Weekend Preview: UND vs. Lake Superior State

After Union dismantled Minnesota to become the 20th college hockey team to claim a national championship, I ranked all twenty programs. Lake Superior State, UND’s opponent this weekend, came in at #13 (you’ll have to check out the full article to see where North Dakota ended up). At that time, I said this about the Lakers:

From 1987-1996, the Lakers were a college hockey dynasty. Head coaches Frank Anzalone and Jeff Jackson amassed a combined record of 277-80-39 (.749), and Lake Superior appeared in nine straight NCAA tournaments with three national titles (1988, 1992, 1994) and a runner-up finish in 1993. Perhaps the most astounding fact of all is that the best Laker team, the 1990-91 squad, went 36-5-4 but lost their first round NCAA playoff series to Clarkson and didn’t make the Frozen Four. Still, it’s been 18 seasons since those glory days without a single noteworthy accomplishment or tournament appearance. Until that changes, the Lakers are stuck in the past.

Beginning in 1996-97, Lake Superior fell off the college hockey map just as the Fighting Sioux were returning to national prominence. Even though LSSU has competed at the Division I level since 1966, the two teams have never been members of the same conference or met in postseason play. Remarkably, the two schools have only played two games in almost fifty seasons of hockey, a weekend series in Grand Forks in December 1973.

LSSU now competes in the new-look WCHA after competing in the CCHA from 1966 until 2013. Lake Superior had one dominant stretch as mentioned above, claiming three regular season championships and four league playoff titles in a nine year span. But since 1996, the Lakers have only reached the twenty-win plateau once (2006-07) and grew accustomed to finishing in the bottom half of the league standings.

This season, the Lakers went winless in October (0-9-0) and were outscored 36-13 over that stretch of games. November has been a bit better for Lake Superior (3-4-0), although they were recently blanked at home by scores of 7-0 and 3-0 at the hands of current #2 Minnesota State. LSSU is a very young team, with only three seniors on the roster (compared with nine freshmen and nine sophomores). Damon Whitten is in his first year as head coach in Sault Ste. Marie, and he regularly plays a first-year netminder and five freshmen on the blue line.

For the first time since 2002-03, a North Dakota team has ten or more wins over the first two months of the season. UND is currently 10-3-2, compared to an October/November record of 5-7-2 a year ago. Last year’s squad went 20-7-1 (.732) over the final five months of the season, overcoming that slow start and advancing to the Frozen Four for the sixth time in Dave Hakstol’s ten seasons behind the bench.

One of the biggest reasons for UND’s success over the first fifteen games of this current campaign has been North Dakota’s ability to hold a lead. Dave Hakstol’s squad is unbeaten this season (8-0-1) when leading after the first forty minutes of play. In fact, over the past nine years, North Dakota is converting ninety percent of second intermission leads into victories (163-13-12).

UND is currently 5-1-1 (.786) in non-conference play, with only a January home series versus Niagara (3-9-0, .250) on the horizon after this weekend’s games.

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference as a whole has a stellar record against other leagues so far this season, a far cry from last year’s troubles. Currently, five conference schools are ranked in the top twelve in the country: #1 North Dakota, #4 Miami, #8 Minnesota-Duluth, #10 Denver, and #12 Nebraska-Omaha (St. Cloud State is also receiving votes, while Western Michigan and Colorado College are unranked). If the league continues to notch non-conference victories at this pace, 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: 33-16-2 (.667, best in the country)

NCHC record vs. Atlantic Hockey: 3-2-0 (.600)
NCHC record vs. Big Ten: 12-2-0 (.857)
NCHC record vs. ECAC: 7-3-1 (.682)
NCHC record vs. Hockey East: 3-3-1 (.500)
NCHC record vs. WCHA: 8-6-0 (.571)

The six teams in the Big Ten (Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin) are a combined 29-34-4 (.463) in non-league play, the second-worst winning percentage in college hockey (Atlantic Hockey, 11-33-2, .261). Not including a 7-0-1 mark against Atlantic Hockey, the Big Ten sports a dismal 22-34-3 (.398) record against the other four major hockey conferences.

After this weekend, UND will travel to Denver for an important NCHC series against the Pioneers while Lake Superior heads four hours south of Sault Ste. Marie to Big Rapids, Michigan for a pair with Ferris State. The Lakers will also take part in the Florida College Classic (also featuring Cornell, Miami, and Notre Dame) to close out the 2014 portion of their schedule.

Lake Superior Team Profile

Head Coach: Damon Whitten (1st season at LSSU, 3-13-0, .188)
National Ranking: NR/NR
This Season: 3-13-0 overall, 3-9-0 WCHA (6th)
Last Season: 16-19-1 overall, 12-16-0 WCHA (t-8th)

Team Offense: 1.69 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.88 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 6.9% (5 of 72)
Penalty Kill: 75.9% (41 of 54)

Key Players: Junior F Bryce Schmitt (5-5-10), Senior F Stephen Perfetto (4-2-6), Senior F Chris Ciotti (4-1-5), Freshman D James Roll (0-7-7), Freshman D Jason Bird (1-3-4), Freshman G Gordon Defiel (3-11-0, 3.53 GAA, .900 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (11th season at UND, 270-136-42, .650)
National Ranking: #1/#1
This Season: 10-3-2 overall, 5-2-1-0 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 25-14-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 15-9-0-0 NCHC (2nd)

Team Offense: 3.20 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.07 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.6% (13 of 70)
Penalty Kill: 86.4% (57 of 66)

Key Players: Junior F Drake Caggiula (7-13-20), Senior F Michael Parks (5-11-16), Senior F Mark MacMillan (7-6-13 in 11 games), Freshman F Nick Schmaltz (2-8-10 in 11 games), Junior D Jordan Schmaltz (2-7-9), Sophomore D Troy Stecher (1-8-9), Sophomore D Paul LaDue (3-5-8), Junior G Zane McIntyre (10-3-2, 2.02 GAA, .928 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: December 15, 1973 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after throttling the visiting Lakers 7-2, the homestanding Sioux defeated Lake Superior 7-3 to earn the series sweep. Rookie head coach Rick Comley did manage to win twenty games that season after taking over for the legendary Ron Mason, who left LSSU to coach at Bowling Green (and later Michigan State).

All-time Series: North Dakota has won both of the meetings between the teams by a combined score of 14-5.

Game News and Notes

The Lakers have not made the NCAA tournament since a thirty win season in 1995-96. North Dakota has advanced to the tourney 17 times since then, winning two national titles (1997 and 2000). UND has scored eight shorthanded goals this season, most in the nation. Lake State’s power play is currently 57th out of 59 Division 1 men’s hockey teams. North Dakota junior forward Drake Caggiula is tied for second nationally in scoring (20 points).

The Prediction

Normally, in a mismatched series, the Saturday game will be a closer contest after the underdog has had some time to adjust and prepare for the rematch. But I’ve got a feeling that Friday’s opener will be tighter, with the Lakers running out of gas in game two. UND 4-2, 6-1.

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