Weekend Preview: UND vs. Denver

When the Minnesota Golden Gophers came to Ralph Engelstad Arena in early January, North Dakota’s season could have gone in either direction. The Maroon and Gold looked to be the prohibitive favorite in those contests, and UND was in real danger of playing on the road in the WCHA playoffs and missing the NCAA tournament entirely.

What a difference two weeks makes.

The Fighting Sioux swept a pair from the Gophers, took three of four points at Michigan Tech, and find themselves at home this weekend with first place on the line.

The Denver Pioneers arrive in Grand Forks sporting an impressive record (15-6-2) and a high-powered offense (3.65 goals per game). Yet George Gwozdecky’s squad has played only 7 of those 23 games on the road.

North Dakota is in the middle of yet another second-half surge, going 9-2-1 in December and January after opening the season 5-8-1.

In the race for the McNaughton Cup, UND sits in 4th place, three points behind first place Denver. Wisconsin (10-6-2 WCHA, 2nd place) and Minnesota (9-4-3, 3rd) are idle this weekend.

Not only are this weekend’s games pivotal in the league race, it is very likely that a Sioux sweep would vault them into 12th or 13th in the PairWise rankings, used to determine the field for the NCAA tournament. For more on how this weekend’s games could affect the PairWise rankings, read Jim Dahl’s excellent article here.

On the injury front, Denver’s sophomore sensation Tyler Bozak (7 goals and 14 assists in 18 games) has not played since December 12th and is expected to miss the rest of the regular season. For North Dakota, senior forward Andrew Kozek (5 goals, 6 assists) will be a game-time decision after missing last weekend’s series at Michigan Tech.

Denver Team Profile

Head Coach: George Gwozdecky (15th season at DU, 338-211-43, .607)
This Season: 15-6-2 Overall, 11-4-1 WCHA (1st)
National Rankings: #4/#4
PairWise Ranking: 8th
Team Offense: 3.65 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.22 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 14.6% (23 of 157)
Penalty Kill: 87.3% (110 of 126)
Last Season: 26-14-1 Overall (NCAA Midwest Regional semifinalist), 16-11-1 WCHA (3rd)
Key Players: Sophomore F Anthony Maiani (7-21-28), Junior F Rhett Rakhshani (10-11-21), Freshman F Joe Colborne (5-14-19), Sophomore F Kyle Ostrow (7-9-16), Senior D J.P. Testwuide (2-6-8), Sophomore G Marc Cheverie (15-6-2, 2.19 GAA, .925 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (5th season at UND, 120-66-17, .633)
This Season: 14-10-2 Overall, 9-5-2 WCHA (4th)
National Rankings: #15/#15
PairWise Ranking: 14th (tied)
Team Offense: 3.46 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.77 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.4% (35 of 180)
Penalty Kill: 84.4% (114 of 135)
Last Season: 28-11-4 Overall (NCAA Frozen Four semifinalist), 18-7-3 WCHA (2nd)
Key Players: Senior F Ryan Duncan (10-9-19), Junior F Chris VandeVelde (8-10-18), Senior F/D Brad Miller (4-19-23), Senior F Ryan Martens (9-9-18), Junior D Chay Genoway (2-23-25), Freshman G Brad Eidsness (14-7-2, 2.51 GAA, .908 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 21, 2008 (St. Paul, MN). Pioneer freshman forward Anthony Maiani scored an unassisted goal with 80 seconds remaining and Denver added an empty-net goal with six seconds on the clock as DU downed UND 3-1 in a semifinal matchup at the WCHA Final Five. Taylor Chorney scored the lone goal for North Dakota, which suffered only its third loss in 2008 (16-3-3). The Fighting Sioux would rebound and win three straight to claim the NCAA Midwest Regional championship and a fourth consecutive trip to the Frozen Four.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: February 16, 2008. UND won 4-1 to complete the weekend sweep of the visiting 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.

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, 128-110-7 (.537), including a 78-39-4 mark (.661) in games played in Grand Forks.

Game News and Notes

Denver is 1-5-1 when trailing after one period of play, while North Dakota has not lost a game (7-0-1) when leading after twenty minutes. UND freshman goaltender Brad Eidsness has appeared in 23 consecutive games (including 22 starts). The last freshman netminder to appear in a longer stretch of games was Peter Waselovich, who played in a school-record 32 straight games during UND’s 1973-74 season. North Dakota senior forward Ryan Duncan is currently 21st on the UND career scoring list. Duncan has notched 152 points in his Sioux career and would move into the top 20 all-time with two more points this season. In the past seven meetings between the two teams, the Fighting Sioux have killed 30 of 33 Pioneer power play opportunities.

The Prediction

North Dakota has fared better against teams that like to transition quickly, and Denver fits the bill. The first period on Friday night will be key for the weekend series. I have a feeling that UND will click in the opener and Denver’s goaltending will even up the series on Saturday. UND 4-2, DU 3-1.

Thank you for reading. As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions. Check back after the games for reaction and commentary.

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