North Dakota’s 8th National Title Caps Off 20 Seasons Of Success

On Saturday night in Tampa, Florida, North Dakota defeated the Quinnipiac Bobcats 5-1 to claim the program’s eighth Division I men’s ice hockey national championship (first since 2000). That victory ended years of near misses on college hockey’s biggest stage, including eight frustrating appearances in the NCAA Frozen Four with just two wins to show for them (semifinal victories in 2001 and 2005).

But on the other side of that coin, is it really reasonable to claim that a team hoisting an eighth title “finally got the monkey off their back”? As Twitterer @Kirkacola points out, it sounds like a headline from “The Onion”. Part of that mindset is fueled by a fan base that has come to expect a championship-caliber team every season. A closer look at the last two decades might reveal why that is. Let’s turn the clock back twenty years…

March 2nd, 1996. Game two of a WCHA home playoff series against Wisconsin (one night earlier, the Badgers won 6-5 in OT). North Dakota netminder Toby Kvalevog lets a puck dribble past him late in the second overtime. A collective gasp from the hometown fans, and another disappointing season in the books. UND finishes the year at 19-18-1 and misses the NCAA tournament for the sixth consecutive time.

Exactly eight months later….

November 2nd, 1996. The Fighting Sioux finish off a home sweep of Northern Michigan to bring their record to a perfect 6-0 (with earlier sweeps of Denver and Michigan Tech). I distinctly remember standing with my group of friends among the green and white seats at the old Ralph Engelstad Arena, looking up at the pieces of fabric in the rafters, and saying (almost incredulously), “This could be a banner year.”

Not only would that 1996-97 squad come out of nowhere to win 31 games and capture the WCHA regular season and playoff titles, but Dean Blais would take that team all the way to a national championship in his third season behind the Fighting Sioux bench.

That season kicked off an incredible two-decade run of success. Over the past twenty campaigns, UND has averaged over 27 wins per year against 11 losses and 4 ties.

North Dakota fans have had to endure only one down year in that entire stretch: a 16-19-2 (.459) record in 2001-02. That season also marked the last time that a North Dakota men’s hockey team failed to advance past the first weekend of the league playoffs or earn a bid to the NCAA tournament.

UND has such a loyal and dedicated fan following (at home and on the road) because the coaches and players have created a tradition of excellence. After all, it is much easier to renew season tickets when the team on the ice continues to win games and hang banners. North Dakota enjoys such a large and vocal crowd in the Twin Cities each March because fans circle the dates on their calendars and have come to expect (and rightly so) that the Green and White will advance to the second weekend of the league playoff tournament. This passion is contagious, and every year brings more and more supporters into the mix as new players and coaches write their names and accomplishments in the history books.

The 2015-16 edition of University of North Dakota hockey won 34 games while earning the NCHC regular season title and the program’s eighth national title. First-year head coach Brad Berry guided the team to the program’s 14th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance (the longest active streak in Division I men’s college hockey). UND’s seniors finished with a career record of 110-43-17, the 11th consecutive recruiting class to notch at least 100 wins. North Dakota’s juniors have already collected 88 victories (against 30 losses and 10 ties).

It remains to be seen what Brad Berry and the newly-minted Fighting Hawks will be able to achieve in the future, but this year’s roster added their accomplishments to an impressive and ongoing tradition of excellence. Here’s the full resume for the past twenty seasons:

Combined record: 548-228-76 (.688), including 7 thirty-win seasons
(1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2011, 2016)

9 regular season league titles
(1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2009, 2011, 2015, 2016)

6 WCHA Final Five/NCHC Frozen Faceoff titles
(1997, 2000, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2012)
14 consecutive WCHA Final Five/NCHC Frozen Faceoff appearances
(active streak; 2003-2016)

19 NCAA tournament appearances
(every season except 2002)
14 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances
(active streak; 2003-2016)

11 NCAA Frozen Four appearances
(1997, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016)
5 NCAA championship game appearances
(1997, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2016)
3 NCAA titles (1997, 2000, 2016)

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!

NCAA Frozen Four Preview: UND vs. Quinnipiac

In 17 years at the Division I level, Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold has never had a losing season. Pecknold has led the Bobcats to their fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance (and fifth overall), and QU faces a fairly unfamiliar opponent (North Dakota) in the national championship game. The two teams are tied for the most wins (109) over the past four seasons and are one-two this season in wins, winning percentage, and number of weeks at #1. Since Christmas, UND and Quinnipiac have been the only two schools at the top of the USCHO poll.

Despite Quinnipiac’s recent success and the Bobcats’ deep run in 2013 (national runner-up, losing 4-0 to Yale in the final), UND and QU have only met once in the national tournament (last year’s West Regional in Fargo, ND). North Dakota downed the Bobcats 4-1 in that tilt, and the two teams have only faced each other on one other occasion: an October 2006 series in Grand Forks that went in the books as a UND sweep. Sioux forwards Ryan Duncan, T.J. Oshie, and Jonathan Toews figured heavily in those results (note: current Quinnipiac defenseman Devon Toews is no relation to Jonathan).

Before this recent stretch of four straight NCAA tourney bids, the only Quinnipiac appearance on the national scene came in 2001-02, when the team (competing in the MAAC and known for the last time as the ‘Braves’) suffered a 6-1 loss to Cornell in the regional semifinal.

It is fairly difficult to compare teams from different conferences, but there are some measurables. The three common opponents for the two programs this season were Maine, Northeastern, and St. Cloud State. Quinnipiac defeated Maine 4-0 in October and swept SCSU (5-2, 4-1) at home the following weekend. In the first game of the new year, the Bobcats skated to a 3-3 tie at Northeastern and got the same result at Maine later in January. North Dakota tied Maine 1-1 at the IceBreaker in October, split at St. Cloud State (4-3, 1-6) in November, and took down Northeastern 6-2 in the NCAA Midwest Regional, handing the Huskies their first loss since February 1st and just their second since December 6th.

Incidentally, St. Cloud State was the team Quinnipiac defeated by a score of 4-1 at the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four, the Bobcats’ first and only other appearance in the last weekend of the college hockey season. Quinnipiac is seeking the program’s first NCAA title, and four of the past five national championships have gone to first-time winners: Duluth (2011), Yale (2013), Union (2014), and Providence (2015). Before that stretch, the last team to hoist the trophy for the first time was Maine in 1993. Three other teams won their first titles in the 80s; Bowling Green in 1984, Lake Superior State in 1988, and Harvard in 1989.

North Dakota is seeking the program’s eighth national title and first since 2000. Other men’s ice hockey championships for the school came in 1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, and 1997. Michigan has nine titles (six between 1948 and 1956 and another in 1964), while Denver also has seven (five between 1958 and 1969). With a win tonight and the eighth banner that would come with it, UND would unquestionably be at the top of the men’ Division I college hockey heap as the best program of all time.

There is some intrigue regarding the availability of QU junior forward Sam Anas, who has been limited by a shoulder injury and has been used most extensively in situations where Quinnipiac needs to generate offense. It seems that Rand Pecknold has not called upon Anas in situations where the junior forward (132 career points) would have to defend and protect a lead. It is worth noting that the Bobcats’ leading point-getter (24 goals, 26 assists) has only scored three goals since February 12th, a stretch of thirteen games. In that same span, however, he has continued to set up his linemates (nine assists).

Tonight’s tournament action will feature one of the top rookies in the country. North Dakota’s Brock Boeser (26-30-56) is fourth nationally among all scorers but was not named one of ten finalists for the 2016 Hobey Baker Memorial Award. Among freshmen, Boeser trails only Kyle Connor (35-36-71), whose Michigan team lost to UND in the Midwest Regional final. Connor was edged out by Harvard senior Jimmy Vesey for the Hobey yesterday.

Since 1983-84, the only UND freshman to score as many goals as Boeser’s 26 was Zach Parise, who also had 26 in 2002-03. In their first years at North Dakota, T.J. Oshie scored 24 and Jonathan Toews scored 22. The only other freshmen in Fighting Sioux men’s hockey history to score more than 25 goals in a season are Troy Murray (33 in 1980-81), Kevin Maxwell (31, 1978-79), Perry Berezan (31, 1983-84), and Cary Eades (27, 1978-79). In fact, of the first twelve rookies to reach the twenty-goal plateau, ten went on to play in the NHL (Eades and Ian Kallay were the exception). Boeser assisted on all three UND goals at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis, added five points in three NCAA tournament games, and joined Zach Parise (25-35-61) as the only North Dakota freshmen in the past 35 years to notch at least 50 points.

North Dakota’s ‘CBS’ line of Boeser paired with Drake Caggiula (23-26-49) and Nick Schmaltz (11-34-45) has scored 31 of UND’s 91 goals (34.1 percent) since January 1st. It will be interesting to see which Bobcat forward line jumps over the boards when 9, 8, and 16 are on the ice.

On the other side of the ledger, UND lost junior forward Luke Johnson (11-10-21) after he went knee-to-knee with teammate Brock Boeser in the second period of Thursday’s national semifinal against Denver. Johnson, a Grand Forks native, had appeared in every game for the Green and White this season and was a key cog in the team’s ‘Heavy Line’, also featuring sophomore Austin Poganski (9-15-24) and freshman Rhett Gardner (11-6-17). In Johnson’s absence, expect Gardner to move to center with one of two seniors on his wing: Coltyn Sanderson (7-5-12) or Colten St. Clair, an alternate captain who has been limited to nine games this year due to an upper body injury.

North Dakota has been strong all season long, losing back-to-back games only once in six situations (4-1-1). UND’s offense receives most of the accolades, but there may not be a better defensive group in the nation than Gage Ausmus, Paul LaDue, Tucker Poolman, Hayden Shaw, Troy Stecher, Keaton Thompson, and Christian Wolanin. One of the freshmen (Shaw or Wolanin) will sit for today’s Frozen Four final (Wolanin has been in the stands for all three NCAA tournament games), but all seven have shown the ability to take over games in all three zones.

A big reason for UND’s success this season has been North Dakota’s ability to hold a lead. During the 2015-16 campaign, Brad Berry’s squad is unbeaten (26-0-3) when leading after the first forty minutes of play. In fact, over the past eight years, North Dakota is converting almost 90 percent of second intermission leads into victories and has just seven losses in the last 184 such situations (164-7-13).

North Dakota has enjoyed twenty consecutive seasons of unprecedented success, advancing to the NCAA tournament 19 times with eleven Frozen Four appearances and two national titles. Brad Berry is in his first year behind the North Dakota bench and set the program record for most wins by a rookie head coach (33). With their fourteenth consecutive NCAA tourney bid, North Dakota boasts the longest active streak in men’s Division I college hockey (and the second-longest of all time). Since 2004-05, UND has gone 18-4 (.818) in NCAA regional games and has qualified for the Frozen four in eight of those twelve seasons (no team has advanced to more national semifinal games in that time).

Amazingly, UND is 7th of 60 teams nationally in scoring offense and 2nd in scoring defense, notching 157 goals and allowing only 80 in 43 games this season (Quinnipiac has marks of 4th and 3rd, respectively, and has outscored opponents 162-80 in 42 games). Aside from the Bobcats, only St. Cloud State (175 goals for/90 goals against in 41 games) boasts a better scoring margin than North Dakota.

Here are a few more interesting comparisons:

North Dakota’s record when leading/tied after one period of play: 29-5-4
North Dakota’s record when trailing after one period of play: 4-1-0
Quinnpiac’s record when leading/tied after one period of play: 26-3-5
Qunnipiac’s record when trailing after one period of play: 6-0-2

North Dakota’s record against the NCAA tournament field: 10-4-1
Qunnipiac’s record against the NCAA tournament field: 10-1-1

North Dakota’s record in one-goal games: 7-1-0
Quinnipiac’s record in one-goal games: 8-2-0

North Dakota’s road/neutral site record: 17-4-3
Qunnipiacs’s road/neutral site record: 17-1-3

The Bobcats prefer to play with a lead and let their neutral zone trap (a 1-1-3 or a 1-3-1, depending on who is answering the question) create turnovers. Quinnipiac has trailed for less than 360 minutes in their 42 games combined this season, and that statistic is the main reason that Rand Pecknold’s crew has suffered only three defeats.

Here are the storylines worth watching in tonight’s battle of college hockey heavyweights:

Goaltending: The netminders tonight (Michael Garteig and Cam Johnson) will be called upon early and often (UND averages 32.5 shots on goal/game; QU, 34.7), as these two teams possess skill with and creativity without the puck. Whichever goaltender makes more game-changing saves and showcases the ability to find loose pucks in traffic will lead his team to victory.

‘CBS’ Line: Without last change, will the dynamic trio be able to handle the best of what the Bobcats have to offer defensively, and will they be able to use their speed and creativity through the neutral zone to carry the puck across the blueline?

Playing From Behind: Neither team wants to get down by two goals in this contest, as both squads have shown the ability to lock down a lead. The leader on the scoreboard going into the third period is likely to hold up the trophy at the final buzzer.

Sam Anas: Will he play? Will he be able to finish the game? Will Rand Pecknold need to shorten his bench to ten forwards in order to roll only three lines and protect Anas somewhat?

Specialty Teams: Quinnipiac has been lethal on the power play this year (27.5%, 4th in the nation) and effective on the penalty kill (89.0%, 3rd). North Dakota’s numbers with the man advantage (19.4%, 21st) are solid but not quite as spectacular, while their penalty kill (86.7%, 5th) has been a bright spot. UND would prefer not to trade power plays with the Bobcats, but rather play as much 5-on-5 hockey as possible.

Quinnipiac Team Profile

Head Coach: Rand Pecknold (22nd season at QU, 446-263-83, .616)
National Ranking: #1/#1
This Season: 32-3-7 overall, 16-1-5 ECAC (1st)
Last Ten Games: 9-1-0 (lost 5-4 to Cornell)
Last Season: 23-12-4 overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 16-3-3 ECAC (1st)

Team Offense: 3.86 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.90 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 27.5% (46 of 167)
Penalty Kill: 89.0% (137 of 154)

Key Players: Junior F Sam Anas (24-26-50), Senior F Travis St. Denis (22-26-48), Junior F Tim Clifton (18-24-42), Sophomore F Landon Smith (12-25-37), Junior D Devon Toews (7-23-30), Junior D Connor Clifton (7-20-27), Senior G Michael Garteig (32-3-7, 1.83 GAA, .926 SV%, 8 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 33-6-4, .814)
Pairwise Ranking: 2nd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #3/#2
This Season: 33-6-4 overall, 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Ten Games: 8-1-1 (lost 4-2 to Duluth; tied Denver 1-1)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.65 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.86 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.4% (31 of 160)
Penalty Kill: 86.7% (137 of 158)

Key Players: Freshman F Brock Boeser (26-30-56), Senior F Drake Caggiula (23-26-49), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (11-34-45), Sophomore F Austin Poganski (9-15-24), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (12-10-22), Junior D Troy Stecher (8-21-29), Sophomore F Tucker Poolman (5-19-24), Junior D Paul LaDue (5-13-18), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (23-4-2, 1.68 GAA, .933 SV%, 5 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 27, 2015 (Fargo, ND). North Dakota blocked 28 shots in front of a partisan crowd at Scheels Arena and downed the Bobcats 4-1 to advance to the NCAA West Regional Final, where they would play St. Cloud State. Tucker Poolman, Bryn Chyzyk, Drake Caggiula, and Luke Johnson all scored for UND, who received 29 saves from 2015 Mike Richter Award winner Zane McIntyre. Quinnipiac went 1-for-8 with the man advantage, scoring only an extra-attacker power play goal with less than two minutes remaining.

Almost Ten Years Ago: October 7, 2006 (Grand Forks, ND). A late Quinnipiac power play goal got the Bobcats within a goal, but the damage had been done by then. T.J. Oshie assisted on all three Jonathan Toews goals (remarkably, the only hat trick of his Fighting Sioux career) and Ryan Duncan had a three point night (1 g, 2 a) in a 4-2 North Dakota victory. UND blew out the Bobcats 6-1 in Friday’s opener despite only one goal from the Oshie-Toews-Duncan (D.O.T.) line.

Most Important Meeting: Saturday night’s national championship game is the most important meeting between the two programs.

All-time Series: The two teams have only played three games (the aforementioned October 2006 series in Grand Forks and last season’s West Regional semifinal), with UND sweeping the Bobcats by a combined score of 14-4. All three contests were played in the state of North Dakota.

Game News and Notes
North Dakota’s all-time winning percentage of .671 (51-25) in the NCAA tourney is the best in the country, and UND’s 51 tournament victories are good for 2nd all-time (Minnesota has 55 but might not win another one this decade). Quinnipiac has competed at the Division I level since the 1999-2000 season; that was the year UND won its seventh national championship. Only one player on the Bobcats’ roster, Travis St. Denis, was on the ice during the 2013 Frozen Four. The other five seniors watched from the stands. Quinnipiac will wear their yellow alternate jerseys tonight; expect UND to counter with their black “business suits” for the last game of the season.

Media Coverage
UND and Quinnipiac will face off at 7:00 p.m. CT, with the game shown live on ESPN2 as well as TSN2 in Canada. There will also be a webcast available via the ESPN3/WatchESPN app. 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.

Pre-Game Events and Watch Parties
UND fans attending the NCAA Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida are invited to gather for pregame festivities prior to today’s national championship game. The pregame event will be held at Ferg’s Live, across the street from Amelie Arena. All UND alumni, family, and friends are invited to this free event with cash bars, a full menu, and more! There are also watch parties organized in Atlanta, Bismarck, Bloomington, Boise, Boston, Cavalier, Denver, Dickinson, Fargo, Flagstaff, Grand Forks, Grapevine, Hatton, Houston, Indianapolis, Kirkland, Las Vegas, Littleton, Long Island, Meridian, Minneapolis, Mountain Iron, Omaha, Prescott, Rapid City, Robins, Saint Paul, San Diego, Scottsdale, Sioux Falls, Virginia (MN), Waite Park, Washington (D.C.), and West Fargo. For more information or to see if additional events have been planned, please visit ndchampionsclub.com.

The Prediction
Quinnipiac will give UND fits with its overall team speed, and Cam Johnson will need to be up to the challenge as the Bobcats generate several odd-man rushes per game. The partisan green and white crowd at Amelie Arena and the weight of all the years of near-misses should give North Dakota the push it needs to earn an eighth national championship. UND 3, QU 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!

NCAA Frozen Four Preview: UND vs. Denver

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries. Tonight’s NCAA Frozen Four semifinal will be the twelfth game played between the teams over the past three seasons, 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 eight 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 won the four of the past six playoff games between the schools, including three consecutive victories in the WCHA Final Five (2010-2012) and the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional final which sent the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four. The Pioneers throttled North Dakota 5-1 last March when the two teams met in the third-place game at the 2015 NCHC Frozen Faceoff, and a similar matchup in Minneapolis last month netted only a 1-1 tie.

Both teams are looking to hoist banner number eight in Tampa, Florida this weekend. It is worth noting that Denver collected five national championships by 1969. In the past 46 years, the Pioneers have won two. During that same span (1970-2015), the Fighting Sioux won five national titles, most recently in 2000.

Tonight’s tournament action will feature two of the top three rookies in the country. North Dakota’s Brock Boeser (26-28-54) is fifth nationally among all scorers, while Denver’s Dylan Gambrell (17-30-47) is tenth. Among freshman point-getters, the two trail only Kyle Connor (35-36-71), whose Michigan team lost to UND in the Midwest Regional final. Colin White (Boston College) is a distant fourth with 19 goals and 23 assists in 36 games played.

Since 1983-84, the only UND freshman to score as many goals as Boeser’s 26 was Zach Parise, who also had 26 in 2002-03. In their first years at North Dakota, T.J. Oshie scored 24 and Jonathan Toews scored 22. The only other freshmen in Fighting Sioux men’s hockey history to score more than 25 goals in a season are Troy Murray (33 in 1980-81), Kevin Maxwell (31, 1978-79), Perry Berezan (31, 1983-84), and Cary Eades (27, 1978-79). In fact, of the first twelve rookies to reach the twenty-goal plateau, ten went on to play in the NHL (Eades and Ian Kallay were the exception). Boeser assisted on all three UND goals at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis, added three points in the Midwest Regional (Cincinnati, Ohio), and joined Zach Parise (25-35-61) as the only North Dakota freshmen in the past 35 years to notch at least 50 points.

Denver’s ‘Pacific Rim’ line of Gambrell, Danton Heinen (20-28-48), and Trevor Moore (11-33-44) has scored 38 of the team’s 85 goals (44.7 percent) since January 1st. North Dakota’s ‘CBS’ line of Boeser paired with Drake Caggiula (20-25-45) and Nick Schmaltz (10-34-44) has scored 28 of UND’s 87 goals (32.2 percent) over that same stretch.

With the last line change, UND head coach Brad Berry will likely keep his top line away from the West Coast trio and instead counter with his “heavy line” of Rhett Gardner, Luke Johnson, and Austin Poganski.

North Dakota has been strong all season long, losing back-to-back games only once in six situations (4-1-1). UND’s offense receives most of the accolades, but there may not be a better defensive group in the nation than Gage Ausmus, Paul LaDue, Tucker Poolman, Hayden Shaw, Troy Stecher, Keaton Thompson, and Christian Wolanin. One of the freshmen (Shaw or Wolanin) will sit for today’s Frozen Four semifinal (Wolanin was in the stands for the two NCAA regional games), but all seven have shown the ability to take over games in all three zones. Expect the top two pairs (Poolman-LaDue and Ausmus-Stecher) to be on the ice every time Denver’s Pacific Rim line hops over the boards.

A big reason for UND’s success this season has been North Dakota’s ability to hold a lead. During the 2015-16 campaign, Brad Berry’s squad is unbeaten (25-0-3) when leading after the first forty minutes of play. In fact, over the past eight years, North Dakota is converting almost 90 percent of second intermission leads into victories and has just seven losses in the last 183 such situations (163-7-13).

North Dakota has enjoyed twenty consecutive seasons of unprecedented success, advancing to the NCAA tournament 19 times with eleven Frozen Four appearances and two national titles. Brad Berry is in his first year behind the North Dakota bench and set the program record for most wins by a rookie head coach (32). With their fourteenth consecutive NCAA tourney bid, North Dakota boasts the longest active streak in men’s Division I college hockey (and the second-longest of all time). Since 2004-05, UND has gone 18-4 (.818) in NCAA regional games and has qualified for the Frozen four in eight of those twelve seasons (no team has advanced to more national semifinal games in that time).

Amazingly, UND is 7th of 60 teams nationally in scoring offense and 2nd in scoring defense, notching 153 goals and allowing only 78 in 42 games this season (Denver has marks of 11th and 13th, respectively, and has outscored opponents 132-92). Nationally, only St. Cloud State (175 goals for/90 goals against in 41 games) and Quinnipiac (159 goals for/78 goals against in 41 games) boast a better scoring margin than North Dakota. Boston College (154 goals for/79 goals against in 40 games) has identical numbers to UND despite playing two fewer games.

Here are a few more interesting comparisons:

North Dakota’s record when leading/tied after one period of play: 28-5-4
North Dakota’s record when trailing after one period of play: 4-1-0
Denver’s record when leading/tied after one period of play: 24-5-3
Denver’s record when trailing after one period of play: 1-4-3

North Dakota’s record against the NCAA tournament field: 9-4-1
Denver’s record against the NCAA tournament field: 7-7-4

North Dakota’s record in one-goal games: 7-1-0
Denver’s record in one-goal games: 5-3-0

North Dakota’s road/neutral site record: 16-4-3
Denver’s road/neutral site record: 12-7-3

Denver Team Profile
Head Coach: Jim Montgomery (3rd season at DU, 69-39-14, .623)

Pairwise Ranking: 5th of 60 teams
National Ranking: #7/#4
This Season: 25-9-6 overall, 17-6-1-1 NCHC (t-2nd)
Last Season: 24-14-2 overall (NCAA East Regional finalist), 13-10-1-1 NCHC (4th)
Last Ten Games: 8-1-1 (.850)

Team Offense: 3.30 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.30 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.0% (26 of 137)
Penalty Kill: 82.0% (100 of 122)

Key Players: Sophomore F Danton Heinen (20-28-48), Freshman F Dylan Gambrell (17-30-47), Junior F Trevor Moore (11-33-44), Senior F Quentin Shore (13-15-28), Junior D Will Butcher (8-23-31), Senior D Nolan Zajac (3-17-20), Sophomore G Tanner Jaillet (17-4-5, 2.25 GAA, .923 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 32-6-4, .810)
Pairwise Ranking: 2nd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #3/#2
This Season: 32-6-4 overall, 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Ten Games: 8-1-1 (.850)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.64 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.86 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.5% (31 of 159)
Penalty Kill: 86.4% (133 of 154)

Key Players: Freshman F Brock Boeser (26-28-54), Senior F Drake Caggiula (21-25-46), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (10-34-44), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (12-10-22), Junior D Troy Stecher (8-20-28), Sophomore F Tucker Poolman (5-19-24), Junior D Paul LaDue (5-13-18), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (22-4-2, 1.67 GAA, .934 SV%, 5 SO)

By The Numbers
Last Meeting: February 13, 2016 (Denver, CO). The Pioneers completed the weekend sweep of visiting North Dakota with a 4-1 victory. UND outshot the Pios 35-25 but could manage only an Austin Poganski goal midway through the first period. DU’s ‘Pacific Rim’ line scored three goals and added four assists. Denver won Friday’s opener 6-4 thanks to a game-winning shorthanded goal with under four minutes to play in the contest.

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 are even (4-4-2) in the last ten meetings between the schools, although North Dakota has outscored Denver 30-24 over that stretch of games.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 142-122-11 (.536). The teams first met in 1950, with North Dakota prevailing 18-3 in Denver.

Game News and Notes
The teams are dead even in ten contests over the past two seasons, with each team winning four games and two contests ending in a tie. Denver sophomore forward Danton Heinen, last year’s NCHC Rookie of the Year and the reigning league overall scoring champion (16-29-45 in 40 games), is expected to sign with the NHL’s Boston Bruins after this season. North Dakota’s all-time winning percentage of .667 (50-25) in the NCAA tourney is the best in the country, and UND’s 50 tournament victories are tied with Michigan for 2nd all-time (Minnesota has 55 but might not win another one this decade). The Pioneers have lost just twice in 24 games (18-2-4) since the Christmas break. Denver (15) and North Dakota (14) 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 seven straight twenty-win seasons; Quinnipiac has accomplished the feat five consecutive times.

Media Coverage
UND and Denver will face off at 7:30 p.m. CT, with the game shown live on ESPN2 as well as TSN2 in Canada. There will also be a webcast available via the ESPN3/WatchESPN app. 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.

Pre-Game Events and Watch Parties
UND fans attending the NCAA Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida are invited to gather for pregame festivities beginning three hours prior to today’s national semifinal. The pregame event will be held at the Maloney’s Local Irish Pub (1120 East Kennedy Boulevard), just under a mile from Amelie Arena. All UND alumni, family, and friends are invited to this free event with cash bars, a full menu, and more! There are also watch parties organized in Atlanta, Bismarck, Bloomington, Boise, Boston, Cavalier, Denver, Dickinson, Fargo, Finley, Grand Forks, Hatton, Houston, Las Vegas, Littleton, Long Island, Minneapolis, Mountain Iron, Omaha, Prescott, Rapid City, San Diego, Sioux Falls, Virginia (MN), Scottsdale, Waite Park, Washington (D.C.), and West Fargo. For more information or to see if additional events have been planned, please visit ndchampionsclub.com.

The Prediction
All of the advantages are in UND’s corner: last line change, better goaltending, a deeper defensive corps, and playoff experience. If Brad Berry has his team playing the way they did in Cincinnati, there’s not much the Pioneers can do. If each side gets four power plays, however, DU has a chance. As it stands, though, this is a special squad, and North Dakota will advance to Saturday’s championship game. UND 4, Denver 2.

Bonus Prediction
In Thursday’s first semifinal, BC and the Bobcats will square off for East Coast bragging rights. There are question marks surrounding QU’s Sam Anas and his ability to play through a shoulder injury. Anas will play, but he won’t score enough to hold off Jerry York’s Eagles. Boston College 3, Quinnipiac 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!

NCAA Midwest Regional Preview: UND vs. Michigan

The top two programs in NCAA Division I men’s hockey history will square off today with a chance to advance to the 2016 Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida. The Michigan Wolverines are seeking their tenth NCAA championship, while North Dakota is looking to hoist banner number eight.

It is worth noting that Michigan collected six national championships by 1956. In the past 55 years, the Wolverines have three. During that same span (1957-2010), the Fighting Sioux have won seven national titles, most recently in 2000.

The Fighting Hawks and Wolverines also boast the top two lines and the top two rookies in all of college hockey. Michigan’s Kyle Connor (35-35-70) is the nation’s Rookie of the Year and the prohibitive favorite to win the Hobey Baker Memorial Award. UND’s Brock Boeser (26-28-54) is second in the country in scoring among freshmen.

Red Berenson’s ‘CCM’ line of Connor, JT Compher (14-47-61), and Tyler Motte (32-25-57) has scored more goals than nine other college hockey teams this season. North Dakota’s ‘CBS’ line has Boeser paired with Drake Caggiula (20-25-45) and Nick Schmaltz (10-34-44). With the last line change, UND head coach Brad Berry will likely keep his top line away from the CCM trio and instead counter with his “heavy line” of Rhett Gardner, Luke Johnson, and Austin Poganski.

Despite their combined 67 tournament appearances (Michigan 36, North Dakota 31), the two teams have only met four times in the NCAA playoffs. In 1998 and 2011, Michigan ended two of the most promising seasons in North Dakota men’s hockey history. The Wolverines hosted UND at the NCAA Midwest Regional at Yost Ice Arena (their home rink) on March 28, 1998 and took down a 30-7-1 Fighting Sioux team by the score of 4-3, ending North Dakota’s promising season one game short of the Frozen Four. The 2011 Matt Frattin-led UND squad outshot Michigan 40-20 but couldn’t light the lamp and fell 2-0 (a full summary is below).

North Dakota has enjoyed twenty consecutive seasons of unprecedented success, advancing to the NCAA tournament 19 times with ten Frozen Four appearances and two national titles. Brad Berry is in his first year behind the North Dakota bench but has already set the program record for most wins by a rookie head coach (31). Michigan’s Red Berenson won titles with the Wolverines in 1996 and 1998, and has taken his team to nine other Frozen Fours since 1991 (two since 2003).

The Maize and Blue played in the NCAA tournament for 22 consecutive seasons, a streak that ended in 2011 (before that stretch, Michigan had appeared in the national tournament once between 1964 and 1990). With their fourteenth consecutive NCAA tourney bid, North Dakota boasts the longest active streak in men’s Division I college hockey (and the second-longest of all time). Since 2004-05, UND has gone 17-4 (.810) in NCAA regional games and has qualified for the Frozen four in seven of those eleven seasons (no team has advanced to more national semifinal games in that time).

North Dakota has been strong all season long, losing back-to-back games only once in six situations (4-1-1). UND’s offense receives most of the accolades, but there may not be a better defensive group in the nation than Gage Ausmus, Paul LaDue, Tucker Poolman, Hayden Shaw, Troy Stecher, Keaton Thompson, and Christian Wolanin. One of the freshmen (Shaw or Wolanin) will sit for today’s regional final (Wolanin was in the stands yesterday), but all seven have shown the ability to take over games in all three zones. Expect the top two pairs (Poolman-LaDue and Ausmus-Stecher) to be on the ice every time Michigan’s CCM line hops over the boards.

A big reason for UND’s success this season has been North Dakota’s ability to hold a lead. During the 2015-16 campaign, Brad Berry’s squad is unbeaten (24-0-2) when leading after the first forty minutes of play. In fact, over the past eight years, North Dakota is converting almost 90 percent of second intermission leads into victories and has just seven losses in the last 181 such situations (162-7-12).

North Dakota’s Brock Boeser has traded roles with linemate Nick Schmaltz over the past three weekends of play. Boeser, a first-year forward from Burnsville, Minnesota, has collected ten assists over those five games while Schmaltz has netted five goals (to give him ten for the season). Here are the top five freshman point-getters in the nation:

1. Kyle Connor (Michigan): 35-35-70 in 37 games (1.89 points/game)
2. Brock Boeser (North Dakota): 26-28-54 in 39 games (1.38 points/game)
3. Dylan Gambrell (Denver): 15-28-43 in 38 games (1.13 points/game)
4. Colin White (Boston College): 19-23-42 in 35 games (1.20 points/game)
5. Max Letunov (Connecticut): 16-24-40 in 36 games (1.11 points/game)

Since 1983-84, the only UND freshman to score as many goals as Boeser’s 26 was Zach Parise, who also had 26 in 2002-03. In their first years at North Dakota, T.J. Oshie scored 24 and Jonathan Toews scored 22. The only other freshmen in Fighting Sioux men’s hockey history to score more than 25 goals in a season are Troy Murray (33 in 1980-81), Kevin Maxwell (31, 1978-79), Perry Berezan (31, 1983-84), and Cary Eades (27, 1978-79). In fact, of the first twelve rookies to reach the twenty-goal plateau, ten went on to play in the NHL (Eades and Ian Kallay were the exception). Boeser assisted on all three UND goals at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff last weekend, added three points against Northeastern yesterday, and joined Zach Parise (25-35-61) as the only North Dakota freshmen in the past 35 years to notch at least 50 points.

Amazingly, UND is 7th of 60 teams nationally in scoring offense and 3rd in scoring defense, notching 148 goals and allowing only 76 in 41 games this season (Michigan has marks of 1st and 36th, respectively, and has outscored opponents 179-110). Nationally, only St. Cloud State (171 goals for/85 goals against in 40 games), Boston College (151 goals for/77 goals against in 39 games), and Quinnipiac (151 goals for/77 goals against in 39 games) boast a better scoring margin than North Dakota.

Here are a few more interesting comparisons:

North Dakota’s record when leading/tied after one period of play: 27-5-4
North Dakota’s record when trailing after one period of play: 4-1-0
Michigan’s record when leading/tied after one period of play: 22-3-3
Michigan’s record when trailing after one period of play: 3-4-2

North Dakota’s record against the NCAA tournament field: 8-4-1
Michigan’s record against the NCAA tournament field: 3-1-0

North Dakota’s record in one-goal games: 7-1-0
Michigan’s record in one-goal games: 3-5-0

North Dakota’s road/neutral site record: 15-4-3
Michigan’s road/neutral site record: 13-4-3

Michigan’s 3-2 overtime victory over Notre Dame yesterday marked their first win in extra time this season. The Wolverines were previously 0-3-5.

To this point, UND has played the 11th most difficult schedule in the country (according to KRACH). Michigan’s strength of schedule is in the middle of the pack, 30th of sixty teams in Division I men’s hockey and the worst of any tournament team not named Ferris State or RIT. Coming in to the NCAA tourney, Red Berenson’s squad had played only three games against the field, splitting a pair with Boston University (2-3 L, 4-2 W) in November and defeating Ferris State University 5-2 in February.

By comparison, the NCHC schedule prepared the Fighting Hawks for March and April, with twelve games combined against Denver, Duluth, and St. Cloud State. UND went 7-4-1 in those games.

The Wolverines boast the nation’s top power play unit (47 power play goals scored in 148 attempts; 31.76 percent) but are just 42nd of 60 teams on the penalty kill (26 power play goals allowed in 131 attempts; 80.2 percent).

Michigan Team Profile

Head Coach: Red Berenson (32nd season at Michigan, 835-406-89, .661)

Pairwise Ranking: 7th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #5/#6
This Season: 25-7-5 overall, 12-5-3-2 Big Ten (2nd)
Last Season: 22-15-0 overall, 12-8-0-0 Big Ten (3rd)

Team Offense: 4.84 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.97 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 31.8% (47 of 148)
Penalty Kill: 80.2% (105 of 131)

Key Players: Freshman F Kyle Connor (35-35-70), Junior F JT Compher (14-47-61), Junior F Tyler Motte (32-23-55), Sophomore D Zach Werenski (11-24-35), Junior D Michael Downing (3-17-20), Senior G Steve Racine (20-5-3, 2.85 GAA, .913 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 31-6-4, .805)

Pairwise Ranking: 3rd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #3/#3
This Season: 31-6-4 overall, 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.61 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.85 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.4% (30 of 155)
Penalty Kill: 86.8% (132 of 152)

Key Players: Freshman F Brock Boeser (26-28-54), Senior F Drake Caggiula (20-25-45), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (10-34-44), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (12-10-22), Junior D Troy Stecher (8-19-27), Sophomore F Tucker Poolman (5-18-23), Junior D Paul LaDue (4-12-16), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (21-4-2, 1.66 GAA, .934 SV%, 5 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: April 7, 2011 (St. Paul, MN). In what many faithful fans call “The One That Got Away”, the Fighting Sioux dominated the national semifinal game for long stretches but could not solve Michigan netminder Shawn Hunwick (40 saves). Ben Winnett scored the game-winner at 13:26 of the first period, and the Wolverines survived the last two periods during which UND outshot Michigan 26-7. Red Berenson’s crew was committed to the defensive side of the game, blocking sixteen North Dakota shots. The Wolverines added a late empty net goal to make the final score 2-0, and UND lost its first game since January 28th. Michigan would fall to Duluth 3-2 in overtime two nights later.

Last Ten Games: North Dakota holds a record of 6-3-1 (.650) in the last ten meetings between the schools. The teams have not been a part of the same conference since Michigan left for the CCHA in 1981.

All-time Series: Michigan leads the series 46-40-4 (.533). Each team was won two of the four NCAA tournament games between the schools. The teams first met on January 9, 1948, a 6-5 UND victory that put North Dakota hockey on the map. The Wolverines would win the next ten meetings between the schools by a combined score of 89-32.

Game News and Notes

UND netminder Cam Johnson has five shutouts this season and has allowed exactly one goal on fifteen other occasions (including six of the last ten games). He has allowed three or more goals only seven times in 31 appearances, going 0-3 with four no-decisions. By comparison, Michigan netminder Steve Racine (one shutout) has allowed exactly one goal on six other occasions (including two of the past ten games). Racine has allowed three or more goals fourteen times this season (30 appearances), posting a record of 6-5-3 in those games. North Dakota’s all-time winning percentage of .662 (49-25) in the NCAA tourney is the best in the country. UND is one win away from their third straight Frozen Four.

Media Coverage

UND and Michigan will face off at 5:00 p.m. CT, with the game shown live on ESPN2 as well as TSN2 in Canada. There will also be a webcast available via the ESPN3/WatchESPN app. 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.

Pre-Game Events

UND fans attending the NCAA Midwest Regional in Cincinnati are invited to gather for pregame festivities beginning three hours prior to today’s regional championship. The pregame events will be held at the Moerlein Lager House (115 Joe Nuxhall Way), within walking distance of U.S. Bank Arena. All UND alumni, family, and friends are invited to this free event with cash bars, a full menu, and more! There are also watch parties organized in Bloomington, Cedar Rapids, Denver, Dickinson, Grand Forks, Hatton, Minneapolis, and Waite Park. For more information or to see if additional events have been planned, please visit ndchampionsclub.com.

The Prediction

All of the advantages are in UND’s corner: last line change, more time between games for rest and preparation, and playoff experience. Michigan’s goaltending is suspect, and the Wolverines might need to score five goals to win. North Dakota is too deep up front and too strong in their own end to let that happen. UND 5, Michigan 3.

NCAA Midwest Regional Preview: UND vs. Northeastern

The Northeastern Huskies, a Division I program since 1929, are making their fifth national tournament appearance in school history this weekend. NU failed to advance past the first round of the NCAAs in 1988, 1994, and 2009. The bright spot for the Huskies? A Frozen Four appearance in 1982. The opponent? North Dakota.

The University of North Dakota blitzed NU by a score of 6-2 in the national semifinals on their way to a fourth NCAA title. Current NU head coach Jim Madigan played at Northeastern from 1981 to 1985 (voted Rookie of the Year in 1982) and was an assistant coach from 1986 to 1993 before becoming the program’s ninth head coach in 2011. In between coaching stints with the Huskies, Madigan was a professional scout for the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins, winning a Stanley Cup with the latter in 2009.

Northeastern, a member of ECAC beginning in 1961, moved to Hockey East in 1984 when that conference was formed. The Huskies have never won a regular season conference title but had two league playoff championships to their credit (1982 ECAC, 1988 Hockey East) before accomplishing that feat again last weekend.

For five seasons in the 1980s (1984-89), the Fighting Sioux and Huskies met regularly as part of a schedule agreement that saw games between the WCHA and Hockey East count in both leagues’ conference standings. During that stretch, North Dakota went 4-2-2 against Northeastern. The teams have not met since October 2007.

Northeastern’s strong second half (20-1-2 after a 1-11-2 start) propelled the Huskies to the sixth twenty-win season in program history. Two of the previous five most successful years (1982 and 2009) saw NU reach the 25 victory plateau.

By comparison, North Dakota has won at least twenty games in each of the past fourteen seasons and has a run of fourteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances (the longest active streak in men’s Division I hockey and the second-longest all-time). The benchmark for UND has been thirty victories, a feat twelve teams in program history (including this year’s squad) have been able to accomplish.

Since 2004-05, UND has gone 16-4 in NCAA regional games and has qualified for the Frozen four in seven of those eleven seasons. No team has advanced to more national semifinal games in that time.

Many within the Huskies’ program credit a trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland with turning their season around. The New York Times did an excellent job on that story here.

Here are some amazing first half/second half splits for Northeastern:

Overall record, scoring offense, scoring defense:

First 14 games: 1-11-2 record, 1.9 goals for/game, 3.4 goals against/game
Last 26 games: 21-2-3 record, 4.1 goals for/game, 2.0 goals against/game

Specialty teams:

First 14 games: 14.3% on the power play, 75.9% on the penalty kill
Last 26 games: 29.1% on the power play, 81.8% on the penalty kill

North Dakota has been strong all season long, losing back-to-back games only once in six situations (4-1-1). UND’s offense receives most of the accolades (particularly the ‘CBS’ line of Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser, and Nick Schmaltz), but there may not be a better defensive group in the nation than Gage Ausmus, Paul LaDue, Tucker Poolman, Hayden Shaw, Troy Stecher, Keaton Thompson, and Christian Wolanin. One of the freshmen (Shaw or Wolanin) will sit for today’s tournament game, but all seven have shown the ability to take over games in all three zones.

A big reason for UND’s success this season has been North Dakota’s ability to hold a lead. During the 2015-16 campaign, Brad Berry’s squad is unbeaten (23-0-2) when leading after the first forty minutes of play. In fact, over the past eight years, North Dakota is converting almost 90 percent of second intermission leads into victories and has just seven losses in the last 180 such situations (161-7-12).

North Dakota’s Brock Boeser has traded roles with linemate Nick Schmaltz over the past two weekends of play. Boeser, a first-year forward from Burnsville, Minnesota, has collected eight assists over those four games while Schmaltz has netted five goals (to give him ten for the season). Here are the top five freshman point-getters in the nation:

1. Kyle Connor (Michigan): 35-34-69 in 36 games (1.92 points/game)
2. Brock Boeser (North Dakota): 25-26-51 in 38 games (1.34 points/game)
3. Dylan Gambrell (Denver): 15-28-43 in 38 games (1.13 points/game)
4. Colin White (Boston College): 19-22-41 in 34 games (1.21 points/game)
5. Max Letunov (Connecticut): 16-24-40 in 36 games (1.11 points/game)

Since 1983-84, the only UND freshman to score more goals than Boeser’s 25 was Zach Parise, who had 26 in 2002-03. In their first years at North Dakota, T.J. Oshie scored 24 and Jonathan Toews scored 22. The only other freshmen in Fighting Sioux men’s hockey history to score 25 or more goals in a season are Troy Murray (33 in 1980-81), Kevin Maxwell (31, 1978-79), Perry Berezan (31, 1983-84), and Cary Eades (27, 1978-79). In fact, of the first twelve rookies to reach the twenty-goal plateau, ten went on to play in the NHL (Eades and Ian Kallay were the exception). Boeser assisted on all three UND goals at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff last weekend and joined Zach Parise (25-35-61) as the only North Dakota freshmen in the past 35 years to notch at least 50 points.

Amazingly, UND is 8th of 60 teams nationally in scoring offense and 3rd in scoring defense, notching 142 goals and allowing only 74 in 40 games this season (Northeastern has marks of 12th and 20th, respectively, and has outscored opponents 132-99 in 40 games). Nationally, only St. Cloud State (171 goals for/85 goals against in 40 games), Boston College (147 goals for/76 goals against in 38 games), and Quinnipiac (151 goals for/77 goals against in 39 games) boast a better scoring margin than North Dakota. Michigan (176 goals for/108 goals against in 37 games) is tied with UND with a +68 goal differential.

Northeastern has easily the worst penalty kill (46th) of any team in the national tournament. The Huskies have allowed 27 power play goals in 131 shorthanded situations (79.4 percent).

Here are a few more interesting comparisons:

North Dakota’s record when leading/tied after one period of play: 26-5-4
North Dakota’s record when trailing after one period of play: 4-1-0
Northeastern’s record when leading/tied after one period of play: 20-3-1
Northeastern’s record when trailing after one period of play: 2-10-4

North Dakota’s record against the NCAA tournament field: 7-4-1
Northeastern’s record against the NCAA tournament field: 5-8-4

North Dakota’s record in one-goal games: 7-1-0
Northeastern’s record in one-goal games: 6-7-0

North Dakota’s road/neutral site record: 14-4-3
Northeastern’s road/neutral site record: 12-8-4

The first period of today’s regional semifinal will tell the tale for the remainder of the contest. Will the Huskies continue to ride their wave of momentum? Will an early North Dakota goal (or three) allow doubt to creep in on the Northeastern bench? How much will NCAA tournament experience factor in? How will UND head coach Brad Berry use the last line change to his advantage? With all of the extra television timeouts, will the teams shorten their benches?

Northeastern Team Profile

Head Coach: Jim Madigan (5th season at NU, 79-80-22, .497)

Pairwise Ranking: 13th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #9/#10
This Season: 22-13-5 overall, 10-8-4 Hockey East (6th of 12 teams)
Last Season: 16-16-4 overall, 11-9-2 Hockey East (6th of 12 teams)

Team Offense: 3.30 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.48 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 23.5% (39 of 166)
Penalty Kill: 79.4% (104 of 131)

Key Players: Junior F Zach Aston-Reese (14-29-43), Sophomore F Nolan Stevens (19-22-41), Junior F John Stevens (10-25-35), Senior F Mike McMurtry (8-22-30), Sophomore D Garret Cockerill (8-13-21), Junior D Matt Benning (5-13-18), Freshman G Ryan Ruck (20-10-4, 2.26 GAA, .912 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 30-6-4, .800)

Pairwise Ranking: 3rd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #3/#3
This Season: 30-6-4 overall, 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.55 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.85 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.8% (29 of 154)
Penalty Kill: 86.7% (130 of 150)

Key Players: Freshman F Brock Boeser (25-26-51), Senior F Drake Caggiula (19-25-44), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (10-32-42), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (11-10-21), Junior D Troy Stecher (8-19-27), Sophomore F Tucker Poolman (4-18-22), Junior D Paul LaDue (4-12-16), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (20-4-2, 1.64 GAA, .935 SV%, 5 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: October 20, 2007 (Boston, MA). #1-ranked North Dakota got to play three periods of hockey on their second night in Boston after only playing two periods at Boston College one night earlier due to foggy conditions. As it turned out, UND needed the final frame to pull away from Northeastern, who put 31 shots on goal but could not solve Jean-Phillippe Lamoureux (third consecutive shutout). North Dakota scored a first period power play goal (Brad Miller) and scored twice on odd-man rushes in the third period (Rylan Kaip, Andrew Kozek) to down the Huskies 3-0. Northeastern went 0-for-7 with the man advantage.

Most Important Meeting: March 25, 1982 (Providence, RI). North Dakota rolled to the title game with a 6-2 victory over NU. Current Huskies’ head coach Jim Madigan, who was a player at the time, was quoted at yesterday’s press conference by Brad Schlossman as saying, “I think they had ten guys who played in the National Hockey League for a long time. They were much bigger and more physical, tougher and meaner than we were.” Northeastern would go on to defeat New Hampshire 10-4 in the 3rd place game.

All-time Series: UND holds a 9-5-3 (.618) advantage all-time against Northeastern, but the series is tied 4-4-2 over the past ten games.

Game News and Notes

UND netminder Cam Johnson has five shutouts this season and has allowed exactly one goal on fifteen other occasions (including seven of the last ten games). He has allowed three or more goals only seven times in 30 appearances, going 0-3 with four no-decisions. By comparison, Northeastern netminder Ryan Ruck (two shutouts) has allowed exactly one goal on seven other occasions (including three of the past ten games). Ruck has allowed three or more goals thirteen times this season (36 appearances), posting a record of 4-7-2 in those games. North Dakota’s all-time winning percentage of .658 (48-25) in the NCAA tourney is the best in the country.

Media Coverage

UND and NU will face off at 1:00 p.m. CT, with the game shown live on ESPNU as well as TSN2 in Canada. There will also be a webcast available via the ESPN3/WatchESPN app. 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.

Pre-Game Events

UND fans attending the NCAA Midwest Regional in Cincinnati are invited to gather for pregame festivities beginning three hours prior to any game in which UND is playing. The pregame events will be held at the Moerlein Lager House (115 Joe Nuxhall Way), within walking distance of U.S. Bank Arena. All UND alumni, family, and friends are invited to this free event with cash bars, a full menu, and more! There are also watch parties organized in Bloomington, Cedar Rapids, Denver, Dickinson, Grand Forks, Hatton, Minneapolis, and Waite Park. For more information or to see if more events are being planned, please visit ndchampionsclub.com.

The Prediction

It plays to North Dakota’s advantage that most of the hype leading up to this contest has been focused on Northeastern. UND has all of the advantages afforded the top seed in their regional (last change, home locker room, etc.) but can approach this game as the underdog. Furthermore, last weekend’s disappointing results in Minneapolis have Brad Berry’s squad focused and ready, while the Huskies might fall victim to “we’re just happy to be here” syndrome. A first period advantage would be big for NU, as they have not shown much ability to come back. As it stands, North Dakota has too much talent and experience to let this opportunity slip away. UND 4, NU 2

Bonus Prediction

In the Midwest Regional’s second semifinal, the Wolverines and Fighting Irish will go down to the wire, with Kyle Connor proving yet again why he is not only the nation’s best rookie but also the nation’s best player. Michigan 5, Notre Dame 4

North Dakota Men’s Hockey: Twenty Years Of Success

March 2nd, 1996. Game two of a WCHA home playoff series against Wisconsin (one night earlier, the Badgers won 6-5 in OT). North Dakota netminder Toby Kvalevog lets a puck dribble past him late in the second overtime. A collective gasp from the hometown fans, and another disappointing season in the books. UND finishes the year at 19-18-1 and misses the NCAA tournament for the sixth consecutive time.

Exactly eight months later….

November 2nd, 1996: The Fighting Sioux finish off a home sweep of Northern Michigan to bring their record to a perfect 6-0 (with earlier sweeps of Denver and Michigan Tech). I distinctly remember standing with my group of friends among the green and white seats at the old Ralph Engelstad Arena, looking up at the pieces of fabric in the rafters, and saying (almost incredulously), “This could be a banner year.”

Not only would that 1996-97 squad come out of nowhere to win 31 games and capture the WCHA regular season and playoff titles, but Dean Blais would take that team all the way to a national championship in his third season behind the Fighting Sioux bench.

That season kicked off an incredible two-decade run of success. Over the past twenty campaigns, UND has averaged over 27 wins per year against 11 losses and 4 ties.

North Dakota fans have had to endure only one down year in that entire stretch: a 16-19-2 (.459) record in 2001-02. That season also marked the last time that a North Dakota men’s hockey team failed to advance past the first weekend of the league playoffs or earn a bid to the NCAA tournament.

UND has such a loyal and dedicated fan following (at home and on the road) because the coaches and players have created a tradition of excellence. After all, it is much easier to renew season tickets when the team on the ice continues to win games and hang banners. North Dakota enjoys such a large and vocal crowd in the Twin Cities each March because fans circle the dates on their calendars and have come to expect (and rightly so) that the Green and White will advance to the second weekend of the league playoff tournament. This passion is contagious, and every year brings more and more supporters into the mix as new players and coaches write their names and accomplishments in the history books.

The 2015-16 edition of University of North Dakota hockey has already won 33 games and earned the NCHC regular season title and a berth in the national championship game. First-year head coach Brad Berry guided the team to the program’s 14th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance (the longest active streak in Division I men’s college hockey). UND’s seniors have a career record of 109-43-17, the 11th consecutive recruiting class to notch at least 100 wins. North Dakota’s juniors have already collected 87 victories (against 30 losses and 10 ties).

A national title is one victory away, but the newly-minted Fighting Hawks have already added to an impressive and ongoing tradition of excellence. Here’s the full resume for the past twenty seasons:

Combined record: 547-228-76 (.687), including 7 thirty-win seasons
(1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2011, 2016)

9 regular season league titles
(1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2009, 2011, 2015, 2016)

6 WCHA Final Five/NCHC Frozen Faceoff titles
(1997, 2000, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2012)
14 consecutive WCHA Final Five/NCHC Frozen Faceoff appearances
(active streak; 2003-2016)

19 NCAA tournament appearances
(every season except 2002)
14 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances
(active streak; 2003-2016)

11 NCAA Frozen Four appearances
(1997, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016)
5 NCAA championship game appearances
(1997, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2016)
2 NCAA titles (1997, 2000)

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 Frozen Faceoff: Four Teams With National Title Hopes

On the first day of the 2016 NCHC Frozen Faceoff (Minneapolis, Minnesota), four teams took to the ice with more than just a league playoff title on their minds. North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Denver, and Minnesota-Duluth are all in line for an NCAA tournament appearance, and all four appear built to win it all this year.

For the first time in the three-year history of the conference, the top four teams in the league standings won their first-round home playoff series (all sweeps) and advanced to the second weekend of the playoffs. All four were also former members of the WCHA and are quite familiar with each other from seasons past.

The Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (18-14-5) came into the weekend 13th in the Pairwise Rankings and somewhat surprisingly did not move up with their victory over North Dakota. However, UMD will make the tournament with a loss today unless both Minnesota (Big Ten) and Northeastern (Hockey East) win their conference playoff titles. Scott Sandelin’s crew could, of course, eliminate all doubt by defeating St. Cloud State in Saturday’s championship and securing the league’s autobid. SCSU (2nd in PWR) and North Dakota (3rd) should receive #1 seeds at their respective regionals when the fields are announced tomorrow, while Denver (t-6th) is locked in as a #2.

All four teams on the ice at Target Center on Friday were adept but not reliant on special teams, with talented forwards and active defensemen willing to jump in the play and pay the price in their own end. Each of the four goaltenders has shown the ability to make key saves and take over games over the course of their careers. Another (often overlooked) factor is that freshmen from every squad are contributing and adding skill and depth to their lineups. First-year forwards Brock Boeser (UND), Mikey Eyssimont (SCSU), Dylan Gambrell (DU), Rhett Gardner (UND), Adam Johnson (UMD), and Troy Terry (DU), along with blueliners Neal Pionk (UMD) and Jimmy Schuldt (SCSU), were all called upon in key moments and situations in Friday’s semifinals, and that experience will prove invaluable as the teams enter the NCAA tournament.

NCHC schools have arguably the most difficult conference schedule in the country, and the tightly-contested games and uneven start times this weekend will also prepare all four squads for next weekend’s regional action. North Dakota head coach Brad Berry indicated as much in his post-game press conference (after UND lost just its sixth game of the season): “We feel very good about where we’re at. We’re in a good spot. (League play) has made our team battle tested and ready for this time of year.”

Of course, only two teams could win on the opening day of the event, but all four are in the mix for a far greater prize than the league playoff championship. A national title would be North Dakota’s 8th (first since 2000), St. Cloud State’s first, Denver’s 8th (first since 2005), or Minnesota-Duluth’s 2nd (2011).

The Huskies (30-8-1), who will face UMD in the Frozen Faceoff championship game, defeated Denver (23-9-5) to become the 2nd team in the country to post 30 wins, joining North Dakota (30-6-3).

There is a trophy on the line tonight, but every locker room at Target Center is filled with players and coaches who believe, and rightly so, that an NCAA championship is just down the line.

NCHC Frozen Faceoff Preview: UND vs. Minnesota-Duluth

Minnesota-Duluth was tabbed to win the NCHC this season after finishing fifth a year ago. The Bulldogs returned goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo (18-14-3, 2.30 goals-against average, .917 save percentage, one shutout) and 94 of their 115 goals (81.7%) from last season. Here’s what I wrote about UMD in my NCHC Season Preview and Predictions:

Duluth is a legitimate title contender this year, with almost all of the key pieces returning. The Bulldogs tightened up defensively last season and could be even better this time around. If UMD stays healthy, they will have their most successful season since 2011, when Scott Sandelin hung a national championship banner inside the DECC.

In that same poll, North Dakota was picked to finish third (Denver was slotted in 2nd). The media also predicted that St. Cloud State would finish in 6th place.

It is my contention that the four teams competing at the 2016 NCHC Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis this weekend (UND, SCSU, DU, and UMD) are not just the four best teams in the league this season; they are the four who have been the best over the first three seasons of conference play.

Duluth has been able to stay relatively healthy (the Bulldogs’ top six forwards have only missed a combined three games, the top five blueliners have only missed seven, and their goaltender has appeared in all but one game). By comparison, UND’s top six forwards have missed sixteen games, the top five blueliners have missed ten, and North Dakota had to play third-string goaltender Matt Hrynkiw in fourteen contests due to injuries to both scholarship netminders.

Considering all of that, North Dakota’s 30-win season (the 12th in program history) and 2nd consecutive league championship (their 17th overall) have to be seen as a surprise while Duluth’s 17-14-5 mark and 4th place finish in the NCHC must be somewhat disappointing. All that can change for the Bulldogs, however, with a successful weekend in Minneapolis and a berth in the NCAA tournament. UMD would, of course, make the NCAAs with two victories; a single win (or a loss and a tie) might be enough, depending on the results of other league playoff games.

Junior forwards Dominic Toninato and Alex Iafallo have not been a huge factor for Scott Sandelin’s squad this season but could find their scoring touch this weekend. The pair scored 51 points in 68 combined games last season but have just 39 in 72 total games this year.

A big reason for UND’s success this season has been North Dakota’s ability to hold a lead. During the 2015-16 campaign, Brad Berry’s squad is unbeaten (23-0-2) when leading after the first forty minutes of play. In fact, over the past eight years, North Dakota is converting almost 90 percent of second intermission leads into victories and has just seven losses in the last 180 such situations (161-7-12).

North Dakota’s Brock Boeser traded roles with linemate Nick Schmaltz last weekend in a home sweep of Colorado College in the NCHC quarterfinals. Boeser, a first-year forward from Burnsville, Minnesota, collected five assists while Schmaltz netted three goals (to give him eight for the season). Here are the top five freshman point-getters in the nation:

1. Kyle Connor (Michigan): 30-31-61 in 34 games (1.79 points/game)
2. Brock Boeser (North Dakota): 25-23-48 in 36 games (1.33 points/game)
3. Dylan Gambrell (Denver): 15-27-42 in 36 games (1.17 points/game)
4. Colin White (Boston College): 18-22-40 in 33 games (1.21 points/game)
5. Max Letunov (Connecticut): 16-24-40 in 36 games (1.11 points/game)

Since 1983-84, the only UND freshman to score more goals than Boeser’s 25 was Zach Parise, who had 26 in 2002-03. In their first years at North Dakota, T.J. Oshie scored 24 and Jonathan Toews scored 22. The only other freshmen in Fighting Sioux men’s hockey history to score 25 or more goals in a season are Troy Murray (33 in 1980-81), Kevin Maxwell (31, 1978-79), Perry Berezan (31, 1983-84), and Cary Eades (27, 1978-79). In fact, of the first twelve rookies to reach the twenty-goal plateau, ten went on to play in the NHL (Eades and Ian Kallay were the exception).

Amazingly, UND is 7th of 60 teams nationally in scoring offense and 3rd in scoring defense, notching 139 goals and allowing only 69 in 38 games this season (Duluth has marks of 27th and 8th, respectively, and has outscored opponents 98-73 in 36 games). Nationally, only St. Cloud State (164 goals for/82 goals against in 38 games) and Boston College (143 goals for/71 goals against in 37 games) boast a better scoring margin than North Dakota. Quinnipiac is close behind, outscoring opponents 144-75 in 37 games.

North Dakota is now a stone-cold lock to make its 14th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, the longest active streak in men’s Division 1 ice hockey. One reason for that outlook is that UND went 9-1-2 in non-conference games this season, with a home split against Wisconsin accounting for the only loss in twelve games. The Fighting Hawks are currently 1st in the Pairwise rankings, one of four NCHC teams (along with St. Cloud State, Denver, and Minnesota-Duluth) who would make the NCAAs if the season ended today. To be fair, Duluth (13th) should be considered squarely on the playoff bubble (due to autobids and upsets in other conference tournaments), with Omaha (t-17th), Miami (26th), Western Michigan (43rd), and Colorado College (55th) on the outside looking in.

In the same way that North Dakota’s Cam Johnson, Brock Boeser, and Drake Caggiula were overlooked for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award (link opens video), Duluth’s Kasimir Kaskisuo was quite possibly the first goaltender left out of the Mike Richter Award conversation (given to the nation’s best netminder).

In the Hobey race, Caggiula, who missed four games due to injury, never quite regained the same form (15-15-30 in 23 games pre-injury; just 4-8-12 in the ten games after his return). Brock Boeser (25-23-48 in 36 games) was hurt by the fact that North Dakota promoted Caggiula for the award (rather than both of them), especially early in the year. Boeser began to attract more of the spotlight once Caggiula went out, going 3-3-6 in four games without his linemate and 7-10-17 down the stretch (ten games), but by then, it was too late to generate enough Hobey steam.

Despite the fact that sophomore netminder Cam Johnson (a Mike Richter Award finalist) leads the nation in goals-against average, save percentage, and winning percentage, he was not named as one of the ten Hobey Baker finalists. Here are the total stat lines for Johnson as well as Thatcher Demko (Boston College) and Alex Lyon (Yale), the two goaltenders who did make the final ballot:

Thatcher Demko: 25-6-4, 1.78 goals-against average, .938 save percentage, ten shutouts
Cam Johnson: 20-3-1, 1.58 goals-against average, .938 save percentage, five shutouts
Alex Lyon: 19-7-4, 1.59 goals-against average, .938 save percentage, five shutouts

And here’s the line for UMD’s Kasimir Kaskisuo: 17-13-5, 1.89 goals-against average, .924 save percentage, five shutouts

Kaskisuo’s thirteen losses certainly hurt him, but his goals-against average (8th) and shutout numbers (6th) are right up there with the best in the country. He only allowed 66 goals all season, not many more than Thatcher Demko (63), but he only made 800 saves to Demko’s 953, which caused his save percentage to suffer (20th in the country). To be fair, the low number of shots on net (25.3/game) is a credit to the team in front of him, but if Kaskisuo had a save percentage like Demko, Johnson, and Lyon (all tied for 1st in the nation at .938), the Bulldogs would have allowed twelve fewer goals on the season and would likely have flipped many of their seven one-goal losses to victories.

In the four head-to-head matchups between the teams, North Dakota’s Cam Johnson won the goaltending battle against Kasimir Kasisuo four times. Johnson shut out the Bulldogs twice in Duluth and allowed a single goal each night in Grand Forks, making a total of 137 saves on 139 shots in the four meetings. Kaskisuo allowed nine goals in the four games (including five at home), stopping 84 of the 93 shots he faced. Here are the stat lines for each in the season series:

Cam Johnson: 4-0-0, 0.49 goals-against average, .986 save percentage, two shutouts
Kasimir Kaskisuo: 0-4-0, 2.28 goals-against average, .903 save percentage

Another result of those four UND victories is that eight North Dakota players have already scored on Kaskisuo this season, and another five notched assists. That level of confidence might help the Hawks as they attempt to bury their chances in Friday’s first semifinal. On the other side of the ledger, only two Bulldogs (Dominic Toninato and Cal Decowski) have put a puck behind Johnson this season, while just three others have picked up a point against the former Fighting Sioux.

Special teams have not been the deciding factor between these two teams. In the four meetings this year, UND went just 2 for 17 with the man advantage; Duluth, 1 of 16.

Here are a few more interesting comparisons:

North Dakota’s record when scoring the first goal: 18-2-2
North Dakota’s record when opponent scores the first goal: 12-3-1
Minnesota-Duluth’s record when scoring the first goal: 14-6-1
Minnesota-Duluth’s record when opponent scores the first goal: 3-8-4

North Dakota’s record against the NCHC Frozen Faceoff field: 7-3-0 (29 goals scored, 22 goals allowed)
Minnesota-Duluth’s record against the NCHC Frozen Faceoff field: 2-6-2 (14 goals scored, 25 goals allowed)

North Dakota’s record in one-goal games: 7-1-0 (an overtime loss to Omaha)
Minnesota-Duluth’s record in one-goal games: 4-7-0 (including two one-goal losses at Denver and two more at North Dakota)

North Dakota’s road record: 13-3-1
North Dakota’s non-conference record: 9-1-2
Minnesota-Duluth’s road record: 7-8-3
Minnesota-Duluth’s non-conference record: 4-4-2

North Dakota scoring in the first period: 43 goals scored, 21 goals allowed
North Dakota scoring the rest of the way: 96 goals scored, 48 goals allowed
Minnesota-Duluth scoring in the first period: 31 goals scored, 18 goals allowed
Minnesota-Duluth scoring the rest of the way: 66 goals scored, 55 goals allowed

And finally, a look back to last season: 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.

Minnesota-Duluth Team Profile

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (15th season at UMD, 285-275-75, .508)

Pairwise Ranking: 13th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #16/#15
This Season: 17-14-5 overall, 11-10-3-1 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 21-16-3 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional finalist, 12-9-3-0 NCHC (5th)

Team Offense: 2.72 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.03 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 15.8% (23 of 146)
Penalty Kill: 86.2% (112 of 130)

Key Players: Senior F Austin Farley (13-15-28), Senior F Tony Cameranesi (10-24-34), Junior F Alex Iafallo (7-13-20), Junior F Dominic Toninato (13-6-19), Senior D Andy Welinski (6-13-19), Freshman D Neal Pionk (4-13-17), Sophomore G Kasimir Kaskisuo (17-13-5, 1.89 GAA, .924 SV%, 5 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 30-5-3, .829)

Pairwise Ranking: 1st of 60 teams
National Rankings: #1/#1
This Season: 30-5-3 overall, 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.66 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.82 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.5% (29 of 149) four of eight last wknd
Penalty Kill: 86.0% (123 of 143)

Key Players: Freshman F Brock Boeser (25-23-48), Senior F Drake Caggiula (19-23-42), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (8-32-40), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (11-10-21), Junior D Troy Stecher (7-19-26), Sophomore F Tucker Poolman (4-18-22), Junior D Paul LaDue (4-12-16), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (20-3-1, 1.58 GAA, .938 SV%, 5 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: February 20, 2016 (Grand Forks, ND). For the second consecutive night, the homestanding Hawks downed the Bulldogs by a score of 2-1. On this night, freshman phenom Brock Boeser netted the game winner at the 14:39 mark of the third period. Boeser also assisted on the game-tying goal late in the middle frame. In the series opener, sophomore forward Austin Poganski scored on a penalty shot in overtime to send the home fans happy. On the weekend, UND netminder Cam Johnson made 59 of 61 saves to earn his 14th and 15th victories of the season (four of those came against the Bulldogs).

Last Playoff Meeting: March 18, 2010 (St. Paul, MN). After eliminating Minnesota from the WCHA tournament (6-0, 2-4, 4-1) in an epic home quarterfinal series, UND headed down to Xcel Energy Center and turned their attention to Duluth. The Fighting Sioux blanked the Bulldogs 2-0 in front of 15,292 fans to advance to the Final Five semifinals. Jason Gregoire (shorthanded) and Evan Trupp scored third-period goals for the Green and White, who got 22 saves from Brad Eidsness. UMD’s Kenny Reiter made 32 saves. North Dakota went on to defeat Denver and St. Cloud State to claim the first of three consecutive Broadmoor Trophies.

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, 144-77-9 (.646), but the teams have split five neutral site games (2-2-1). 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: North Dakota is 8-2-0 (.800) in the last ten games between the teams, outscoring Duluth 32-18 over that stretch.

Game News and Notes

UND netminder Cam Johnson has five shutouts this season and has allowed exactly one goal on 14 other occasions (including six of the past eight games). He has allowed three or more goals only six times in 28 appearances, going 0-2 with four no-decisions. By comparison, Duluth netminder Kasimir Kaskisuo (five shutouts) has allowed exactly one goal on ten other occasions (including four of the past eight games). Kaskisuo has allowed three or more goals twelve times this season (35 appearances), posting a record of 2-8-2 in those games. 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.

Media Coverage

UND and Duluth will face off at 4:08 p.m., with the game between SCSU and Denver scheduled to begin at 7:38 p.m. Both semifinals (as well as Saturday night’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game) will be televised on CBS Sports Network. The third-place game will be streamed live at 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.

Pre-Game Events

UND fans attending the NCHC Frozen Faceoff are invited to join the UND Alumni Association & Foundation and UND Athletics for pregame festivities beginning three hours prior to any game in which UND is playing. The pregame events will be held at the Pourhouse in Minneaplois (10 South 5th Street), within walking distance of the Target Center. All UND alumni, family, and friends are invited to this free event with cash bars, a full restaurant, DJs, a live band, and more! The Pourhouse invites all UND fans back to the venue after each hockey game. The usual cover charge will be FREE to UND fans or anyone with a ticket.

The Prediction

Despite all of the stats in UND’s favor, this game is basically a coin flip due to the rivalry and playoff atmosphere. I don’t buy the argument that Duluth has “more to play for”: North Dakota wants to solidify its #1 overall ranking and atone for a 1-3 record in its first two NCHC Frozen Faceoff tournaments; the Bulldogs want to earn their way into the NCAAs and make their mark in the school’s first appearance. I can easily see this game going to overtime, with UND’s top-end talent sealing the deal. North Dakota 3-2 (OT).

Bonus Prediction

In the evening semifinal, it will be interesting to see which team the North Dakota fans cheer for. St. Cloud State has enough firepower to get the job done (particularly in front of a partisan crowd), but will the twenty Denver fans in attendance make enough noise to cheer their team to victory? I’ve got the Huskies in this one, setting up #1 vs. #2 in the title game. SCSU 5-2 (EN).

The First Three Seasons Of The NCHC: Who Are The Top Teams?

St. Cloud State won the inaugural season of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (2013-14), with North Dakota hoisting the Penrose Cup in 2014-15 and again this year. But beyond that, which teams are making their mark as frontrunners in the NCHC and which programs are quickly headed in the wrong direction?

For comparison’s sake, I have the teams ranked in order of their average league finish (among the three seasons combined). There was one tie (Denver and Omaha each have an average finish of 4.00); I settled that by looking at the combined conference record for both schools.

It’s certainly true that the top four teams in the NCHC this season are headed to the 2016 Frozen Faceoff at Target Center this weekend. One could also argue that North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Denver, and Minnesota-Duluth have been the top four teams over the first three seasons of the new league (complete season records and order of finish are listed in the table below; season and combined records are for conference games only).

Team 2015-16 record (finish) 2014-15 record (finish) 2013-14 record (finish) Total record Average finish
North Dakota 19-4-1-1 (1st) 16-6-2-0 (1st) 15-9-0-0 (2nd) 50-19-3-1 1.33
St. Cloud State 17-6-1-1 (2nd) 11-12-1-0 (6th) 15-6-3-0 (1st) 43-24-5-1 3.00
Univ. of Denver 17-5-2-0 (2nd) 13-10-1-1(4th) 10-11-3-2 (6th) 40-26-6-3 4.00
Nebraska- Omaha 8-15-1-0 (6th) 12-8-4-3 (3rd) 13-9-2-1 (3rd) 33-32-7-4 4.00
Minn.- Duluth 11-10-3-1 (4th) 12-9-3-0 (5th) 11-11-2-2 (4th) 34-30-8-3 4.33
Miami Univ. 9-13-2-2 (5th) 14-9-1-1 (2nd) 6-17-1-1 (8th) 29-39-4-4 5.00
Western Michigan 5-18-1-1 (7th) 6-13-5-4 (7th) 11-11-2-2 (5th) 22-42-8-7 6.33
Colorado College 4-19-1-0 (8th) 2-19-3-1 (8th) 6-13-5-1 (7th) 12-51-9-2 7.67

What stands out to you? Who wins in the showdown between Omaha (better average finish) and Duluth (better overall conference record)? Who are North Dakota’s biggest rivals, year in and year out? Which conference series do you most look forward to? And who do you expect to make the biggest jump next season?

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!

The 30-Win Season: A Major Milestone

By virtue of their quarterfinal round sweep of Colorado College, the UND men’s hockey team reached the 30-victory plateau for the twelfth time in program history. That level of success has usually translated to multiple banners and trophies.

Of the first eleven teams to reach 30 wins, nine of those won the regular season league title (as did this year’s squad). Five previous 30-victory campaigns also rode that level of success all the way to a national championship.

Here is a look at the twelve North Dakota men’s hockey teams with the most victories; the chart also indicates which banners and trophies those teams collected along the way:

Season Record Win % Regular Season Title League Playoff Title NCAAs Frozen Four
2015-2016 30-5-3 .829 Yes ??? Yes ???
2010-2011 32-9-3 .761 Yes Yes Yes 3rd
2003-2004 30-8-3 .768 Yes Yes
1999-2000 31-8-5 .761 Yes Yes 1st
1998-1999 32-6-2 .825 Yes Yes
1997-1998 30-8-1 .782 Yes Yes
1996-1997 31-10-2 .744 Yes Yes Yes 1st
1986-1987 40-8-0 .833 Yes Yes Yes 1st
1983-1984 31-12-2 .711 Yes 3rd
1981-1982 35-12-0 .745 Yes Yes 1st
1979-1980 31-8-1 .787 Yes Yes 1st
1978-1979 30-11-1 .726 Yes Yes 2nd

North Dakota’s other two NCAA titles (1959 and 1963) came during a different era. Head coach Bob May guided UND to a 20-10-1 (.661) record and the national championship during their final season as an independent (1958-59), but with only 31 games played, the 30 victory mark would have been almost an impossible feat.

And four years later, Barry Thorndycraft’s 1962-63 squad won 22 of its 32 games (22-7-3,.734), but again, the schedule (as well as the opportunity for victories) was vastly different than today’s game.

Three other North Dakota men’s hockey teams fell one game short of 30 victories, including last year’s group:

Season Record Win % Regular Season Title League Playoff Title NCAAs Frozen Four
2014-2015 29-10-3 .726 Yes Yes 3rd
2005-2006 29-16-1 .641 Yes Yes 3rd
2000-2001 29-8-9 .728 Yes Yes 2nd

Brad Berry has done wonders in his first year behind the UND bench. In the first half of the season, he dealt with long-term injuries to both of his scholarship goaltenders (Cam Johnson and Matej Tomek), and he has also seen several key components miss significant time. The only two players to appear in all 38 games to this point are sophomore forward Austin Poganski and junior forward Luke Johnson. The most significant injuries were to senior forward Drake Caggiula (missed five games) and sophomore forward Nick Schmaltz (missed seven). Berry has also kept his team on an even keel, only losing back-to-back games on one occasion (February 12-13 at Denver). In its four victories after losses this season, North Dakota outscored its opponents 13-4.

This year’s team has as many as six games remaining to make their mark on the great legacy and tradition that is University of North Dakota hockey.

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!