Final Five Semifinal 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 Friday’s game as an opportunity to gain momentum, gear up for the NCAA playoffs, and play for the WCHA playoff championship on Saturday night.

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. Denver is currently tied for 6th in the PairWise rankings, which mimic the method used by the NCAA Selection Committee to determine participants for the NCAA Division I men’s hockey tournament.

They will have to make that playoff run without one of their leading scorers. 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. Freshman Tyler Bozak (17-15-32 in 38 games) is the only DU player with more points than Trotter’s 31.

It has been a tale of two seasons for Denver. The Pioneers opened the season with a sparkling record of 17-4-0, but sputtered to the end of the regular season, going 5-9-1 over their last 15 games before sweeping Minnesota-Duluth at home last weekend.

UND, on the other hand, spent the first half of the season in “Splitsville”, splitting eight consecutive series. The Sioux have been red-hot in 2008, going 16-2-3 to climb to 5th in the PairWise. North Dakota saw its 18-game unbeaten streak (15-0-3) come to an end in Game 2 of its WCHA first-round playoff series against Michigan Tech, but rebounded to defeat the Huskies 2-1 on Sunday night to advance to the Final Five.

Denver Team Profile
National Rankings: #6/#6
PairWise Ranking: 6th (tied)
Head Coach: George Gwozdecky (14th season at DU, 321-204-41, .603)
This Season: 24-13-1 Overall, 16-11-1 WCHA (3rd)
Special Teams: Power Play 14.2% (27 of 190), Penalty Kill 88.6% (156 of 176)
Last Season: 21-15-4, 13-11-4 WCHA (4th)
Key Players: Freshman F Tyler Bozak (17-15-32), Sophomore F Rhett Rakhshani (13-13-26), Freshman F Kyle Ostrow (10-13-23), Junior D Chris Butler (3-14-17), Senior G Peter Mannino (23-13-1, 2.26 GAA, .916 SV, 6 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile
National Rankings: #4/#5
PairWise Ranking: 5th
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (4th season at UND, 103-54-15, .642)
This Season: 25-9-4 Overall, 18-7-3 WCHA (2nd)
Specialty Teams: Power Play 18.2% (31 of 170), Penalty Kill 88.1% (148 of 168)
Last Season: 24-14-5 (Frozen Four semifinalist), 13-10-5 WCHA (3rd)
Key Players: Junior F T.J. Oshie (17-22-39), Junior F Ryan Duncan (14-22-36), Sophomore F Chris VandeVelde (14-16-30), Sophomore D Chay Genoway (6-19-25), Senior D Robbie Bina (2-22-24), Senior G Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (24-9-4, 1.63 GAA, .934 SV, 6 SO)

By The Numbers
Last Meeting: February 16, 2008 (Grand Forks, ND). UND wins 4-1 to complete the weekend sweep of the Pioneers. Sioux junior winger Andrew Kozek scored a hat trick in Friday’s opener, bringing North Dakota back from a 4-1 deficit to win 5-4. The Sioux scored eight of the last nine goals in the series.
Last Meeting at the Final Five: March 18, 2005 (St. Paul, MN). In what will forever be known as the Robbie Bina game, Denver scored 42 seconds into overtime to defeat North Dakota 2-1 and advance to the WCHA championship game. Gabe Gauthier scored the game-winner, his second of the night, and Glenn Fischer made 29 saves for the Pioneers. Freshman goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux stopped 30 shots in a losing effort.
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, 128-109-7 (.539).

Game News and Notes
UND goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux enters the weekend leading the nation in goals-against average (1.6312) and is second in save percentage (.934). Both Lamoureux and Pioneer senior goaltender Peter Mannino have six shutouts on the season (tied for first among NCAA goalies), and Lamoureux has given up exactly one goal 16 times this season. With the departure of Brock Trotter, Denver freshman forward Tyler Bozak is the team’s active scoring leader with 17 goals and 15 assists. Bozak could become the second consecutive Pioneer freshman to lead the team in scoring, a feat Brock Trotter pulled off last season. North Dakota boasts the nation’s best defense, giving up only 1.74 goals per game. Denver is eighth at 2.26. UND has scored 3.03 goals per contest; DU, 2.87. The Sioux have played well on the road this season, posting a 10-4-2 record away from Ralph Engelstad Arena. The Pioneers have struggled, going 8-9-0 on the road. North Dakota has outscored opponents 42-11 in the first period this year. In the last six meetings between the two teams, UND has killed 27 of 29 Denver power play opportunities (93.1%).

The Prediction
Both schools bring a great deal of talent to the ice. UND has an edge on the power play and between the pipes, and brings more experience to the Final Five. Lamoureux will hear his name called as a Hobey finalist on Thursday night and back it up with a strong performance on Friday afternoon. UND 3-1.

Thank you for reading. I welcome your comments and suggestions. Check back all weekend long for reaction, analysis, and commentary from St. Paul.

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