Weekend Preview: UND at Denver

In the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota will be at the top of the league rivalries.

The two schools clearly do not like each other, and the feud goes all the way back to Geoff Paukovitch’ illegal check on Sioux forward Robbie Bina during the 2005 WCHA Final Five.

Since that game (a Denver victory), the two teams have met five times in tournament play. Denver won the 2005 NCAA title with a victory over North Dakota and claimed a 2008 WCHA Final Five win as well. UND has won the last three playoff games between the schools, including two consecutive victories in the WCHA Final Five (2010 and 2011) and last season’s NCAA Midwest Regional final which sent the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four.

Along the way, we’ve had dasher dances, brawls, and a certain coach losing his way to the visiting locker room. The last time these two teams played in Denver, the referees called 20 penalties.

North Dakota has gone with the same lineup of 18 skaters since a rash of injuries left them with no other options. For Denver, forwards Beau Bennett (injury) and Dan Olszewski (suspension) will not dress, and injured defenseman Dan Makowski is out as well.

The big story for the Pioneers is the return of goaltender Sam Brittain. The sophomore suffered a knee injury against North Dakota in the Final Five last year and lost more than half a season with the Pios and a chance to play for Team Canada in the World Junior Championships.

For North Dakota, the headline is the emergence of forward Carter Rowney. The junior forward has potted 14 goals (2nd on the team) and gives UND a true second line scoring threat. Rowney had four goals over 67 games in his first two seasons.

After losing five out of his first eight games in Denver as head coach of the Fighting Sioux, UND head coach Dave Hakstol has altered his travel schedule. The team arrived in Denver on Wednesday and held a full practice on Thursday in advance of the weekend series.

Across the league, the top six teams in the standings are facing off in weekend action. Minnesota-Duluth (2nd) is hosting Colorado College (t-4th), while Minnesota (1st) travels to Nebraska-Omaha (t-4th). North Dakota (t-4th) could leapfrog Denver (3rd) in the standings with a road sweep.

Denver Team Profile

Head Coach: George Gwozdecky (18th season at DU, 416-249-59 .615)
Pairwise Ranking: t-11th
National Rankings: #9/#10
This Season: 18-10-4 overall, 13-7-4 WCHA (3rd)
Last Season: 25-12-5 Overall (NCAA Midwest Regional Finalist), 17-8-3 WCHA (2nd)

Team Offense: 3.47 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.72 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 23.3% (31 of 133)
Penalty Kill: 81.1% (120 of 148)

Key Players: Junior F Drew Shore (18-24-42), Sophomore F Jason Zucker (17-20-37), Sophomore F Nick Shore (10-19-29), Freshman D Joey LaLeggia (10-23-33), Senior D John Lee (3-9-12), Sophomore G Sam Brittain (4-2-0, 2.51 GAA, .923 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (8th season at UND, 204-104-30, .648)
Pairwise Ranking: 14th
National Rankings: #14/#12
This Season: 17-11-3 overall, 13-10-1 WCHA (t-4th)
Last Season: 32-9-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four semifinalist), 21-6-1 WCHA (1st)

Team Offense: 3.03 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.71 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 22.2% (32 of 144)
Penalty Kill: 82.3% (107 of 130)

Key Players: Junior F Danny Kristo (14-19-33) Junior F Corban Knight (11-19-30), Sophomore F Brock Nelson (20-15-35), Freshman D Nick Mattson (5-11-16), Senior D Ben Blood (2-12-14), Senior G Brad Eidsness (5-2-1, 1.92 GAA, .926 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 27, 2011 (Green Bay, WI). North Dakota punched their ticket to the NCAA Frozen Four with a 6-1 victory over Denver. The Pioneers lone goal came with .1 seconds remaining in the opening period. UND also defeated DU in the WCHA Final Five title game one weekend earlier.

Last Meeting in Denver: November 21, 2009. The Pioneers survived a late disallowed goal and a 6-on-3 advantage in the closing seconds to preserve a 3-2 victory and series sweep over visiting North Dakota. DU won the series opener 1-0 on Drew Shore’s power play tally midway through the game.

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. And just least season, North Dakota defeated Denver in the WCHA Final Five championship and Midwest Regional championship games.

Last Ten Games: Denver has had slight edge lately, going 5-4-1 (.550) in the last ten meetings between the schools. Only two of the last ten games between the teams have taken place in Denver (Grand Forks 5, St. Paul 2, Green Bay 1).

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 133-115-8 (.535), but the Pioneers have had the better of it at altitude, claiming a 66-49-3 (.564) mark in games played in Denver.

Game News and Notes

Friday’s opener can be seen on NBC Sports, with Saturday’s rematch on FSN+. North Dakota has given up the second-fewest goals (62) in league play this season, while Denver has allowed 70 (fifth). UND is attempting to secure home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs for the tenth consecutive season, the longest active streak in the league. Denver head coach George Gwozdecky just might squat on the dasher in front of his team’s bench.

The Prediction

The extra day in Denver will help the Green and White earn a split. UND will survive a late Denver onslaught in the opener but will fall in the rematch. UND 3-2, Denver 3-1.

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