Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Michigan Tech

One of these teams, but likely not both, will be at home for the first round of the WCHA playoffs in March.

For North Dakota, it would be their tenth consecutive home playoff series, the longest active streak in the league. Michigan Tech has never hosted the first round of the conference tournament under the current fomat.

The Huskies sit one point back of 6th place UND in the race for home ice. Colorado College and Nebraska-Omaha are tied for 4th place, one point ahead of North Dakota. The top six teams in the final WCHA standings will earn home playoff games.

It would be easy for the casual fan to overlook first year head coach Mel Pearson and his Michigan Tech squad, given the fact that UND has taken the last ten meetings between the teams by a combined score of 53-14. But MTU is improved in every area – scoring offense, scoring defense, power play, and penalty kill – and expect to have junior forward Milos Gordic (8-5-13 in 20 games) back for this series.

For the record, Mel Pearson spent the previous 23 seasons as an assistant coach at Michigan and was behind the bench for the Wolverines 2-0 Frozen Four victory over North Dakota last April. MTU assistant coach Bill Muckalt and goaltending coach Steve Shields are former Michigan players. Pearson played his college hockey at Michigan Tech.

North Dakota continues to roll out the only healthy bodies left in the locker room, and have gone 12-4-1 in the last 17 games. After a torried 6-2-1 start, Michigan Tech is a pedestrian 6-9-2 in the past 17.

For UND, junior goaltender Aaron Dell has played the majority of minutes this season, but look for Dell and senior netminder Brad Eidsness to split starts this weekend.

It’s a bit of an unusual end to the regular season for the Green and White: after hosting Michigan Tech in the first two meetings between the teams this year, North Dakota plays at Denver and vs. MSU-Mankato to close out the schedule, two other teams UND has not faced all season.

After next season (2012-13), it is unclear whether North Dakota and Michigan Tech will continue their storied rivalry. UND will move to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, while MTU will remain in the WCHA and maintain ownership of the historic MacNaughton Cup.

Michigan Tech Team Profile

Head Coach: Mel Pearson (1st season at MTU, 13-14-3, .483)
Pairwise Ranking: NR
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 13-14-3 overall, 10-9-3 WCHA (7th)
Last Season: 4-30-4 overall, 2-24-2 WCHA (12th)

Team Offense: 3.07 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.00 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.6% (28 of 136)
Penalty Kill: 83.8% (109 of 130)

Key Players: Senior F Brett Olson (9-18-27), Senior F Jordan Baker (9-16-25), Junior F Milos Gordic (8-5-13), Freshman F David Johnstone (9-14-23), Junior D Steven Seigo (3-16-19), Sophomore D Daniel Sova (2-9-11), Senior G Josh Robinson (12-11-3, 2.85 GAA, .909 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (8th season at UND, 203-104-29, .647)
Pairwise Ranking: t-15th
National Rankings: #14/#15
This Season: 16-11-2 overall, 12-10-0 WCHA (6th)
Last Season: 32-9-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four semifinalist), 21-6-1 WCHA (1st)

Team Offense: 3.07 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.79 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.3% (29 of 136)
Penalty Kill: 81.5% (101 of 124)

Key Players: Junior F Danny Kristo (14-17-31) Junior F Corban Knight (8-18-26), Sophomore F Brock Nelson (20-12-32), Freshman D Nick Mattson (5-10-15), Senior D Ben Blood (2-12-14), Junior G Aaron Dell (12-9-2, 2.80 GAA, .890 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: March 12, 2011 (Grand Forks, ND). In the second and decisive game of the WCHA first-round playoff series, UND battled a tough Michigan Tech squad and secured a 3-1 victory to advance to the WCHA Final Five in St. Paul, MN. Two second period goals in the span of two minutes erased an early 1-0 Michigan Tech lead. North Dakota had won the previous three meetings between the teams by a combined score of 25-3.

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, 144-90-9 (.611), including a 81-33-4 (.703) record in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: UND has won the last ten games between the teams. The last time the Huskies earned a point against North Dakota was back in January 2009, when the teams skated to a 3-3 tie in Houghton. North Dakota avenged the tie with a 5-0 drubbing the following night. The Fighting Sioux have outscored the Huskies 53-14 in the last ten games.

Game News and Notes

UND head coach Dave Hakstol is 22-5-1 (.804) in his coaching career against Michigan Tech. MTU has picked up points in four of five road series this season. Bemidji State is the only WCHA team to sweep the visiting Huskies this year. North Dakota junior forward Carter Rowney is on a tear this season, potting twelve goals this season (29 games) after collecting just four goals in his first two years at UND (67 games).

The Prediction

The Huskies are eager to bring their new look to Engelstad Arena, and Friday’s first period will tell the tale. Both games will be close, and Michigan Tech could earn a point or two this weekend, but UND has been focused, particularly at home. UND 4-3, 5-3.

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