Game Preview: UND vs. Denver

There’s no question that these two teams have history: bad blood, controversy, and postseason clashes. But rather than looking at the past, both schools are treating this weekend’s action as an important series that will affect the conference race and the national playoff picture.

After narrowly missing out on last year’s NCAA tournament (and the West Regional held at Pepsi Center in Denver), the Pioneers seem poised for a run toward this year’s Frozen Four, also held at Pepsi Center.

They will have to make that playoff run without their leading scorer. Sophomore Brock Trotter, who had amassed season totals of 13 goals and 18 assists in 24 games, signed a pro contract with the Montreal Canadiens. Trotter played his last game as a Pioneer on January 19th against Bemidji State.

It has been a tale of two seasons for Denver. The Pioneers opened the season with a sparkling record of 17-4-0, but have struggled recently, winning only twice in their last seven contests (2-4-1). UND, on the other hand, spent the first half of the season in “Splitsville”, splitting eight consecutive series. The Sioux have been red-hot lately, compiling an 8-1-1 record in the year 2008. North Dakota also holds the nation’s longest current unbeaten streak, bringing an 8-0-1 mark into this weekend’s series.

Denver Team Profile
National Rankings: #6/#6
Head Coach: George Gwozdecky (14th season at DU, 316-199-41, .605)
This Season: 19-8-1 Overall, 13-6-1 WCHA
Special Teams: Power Play 14.2% (19 of 134), Penalty Kill 89.3% (117 of 131)
Last Season: 21-15-4, 13-11-4 WCHA (4th)
Key Players: Freshman F Tyler Bozak (14-12-26), Sophomore F Rhett Rakhshani (10-11-21), Sophomore F Tyler Ruegsegger (10-10-20), Junior D Chris Butler (1-13-14), Senior G Peter Mannino (18-8-1, 2.15 GAA, .921 SV, 4 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile
National Rankings: #3/#3
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (4th season at UND, 95-53-13, .630)
This Season: 17-8-2 Overall, 14-7-1 WCHA
Specialty Teams: Power Play 17.5% (21 of 120), Penalty Kill 89.1% (115 of 129)
Last Season: 24-14-5 (Frozen Four semifinalist), 13-10-5 WCHA (3rd)
Key Players: Junior F Ryan Duncan (10-16-26), Junior F T.J. Oshie (12-14-26), Sophomore F Chris VandeVelde (11-12-23), Senior D Robbie Bina (2-20-22), Junior D Taylor Chorney (2-17-19), Senior G Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (17-8-2, 1.73 GAA, .934 SV, 4 SO)

By The Numbers
Last Meeting: December 1, 2007. UND wins 3-1 in Denver to salvage a split. The Pioneers won the first game, 1-0, on Tyler Bozak’s power play goal.
Last Meeting in Grand Forks: October 29, 2005. Denver wins 7-2 to split the two-game series. North Dakota won on Friday night, 3-1.
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.
All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 126-109-7 (.535). North Dakota leads the series in Grand Forks, 76-39-4 (.655).

Game News and Notes
UND goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux enters the weekend leading the nation in both save percentage (.934) and goals-against average (1.73). The senior netminder has allowed only one goal in seven of his previous eight games. Both Lamoureux and Pioneer senior goaltender Peter Mannino have four shutouts on the season (tied for second among NCAA goalies) . North Dakota junior forward T.J. Oshie has 14 career game-winning goals, ranking third in school history. Freshman Evan Trupp, who scored in overtime to lift North Dakota past Minnesota, now has four game-winning goals this season. With the departure of Brock Trotter, Denver freshman forward Tyler Bozak is the team’s active scoring leader with 14 goals and 12 assists. Bozak could become the second consecutive Pioneer freshman to lead the team in scoring, a feat Brock Trotter pulled off last season. UND sophomore forward Chris VandeVelde has 16 points (7g, 9a) in his last 15 games. Both teams are coming off three-point weekends against Minnesota.

The Prediction
Both schools bring a great deal of talent to the ice. If UND has an edge, it’s on the blue line, both in terms of experience and offensive punch. These games will be tightly contested, and special teams will be key. North Dakota should be rested and ready, and the crowd will make a difference this weekend. UND 2-1, 3-2.

Thank you for reading. I welcome your comments and suggestions. For reaction to Friday’s game action, click here. Check back after Saturday’s game for more commentary and analysis.

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