Weekend Preview: UND vs. Nebraska-Omaha

North Dakota has had two distinct stretches in league play this season. In its first three weekends of WCHA action this year (at Wisconsin, vs. St. Cloud State, at Minnesota), UND went just 1-5-0 and was outscored 20-12.

Over the next three conference series (at Bemidji State, vs. Colorado College, at Alaska-Anchorage), the Fighting Sioux won five of six games and outscored its opponents 25-15.

The Green and White have improved in several areas since the opening of the season. Goaltending is getting better, and it’s encouraging that both Aaron Dell and Brad Eidsness are in the mix. More importantly, UND has found secondary scoring. While North Dakota’s top line of Danny Kristo, Brock Nelson, and Corban Knight (28 goals and 34 assists so far this year) continue to be the team’s bread and butter, the all-freshman line of Mark MacMillan, Brendan O’Donnell, and Michael Parks have collected three goals and two assists in the last four games.

Last year’s UNO/UND series in Grand Forks was a homecoming of sorts for Mavericks’ head coach Dean Blais, and this year, he brings two players with him who have strong ties to the Fighting Sioux program:

Freshman netminder Dayn Belfour has started four games for the Mavs this year and boasts the best goaltending numbers on the team (2.30 GAA, .899 SV%)

Fellow freshman Josh Archibald has played all 18 games at forward for UNO, collecting 9 goals and adding 4 helpers. Archibald has been disappointing in the penalty minute category, however, notching only six minor penalties for a total of 12 minutes.

In its second season in the WCHA, Dean Blais’ squad isn’t able to sneak up on anyone, but they’re still holding on to third place in the league, three points in front of North Dakota.

Nebraska-Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Dean Blais (3rd season at UNO, 49-39-11, .551)
Pairwise Ranking: #26
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: -8-7-3 overall, 6-3-3 WCHA (3rd)
Last Season: 21-16-2, 17-9-2 WCHA (3rd)

Team Offense: 3.33 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.22 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 24.7% (19 of 77)
Penalty Kill: 80.3% (49 of 61)

Key Players: Junior F Terry Broadhurst (14-9-23), Sophomore F Matt White (8-15-23), Freshman F Jayson Megna (6-11-17), Sophomore D Andrej Sustr (3-8-11), Junior D Bryce Aneloski (1-8-9), Senior G John Faulkner (4-4-0, 3.28 GAA, .862 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (8th season at UND, 195-100-28, .647)
Pairwise Ranking: #18
National Rankings: #19/NR
This Season: 8-7-1 overall, 6-6-0 WCHA (t-4th)
Last Season: 32-9-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four semifinalist), 21-6-1 WCHA (1st)

Team Offense: 3.06 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.00 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 24.1% (20 of 83)
Penalty Kill: 81.1% (60 of 74)

Key Players: Junior F Danny Kristo (8-11-19) Junior F Corban Knight (6-15-21), Sophomore F Brock Nelson (14-8-22), Freshman D Nick Mattson (3-6-9), Senior D Ben Blood (2-7-9), Senior G Brad Eidsness (3-1-0, 2.43 GAA, .918 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: January 22, 2011 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after being throttled by the visiting Mavericks 8-4, North Dakota scored four third period goals to salvage a split of the weekend series by a final of 4-2. Sioux forward Jason Gregoire scored two goals and added an assist to lead the way.

Most important meeting: Since the two teams have only met four times (and the series is tied at two games apiece), I will call Friday’s opener the most important meeting between the schools.

Game News and Notes

Nebraska-Omaha has tallied at least 40 shots on goal in 8 of 18 games this season, and leads the conference with an average of 37.4 shots on goal per game. This weekend’s action will be North Dakota’s last league games until the Fighting Sioux host Minnesota on January 13 and 14, 2012 at Ralph Engelstad Arena. UND and UNO are the two least penalized teams in the WCHA (UND 12.1 penalty minutes per game, UNO 10.0). Only six current North Dakota players (Corban Knight, Danny Kristo, Ben Blood, Derek Forbort, Derek Rodwell, Andrew MacWilliam) played in all four games against Nebraska-Omaha last year.

The Prediction

This is the only time the two teams are scheduled to meet this season, and I have a hard time believing that either team will take all four points. North Dakota is on a bit of a roll and has the edge at home, but the Mavs will not make it easy. UND 4-3, 3-3 tie.

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