Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Western Michigan

Western Michigan is still somewhat of an unknown commodity to most North Dakota hockey fans. Before the Broncos joined the newly-formed NCHC in the fall of 2013, the two teams had only met five times, and just once since 1998: a 3-1 UND victory in the 2012 NCAA West Regional in St. Paul.

The Green and White went 4-1 against WMU last season, sweeping in Kalamazoo and splitting in Grand Forks before meeting up in Minneapolis for the third-place game of the inaugural NCHC Frozen Faceoff. After being shut out by Miami in the semifinals, Dave Hakstol had the boys ready to go from the drop of the puck and UND coasted to a 5-0 victory. That result, coupled with Wisconsin’s thrilling win in the Big Ten tournament across the river, propelled North Dakota to a thirteenth consecutive NCAA tournament bid.

This year’s version of Western Michigan has been up and down in league play (5-9-4 with three shootout victories), but head coach Andy Murray’s 7-3-0 non-conference record has fans in Kalamazoo hoping for a playoff run (the Broncos are currently 23rd in the Pairwise rankings). WMU has been able to score more consistently this season (2.75 goals/game), but the Broncos have given up three or more goals in five of their last nine games, including a 7-0 shellacking at the hands of St. Cloud State.

The boys from Kalamazoo, Michigan like to play a tight, physical brand of hockey, but that has meant quite a bit of time in the penalty box. WMU has been in 131 shorthanded situations already this season (compared to 108 power play opportunities). The Broncos’ blistering power play has scored 25 goals this year (converting at 23.1%), but their penalty killers have also allowed 25 goals to the opposition.

North Dakota’s specialty teams numbers are a bit more even: 119 power plays and 118 penalty kills this year, with a net of plus-eight goals (26 power play goals scored, 18 power play goals allowed). UND also leads the nation with nine shorthanded goals, while the Broncos are still looking for their first.

UND’s seven senior skaters (forwards Connor Gaarder, Mark MacMillan, Brendan O’Donnell, Michael Parks, and Stephane Pattyn along with defensemen Nick Mattson and Andrew Panzarella) have combined for 36 points over the last eight games and now rank as the fourth-most productive senior class in the nation with 102 points (Mercyhurst 167, Air Force 115, Minnesota 108).

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 29 games, North Dakota blueliners have scored 18 goals and added 65 assists for 83 points, or 2.86 points per game. Only Massachusetts-Lowell (2.87 points/game) has scored at a higher rate this year.

UND junior netminder Zane McIntyre sits squarely on the bubble for a Hobey Baker nod after another pedestrian performance last weekend versus Denver (52 of 57 saves in a win and a tie). McIntyre, who now sits 13th in the country in goals-against average (2.00) and 11th in save percentage (.930), has played the sixth-most minutes in the nation and is tied for second in victories (20). 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 (16-0-2) 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 146 such situations (129-7-10).

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 (5th), Minnesota-Duluth (4th), Miami (6th), 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 in 19th place.

And speaking of Hakstol, the UND head coach has now won twenty or more games in each of his first eleven seasons behind the North Dakota bench. That mark is easily the longest current streak in men’s hockey (Jerry York is second with five straight seasons of twenty or more wins, and the Eagles have 18 victories this season).

Western Michigan Team Profile

Head Coach: Andy Murray, 4th season at WMU, 71-53-23, .561)

Pairwise Ranking: 23rd of 59 teams
National Ranking: NR
This Season: 12-12-4 overall, 5-9-4-3 NCHC (7th)
Last Ten Games: 5-3-2 overall, 3-3-2-1 NCHC
Last Season: 19-16-5 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 11-11-2-2 NCHC (t-4th)

Team Offense: 2.75 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.64 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 23.1% (25 of 108)
Penalty Kill: 80.9% (106 of 131)

Key Players: Junior F Colton Hargrove (12-10-22). Sophomore F Sheldon Dries (11-11-22), Senior F Justin Kovacs (4-17-21), Junior D Kenney Morrison (5-9-14), Sophomore D Taylor Fleming (2-9-11), Junior G Lukas Hafner (10-8-4, 2.28 GAA, .919 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (11th season at UND, 280-139-43, .653)

Pairwise Ranking: 2nd of 59 teams
National Rankings: #1/#1
This Season: 20-6-3 overall, 11-5-2-0 NCHC (t-1st)
Last Ten Games: 7-2-1 overall, 5-2-1-0 NCHC
Last Season: 25-14-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 15-9-0-0 NCHC (2nd)

Team Offense: 3.45 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.17 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.8% (26 of 119)
Penalty Kill: 84.7% (100 of 118)

Key Players: Junior F Drake Caggiula (13-16-29), Senior F Michael Parks (11-18-29), Senior F Mark MacMillan (15-8-23), Freshman F Nick Schmaltz (4-17-21), Senior F Brendan O’Donnell (10-5-15), Junior D Jordan Schmaltz (3-20-23), Sophomore D Paul LaDue (3-12-15), Sophomore D Troy Stecher (1-8-9 in 21 games), Junior G Zane McIntyre (20-6-3, 2.00 GAA, .930 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: Saturday, March 22nd (Minneapolis, MN). North Dakota faced a must-win situation in the 3rd place game at the inaugural NCHC Frozen Faceoff, and did not disappoint the partisan crowd. The Green and White rolled to a 5-0 victory behind two first period goals from Conner Gaarder. UND netminder Zane Gothberg made 25 saves for the shutout, and Dave Hakstol’s crew played the waiting game for several more hours before discovering that they had indeed made the NCAA tournament for the 13th consecutive season.

Last Meeting in Kalamazoo: December 7, 2013. WMU netminder Frank Slubowski gave up three goals on thirteen shots before being pulled early in the second period and North Dakota held on for a 3-2 road victory. Western Michigan, which outshot UND 25-16, collected two power play goals on six attempts. The Green and White also won Friday’s opener by a 3-2 score.

Most Important Meeting: March 24, 2012 (St. Paul, MN). North Dakota upended Western Michigan 3-1 in the NCAA West Regional semifinal. Brock Nelson had two points, including an empty net goal with 25 seconds remaining that sent UND to the regional finals against Minnesota. Aaron Dell made 24 saves for the Green and White.

All-time Series: In the short history between the schools, UND has won nine of the ten games, outscoring the Broncos 45-19. WMU’s lone victory over North Dakota was a 2-1 road win on March 8th, 2014. The teams first met in 1997.

Game News and Notes

UND is 7-6-1 on Friday nights and 13-0-2 on Saturdays. Western Michigan is just 3-4-3 at home this season; North Dakota is 8-3-0 on the road. MacMillan, whose twelve goals in conference play lead all scorers, has a career line of 45-52-97 in 147 games played and needs just three points to join UND’s Century Club. There are currently 84 members of that exclusive group (100 career points). Thanks to junior forward Nolan LaPorte (eight power play goals), Western Michigan has been the best in the league (23.1 percent) with the man advantage. UND forward Luke Johnson has collected three goals and four assists in five career games against WMU.

The Prediction

North Dakota can take a huge step forward in the league race with two NCHC victories this weekend. It won’t be easy, but I see Zane McIntyre rebounding with a dominating goaltending performance in Kalamazoo. UND 4-2, 3-0.

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