WCHA First Round Playoff Preview: UND vs. Michigan Tech

Last season was Mel Pearson’s first as head coach of the Michigan Tech Huskies, and by all accounts, his rookie campaign was a success. Pearson brought energy, enthusiasm, and a new brand of hockey to Houghton, and his team responded with a 6-2-1 start. MTU ended the season by dispatching Colorado College in two games to join its band at the WCHA Final Five for the first time since 2007.

The year before Pearson arrived at MacInnes Ice Arena, the Huskies won four games (4-30-4). Last season, Michigan Tech posted a respectable 16-19-4 record and earned the eighth spot in the league standings, just two points out of the final home ice spot held by St. Cloud State. MTU has never hosted the first round of the WCHA playoffs under the current format. Interestingly enough, either North Dakota or the University of Denver has ended the Huskies’ year each of the past five seasons

UND fans may not recognize this year’s version of the Huskies, as Brett Olson (93 points in 127 career games) and Jordan Baker (82 points in 146 games) have both graduated after seemingly playing at MTU forever. Michigan Tech is very young up front, as their top five scoring forwards are first- or second-year players. Leading the charge is freshman forward Alex Petan (15-18-33), who was recently named to the 2012-13 WCHA All-Rookie team along with UND forward Rocco Grimaldi (13-18-31).

North Dakota and the Huskies only met twice this season for a pair of league games at MTU. UND dispatched Michigan Tech 6-1 and 4-1, and that sweep left Mel Pearson’s squad sitting at 4-10-3 overall. Since that weekend, however, MTU has gone 8-8-1, outscoring opponents 57-41 over their last 17 games. That stretch includes wins over Michigan, Western Michigan, Nebraska-Omaha, St. Cloud State, and Colorado College.

After this season, 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 (2nd season at MTU, 28-37-8, .438)
Pairwise Ranking: NR
National Ranking: NR
This Season: 12-18-4 overall, 8-16-4 WCHA (10th)
Last Season: 16-9-4 overall, 11-13-4 WCHA (8th)

Team Offense: 3.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.06 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.6% (29 of 134)
Penalty Kill: 80.6% (116 of 144)

Key Players: Freshman F Alex Petan (15-18-33), Sophomore F Blake Pietila (14-9-23), Sophomore F David Johnstone (10-19-29), Senior D Steven Seigo (6-11-17), Junior D Brad Stebner (1-8-9), Freshman G Pheonix Copley (7-14-1, 3.19 GAA, .899 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (9th season at UND, 232-116-37, .651)
Pairwise Ranking: t-5th
National Ranking: #4
This Season: 19-10-7 overall, 14-7-7 WCHA (3rd)
Last Season: 26-13-3 overall (NCAA West Regional Finalist), 16-11-1 WCHA (4th)

Team Offense: 3.25 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.47 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.4% (30 of 140)
Penalty Kill: 83.5% (111 of 133)

Key Players: Senior F Corban Knight (14-31-45), Senior F Danny Kristo (21-24-45), Sophomore F Mark MacMillan (13-12-25), Freshman F Rocco Grimaldi (13-18-31), Junior D Derek Forbort (4-9-13), Sophomore D Dillon Simpson (3-18-21), Junior G Clarke Saunders (12-6-4, 2.30 GAA, .915 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: December 15, 2012 (Houghton, MI). North Dakota closed out the homestanding Huskies 4-1 after taking the opener by a 6-1 score. UND forwards Danny Kristo and Corban Knight each had six point weekends, while blueliner Joe Gleason added a goal and three assists for the Green and White.

Last meeting in Grand Forks: February 18, 2012. The two squads had to settle for a 1-1 tie one night after North Dakota won the opener 4-2. Michigan Tech’s Jordan Baker scored a lucky goal off his chest midway through the third period that gave the Huskies one point. MTU rang three shots off the post in the opening frame, while UND forward Corban Knight potted the lone goal for the Green and White early in the third period.

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, 147-93-10 (.608), including a dominating 82-33-5 (.704) record in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: North Dakota is 9-0-1 (.950) in the last ten meetings between the schools and undefeated in the last 16 (14-0-2). The Green and White have outscored the Huskies 51-12 in the last ten games. The last time Michigan Tech defeated UND was in the first round of the WCHA playoffs in March 2008 (Grand Forks, ND). MTU took the middle game of the three-game series, but North Dakota came back to win on Sunday night to advance to the Final Five.

Game News and Notes

In his coaching career, UND head coach Dave Hakstol is 25-5-2 (.813) against Michigan Tech and 30-8 (.789) in the WCHA playoffs. Michigan Tech is undefeated in overtime games this year (3-0-4), while the Green and White suffered their first loss in the extra session last Saturday night in Mankato (2-1-7). UND is trying to advance to its 11th consecutive Final Five, a mark that would tie Minnesota (1999-2009) for the longest streak in league history. Coming in to this weekend’s series, these two storied programs have faced off 250 times.

The Prediction

This is a familiar sight to UND fans, as this is the fourth time in the past six seasons that North Dakota will host Michigan Tech in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. In its last six first-round playoff series, UND has gone 6-0 on Friday nights by a combined score of 32-4. Over the past six Saturdays (when trying to end a team’s season), North Dakota has won only four of six, with three of those victories by a single goal. This weekend’s series will follow that same formula, with the Green and White surviving a nail-biter on Saturday to punch their ticket to the WCHA Final Five. UND 5-2, 3-2.

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