Weekend Preview: UND at Michigan Tech

It’s been a rough season for the Michigan Tech Huskies. In fact, it’s been a rough three seasons.

Jamie Russell’s squad has won only four games in 2010-11. To put that in perspective, North Dakota won five games in February (5-0-1). At one point, the Huskies went on a winless streak of historic proportions, going 0-23-2 with a stretch of 15 straight losses.

In the past three seasons, MTU has won 15 games (15-81-12). The Fighting Sioux have won 15 games in the past three months (15-3-1).

So it’s no surprise that visiting North Dakota is the heavy favorite in the matchup this weekend and when the teams play at UND in the first round of the WCHA playoffs next week.

But there are signs of improvement for Michigan Tech. The Huskies have only allowed six more power play goals than they’ve scored this season, much better than the -48 they posted over the past two seasons. Although their power play and penalty kill numbers are still dreadful, the biggest difference is that MTU is staying out of the box.

The other bright spot for the Huskies has been the play of their freshman class. Three of the top seven point producers for MTU are first-year players, and as a class, the top six rookies have scored 24 goals and added 43 assists in 201 combined games played.

On the negative side for MTU is team defense and goaltending. Opponents are averaging over 36 shots on goal per game, sophomore G Kevin Genoe is routinely left out to dry, and the team has only allowed two goals or less 5 times all season.

By comparison, UND has allowed two goals or less 22 times this year, and are allowing opponents an average of 24 shots on goal per game.

If you factor in team offense (MTU is scoring 2.09 goals per game; UND 3.74), it’s easy to see why the records are mirror images of each other (MTU 4-26-4, UND 24-8-3).

Despite all of the numbers, it will be very difficult for North Dakota to beat Michigan Tech (or any opponent, for that matter) four consecutive times. I expect one game each weekend to be a close contest, and if the Huskies can get great goaltending, they could steal a game and make UND’s road to the WCHA Final Five very interesting.

In the chase for the MacNaughton Cup (WCHA regular season champion), the Fighting Sioux have clinched at least a share and would capture the trophy outright with at least one point this weekend.

Michigan Tech Team Profile

Head Coach: (Jamie Russell, 8th season at MTU, 70-193-37, .295)

This Season: 4-26-4, 2-22-2 WCHA (12th)
Last Season: 5-30-1 overall, 4-24-0 WCHA (10th)
Pairwise Ranking: NR
National Rankings: NR/NR

Team Offense: 2.09 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 4.15 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.0% (24 of 141)
Penalty Kill: 76.9% (100 of 130)

Key Players: Sophomore F Milos Gordic (15-6-21), Freshman F Ryan Furne (11-9-20), Freshman F Jacob Johnstone (4-14-18), Senior D Deron Cousens (2-18-20), Sophomore D Steven Seigo (4-13-17), Sophomore G Kevin Genoe (3-15-2, 3.61 GAA, .893 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (7th season at UND, 179-92-27, .646)

This Season: 24-8-3, 19-6-1 WCHA (1st)
Last Season: 25-13-5 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional semifinalist), 15-10-3 WCHA (t-4th)
Pairwise Ranking: 2nd
National Rankings: #1/#1

Team Offense: 3.74 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.34 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.7% (40 of 184)
Penalty Kill: 84.0% (137 of 163)

Key Players: Senior F Matt Frattin (27-15-42), Junior F Jason Gregoire (17-14-31), Sophomore F Corban Knight (13-24-37), Senior F Evan Trupp (14-17-31), Senior F/D Jake Marto (6-9-15), Freshman D Derek Forbort (0-13-13), Sophomore G Aaron Dell (23-6-2, 1.98 GAA, .918 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 6, 2010 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota rallied from a two goal deficit to defeat the visiting Huskies 3-2 and secure a weekend sweep. UND forward Jason Gregoire potted two goals and Mario Lamoureux added the game winner midway through the third period.

Last Meeting in Houghton: November 7, 2009. MTU jumped all over the Sioux early but got into penalty trouble in the middle frame, taking four straight penalties. North Dakota’s Evan Trupp scored two goals in the 4-1 UND victory. A night earlier, the Green and White won 4-2.

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 Series: UND leads the all-time series, 140-90-9 (.605), including a slight edge (59-55-5, .517) in games played in Houghton. The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: UND has posted an 8-1-1 (.850) record in the last ten games between the teams. Michigan Tech’s lone victory in that stretch came at the Great Lakes Invitational (Detroit, MI). The Fighting Sioux have outscored the Huskies 36-16 in the last ten games.

Game News and Notes:

UND and Michigan Tech will also meet in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. It will mark the third time in the last four years that North Dakota hosts the Huskies in the postseason. Michigan Tech has not played in the NCAA tournament since 1981, but advanced to the WCHA Final Five in 2007. Sioux senior forward Matt Frattin joined UND’s Century Club last weekend (100 career points), and two of his teammates are close to that milestone. Senior Evan Trupp (98 career points) and junior Jason Gregoire (97) could find the score sheet often enough this weekend to reach 100.

The Prediction

I’ve got Friday’s opener as all North Dakota, with Michigan Tech sending a message in the rematch that next weekend’s playoff series will not be easy for the Green and White. UND 5-1, 4-3.

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