WCHA Final Five Preview: UND vs. Colorado College

UND and CC are quite familiar with each other, having already played four times this season. The teams split both weekend series, with UND needing some late game heroics on Saturday night in Colorado Springs to earn a 3-2 overtime victory over the Tigers.

Beginning on December 1st, Colorado College went just 6-11-4 to finish out the regular season. After losing the first playoff game at rival Denver, not many gave Scott Owens and his club much of a chance at advancing to the WCHA Final Five. But the Tigers rattled off 2-1 and 4-3 victories over the Pioneers to earn a berth in the last Final Five as we know it.

CC may be happy to be playing, yes, but not necessarily pleased to be facing North Dakota. After the January series against the Tigers in Grand Forks, UND hit a bit of a rough patch, earning just one point each against Minnesota and St. Cloud State. Those two weekends certainly kept them from hoisting the MacNaughton Cup, but the Green and White have been on a roll since then, going 8-3-2 on their way to St. Paul. Furthermore, UND gave up more than two goals only three times in that 13 game stretch, and all three of their losses were by a single goal.

And there is more on the Green and White side of the ledger in this matchup: Dave Hakstol’s crew has won eight consecutive Final Five games, and UND is 7-2-0 all-time against Colorado College in conference playoff games, including a spotless 4-0 record at the Final Five. Certainly, the smaller ice sheet (200×85) at Xcel Energy works in favor of North Dakota. UND plays on NHL ice in Grand Forks, and posted an 11-4-6 record at home this season and a 5-1-0 road record on the narrow surface for a combined record of 16-5-6 (.704) on NHL ice this season. Colorado College plays its home games on Olympic ice (200×100), and will have to adjust to a different style of game. Incidentally, of the six teams in the WCHA Final Five field, only UND plays on the narrow sheet.

Lastly, North Dakota is coming off its best performance of the season in Sunday’s decisive 6-0 Game 3 victory over Michigan Tech. UND got a solid 60 minute effort up and down the lineup, and if they bring that brand of hockey to the WCHA Final Five, they will hoist their fourth consecutive Broadmoor Trophy.

Both goaltenders are coming off of solid performances in last weekend’s first round action. Colorado College senior netminder Joe Howe notched 112 saves in the opening round, including a combined 78 saves (.951 save percentage) in Game 2 and Game 3 victories. North Dakota junior goaltender Clarke Saunders started Games 2 and 3 for UND, and despite taking the loss in Game 2, stopped 57 of 59 shots he faced against the Huskies.

Thanks to Jim Dahl’s excellent work here, we know that North Dakota will earn a bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of wins or losses at the Final Five this weekend. Colorado College, on the other hand, must win the tournament to claim the conference’s autobid and advance to the national tournament; an NCAA at-large bid is not within reach for the Tigers.

Colorado College Team Profile

Head Coach: Scott Owens (14th season at CC, 315-203-48, .599)
Pairwise Ranking: 25th
National Ranking: NR
This Season: 16-18-5 overall, 11-13-4 WCHA (8th)
Last Season: 18-16-2 overall, 15-12-1 WCHA (5th)
Team Offense: 3.21 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.46 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.4% (24 of 138)
Penalty Kill: 78.2% (115 of 147)

Key Players: Senior F Rylan Schwartz (17-31-48), Senior F William Rapuzzi (15-19-34), Junior F Alexander Krushelnyski (14-26-40), Senior D Mike Boivin (14-14-28), Junior D Eamonn McDermott (3-19-22), Senior G Joe Howe (12-11-4, 3.09 GAA, .912 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (9th season at UND, 234-117-37, .651)
Pairwise Ranking: t-6th
National Ranking: #6
This Season: 21-11-7 overall, 14-7-7 WCHA (3rd)
Last Season: 26-13-3 overall (NCAA West Regional Finalist), 16-11-1 WCHA (4th)

Team Offense: 3.31 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.41 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.3% (32 of 150)
Penalty Kill: 83.8% (119 of 142)

Key Players: Senior F Corban Knight (15-33-48), Senior F Danny Kristo (24-26-50), Sophomore F Mark MacMillan (13-12-25), Freshman F Rocco Grimaldi (13-21-34), Junior D Derek Forbort (4-11-15), Junior D Dillon Simpson (5-19-24), Junior G Clarke Saunders (13-7-4, 2.20 GAA, .920 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 12, 2013 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota forward Mitch MacMillan, who was eligible in his first WCHA series after transferring from St. Cloud State, notched a goal and assist in leading to a 5-3 victory over visiting Colorado College. The Tigers, who took Friday’s opener by a score of 4-3, did not have an answer for offensive juggernaut Dan “Jimmer” Senkbeil, who potted the game-winner for his first career goal.

Last Meeting in St. Paul: March 18, 2011. UND Hobey Baker hopeful Matt Frattin broke a 3-3 tie late in the third period with his 34th goal of the season, and the Green and White advanced to the WCHA Final Five championship game. North Dakota forward Brock Nelson was ejected from the game early in the third period for checking from behind, but UND’s Brad Malone scored shorthanded to regain the momentum. The Tigers had a late power play, but couldn’t get a fourth goal past Aaron Dell.

Most Important Meeting: March 27, 1997. UND defeated Colorado College, 6-2, in the Frozen Four Semifinals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Two nights later, North Dakota downed Boston University, 6-4, to claim its sixth NCAA Championship. North Dakota and Colorado College also met in the 2001 East Regional (Worcester, Mass.), with UND prevailing, 4-1.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 139-78-10 (.634), including an 8-1 (.889) mark on neutral ice, a 7-2 (.778) record in WCHA playoff games, and a perfect 4-0 mark at the WCHA Final Five. The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: North Dakota is 7-3-0 (.700) in the last ten meetings between the teams. UND has only outscored CC 40-32 over the last ten games, with five of UND’s seven victories coming by a single goal.

Game News and Notes

This game boasts the top two active NCAA career scoring leaders in UND’s Danny Kristo (159) and CC’s Rylan Schwartz (154). Kristo’s linemate, senior forward Corban Knight, is not far behind with 145 career points. North Dakota’s five senior skaters have combined for 153 points, while Colorado College’s six seniors have amassed 162 points. UND is 32-9 in WCHA playoff games under Dave Hakstol, including a 15-5 record at the Final Five.

The Prediction

I hear more people talking about UND vs. Minnesota than UND vs. Colorado College, but the players and coaching staffs will be ready for Thursday’s quarterfinal. The Tigers have a bit more to play for, but a large, vocal North Dakota crowd will create yet another “road home game” for the Green and White. The first goal will be key, particularly if CC can get one early and take the fans out of the equation. As it is, though, North Dakota is just too much to handle. UND 4-2.

Bonus Prediction

In the other Thursday semifinal, it’s UW against MSU-Mankato. The Mavericks are a virtual lock for the NCAA’s, while the Badgers need to win at least two games at the Final Five to have a chanceat playing next weekend. I think Wisconsin will take this one in a mild upset. UW 3-2.

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