In the first year of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, St. Cloud State bested North Dakota by three points to claim the league’s first regular season championship. SCSU and UND were both invited to the NCAA tournament, and Denver earned the conference autobid by winning the inaugural Frozen Faceoff.
North Dakota finished second in the NCHC, and yet needed some help at the final hour to claim the last spot in the round of sixteen. UND went 8-4-3 in non-league play last season heading into the NCAAs, but the rest of the league struggled mightily, particularly against Hockey East (6-11-5) and the ECAC (4-7-3).
The National Collegiate Hockey Conference has a stellar record against other leagues so far this season, a far cry from last year’s troubles. Currently, six conference schools are ranked in the top sixteen in the country (only Western Michigan and Colorado College are unranked). If these numbers hold, the NCHC could easily place four or even five teams in the NCAA tournament in March after sending just three (and barely that) a year ago.
NCHC overall record vs. other conferences: 27-14-2 (.651, best in the country)
NCHC record vs. Atlantic Hockey: 2-1-0 (.667)
NCHC record vs. Big Ten: 9-2-0 (.818)
NCHC record vs. ECAC: 6-3-1 (.650)
NCHC record vs. Hockey East: 3-3-1 (.500)
NCHC record vs. WCHA: 7-5-0 (.583)
The six teams in the Big Ten (Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin) are a combined 23-28-3 (.454) in non-league play, the second-worst winning percentage in college hockey (Atlantic Hockey, 9-28-2, .256). Not including a 7-0-1 mark against Atlantic Hockey, the Big Ten sports an embarrassing 16-28-2 (.370) record against the other four major hockey conferences.
North Dakota and St. Cloud State have been paired up as schedule partners and rivals since the 2002-03 season. Two years later, the Center Ice Club created a commemorative trophy to mark the rivalry, and the two teams have been battling it out four times each season to claim the Challenge Cup.
UND had the better of the play in the first eight years of the Challenge Cup era, claiming the Cup four times and sharing the trophy three times while St. Cloud State only won the trophy once (2005-06). However, St. Cloud has gone 5-2-1 against North Dakota over the past two regular seasons and has earned the last two Challenge Cups.
SCSU has played perhaps the most difficult schedule in the country to this point, opening up with splits against #6 Colgate, #2 Union, and #1 Minnesota before dropping both games of a home-and-home series with #17 Minnesota-Duluth. Last weekend, the Huskies split at unranked Western Michigan to take their conference record to 1-2-1-0.
As is typical for St. Cloud teams, the Huskies thrive with the man advantage. SCSU is converting 25 percent of power play opportunities (11 of 44), good for fifth in the nation. The flip side of that coin, however, is that the Huskies have only scored 11 even-strength goals over their first ten games (4-5-1).
A key to North Dakota’s early success has been special teams play. With a roughly equal number of power play and shorthanded situations, UND has scored twelve power play goals while only allowing seven. Furthermore, Dave Hakstol’s crew has scored seven shorthanded goals in the first eleven games of the season, best in the country. By comparison, St. Cloud State has scored only one goal while on the penalty kill.
After leading the nation in scoring by defensemen last year, UND is second in the country in that category on the young season. Through eleven games, North Dakota blueliners have scored nine goals and added 23 assists for 32 points, or 2.91 points per game. Only Massachusetts-Lowell has scored at a higher rate (8-30-38 in eleven games, 3.45/game).
More to the point, North Dakota’s top six defensemen have already notched nine goals and added 20 assists for 29 points in eleven games (2.64 points/game). By comparison, the six SCSU blueliners expected to be in the lineup this weekend have combined for five goals and ten assists for 15 points (1.5 points/game).
Eleven UND forwards have already scored a goal this season, including seven players with two or more tallies.
That scoring depth has made North Dakota difficult to match lines against, and the Green and White have capitalized, going 5-0 on the road with a win at Bemidji State and sweeps at Colorado College and Wisconsin.
St. Cloud State has owned the second period in games this year, outscoring opponents 11-4 in the middle frame. In the other 45 minutes of play, however, SCSU has been outscored 22-12. UND has been outscored 12-11 in second periods over its first eleven games but has a 28-10 goal advantage in the first and third periods and overtime.
St. Cloud State Team Profile
Head Coach: (Bob Motzko, 10th season at SCSU, 188-141-41, .564)
National Ranking: #16/#15
This Season: 4-5-1 overall, 1-2-1-0 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 22-11-5 overall (NCAA Region semifinalist), 15-6-3-0 NCHC (1st)
Team Offense: 2.30 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.60 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 25.0% (11 of 44)
Penalty Kill: 85.0% (34 of 40)
Key Players: Junior F Jonny Brodzinski (5-3-8), Junior F Joey Benik (5-3-8), Junior F Kalle Kossila (2-6-8), Freshman F Patrick Russell (2-5-7), Senior D Andrew Prochno (2-5-7), Junior D Ethan Prow (1-3-4), Sophomore G Charlie Lindgren (4-5-1, 2.49 GAA, .909 SV%)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (11th season at UND, 268-135-41, .650)
National Ranking: #2/#3
This Season: 8-2-1 overall, 3-1-0-0 NCHC (t-3rd)
Last Season: 25-14-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 15-9-0-0 NCHC (2nd)
Team Offense: 3.55 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.00 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.1% (12 of 57)
Penalty Kill: 86.5% (45 of 52)
Key Players: Senior F Michael Parks (5-9-14), Junior F Drake Caggiula (6-10-16), Senior F Mark MacMillan (6-4-10 in 7 games), Sophomore F Luke Johnson (3-3-6), Junior D Jordan Schmaltz (1-6-7), Sophomore D Troy Stecher (1-7-8), Sophomore D Paul LaDue (3-5-8), Junior G Zane McIntyre (8-2-1, 1.95 GAA, .928 SV%)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: March 1, 2014 (St. Cloud, MN). The Huskies rebounded from a 5-2 loss in Friday’s opener to defeat North Dakota 3-1 in the rematch. St. Cloud scored once in each period to overcome Rocco Grimaldi’s unassisted shorthanded goal in the first. Ryan Faragher made 33 of 34 saves for the Huskies. The series split gave SCSU the inside track to the league title, which they claimed one week later with a sweep at Colorado College.
Most Important Meeting: March 17, 2001 (St. Paul, MN). St. Cloud State defeated North Dakota 6-5 to claim the 2001 WCHA Final Five Championship. Derek Eastman scored the game-winner in overtime after UND scored three goals in the final ten minutes of regulation to force the extra session.
All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 61-36-12 (.615), including a 25-19-6 (.560) mark in games played in St. Cloud.
Last Ten: St. Cloud holds a slight 5-4-1 (.550) edge in the last ten meetings between the teams, although each team has scored 24 combined goals over that span.
Game News and Notes
UND junior forward Drake Caggiula’s 16 points have him tied with four other players for the nation’s scoring lead. Only Penn State senior forward Taylor Holstrom has amassed that total in fewer games (nine, to Caggiula’s eleven). SCSU junior forwards Joey Benik, Jonny Brodzinski, and Kalle Kossila are tied for the team scoring lead with ten points each. North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol is 23-14-7 (.602) in his career against the Huskies.
Most seasons, I give the edge to St. Cloud at home on the wider sheet. But given UND’s forward depth and mobile defensive corps, I think that the road squad will fare quite well. If the Huskies get their power play going, all bets are off. UND 4-2, 2-2 tie (SCSU wins shootout for the extra league point).
On a Personal Note
I look forward to this series every year because of the unique relationship we have with the St. Cloud State hockey fans. On behalf of SiouxSports.com, I would like to invite you to the UND/SCSU pre-game social on Saturday afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. on the second floor of Brother’s Bar and Grill (119 Fifth Avenue South) in St. Cloud. This is a great opportunity to meet fans on both sides of the rivalry, win fabulous door prizes, enjoy a free appetizer bar, and view the Challenge Cup. This event is free and open to the public.