This is the type of series that can make or break a season, particularly a season filled with ups and downs and NCAA tournament bubbles.
After some growing pains, North Dakota is hitting their stride, winning six of their last eight and losing the other two by a single goal (at Bemidji State, vs. Nebraska-Omaha). With a 2-1-1 mark in non-conference play and only a single game against Clarkson (in Winnipeg, Manitoba) on the schedule, these two games are critical for securing a spot in the national tournament.
For Harvard, it may be a bit too early to tell, as the Crimson have played just ten games (North Dakota has played 18). Is Harvard capable of sustaining their nation’s-best 32% power play? Can they correct a dreadful 68% penalty kill? And can a freshman goaltender continue to keep them in games?
As with most teams, Harvard’s special teams play will come back to the pack. The Crimson continue to get offensive contributions from their blueliners (their top-six defensemen have collected 36 points in 10 games, while UND’s top three pairs have notched only 33 points in 18 games).
North Dakota’s Derek Forbort (sophomore defenseman) will miss this weekend’s series (World Junior Championships), while two Sioux forwards – junior Corban Knight and senior Mario Lamoureux – may return to the lineup after missing time with undisclosed injuries. UND freshman forward Rocco Grimaldi will not return to game action this weekend.
Harvard Team Profile
Head Coach: Ted Donato (8th season at Harvard, 107-113-24, .488)
Pairwise Ranking: #25 (tie)
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 4-3-3 overall, 3-3-2 ECAC (t-4th)
Last Season: 12-21-1, 7-14-1 ECAC (10th)
Team Offense: 3.50 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.40 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 32.1% (17 of 53)
Penalty Kill: 68.6% (24 of 35)
Key Players: Senior F Alex Killorn (6-6-12), Junior F Alex Fallstrom (3-6-9), Junior F Marshall Everson (4-3-7), Junior D Danny Biega (3-10-13), Freshman D Patrick McNally (3-9-12), Freshman G Steve Michalek (4-2-2, 3.10 GAA, .898 SV%)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (8th season at UND, 196-101-28, .646)
Pairwise Ranking: #20 (tie)
National Rankings: #18/NR
This Season: 9-8-1 overall, 7-7-0 WCHA (6th)
Last Season: 32-9-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four semifinalist), 21-6-1 WCHA (1st)
Team Offense: 2.83 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.78 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 22.2% (20 of 90)
Penalty Kill: 82.3% (65 of 79)
Key Players: Junior F Danny Kristo (9-11-20) 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: December 6, 2008 (Cambridge, MA). The Fighting Sioux answered an early third period goal by the Crimson with two goals of their own in the final frame and held off homestanding Harvard to earn the road sweep. UND pounded Harvard 10-1 in Friday’s opener despite being outshot 40-37.
Last meeting in Grand Forks: December 30, 2005. The Green and White won a hard-fought 3-2 contest to avenge a 1-0 defeat one night earlier. Harvard’s shutout win in the opener was their only win over North Dakota in the last 60 years.
Most important meeting: The teams have met twice in the NCAA semifinals (1958 and 1987), with North Dakota winning both by a combined score of 14-3. Since UND won the national championship in 1987, I will go with March 26, 1987 (a 5-2 Sioux victory in Detroit, MI) as the most important game between the schools.
All time series: UND leads the all-time series with a record of 8-2-1 (.773) against Harvard.
Game News and Notes
Saturday’s game will mark just the second official game UND has ever played on New Year’s Eve. The only other contest was a 6-3 setback against the U.S. National team in 1955. North Dakota played an exhibition game (also a loss) against the St. Petersburg Red Army in 1993. Harvard senior defenseman Danny Biega is second nationally in points per game by a blueliner (1.40). Brad Eidsness is the only current Sioux player to have played against Harvard, winning both games in Cambridge and posting a 2.00 GAA and .947 save percentage in the road sweep.
One of these games will be close, and if history repeats it will be Saturday’s rematch. Aside from a win against Colgate, the Crimson have not fared well against better teams. UND will wear down Harvard over the course of the weekend and come out with two victories. UND 5-1, 3-2.