Weekend Preview: UND vs. Nebraska-Omaha

North Dakota was idle last weekend but is coming off of a loss at Denver on January 25th. The Green and White have not lost consecutive games since November 16th (vs. Minnesota-Duluth) and 22nd (at Boston University). UND has only played three home games since December 14th but will play six of its final ten NCHC contests at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Nebraska-Omaha is currently tied for second place in the NCHC with North Dakota and Denver. The Pioneers travel to St. Cloud this weekend to face the league-leading Huskies of SCSU.

UNO played a pair of wild home games against St. Cloud State last weekend, losing 5-3 on Friday and winning 8-6 on Saturday.

Dean Blais’ squad has a distinct North Dakota feel to it, with 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. The younger Archibald (Josh) leads the team in points (18-10-28), while Dominic Zombo has chipped in twelve goals and eight assists in 24 games for the Mavericks, including a hat trick last Saturday night.

Both squads figure to be in the mix for the league title, and these two games are critical. After this weekend, North Dakota will host Miami and travel to Duluth and St. Cloud State before hosting Western Michigan on the final weekend of the regular season. UNO will host Denver, head to Western Michigan, host Colorado College, and play at Minnesota-Duluth.

On the injury front, North Dakota is once again without the services of sophomore goaltender Zane Gothberg (10-5-3, 2.26 GAA, .914 SV%). Gothberg sustained an injury in practice in late January and did not travel with the team to Denver. A timetable for his recovery is uncertain. In his absence, senior netminder Clarke Saunders (3-3-0, 3.18 GAA, .907 SV% in nine appearances) will need to be sharp against the offensive minded Mavericks.

Nebraska-Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Dean Blais (5th season at UNO, 84-80-18, .511)

Pairwise Ranking: t-29th
National Ranking: NR
This Season: 10-12-2 overall, 7-5-2-1 NCHC (t-2nd)
Last Season: 19-18-2 overall, 14-12-2 WCHA (7th)

Team Offense: 3.21 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.38 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.2% (24 of 125)
Penalty Kill: 76.0% (98 of 129)

Key Players: Junior F Josh Archibald (18-20-28), Senior F Ryan Walters (5-18-23), Junior F Dominic Zombo (12-8-20), Freshman D Ian Brady (4-11-15), Senior D Michael Young (0-13-13), Junior G Ryan Massa (6-5-1, 3.01 GAA, .887 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (10th season at UND, 248-127-40, .646)

Pairwise Ranking: 15th
National Ranking: #16
This Season: 13-8-3 overall, 8-6-0-0 NCHC (t-2nd)
Last Season: 22-13-7 overall (NCAA West Regional finalist), 14-7-7 WCHA (3rd)

Team Offense: 2.79 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.71 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.3% (20 of 109)
Penalty Kill: 81.5% (97 of 119)

Key Players: Sophomore F Rocco Grimaldi (9-12-21), Sophomore F Michael Parks (7-10-17), Sophomore F Drake Caggiula (6-7-13), Senior D Dillon Simpson (5-9-14), Sophomore D Jordan Schmaltz (2-11-13), Sophomore G Zane Gothberg (10-5-3, 2.26 GAA, .914 SV%)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: November 10, 2013 (Omaha, NE). One night after falling 4-2 to the homestanding Mavericks, UND used second period goals from Michael Parks and Drake Caggiula and earned a split with a 3-2 victory. Clarke Saunders made 36 saves for North Dakota.

Last meeting in Grand Forks: December 10, 2011. Danny Kristo scored a goal on the first shift of the third period and Aaron Dell stopped all 26 shots he faced as North Dakota won a tight 1-0 contest. UNO won Friday’s opener 2-1 in overtime on Ryan Walters’ breakaway goal.

Most important meeting: The two teams have only met ten times (with UND holding a 6-4 advantage, outscoring UNO 29-26). With the NCHC league race tightening, I will call Friday’s opener the most important meeting between the schools.

Last ten: Six of the ten games in the all-time series have been decided by a single goal, including four of the last six. Both teams have won two of the four meetings in Grand Forks.

Game News and Notes

Mavericks’ head coach Dean Blais is 2-2 lifetime on the visitors’ bench at Ralph Engelstad Arena, splitting WCHA series in January and December 2011. Blais, who was the head coach at UND from 1994-2004, collected 262 victories at North Dakota and led the school to national titles in 1997 and 2000. North Dakota is 9-1-1 in its last 11 games. UND senior goaltender Clarke Saunders has made five career starts against the Mavericks, stopping 214 of 228 shots for three victories and a .939 save percentage.

The Prediction

Duluth is the only NCHC team to have swept UNO this season, and I’m having a hard time convincing myself that UND will be able to outscore the Mavs twice, particularly since North Dakota was blanked in its last outing and has scored only nine goals in its last four games. I think one game gets out of hand this weekend, but Hakstol’s crew locks it down to earn the split. UNO 5-3, UND 3-2.

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