Weekend Preview: UND vs. Denver

March 18, 2005: Denver’s Geoff Paukovitch checks Robbie Bina from behind. February 24, 2006: Mike Prpich pops Paukovitch.

February 16, 2008: The entire DU bench spills onto the ice after every period. That same night: Kyle Radke takes exception.

January 24, 2009: Denver head coach George Gwozdecky parades across the ice to protest a call. The officials bow to his authority, calling five straight penalities against the Fighting Sioux. And earlier this season, the Pioneers were awarded seven power plays in one period and defeated UND, 3-2.

So far, North Dakota seemingly has no answer for the benefits Gwozdecky enjoys from the referees. (Full disclosure: the WCHA league office is in Denver)

The other issue for UND this weekend is that sophomore forward Brett Hextall is not ready to return to the lineup. In the last series played in Grand Forks, Hextall clearly took several Pioneers off their game. In fact, in Friday’s opener, he completed a rare triple play midway through the third period: he drew three penalties at the same time. With Hextall out of the lineup, expect other Sioux skaters to make life miserable for the Pioneers and their coach.

One key area to watch this weekend is special teams play, particularly the Sioux power play against the Denver penalty kill. UND has not scored on its last 19 power play opportunities, and the Pioneers boast the league’s best penalty kill (87.2%). In a series that could turn into a steady parade to the penalty box on both sides, North Dakota will have to score at least one power play goal each night to come out on top.

Denver Team Profile

Head Coach: George Gwozdecky (16th season at DU, 360-223-50, .608)
This Season:  14-6-4 Overall, 10-4-4 WCHA (t-2nd)
National Rankings: #3/#3
PairWise Ranking: t-1st
Team Offense: 3.12 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.67 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.2% (26 of 129)
Penalty Kill: 87.2% (102 of 117)
Last Season: 23-12-5 Overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 16-8-4 WCHA (3rd)
Key Players: Senior F Rhett Rakhshani (16-15-31), Senior F Tyler Ruegsegger (12-16-28), Junior F Anthony Maiani (4-13-17), Sophomore F Joe Colborne (9-14-23), Sophomore D Patrick Wiercioch (4-13-17) Junior G Marc Cheverie (12-3-3, 2.12 GAA, .928 SV%, 5 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (6th season at UND, 143-79-24, .630)
National Ranking: #4/#4
PairWise Ranking: t-10th
This Season: 13-8-5, 8-7-3 WCHA (6th)
Last Season: 24-15-4 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional semifinalist), 17-7-4 WCHA (1st)
Team Offense: 3.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.15 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.7% (29 of 140)
Penalty Kill: 86.6% (116 of 134)
Key Players: Sophomore F Jason Gregoire (13-8-121), Senior F Chris VandeVelde (7-12-19), Freshman F Danny Kristo (8-12-20), Junior F Evan Trupp (5-16-21), Junior D Derrick LaPoint (1-11-12), Sophomore G Brad Eidsness (12-6-4, 2.24 GAA, .906 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: November 21, 2009 (Denver, CO). After jumping out to a 2-0 lead, North Dakota committed seven penalties in the second period and could not solve the Pioneer power play. Denver won 3-2 and completed the weekend sweep.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: January 24, 2009. In a game remembered more for Gwozdecky’s antics on the dasher and on the ice, Denver twice came back to tie UND and the final score read 2-2.  Brad Eidsness made 38 saves to preserve one point for the Fighting Sioux.  A night earlier, North Dakota rolled, 8-3.

Last Ten: North Dakota has a 5-4-1 edge in the last ten games.

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, 129-112-8 (.534), including a 79-39-5 (.663) advantage in games played in Grand Forks.

Game News and Notes

On average, North Dakota is outshooting teams 33-23 this season. Denver has only lost one game in the past five meetings between the schools. Sioux forwards Even Trupp and Chris Vandevelde each have six career points against the Pioneers. Vegas oddsmakers are offering 6 to 5 that Denver head coach George Gwozdecky stands on the dasher at least once this weekend.

The Prediction

There’s so much on the line (both in the WCHA race and nationally) this weekend that a split seems almost inevitable. But North Dakota has the home ice (and home crowd) advantage, and that should translate into an extra point. Gwozdecky is the wild card in all of this, and if he bends the ear of an official or two, anything is possible. UND 4-3, 3-3 tie.

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