Weekend Preview: UND at Nebraska-Omaha

This weekend’s WCHA action features a pair of contests that will decide the race for the MacNaughton Cup. #1 ranked Minnesota (10-4-4 WCHA, tied for 3rd place) travels to #8 St. Cloud to face the Huskies (14-5-1 WCHA, 1st place) while #7 North Dakota (9-5-6 WCHA, tied for 3rd place) travels to #14 Nebraska-Omaha (12-6-2 WCHA, 2nd place) to play an indoor/outdoor series against Dean Blais and the Mavericks.

Dean Blais’ squad has a distinct North Dakota feel to it, with Steve Johnson beside him on the bench and two forwards named Archibald and Zombo on the ice. UND fans may remember their dads, Jim Archibald and Rick Zombo, who wore the green and white during Blais’ tenure in Grand Forks.

UND took three points last weekend in a home series against Wisconsin, due in large part to the goaltending of freshman Zane Gothberg (50 saves on 52 shots) and the combined efforts of the power play and penalty kill units. North Dakota killed all eight Wisconsin power plays on the weekend and scored three goals in twelve man-advantage situations.

Both schools are getting scoring contributions from the blueline, as UND and UNO are tied for third nationally with 68 points from defensemen. Junior D Andrej Sustr leads the way for the Mavs with 20 points, while sophomore Dillon Simpson has collected 16 points for North Dakota.

A large and vocal UND fan contingent is expected for this weekend in Omaha. Saturday’s game will be played outdoors at TD Ameritrade Park, the home of the College World Series.

Nebraska-Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Dean Blais (4th season at UNO, 71-60-16, .537)
Pairwise Ranking: 21st
National Ranking: #14
This Season: 16-10-2 overall, 12-6-2 WCHA (2nd)
Last Season: 14-18-6 overall, 11-12-5 WCHA (7th)

Team Offense: 3.57 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.71 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.6% (19 of 97)
Penalty Kill: 82.9% (97 of 117)

Key Players: Junior F Ryan Walters (16-24-40), Sophomore F Josh Archibald (15-12-27), Sophomore F Dominic Zombo (9-17-26), Junior D Andrej Sustr (7-13-20), Senior D Bryce Aneloski (4-11-15), Senior G John Faulkner (14-5-2, 2.72 GAA, .897 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (9th season at UND, 227-114-36, .650)
Pairwise Ranking: t-7th
National Ranking: #7
This Season: 14-8-6 overall, 9-5-6 WCHA (t-3rd)
Last Season: 26-13-3 overall (NCAA West Regional Finalist), 16-11-1 WCHA (4th)

Team Offense: 3.18 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.54 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.6% (24 of 111)
Penalty Kill: 83.7% (87 of 104)

Key Players: Senior F Corban Knight (12-24-36), Senior F Danny Kristo (16-19-35), Sophomore F Mark MacMillan (9-9-18), Freshman F Rocco Grimaldi (9-13-22), Junior D Derek Forbort (4-8-12), Sophomore D Dillon Simpson (2-14-16), Freshman G Zane Gothberg (4-3-2. 2.62 GAA, .910 SV%)

Last meeting: December 10, 2011 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after the visiting Mavs claimed a dramatic 2-1 overtime victory, UND netminder Aaron Dell stopped all 26 shots he faced and junior forward Danny Kristo potted the only goal of the contest early in the third period. North Dakota held on for the 1-0 victory. Ryan Massa stopped 31 of 32 shots for the Mavericks.

Last meeting in Omaha: November 20, 2010. Just when it appeared that the two teams were headed to overtime in a scoreless tie, North Dakota’s Brad Malone kicked the puck out of the crease right onto the stick of UNO’s Alex Hudson, and the Maverick forward buried his chance with 0.3 seconds to play in regulation. The two teams played a completely different game in Friday’s opener, with North Dakota claiming a 6-5 victory.

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

Game News and Notes

Nebraska-Omaha’s John Faulkner is one victory away from tying Dan Ellis for the most career goaltending victories (53) for the Mavericks. North Dakota only has two current players who have scored a goal against Nebraska-Omaha (Danny Kristo and Carter Rowney). UNO’s Ryan Walter became the nation’s first 40 point scorer with his goal last Friday against Michigan Tech. Friday’s game will air live on NBC Sports Network, while Saturday’s outdoor contest will be featured on Midco Sports Network.

The Prediction

North Dakota’s momentum will carry into Friday’s opener, with the top line of Knight, Kristo, and Grimaldi leading the way. Saturday’s outdoor contest, equal parts sport and spectacle, will go to whichever team can handle the elements and the less-than-perfect ice surface. In the rematch, I give a slight edge to the Mavericks. UND 4-2, UNO 4-3.

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