five goals and four assists in his first 21 games of this season before suffering a season-ending knee injury against St. Cloud State.

North Dakota fans should have noticed another familiar name in the Colorado College lineup: junior Chris Wilkie (6-13-19) has recovered from an injury and appeared in twenty games for the Tigers this season after transferring from UND (where he spent two years and won a national title) and sitting out last season (per NCAA rules).

Last year’s senior class at North Dakota (Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson) went 101-45-20 (.669) and became the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games. This year’s group (Ryan Anderson, Rhett Gardner, Joel Janatuinen, and Hayden Shaw) currently sits at 87-49-19 (.623) and will be unable to continue that impressive streak, as only twelve possible victories remain on the schedule.

Currently, UND leads the nation in faceoff efficiency (57.2 percent); CC is 57th at 45.0 percent. North Dakota outpaces Colorado College in both Corsi (58.2 to 48.9 percent) and Fenwick (58.1 to 48.7 percent). Corsi measures the percentage of shot attempts by a team compared to that of its opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shot attempts by a team compared to that of its opponents.

After getting swept at Canisius last month, UND saw its non-conference record drop to 6-4-1 (.591) on the season. After going 9-1-2 (.833) in non-conference play in 2015-16 and 7-2-2 (.727) out-of-conference in 2016-17, Brad Berry’s squad went just 6-2-4 (.667) last season and snapped its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

As a whole, the NCHC fared extremely well in non-conference action, collecting a combined record of 50-21-8 (.684) and sporting a winning record against four of the other five leagues across the college hockey landscape (losing the head-to-head with the ECAC, 2-3-1). Here are the inter-conference records, from best to worst:

NCHC: 50-21-8 (.684)
Big Ten: 34-22-5 (.598)
Hockey East: 52-44-8 (.538)
ECAC: 43-46-6 (.484)
WCHA: 22-38-5 (.377)
Atlantic Hockey: 14-44-6 (.266)

Not only could the NCHC as a whole field four or even five teams in the NCAA tournament, but North Dakota’s record against Minnesota (1-0-0) and Wisconsin (2-0-0) will also help them specifically in Pairwise comparisons against all of the Big Ten teams. If the season ended today, St. Cloud State (1st in the Pairwise rankings), Duluth (3rd), Denver (4th), and Western Michigan (10th) would make the national tourney, with North Dakota (18th) on the outside looking in and Colorado College (28th), Miami (34th), and Omaha (43rd) even further back.

According to KRACH, Colorado College has played the 13th-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks as the fourth-most difficult out of sixty men’s Division I hockey programs.

This weekend marks the third of four consecutive conference opponents to finish out the regular season, and the schedule has lightened up considerably. Here are the remaining series for the Fighting Hawks:

March 1-2: at Colorado College (#28 in the Pairwise)
March 8-9: vs. Nebraska-Omaha (#43 in the Pairwise)

UND (#18 in the Pairwise) is currently in fifth place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, six points behind fourth-place Denver. At 9-10-1-0 (28 points) in league play, North Dakota will likely need to win its final four conference games and get some help to secure home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs. Over the first five seasons of the league, the fourth-place finisher (final home ice spot) has averaged roughly 36 points (11-11-2-1).

According to Jim Dahl of collegehockeyranked.com, UND is most likely to end up at #16 in the Pairwise with a sweep over Colorado College and at #18 with a split. A Tigers sweep would most likely drop North Dakota to #21.

With sweeps over both Colorado College and Omaha, the Fighting Hawks would most likely end the regular season at #14 in the Pairwise with a chance of climbing as high as #11. Three wins over the final two weekends of the regular season would most likely land UND at #17; two wins in that span would most likely place North Dakota at #19.

On the injury front, North Dakota sophomore goaltender Peter Thome (upper body injury) returned to the lineup last weekend and played well in place of freshman netminder Adam Scheel, who suffered a lower body injury two weeks ago at Western Michigan. The timeline for Scheel’s return is officially listed as week to week. Forwards Joel Janatuinen and Grant Mismash are also out this weekend. Senior center Nick Jones (undisclosed) traveled with the team but is officially questionable for this weekend.

Colorado College Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Haviland (5th season at CC, 47-112-17, .315)

Pairwise Ranking: 28th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 12-16-4 overall (.438), 6-11-3-0 NCHC (6th)
Last Season: 15-17-5 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-12-4-3 NCHC (t-5th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.12 goals scored/game – 15th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.84 goals allowed/game – 34th of 60 teams
Power Play: 18.4% (25 of 136) – 30th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 79.4% (77 of 97) – 35th of 60 teams

Key players: Senior F Trey Bradley (12-15-27), Senior F Westin Michaud (10-13-23), Senior F Trevor Gooch (10-10-20), Senior F Mason Bergh (5-15-20), Junior F Chris Wilkie (6-13-19 in 20 games), Freshman D Bryan Yoon (1-17-18), Junior D Kristian Blumenschein (2-6-8), Senior D Andrew Farny (0-7-7), Junior G Alex Leclerc (12-15-4, 2.74 GAA, .912 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 87-49-19, .623)

Pairwise Ranking: 18th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #20/NR

This Season: 15-14-2 (.516) overall, 9-10-1-0 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 17-13-10 (.550) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.61 goals scored/game – 39th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.42 goals allowed/game – 20th of 60 teams
Power Play: 15.6% (19 of 122) – 46th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 81.0% (98 of 121) – 33rd of 60 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (8-15-23), Senior F Nick Jones (5-10-15), Senior F Rhett Gardner (8-6-14), Junior F Cole Smith (3-10-13), Freshman F Mark Senden (6-7-13), Freshman D Jacob Bernard-Docker (5-11-16), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (6-9-15), Junior D Colton Poolman (5-9-14), Sophomore G Peter Thome (2-4-0, 3.21 GAA, .855 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 12, 2019 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota squandered a two-goal lead before sophomore forward Jordan Kawaguchi netted the game-winner in the opening minute of overtime for a 3-2 victory and a sweep of the weekend series. UND also needed overtime on Friday night, with Ludvig Hoff scoring late in the extra session for a 4-3 win.

Last Meeting in Colorado Springs: October 28, 2017. North Dakota freshman forward Grant Mismash netted two goals and paced UND to a 6-4 victory over the Tigers. Colorado College won Friday’s opener 2-1 behind 26 saves from Alex Leclerc and one goal apiece from Mason Bergh and Nick Halloran.

Most Important Meeting: March 27, 1997. UND defeated Colorado College, 6-2, in the Frozen Four Semifinals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Two nights later, North Dakota downed Boston University, 6-4, to claim its sixth NCAA Championship. North Dakota and Colorado College also met in the 2001 East Regional (Worcester, Mass.), with UND prevailing, 4-1.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 159-83-11 (.650), although the Tigers hold a slight edge (59-54-4, .521) in games played in Colorado Springs. The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: North Dakota has seven wins in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring CC 38-23 over that span. UND had gone unbeaten in 14 straight (13-0-1) against the Tigers until three of the last four series between the schools ended in splits.

Game News and Notes

Colorado College is just 7-5-1 (.577) when leading after two periods of play and have been outscored 37-28 in third periods and overtime sessions this season. By comparison, UND is 4-2-1 (.643) in those situations and have outscored opponents 28-26 over the final frames. These two coaching staffs coached against each other at the AHL and NHL levels prior to the NCHC. North Dakota forwards Rhett Gardner and Joel Janatuinen each have five career goals against Colorado College. CC has won two national titles (1950, 1957). Since 1957, the Tigers have appeared in the NCAA tournament thirteen times (most recently in 2011) and advanced to three Frozen Fours (1996, 1997, 2005).

Media Coverage

Friday’s game will be broadcast by CBS Sports Network, with Saturday’s rematch only available via high-definition webcast at NCHC.tv. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). The flagship station for the network is 96.1 FM (The Fox). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

The Prediction

In almost every UND/CC matchup that I can remember, North Dakota has had an advantage in scoring depth. That is not the case this season, and the harsh reality is that the Fighting Hawks cannot be counted on to score more than two goals on consecutive nights. Colorado College also has the goaltending advantage and much more experience on the wider sheet of ice. Since the Fighting Hawks needed overtime in both home games against the Tigers, I’ve got to call a split in this one. UND 3-2, CC 3-2.

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Minnesota Duluth

March 17th, 2018. Xcel Energy Center. St. Paul, Minnesota. North Dakota and Minnesota Duluth square off in the third-place game of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff with NCAA tournament hopes hanging in the balance. UND defeats the Bulldogs 4-1, and both teams are left to play the waiting game.

According to twincities.com:

After losing to the Fighting Hawks, UMD needed a win by either Clarkson or Providence to clinch an NCAA tournament berth. Both teams lost, leaving just one obscure scenario remaining for Duluth to continue playing.

Notre Dame’s overtime goal against Ohio State just before 10:00 p.m. (on St. Patrick’s Day) was the exclamation point on that scenario, forcing a tie between the Bulldogs and Minnesota for 12th in the Pairwise rankings — the formula used to select at-large teams and seed the 16-team field.

Notre Dame’s win gave the Bulldogs the tiebreaker for 12th in the Pairwise as UMD’s Ratings Percentage Index — a part of the Pairwise formula — was one ten-thousandth of a point (.0001) higher than the Gophers.

Typically, finishing 13th or 14th in the Pairwise gets a team into the tournament, but not (last) season, as No. 13 Minnesota and No. 14 North Dakota learned. Because four teams — Air Force (Atlantic Hockey), Michigan Tech (WCHA), Boston University (Hockey East) and Princeton (ECAC) — instead of the usual one or two from outside the bubble won their conference tournament for an automatic bid, that meant No. 12 was the cutoff for at-large teams.

With that unfortunate news, North Dakota saw its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances come to an end, while Duluth took advantage of its program-record fourth straight tourney bid, winning four consecutive one-goal games to claim the program’s second national title:

Minnesota Duluth 3, Minnesota State 2 (OT)
Minnesota Duluth 2, Air Force 1
Minnesota Duluth 2, Ohio State 1
Minnesota Duluth 2, Notre Dame 1

Before UND’s victory at the 2018 NCHC Frozen Faceoff, Scott Sandelin’s crew had won eight consecutive games against the Green and White. That losing streak for North Dakota was the longest against one team since Wisconsin won nine in a row from 1987-89.

Last season, Scott Sandelin brought in five first-year defensemen as a part of a ten-player freshman class. Three of those blueliners – Mikey Anderson, Scott Perunovich, and Dylan Samberg – played for the United States at the World Junior Championships. That trio joined teammates Joey Anderson and Riley Tufte, both sophomore forwards. Most impressively, the Bulldogs only gave up 2.09 goals/game over the course of the 2017-18 season with a relatively young d-corps.

Joey Anderson gave up his final two seasons of eligibility to sign a three-year entry level contract with the NHL’s New Jersey Devils. Anderson, who collected 23 goals and 64 points in 75 career college games, underwent surgery back in November to repair a broken ankle; he has returned to the Devils’ lineup and appeared in seven games this month, with one goal (shorthanded) on ten shots and an even plus-minus rating while averaging almost fourteen minutes of ice time per game.

Duluth’s Scott Perunovich (3-21-24 in 28 games this season) is in the top 20 nationally in scoring by a defenseman. Perunovich, who led the Bulldogs in scoring a season ago with a scoring line of 11-25-36 in 42 games played, was drafted in the second round (#45 overall) by the St. Louis Blues in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. The sophomore blueliner from Hibbing, Minnesota will face some pressure to sign with the Blues at the conclusion of this season.

North Dakota was not immune to the early departure bug during the 2018 offseason, as defenseman Christian Wolanin (12-23-35 in 2017-18, 22-50-72 in 109 career games at North Dakota) and forward Shane Gersich (13-16-29 in 2017-18, 43-34-77 in 117 career games at North Dakota) each gave up his senior season to sign a pro contract (Wolanin with Ottawa, Gersich with Washington).

And the previous three summers haven’t been any easier for fans of the Green and White, as multiple players have left eligibility on the table to join the professional ranks (years of eligibility remaining at the time of signing):

2017: Forward Brock Boeser (2), Forward Tyson Jost (3), Defenseman Tucker Poolman (1)

2016: Forward Luke Johnson (1), Forward Nick Schmaltz (2), Defenseman Paul LaDue (1), Defenseman Troy Stecher (1), Defenseman Keaton Thompson (1)

2015: Defenseman Jordan Schmaltz (1), Goaltender Zane McIntyre (1)

In 2014, forward Rocco Grimaldi left after his sophomore campaign to sign with the Florida Panthers (NHL). In 2013, defenseman Derek Forbort signed with the Los Angeles Kings after his junior year. North Dakota also lost two players (Brock Nelson and Aaron Dell) to early departures in 2012 and two others (Jason Gregoire and Brett Hextall) in 2011.

Last year’s senior class at North Dakota (Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson) went 101-45-20 (.669) and became the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games. This year’s group (Ryan Anderson, Rhett Gardner, Joel Janatuinen, and Hayden Shaw) currently sits at 86-48-19 (.624) and would need fourteen more victories in the final fifteen games remaining on the schedule (at most) to continue that impressive streak.

Currently, UND leads the nation in faceoff efficiency (57.4 percent); Duluth is 10th at 53.6 percent. Duluth barely outpaces North Dakota in both Corsi (60.5 to 58.7 percent) and Fenwick (60.8 to 58.4 percent). Corsi measures the percentage of shot attempts by a team compared to that of its opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shot attempts by a team compared to that of its opponents.

After getting swept at Canisius last month, UND saw its non-conference record drop to 6-4-1 (.591) on the season. After going 9-1-2 (.833) in non-conference play in 2015-16 and 7-2-2 (.727) out-of-conference in 2016-17, Brad Berry’s squad went just 6-2-4 (.667) last season and snapped its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

As a whole, the NCHC fared extremely well in non-conference action, collecting a combined record of 50-21-8 (.684) and sporting a winning record against four of the other five leagues across the college hockey landscape (losing the head-to-head with the ECAC, 2-3-1). Here are the inter-conference records, from best to worst:

NCHC: 50-21-8 (.684)
Big Ten: 34-22-5 (.598)
Hockey East: 52-44-8 (.538)
ECAC: 43-46-6 (.484)
WCHA: 22-38-5 (.377)
Atlantic Hockey: 14-44-6 (.266)

Not only could the NCHC as a whole field four or even five teams in the NCAA tournament, but North Dakota’s record against Minnesota (1-0-0) and Wisconsin (2-0-0) will also help them specifically in Pairwise comparisons against all of the Big Ten teams. If the season ended today, St. Cloud State (1st in the Pairwise rankings), Duluth (3rd), Denver (4th), and Western Michigan (8th) would make the national tourney, with North Dakota (21st) on the outside looking in and Colorado College (26th), Miami (38th), and Omaha (40th) even further back.

According to KRACH, Duluth has played the toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks as the fourth-most difficult out of sixty men’s Division I hockey programs.

This weekend marks the second of four consecutive conference opponents to finish out the regular season, and the schedule lightens up after this weekend’s action. Here are the remaining series for the Fighting Hawks:

February 22-23: vs. #3 Minnesota Duluth
March 1-2: at Colorado College
March 8-9: vs. Nebraska-Omaha

UND is currently in fifth place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, three points behind fourth-place Denver. However, the Pioneers have a game in hand due to a contest at Colorado College that was rescheduled for Tuesday, February 26th due to the weather. At 8-9-1-0 (25 points) in league play, North Dakota will likely need four or five more victories over its final six conference games to secure home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs. Over the first five seasons of the league, the fourth-place finisher (final home ice spot) has averaged roughly 36 points (11-11-2-1).

According to Jim Dahl of collegehockeyranked.com, UND is most likely to end up at #15 in the Pairwise with a sweep over Duluth and at #20 with a split. A Bulldogs sweep would most likely keep North Dakota at #21.

On the injury front, North Dakota sophomore goaltender Peter Thome (upper body injury) will return to the lineup in place of freshman netminder Adam Scheel, who suffered a lower body injury in Saturday night’s contest at Western Michigan. The timeline for Scheel’s return is officially listed as week to week. Forwards Joel Janatuinen and Grant Mismash are also out this weekend. Senior center Nick Jones practiced earlier this week but sat out Thursday’s session (undisclosed) and is officially questionable for this weekend.

Minnesota-Duluth Team Profile

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (19th season at UMD, 358-308-87, .533)

Pairwise Ranking: 3rd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #3/#3

This Season: 18-8-2 (.679) overall, 11-6-1-0 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 25-16-3 (.602) overall (NCAA national champions), 13-11-0-0 NCHC (3rd)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.13 goals scored/game – 13th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 1.82 goals allowed/game – 3rd of 60 teams
Power Play: 23.0% (23 of 100) – 11th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 91.8% (90 of 98 ) – 1st of 60 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Justin Richards (10-17-27), Senior F Parker Mackay (11-11-22), Sophomore F Nick Swaney (12-8-20), Senior F Peter Krieger (4-13-17), Junior F Riley Tufte (5-8-13), Sophomore D Scott Perunovich (3-21-24), Sophomore D Mikey Anderson (4-9-13), Junior D Nick Wolff (3-10-13), Junior G Hunter Shepard (18-8-2, 1.73 GAA, .924 SV%, 5 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 86-48-19, .624)

Pairwise Ranking: 21st of 60 teams
National Rankings: #22/NR

This Season: 14-13-2 (.517) overall, 8-9-1-0 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 17-13-10 (.550) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.59 goals scored/game – 41st of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.45 goals allowed/game – 20th of 60 teams
Power Play: 15.8% (18 of 114) – 46th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 81.2% (91 of 112) – 30th of 60 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (8-13-21), Senior F Nick Jones (5-10-15), Senior F Rhett Gardner (8-4-12), Junior F Cole Smith (2-9-11), Freshman D Jacob Bernard-Docker (5-10-15), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (6-9-15), Junior D Colton Poolman (4-9-13), Sophomore G Peter Thome (1-3-0, 3.75 GAA, .838 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 1, 2018 (Duluth, Minnesota). North Dakota sophomore forward Jordan Kawaguchi (goal, assist) figured in on both UND goals in a 2-1 road victory over the Bulldogs. Tanner Laderoute potted the lone goal for Duluth. All three goals were scored in the first period. UMD dominated Friday’s opener 5-0 behind two power play goals from Kobe Roth, two points each from Mikey Anderson, Parker Mackay, and Justin Richards, and a 22-save performance from Hunter Shepard.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: February 20, 2016. Brock Boeser (game-winning goal, assist) and Drake Caggiula (primary assist on the GWG) were the heroes for North Dakota in a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over Duluth. The Bulldogs, who got on the board late in the middle frame on a Cal Decowski goal, outshot the Green and White 16-8 in the third period but could not put a second goal past UND netminder Cam Johnson, who finished with 27 saves. One night earlier, Austin Poganski scored on a penalty shot in overtime to break a 1-1 tie and send the home fans happy.

Most Important Meeting: March 22, 1984 (Lake Placid, NY) Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota met in the national semifinal game, with the Bulldogs defeating the Fighting Sioux 2-1 in overtime to advance to the championship. UND went on to defeat Michigan State 6-5 (OT) for third place, while Duluth fell to Bowling Green 5-4 in four overtimes, the longest championship game ever played.

The Meeting That Never Was: Both teams advanced to the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four at Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minnesota). UND could not get past Michigan, falling 2-0 despite outshooting the Wolverines 40-20. In the other national semifinal, Minnesota-Duluth defeated Notre Dame 4-3 and rode that momentum to the title game. The Bulldogs took the Wolverines to overtime before senior forward Kyle Schmidt scored the game winner and earned UMD their first and only national championship. North Dakota won two of the three games against Duluth that season, outscoring Scott Sandelin’s team 11-5.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 146-84-10 (.629), although the Bulldogs have won nine of the last eleven contests. North Dakota holds a record of 81-36-3 (.688) in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1954, with North Dakota winning the first ten games between the schools by a combined score of 72-16. UMD’s first win over the Fighting Sioux (a 3-2 road victory on December 18th, 1959) did not sit well with the defending national champions. UND defeated Duluth 13-2 the following night.

Last Ten: Duluth is 8-2-0 (.800) in the last ten games between the teams, outscoring the Hawks 38-19 over that stretch. Eight of the past ten contests have taken place in the state of Minnesota, with the Bulldogs winning six times. North Dakota’s last victory over Duluth at Ralph Engelstad Arena was on February 20th, 2016.

Game News and Notes

The Bulldogs are 12-2-0 when scoring first and 6-6-2 when allowing the first goal. North Dakota is 9-5-1 at home this season; Duluth is 8-4-1 on the road. Duluth junior forward Jade Miller (Minto, ND) is the only North Dakotan on the Bulldog roster (17 from Minnesota, two each from Alberta and Ontario, and one each from California, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Saskatchewan). Senior forward Peter Krieger (Oakdale, Minnesota) is a transfer from Alaska Fairbanks. Both head coaches this weekend are alumni of the University of North Dakota; Brad Berry (1983-86) and Scott Sandelin (1982-86) both played for UND under John “Gino” Gasparini. In 2015, Boston University defeated both Minnesota-Duluth (3-2) and North Dakota (5-3) in the NCAA tournament on their way to the championship game. The Terriers fell 4-3 to the Providence Friars, one win short of a national title.

Media Coverage

Friday’s opener will be televised on CBS Sports Network and available via webcast at CBS Sports.com. Saturday’s game will be available on Midco Sports Network and streamed live in high definition via NCHC.tv. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com

The Prediction

All signs point to a Bulldog sweep in this one, but I see North Dakota rebounding for at least a tie (and maybe more) in Saturday’s rematch. The home team will need to play five-on-five and get above-average goaltending to have any sort of success this weekend. I’ll give the Fighting Hawks the extra point in a shootout victory in Game Two. UMD 4-2, 2-2 tie (UND wins the shootout).

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Western Michigan

North Dakota has only lost twice in ten games at Western Michigan in the short history of the series, but those losses came in UND’s last trip to Kalamazoo almost exactly two seasons ago. This year, the #9-ranked Broncos are equally tough at home, with a sparkling 10-2-1 mark at Lawson Ice Arena. The Fighting Hawks are just 3-7-1 on the road this season.

UND’s roster features eight NHL draft picks, the most of any NCHC program: goaltender Peter Thome (Columbus, Round 6/#155 in 2016), defensemen Jacob Bernard-Docker (Ottawa, Round 1/#26 in 2018) and Jonny Tychonick (Ottawa, Round 2/#48 in 2018), and forwards Gavin Hain (Philadelphia, Round 6/#174 in 2018), Grant Mismash (Nashville, Round 2/#61 in 2017), Collin Adams (New York Islanders, Round 6/#170 in 2016), Rhett Gardner (Dallas, Round 4/#116 in 2016), and Jasper Weatherby (San Jose, Round 4/#102 in 2018).

Western Michigan has three NHL draft picks on its roster: defenseman Mattias Samuelsson (Buffalo, Round 2/#32 in 2018) and forwards Wade Allison (Philadelphia, Round 2/#52 in 2016) and Hugh McGing (St. Louis, Round 5/#138 in 2018).

A fourth NHL draft pick (forward Paul Cotter, Vegas, Round 4/#115 in 2018) left the Broncos to sign with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.

In its thirteen home games this season, Western Michigan has outscored opponents 50-31, with five of their ten victories at Lawson Ice Arena coming by a single goal. The Broncos have gone 6-1-1-1 over their first four home conference series this season (vs. Omaha, Duluth, Miami, and Denver).

For the Broncos, scoring has come from expected and unexpected sources. Senior forward Colton Conrad and junior forwards Hugh McGing and Dawson DiPeitro have carried the load for the better part of a year while third-year forward Wade Allison recovers from two separate injuries. Those four have posted the following lines over the past three seasons:

2016-17: 81 total points in 116 combined games played
2017-18: 122 total points in 120 combined games played
2018-19: 72 total points in 86 combined games played

The secondary scoring has been the biggest surprise, vaulting Western Michigan to 6th nationally in team offense (3.54 goals scored/game). Sophomore forwards Josh Passolt (15-10-25) and Ethan Frank (13-9-22) managed just 23 points between them in 65 games played a year ago but have crushed that total over their first 48 combined games this season.

And aside from these six forwards, the Broncos have two other players (junior defenseman Cam Lee and sophomore forward Austin Rueschhoff) averaging at least a half point per contest (by comparison, North Dakota has only three players – forwards Nick Jones and Jordan Kawaguchi and defensemen Jacob Bernard-Docker – at .5/game or better).

Last year’s senior class at North Dakota (Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson) went 101-45-20 (.669) and became the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games. This year’s group (Ryan Anderson, Rhett Gardner, Joel Janatuinen, and Hayden Shaw) currently sits at 85-47-19 (.626) and would need fifteen more victories in the final seventeen games remaining on the schedule (at most) to continue that impressive streak.

Currently, UND leads the nation in faceoff efficiency (58.1 percent); Western Michigan is 8th at 53.8 percent. North Dakota also outpaces the Broncos in both Corsi (59.0 to 47.3 percent) and Fenwick (58.9 to 49.5 percent). Corsi measures the percentage of shot attempts by a team compared to that of its opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shot attempts by a team compared to that of its opponents.

After getting swept at Canisius last month, UND saw its non-conference record drop to 6-4-1 (.591) on the season. After going 9-1-2 (.833) in non-conference play in 2015-16 and 7-2-2 (.727) out-of-conference in 2016-17, Brad Berry’s squad went just 6-2-4 (.667) last season and snapped its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

As a whole, the NCHC fared extremely well in non-conference action, collecting a combined record of 50-21-8 (.684) and sporting a winning record against four of the other five leagues across the college hockey landscape (losing the head-to-head with the ECAC, 2-3-1). Here are the inter-conference records, from best to worst:

NCHC: 50-21-8 (.684)
Big Ten: 34-22-5 (.598)
Hockey East: 52-44-8 (.538)
ECAC: 43-46-6 (.484)
WCHA: 22-38-5 (.377)
Atlantic Hockey: 14-44-6 (.266)

Not only could the NCHC as a whole field four or even five teams in the NCAA tournament, but North Dakota’s record against Minnesota (1-0-0) and Wisconsin (2-0-0) will also help them specifically in Pairwise comparisons against all of the Big Ten teams. If the season ended today, St. Cloud State (1st in the Pairwise rankings), Duluth (4th), Denver (7th), and Western Michigan (10th) would make the national tourney, with North Dakota (21st) on the outside looking in and Colorado College (25th), Miami (39th), and Omaha (41st) even further back.

According to KRACH, Western Michigan has played the eighth-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks as the tenth-most difficult out of sixty men’s Division I hockey programs.

This weekend marks the first of four consecutive conference opponents to finish out the regular season, and the February schedule is definitely more challenging than the slate of games in March. Here are the remaining series for the Fighting Hawks:

February 15-16: at #9 Western Michigan
February 22-23: vs. #4 Minnesota Duluth
March 1-2: at Colorado College
March 8-9: vs. Nebraska-Omaha

UND is currently in fifth place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, three points behind fourth-place Denver. However, the Pioneers have a game in hand due to a contest at Colorado College that was rescheduled for Tuesday, February 26th due to the weather. At 7-8-1-0 (22 points) in league play, North Dakota will likely need five more victories over its final eight conference games to secure home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs. Over the first five seasons of the league, the fourth-place finisher (final home ice spot) has averaged roughly 36 points (11-11-2-1).

According to Jim Dahl of collegehockeyranked.com, UND would move up to 16th in the Pairwise with a sweep of Western Michigan and to 19th with a split. A Broncos sweep would keep North Dakota at 21.

On the injury front, North Dakota junior defenseman Colton Poolman (4-7-11, plus-7) will return to the lineup this weekend after missing the games at Denver (the first two of his collegiate career after appearing in 105 straight contests) with an undisclosed injury. Forwards Joel Janatuinen and Grant Mismash and goaltender Peter Thome are also out this weekend.

Western Michigan Team Profile

Head Coach: Andy Murray (8th season at WMU, 134-125-35, .515)

Pairwise Ranking: 10th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #9/#9

This Season: 16-9-1 overall (.635), 9-6-1-1 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 15-19-2 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 10-13-1-0 NCHC (t-5th)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.54 goals scored/game – 6th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.85 goals allowed/game – 32nd of 60 teams
Power Play: 18.1% (21 of 116) – 31st of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 80.3% (102 of 127) – 33rd of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Colt Conrad (8-20-28), Junior F Wade Allison (3-3-6 in twelve games), Junior F Hugh McGing (12-14-26), Junior F Dawson DePietro (4-8-12), Sophomore F Josh Passolt (15-10-25), Sophomore F Ethen Frank (13-9-22), Junior D Cam Lee (6-14-20), Freshman D Mattias Samuelsson (4-6-10), Senior G Trevor Gorsuch (14-5-1, 2.31 GAA, .923 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 85-47-19, .626)

Pairwise Ranking: 21st of 60 teams
National Rankings: #22/NR

This Season: 13-12-2 (.519) overall, 7-8-1-0 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 17-13-10 (.550) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.52 goals scored/game – 46th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.44 goals allowed/game – 20th of 60 teams
Power Play: 15.2% (16 of 105) – 48th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 81.6% (84 of 103) – 29th of 60 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (6-13-19), Senior F Nick Jones (5-10-15 in twenty games), Senior F Rhett Gardner (8-3-11), Junior F Cole Smith (2-7-9), Freshman D Jacob Bernard-Docker (4-10-14), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (5-7-12), Junior D Colton Poolman (4-7-11), Freshman G Adam Scheel (12-9-2, 2.03 GAA, .910 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: November 17, 2018 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota starting netminder Adam Scheel allowed four goals on eighteen shots (including three second-period goals in the span of under six minutes) before giving way to Peter Thome. Colt Conrad (one goal, four assists) figured in on five of Western Michigan’s six goals as the Broncos completed the sweep with a 6-2 road win after a 2-0 victory in Friday’s opener. The Fighting Hawks managed just two goals all weekend despite outshooting WMU 64-45.

Last Meeting in Kalamazoo: February 18, 2017. North Dakota outshot WMU 46-19 (including 34-7 over the final two periods) but could not rally from a 3-0 deficit as the Broncos held on for a 3-2 victory and a series sweep over the Fighting Hawks. UND sophomore forward Brock Boeser assisted on both North Dakota goals (Shane Gersich, Austin Poganski). The goal by Gersich came just nine seconds after WMU’s Taylor Fleming made it 3-0 early in the middle frame. Western Michigan won Friday’s opener by a score of 4-2 (ENG).

Most Important Meeting: March 24, 2012 (St. Paul, MN). North Dakota upended Western Michigan 3-1 in the NCAA West Regional semifinal. Brock Nelson had two points, including an empty net goal with 25 seconds remaining that sent UND to the regional finals against Minnesota. Aaron Dell made 24 saves for the Green and White. The Broncos, who have played at the Division I level since 1975-76, have six NCAA tournament appearances.

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Saturday, March 22, 2014 (Minneapolis, MN). North Dakota faced a must-win situation in the 3rd place game at the inaugural NCHC Frozen Faceoff, and did not disappoint the partisan crowd. The Green and White rolled to a 5-0 victory behind two first-period goals from Conner Gaarder. UND netminder Zane Gothberg made 25 saves for the shutout, and Dave Hakstol’s crew played the waiting game for several more hours before discovering that they had indeed made the NCAA tournament for the twelfth consecutive season.

All-Time Series: In the short history between the schools, UND has won 18 of the 24 games (including eight of the ten games played in Kalamazoo). The Broncos have turned the tables recently, winning five of the past seven games overall. Before the 2016-17 season in which Western Michigan won three of the four meetings, WMU’s lone victory over North Dakota was a 2-1 road win on March 8th, 2014. The teams first met in 1997.

Last Ten: Each team has won five of the past ten games despite the fact that eight of the last ten have been played in Grand Forks. Over that stretch, UND has outscored Western Michigan 33-28.

Game News and Notes

Western Michigan moved up to the Division I ranks beginning with the 1975-76 season and has advanced to the NCAA tournament six times. WMU head coach Andy Murray’s son Brady played two seasons at North Dakota (2003-05) and finished with a scoring line of 27-39-66 in 63 career games. Brady Murray spent most of his professional hockey career in the Swiss-A league (Rapperswil-Jona and Lugano, among other teams) but did appear in four NHL games with the Los Angeles Kings in 2007-08, scoring one goal. In the 2018-19 National Collegiate Hockey Conference Preseason Media Poll, North Dakota was picked to finish in third place behind Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State, while Western Michigan was tabbed for fourth place.

Media Coverage

Friday’s opener will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network, with Saturday’s rematch available on high definition webcast via NCHC.tv. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

The Prediction

Western Michigan has too much scoring depth and plays too well at home for North Dakota fans to hope for anything more than a split this weekend. If there is a weakness for the Broncos, however, it’s on the penalty kill, as WMU has surrendered 25 power play goals this season. Both teams were idle last weekend, so that’s a non-factor here. WMU 3-2, UND 3-2.

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Denver

As has been well-documented, the last three national champions hail from the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, and North Dakota (2016 champions) travels to Denver (2017) this weekend, with both looking up in the standings at Duluth (winners of the 2018 NCAA title) as well as St. Cloud State and Western Michigan, two other conference opponents with lofty postseason aspirations.

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries. The teams have played 22 times during the first six seasons of the new conference, but the feud goes all the way back to Geoff Paukovitch’ illegal check on Sioux forward Robbie Bina during the 2005 WCHA Final Five.

Since that 2005 Final Five contest (a Denver victory), the two teams have met ten times in tournament play. Denver won the 2005 NCAA title with a victory over North Dakota and claimed a 2008 WCHA Final Five win as well. UND has earned six victories and a tie in the last eight playoff games between the schools, including three consecutive victories in the WCHA Final Five (2010-2012), the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional final which sent the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four, 2016’s thrilling Frozen Four semifinal (a 4-2 UND victory) in Tampa, Florida, and the 2017 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

(It is impossible to bring up the Paukovitch/Bina incident without also writing that Brad Malone‘s check on Denver’s Jesse Martin during an October 2010 contest at Ralph Engelstad Arena fractured three of Martin’s vertebrae and ended the hockey career of the Atlanta Thrashers’ draft pick.)

This year’s version of the Pioneers looks noticeably different to UND fans, with four players graduated (forward Rudy Junda, defensemen Tariq Hammond and Adam Plant, and goaltender Tanner Jaillet) and a new bench boss (David Carle), the youngest in Division I men’s college hockey. Furthermore, Denver had five players leave eligibility on the table during the 2018 offseason, including three prolific goal scorers and a stalwart defenseman:

Forward Henrik Borgström (gave up two seasons of eligibility; drafted Round 1 #23 by the Florida Panthers in 2016): 45 goals and 95 points in 77 career NCAA games

Forward Troy Terry (gave up one season of eligibility; drafted Round 5 #148 by the Anaheim Ducks in 2015): 45 goals and 115 point in 115 career NCAA games

Forward Dylan Gambrell (gave up one season of eligibility; drafted Round 2 #60 by the San Jose Sharks in 2016): 43 goals and 132 points in 120 career NCAA games

Defenseman Blake Hillman (gave up one season of eligibility; drafted Round 6 #173 by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2016): 7 goals and 31 points in 123 career NCAA games

Free agent forward Logan O’Connor also gave up his final season of college eligibility to sign with the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL. O’Connor posted a line of 16-27-43 in 108 career NCAA games.

North Dakota was not immune to the early departure bug during the 2018 offseason, as defenseman Christian Wolanin (12-23-35 in 2017-18, 22-50-72 in 109 career games at North Dakota) and forward Shane Gersich (13-16-29 in 2017-18, 43-34-77 in 117 career games at North Dakota) each gave up his senior season to sign a pro contract (Wolanin with Ottawa, Gersich with Washington).

And the previous three summers haven’t been any easier for fans of the Green and White, as multiple players have left eligibility on the table to join the professional ranks (years of eligibility remaining at the time of signing):

2017: Forward Brock Boeser (2), Forward Tyson Jost (3), Defenseman Tucker Poolman (1)

2016: Forward Luke Johnson (1), Forward Nick Schmaltz (2), Defenseman Paul LaDue (1), Defenseman Troy Stecher (1), Defenseman Keaton Thompson (1)

2015: Defenseman Jordan Schmaltz (1), Goaltender Zane McIntyre (1)

In 2014, forward Rocco Grimaldi left after his sophomore campaign to sign with the Florida Panthers (NHL). In 2013, defenseman Derek Forbort signed with the Los Angeles Kings after his junior year. North Dakota also lost two players (Brock Nelson and Aaron Dell) to early departures in 2012 and two others (Jason Gregoire and Brett Hextall) in 2011.

Before last weekend, the Pioneers had only lost four games all season, with three of those losses coming by a single goal (a pair of 4-3 defeats at St. Cloud State and a 4-3 overtime loss at home the following weekend against Duluth). North Dakota defeated Denver by a final score of 4-1 at Ralph Engelstad Arena nearly two months ago.

And then Denver traveled to Kalamazoo, Michigan to take on red-hot Western Michigan, and the Broncos throttled their guests 3-1 and 5-1. So far this season, the Pioneers have fared much better at home (8-1-3) than on the road (6-5-0). Similarly, North Dakota is 9-5-1 at home this season and just 4-6-0 on the road (including the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game in Las Vegas, Nevada).

After winning the 2018 NCHC Frozen Faceoff (3-1 over Duluth; 4-1 over St. Cloud State), Denver’s season fizzled out in the 2018 Midwest Regional (Allentown, PA). The Pioneers easily handled Penn State 5-1 in the opening round but were done in by Ohio State by an identical score.

Last season was far from a milestone campaign for Brad Berry’s squad, as the group sputtered to a record of 17-13-10 (.550) and missed the NCAAs for the first time since the 2001-02 team finished at 16-19-2 (.459). Prior to last year, North Dakota had made fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the second-longest streak of all time (Michigan appeared in 22 straight NCAA tourneys from 1991 to 2012). Denver now boasts the nation’s longest active streak with eleven consecutive tourney bids (2008-2018).

Last year’s senior class at North Dakota (Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson) went 101-45-20 (.669) and became the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games. This year’s group (Ryan Anderson, Rhett Gardner, Joel Janatuinen, and Hayden Shaw) currently sits at 85-46-18 (.631) and would need fifteen more victories in the final nineteen games remaining on the schedule (at most) to continue that impressive streak.

Currently, UND leads the nation in faceoff efficiency (58.3 percent); Denver is 25th at 51.2 percent. North Dakota also outpaces Denver in both Corsi (58.9 to 52.4 percent) and Fenwick (58.6 to 51.7 percent). Corsi measures the percentage of shot attempts by a team compared to that of its opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shot attempts by a team compared to that of its opponents.

After getting swept at Canisius last month, UND saw its non-conference record drop to 6-4-1 (.591) on the season. After going 9-1-2 (.833) in non-conference play in 2015-16 and 7-2-2 (.727) out-of-conference in 2016-17, Brad Berry’s squad went just 6-2-4 (.667) last season and snapped its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

As a whole, the NCHC fared extremely well in non-conference action, collecting a combined record of 50-21-8 (.684) and sporting a winning record against four of the other five leagues across the college hockey landscape (losing the head-to-head with the ECAC, 2-3-1). Here are the inter-conference records, from best to worst:

NCHC: 50-21-8 (.684)
Big Ten: 34-22-5 (.598)
Hockey East: 51-43-8 (.539)
ECAC: 42-45-6 (.484)
WCHA: 22-38-5 (.377)
Atlantic Hockey: 14-44-6 (.266)

Not only could the NCHC as a whole field four or even five teams in the NCAA tournament, but North Dakota’s record against Minnesota (1-0-0) and Wisconsin (2-0-0) will also help them specifically in Pairwise comparisons against all of the Big Ten teams. If the season ended today, St. Cloud State (1st in the Pairwise rankings), Duluth (3rd), Denver (6th), and Western Michigan (8th) would make the national tourney, with North Dakota (20th) on the outside looking in and Colorado College (31st), Miami (35th), and Omaha (44th) even further back.

According to KRACH, Denver has played the second-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks as the tenth-most difficult out of sixty men’s Division I hockey programs.

This weekend marks the fourth of eight consecutive conference opponents to finish out the regular season, and the remaining schedule is fairly daunting for North Dakota. Here are the remaining series for the Fighting Hawks:

February 1-2: at #7 Denver
February 8-9: Off
February 15-16: at #8 Western Michigan
February 22-23: vs. #3 Minnesota Duluth
March 1-2: at Colorado College
March 8-9: vs. Nebraska-Omaha

Note: North Dakota split at Omaha and vs. St. Cloud State last month and will not face NCHC foe Miami in the second half of the season.

Last weekend’s home split vs. St. Cloud State (1-3 L, 5-1 W) technically moved North Dakota into fourth place in the NCHC, one point ahead of Denver. However, the Pioneers have a game in hand due to a contest at Colorado College that was rescheduled for Tuesday, February 26th due to the weather. At 7-7-0-0 (21 points) in league play, North Dakota will likely need five more victories over its final ten conference games to secure home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs. Over the first five seasons of the league, the fourth-place finisher (final home ice spot) has averaged roughly 36 points (11-11-2-1).

According to Jim Dahl of collegehockeyranked.com, UND would need to win eight of those ten conference games to end the regular season between 6th and 14th in the Pairwise (100% chance of landing in this range). With six victories in the final ten scheduled games, North Dakota would have a 37.8% chance of heading into the first round of the conference playoffs at 14th or better in the Pairwise.

An 8-2 record will be tough to come by, given UND’s remaining opponents. To find eight victories, North Dakota would need to sweep at Colorado College and vs. Omaha plus one more series (at Denver, at Western Michigan, or vs. Duluth) and then split the other two weekends.

On the injury front, North Dakota junior defenseman Colton Poolman (4-7-11, plus-7) is out of the lineup this weekend (undisclosed injury) and did not travel with the team to Denver. Poolman, the Fighting Hawks’ leading active scorer against the Pioneers (2-3-5 in nine UND/DU contests), will miss the first game of his collegiate career (13-39-52 in 105 consecutive games played). Forwards Joel Janatuinen and Grant Mismash and goaltender Peter Thome are also out this weekend.

For Denver, sophomore goaltender Devin Cooley (8-4-1, 2.08 GAA, .929 SV%, 2 SO) was injured during a January 4th contest at Wisconsin and hasn’t played since. In his absence, freshman Filip Larsson (6-2-2, 2.59 GAA, .907 SV%, 1 SO) has started the past six games. Larsson was a sixth-round pick (#167 overall) of the Detroit Red Wings in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

Denver Team Profile

Head Coach: David Carle (Denver ’12, 1st season at DU, 14-6-3, .674)

Pairwise Ranking: 6th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #7/#7

This Season: 14-6-3 (.674) overall, 6-6-1-1 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 23-10-8 overall (NCAA Midwest Regional Finalist), 12-6-6-4 NCHC (2nd)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.22 goals scored/game – 11th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.35 goals allowed/game – 13th of 60 teams
Power Play: 17.6% (19 of 108) – 34th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.7% (74 of 94) – 41st of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Jarid Lukosevicius (13-8-21), Freshman F Emilio Pettersen (6-16-22), Junior F Liam Finlay (11-14-25), Freshman F Cole Guttman (10-8-18), Sophomore D Ian Mitchell (3-12-15), Junior D Michael Davies (3-8-11), Freshman G Filip Larsson (6-2-2, 2.59 GAA, .907 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 85-46-18, .631)

Pairwise Ranking: 20th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #21/NR

This Season: 13-11-1 (.540) overall, 7-7-0-0 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 17-13-10 (.550) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.64 goals scored/game – 37th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.52 goals allowed/game – 20th of 60 teams
Power Play: 16.0% (16 of 100) – 43rd of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 80.0% (76 of 95) – 37th of 60 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (6-12-18), Senior F Nick Jones (5-10-15 in eighteen games), Senior F Rhett Gardner (8-2-10), Junior F Cole Smith (2-7-9), Freshman D Jacob Bernard-Docker (4-10-14), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (5-7-12), Sophomore D Gabe Bast (4-5-9), Freshman G Adam Scheel (12-8-1, 2.08 GAA, .905 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 8, 2018 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota was 21 seconds away from earning a hard-fought tie against Denver, but Jarid Lukosevicius had other ideas. UND defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker had sent the game to overtime with a game-tying goal at 17:25 of the third period. In Friday’s opener, the Fighting Hawks built a 3-0 lead after forty minutes of play and defeated the Pios 4-1 despite being outshot 22-15. North Dakota blueliner Colton Poolman had one goal and two assists in the weekend series.

Last Meeting in Denver: November 18, 2017. One night after UND came back from a 3-0 deficit to defeat the homestanding Pios 5-4, Denver went 3-for-8 with the man advantage and turned a 1-1 third-period tie into a 4-1 victory. Fighting Hawks’ freshman Jordan Kawaguchi thought he had tied the game at two with 14:50 left in the middle frame, but the goal was overturned (goaltender interference) after a lengthy review. North Dakota was assessed eight penalties for 27 minutes, while DU was whistled for one two-minute minor penalty (UND enjoyed just 33 seconds of power play time on the night).

A Recent Memory: April 7, 2016 (Tampa, Florida). In the semifinals of the NCAA Frozen Four, the two league rivals squared off in a tightly-contested contest. Senior forward Drake Caggiula scored twice early in the middle frame to stake UND to a 2-0 lead, but the Pioneers battled back with a pair of third period goals. The CBS line came through when it mattered most, with Nick Schmaltz scoring the game winner off of a faceoff win with 57 seconds remaining in the hockey game. North Dakota blocked 27 Denver shot attempts and goaltender Cam Johnson made 21 saves for the Fighting Hawks, who won the program’s eighth national title on the same sheet of ice two nights later.

Most Important Meeting: It’s hard to pick just one game, as the two teams have played four times for the national title. Denver defeated UND for the national championship in 1958, 1968, and 2005, while the Sioux downed the Pioneers in 1963. But the game that stands out in recent memory as “the one that got away” was DU’s 1-0 victory over the Fighting Sioux in the 2004 NCAA West Regional final (Colorado Springs, CO). That North Dakota team went 30-8-4 on the season (Dean Blais’ last behind the UND bench) and featured one of the deepest rosters in the past twenty years: Brandon Bochenski, Zach Parise, Brady Murray, Colby Genoway, Drew Stafford and David Lundbohm up front; Nick Fuher, Matt Jones, Matt Greene, and Ryan Hale on defense; and a couple of goaltending stalwarts in Jordan Parise and Jake Brandt.

Last Ten Games: UND has four victories and three ties over the past ten games, outscoring Denver 23-21 over that stretch. Four of the last ten meetings have gone into overtime.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 146-125-14 (.537), although Denver enjoys a 73-54-3 (.573) advantage in games played at altitude. The teams first met in 1950, with North Dakota prevailing 18-3 in Denver.

Game News and Notes

North Dakota has not swept in Denver since 2003. Only two current active UND players have multiple career goals against the Pios (Matt Kiersted and Cole Smith, with two each). Since seven of Michigan’s nine titles were earned by 1964, I consider Denver (eight titles) and North Dakota (eight titles) to be the top two men’s college hockey programs of all time.

Media Coverage

Friday’s game will be broadcast on Altitude 2 and available online in Canada on TSN.ca and the TSN app. A high-definition webcast of both games will be available to NCHC.tv subscribers. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

The Prediction

North Dakota does not want to get into a track meet with the Pios. UND definitely has a chance at more than a split this weekend, with at least one of these tilts headed to overtime. If the Fighting Hawks can win the goaltending battle and end up on the plus side of the special teams ledger, they could go into their off-week on a three-game winning streak. However, there are still too many injuries and question marks to feel certain about anything surrounding this program right now. I see the Pios outlasting the visitors in the opener, with the Fighting Hawks righting the ship to earn a close victory in the rematch. DU 4-2, UND 3-2 (OT).

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. St. Cloud State

Last season, North Dakota and St. Cloud State battled five times, with SCSU having the better of it (3-0-2) despite four overtime contests:

NCHC Regular Season
December 8, 2017 (St. Cloud): SCSU 2, UND 2 (OT)
December 9, 2017 (St. Cloud): SCSU 3, UND 1

NCHC Regular Season
March 2, 2018 (Grand Forks): SCSU 4, UND 3 (OT)
March 3, 2018 (Grand Forks): SCSU 2, UND 2 (OT)

NCHC Frozen Faceoff Semifinal
March 16, 2018 (St. Paul): SCSU 3, UND 2 (OT)

It’s been up and down for the Huskies in the first six seasons of the NCHC, but things are definitely trending in the right direction for the Cardinal and Black. After winning the Penrose Cup in the inaugural season of the new league (2013-14) with an overall record of 22-11-5 (.645), St. Cloud State made the NCAA tournament again in 2014-15 with a relatively pedestrian mark of 20-19-1 (.512). At the end of that season, SCSU had the unfortunate circumstance of facing and falling to North Dakota in the West Regional final (Fargo, ND), a virtual home game for the Green and White.

SCSU captured the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship and another NCAA tourney bid in 2015-16 with a sparkling record of 31-9-1 (.768) but unfortunately suffered an overtime loss in the opening round of the national tournament. St. Cloud State, the top seed in the NCAA West Regional (Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, MN), rallied to tie #18 Ferris State in the third period, but the Bulldogs scored just 18 seconds into the extra session to knock off the Huskies (who were ranked #2 in the country heading into the NCAAs) by a final of 5-4.

North Dakota ended St. Cloud State’s 2016-17 campaign with a home sweep in the first round of the NCHC playoffs. UND cruised 5-2 in the opener before besting the Huskies in a 6-5 overtime thriller. As I have said before, we have come to expect close matchups in NCHC playoff games played on Saturdays (and often Sundays), as the visiting team is almost always playing to extend their season.

And last year brought more playoff agony for the Huskies, as head coach Bob Motzko brought the NCHC regular-season champions (24-9-6) into the NCAA West Regional (Sioux Falls, SD) to face Air Force (22-14-5) in the opening round. Blake Lizotte got St. Cloud State within one with 2:51 remaining in the contest, but two empty-net goals sealed the deal for the Falcons, who got 39 saves from netminder Billy Christopoulos. It was only the second time since the tournament expanded to sixteen teams that the top overall seed lost their first game.

Turning back the clock to that 2015-16 season, both North Dakota and St. Cloud State posted historically good records. Thirty-win seasons are extremely rare in today’s college hockey landscape, with more parity and more ties taking away the opportunity to rack up victories. Since I started traveling to St. Cloud for the UND/SCSU games back in 1998, the Fighting Sioux/Hawks and the Huskies have both reached the 30-victory plateau on multiple occasions. Remarkably, St. Cloud State posted identical marks of 31-9-1 (.768) in their milestone seasons (2001 and 2016).

1997-98 North Dakota (30-8-1)
1998-99 North Dakota (32-6-2)
1999-00 North Dakota (31-8-5)
2000-01 St. Cloud State (31-9-1)
2003-04 North Dakota (30-8-3)
2010-11 North Dakota (32-9-3)
2015-16 North Dakota (34-6-4)
2015-16 St. Cloud State (31-9-1)

With a current record of 17-3-2 (.818), it is very possible but that #1 St. Cloud State will reach the thirty-victory mark this year. By comparison, last year’s stellar SCSU squad finished the season at 25-9-6.

For more on the rarity and importance of a thirty-win season, follow this link.

Last season was far from a milestone campaign for Brad Berry’s squad, as the group sputtered to a record of 17-13-10 (.550) and missed the NCAAs for the first time since the 2001-02 team finished at 16-19-2 (.459). Prior to last year, North Dakota had made fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the second-longest streak of all time (Michigan appeared in 22 straight NCAA tourneys from 1991 to 2012). Denver now boasts the nation’s longest active streak with eleven consecutive tourney bids (2008-2018).

Currently, UND leads the nation in faceoff efficiency (58.5 percent); St. Cloud State is 4th at 55.1 percent. North Dakota also outpaces SCSU in both Corsi (59.8 to 57.7 percent) and Fenwick (59.7 to 58.5 percent). Corsi measures the percentage of shot attempts by a team compared to that of its opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shot attempts by a team compared to that of its opponents.

Last year’s senior class at North Dakota (Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson) went 101-45-20 (.669) and became the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games. This year’s group (Ryan Anderson, Rhett Gardner, Joel Janatuinen, and Hayden Shaw) currently sits at 84-45-18 (.633) and would need sixteen more victories in the final 21 games remaining on the schedule (at most) to continue that impressive streak.

After getting swept at Canisius earlier this month, UND saw its non-conference record drop to 6-4-1 (.591) on the season. After going 9-1-2 (.833) in non-conference play in 2015-16 and 7-2-2 (.727) out-of-conference in 2016-17, Brad Berry’s squad went just 6-2-4 (.667) last season and snapped its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

As a whole, the NCHC fared extremely well in non-conference action, collecting a combined record of 50-21-8 (.684) and sporting a winning record against four of the other five leagues across the college hockey landscape (losing the head-to-head with the ECAC, 2-3-1). Here are the inter-conference records, from best to worst:

NCHC: 50-21-8 (.684)
Big Ten: 34-22-5 (.598)
Hockey East: 51-42-8 (.545)
ECAC: 42-45-6 (.484)
WCHA: 22-38-5 (.377)
Atlantic Hockey: 13-44-6 (.254)

Not only could the NCHC as a whole field four or even five teams in the NCAA tournament, but North Dakota’s record against Minnesota (1-0-0) and Wisconsin (2-0-0) will also help them specifically in Pairwise comparisons against all of the Big Ten teams. If the season ended today, St. Cloud State (1st in the Pairwise rankings), Denver (3rd), Duluth (4th), and Western Michigan (13th) would make the national tourney, with North Dakota (21st) and Miami (29th) on the outside looking in.

According to KRACH, St. Cloud State has played the fourth-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks as the 21st most difficult out of sixty men’s Division I hockey programs.

This weekend marks the third of eight consecutive conference opponents to finish out the regular season, and the schedule sets up favorably for North Dakota, with two of its three most difficult matchups on home ice. Here are the remaining series for the Fighting Hawks:

Home: St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth, Omaha
Road: Denver, Western Michigan, Colorado College

Note: North Dakota will not face NCHC foe Miami in the second half of the season.

Last weekend’s road split at Omaha (4-3 W, 3-4 L) kept UND in fifth place in the NCHC, six points clear of sixth-place Miami and only two points back of fourth-place Western Michigan. At 6-6-0-0 (18 points) in league play, North Dakota will likely need six more victories over its final twelve conference games to secure home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs. Over the first five seasons, the fourth-place finisher (final home ice spot) has averaged roughly 36 points (11-11-2-1).

According to Jim Dahl of collegehockeyranked.com, UND will likely need to win nine of those twelve conference games to end the regular season between 8th and 14th in the Pairwise (>90% chance of landing in this range). A 9-3 record will be tough to come by, given UND’s remaining opponents. To find nine victories, North Dakota would need to sweep at Colorado College and vs. Omaha plus one more series (vs. St. Cloud State, at Denver, at Western Michigan, vs. Duluth) and then split the other three weekends.

St. Cloud State Team Profile

Head Coach: Brett Larson (1st season at SCSU, 17-3-2, .818)

Pairwise Ranking: 1st of 60 teams
National Rankings: #1/#1

This Season: 17-3-2 (.818) overall, 9-1-2-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 25-9-6 (.700) overall (NCAA West Regional Semifinalist), 16-4-4-1 NCHC (1st)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.91 goals scored/game – 2nd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.09 goals allowed/game – 7th of 60 teams
Power Play: 24.7% (21 of 85) – 6th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 88.9% (64 of 72) – 3rd of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Patrick Newell (11-12-23), Senior F Robby Jackson (10-11-21), Freshman F Nolan Walker (6-13-19), Junior F Ryan Poehling (3-16-19), Sophomore F Easton Brodzinski (10-6-16), Junior D Jack Ahcan (2-18-20), Senior D Jimmy Schuldt (6-13-19), Sophomore G David Hrenak (13-2-1, 2.17 GAA, .905 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 84-45-18, .633)

Pairwise Ranking: 21st of 60 teams
National Rankings: #21/NR

This Season: 12-10-1 (.543) overall, 6-6-0-0 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 17-13-10 (.550) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.61 goals scored/game – 42nd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.57 goals allowed/game – 21st of 60 teams
Power Play: 16.8% (16 of 95) – 39th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 79.3% (69 of 87) – 37thth of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Rhett Gardner (8-2-10), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (6-11-17), Senior F Nick Jones (4-10-14 in sixteen games), Junior F Cole Smith (2-6-8), Junior D Colton Poolman (4-6-10), Freshman D Jacob Bernard-Docker (4-10-14), D Gabe Bast (4-5-9), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (5-7-12) Freshman G Adam Scheel (11-7-1, 2.14 GAA, .899 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 16, 2018 (St. Paul, MN). North Dakota freshman Jordan Kawaguchi knotted the game at 2-2 midway through the third period, but UND couldn’t even survive two minutes of overtime. St. Cloud State’s Nick Poehling netted the game-winner at 1:47 of the extra session, propelling the Huskies to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game. Cam Johnson made 31 saves for the Fighting Hawks, who were outshot 34-23.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: March 3, 2018. One night after SCSU’s Ryan Poehling potted the overtime winner for the Huskies, the teams needed more than sixty minutes yet again. UND’s Grant Mismash and Rhett Gardner had put the home team up by two after forty minutes of play, but Ryan Poehling and Jacob Benson knotted things up in the third. North Dakota won the shootout after the extra session expired, and those conference points were just enough for the Fighting Hawks to earn the fourth and final home ice spot in the NCHC playoffs, with Colorado College, Omaha, and Western Michigan each two points back.

Most Important Meeting: NCAA West Regional Final in Fargo, ND (March 28, 2015). North Dakota scored three unassisted goals over the final two periods of the hockey game to defeat St. Cloud State 4-1 in the West Regional Final and advance to the NCAA Frozen Four. Jimmy Murray got the Huskies on the board less than 90 seconds in to the hockey game, but that did nothing to quiet the partisan crowd of 5,307 at SCHEELS Arena. Four different players scored for UND, while Zane McIntyre made 19 stops to earn his 29th and final victory of the season.

All-Time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series, 71-43-14 (.609), including a 35-18-7 (.642) record in games played in Grand Forks. Aside from their 2015 and 2018 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal victories, the Huskies also defeated North Dakota in the 2001 WCHA Final Five championship game. The teams have been squaring off regularly since the 1989-90 season, but have only met once in the NCAA tournament (2015).

Last Ten: The two teams have each won four of the last ten games, with the other two ending in ties. North Dakota has outscored the Huskies 27-25 over that stretch of games. Six of the last eight meetings have gone to overtime.

Game News and Notes

St. Cloud State has outscored opponents 34-12 in second periods this season; UND has been outscored 21-16 in the middle frame. North Dakota leads the nation in attendance once again this season (11,357/game) and is bidding to lead the NCAA in total attendance for the eighth consecutive year and in average attendance for the fifth consecutive year. SCSU clocks in 16th in the country, with an average of 4216 fans per game. The Huskies are 14-0-0 on Olympic ice sheets (200×100) this season and 3-3-2 on NHL ice sheets (200×85).

Media Coverage

Friday’s game will be available exclusively on CBS Sports Network, with Saturday’s rematch available on Midco Sports Network, Fox College Sports, and TSN2. Both games will be streamed in high definition on NCHC.tv. UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports Radio Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

A Personal Note

Due to a scheduling conflict, SiouxSport.com is unable to host a UND/SCSU pre-game event this weekend. We plan to resume this event next season and for many years to come. Here’s to hockey!

The Prediction

Let’s get this out of the way first: St. Cloud State is a better team than North Dakota this season. However, the Fighting Hawks have some intangibles in their favor, including a home ice crowd and a smaller ice surface. In some cases where one side is outmatched, special teams and goaltending can make up the difference. In this case, however, I think UND’s best shot is to play as much of the game at even strength as possible. One way or another, the Huskies will prevail in each contest, although the home side will take at least one of the games to overtime. SCSU 4-1, 4-3 (OT).

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Omaha

After a trip to the Frozen Four in 2015, Dean Blais could only manage a mark of 35-34-6 over his final two seasons behind the Omaha bench. He was replaced by Mike Gabinet (Omaha ’04), and Gabinet finished up his rookie campaign with an eerily similar record of 17-17-2.

Maverick fans were certainly hopeful that improvement was coming this season, but Omaha sputtered out of the gate with a record of 0-6-1. Things have certainly leveled off since then, and the Mavs bring an overall record of 6-12-2 into this weekend’s home series against North Dakota (11-9-1).

Two familiar names in UND hockey history – Morelli and Ward – have been leading the charge for Mike Gabinet’s squad. Senior forward Mason Morelli (grandson of Reg Morelli; 13-9-22 this season) and freshman forward Taylor Ward (son of Dixon Ward; 5-10-15) rank 1st and 4th in team scoring for the Mavericks. Those two followed in the footsteps of Josh Archibald (son of Jim), Dayn Belfour (son of Ed), and Dominic Zombo (son of Rick) as “legacy” players who followed Dean Blais down I-94 from Grand Forks to Omaha.

North Dakota hockey fans will also recognize another name on the Omaha roster. Junior goaltender Matej Tomek (0-1-0, 5.02 goals-against average, .828 save percentage in four appearances) spent the 2016-17 at UND, appearing in two games while backing up Cam Johnson. Tomek, who spent last season with the Waterloo Blackhawks of the USHL, is a 3rd round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League (#90 overall in 2015)

Last year’s senior class at North Dakota (Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson) went 101-45-20 (.669) and became the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games. This year’s group (Ryan Anderson, Rhett Gardner, Joel Janatuinen, and Hayden Shaw) currently sits at 83-44-18 (.634) and would need 17 more victories in the final 23 games remaining on the schedule (at most) to continue that impressive streak.

After getting swept at Canisius two weekends ago, UND saw its non-conference record drop to 6-4-1 (.591) on the season. After going 9-1-2 (.833) in non-conference play in 2015-16 and 7-2-2 (.727) out-of-conference in 2016-17, Brad Berry’s squad went just 6-2-4 (.667) last season and snapped its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

As a whole, the NCHC fared extremely well in non-conference action, collecting a combined record of 50-21-8 (.684) and sporting a winning record against four of the other five leagues across the college hockey landscape (losing the head-to-head with the ECAC, 2-3-1). Here are the inter-conference records, from best to worst:

NCHC: 50-21-8 (.684)
Big Ten: 34-22-5 (.598)
Hockey East: 51-41-8 (.550)
ECAC: 40-45-6 (.473)
WCHA: 22-38-5 (.377)
Atlantic Hockey: 13-43-6 (.258)

Not only could the NCHC as a whole field four or even five teams in the NCAA tournament, but North Dakota’s record against Minnesota (1-0-0) and Wisconsin (2-0-0) will also help them specifically in Pairwise comparisons against all of the Big Ten teams. If the season ended today, Denver (2nd in the Pairwise rankings), St. Cloud State (3rd), Duluth (4th), and Western Michigan (9th) would make the national tourney, with North Dakota (23rd) and Miami (26th) on the outside looking in.

According to KRACH, Omaha has played the fourth-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks as the thirteenth-most difficult out of sixty men’s Division I hockey programs.

This weekend marks the second of eight consecutive conference opponents to finish out the regular season, and the schedule sets up favorably for North Dakota, with two of its three most difficult matchups on home ice. UND also has the benefit of playing nearly half of its remaining games against the bottom two teams in the league (Colorado College and Omaha). Here are the remaining series for the Fighting Hawks:

Home: St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth, Omaha
Road: Omaha, Denver, Western Michigan, Colorado College

Note: North Dakota will not face NCHC foe Miami in the second half of the season.

Last weekend’s home sweep against Colorado College (4-3 OT, 3-2 OT) vaulted UND into fifth place in the NCHC, one point behind fourth-place Duluth and three points behind third-place Denver. At 5-5-0-0 (15 points) in league play, North Dakota will likely need seven or eight wins over the last fourteen conference games to secure home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs. Over the first five seasons, the fourth-place finisher (final home ice spot) has averaged roughly 36 points (11-11-2-1).

According to Jim Dahl of collegehockeyranked.com, UND will likely need to win ten of those fourteen conference games to end the regular season between 8th and 12th in the Pairwise (>90% chance of landing in this range). A 10-4 record may seem unlikely, but sweeps at Omaha, at Colorado College, and vs. Omaha plus splits vs. St. Cloud State, at Denver, at Western Michigan, and vs. Duluth would do the trick.

Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (2nd season at UNO, 23-29-3, .445)

Pairwise Ranking: 40th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 6-12-2 (.350) overall, 2-7-1-1 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 17-17-2 (.500) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 10-13-1-0 NCHC (t-5th)

Team Offense: 2.70 goals scored/game – 36th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 3.75 goals allowed/game – 58th of 60 teams
Power Play: 24.5% (23 of 94) – 8th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.9% (71 of 90) – 38th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Mason Morelli (13-9-22), Senior F Fredrik Olofsson (7-14-21), Junior F Zach Jordan (6-12-18), Freshman F Taylor Ward, Junior D Dean Stewart (4-11-15), Junior D Ryan Jones (0-5-5), Senior G Evan Weninger (6-11-2, 3.42 GAA, .900 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 83-44-18, .634)

Pairwise Ranking: 23rd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #20/#18

This Season: 11-9-1 (.548) overall, 5-5-0-0 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 17-13-10 (.550) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.52 goals scored/game – 45th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.48 goals allowed/game – 20th of 60 teams
Power Play: 16.1% (14 of 87) – 40th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 79.7% (63 of 79) – 34th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Rhett Gardner (8-1-9), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (5-11-16), Senior F Nick Jones (3-10-13 in fourteen games), Junior F Cole Smith (2-6-8), Junior D Colton Poolman (4-5-9), Freshman D Jacob Bernard-Docker (4-9-13), D Gabe Bast (2-5-7), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (4-6-10) Freshman G Adam Scheel (10-6-1, 1.97 GAA, .907 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: March 10, 2018 (Grand Forks, ND). In the second and decisive game of the NCHC quarterfinal series between North Dakota and Omaha, Fighting Hawks’ forward Nick Jones scored the game-tying goal at 10:45 of the third period and the game-winner 53 seconds into overtime to propel the Green and White to their sixteenth-consecutive Twin Cities tournament weekend (WCHA Final Five/NCHC Frozen Faceoff). UND won Friday’s opener 4-0 on the strength of three second-period goals (by Christian Wolanin, Jones, and Joel Janatuinen).

Last meeting in Omaha: February 17, 2018. UND led by a narrow 1-0 margin after two periods of play before Johnny Simonson’s third-period tally gave the visitors some breathing room. North Dakota’s Rhett Gardner added an empty-net goal with 104 seconds remaining, the Hawks’ fourteenth shot on goal of the period (to just four for the Mavs). In Friday’s opener, Omaha scored four second-period goals to erase an early 2-0 deficit and defeat the Fighting Hawks 6-3. The Mavericks went 3-for-4 with the man advantage and got 38 saves from Evan Weninger. UND outshot Omaha 78-52 on the weekend.

Most memorable meeting: The game that UND fans will long remember is the outdoor game played at TD Ameritrade Park (Omaha, Nebraska) on February 9th, 2013. One day after winning a tight 2-1 contest indoors, North Dakota throttled UNO 5-2 on a sunny, melty afternoon. Mavericks netminder John Faulkner was pulled after allowing three goals on five shots in just ten minutes of game action. In my opinion, this hockey weekend solidified the notion that for UND hockey, it’s always a home game.

Last ten: North Dakota has won seven of the last ten contests between the schools, outscoring the Mavericks 44-24 over that stretch. Maverick goaltender Evan Weninger made 56 combined saves in two road victories (February 2017 and January 2018).

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 19-10-1 (.650), including a sparkling 10-4-0 record in games played in Omaha (5-1-0 at Baxter Arena). The teams first met on November 19, 2010.

Game News and Notes

In 2015, both North Dakota and Omaha advanced to the Frozen Four but neither team made the championship game. UND fell to Boston University 5-3, while the Mavericks were upended 4-1 by eventual national champion Providence. Since joining the WCHA in 2011 (and later the NCHC), the Mavs have never reached the Twin Cities for the second weekend of the conference tournament despite having home ice in three of those eight years. The Mavs are 6-6-1 after an 0-6-1 start to the season. Fighting Hawks’ junior defenseman (and captain) Colton Poolman has two goals and eleven points in ten career games against Omaha.

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend can be seen live on Midco Sports Network, with a high definition webcast of the series also available to NCHC.tv subscribers. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). The flagship station for the network is 96.1 FM (The Fox). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

The Prediction

If the faceoff percentages and fancy stats (Corsi, Fenwick) are any indication, North Dakota will have the puck most of this weekend. The results of this series will rest on the goaltending efforts of Omaha’s Evan Weninger. In six victories, he has allowed nine total goals (1.50 goals allowed/game); in eleven losses, he has given up 45 (4.09 goals allowed/game). The first team to three goals will win each contest, and it will be North Dakota on back-to-back nights. UND 4-3, 3-2.

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Colorado College

After winning just twenty total games over his first three seasons behind the CC bench, head coach Mike Haviland won fifteen games (15-17-5) during the 2017-18 campaign and took Denver to three games in the first round of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs (2-0 W, 2-3 L, 1-6 L).

The feeling among the Tiger faithful has always been that new blood behind the bench would eventually translate into new life on the ice, and CC fans are finally being rewarded for their patience. Colorado College (8-10-2) is averaging over three goals per game since the beginning of last season after averaging just a shade over two goals per contest (215 goals in 107 games) in Haviland’s first three campaigns.

Many familiar names have been popping up on the scoresheet for the Tigers, with six forwards already reaching double-digit point totals: senior Westin Michaud (6-8-14), junior Nick Halloran (4-9-13), senior Trey Bradley (6-7-13), senior Mason Bergh (5-7-12), senior Trevor Gooch (7-5-12), and junior Alex Berardinelli (7-4-11). Sadly, it was announced on Thursday that Nick Halloran is out for the season with a lower-body injury, so the prolific Halloran-Bergh-Bradley line that was together all of last year is no more.

By comparison, only one UND forward (sophomore Jordan Kawaguchi; 3-9-12) has collected ten or more points so far this season (senior Rhett Gardner, junior Nick Jones, and sophomore Grant Mismash each have nine points). Mismash might not be available for this series due to injury.

North Dakota fans will also notice another familiar name in the Colorado College lineup: junior Chris Wilkie (3-4-7) has appeared in eight games for the Tigers this season after transferring from UND (where he spent two years and won a national title) and sitting out last season (per NCAA rules).

After getting swept at Canisius last weekend, UND saw its non-conference record drop to 6-4-1 (.591) on the season. After going 9-1-2 (.833) in non-conference play in 2015-16 and 7-2-2 (.727) out-of-conference in 2016-17, Brad Berry’s squad went just 6-2-4 (.667) last season and snapped its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

As a whole, the NCHC fared extremely well in non-conference action, collecting a combined record of 50-21-8 (.684) and sporting a winning record against four of the other five leagues across the college hockey landscape (losing the head-to-head with the ECAC, 2-3-1). Here are the inter-conference records, from best to worst:

NCHC: 50-21-8 (.684)
Big Ten: 34-22-5 (.598)
Hockey East: 48-40-8 (.542)
ECAC: 38-42-6 (.477)
WCHA: 22-38-5 (.377)
Atlantic Hockey: 13-42-6 (.262)

Not only could the NCHC as a whole field four or even five teams in the NCAA tournament, but North Dakota’s record against Minnesota (1-0-0) and Wisconsin (2-0-0) will also help them specifically in Pairwise comparisons against all of the Big Ten teams.

According to KRACH, Colorado College has played the 30th toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks as the ninth-most difficult out of sixty men’s Division I hockey programs.

Last year’s senior class at North Dakota (Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson) went 101-45-20 (.669) and became the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games. This year’s group (Ryan Anderson, Rhett Gardner, Joel Janatuinen, and Hayden Shaw) currently sits at 81-44-18 (.629) and would need 19 more victories in the final 25 games remaining on the schedule (at most) to continue that impressive streak.

This weekend marks the first of eight consecutive conference opponents to finish out the regular season, and the schedule sets up favorably for North Dakota, with the majority of its more difficult matchups on home ice. UND also has the benefit of playing half of its remaining games against the bottom two teams in the league (Colorado College and Omaha). Here are the remaining series for the Fighting Hawks:

Home: Colorado College, St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth, Omaha
Road: Omaha, Denver, Western Michigan, Colorado College

Note: North Dakota will not face NCHC foe Miami in the second half of the season.

At 3-5-0-0 (9 points) in league play, North Dakota will likely need nine or ten wins over the past sixteen conference games to secure home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs. Over the first five seasons, the fourth-place finisher (final home ice spot) has averaged roughly 36 points (11-11-2-1).

Colorado College Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Haviland (5th season at CC, 43-106-15, .308)

Pairwise Ranking: 32nd of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 8-10-2 overall (.450), 2-5-1-0 NCHC (8th)
Last Season: 15-17-5 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-12-4-3 NCHC (t-5th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.00 goals scored/game – 23rd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.75 goals allowed/game – 30th of 60 teams
Power Play: 15.3% (15 of 98) – 45th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 77.8% (49 of 63) – 44th of 60 teams

Key players: Senior F Westin Michaud (6-8-14), Junior F Nick Halloran (4-9-13), Senior F Trey Bradley (6-7-13), Senior F Mason Bergh (5-7-12), Senior F Trevor Gooch (7-5-12), Junior F Alex Berardinelli (7-4-11), Senior D Andrew Farney (0-5-5), Junior D Kristian Blumenschein (0-5-5), Freshman D Bryan Yoon (1-9-10), Junior G Alex Leclerc (8-9-2, 2.60 GAA, .911 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 81-44-18, .629)

Pairwise Ranking: 21st of 60 teams
National Rankings: #21/NR

This Season: 9-9-1 (.500) overall, 3-5-0-0 NCHC (6th)
Last Season: 17-13-10 (.550) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.42 goals scored/game – 48th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.47 goals allowed/game – 18th of 60 teams
Power Play: 15.9% (13 of 82) – 44th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 80.0% (56 of 70) – 36th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Rhett Gardner (8-1-9), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (3-9-12), Sophomore F Grant Mismash (5-4-9), Senior F Nick Jones (2-7-9 in twelve games), Junior F Cole Smith (2-5-7), Junior D Colton Poolman (4-4-8), Freshman D Jacob Bernard-Docker (4-7-11), D Gabe Bast (2-5-7), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (4-6-10) Freshman G Adam Scheel (8-6-1, 1.91 GAA, .908 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: February 10, 2018 (Grand Forks, ND). Joel Janatuinen scored two goals and Peter Thome made twenty saves as North Dakota avenged a 4-2 home loss one night earlier with a 5-1 victory. The teams also split an October 2017 series in Colorado Springs.

Most Important Meeting: March 27, 1997. UND defeated Colorado College, 6-2, in the Frozen Four Semifinals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Two nights later, North Dakota downed Boston University, 6-4, to claim its sixth NCAA Championship. North Dakota and Colorado College also met in the 2001 East Regional (Worcester, Mass.), with UND prevailing, 4-1.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 157-83-11 (.647), including a sparkling 101-22-7 (.804) record in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: North Dakota has six wins and a tie in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring CC 41-24 over that span. UND had gone unbeaten in 14 straight (13-0-1) against the Tigers until the three most recent series ended in splits.

Game News and Notes

These two coaching staffs coached against each other at the AHL and NHL levels prior to the NCHC. The Fighting Hawks are 6-4-1 (.591) at home this season; the Tigers are 3-6-1 (.350) on the road. North Dakota forwards Rhett Gardner and Joel Janatuinen each have five career goals against Colorado College. CC has won two national titles (1950, 1957). Since 1957, the Tigers have appeared in the NCAA tournament thirteen times (most recently in 2011) and advanced to three Frozen Fours (1996, 1997, 2005).

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend can be seen live on Midco Sports Network and Fox College Sports, with Saturday’s rematch also available on TSN. A high definition webcast of the games is also available to NCHC.tv subscribers. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). The flagship station for the network is 96.1 FM (The Fox). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

The Prediction

In almost every UND/CC matchup that I can remember, North Dakota has had an advantage in scoring depth. That is not the case this year, and the harsh reality is that the Fighting Hawks cannot be counted on to score more than two goals per game. UND has the goaltending advantage, but special teams might be a wash in this one. Until Brad Berry’s squad can prove themselves, I’ve got to call a split in this one, and that might be the harshest reality of all. UND 2-1, CC 3-1.

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Canisius

North Dakota and Canisius have faced off just seven times in history, with UND claiming decisive wins in all seven contests. The Golden Griffins have competed at the Division I level since the 1998-99 season but were known as the Ice Griffs from 1980 to 2001. Former head coach Dave Smith was at the helm from 2005 through 2017 (twelve seasons) and brought the team to its only NCAA tournament appearance following the 2012-13 season. The Golden Griffins gave #1 seed Quinnipiac a battle in the East Regional, leading 3-1 early in the third period before losing to the Bobcats by a final of 4-3. Incidentally, that game was the first NCAA tournament victory for QU, who rode that momentum all the way to the championship game before falling to Yale.

Current Canisius head coach Trevor Large is now in his second season behind the bench for the Golden Griffins. Last year, he led his squad to a 19-17-2 overall record and a 2nd-place finish in Atlantic Hockey. Large played his collegiate hockey at Ferris State (2000-2004) and was a member of the 2002-03 squad that won the CCHA title and earned that program’s first NCAA tourney appearance.

After a home sweep of Alaska Anchorage back in November, UND moved its non-conference record to 6-2-1 (.722) on the season. After going 9-1-2 (.833) in non-conference play in 2015-16 and 7-2-2 (.727) out-of-conference in 2016-17, Brad Berry’s squad went just 6-2-4 (.667) last season and snapped its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. This weekend’s road series will mark the final non-conference games of the 2018-19 season for the Fighting Hawks.

As a whole, the NCHC has fared extremely well in non-conference action, collecting a combined record of 45-17-7 (.703) and sporting a winning record against all five of the other leagues across the college hockey landscape. Here are the inter-conference records, from best to worst:

NCHC: 45-17-7 (.703)
Big Ten: 34-19-5 (.629)
Hockey East: 42-38-5 (.524)
ECAC: 34-39-3 (.467)
WCHA: 22-38-5 (.377)
Atlantic Hockey: 10-36-5 (.245)

Not only could the NCHC as a whole field four or even five teams in the NCAA tournament, but North Dakota’s record against Minnesota (1-0-0) and Wisconsin (2-0-0) will also help them specifically in Pairwise comparisons against all of the Big Ten teams.

According to KRACH, Canisius has played the 56th toughest (read: fifth weakest) schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks as the eighth-most difficult out of sixty men’s Division I hockey programs.

The Canisius Golden Griffins have made the national tournament once (2013) in their twenty-year history at the Divison I level. Canisius (then known as the Ice Griffs) moved up to the top ranks of NCAA hockey from Division III following the 1997-98 season.

Last year’s senior class at North Dakota (Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson) went 101-45-20 (.669) and became the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games. This year’s group (Ryan Anderson, Rhett Gardner, Joel Janatuinen, and Hayden Shaw) currently sits at 81-42-18 (.638) and would need 19 more victories in the final 27 games remaining on the schedule (at most) to continue that impressive streak.

Canisius boasts the second-oldest roster in all of college hockey, with an average age of 22.8 years (Alaska-Anchorage comes in first at 22.9). North Dakota’s crop of players is more than a full year younger (21.7), which puts them in the bottom third in the country (42nd) in that category.

Canisius Team Profile

Head Coach: Trevor Large (2nd season at Canisius, 25-26-4, .491)

National Ranking: NR/NR

This Season: 6-9-2 (.412) overall, 5-7-1 Atlantic Hockey (t-7th of 11 teams)
Last Season: 19-17-2 (.526) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 17-11-0 (2nd of 11 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.12 goals scored/game – 17th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 3.94 goals allowed/game – 58th of 60 teams
Power Play: 19.0% (15 of 79) – 26th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 80.0% (60 of 75) – 36th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Dylan McLaughlin (11-11-22), Junior F Nick Hutchison (9-7-16), Sophomore F Austin Alger (8-6-14), Sophomore F Grant Meyer (2-11-13), Senior D Jimmy Mazza (3-11-14), Cameron Heath (2-9-11), Junior G Blake Weyrick (3-5-2, 3.17 GAA, .901 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 81-42-18, .638)

National Rankings: #13/#18

This Season: 9-7-1 (.559) overall, 3-5-0-0 NCHC (6th)
Last Season: 17-13-10 (.550) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.59 goals scored/game – 40th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.47 goals allowed/game – 19th of 60 teams
Power Play: 16.4% (12 of 73) – 40th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.7% (48 of 61) – 45th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Rhett Gardner (8-1-9), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (3-8-11), Sophomore F Grant Mismash (5-4-9), Senior F Nick Jones (1-6-7 in ten games), Junior F Cole Smith (2-5-7), Junior D Colton Poolman (4-4-8), Freshman D Jacob Bernard-Docker (4-6-10), D Gabe Bast (2-5-7), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (4-6-10) Freshman G Adam Scheel (8-4-1, 1.89 GAA, .913 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: October 8, 2016 (Grand Forks, ND). Ludvig Hoff and Tucker Poolman each netted second-period power play goals to erase a 1-0 deficit, and North Dakota poured it on in the final frame with two goals (Shane Gersich, Austin Poganski) less than four minutes apart for a final score of 4-1. UND won Friday’s opener 6-0 behind four second-period goals (Poganski, Tyson Jost, Dixon Bowen, Brock Boeser) and a 17-save shutout from Cam Johnson. For the weekend, the Green and White outshot the Golden Griffins 80-28.

Last meeting in Buffalo, NY: Tonight’s series opener will be the first-ever home contest for the Griffins against North Dakota.

All-time: North Dakota has won all seven of the previous meetings between the teams by a combined score of 41-5. Six of those seven games were played at Ralph Engelstad Arena (Grand Forks, ND), while the seventh, a neutral-site contest in October 2002 (the first-ever meeting between the teams), was the collegiate debut (and first hat trick) for Zach Parise.

Game News and Notes

The Golden Griffins play their home games at the recently-built HarborCenter, which is the practice facility for the Buffalo Sabres. HarborCenter, built on top of a parking garage, features an NHL sheet of ice and seating for 1800 fans. After this weekend, UND will play four consecutive weekends against NCHC opponents (vs. Colorado College, at Omaha, vs. St. Cloud State, at Denver) before a weekend off on February 8th and 9th. The most famous alumnus of the Canisius hockey program is Cory Conacher, currently playing for the Syracuse Crunch in the American Hockey League while under contract with the Tampa Bay Lighting of the National Hockey League (NHL). Conacher, a left-handed centerman, has appeared in 189 NHL games, with 28 goals and 74 points to his credit.

The Prediction

UND has an advantage all over the ice and will prove too much for the Griffins to handle. More to the point, if North Dakota can’t sweep this weekend, they would be more than a longshot to make the national tournament. The Fighting Hawks should be rested and motivated to end their non-conference schedule on a good note. Saturday’s contest will be the more difficult one, with goaltending proving the difference. UND 5-1, 4-2.

Media Coverage

All UND men’s hockey games, home and away, can be heard on 96.1 FM (The Fox) and on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network, as well as through the iHeart Radio app. A webcast of this weekend’s action can also be purchased at https://portal.stretchinternet.com/atlantichockey ($10.99/day).

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!