WCHA Playoff Series Preview: UND vs. Michigan Tech

The last time Michigan Tech came to Grand Forks (January 11th and 12th, 2008), the two teams held average records in the conference. North Dakota’s WCHA record stood at 7-7-0, while the Huskies came in at 5-6-1. It appeared as if Colorado College (13-3-0) and Denver (11-3-0) had run away with the top two spots in the league, with the Sioux and Huskies both in good shape for a home-ice playoff series.

A Sioux sweep of the Huskies by identical 4-1 scores sent the two teams in opposite directions. Michigan Tech has gone 4-7-3 in league play since the series in Grand Forks; North Dakota is undefeated in conference action at 9-0-3. That stretch allowed UND to pass Denver University for second place in the WCHA, while MTU dropped to ninth place, one point behind eighth-place Minnesota-Duluth (9-14-5).

A big key to North Dakota’s first sweep of the season was their defensive play. The Sioux allowed only 33 shots in the two games combined and killed all ten Michigan Tech power plays.

At the time, I wrote the following about UND’s second half schedule and the possibility of a “Hakstol Surge”:

UND is in good shape for a stretch run, as the toughest part of their schedule seems to be behind them. With seven conference weekends remaining, the Sioux will host Michigan Tech, Alaska-Anchorage, Denver, and St. Cloud State, and travel to MSU-Mankato, Minnesota, and Minnesota-Duluth. It is my prediction that North Dakota will still be in third place at the end of the regular season, hosting a first-round playoff series, advancing to the WCHA Final Five, and avoiding the dreaded Thursday play-in game.

That stretch run begins now. UND can strengthen its position with strong showings this weekend and against Mankato and Anchorage. Five wins in those six contests isn’t out of the question, and would give the Sioux much-needed momentum heading down to Mariucci to take on the Golden Gophers in early February.

And North Dakota did me one better, winning all six games against Michigan Tech, MSU-Mankato, and Alaska-Anchorage before taking 3 of 4 points from the Gophers in Minneapolis.

And astute reader yababy8 did me one better as well, correctly predicting that UND would pass Denver for second place in the WCHA:

I think the Sioux make it to second in the WCHA. Factor in a nice sweep of the Pioneers and we just have two games to close in on a tie and we would win the tie breaker 3-1. I think Denver is not as good as their record suggests – We will see!

Nice work, yababy8!

One more word about the “Hakstol Surge”: In Dave Hakstol’s four seasons as head coach at North Dakota, UND has gone 44-32-5 (.574) before the new year and 57-21-10 (.705) after. The difference in the past two seasons is even more remarkable: in the first halves of 2006-07 and 2007-08, the Sioux went 18-17-2 (.514); in the second halves, 29-5-7 (.793).

And now, on to this weekend’s WCHA first round playoff series:

One problem for the Huskies has been scoring. Including the weekend series at Ralph Engelstad Arena, Michigan Tech has scored only 28 goals in its last 16 conference games (1.75 goals/game). For the season, MTU was not much better, netting only 55 goals in 28 league games (1.96 goals/game).

North Dakota, by contrast, scored 85 goals in WCHA action (3.04/game) and allowed only 53 (1.89/game). The Huskies allowed 77 goals (2.75/game) over the course of their conference schedule.

After opening the season 5-2-0 (including a home split with North Dakota) while scoring 22 goals (3.14/game) and allowing 16, the Huskies have scored only 52 goals in 29 games (8-16-5), an average of 1.79 goals/game.

One way to compare the teams offensively is to look at how their top scorers stack up in the league scoring race. Michigan Tech is paced by senior Peter Rouleau, who scored 9 goals and added 13 assists to finish 12th in the conference. The Huskies had only one other player in the top 50, senior Tyler Shelast (6-8-14), who ended up 36th.

North Dakota placed eight players in the WCHA top 36, led by juniors T.J. Oshie (12-17-29) and Ryan Duncan (9-19-28). Oshie and Duncan were two of only six players in the league to average a point or better in conference games. Sophomore Chris VandeVelde notched 12 goals and 12 assists, and the Sioux defensemen performed admirably as well. Rearguards Chay Genoway (5-13-18), Robbie Bina (1-16-17), and Taylor Chorney (2-14-16) were three of the top five scoring blueliners in the WCHA, while Joe Finley tallied 4 goals and 10 assists in league play after scoring 1 goal and 9 assists in his first two full seasons (84 games). Junior Andrew Kozek (12-3-15) rounds out UND’s top eight scorers, and his twelve goals in conference play are tied for the team lead.

Michigan Tech’s top goaltender, junior Michael-Lee Teslak (7-9-4, 2.14 GAA, .920 SV), has started almost every game down the stretch. Over the past four weekends, Teslak has a record of 3-4-0 to go along with a 2.68 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage. Before his mid-season injury, he had a GAA of 1.72 and a SV% of .934. Fellow junior Rob Nolan (6-9-1, 2.66 GAA, .899 SV) has played almost half of the minutes in net for MTU this season.

UND, by contrast, is a one-man goalie show. Senior Jean-Philippe Lamoureux played every minute of WCHA action for the Sioux this season, a feat equaled only by Duluth sophomore Alex Stalock, who logged every minute for the Bulldogs. Lamoureux won the league goaltending title, edging Colorado College freshman net minder Richard Bachman, 1.7431 to 1.7536 to notch the best goals-against average in conference games. For the season, Lamoureux leads the nation in GAA (1.66) and save percentage (.934) and is second in shutouts (five) while playing the toughest schedule in the country.

Amazingly, during North Dakota’s 17-game unbeaten streak (14-0-3), Lamoureux has started sixteen games and allowed zero or one goal 12 times.

Michigan Tech Team Profile
National Rankings: Unranked, tied for 22nd in the PairWise
Head Coach: Jamie Russell (5th season at MTU, 54-110-25, .352)
This Season: 13-18-5 Overall, 9-15-4 WCHA (9th)
Specialty Teams: Power Play 14.0% (24 of 171), Penalty Kill 84.2% (144 of 171)
Last Season: 18-17-5, 11-12-5 WCHA (6th)
Key Players: Senior F Peter Rouleau (12-16-28), Senior F Tyler Shelast (13-10-23), Senior F Jimmy Kerr (8-9-17), Junior D Geoff Kinrade (5-12-17), Junior G Michael-Lee Teslak (7-9-4, 2.14GAA, .920 SV)

North Dakota Team Profile
National Rankings: #2/#2, tied for 4th in the PairWise
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (4th season at UND, 101-53-15, .642)
This Season: 23-8-4 Overall, 18-7-3 WCHA (2nd)
Specialty Teams: Power Play 18.6% (29 of 156), Penalty Kill 88.3% (136 of 154)
Last Season: 24-14-5 (Frozen Four semifinalist), 13-10-5 WCHA (3rd)
Key Players: Junior F T.J. Oshie (14-21-35), Junior F Ryan Duncan (13-20-33), Sophomore F Chris VandeVelde (14-15-29), Senior D Robbie Bina (2-21-23), Sophomore D Chay Genoway (6-16-22), Junior D Taylor Chorney (2-18-20), Senior G Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (22-8-4, 1.66 GAA, .934 SV, 5 SO)

By The Numbers
Last Meeting: January 12th, 2008 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota defeats Michigan Tech 4-1 to complete the home sweep. UND defeated MTU by the identical score on Friday night.
Most Important Meeting: The Sioux and Huskies have never met in the NCAA tournament, so I will go with the most important meeting that never was: in 1965, the Sioux lost to Boston College, 4-3, one game short of the national championship game, where they would have faced the Michigan Tech Huskies, who won the second of their three titles by defeating the Eagles. UND settled for third place that season, downing Brown University, 9-5. North Dakota went 13-3-0 in the regular season in 1964-65, with two of those three losses coming at the hands of Michigan Tech.
All-time: UND leads the all-time series, 131-88-8 (.595). The teams first met in 1948.

Game News and Notes
Michigan Tech is 7-0-1 when leading after one period; North Dakota has outscored opponents 39-10 in the first period this season. The Sioux have been whistled for 19.8 penalty minutes per game this year; the Huskies, 16.92. Michigan Tech appeared at the WCHA Final Five last season after traveling to Colorado College and taking two of three games from the Tigers in a low scoring series (2-1 OT, 0-2, 1-0). The Huskies fell to Wisconsin in the Thursday play-in game, 4-0. North Dakota has appeared in the past two WCHA Final Five championship games and three of the past four. UND won the playoff championship over St. Cloud State in 2006 but lost thrilling title games to Minnesota in 2004 and 2007. The Sioux defeated Minnesota for third-place in 2005. Husky sophomore defenseman Eli Vlaisavljevich’s last name is a 35 point Scrabble score – without landing on a triple word square. It is believed to be the best Scrabble score in the WCHA.

The Prediction
North Dakota has had some trouble recently in home playoff series, with five of their last eight first-round matchups going to three games and four of the last ten home playoff games going to overtime. But UND has found a way to advance to the Final Five the past ten times they have hosted the opening round of the playoffs, and they’ll do it again this weekend. UND 3-1, 4-0.

Thank you for reading. I welcome your comments and suggestions. For reaction to Friday’s Game 1, click here. For reaction to Saturday’s Game 2, click here. Check back after Sunday’s series finale for more reaction, commentary, and analysis.

2 thoughts on “WCHA Playoff Series Preview: UND vs. Michigan Tech”

  1. Depending on who is out of the lineup, this could be another tough series for UND. Certainly, Tech does not want their season to end, so I expect them to play hard, ninth-seed or not. And, if UND has to juggle lines around, they could have trouble scoring again.

  2. Despite being #9 in the WCHA, there’s a big gap between Tech and Alaska-Anchorage. Michigan Tech has wins against the top 4 WCHA teams (CC, UND, Denver, and Mankato), something no one else outside the top 4 can claim (yeah, that stat is a bit tortured).

    But, with stats like that, commentary like the above (5 of last 8 going to 3, UND’s noted scoring slump), and the boards getting uneasy that UND is “due” for a loss, I see this one going to 3. Write me down for a Friday loss followed by two wins.

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