Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Denver

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota will be at the top of the league rivalries. Despite having played just four games in the past two years, the schools definitely do not like each other. The feud goes all the way back to Geoff Paukovitch’ illegal check on Sioux forward Robbie Bina during the 2005 WCHA Final Five.

Since that 2005 Final Five contest (a Denver victory), the two teams have met six times in tournament play. Denver won the 2005 NCAA title with a victory over North Dakota and claimed a 2008 WCHA Final Five win as well. UND has won the last four playoff games between the schools, including three consecutive victories in the WCHA Final Five (2010-2012) and the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional final which sent the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four.

A key storyline for DU this season has been the play of its first-year players, particularly the emergence of freshman forward Danton Heinen. The 6-foot, 161 pound phenom from Langley, British Columbia leads the Pios in scoring with 29 points in 26 games. Heinen, who played his junior hockey with the Surrey Eagles (BCHL), notched just a single assist in the December home split against North Dakota but turned it on in January, collecting nine points in the first seven games of 2015. Nationally, Jack Eichel (Boston University) has been the most impressive freshman (15-28-43 in 25 games to lead the nation in scoring), and Michigan’s Dylan Larkin has 31 points in 22 contests, but Heinen is still the third-most prolific scorer among first-year players (by comparison, North Dakota’s top-scoring freshman is Nick Schmaltz, who has potted three goals and notched 16 assists for 19 points in his first 23 college games).

And a second newcomer to the DU roster is also making a difference in 2015. After sophomore goaltender Evan Cowley started ten of the first fourteen games of the season for the Pioneers, freshman Tanner Jaillet has flipped the script and taken the job away from his teammate. Since January 1st, here are the splits:

Evan Cowley: 0-1-1 (four appearances), 2.59 goals-against average, .926 save percentage, zero shutouts
Tanner Jaillet: 6-3-0 (ten appearances), 1.64 goals-against average, .940 save percentage, one shutout

Cowley, from nearby Arvada, Colorado, played in only five games last season (1.76 GAA, .949 SV%), so the two Denver netminders have almost the same amount of game experience.

By contrast, UND’s upperclassmen have been carrying the load. North Dakota’s seniors shined in recent home sweeps of Niagara and Colorado College and again at Nebraska-Omaha. The seven skaters (forwards Connor Gaarder, Mark MacMillan, Brendan O’Donnell, Michael Parks, and Stephane Pattyn along with defensemen Nick Mattson and Andrew Panzarella) combined for 32 points over the last six games and now rank as the fourth-most productive senior class in the nation with 98 points (Mercyhurst 147, Air Force 111, Minnesota 99).

Offensive capability from the blue line is another reason for UND’s continued success. After leading the nation in scoring by defensemen last year, UND is second in the country in that category this season. Through 27 games, North Dakota blueliners have scored 16 goals and added 60 assists for 76 points, or 2.81 points per game. Only Minnesota State-Mankato (2.97 points/game) has scored at a higher rate this year.

UND junior netminder Zane McIntyre is now squarely on the bubble for a Hobey Baker nod after a rather pedestrian performance in his last weekend of action (59 of 65 saves in a split at UNO). McIntyre, who now sits 11th in the country in goals-against average (1.96) and 10th in save percentage (.931), has played the seventh-most minutes in the nation and is tied for second in victories (19). In my opinion, the junior from Thief River Falls, Minnesota will need to continue registering victories and pick up one or two more shutouts over the next month to remain in contention for college hockey’s highest individual award.

It should also be noted that Zane McIntyre is also statistically the best goaltender in North Dakota hockey history. His career goals-against average (2.08) and save percentage (.926) rank as the best all-time at UND. Former goaltending greats Jean-Phillippe Lamoureux, Jordan Parise, Aaron Dell, and Karl Goehring round out the top five.

One of the biggest reasons for UND’s success this season has been North Dakota’s ability to hold a lead. During the 2014-15 campaign, Dave Hakstol’s squad is unbeaten (16-0-1) when leading after the first forty minutes of play. In fact, over the past seven years, North Dakota is converting almost 90 percent of second intermission leads into victories and has just seven losses in the last 145 such situations (129-7-9).

Dave Hakstol has his team in a much better position than last year, when North Dakota’s NCAA tournament hopes went down to the wire. With a sparkling 9-1-1 non-conference record, UND currently sits in second place in the Pairwise rankings, one of five NCHC teams in line to make the NCAA tournament. Nebraska-Omaha (4th), Minnesota-Duluth (5th), Miami (7th), and Denver (9th) would all make the field of 16 if the season ended today. Of the remaining three league teams on the outside looking in, St. Cloud State is the closest to making the tournament, as the Huskies are currently tied for 21st.

On a sad note, Denver head coach Jim Montgomery’s father passed away this morning. This, via Twitter:

Jim Montgomery @DUCoachMonty 7:26 AM – 13 Feb 2015 The man who impacted my life the most has passed away. I will miss our daily phone calls and the wisdom and love you gave me. Love you Dad

DU assistant coach David Carle will act as head coach. From all of us at SiouxSports.com, our thoughts and prayers go out to the Montgomery and Denver families.

Denver Team Profile

Head Coach: Jim Montgomery (2nd season at DU, 36-25-7, .581)

Pairwise Ranking: 9th of 59 teams
National Rankings: #9/#9
This Season: 16-9-1 overall, 9-7-0-0 NCHC (5th)
Last Ten Games: 6-4-0 overall, 5-4-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 20-16-6 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional semifinalist), 10-11-3-2 NCHC (6th)

Team Offense: 3.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.15 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 22.5% (23 of 102)
Penalty Kill: 87.6% (78 of 89)

Key Players: Freshman F Danton Heinen (10-19-29), Senior F Daniel Doremus (7-15-22), Sophomore F Trevor Moore (13-13-26), Junior F Quentin Shore (8-10-18), Senior D Joey LaLeggia (9-15-24), Junior D Nolan Zajac (5-14-19), Sophomore G Evan Cowley (7-5-1, 2.05 GAA, .927 SV%, 2 SO), Freshman G Tanner Jaillet (9-4-0, 1.97 GAA, .927 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (11th season at UND, 279-139-42, .652)

Pairwise Ranking: 2nd of 59 teams
National Rankings: #2/#3
This Season: 19-6-2 overall, 10-5-1-0 NCHC (2nd)
Last Ten Games: 7-3-0 overall, 5-3-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 25-14-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 15-9-0-0 NCHC (2nd)

Team Offense: 3.44 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.15 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.9% (23 of 110)
Penalty Kill: 84.8% (95 of 112)

Key Players: Junior F Drake Caggiula (11-16-27), Senior F Michael Parks (9-18-27), Senior F Mark MacMillan (15-8-23), Freshman F Nick Schmaltz (3-16-19), Senior F Brendan O’Donnell (10-5-15), Junior D Jordan Schmaltz (3-18-21), Sophomore D Paul LaDue (3-9-12), Sophomore D Troy Stecher (1-8-9 in 19 games), Junior G Zane McIntyre (19-6-2, 1.96 GAA, .931 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 13, 2014 (Denver, CO). One night after falling 4-1 to the homestanding Pios, North Dakota used a balanced attack to gain the road split. Despite being outshot 33-26, the Green and White built a 3-0 lead and held on for a 3-1 victory. Seven different UND players figured in the scoring, and junior netminder Zane McIntyre made 32 of 33 saves for his thirteenth victory of the season. Each team went 0-3 on the power play.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: December 8, 2012. After the teams battled to a 2-2 tie in the opener, it was all UND in a penalty-filled rematch. The hometown squad could have been deflated after allowing two goals during Dan “Jimmer” Senkbeil’s major for checking from behind, but North Dakota’s specialty teams came through in the end, scoring a power play goal, a shorthanded goal, and an empty netter to ice the 6-3 victory. Rocco Grimaldi and Carter Rowney each had four-point nights and, along with freshman linemate Drake Caggiula (two assists), turned in a ten point performance and a combined plus-5.

Most Important Meeting: It’s hard to pick just one game, as the two teams have played four times for the national title. Denver defeated UND for the national championship in 1958, 1968, and 2005, while the Sioux downed the Pioneers in 1963. But the game that stands out in recent memory as “the one that got away” was DU’s 1-0 victory over the Fighting Sioux in the 2004 NCAA West Regional final (Colorado Springs, CO). That North Dakota team went 30-8-4 on the season (Dean Blais’ last behind the UND bench) and featured one of the deepest rosters in the past twenty years: Brandon Bochenski, Zach Parise, Brady Murray, Colby Genoway, Drew Stafford and David Lundbohm up front; Nick Fuher, Matt Jones, Matt Greene, and Ryan Hale on defense; and a couple of goaltending stalwarts in Jordan Parise and Jake Brandt.

Last Ten Games: North Dakota has had slightly the better of it lately, going 5-4-1 (.550) in the last ten meetings between the schools and outscoring Denver 33-26 over that span. The two teams have also met once in the WCHA Final Five (St. Paul) and once in the NCAA regionals during this most recent stretch, with UND winning both of those playoff games.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 139-119-9 (.537), including an 81-42-6 (.651) advantage on home ice. North Dakota last home sweep of the Pioneers came on February 15th and 16th, 2008.

Game News and Notes

UND is 6-6-1 on Friday nights and 13-0-1 on Saturdays. Senior forward Brendan O’Donnell has eight goals in his last thirteen games (UND’s all-time record is 19-0-1 when O’Donnell scores a goal). Denver is 4-5-1 on the road this season; North Dakota is 11-3-2 at home. Denver senior defenseman Joey LaLeggia and North Dakota senior forward Mark MacMillan are two of four players tied for the league lead in points (both have 18 points in 16 NCHC contests). MacMillan, whose twelve goals in conference play lead all scorers, has a career line of 45-52-97 in 145 games played and needs just three points to join UND’s Century Club.

The Prediction

Even though the rosters and past results point to yet another split, UND is playing better hockey right now and is looking for more than three league points this weekend. Friday’s game will be close, with the home crowd pushing the Green and White over the edge. It’s all North Dakota in the rematch. UND 3-2 (OT), 5-2.

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