NCHC Playoff Preview: UND vs. Colorado College

Colorado College opened with a 3-1 home victory over Minnesota-Duluth in the first NCHC game for either school. The Tigers then won just one of their next 21 games (1-16-4) but have come on a bit lately, going 4-6-2 in the last twelve, including victories over Miami and Western Michigan and a home-and-home sweep over rival Denver. The Tigers have scored 27 goals over that stretch (2.25 goals/game) after tallying just 39 in the first 22 games of the season (1.77 goals/game).

CC has found lots of different ways to lose, but the primary culprit is that Colorado College has not been able to finish games. The Tigers have scored first in 15 of 34 games this year and have played opponents even in the first period (24 goals scored, 24 goals allowed). But Scott Owen’s squad is just 1-11-3 when taking the early lead and has been outscored 87-42 in the final two periods and overtime this year.

The Tiger faithful can point to the scoring void created when last year’s senior class (Rylan Schwartz, Will Rapuzzi, Mike Boivin, Scott Winkler, Andrew Hamburg, and Joe Marciano) graduated. Those six accounted for 170 of CC’s 315 points (54.0%) in 2012-13.

But North Dakota experienced a similar loss with the graduation of Danny Kristo, Corban Knight, Carter Rowney, Joe Gleason, and Andrew MacWilliam, plus the early departure of Derek Forbort. The six UND stalwarts collected 176 of North Dakota’s 361 points, good for 48.8 percent of UND’s production last year.

The past two seasons have been the most trying of Scott Owens’ coaching career. After 13 winning campaigns behind the bench (299-185-43, .608), Owens’ teams have gone just 24-41-11 (.388) over the past two years. If Colorado College decides to retain their veteran coach, the cupboard is full. The Tigers have only four senior skaters on the roster, and those four have combined for just 17 of Colorado College’s 66 goals (25.8%) and 43 of CC’s 177 points (24.3%) this season. Only forward Alexander Krushelnyski (10-13-23) will be considered an offensive loss.

For North Dakota, the future may be even brighter than the present. UND’s three senior skaters (defenseman Dillon Simpson and forwards Derek Rodwell and Mitch MacMillan) have chipped in just 13 of UND’s 104 goals (12.5%) and 31 of 280 team points (11.1%) in 2013-14. Dave Hakstol will certainly miss Simpson’s offensive production next season, as the first team all-NCHC blueliner has potted seven goals and tallied 14 assists this year.

Assuming all players return, the Green and White will dress ten players next season with twenty or more career points, including four (Rocco Grimaldi, Mark MacMillan, Michael Parks, and Nick Mattson) with more than 50.

Players eligible to return: current year, position, career points, and career games played:

Sophomore forward Rocco Grimaldi: 27 goals, 44 assists (71 points) in 78 games
Junior forward Mark MacMillan: 29 goals, 39 assists, (68 points) in 114 games
Junior forward Michael Parks: 29 goals, 28 assists (57 points) in 101 games
Sophomore forward Drake Caggiula: 17 goals, 18 assists (35 points) in 73 games
Junior forward Conner Gaarder: 13 goals, 20 assists (33 points) in 101 games
Junior forward Brendan O’Donnell: 12 goals, 17 assists (29 points) in 73 games
Junior forward Stephane Pattyn: 11 goals, 11 assists (22 points) in 117 games
Freshman forward Luke Johnson: 8 goals, 12 assists (20 points) in 34 games

Junior defenseman Nick Mattson: 12 goals, 39 assists (51 points) in 112 games
Sophomore defenseman Jordan Schmaltz: 7 goals, 25 assists (32 points) in 75 games

Add in defenseman Paul LaDue’s stellar freshman campaign (5-11-16 in 33 games) and the fact that starting goaltender Zane Gothberg (24-11-6, 2.20 goals-against average, .922 save percentage, two shutouts) is just a sophomore, and one can plainly see that North Dakota is poised to compete now and in the future.

The key to the second half of the season for North Dakota has been the performance of Mark MacMillan, Brendan O’Donnell, and Michael Parks. The three juniors had collected 94 points in 197 games over their first two seasons but had just 21 points in 43 combined games leading into the January series against Colorado College. Since that time, the trio has 39 points in 48 games, and the three are among ten North Dakota players averaging a point per weekend.

There are several other areas on the Green and White side of the ledger in this matchup: goaltending has been a question mark all season for the Tigers (senior Josh Thorimbert is allowing more than three goals per game with a save percentage below .900), while sophomore Zane Gothberg has taken over the #1 spot for UND. Colorado College comes in to this weekend with the second-worst power play in the league (12.7%), while North Dakota is clipping along at 18.5%. And finally, CC has not played well on the road this year (1-13-2) and historically has had some difficulty adjusting to the narrower NHL ice sheet, as witnessed by the fact that the Tigers have won just 20 out of 111 games played in Grand Forks.

If there has been a letdown in North Dakota’s game, it’s been in the third period. Dave Hakstol’s crew has outscored opponents 77-53 in the first 40 minutes of games this season with a 734-635 advantage in shots on goal. But the switch has flipped in the final frame. Opponents have outscored UND 33-27 in the third period, with a shot advantage of 341-292. Despite those statistics, North Dakota is 13-2-0 this season when leading after two periods of play.

The winner of this weekend series will travel down to Minneapolis to compete in the first-ever NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Target Center. By virtue of the Pairwise rankings, Colorado College would need to win the conference tournament to advance to the NCAA’s. North Dakota would be squarely on the bubble with a series defeat, while two victories this weekend would put them in very good position for the national tournament.

Colorado College Team Profile

Head Coach: Scott Owens (15th season at CC, 323-226-54, .580)

Pairwise Ranking: 51st
National Ranking: NR
This Season: 6-22-6 overall, 6-13-5 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 18-19-5 overall, 11-13-4 WCHA (8th)

Team Offense: 1.94 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.26 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 12.7% (17 of 134)
Penalty Kill: 78.5% (106 of 135)

Key Players: Senior F Alexander Krushelnyski (10-13-23), Freshman F Sam Rothstein (5-12-17), Freshman F Alex Roos (8-7-15), Sophomore F Cody Bradley (6-9-15), Senior F Archie Skalbeck (6-8-14), Freshman D Jaccob Slavin (5-17-22), Freshman D Gustav Olofsson (4-3-7), Senior G Josh Thorimbert (6-21-6, 3.16 GAA, .895 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (10th season at UND, 255-130-40, .647)

Pairwise Ranking: 10th
National Ranking: #10
This Season: 20-11-3 overall, 15-9-0-0 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 22-13-7 overall (NCAA West Regional finalist), 14-7-7 WCHA (3rd)

Team Offense: 3.06 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.53 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.5% (29 of 157)
Penalty Kill: 82.8% (130 of 157)

Key Players: Sophomore F Rocco Grimaldi (13-20-33), Sophomore F Michael Parks (10-17-27), Junior F Mark MacMillan (9-11-20), Sophomore F Drake Caggiula (9-10-19), Freshman F Luke Johnson (8-12-20), Senior D Dillon Simpson (7-14-21), Sophomore D Jordan Schmaltz (4-16-20), Sophomore G Zane Gothberg (15-7-3, 2.02 GAA, .924 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 11, 2014 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after handing the Tigers a 5-3 loss, UND mounted a third period comeback to complete the series sweep. North Dakota’s Keaton Thompson and Rocco Grimaldi scored two minutes apart in the final frame for a 3-2 victory. Three of Colorado College’s five goals in the series came on the power play.

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, 141-79-10 (.635), including a staggering 85-20-6 (.793) record in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: North Dakota is 7-3-0 (.600) in the last ten meetings between the teams. UND has only outscored CC 40-35 over the last ten games, with five of UND’s seven victories coming by a single goal.

Game News and Notes

CC has not made an appearance in the national tournament since 2011, while North Dakota has made the NCAAs each of the last eleven seasons. Colorado College freshman defenseman Jaccob Slavin has 22 points in 29 games, tied for first among NCHC blueliners. North Dakota’s Dillon Simpson has collected ten points in ten career games against the Tigers, while Rocco Grimaldi isn’t far behind with one goal and six assists in seven games against CC. Head coach Scott Owens has coached the Tigers since 1997.

The Prediction

As I mentioned in an earlier article about the playoffs, a first-round sweep is not an easy task. And in my NCHC Playoff Preview, I predicted that the other three conference series would all go to a decisive third game. But everything stacks up on North Dakota’s side of the ledger, so I’ll take the Green and White in two. Saturday’s game will be a battle and will probably go to overtime. UND 5-2, 2-1.

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