NCHC Frozen Faceoff Preview: North Dakota vs. St. Cloud State

It took St. Cloud State three games to dispatch Miami last weekend in the first round of the NCHC playoffs, as the RedHawks took Game 2 of the series with a 3-2 overtime victory. The two teams also went to overtime in Sunday’s Game 3, with SCSU prevailing on Mikey Eyssimont’s game-winner.

Overall, St. Cloud State was on the ice for 196 minutes of game action last weekend, while North Dakota defeated Omaha in two games (4-0, 4-3 OT) and was on the ice for 121 minutes of game action.

Last Saturday’s loss was the Huskies first since January 26th, when SCSU fell 5-1 at Duluth. Bob Motzko’s crew is 10-1-3 over their last fourteen games, while North Dakota is just 4-6-4 over that same stretch.

The top two seeds in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff (#1 St. Cloud State and #2 Denver) are guaranteed to be playing in the national tournament next weekend. #3 Minnesota-Duluth faces Denver in the second Friday semifinal, and the Bulldogs would make the NCAA tourney in 89 percent of scenarios in which they go 0-2 at Xcel Energy Center and would lock up a tournament bid with a single win this weekend (according to collegehockeyranked.com).

And that leaves North Dakota, which is currently 14th in the Pairwise and in a precarious position, given the number of autobids yet to be determined in other conferences. UND could of course earn the league’s autobid with two victories and a Frozen Faceoff championship. Collegehockeyranked.com puts Brad Berry’s crew at a 25 percent chance of an at-large bid with one win and at 14 percent with zero wins.

St. Cloud State earned the Penrose Cup as 2017-18 NCHC champions, their third regular-season league championship in the past six seasons (2012-13 WCHA, 2013-14 NCHC).

Last season, North Dakota and St. Cloud State battled six times, with UND clearly having the better of it and earning the UND/SCSU Challenge Cup with three regular-season victories in four meetings:

NCHC Regular Season
November 18, 2016 (St. Cloud): UND 4, SCSU 0
November 19, 2016 (St. Cloud): UND 3, SCSU 0

NCHC Regular Season
February 3, 2017 (Grand Forks): SCSU 3, UND 1
February 4, 2017 (Grand Forks): UND 2, SCSU 1 (OT)

NCHC First Round Playoff Series
March 10, 2017 (Grand Forks): UND 5, SCSU 2
March 11, 2017 (Grand Forks): UND 6, SCSU 5 (OT)

St. Cloud State earned the Challenge Cup for 2017-18 with two victories and two ties against North Dakota.

It’s been up and down for the Huskies in the first five seasons of the NCHC. 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.

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 record of 24-7-6, it is possible but unlikely that St. Cloud State will reach the thirty-victory mark this year. A Frozen Faceoff championship and a national title would put SCSU at 30-7-6 for the season.

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

Last season was far from a milestone season for Bob Motzko’s squad, as the group sputtered to a record of 16-19-1 (.458) and missed the NCAAs for the first time since the 2011-12 team finished at .500 (17-17-5). North Dakota has made fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the longest active streak in Division I men’s ice hockey and the second-longest streak of all time (Michigan appeared in 22 straight NCAA tourneys from 1991 to 2012).

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.

Last month, North Dakota reached the 1,500-win plateau all-time as a program. UND has more wins over the past eleven seasons (306) than any other program in the country, with Boston College (304) and Denver (289) rounding out the top three.

With two victories last weekend, UND’s senior class of Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson (100-44-20, .667) became the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games. North Dakota’s juniors have collected 71 wins over the past three seasons and will need a strong playoff run and a very successful senior campaign to keep the streak alive.

The Fighting Hawks have ten ties already this season, breaking a school record set by the 2000-01 national runner-up squad that went 29-8-9. With only sixteen wins on the season, it is certainly likely that UND will finish the 2017-18 campaign with fewer than twenty victories. The last time a North Dakota men’s hockey team fell below that number was in 2001-02, when a Dean Blais-led group went 16-19-2 (.459) and missed the NCAAs.

North Dakota has made the tournament for fifteen consecutive seasons (every year since 2001-02), the longest active streak in Division I men’s ice hockey. If Brad Berry can lead the program to its sixteenth-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, North Dakota would be placed in the 2018 West Regional (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) as the host school. The 2018 NCAA Frozen Faceoff will take place at Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minnesota).

St. Cloud State Team Profile

Head Coach: Bob Motzko (13th season at SCSU, 275-190-49, .583)

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

This Season: 24-7-6 (.730) overall, 16-4-4-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 16-19-1 (.458) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 10-13-1-0 NCHC (5th)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.76 goals scored/game – 2nd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.46 goals allowed/game – 14th of 60 teams
Power Play: 23.5% (39 of 166) – 9th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 80.3% (98 of 122) – 36th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Robby Jackson (15-27-42), Sophomore F Ryan Poehling (12-17-29), Junior F Mikey Eyssimont (17-21-38), Junior F Patrick Newell (5-20-25), Junior D Jimmy Schuldt (10-28-38), Sophomore D Jack Ahcan (3-18-21), Junior D Will Borgen (2-12-14), Freshman G David Hrenak (12-5-2, 1.93 GAA, .926 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 71-33-16, .658)

Pairwise Ranking: 14th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #12/#13

This Season: 16-12-10 (.553) overall, 8-10-6-3 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 21-16-3 (.562) overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.92 goals scored/game – 27th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.39 goals allowed/game – 12th of 60 teams
Power Play: 21.0% (34 of 162) – 20th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 82.2% (125 of 152) – 23rd of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Shane Gersich (12-16-28), Junior F Nick Jones (14-13-27), Freshman F Grant Mismash (9-13-22), Senior F Austin Poganski (10-8-18), Junior F Rhett Gardner (7-13-20), Junior D Christian Wolanin (12-22-34), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (7-20-27), Senior G Cam Johnson (11-8-7, 2.16 GAA, .907 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 3, 2018 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota clinched home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs with a 2-2 tie on the last night of the regular season. In the 3-on-3 overtime, NCHC defensive forward of the year Rhett Gardner took a pass from Christian Wolanin and put one past Hrenak for the extra conference point. UND lost two-goal leads to St. Cloud State on both nights of the series.

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, 71-42-14 (.614). Aside from their 2015 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal victory, 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).

Game News and Notes

St. Cloud State has outscored opponents 61-29 in third periods this season. North Dakota has made the second weekend of the conference tournament (WCHA Final Five/NCHC Frozen Faceoff) for sixteen consecutive seasons.

Media Coverage

Both Friday semifinals and Saturday’s championship will be available live on CBS Sports Network, with all four games 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

The North Dakota Champions Club is hosting a pre-game event at McGovern’s Pub (225 7th Street West in St. Paul) beginning at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, March 16th. For more information about McGovern’s, please visit www.patmcgoverns.com. 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, UND needs wins this weekend and has some intangibles in its favor, including a smaller ice surface and a virtual home crowd at Xcel Energy Center. The Fighting Hawks will play with a sense of urgency and come out with a huge effort on Friday afternoon. UND 4-2.

Bonus Prediction

In the second Friday semifinal, I’ve got Duluth prevailing over Denver by a score of 4-3.

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!

NCHC Playoff Preview: North Dakota vs. Omaha

In an NCHC quarterfinal series that will determine the postseason fate for both teams, here are two reasons why North Dakota will advance:

1. UNO is just 5-11-0 on the road this season, with power play (20.6 percent) and penalty kill (73.5 percent) numbers far worse than their home splits (12-4-2 record, 29.8 percent power play, 81.8 percent penalty kill). The Mavericks have been outscored 65-38 on the road while being outshot 553-448.

2. Omaha’s senior class has never advanced to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff (1-6 overall in NCHC playoff games) despite an NCAA Frozen Four appearance as freshmen (2015). In fact, since joining the WCHA in 2011, the Mavs have never reached the Twin Cities for the second weekend of the conference tournament despite having home ice in three of those seven years.

And here are two reasons why Omaha will advance:

1. Mavericks junior netminder Evan Weninger has been playing much better as of late. Coming into the North Dakota series last month, Weninger had a goals-against average of 3.65 and a save percentage of .888. Over the past six games (vs. UND, vs. Colorado College, at Minnesota-Duluth), Weninger went 3-2-1 with a goals-against average of just 2.14 and a save percentage of .939.

2. North Dakota has blown two-goal leads five times in the last eleven games, including once against Omaha.

No matter which way the best-of-three series goes, it will almost certainly be decided on Sunday night:

Since 2010, UNO and North Dakota have played fourteen regular-season series, and most of them have resulted in splits. Omaha has never won more than one game in any series, while North Dakota has mixed in three sweeps and one win/tie.

In the past fifteen first-round league playoff matchups, UND has put the home fans at ease by winning Friday’s opener thirteen times (including the last eleven straight). Saturday’s games have been more difficult, as seen by the following breakdown:

Average goals scored/goals allowed in first-round home playoff games (2003-2017):

Friday: 5.00 goals scored/1.60 goals allowed (thirteen wins, two losses)
Saturday: 3.40 goals scored/2.33 goals allowed (eleven wins, four losses)
Sunday: 3.67 goals scored/1.17 goals allowed (six wins, zero losses)

Despite North Dakota’s Friday home playoff success over the past fifteen seasons, this year’s version of the Omaha Mavericks has fared far better in series openers (13-4-0) than in series finales (4-11-2). To further complicate matters, the last time North Dakota won back-to-back games was on January 6th (vs. Omaha) and January 12th (at Bemidji State), and the Fighting Hawks only accomplished two weekend sweeps all season (October 13th and 14th vs. St. Lawrence; December 1st and 2nd vs. Western Michigan).

Omaha went just 10-13-1-0 in conference play this season, which was good for fifth place in the eight-team NCHC. Despite that sub-par mark, #13 UNO is ahead of North Dakota in the Pairwise Rankings (Omaha 14th, UND 15th) thanks to a 7-2-1 non-conference record (against UMass-Lowell, Arizona State, Notre Dame, Northern Michigan, and Union).

On the plus side, Omaha is scoring 3.47 goals per game, the sixth-highest scoring offense in the country.

On the minus side, Omaha is allowing 3.71 goals per game, the worst scoring defense in the country.

And those statistics are even worse on the road, with Omaha scoring 2.38 goals per game (43rd) and allowing 4.06 (59th).

Out of conference, North Dakota had decent success (6-2-4, .667) against Alaska Anchorage, St. Lawrence, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Union, and Bemidji State. The league as a whole went 45-22-13 (.644) in non-conference play and could easily place four or even five teams in the NCAA tournament field. If the season ended today, St. Cloud State (1st), Denver (5th), Duluth (9th), Omaha (14th) and North Dakota (15th) would all make the tourney, with Western Michigan (t-20th), Colorado College (23rd) and Miami (29th) on the outside looking in.

Fighting Hawks’ first-year forward Grant Mismash has had an up-and-down freshman campaign. Mismash started the season with a line of 5-9-14 through his first seventeen games in a UND uniform (including two goals in a 6-2 victory over Colorado College in October) but was held to two goals and two assists from December 8th, 2017 through February 17th, 2018 (a stretch of thirteen games) and was a healthy scratch on January 6th vs. Omaha. To be fair, the Nashville Predators draft pick (Round 2, #61 overall) from Edina, Minnesota notched a goal and assist two weekends ago at Miami and duplicated that scoring effort last weekend against St. Cloud State to give him a line of 9-13-22 for the season and a spot on the NCHC 2017-18 All-Rookie Team.

Omaha has been dealing with the loss of junior forward Mason Morelli (4-10-14 in 16 games). According to the Omaha World-Herald, Morelli tore his ACL in a freak accident over the winter break and is lost for the season.

If UND hopes to make a deep playoff run, junior forward Shane Gersich (11-16-27) and senior forward Austin Poganski (10-7-17) will need to continue their recent scoring prowess. The two combined for 33 goals and 29 assists during the 2016-17 season but struggled to find open ice in the first half of this year. From October through December, Poganski went 4-2-6 and Gersich added 5-6-11 in twenty games each. In the past sixteen games, the two have scored twelve goals and added fifteen assists.

It is worthy of note that Gersich has scored four goals and notched five assists in eleven career games against the Mavs while Poganski has enjoyed similar success (2-8-10 in sixteen career games).

According to KRACH, Omaha has played the fifth-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks 13th.

Since January 1st, UND has gone just 4-7-5 and scored 47 goals (2.94/game) while allowing 44 (2.75/game) against Omaha (four games), Bemidji State, Duluth, Denver, Colorado College, Miami, and St. Cloud State. One could argue that the Fighting Hawks deserved a better fate in a handful of those ties and losses, but the margin of error is so small for this team.

Three weekends ago, North Dakota reached the 1,500-win plateau all-time as a program. UND has more wins over the past eleven seasons (304) than any other program in the country, with Boston College (302) and Denver (287) rounding out the top three.

UND’s senior class of Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson (98-44-20, .667) needs two more victories to become the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games. That streak is on the line this weekend in Grand Forks.

The Fighting Hawks have ten ties already this season, breaking a school record set by the 2000-01 national runner-up squad that went 29-8-9. With only fourteen wins on the season, it is becoming increasingly likely that UND will finish the 2017-18 campaign with fewer than twenty victories. The last time a North Dakota men’s hockey team fell below that number was in 2001-02, when a Dean Blais-led group went 16-19-2 (.459) and missed the NCAAs.

North Dakota has gone just 7-10-7 (.438) over the last twelve weekends of hockey after beginning the year 7-2-3 (.708), and at the minimum, Brad Berry’s squad will need to win this weekend’s best-of-three series in order to solidify their place in the NCAA tournament. Of course, if UND advances to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff (Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota) and wins both games next weekend, they would secure the league’s autobid. The loser of this series will be unlikely to earn an at-large bid to the tournament when the bracket is announced on Sunday, March 18th.

According to Jim Dahl of collegehockeyranked.com, UND is most likely to end up ranked 14th or 15th in the Pairwise with two victories this weekend, with an outside chance at being ranked 13th or 16th. In almost all of those scenarios, the Fighting Hawks would need to avoid two losses net weekend in St. Paul.

North Dakota has made the tournament for fifteen consecutive seasons (every year since 2001-02), the longest active streak in Division I men’s ice hockey. If Brad Berry can lead the program to its sixteenth-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, North Dakota would be placed in the 2018 West Regional (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) as the host school. The 2018 NCAA Frozen Faceoff will take place at Xcel Energy Center.

Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (1st season at UNO, 17-15-2, .529)

Pairwise Ranking: 14th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #13/#13

This Season: 17-15-2 (.529) overall, 10-13-1-0 NCHC (t-5th)
Last Season: 16-16-5 (.500) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 9-13-2-0 NCHC (6th)

Team Offense: 3.47 goals scored/game – 6th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 3.71 goals allowed/game – 60th of 60 teams
Power Play: 25.7% (39 of 152) – 5th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.2% (122 of 156) – 46th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F David Pope (20-20-40), Senior F Tyler Vesel (11-20-31), Sophomore F Zach Jordan (16-12-28), Senior F Jake Randolph (6-19-25), Sophomore F Tristan Keck (10-12-22), Senior D Joel Messner (5-18-23), Sophomore D Ryan Jones (1-11-12), Junior G Evan Weninger (15-12-1, 3.31 GAA, .900 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 69-34-17, .646)

Pairwise Ranking: 15th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #14/NR

This Season: 14-12-10 (.528) overall, 8-10-6-3 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 21-16-3 (.562) overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.86 goals scored/game – 29th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.44 goals allowed/game – 13th of 60 teams
Power Play: 20.5% (32 of 156) – 22nd of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 81.6% (120 of 147) – 27th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Shane Gersich (11-16-27), Junior F Nick Jones (11-13-24), Freshman F Grant Mismash (9-13-22), Senior F Austin Poganski (10-7-17), Junior F Rhett Gardner (7-12-19), Junior D Christian Wolanin (11-21-32), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (7-16-23), Senior G Cam Johnson (9-8-7, 2.21 GAA, .905 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: February 17, 2018 (Omaha, NE). 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.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: January 6, 2018. One night after Evan Weninger made 34 saves in a 4-1 road victory, the Fighting Hawks exploded for seven goals and freshman netminder Peter Thome stopped all fifteen shots he faced. In the second period alone, North Dakota scored three goals and outshot the Mavericks 19-1 (32-15 for the game). UND senior forward Austin Poganski had a three-point night with an assist on junior Rhett Gardner’s first-period goal and two third-period tallies of his own, while Gardner added two assists to match Poganski in the scoring column.

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 17-10-1 (.625), including a slight 7-6-1 (.536) edge in games played in Grand Forks. 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. UND junior defenseman Christian Wolanin (11-21-32) leads all Fighting Hawks scorers and is seeking to become the first blueliner to lead UND in scoring since James Patrick (12-36-48 in 1982-83, his second and final college season). The Mavericks won ten league games this season, two more than North Dakota.

Media Coverage

This weekend’s NCHC playoff action will be shown live on Midco Sports Network, with a high definition webcast also available to subscribers via 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.

The Prediction

Both teams have been prone to inconsistency throughout this season, and I expect momentum to shift back and forth throughout the weekend. North Dakota has not shown the ability to protect leads, and that will come back to haunt them in at least one game of this series. All signs point to hockey in Grand Forks on Sunday night. UND 3-2, UNO 4-2, 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 vs. St. Cloud State

Last weekend, St. Cloud State clinched the Penrose Cup as NCHC champions with a win and a tie against Denver, their third regular-season league championship in the past six seasons (2012-13 WCHA, 2013-14 NCHC).

North Dakota certainly has more to play for this weekend than their rivals from central Minnesota, as SCSU has the #1 seed and home ice for the first round of the playoffs locked up while UND is trying to stay ahead in the race for the final home-ice playoff spot:

1. St. Cloud State (15-4-3-1, 49 points)
2. Denver (11-6-5-4, 42 points)
3. Minnesota Duluth (12-10-0-0, 36 points)
4. North Dakota (8-9-5-2, 31 points)
5. Colorado College (7-11-4-3, 28 points)
5. Omaha (9-12-1-0, 28 points)
5. Western Michigan (9-12-1-0, 28 points)
8. Miami (6-13-3-1, 22 points)

UND could finish as high as third or as low as seventh in the final NCHC conference standings. Here’s a look at the other league matchups this weekend:

Miami at Denver
Omaha at Duluth
Western Michigan at Colorado College

Last season, North Dakota and St. Cloud State battled six times, with UND clearly having the better of it and earning the UND/SCSU Challenge Cup with three regular-season victories in four meetings:

NCHC Regular Season
November 18, 2016 (St. Cloud): UND 4, SCSU 0
November 19, 2016 (St. Cloud): UND 3, SCSU 0

NCHC Regular Season
February 3, 2017 (Grand Forks): SCSU 3, UND 1
February 4, 2017 (Grand Forks): UND 2, SCSU 1 (OT)

NCHC First Round Playoff Series
March 10, 2017 (Grand Forks): UND 5, SCSU 2
March 11, 2017 (Grand Forks): UND 6, SCSU 5 (OT)

With a win and a tie back in December 2017, St. Cloud State would earn the Challenge Cup for this season with at least one victory this weekend in Grand Forks.

It’s been up and down for the Huskies in the first five seasons of the NCHC. 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.

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 record of 21-6-5, it is possible but unlikely that St. Cloud State will reach the thirty-victory mark this year. A sweep this weekend plus a Frozen Faceoff championship and a national title would put SCSU at 31-6-5 or 31-7-5, depending on whether their first round series would go two or three games.

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

Last season was far from a milestone season for Bob Motzko’s squad, as the group sputtered to a record of 16-19-1 (.458) and missed the NCAAs for the first time since the 2011-12 team finished at .500 (17-17-5). North Dakota has made fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the longest active streak in Division I men’s ice hockey and the second-longest streak of all time (Michigan appeared in 22 straight NCAA tourneys from 1991 to 2012).

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.

Since January 1st, UND has gone just 4-6-4 and scored 42 goals (3.00/game) while allowing 38 (2.71/game) against Omaha (four games), Bemidji State, Duluth, Denver, Colorado College, and Miami. One could argue that the Fighting Hawks deserved a better fate in a handful of those ties and losses, but the margin of error is so small for this team.

Out of conference, North Dakota had decent success (6-2-4, .667) against Alaska Anchorage, St. Lawrence, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Union, and Bemidji State. The league as a whole went 47-22-15 (.649) in non-conference play and could easily place five or even six teams in the NCAA tournament field. If the season ended today, St. Cloud State (1st), Denver (t-4th), and Duluth (8th) would all easily make the tourney, with North Dakota (14th) and Omaha (15th) on the bubble. Western Michigan (t-19th), Colorado College (t-23rd) and Miami (t-28th) are on the outside looking in and probably need to secure the league’s autobid as NCHC Frozen Faceoff champions to advance to the NCAAs.

Fighting Hawks’ freshman forward Grant Mismash has been nearly invisible over the past sixteen games. Mismash started the season with a line of 5-9-14 through his first seventeen games in a UND uniform (including two goals in a 6-2 victory over Colorado College in October) but has been held to three goals and three assists in his past fifteen appearances and was a healthy scratch on January 6th vs. Omaha. To be fair, the Nashville Predators draft pick (Round 2, #61 overall) from Edina, Minnesota did notch a goal and an assist last weekend at Miami.

On the injury front, North Dakota finally appears to be getting healthy after losing 76 man-games due to injury, illness, suspension, or the Olympics this season. UND has used a different lineup in 33 of 34 games this season, including 60 different line combinations at forward and eleven different defensive pairings. Expect head coach Brad Berry to keep the line of junior Rhett Gardner centering junior Shane Gerisch and senior Austin Poganski together. In their past five games as linemates, the trio combined for 20 points and four victories.

If UND hopes to make a deep playoff run, Gersich (11-15-26) and Poganski (10-7-17) will need to continue their recent scoring prowess. The two combined for 33 goals and 29 assists during the 2016-17 season but struggled to find open ice in the first half of this year. From October through December, Poganski went 4-2-6 and Gersich added 5-6-11 in twenty games each. In the past fourteen games, the two have scored twelve goals and added fourteen assists.

It is worthy of note that Gersich has scored six goals and notched two assists in nine career games against the Huskies while Poganski has enjoyed a modest amount of success (3-5-8 in sixteen career games). Rhett Gardner has also collected eight points (3-5-8) in his ten career games against St. Cloud State.

According to KRACH, Omaha has played the second-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks 13th.

UND leads the nation in faceoff efficiency (55.7 percent); St. Cloud State is 2nd at 55.4 percent. Of the top fifteen faceoff men in the NCHC (minimum 100 attempts), five wear a Fighting Hawks jersey:

1. Nick Jones (60.3 percent)
4. Collin Adams (59.1 percent)
6. Rhett Gardner (57.8 percent)
12. Ludvig Hoff (54.9 percent)
13. Johnny Simonson (54.7 percent)

Hoff recently to the team after representing his native Norway at the 2018 Winter Olympics (Pyeongchang, South Korea). Hoff and Canadian defenseman Chay Genoway became the 28th and 29th UND players to compete in men’s hockey at the Olympic Games.

On the other bench, the Huskies boast two centermen among the top fifteen:

5. Blake Winiecki (58.5 percent)
7. Judd Peterson (57.1 percent)

Two weekends ago, North Dakota reached the 1,500-win plateau all-time as a program. UND has more wins over the past eleven seasons (304) than any other program in the country, with Boston College (302) and Denver (286) rounding out the top three.

UND’s senior class of Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson (98-42-18, .677) needs two more victories to become the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games.

The Fighting Hawks have nine ties already this season, tying a school record set by the 2000-01 national runner-up squad that went 29-8-9. With only fourteen and two regular-season games remaining before the NCHC playoffs, it is very possible that UND will finish the 2017-18 campaign with fewer than twenty wins. The last time a North Dakota men’s hockey team fell below that number was in 2001-02, when a Dean Blais-led group went 16-19-2 (.459) and missed the NCAAs.

North Dakota has gone just 7-9-6 (.455) over the last eleven weekends of hockey after beginning the year 7-2-3 (.708), and Brad Berry’s squad will need a victory or two this weekend in order to solidify their place in the NCAA tournament.

According to Jim Dahl (collegehockeyranked.com), UND would most likely move to 10th or 11th in the Pairwise rankings (which mimic the tourney selection process) with two wins this weekend, settle in at 14th with a split, and drop to 16th or 17th with two losses. Due to autobids and tournament upsets, teams with postseason aspirations hope to be no lower than 12th or 13th after the final games have been played on Saturday, March 17th.

North Dakota has made the tournament for fifteen consecutive seasons (every year since 2001-02), the longest active streak in Division I men’s ice hockey. If Brad Berry can lead the program to its sixteenth-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, North Dakota would be placed in the 2018 West Regional (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) as the host school. The 2018 NCAA Frozen Faceoff will take place at Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minnesota).

St. Cloud State Team Profile

Head Coach: Bob Motzko (13th season at SCSU, 272-189-48, .582)

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

This Season: 21-6-5 (.734) overall, 15-4-3-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 16-19-1 (.458) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 10-13-1-0 NCHC (5th)

2017-18 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.81 goals scored/game – 2nd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.44 goals allowed/game – 14th of 60 teams
Power Play: 21.9% (32 of 146) – 12th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 81.3% (87 of 107) – 30th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Robby Jackson (15-20-35), Sophomore F Ryan Poehling (8-17-25), Junior F Mikey Eyssimont (14-19-33), Junior F Patrick Newell (5-19-24), Junior D Jimmy Schuldt (7-26-33), Sophomore D Jack Ahcan (2-13-15), Junior D Will Borgen (2-10-12), Freshman G David Hrenak (9-4-1, 1.75 GAA, .935 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 69-33-16, .653)

Pairwise Ranking: 14th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #13/#14

This Season: 14-11-9 (.544) overall, 8-9-5-2 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 21-16-3 (.562) overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.88 goals scored/game – 29th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.41 goals allowed/game – 13th of 60 teams
Power Play: 20.0% (29 of 145) – 21st of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 82.6% (114 of 138) – 20th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Shane Gersich (11-15-26), Junior F Nick Jones (10-12-22), Freshman F Grant Mismash (8-12-20), Senior F Austin Poganski (10-7-17), Junior F Rhett Gardner (6-11-17), Junior D Christian Wolanin (10-19-29), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (7-15-22), Senior G Cam Johnson (9-7-6, 2.15 GAA, .907 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 9, 2017 (St. Cloud, MN). One night after UND grabbed the extra league point with a 2-2 tie and a shootout win, the Huskies scored three goals on six shots in the second period to take a 3-1 home victory. North Dakota outshot SCSU 35-18 in Saturday’s rematch but went scoreless on the power play (0-for-3) while allowing Mikey Eyssimont’s power play tally (his second in one minute of game action) in the middle frame. Huskies netminder David Hrenak made 34 saves.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: March 11, 2017. North Dakota finished off St. Cloud State in a wild contest that featured eleven goals, six lead changes, and an overtime winner by junior forward Trevor Olson. UND sophomore defenseman Christian Wolanin tied the game at 5-5 with just over four minutes remaining to send the game to an extra session. SCSU sophomore blueliner Will Borgen was ineligible to play in the first two games of the playoff series due to his suspension for physically abusing an official in a game against Colorado College. Had the Huskies held on to defeat the Fighting Hawks, Borgen would certainly had an impact in a decisive Game Three.

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, 71-41-13 (.620), including a 35-17-6 (.655) record in games played in Grand Forks. Aside from their 2015 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal victory, 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: UND holds a 6-3-1 (.650) edge in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring the Huskies 29-25 over that stretch of games.

Game News and Notes

St. Cloud State has outscored opponents 54-27 in third periods this season. North Dakota leads the nation in attendance once again this season (11,475/game) and is bidding to lead the NCAA in total attendance for the seventh consecutive year and in average attendance for the fourth consecutive year. SCSU clocks in 16th in the country, with an average of 4307 fans per game.

Media Coverage

Both games will be streamed in high definition on NCHC.tv and available live on Midco Sports Network. Saturday’s rematch will also be shown live on FOX College Sports Central. 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

All North Dakota and St. Cloud State hockey fans are invited and encouraged to attend an informal pre-game social on Saturday, March 3rd beginning at 3:00 p.m. at El Roco (1730 13th Avenue North) in Grand Forks. Guests will enjoy free appetizers, door prizes, a chance to view the Challenge Cup, and a bus to Ralph Engelstad Arena and back. Due to the venue, all those in attendance must be 21 years of age or older. Come and meet fans on both sides of this rivalry – 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, UND has some intangibles in its favor, including playoff positioning, a home ice crowd, a smaller ice surface, and Senior Night on Saturday night. The Fighting Hawks will play with a sense of urgency this weekend, and while a better result is certainly possible, I’m going with a split. UND 3-2, SCSU 4-2.

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 Miami

Over the first four seasons of the NCHC, Miami has averaged a fifth-place finish (8th, 2nd, 5th, 7th), with a combined league record of 34-53-9-7 (.410).

When the National Collegiate Hockey Conference was formed, Miami appeared positioned to be a dominant program. Prior to the 2013-14 season (their inaugural campaign in the NCHC), the RedHawks had made eight consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, with consecutive Frozen Four bids in 2009 and 2010. Since joining the NCHC, Miami has just one NCAA tournament appearance (2015), and that ended quickly with a first-round loss to eventual national champion Providence.

For comparison, North Dakota has finished 2nd, 1st, 1st, and 4th in the first four seasons of the new league.

This season, UND (14-10-8 overall, 8-8-4-2 NCHC) is tied with Duluth for third place in the league standings, two points clear of fifth-place Western Michigan and four points better than Coorado College. Meanwhile, the RedHawks (10-17-3 overall, 5-13-2-0 NCHC) are dead last, seven points behind seventh-place Omaha.

Enrico Blasi’s crew has hit the skids in the second half, losing their last five games and being shut out in the past three. Over the past six weekends, Miami is 2-9-1 against Denver, Omaha, Colorado College, Western Michigan, St. Cloud State, and Duluth. The RedHawks scored 30 goals in those twelve games (2.5 goals scored/game) but allowed 53 (4.42 goals allowed/game). Skewing those numbers somewhat was an 11-7 loss at Omaha on January 12th.

Over the same stretch of games, it’s been up and down for North Dakota. Since January 1st, UND has gone 4-5-3 and scored 37 goals (3.08/game) while allowing 32 (2.67/game) against Omaha (four games), Bemidji State, Duluth, Denver, and Colorado College. One could argue that the Fighting Hawks deserved a better fate in a handful of those ties and losses, but the margin of error is so small for this team.

Out of conference, North Dakota had decent success (6-2-4, .667) against Alaska Anchorage, St. Lawrence, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Union, and Bemidji State. The league as a whole went 47-22-15 (.649) in non-conference play and could easily place five or even six teams in the NCAA tournament field. If the season ended today, St. Cloud State (1st), Denver (t-4th), and Duluth (t-8th) would all easily make the tourney, with North Dakota (13th), Omaha (14th), and Western Michigan (15th) on the bubble. College (23rd) and Miami (28th) are on the outside looking in and probably need to secure the league’s autobid as NCHC Frozen Faceoff champions to advance to the NCAAs.

Fighting Hawks’ freshman forward Grant Mismash has been nearly invisible over the past fourteen games. Mismash started the season with a line of 5-9-14 through his first seventeen games in a UND uniform (including two goals in a 6-2 victory over Colorado College in October) but has been held to two goals and two assists in his past thirteen appearances and was a healthy scratch on January 6th vs. Omaha.

On the injury front, North Dakota finally appears to be getting healthy after losing 74 man-games due to injury, illness, suspension, or the Olympics this season. UND has used a different lineup in 31 of 32 games this season, including 57 different line combinations at forward and eleven different defensive pairings. Expect head coach Brad Berry to keep the line of junior Rhett Gardner centering junior Shane Gerisch and senior Austin Poganski together. In their past five games as linemates, the trio combined for 20 points and four victories.

If UND hopes to make a deep playoff run, Gersich (11-13-24) and Poganski (10-7-17) will need to continue their recent scoring prowess. The two combined for 33 goals and 29 assists during the 2016-17 season but struggled to find open ice in the first half of this year. From October through December, Poganski went 4-2-6 and Gersich added 5-6-11 in twenty games each. In the past twelve games, the two have scored twelve goals and added twelve assists.

It is worthy of note that Poganski has scored one goal and notched four assists in ten career games against the Mavs while Gersich has enjoyed similar success (1-2-3 in seven career games). Rhett Gardner leads all active UND players with six points in seven career games against Miami.

According to KRACH, Omaha has played the third-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks 12th.

UND leads the nation in faceoff efficiency (56.0 percent); Omaha is 21st at 51.2 percent. Of the top fifteen faceoff men in the NCHC (minimum 100 attempts), five wear a Fighting Hawks jersey:

1. Nick Jones (60.5 percent)
3. Collin Adams (59.1 percent)
6. Rhett Gardner (58.3 percent)
9. Johnny Simonson (55.9 percent)
14. Ludvig Hoff (53.6 percent)

Hoff has just returned to the team after representing his native Norway at the 2018 Winter Olympics (Pyeongchang, South Korea). Hoff and Canadian defenseman Chay Genoway became the 28th and 29th UND players to compete in men’s hockey at the Olympic Games.

On the other bench, Miami boasts one centerman among the top fifteen:

7. Casey Gilling (57.5 percent)

Last weekend, North Dakota reached the 1,500-win plateau all-time as a program. UND has more wins over the past eleven seasons (304) than any other program in the country, with Boston College (300) and Denver (286) rounding out the top three.

UND’s senior class of Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson (98-42-18, .677) needs two more victories to become the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games.

The Fighting Hawks have eight ties already this season, one shy of the school record set by the 2000-01 national runner-up squad that went 29-8-9. With only twelve victories and eight regular-season games remaining before the NCHC playoffs, it is possible that UND will finish the 2017-18 campaign with fewer than twenty wins. The last time a North Dakota men’s hockey team fell below that number was in 2001-02, when a Dean Blais-led group went 16-19-2 (.459) and missed the NCAAs.

North Dakota has gone just 7-8-5 (.475) over the last ten weekends of hockey after beginning the year 7-2-3 (.708), and Brad Berry’s squad will need a victory or two this weekend in order to solidify their place in the NCAA tournament.

According to Jim Dahl (collegehockeyranked.com), UND would most likely move to 9th or 10th in the Pairwise rankings (which mimic the tourney selection process) with two wins this weekend, settle in at 12th or 13th split, and drop to 14th or 15th with two losses. Due to autobids and tournament upsets, teams with postseason aspirations hope to be no lower than 12th or 13th after the final games have been played on Saturday, March 17th.

North Dakota has made the tournament for fifteen consecutive seasons (every year since 2001-02), the longest active streak in Division I men’s ice hockey. If Brad Berry can lead the program to its sixteenth-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, North Dakota would be placed in the 2018 West Regional (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) as the host school. The 2018 NCAA Frozen Faceoff will take place at Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minnesota).

Miami Team Profile

Head Coach: Enrico Blasi (19th season at Miami, 385-285-70, .568)

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

This Season: 10-17-3 (.383) overall, 5-13-2-0 NCHC (8th)
Last Season: 9-20-7 (.347) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 5-14-5-3 NCHC (7th)

Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.77 goals scored/game – 37th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 3.43 goals allowed/game – 53rd of 60 teams
Power Play: 24.3% (33 of 136) – 7th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 80.2% (105 of 131) – 38th of 60 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Gordie Green (12-16-28), Junior F Josh Melnick (8-17-25), Junior F Kiefer Sherwood (6-14-20), Freshman F Phil Knies (10-7-17), Senior D Louie Belpedio (9-17-26), Junior D Grant Hutton (10-10-20), Sophomore G Ryan Larkin (10-15-3, 3.12 GAA, .884 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 69-32-15, .659)

Pairwise Ranking: 13th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #12/#12

This Season: 14-10-8 (.563) overall, 8-8-4-2 NCHC (t-3rd)
Last Season: 21-16-3 (.562) overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.91 goals scored/game – 27th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.38 goals allowed/game – 12th of 60 teams
Power Play: 19.9% (27 of 136) – 23rd of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 81.7% (107 of 131) – 27th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Shane Gersich (11-13-24), Junior F Nick Jones (9-12-21), Freshman F Grant Mismash (7-11-18), Senior F Austin Poganski (10-7-17), Junior F Rhett Gardner (6-11-17), Junior D Christian Wolanin (9-17-26), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (7-13-20), Senior G Cam Johnson (9-6-5, 2.08 GAA, .909 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last Meeting: November 11, 2017 (Grand Forks, ND). In a back-and-forth affair, North Dakota spotted the visitors two goals before scoring three straight to take a 3-2 lead with less than four minutes remaining. Miami’s Josh Melnick knotted the game with 84 seconds remaining on the clock to send the game to overtime. After a scoreless five-minute session, it took four rounds of a shootout before UND’s Christian Wolanin blasted one past Ryan Larkin. Fighting Hawks netminder Peter Thome made his fourth consecutive start in place of the injured Cam Johnson. North Dakota won 4-1 on Friday night behind two goals from Nick Jones.

Last Meeting in Oxford: March 4, 2017. After a scoreless first period, North Dakota’s Tucker Poolman led the way in the final forty minutes with two goals and two assists as UND downed Miami 5-2. The Fighting Hawks outshot the RedHawks 27-11 on the night (and 68-27 on the weekend). In Friday’s opener, North Dakota got a rare unassisted shorthanded tally from Trevor Olson with 100 seconds remaining to win 3-2.

Most Important Meeting: March 6, 2015 (Oxford, OH). North Dakota claimed the Penrose Cup with a 2-1 road victory over Miami. UND fell flat the following night, losing 6-3 in the final game of the regular season.

Last Ten: UND has picked up seven wins and a tie in the past ten contests, outscoring Miami 36-27 over that stretch of games. The RedHawks have only hosted four of the past ten meetings between the schools.

All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 13-5-2 (.700), including a 4-2-0 (.667) record in games played in Oxford, Ohio. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).

Game News and Notes

North Dakota is unbeaten (4-0-1) in the past five meetings with Miami. The Fighting Hawks lead the nation in average attendance (11,475 per home game), while the RedHawks are 33rd (2,449 per home game). UND is 5-2-0 in one goal games this season, while Miami is 4-5-0 in those situations.

Media Coverage

Friday’s game will not be televised, but Saturday’s rematch is available on FOX College Sports Pacific. 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

Miami may not win another game this season, as it looks like the RedHawks have packed it in and will take the road to face either Denver or St. Cloud State in the first round of the league playoffs. North Dakota will put it all together this weekend, but Friday’s opener will be a struggle. UND 3-2, 5-1.

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 Omaha

Omaha has gone just 7-11-0-0 in conference play, which currently has them in 7th place in the eight-team NCHC. Despite that sub-par mark, #13 UNO is tied for 9th in the Pairwise Rankings thanks to a 7-2-1 non-conference record (against UMass-Lowell, Arizona State, Notre Dame, Northern Michigan, and Union).

On the plus side, Omaha is scoring 3.61 goals per game, the fourth-highest scoring offense in the country.

On the minus side, Omaha is allowing 3.96 goals per game, the worst scoring defense in the country.

Out of conference, North Dakota had decent success (6-2-4, .667) against Alaska Anchorage, St. Lawrence, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Union, and Bemidji State. The league as a whole went 45-22-13 (.644) in non-conference play and could easily place five or even six teams in the NCAA tournament field. If the season ended today, St. Cloud State (1st), Denver (4th), Omaha (10th), Duluth (11th), and North Dakota (13th) would all make the tourney, with only Colorado College (24th) and Miami (27th) on the outside looking in.

Fighting Hawks’ freshman forward Grant Mismash has been nearly invisible over the past twelve games. Mismash started the season with a line of 5-9-14 through his first seventeen games in a UND uniform (including two goals in a 6-2 victory over Colorado College in October) but has been held to two goal and two assists in his past eleven appearances and was a healthy scratch on January 6th vs. Omaha.

Omaha has been dealing with the loss of junior forward Mason Morelli (4-10-14 in 16 games). According to the Omaha World-Herald, Morelli tore his ACL in a freak accident over the winter break and is lost for the season.

On the injury front, North Dakota finally appears to be getting healthy after losing 67 man-games due to injury, illness, or suspension this season. UND has used a different lineup in every game this year, including 55 different line combinations at forward and ten different defensive pairings. Expect head coach Brad Berry to keep the line of junior Rhett Gardner centering junior Shane Gerisch and senior Austin Poganski together. In their past three games as linemates, the trio combined for 17 points and three victories.

If UND hopes to make a deep playoff run, Gersich (9-13-22) and Poganski (10-7-17) will need to continue their recent scoring prowess. The two combined for 33 goals and 29 assists during the 2016-17 season but struggled to find open ice in the first half of this year. From October through December, Poganski went 4-2-6 and Gersich added 5-6-11 in twenty games each. In the past ten games, the two have scored ten goals and added twelve assists.

It is worthy of note that Poganski has scored two goals and notched eight assists in fourteen career games against the Mavs while Gersich has enjoyed similar success (2-5-7 in nine career games).

According to KRACH, Omaha has played the second-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks 13th.

UND leads the nation in faceoff efficiency (56.2 percent); Omaha is 24th at 50.8 percent. Of the top fifteen faceoff men in the NCHC (minimum 100 attempts), five wear a Fighting Hawks jersey:

1. Nick Jones (60.2 percent)
3. Collin Adams (58.6 percent)
5. Rhett Gardner (58.3 percent)
9. Johnny Simonson (56.6 percent)
15. Ludvig Hoff (53.6 percent)

Hoff is currently representing his native Norway at the 2018 Winter Olympics (Pyeongchang, South Korea).

On the other bench, Omaha boasts two centermen among the top fifteen:

10. Luke Nogard (55.6 percent)
14. Teemu Pulkkinen (54.1 percent)

North Dakota enters this weekend’s series needing just one more win to reach the 1,500-win plateau all-time as a program. UND has more wins over the past eleven seasons (303) than any other program in the country, with Boston College (298) and Denver (285) rounding out the top three.

UND’s senior class of Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson (97-41-18, .679) needs three more victories to become the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games.

The Fighting Hawks have eight ties already this season, one shy of the school record set by the 2000-01 national runner-up squad that went 29-8-9. With only twelve victories and eight regular-season games remaining before the NCHC playoffs, it is possible that UND will finish the 2017-18 campaign with fewer than twenty wins. The last time a North Dakota men’s hockey team fell below that number was in 2001-02, when a Dean Blais-led group went 16-19-2 (.459) and missed the NCAAs.

North Dakota has gone just 6-7-5 (.472) over the last nine weekends of hockey after beginning the year 7-2-3 (.708), and Brad Berry’s squad will need a victory or two this weekend in order to solidify their place in the NCAA tournament.

According to Jim Dahl (collegehockeyranked.com), UND would most likely stay at 8th in the Pairwise rankings (which mimic the tourney selection process) with two wins this weekend, drop to 10th with a split, and drop to 14th with two losses. Due to autobids and tournament upsets, teams with postseason aspirations hope to be no lower than 12th or 13th after the final games have been played on Saturday, March 17th.

North Dakota has made the tournament for fifteen consecutive seasons (every year since 2001-02), the longest active streak in Division I men’s ice hockey. If Brad Berry can lead the program to its sixteenth-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, North Dakota would be placed in the 2018 West Regional (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) as the host school. The 2018 NCAA Frozen Faceoff will take place at Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minnesota).

Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (1st season at UNO, 14-13-1, .518)

Pairwise Ranking: t-9th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #13/#13

This Season: 14-13-1 (.518) overall, 7-11-0-0 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 16-16-5 (.500) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 9-13-2-0 NCHC (6th)

Team Offense: 3.61 goals scored/game – 4th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 3.96 goals allowed/game – 60th of 60 teams
Power Play: 27.0% (34 of 126) – 2nd of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 77.7% (101 of 130) – 51st of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F David Pope (19-19-38), Senior F Tyler Vesel (10-16-26), Sophomore F Zach Jordan (13-9-22), Senior F Jake Randolph (5-17-22), Junior F Fredrik Olofsson (6-14-20), Senior D Joel Messner (5-15-20), Sophomore D Ryan Jones (1-8-9), Junior G Evan Weninger (12-10-0, 3.65 GAA, .888 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 68-31-15, .662)

Pairwise Ranking: 13th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #9/#10

This Season: 13-9-8 (.567) overall, 7-7-4-2 NCHC (t-3rd)
Last Season: 21-16-3 (.562) overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.90 goals scored/game – 33rd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.33 goals allowed/game – 10th of 60 teams
Power Play: 19.5% (25 of 128) – 24th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 82.9% (102 of 123) – 19th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Shane Gersich (9-13-22), Junior F Nick Jones (9-12-21), Freshman F Grant Mismash (7-11-18), Senior F Austin Poganski (10-7-17), Junior F Rhett Gardner (5-11-16), Junior D Christian Wolanin (9-16-25), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (7-10-17), Freshman G Peter Thome (5-3-3, 2.15 GAA, .917 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: January 6, 2018 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after Evan Weninger made 34 saves in a 4-1 road victory, the Fighting Hawks exploded for seven goals and freshman netminder Peter Thome stopped all fifteen shots he faced. In the second period alone, North Dakota scored three goals and outshot the Mavericks 19-1 (32-15 for the game). UND senior forward Austin Poganski had a three-point night with an assist on junior Rhett Gardner’s first-period goal and two third-period tallies of his own, while Gardner added two assists to match Poganski in the scoring column.

Last Meeting in Omaha: January 7, 2017. North Dakota got to UNO netminder Evan Weninger early and often in cruising to a 7-3 victory and the weekend sweep (UND crushed the Mavericks 9-1 in Friday’s opener). Tyson Jost collected four points on the weekend after his emotional return from the World Juniors. Specialty teams were huge for the visitors, as the Fighting Hawks scored six power play goals and a shorthanded goal on the weekend while allowing Omaha just one goal with the man advantage in the two-game series.

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 46-23 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 16-9-1 (.635), including an impressive 9-3-0 (.750) record in games played in Omaha.

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. Fighting Hawks juniors Joel Janatuinen and Christian Wolanin will both appear in their 100th career NCAA contest on Friday night in Omaha. The Mavs are 10-3-1 at home this season and 4-10-0 on the road. North Dakota is 8-4-5 at home and 5-5-3 on the road.

Media Coverage

Friday’s opener (6:38 p.m. CT) will be telecast nationally on CBS Sports Network, with Saturday’s rematch (7:07 p.m. CT) available on YurView. Saturday’s game will also be streamed live in high definition via 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.

The Prediction

After this weekend, North Dakota travels to Miami (10-15-3 overall, 5-11-2-1 NCHC) before hosting St. Cloud State (19-6-3 overall, 13-4-1-0 NCHC) on the last weekend of the regular season. According to collegehockeyranked.com, three victories in the last six games should keep North Dakota on the correct side of the playoff bubble. Assuredly, it will be easier to pick up wins against Omaha and Miami on the road than it will be to accomplish the same feat at home against SCSU. A split is the minimum from this weekend’s games, and that’s the result. The Mavericks are much stronger in series openers (10-4-0) than finales (4-9-1), so I’ll go with that. UNO 4-2, UND 5-1.

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 vs. Colorado College

After winning just twenty total games over his first three seasons behind the CC bench, head coach Mike Haviland has already won eleven games during the 2017-18 campaign and has his Tigers just four points out of a home-ice playoff spot ahead of this weekend’s league series against North Dakota.

Colorado College (11-11-4 overall, 5-8-3-2 NCHC) has struggled in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, winning just sixteen conference games combined over the first four seasons of the league’s existence. Of the eight teams in the conference, the Tiger have finished last in each of the past three campaigns after a seventh place finish in 2013-14.

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 is averaging 3.04 goals per contest this year after averaging just a shade over two goals per game (215 goals in 107 games) over the past three seasons.

This season, a trio of Tiger forwards (Mason Bergh, Trey Bradley, and Nick Halloran) are leading the way offensively, scoring almost half (45.4 percent) of their team’s points. Halloran (16-23-39 in 26 games played) won NCHC Player of the Month honors in both December and January and is tied for the nation’s scoring lead on a points/game basis (both he and Northeastern junior forward Adam Gaudette [20-22-42 in 28 gp] are averaging 1.50 points per game). UND expects Mike Haviland to keep those three forwards together, and with the last line change, Brad Berry will most likely match with his top defensive pair (Colton Poolman and Christian Wolanin) and either the Rhett Gardner line or the Dixon Bowen line. Gardner is returning to the Fighting Hawks lineup after missing the past five games due to injury. UND did not win a game during Gardner’s absence (0-2-3).

The future is also looking up for Colorado College, as Mike Haviland does not have a senior on his roster this season. Former Wisconsin commit Grant Cruikshank and former Denver commit Erik Middendorf committed to CC this week, and former UND forward Chris Wilkie will be eligible to play next season (he’ll be a junior) after transferring back in May and sitting out this year under NCAA transfer rules.

Fighting Hawks’ freshman forward Grant Mismash has been invisible over the past ten games. Mismash started the season with a line of 5-9-14 through his first seventeen games in a UND uniform (including two goals in a 6-2 victory over Colorado College in October) but has been held to one goal and one assist in his past nine appearances and was a healthy scratch on January 6th vs. Omaha.

If UND hopes to make a deep playoff run, junior forward Shane Gersich (8-12-20) and senior forward Austin Poganski (9-5-14) will need to continue their recent scoring prowess. The two combined for 33 goals and 29 assists last year but struggled to find open ice in the first half of the season. From October through December, Poganski went 4-2-6 and Gersich added 5-6-11 in twenty games each. In the past eight games, the two have scored eight goals and added nine assists.

It is worthy of note that Poganski has scored three goals and notched seven assists in fifteen career games against the Tigers while Gersich has enjoyed similar success (5-2-7 in ten career games).

According to KRACH, Colorado College has played the 17th-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks 13th. The Fighting Hawks lead the country in faceoff percentage at 56.2 percent. CC clocks in at 44.4 percent (worst in the nation).

Of the top fifteen faceoff men in the NCHC (minimum 100 attempts), five wear a Fighting Hawks jersey:

1. Nick Jones (60.2 percent)
7. Johnny Simonson (57.2 percent)
8. Rhett Gardner (56.9 percent)
9. Collin Adams (56.6 percent)
15. Ludvig Hoff (53.6 percent)

With Hoff representing his native Norway at the 2018 Winter Olympics (Pyeongchang, South Korea) and Jones out with an injury, Brad Berry will rely heavily on the trio of Simonson, Gardner, and Adams in the faceoff circle. Gardner and Jones were both out of the lineup during UND’s last series against Denver, which left Simonson (20-18, .526), Adams (14-11, .560), and Hoff (18-13, .581) to do the heavy lifting at the drop of the puck.

North Dakota enters this weekend’s series needing just two more wins to reach the 1,500-win plateau all-time as a program. UND has more wins over the past eleven seasons (302) than any other program in the country (Boston College [297] and Denver [285] round out the top three).

UND’s senior class of Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson (96-40-18, .682) needs four more victories to become the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games.

The Fighting Hawks have eight ties already this season, one shy of the school record set by the 2000-01 national runner-up squad that went 29-8-9. With only twelve victories and eight regular-season games remaining before the NCHC playoffs, it is possible that UND will finish the 2017-18 campaign with fewer than twenty wins. The last time a North Dakota men’s hockey team fell below that number was in 2001-02, when a Dean Blais-led group went 16-19-2 (.459) and missed the NCAAs.

North Dakota has gone just 5-6-5 (.469) over the last eight weekends of hockey after beginning the year 7-2-3 (.708), and Brad Berry’s squad will need two victories this weekend in order to solidify their place in the NCAA tournament.

According to Jim Dahl (collegehockeyranked.com), UND would most likely stay at 8th in the Pairwise rankings (which mimic the tourney selection process) with two wins this weekend, drop to 12th with a split, and drop to 15th with two losses. Due to autobids and tournament upsets, teams with postseason aspirations hope to be no lower than 12th or 13th after the final games have been played on Saturday, March 17th.

North Dakota has made the tournament for fifteen consecutive seasons (every year since 2001-02), the longest active streak in Division I men’s ice hockey.

Colorado College Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Haviland (4th season at CC, 31-90-13, .280)

Pairwise Ranking: 24th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 11-11-4 overall (.500), 5-8-3-2 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 8-24-4 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 4-16-4-1 NCHC (8th of 8 teams)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.04 goals scored/game – 24th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 3.27 goals allowed/game – 49th of 60 teams
Power Play: 18.4% (26 of 141) – 30th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 73.0% (81 of 111) – 60th of 60 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Nick Halloran (16-23-39), Junior F Mason Bergh (15-19-34), Junior F Trey Bradley (5-20-25), Junior F Westin Michaud (9-10-19), Junior F Trevor Gooch (10-6-16), Sophomore D Kristian Blumenschein (2-11-13), Junior D Ben Israel (1-8-9), Junior D Andrew Farny (1-7-8), Sophomore G Alex Leclerc (11-9-4, 3.18 GAA, .903 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 67-30-15, .665)

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

This Season: 12-8-8 (.571) overall, 6-6-4-2 NCHC (t-4th)
Last Season: 21-16-3 (.562) overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.86 goals scored/game – 32nd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.32 goals allowed/game – 10th of 60 teams
Power Play: 20.0% (23 of 115) – 23rd of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 81.6% (93 of 114) – 29th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Nick Jones (9-12-21), Junior F Shane Gersich (8-12-20), Freshman F Grant Mismash (6-10-16), Senior F Austin Poganski (9-5-14), Junior F Rhett Gardner (5-10-15 in 23 gp), Junior D Christian Wolanin (8-14-22), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (6-10-16), Senior G Cam Johnson (8-6-5, 2.14 GAA, .906 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: October 28, 2017 (Colorado Springs, CO). 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.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: March 12, 2016. Mike Haviland chose to start a clearly-injured Jacob Nehama in net, and it did not go well for the Tigers. Nehama allowed four goals on fourteen shots in the first period before giving way to Derek Shatzer. Nick Schmaltz had three goals and three assists in the weekend sweep for UND, which won the first playoff game by a final score of 7-1. The Fighting Hawks went 5-0-1 against Colorado College during their most recent national championship season, outscoring the Tigers 29-10 in the six meetings.

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, 156-82-11 (.649), including a sparkling 100-21-7 (.809) record in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: North Dakota has seven wins and a tie in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring CC 41-21 over that span. UND had gone unbeaten in 14 straight (13-0-1) against the Tigers until the two most recent series in Colorado Springs (January 2017 and October 2017) 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 7-3-5 (.633) at home this season; the Tigers are 4-7-1 (.375) on the road. Colorado College 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, with Saturday’s rematch also available on FOX College Sports Central. 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

North Dakota has several advantages in this series: more size, more depth, and all of the home ice perks – last line change, a partisan crowd, and a narrower sheet of ice. Colorado College won’t make things easy, but the Fighting Hawks will earn their first sweep in over two months. UND 4-2, 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. Denver

When these two teams met in Denver back in mid-November, North Dakota earned a hard-fought road split and could make the case that they deserved a better fate than their 4-1 loss on Saturday night. UND was done in by a potent Pios power play that went 5-for-12 on the weekend against a Fighting Hawks’ penalty kill unit ranked #2 in the country at the time (95.8 percent).

Beginning with that series, UND has killed less than 70 percent of opponent man-advantage situations, a number that tabs the unit as the second-worst set of penalty killers in the country over that stretch of games. Injuries to key penalty killers Dixon Bowen and Rhett Gardner have played a role, and the quality of competition has certainly been a factor as well. Here is a look at the power play proficiency of each of UND’s last seven opponents (total power play goals and opportunities for each weekend’s series):

Denver: 5-for-12
Union: 1-for-7
Western Michigan: 2-for-10
St. Cloud State: 1-for-8
Omaha: 2-for-6
Bemidji State: 1-for-5
Minnesota-Duluth: 6-for-11

North Dakota went just 5-6-3 (.464) over that stretch of games after beginning the year 7-2-3 (.708), and special teams will definitely need to improve if Brad Berry hopes to move his squad off of the Pairwise bubble (UND is currently 12th in the rankings which mimic the NCAA tournament selection process). North Dakota has made the tournament for fifteen consecutive seasons (every year since 2001-02), the longest active streak in Division I men’s ice hockey.

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries. The teams have played sixteen times during the first three 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 last season’s 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.)

And now, on to the games this weekend…

It will not be easy to win the special teams battle against Denver (and to be fair, it will not be easy to win against Denver). The Pioneers lead the nation in special teams net with a +20. DU has already scored thirty power play goals this season while allowing only twelve. Jim Montgomery’s crew has also scored two shorthanded goals and allowed none. By comparison, North Dakota’s special teams net is even, having scored 21 power play goals while allowing 20 and giving up a shorthanded tally.

Making matters worse, UND could be without the services of three key players who spend time on the power play and the penalty kill. North Dakota’s top two centermen (juniors Rhett Gardner and Nick Jones) and freshman defenseman Gabe Bast are all questionable for this weekend’s series. Junior blueliner Christian Wolanin, Gardner, Jones, and Bast are the top four power play point producers for the Fighting Hawks. Gardner and Jones are also key penalty killers who would also be regularly called upon to shut down the opponent’s top two forward lines. Injury issues have become the norm for this year’s version of North Dakota hockey, with head coach Brad Berry utilizing a different lineup in each of UND’s 26 games to this point. The Fighting Hawks have missed 55 man-games due to injury or illness this season.

Denver’s super sophomore Henrik Borgström (16-19-35 in 23 games played) leads the NCHC in points and goals and trails only Northeastern junior forward Adam Gaudette (17-19-36 in 24 gp) in the national scoring race. The Pioneers also feature two other players among the top twenty scorers in the country: junior forward Dylan Gambrell (9-21-30 in 24 gp) is tied for 11th with Colorado College junior forward Mason Bergh (12-18-30 in 24 gp), and junior forward Troy Terry (10-19-29 in 24 gp) is tied for 16th.

By comparison, North Dakota’s top two point getters are Nick Jones (9-12-21) and Christian Wolanin (7-14-21). Those point totals put the pair in a tie for 75th-most in the nation.

Fighting Hawks’ freshman forward Grant Mismash has been invisible over the past eight games. Mismash started the season with a line of 5-9-14 through his first seventeen games in a UND uniform but has been held to one goal (and zero assists) in his past seven appearances and was a healthy scratch on January 6th vs. Omaha.

If UND hopes to make a deep playoff run, junior forward Shane Gersich (7-10-17) and senior forward Austin Poganski (9-5-14) will need to continue their recent scoring prowess. The two combined for 33 goals and 29 assists last year but struggled to find open ice in the first half of the season. From October through December, Poganski went 4-2-6 and Gersich added 5-6-11 in twenty games each. In the past six games, the two have scored seven goals and added seven assists.

According to KRACH, Denver has played the seventh-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks 13th. The Fighting Hawks lead the country in faceoff percentage at 56.5 percent. Denver clocks in at 51.4 percent (18th).

North Dakota enters this weekend’s series needing just two more wins to reach the 1,500-win plateau all-time as a program. UND has more wins over the past eleven seasons (302) than any other program in the country (Boston College [295] and Denver [283] round out the top three).

UND’s senior class of Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson (96-40-16, .684) needs four more victories to become the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games.

Friday’s opener has been designated as a “Green Out” game for North Dakota. UND will be wearing its road green jerseys, and fans are asked to follow suit and wear Kelly green to the game in order to “Green Out the Ralph”.

Denver Team Profile

Head Coach: Jim Montgomery (5th season at DU, 116-53-22, .665)

Pairwise Ranking: t-4th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #4/#5

This Season: 14-6-4 (.667) overall, 8-4-2-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 33-7-4 overall (NCAA Champions), 18-3-3-2 NCHC (1st)

Team Offense: 3.62 goals scored/game – 5th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.21 goals allowed/game – 7th of 60 teams
Power Play: 26.1% (30 of 115) – 5th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 84.8% (67 of 79) – 10th of 60 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Henrik Borgström (16-19-35), Junior F Troy Terry (10-19-29), Junior F Dylan Gambrell (9-21-30), Junior F Jarid Lukosevicius (12-8-20), Freshman D Ian Mitchell (2-18-20), Junior D Blake Hillman (2-6-8), Senior G Tanner Jaillet (13-5-4, 2.00 GAA, .926 SV%, 4 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 67-30-13, .668)

Pairwise Ranking: 12th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #11/#7

This Season: 12-8-6 (.577) overall, 6-6-2-2 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 21-16-3 (.562) overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.92 goals scored/game – 31st of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.35 goals allowed/game – 10th of 60 teams
Power Play: 19.3% (21 of 109) – 30th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 81.3% (87 of 107) – 27th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Nick Jones (9-12-21), Junior F Shane Gersich (7-10-17), Freshman F Grant Mismash (6-9-15), Senior F Austin Poganski (9-5-14), Junior D Christian Wolanin (7-14-21), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (6-10-16), Senior G Cam Johnson (8-6-3, 2.17 GAA, .906 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: November 18, 2017 (Denver, CO). 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 and enjoyed just 33 seconds of power play time on the night.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: November 12, 2016. Rookie Henrik Borgstrom’s even-strength marker broke a 2-2 tie less than seven minutes into the second period and held up as the game-winner in a 3-2 Denver victory. Borgstrom’s goal came less than a minute after Shane Gersich scored his second of the game to bring UND even with the Pioneers. In Friday’s opener, the two teams skated to a 1-1 tie, with Borgstrom potting the equalizer with just over five minutes remaining in regulation. North Dakota’s Shane Gersich scored a highlight reel goal during the 3-on-3 overtime session to earn an extra league point for the Fighting Hawks.

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: The teams have split the last ten games with four victories each and two ties. In those ten meetings, Denver has a slight 25-24 edge in combined score.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 145-124-12 (.537), including a sparkling 84-43-8 (.652) record in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1950, with North Dakota prevailing 18-3 in Denver.

Game News and Notes

UND senior forward Austin Poganski has five goals and three assists in sixteen career games against the Pioneers. Denver (16) and North Dakota (15) have more consecutive seasons with twenty or more victories than any other Division I men’s hockey team in the country (Boston College is third with eight straight twenty-win seasons; Quinnipiac has accomplished the feat six consecutive times). Denver is 9-0-1 this season when leading after two periods of play but just 4-5-0 in one-goal games. By comparison, UND is 10-0-2 this season when leading after two periods of play and 5-2-0 in one-goal games. 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 opener will be telecast live on CBS Sports Network, with Saturday’s rematch available on Midco Sports Network and FOX College Sports Central. A high-definition webcast of Saturday’s game 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 is 7-3-3 at home this season (5-5-3 on the road), and that might be just what Brad Berry’s crew needs to earn a split against one of the top teams in the country. I see the Pios handling the home team in the opener, with the Fighting Hawks righting the ship to earn a close victory in the rematch. DU 4-1, 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 Minnesota-Duluth

Two seasons ago, North Dakota won all four of the regular season meetings between the two teams, outscoring the Bulldogs 10-2 in the process.

UMD turned the tables at the 2016 NCHC Frozen Faceoff, defeating the Fighting Hawks 4-2 in the semifinals before falling to St. Cloud State in the championship game.

That Duluth victory was the first of six consecutive wins over UND for Scott Sandelin’s crew. That losing streak for North Dakota is the longest against one team since Wisconsin won nine in a row from 1987-89.

In 2016-17, the Bulldogs outscored North Dakota 17-5 in a four-game regular season sweep before running over UND 4-3 in the title contest at the 2017 Frozen Faceoff. Duluth rode that momentum all the way to the national title game, falling 3-2 to conference foe Denver.

Coming into last season, goaltending was a question mark for the Bulldogs. Kasimir Kaskisuo (19-15-5, 1.92 goals-against average, .923 save percentage, and five shutouts in 39 appearances during the 2015-16 campaign) gave up his final two seasons of eligibility to sign with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Kaskisuo won 37 games for UMD in his brief college career. Freshman Hunter Miska was everything Scott Sandelin could have asked for and then some during the Bulldogs’ run to the 2017 NCAA title game, taking control of the crease in his 39 games played (27-5-5, 2.20 GAA, .920 SV%, 5 SO).

And then Miska left campus to sign with the Arizona Coyotes.

Left to patrol the goal crease is sophomore Hunter Shepard, who has taken the reins for the Bulldogs after appearing in two games last year (0-2-0, 2.58 GAA, .922 vs. Notre Dame and at Western Michigan)

Junior netminder Nick Deery is also on the roster, having appeared in three games last season (1-0-2, 1.54 GAA, .934 SV%).

The Bulldogs have also had to do without five defensemen who were a part of last year’s Frozen Four run. Brenden Kotyk, Dan Molenaar, Willie Raskob, and Carson Soucy graduated, and Neal Pionk gave up his final two seasons of eligibility to turn pro early. In the first half, those losses showed up more on the penalty kill (77.3 percent, 52nd of 60 teams) than in other situations (Duluth has allowed only 2.61 goals/game, good for 16th-best in the country).

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.

UMD’s roster also contains six sophomores, four juniors, and six seniors.

UND’s roster consists of seven freshman, seven sophomores, seven juniors, and four seniors

According to KRACH, Minnesota-Duluth has played the seventh-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks 13th.

The Fighting Hawks lead the country in faceoff percentage at 56.2 percent. Minnesota-Duluth clocks in at 50.8 percent (22nd). During last season’s NCHC championship game, the teams squared off in the faceoff circle eighty times, with UND winning fifty draws.

North Dakota enters this weekend’s series needing just two more wins to reach the 1,500-win plateau all-time as a program. UND has more wins over the past eleven seasons (302) than any other program in the country (Boston College and Denver are tied for second place with 294 victories over that stretch).

UND’s senior class of Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson (96-38-16, .693) needs four more victories to become the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games.

On the injury front, Trevor Olson (Duluth, Minnesota) is expected to return to the lineup along with teammate Andrew Peski after both missed last Satuday night’s game against Bemidji State. This weekend will be Olson’s last time on his hometown ice as a collegiate player. The former Duluth East star was North Dakota’s best player down the stretch last year, scoring twelve points in March and scoring the game-tying 5×3 goal against UMD with under three minutes to play in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff Championship (Duluth’s Joey Anderson won the game with a 5×3 goal of his own with 51 ticks on the clock).

Junior Rhett Gardner, the Hawks’ #1 centerman, is expected to miss this weekend’s series against the Bulldogs. Freshman goaltender Peter Thome is unavailable due to an undisclosed injury, so junior netminder Ryan “Bob” Anderson will dress and back up senior Cam Johnson.

Due to the unbalanced schedule in the NCHC, the two teams will not meet again during the 2017-18 regular season.

Minnesota-Duluth Team Profile

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (18th season at UMD, 326-293-85, .523)

Pairwise Ranking: t-14th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #14/#13

This Season: 11-9-3 (.543) overall, 5-7-0-0 NCHC (t-5th)
Last Season: 28-7-7 (.750) overall (NCAA runner-up), 15-5-4-3 NCHC (2nd)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.00 goals scored/game – 22nd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.61 goals allowed/game – 16th of 60 teams
Power Play: 22.2% (20 of 90) – 13th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 77.3% (75 of 97) – 52nd of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Peter Krieger (7-12-19), Sophomore F Riley Tufte (10-5-15), Senior F Jared Thomas (5-9-14), Junior F Parker Mackay (5-7-12), Freshman D Scott Perunovich (4-15-19), Freshman D Mikey Anderson (3-9-12), Sophomore G Hunter Shepard (11-7-1, 2.42 GAA, .909 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 67-28-13, .681)

Pairwise Ranking: 10th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #7/#7

This Season: 11-6-5 (.614) overall, 6-4-2-2 NCHC (t-1st)
Last Season: 21-16-3 (.562) overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.96 goals scored/game – 28th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.12 goals allowed/game – 4th of 60 teams
Power Play: 20.4% (20 of 98) – 21st of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 85.4% (82 of 96) – 9th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Nick Jones (9-10-19), Junior F Shane Gersich (6-10-16), Freshman F Grant Mismash (5-9-14), Senior F Austin Poganski (8-4-12), Junior D Christian Wolanin (7-12-19), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (5-9-14), Senior G Cam Johnson (8-4-3, 1.92 GAA, .914 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 18, 2017 (Minneapolis, MN). In a wild NCHC title match, the two teams combined for 57 penalty minutes and five power play goals (including three during 5×3 situations). UND netminder Cam Johnson allowed four goals on 23 shots, while Duluth’s Hunter Miska allowed three goals on 35 shots. The Bulldogs scored three second-period goals in a span of 58 seconds.

Last Meeting in Duluth: October 29, 2016 (Duluth, MN). The Bulldogs scored three times in the second period – once on the power play and twice while shorthanded – and got a thirty save shutout from Hunter Miska in a 3-0 victory over #1 North Dakota. Duluth, which defeated the Fighting Hawks 5-2 in the opener, secured the home sweep by killing all seven UND power plays.

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, 144-83-9 (.629), including an 59-41-5 (.586) mark in games played in Duluth. 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 6-4-0 (.600) in the last ten games between the teams, outscoring the Hawks 27-20 over that stretch. North Dakota’s Cam Johnson was the goalie of record in each of those ten games. Duluth has won the last six meetings between these two storied programs.

Game News and Notes

Duluth sophomore forward Jade Miller (Minto, ND) is the only North Dakotan on the Bulldog roster (17 from Minnesota, two each from Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan, and one each from Ohio and Wisconsin). Junior 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 shown live on CBS Sports Network, with Saturday’s rematch available on My9. Saturday’s game will also be 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
Both of these rosters are barely recognizable from the teams that have squared off over the past two seasons. There are quite a few new faces who will have to produce in key spots this weekend. I give the Fighting Hawks the slight experience edge over the Bulldogs, but it won’t be enough to earn more than a split on the road. North Dakota will snap its losing skid on Friday night, with Duluth coming back strong in Saturday’s rematch. UND 3-2, UMD 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 vs. Bemidji State

Bemidji State won the WCHA last season with a stellar 20-6-2 conference record. The Beavers also won both of their shootouts to best second-place Michigan Tech by a whopping ten points in the league standings. Despite all of that, BSU failed to advance to the NCAA tournament. And the reason is simple:

Tom Serratore’s squad won just twice in thirteen non-conference games (2-10-1).

Included in those ten losses were a pair of one-goal defeats (2-3, 4-5) at #1-ranked North Dakota in October 2016. BSU also tied and lost (1-1, 1-2) in a home-and-home series versus #1 Duluth two months later and suffered a one-goal loss against unranked St. Cloud State in the opening round of the North Star College Cup in January 2017.

In the WCHA playoffs, top-seeded Bemidji State dispatched Northern Michigan in three games in the opening round, earning home ice for the semifinal series against Bowling Green, who swept the hosts and knocked the Beavers out of the NCAA tournament picture.

This season, BSU has already won three non-conference games (3-2-1), including a 5-2 victory over #5-ranked Duluth in the season opener. Bemidji State skated to a 0-0 tie at Duluth the following night.

BSU has won six straight after tying three consecutive games, giving them a nine-game unbeaten streak. Granted, the competition has been suspect:

Dates – Team (Pairwise ranking): Friday score, Saturday score
December 1-2 – Bowling Green (17th): 1-3, 3-3
December 8-9 – Northern Michigan (28th): 1-1, 4-4
December 15-16 – Alaska Anchorage (60th): 5-1, 4-0
December 29-30 – Alabama Huntsville (53rd): 3-1, 4-1
January 5-6 – Lake Superior (58th): 3-0, 6-3

For North Dakota, three things are key:

#1: Scoring two goals is the recipe for success. UND has not been shut out this season but has scored exactly one goal on seven occasions (at Anchorage, vs. Minnesota, at Colorado College, at Denver, vs. Union, at St. Cloud State, and vs. Omaha. The Fighting Hawks went 0-6-1 in those games (compared to 11-0-4 when scoring two or more). Five of those offensive power outages occurred on Friday nights, and it is clear that Brad Berry’s squad has been more potent offensively in the second game of each weekend series this season.

Friday nights (5-4-2): 25 goals scored (2.27 goals scored/game)
Saturday nights (6-2-3): 39 goals scored (3.55 goals scored/game)

#2: On the injury front, North Dakota finally appears to be healthy after losing 46 man-games due to injury or illness in the first half. UND used a different lineup in each of their first twenty games, including 39 different line combinations at forward and ten different defensive pairings. Having some depth at forward will allow Brad Berry greater flexibility from game to game and lead to more competition for ice time.

#3: UND has two goaltenders who are more than capable of carrying the team. After senior Cam Johnson struggled in Friday’s home opener against Omaha (four goals allowed on 21 shots), freshman Peter Thome stopped all fifteen shots he faced in Saturday’s 7-0 rout. I would expect both netminders to see the ice in this weekend’s home-and-home series, with the slight edge to Johnson on Friday night, given his experience playing on the road.

Two players to watch for Bemidji State:

Senior goaltender Michael Bitzer, who was a finalist for the Mike Richter Award as the country’s top goalie a year ago, came back for his senior season. He started the year by going 5-5-4 with a .901 save percentage and a 2.59 goals-against average. Since December 9th, however, Bitzer is 6-0-1 with a .934 save percentage and a 1.41 goals-against average and two shutouts (one caveat: the strength of competition over that stretch has been detailed above).

Sophomore defenseman Zach Whitecloud (3-9-12) has been generating quite a bit of NHL interest. As an undrafted player, he may decide to head to the pro ranks after this season while the iron is still hot. When the 6-foot-2, 203-pound Whitecloud was in Europe playing for Team Canada in November, the Beavers allowed thirteen goals in a pair of home losses against #10 Minnesota State (the two WCHA rivals will meet again on February 23rd and 24th).

Out of conference, North Dakota had decent success (5-2-3, .650) against Alaska Anchorage, St. Lawrence, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Union but would like to notch two wins in its final non-conference series of the season. Against the other five leagues the NCHC is a sparkling 46-20-14 (.662) and could easily place five or even six teams in the NCAA tournament field.

The WCHA inter-conference record is 17-34-6 (.351), including a 3-14-4 (.238) record against the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Despite identical 11-6-5 records, Bemidji State has played the 56th most difficult schedule (according to KRACH) while North Dakota’s slate of games ranks as the 8th toughest in the country.

To see what these non-conference records mean in real terms, all eight NCHC squads (SCSU 1st, DU 6th, UND 8th, WMU 10th, UNO t-13th, UMD 15th, Miami 16th, and CC 21st) rank above Bemidji State (25th) in the Pairwise. If the season ended today, only Minnesota State (7th) would make the NCAA tournament out of the WCHA (Bowling Green is currently 17th).

If Brad Berry can lead the program to its sixteenth-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, North Dakota would be placed in the 2018 West Regional (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) as the host school. The 2018 NCAA Frozen Faceoff will take place at Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minnesota).

Bemidji State Team Profile

Head Coach: Tom Serratore (17th season at BSU, 277-262-75 .512)

Pairwise Ranking: 25th of 60 teams
National Ranking: NR/NR

This Season: 11-6-5 (.614) overall, 8-4-4-2 WCHA (4th)
Last Season: 22-16-3 (.573) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 20-6-2-2 WCHA (1st)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.14 goals scored/game – 18th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.41 goals allowed/game – 13th of 60 teams
Power Play: 23.8% (20 of 84) – 10th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 90.3% (65 of 72) – 2nd of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Kyle Bauman (8-16-24), Senior F Gerry Fitzgerald (6-17-23), Junior F Jay Dickman (11-6-17), Sophomore F Adam Brady (6-10-16), Sophomore D Zach Whitecloud (3-9-12), Junior D Justin Baudry (5-6-11), Senior G Michael Bitzer (11-5-5, 2.19 GAA, .911 SV%, 4 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 66-28-12, .679)

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

This Season: 11-6-5 (.614) overall, 6-4-2-2 NCHC (t-1st)
Last Season: 21-16-3 (.562) overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.91 goals scored/game – 29th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.18 goals allowed/game – 6th of 60 teams
Power Play: 19.8% (18 of 91) – 25th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 85.7% (78 of 91) – 11th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Nick Jones (6-9-15), Freshman F Grant Mismash (5-9-14), Junior F Shane Gersich (6-8-14), Junior F Rhett Gardner (5-9-14), Junior D Christian Wolanin (6-12-18 and a wicked slap shot for a shootout goal), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (5-8-13), Senior G Cam Johnson (7-4-2, 2.00 GAA, .909 SV%, 1 SO), Freshman G Peter Thome (4-2-3, 2.28 GAA, .913 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: October 22, 2016 (Grand Forks, ND) Shane Gersich netted three points and linemate Brock Boeser tallied two goals in a 5-4 victory as the Fighting Hawks bested Bemidji by one goal for the second consecutive night. Boeser scored all three goals in Friday’s opener.

Last Meeting in Bemidji: October 16, 2015. The Beavers put two goals past Matt Hrynkiw in the third period (after Cam Johnson left with an injury) to earn a 4-4 tie with #1-ranked North Dakota. One night later, UND freshman forward Brock Boeser netted his first career hat trick in a 5-2 UND at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Most Important Meeting: October 15, 2010 (Bemidji, MN). In the first game played at the BREC, North Dakota spotted BSU the opening goal less than two minutes into the contest and then steamrolled the Beavers 5-2. The Fighting Sioux outshot their fellow Green-and-Whiters 38-14.

Last Ten: North Dakota is 6-1-3 (.750) in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring the Beavers 31-25 over that stretch of games. Eight of the last twelve tilts have been decided by a goal or less, with Bemidji State going 2-7-3 in those games.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 30-3-4 (.865), including a 21-2-2 (.880) record in games played in Grand Forks. Two of BSU’s three wins over North Dakota have come in the past six seasons (November 2011 and October 2014). Bemidji’s other victory over UND came in 1970.

Game News and Notes

North Dakota leads the nation in faceoff win percentage at 56.3, while the Beavers are 26th (50.4). When leading after one period of play, UND is 6-0-1 and BSU is 5-1-1. When leading after two, UND is 9-0-1 and BSU is 7-0-0. North Dakota junior Rhett Gardner played in his 100th career game last Friday, while classmate Shane Gersich enters the week with 99 career games played. Three other active Fighting Hawks (Austin Poganski 144, Johnny Simonson 121, and Trevor Olson 104) have already reached that milestone. With five more victories, North Dakota’s senior class (95-38-15) would become the thirteenth consecutive recruiting class to amass at least 100 career victories. Bemidji State has not appeared in the NCAA tournament since moving to the WCHA (seven seasons). In eleven seasons as members of the CHA, the Beavers made four NCAA tournament appearances, including a Frozen Four run in 2008-09.

The Prediction

This weekend will not be an easy one for North Dakota. Watch for the Beavers to jump out to an early lead on Friday, with UND needing to mount a late comeback to take the contest to overtime. The Fighting Hawks will showcase their depth and talent in Saturday’s rematch. 2-2 tie, UND 4-1.

Media Coverage

Friday’s opener can only be seen via webcast at WCHA.tv ($8.99 for a one-day pass), with Saturday’s rematch telecast live on Midco Sports Network and also streamed live in high definition via NCHC.tv. 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). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

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!</em

Weekend Preview: UND vs. Omaha

As the second half of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference season begins, Omaha is in a decidedly unfamiliar position: last place in the conference. With only two victories in their first eight league games, the Mavericks are currently chasing every conference foe, and home ice in the first round of the playoffs seems unlikely.

Despite a dreadful 2-6-0-0 mark in conference play, #18 UNO is tied for 13th in the Pairwise Rankings thanks to a 7-2-1 non-conference record (against UMass-Lowell, Arizona State, Notre Dame, Northern Michigan, and Union).

On the plus side, Omaha is scoring 3.56 goals per game, the fifth-highest scoring offense in the country.

On the minus side, Omaha is allowing 3.78 goals per game, the second-worst scoring defense in the country.

Fans of #6 North Dakota (10-5-5 overall, 5-3-2-2 NCHC) will need to get used to a new face behind the Mavericks’ bench. Gone is Dean Blais, who spent sixteen combined years as an assistant and head coach at UND before becoming an associate head coach with the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. After a short stint as head coach of the USHL’s Fargo Force, Blais rejoined the college hockey ranks as the head coach at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

In eight total seasons as the Mavericks’ bench boss, Blais amassed an overall record of 145-131-30 (.523) and a CCHA/WCHA/NCHC record of 97-90-16 (.517), with one NCAA tournament appearance (2015).

After finishing in third place during the first two seasons of the NCHC, Dean Blais could only muster a pair of sixth-place finishes during his last two years behind the Omaha bench.

Omaha chose Mike Gabinet (Omaha ’04) as the successor to Dean Blais, and it has not been an easy transition. The first year for any new head coach is the most difficult – learning a new role, implementing a new system, and coaching someone else’s recruits – and this situation is made even more difficult by the fact that Blais was (is) a coaching legend. After three years as an assistant coach at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Gabinet (currently 36 years old, the youngest Division I hockey head coach in the country) became NAIT’s head coach in 2015-16, leading the Ooks to a 36-0 record and the ACAC championship. Last season, he returned to Omaha and served as the associate head coach under Dean Blais.

Things will not get easier for the Mavericks in the second half. UNO will play sixteen conference games in the second half, including trips to #4 Denver, #1 St. Cloud State, and #16 Duluth and home series against #12 Western Michigan and #6 North Dakota.

Omaha will also have to deal with the loss of junior forward Mason Morelli (4-10-14) for the season. According to the Omaha World-Herald, Morelli tore his ACL in a freak accident over the winter break.

The Mavericks are also thin on the blue line. Sophomore Dean Stewart (0-2-2) did not play last weekend against Union, and two junior defensemen – Jordan Klehr (1-7-8) and Jalen Schulz (1-2-3) – were both injured in the finale. That left Gabinet with only four healthy defensemen. Junior forward Riley Alferd (1-4-5) finished Saturday’s contest at defense and has been practicing at that position this week for the Mavs. Freshman blueliner Lawson McDonald (one career game played) could also see the ice this weekend in Grand Forks.

On the injury front, North Dakota finally appears to be healthy after losing 46 man-games due to injury or illness in the first half. UND used a different lineup in each of their first twenty games, including 39 different line combinations at forward and ten different defensive pairings.

One key returnee for Brad Berry will be sophomore forward Dixon Bowen, who missed seven games with a lower-body injury. Bowen is a key cog in UND’s penalty kill: with him in the lineup, North Dakota kills over ninety percent of opponent power play opportunities; without Bowen, the Fighting Hawks penalty kill is under eighty percent.

Out of conference, North Dakota had decent success (5-2-3, .650) against Alaska Anchorage, St. Lawrence, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Union. UND has only a home-and-home series with Bemidji State on the second-half schedule. The league as a whole has gone 43-19-12 (.662) in non-conference play and could easily place five teams in the NCAA tournament field.

In this weekend’s matchup, I see North Dakota’s team defense stifling Omaha’s high-powered offense. UND’s forward group is superior defensively to anything Mike Gabinet’s crew has seen (outside of Notre Dame), and the Fighting Hawks are solid on the blue line and between the pipes.

In nine wins, the Mavericks have scored 45 goals (5.0 goals scored/game). In eight losses, the Mavericks have only scored fifteen goals (1.88 goals scored/game). I see Omaha scoring two or three goals in each game this weekend, not four or five.

If Brad Berry can lead the program to its sixteenth-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, North Dakota would be placed in the 2018 West Regional (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) as the host school. The 2018 NCAA Frozen Faceoff will take place at Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minnesota).

Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (1st season at UNO, 9-8-1, .528)

Pairwise Ranking: 13th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #18/NR

This Season: 9-8-1 overall, 2-6-0-0 NCHC (8th)
Last Season: 16-16-5 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 9-13-2-0 NCHC (6th)

Team Offense: 3.56 goals scored/game – 5th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 3.78 goals allowed/game – 59th of 60 teams
Power Play: 24.7% (21 of 85) – 9th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 83.5% (66 of 79) – 16th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F David Pope (11-12-23), Senior F Tyler Vesel (6-9-15), Junior F Fredrik Olofsson (4-11-15), Senior D Joel Messner (3-7-10), Junior D Jordan Klehr (1-7-8), Junior G Evan Weninger (7-6-0, 3.55 GAA, .882 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 65-27-12, .683)

Pairwise Ranking: 8th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #6/#6

This Season: 10-5-5 overall, 5-3-2-2 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 21-16-3 overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.80 goals scored/game – 35th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.20 goals allowed/game – 6th of 60 teams
Power Play: 19.3% (16 of 83) – 27th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 87.1% (74 of 85) – 8th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Nick Jones (6-7-13), Freshman F Grant Mismash (5-9-14), Junior F Shane Gersich (5-6-11), Junior F Rhett Gardner (4-7-11), Junior D Christian Wolanin (5-11-16 and a wicked slap shot for a shootout goal), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (4-8-12), Senior G Cam Johnson (7-3-2, 1.83 GAA, .917 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: February 25, 2017 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after North Dakota forwards Tyson Jost and Brock Boeser combined for four goals in a 6-4 UND victory, Omaha netminder Evan Weninger pitched a 22-save shutout as the Mavericks salvaged a weekend split with a 3-0 win. The Fighting Hawks had won six in a row before this most recent meeting, including a 9-1/7-3 shellacking in Omaha seven weeks earlier.

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 44-25 over that stretch. Two of Omaha’s three most recent wins were overtime victories.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 15-8-1 (.646) and has a slight edge (6-5-1, .542) in games played in Grand Forks.

Game News and Notes

UND leads the nation in faceoff efficiency (56.2 percent); Omaha is 14th at 52.0 percent. 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. Among active players, senior forward Austin Poganski leads UND with seven career points in twelve games against the Mavericks, while senior goaltender Cam Johnson has won six of his eight starts (2.25 GAA, .918 SV%).

Media Coverage

Friday’s opener will be telecast nationally on CBS Sports Network, with Saturday’s rematch available on Midco Sports Network. Saturday’s game will also be streamed live in high definition via 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.

The Prediction

Four of North Dakota’s seven remaining conference series will be played at Ralph Engelstad Arena, and UND will need to take care of business at home to finish in the top half of the NCHC and secure an NCAA bid. The Fighting Hawks will earn a hard-fought sweep this weekend. UND 4-2, 4-3.

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!