Only five wins overall. Five losses in eight conference games. Unranked and on the outside looking in.
That’s the situation facing Dave Hakstol and the UND men’s hockey team as they travel to Kalamazoo, Michigan to take on Andy Murray and the Western Michigan Broncos. North Dakota can’t afford too many more conference losses if it expects to host the first round of the league playoffs for the eleventh consecutive year. The only other team with as many conference losses is Colorado College (1-5-2-1 NCHC, 1-10-2 overall), and I’m certain that UND does not want to be mentioned in that company this season.
Andy Murray, formerly head coach of the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues, is hoping to get his squad back to the NCAA tournament after a disappointing bubble last season. WMU finished at 19-11-8 last year, narrowly missing the big dance. The Broncos are led up front by senior Shane Berschbach (19 points in 14 games) and are allowing just over two goals per game (2.14).
North Dakota, which has struggled offensively at even strength this season, will find tough going against Western Michigan. Junior goaltender Frank Slubowski has played nearly every minute for the Broncos, and his 2.23 goals-against average and .925 save percentage speak for themselves.
UND is getting a bit healthier every week. Junior forward Brendan O’Donnell and senior forward Derek Rodwell have returned to the lineup, while junior center Mark MacMillan has practiced all week and could possibly play this weekend. Dave Hakstol has hinted that he might insert MacMillan at wing to ease him back into gameplay. Junior forward Colten St. Clair is still a few weeks away from returning, but things are getting better all the time for the Green and White.
Western Michigan Team Profile
Head Coach: (Andy Murray, 3rd season at WMU, 46-30-17, .586)
National Ranking: NR
This Season: 6-5-3 overall, 2-2-0 NCHC (t-5th)
Last Season: 19-11-8 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 15-7-6-3 CCHA (3rd)
Team Offense: 2.43 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.14 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 13.9% (10 of 72)
Penalty Kill: 85.9% (67 of 78)
Key Players: Senior F Shane Berschbach (7-12-19), Junior F Justin Kovacs (5-9-14), Senior F Chase Balisy (1-8-9), Junior D Jordan Oesterle (2-5-7 in 8 games), Senior D Dennis Brown (2-3-5), Junior G Frank Slubowski (5-4-3, 2.23 GAA, .925 SV%)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (10th season at UND, 240-126-39, .641)
National Ranking: NR
This Season: 5-7-2, 3-5-0 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 22-13-7 overall (NCAA West Regional finalist), 14-7-7 WCHA (3rd)
Team Offense: 2.64 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.29 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.9% (12 of 67)
Penalty Kill: 83.3% (60 of 72)
Key Players: Sophomore F Rocco Grimaldi (5-7-11), Sophomore F Drake Caggiula (4-5-9), Sophomore F Michael Parks (3-6-9), Senior D Dillon Simpson (1-6-7), Junior D Nick Mattson (1-5-6), Sophomore G Zane Gothberg (3-5-2, 2.75 GAA, .908 SV%)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: March 24, 2012 (St. Paul, MN). North Dakota upended Western Michigan 3-1 in the NCAA West Regional semifinal. Brock Nelson had two points, including an empty net goal with 25 seconds remaining that sent UND to the regional finals against Minnesota. Aaron Dell made 24 saves for the Green and White.
Last Meeting in Kalamazoo: January 4, 1997. One night after the Fighting Sioux dismantled the homestanding Broncos 6-3, UND nearly duplicated the feat, winning 5-3 to secure the road sweep. North Dakota would go on to claim its sixth national championship less than three months later, outscoring its three tournament opponents 18-8 and scoring six goals in each contest.
Most Important Meeting: The West Regional semifinal (above) was the only time the two teams have met in postseason play, so that certainly qualifies as the most important meeting. This weekend’s NCHC action, the first league games between the schools, rates a close second.
All-time Series: UND has won all five meetings between the schools, outscoring the Broncos 31-13. The teams first met in 1997.
Game News and Notes
WMU head coach Andy Murray is in his third season behind the Bronco bench; Murray’s son, Brady, played for the Fighting Sioux from 2003-05. Western Michigan finished third in the last season of the CCHA, while North Dakota finished third in the last season of the WCHA as we knew it. Seven current UND skaters appeared in the NCAA regional semifinal in March 2012. Michael Parks scored a goal for North Dakota, while Mark MacMillan added an assist. Both teams play on the narrower NHL ice surface (85 x 200 feet).
At this point, I can’t see either team winning both games. Friday’s opener will be a low-scoring affair, with Saturday’s rematch seeing the teams open it up a bit more to add offense. WMU 2-1, UND 4-2.