Weekend Preview: UND vs. St. Cloud State

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 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 went 5-2-1 against North Dakota over the past two seasons (2012-14) and earned the last two Challenge Cups.

A November split in St. Cloud means that the Cup is on the line this weekend in Grand Forks.

According to KRACH, St. Cloud State has played the second-most difficult schedule in the country to this point. Over the last two weekends, the Huskies split at #6 Minnesota-Duluth and swept #5 Nebraska-Omaha. After this two game series in Grand Forks against #1 North Dakota, SCSU will host #7 Denver to close out the regular season. This weekend marks the Huskies’ twelfth ranked opponent of the year (UND has faced eight, and will travel to Oxford, Ohio to face the #5 Miami RedHawks next Friday and Saturday).

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 43 points over the last ten games and now rank as the fourth-most productive senior group in the nation with 109 points (Mercyhurst 170, Air Force 119, Minnesota 114).

North Dakota will honor those seven players during Saturday’s Senior Night celebration. The 2015 senior class has amassed a combined record of 95-46-16 (.656) with three straight trips to the NCAA tournament. By comparison, the winningest class under Dave Hakstol was the 2011 class (forwards Matt Frattin, Evan Trupp, Brad Malone, and Brent Davidson and defensemen Chay Genoway, Jake Marto, and Derrick LaPoint), who went 109-48-16 (.676) during their time at UND. Beginning with the incoming freshman class of 2002, every four-year player to wear the Green and White has collected 100 career victories.

Offensive capability from the blue line is a big reason for UND’s continued success. After leading the nation in scoring by defensemen last year, UND is first in the country in that category again this season. Through 31 games, North Dakota blueliners have scored 20 goals and added 71 assists for 91 points, or 2.94 points per game. Denver is second in that category with 88 points in 30 games (2.93 points/game).

More to the point, North Dakota’s top six defensemen have notched 13 goals and added 63 assists for 76 points (2.80 points/game). By comparison, the six SCSU blueliners expected to be in the lineup this weekend have combined for 10 goals and 39 assists for 49 points (1.85 points/game). And furthermore, UND is so deep with talent on the blue line that freshman defenseman Tucker Poolman has been playing wing this season, and he’s chipped in with six goals and five assists.

UND junior netminder Zane McIntyre has moved himself back into the Hobey Baker conversation after a stellar performance last weekend at Western Michigan (67 of 70 saves in the road sweep, with all three of WMU’s goals coming with the extra attacker). McIntyre, who now sits 12th in the country in goals-against average (1.96) and 8th in save percentage (.932), has played the fourth-most minutes in the nation and is tied for second in victories with 22 (Michigan Tech’s Jamie Phillips has 23). 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 three weekends of action 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 (.927) 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.

Perhaps the biggest reason 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 (18-0-2) 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 148 such situations (131-7-10). In fact, the last time UND lost when leading after two periods of play was November 1st, 2013 against visiting St. Cloud State, when a 1-0 lead turned into a 3-2 defeat.

Back in November, I wrote this about the difference between year one and year two in the NCHC:

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.

And now it’s looking like five or even six league schools could be invited to the NCAAs.

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 six NCHC teams in line to make the NCAA tournament. Minnesota-Duluth (3rd), Miami (4th), Denver (7th), Nebraska-Omaha (8th), and St. Cloud State (14th) would all make the field of 16 if the season ended today. The Huskies moved all the way from 19th to 14th in the Pairwise after sweeping Nebraska-Omaha last weekend.

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 19 victories this season).

St. Cloud State Team Profile

Head Coach: (Bob Motzko, 10th season at SCSU, 199-150-41, .563)
Pairwise Ranking: 14th of 59 teams
National Ranking: NR/NR
This Season: 15-14-1 overall, 10-9-1-0 NCHC (6th)
Last Ten Games: 6-4-0 overall, 6-4-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 22-11-5 overall (NCAA Region semifinalist), 15-6-3-0 NCHC (1st)

Team Offense: 2.87 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.47 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 23.4% (29 of 124)
Penalty Kill: 79.3% (73 of 92)

Key Players: Junior F Jonny Brodzinski (17-12-29), Junior F Joey Benik (11-18-29), Junior F Kalle Kossila (4-20-24), Freshman F Patrick Russell (10-13-23), Senior D Andrew Prochno (3-11-14), Junior D Ethan Prow (3-12-15), Sophomore G Charlie Lindgren (14-13-1, 2.30 GAA, .916 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (11th season at UND, 282-139-43, .654)

Pairwise Ranking: 2nd of 59 teams
National Rankings: #1/#1
This Season: 22-6-3 overall, 13-5-2-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Ten Games: 8-1-1 overall, 6-1-1-0 NCHC
Last Season: 25-14-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 15-9-0-0 NCHC (2nd)

Team Offense: 3.42 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.13 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.5% (27 of 132)
Penalty Kill: 85.0% (108 of 127)

Key Players: Junior F Drake Caggiula (15-16-31), Senior F Michael Parks (12-19-31), Senior F Mark MacMillan (16-9-25), Freshman F Nick Schmaltz (4-19-23), Senior F Brendan O’Donnell (10-5-15), Junior D Jordan Schmaltz (3-22-25), Sophomore D Paul LaDue (4-13-17), Senior D Nick Mattson (2-11-13), Junior G Zane McIntyre (22-6-3, 1.96 GAA, .932 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: November 22, 2014 (St. Cloud, MN). On his 21st birthday, North Dakota freshman Trevor Olson potted the first two goals of his career (including the game-winner) and led UND to the 3-2 road victory over the Huskies. St. Cloud native Austin Poganski assisted on both Olson goals against his hometown team, and Brendan O’Donnell also scored for the Green and White (North Dakota is 19-0-1 all-time when O’Donnell lights the lamp). UND outshot the Huskies 39-29, and both teams went 0-for-3 with the man advantage. SCSU won Friday’s opener 3-2.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: November 2, 2013. Troy Stecher staked UND to an early lead, but St. Cloud State dominated the final forty minutes of action, outshooting North Dakota 21-11 in the second and third periods and scoring the final three goals of the hockey game to earn the road sweep (SCSU won Friday’s opener 2-1). Nic Dowd (one goal, one assist) and Jonny Brodzinski (two assists) led the way for the Huskies.

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, 62-37-12 (.613), including a 30-16-6 (.635) mark in games played in Grand Forks. However, North Dakota is winless (0-3-1) in the last four meetings at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Last Ten: St. Cloud holds a 6-3-1 (.650) edge in the last ten meetings between the teams and has outscored North Dakota 26-21 over that stretch of games.

Game News and Notes

UND goaltender Zane McIntyre is just 2-5-0 against the Huskies in his three years at North Dakota. Head coach Bob Motzko needs one victory this weekend to reach 200 for his career (ten seasons). North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol, who has 282 coaching victories in eleven seasons, is 24-15-7 (.598) in his career against the Huskies. UND can clinch home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs with at least three points this weekend.

The Prediction

This season, UND is 8-6-1 on Fridays and 14-0-2 on Saturdays. That trend continues this weekend, with St. Cloud State winning a close one in the opener before North Dakota takes over in the rematch, earning a split of the weekend series and a share of the Challenge Cup. SCSU 3-2, UND 4-1.

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 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. at Muddy Rivers Bar and Grill (inside the Red Roof Inn/TownHouse) in downtown Grand Forks. 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. Due to the venue, guests must be 21 years of age or older. Bring a friend or six!

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