There are plenty of storylines for the inaugural NCHC Frozen Faceoff this weekend at Target Center in Minneapolis. Three of the four participating teams (Western Michigan, Denver, and Miami) can only advance to the NCAA tournament by winning the as-yet-unnamed trophy which goes to the league playoff champion. And North Dakota has a bit more breathing room: many scenarios exist which put them in the national field of 16 with one win particularly since Penn State’s double overtime victory over Michigan yesterday has the Green and White at 11th in the Pairwise.
The other interesting thing to note about the playoff format is that teams will play a third place game on Saturday afternoon. Before the old WCHA expanded to 12 teams and the league playoff format changed, the Final Five used to have a “consolation championship”. We found some teams competing to move up in the Pairwise while other squads had already mailed it in, knowing that they were in the NCAAs for certain or that their season had already ended.
And I think that could be the case this weekend.
If North Dakota wins on Friday night, the two teams playing for third place on Saturday (Miami vs. Denver/Western Michigan) will have nothing to play for.
If North Dakota loses on Friday night, the stakes will be different. In that situation, UND would still have a chance to make the national tournament with a victory, while its opponent will have very little motivation remaining (save the spoiler role that so many teams relish). Advantage: North Dakota.
So Dave Hakstol’s crew would certainly advance to the NCAAs with two wins and has a fairly good chance of receiving an at-large bid with one win this weekend. By my calculations, the combined odds of all of those scenarios give UND more than a 65 percent chance of making the national tournament.
#2 North Dakota advanced after a hard fought three game home series against #7 Colorado College. Dave Hakstol reunited linemates Stephane Pattyn, Derek Rodwell, and Conner Gaarder for Sunday night’s game three, and the line was very effective in all zones. Expect these three to be matched up against Miami’s top unit as much as possible in Friday night’s semifinal.
The other three schools at the Frozen Faceoff were all road teams in the first round of the NCHC playoffs. #8 Miami swept at #1 St. Cloud State, #6 Denver defeated #3 Nebraska-Omaha in three games, and #5 Western Michigan took down #4 Minnesota-Duluth with a pair of one-goal victories in a battle of teams with identical records.
Remarkably, only two of the six teams from the previous WCHA advanced to the Frozen Faceoff, while the other two schools (Western Michigan and Miami) came from the now-defunct CCHA.
Miami has been reenergized by the return of forward Blake Coleman (18 goals and 7 assists in 25 games). The junior from Plano, Texas missed 11 games due to injury (from December 7th to February 15th, including the series at North Dakota) but has scored eight goals in eight games since his return.
Two of the top three teams in the NCHC during the regular season are sitting at home this weekend. #1 SCSU (21-10-5, 10th in the Pairwise) is assured of receiving an at-large bid to the NCAAs, while Nebraska-Omaha, this year’s #3 seed, saw its season end at 17-18-2. UNO was in the WCHA for three years but never made it to the Final Five.
Colorado College (7-24-6) had its 2013-14 campaign ended at the hands of North Dakota, and Scott Owens’ bunch now have a record of 25-43-11 over the past two years.
And Minnesota-Duluth (16-16-4) missed the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season after posting four straight 20-win campaigns and a national title in 2011.
Teams were reseeded after the first round of the league postseason tournament, so we have the following semifinal pairings:
Semifinal #1 (Friday, 4:00 p.m.): #5 Western Michigan vs. #6 Denver Pioneers
Semifinal #2 (Friday, 7:30 p.m.): #2 North Dakota vs. #8 Miami
The winners of those two games will compete for the playoff championship and an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Friday’s losing teams will face off at 3:30 p.m. in Saturday’s third place game.
All four of the teams competing this weekend play their home games on NHL-sized ice (85×200), the same size as the narrower ice sheet inside Target Center.
#6 Denver Pioneers vs. #5 Western Michigan Broncos
2013-2014 Season Series (Denver leads 3-1):
November 15 (at DU): Denver 5, Western Michigan 3
November 16 (at DU): Denver 1, Western Michigan 0
February 28 (at WMU): Denver 4, Western Michigan 2
March 1 (at WMU): Western Michigan 3, Denver 1
Denver Team Profile
Head Coach: Jim Montgomery (1st season at DU, 18-15-6, .538)
Pairwise Ranking: 26th
National Ranking: NR
This Season: 18-15-6 overall, 10-11-3-2 NCHC (6th)
Last Season: 20-14-5 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional Semifinalist), 14-9-5 WCHA (t-4th)
Team Offense: 2.62 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.21 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.2% (33 of 163)
Penalty Kill: 86.7% (144 of 166)
Key Players: Freshman F Trevor Moore (13-17-30), Sophomore F Quentin Shore (7-18-25), Sophomore F Gabe Levin (5-16-21), Junior F Ty Loney (10-13-23), Junior D Joey LaLeggia (11-11-22), Senior D David Makowski (10-14-24), Senior G Sam Brittain (17-13-6, 2.06 GAA, .934 SV%, 5 SO)
Western Michigan Team Profile
Head Coach: (Andy Murray, 3rd season at WMU, 59-39-19, .585)
Pairwise Ranking: t-19th
National Ranking: #19
This Season: 19-14-5 overall, 11-11-2 NCHC (t-4th)
Last Season: 19-11-8 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 15-7-6-3 CCHA (3rd)
Team Offense: 2.63 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.55 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 13.6% (24 of 177)
Penalty Kill: 84.7% (172 of 203)
Key Players: Senior F Shane Berschbach (15-22-37), Junior F Justin Kovacs (13-19-32), Senior F Chase Balisy (13-24-37), Sophomore D Kenney Morrison (4-15-19), Junior D Jordan Oesterle (2-14-16), Sophomore G Lukas Hafner (9-6-2, 2.06 GAA, .925 GAA, 2 SO)
The prediction: Denver has a couple of edges in this contest – Hobey finalist Sam Brittain has been lights out for the Pioneers, and WMU has been dreadful on the power play. The only edge in the Broncos’ corner is the experience of head coach Andy Murray, longtime NHL coach in his third season behind the Western Michigan bench, versus the relative inexperience of the Pios’ Jim Montgomery. I’ve got DU in this one, but it’s close. Denver 3, Western Michigan 2.
#8 Miami RedHawks vs. #2 North Dakota
2013-2014 Season Series (North Dakota leads 3-1):
October 18 (at Miami): North Dakota 4, Miami 2
October 19 (at Miami): Miami 6, North Dakota 2
February 14 (at UND): North Dakota 3, Miami 2
February 15 (at UND): North Dakota 9, Miami 2
Miami Team Profile
Head Coach: Enrico Blasi (15th season at Miami, 325-215-56, .592)
Pairwise Ranking: t-32nd
National Ranking: NR
This Season: 14-19-3 overall, 6-17-1-1 NCHC (8th)
Last Season: 25-12-5 overall (NCAA Midwest Regional finalist), 17-7-4-4 CCHA (1st)
Team Offense: 2.92 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.08 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.9% (33 of 158)
Penalty Kill: 80.1% (129 of 161)
Key players: Sophomore F Riley Barber (19-24-43), Junior F Austin Czarnik (12-33-45), Junior F Blake Coleman (18-7-25 in 25 games), Sophomore D Matthew Caito (3-12-15), Junior D Ben Paulides (3-3-6), Sophomore G Ryan McKay (9-12-3, 2.75 GAA, .911 SV%, 3 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (10th season at UND, 257-131-40, .647)
Pairwise Ranking: 11th
National Ranking: #11
This Season: 22-12-3 overall, 15-9-0-0 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 22-13-7 overall (NCAA West Regional finalist), 14-7-7 WCHA (3rd)
Team Offense: 3.08 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.54 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.5% (30 of 162)
Penalty Kill: 83.3% (135 of 162)
Key Players: Sophomore F Rocco Grimaldi (13-22-35), Sophomore F Michael Parks (11-17-28), Junior F Mark MacMillan (9-14-23), Sophomore F Drake Caggiula (11-12-23), Freshman F Luke Johnson (8-12-20), Senior D Dillon Simpson (7-14-21), Sophomore D Jordan Schmaltz (5-17-22), Sophomore G Zane Gothberg (17-8-3, 2.08 GAA, .922 SV%, 2 SO)
The Prediction: This will definitely be more of a scorefest than the first semifinal. The teams combined for 30 goals in their first four contests, with North Dakota outscoring Miami 18-12. Playoff hockey typically means that things will be a little tighter, but I can still see either team scoring four goals on the other. I’ll say that this one goes to overtime, with the partisan Green and White crowd making the difference for UND. North Dakota 4, Miami 3 (OT).