Weekend Preview: UND vs. Denver University

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 six 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 four playoff games between the schools, including three consecutive victories in the WCHA Final Five (2010-2012) and the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional final which sent the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four.

Along the way, we’ve had dasher dances, brawls, illegal checks, devastating hits, and a certain coach losing his way to the visiting locker room.

Both schools seem to get hit by the “early departure” bug each off-season. For North Dakota, forward Brock Nelson (36-32-68 in 84 games) left after his sophomore campaign while goaltender Aaron Dell (49-20-5, 2.15 GAA, .912 SV%, 9 SO) gave up his final season of eligibility. On the Denver side of the ledger, three Pioneers opted not to return: Drew Shore (50-68-118 in 123 games) gave up his senior season, while fellow forwards Jason Zucker (45-46-91 in 78 games) and Beau Bennett (13-25-38 in 47 games) left two years of eligibility on the table.

For North Dakota, the headline is the emergence of Drake Caggiula. The freshman forward has collected six points (four goals, two assists) in his last seven games, including the overtime winner at Colorado College last Saturday night. Caggiula has been skating on a line with fellow freshman Rocco Grimaldi and sophomore forward Mark McMillan.

Denver started the season white-hot (9-1-0) but has since gone 0-3-1 against Yale, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin. North Dakota has split four of its last six series (vs. Boston University, at St. Cloud State, at Notre Dame, at Colorado College) and picked up three points in the other two (vs. Alaska-Anchorage, vs. Minnesota-Duluth).

Because only eight WCHA teams have played ten conference games (UND, Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha, and Alaska-Anchorage have played just eight), the league standings can appear out of balance. But here’s the important thing: the top six teams in the standings (by winning percentage) are facing off against each other this weekend:

Denver (1st) at North Dakota (t-3rd)
Nebraska-Omaha (2nd) at St. Cloud State (t-5th)
Minnesota (t-5th) at Colorado College (t-3rd)

Expect some movement as the top three or four teams begin to rise to the top.

Denver Team Profile

Head Coach: George Gwozdecky (19th season at DU, 432-257-60 .617)
Pairwise Ranking: 11th
National Rankings: #6/#6
This Season: 9-4-1 overall, 7-2-1 WCHA (1st)
Last Season: 25-14-4 Overall (NCAA Midwest Regional Semifinalist), 16-8-4 WCHA (3rd)

Team Offense: 3.71 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.43 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.6% (11 of 59)
Penalty Kill: 86.4% (51 of 59)

Key Players: Junior F Nick Shore (6-12-18), Senior F Chris Knowlton (8-7-15), Senior F Shawn Ostrow (4-6-10), Sophomore D Joey LaLeggia (6-8-14), Junior D David Makowski (5-5-10), Sophomore G Juho Olkinuora (3-1-1, 2.15 GAA, .934 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (9th season at UND, 220-111-32, .650)
Pairwise Ranking: 13th
National Rankings: #9/#9
This Season: 7-5-2 overall, 4-2-2 WCHA (t-5th)
Last Season: 26-13-3 overall (NCAA West Regional Finalist), 16-11-1 WCHA (4th)

Team Offense: 3.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.64 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 15.1% (8 of 53)
Penalty Kill: 87.5% (42 of 48)

Key Players: Senior F Danny Kristo (5-9-14), Sophomore F Mark MacMillan (6-5-11), Senior F Corban Knight (3-11-14), Freshman F Rocco Grimaldi (5-6-11), Junior D Derek Forbort (3-5-8), Sophomore D Nick Mattson (1-5-6), Junior G Clarke Saunders (5-3-2, 2.38 GAA, .921 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 17, 2012 (St Paul, MN). It was a good day to be wearing green, as North Dakota dispatched Denver 4-0 to become the first team to win three consecutive Broadmoor trophies (WCHA Final Five champions). UND scored the last ten goals in the postseason tournament after netting six straight against Minnesota in the semifinals.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: October 30, 2010. One night before Halloween, it was a scary scene on the ice at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Pioneers senior center Jesse Martin was taken off the ice on a stretcher after receiving a crushing hit from UND’s Brad Malone. DU scored just after the major penalty expired and put the game out of reach with a shorthanded tally and an empty net goal. UND won the series opener by a final of 4-3.

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 last season, North Dakota defeated Denver in the WCHA Final Five championship game.

Last Ten Games: North Dakota has had a slight edge lately, going 6-4-0 (.600) in the last ten meetings between the schools. Only four of the last ten games between the teams have taken place in Grand Forks, with the Pioneers claiming a victory in three of the four contests. The two teams have also met three times in the WCHA Final Five (St. Paul) during this most recent stretch, with UND winning all three games.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 135-116-8 (.537), including a stellar 80-42-5 (.650) mark in games played in Grand Forks.

Game News and Notes

UND has only lost once in six home games this season (3-1-2). DU has only played three games this season away from home, winning all three. North Dakota’s Corban Knight is riding a nine game point streak, the longest streak by a UND player in three years. Denver head coach George Gwozdecky just might squat on the dasher in front of his team’s bench.

The Prediction

Everything on paper points to a split, but the way both teams played last weekend, I have a feeling that North Dakota will earn three points. The teams will battle all weekend long, with a parade to the penalty box slowing down at least one game in the series. 3-3 tie, UND 4-3.

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