At the beginning of last season, Miami was #1 in the national polls and expected to finish first in the inaugural season of the NCHC. The RedHawks returned Ryan McKay between the pipes (1.39 goals-against average, .946 save percentage, and four shutouts in 2012-13) and a pair of high-flying forwards in Riley Barber and Austin Czarnik.
Inconsistent goaltending and a string of injuries took their toll on Enrico Blasi’s squad. Furthermore, Miami went 4-10 in one-goal games last year and sputtered to a 15-20-3 record. It was the first time in ten seasons that the RedHawks failed to win at least twenty games.
Despite the disappointing regular season results, last place Miami traveled to league champion St. Cloud State for the first round of the NCHC playoffs and dispatched #4 St. Cloud State in a pair of tight games. At the inaugural Frozen Faceoff, the RedHawks blanked #11 North Dakota 3-0 before dropping a heartbreaker to Denver in the league championship game, ending their improbable run one game short of the NCAA tournament.
Miami only graduated two players from last year’s squad: forwards Max Cook (23 points in 111 career games) and Bryon Paulazzo (33 points in 105 games). To the cynic, bringing back almost the entire roster from a 15 win season might not be all that exciting, but this year has been markedly different for the boys from Oxford, Ohio. After allowing over three goals per game a year ago, Miami has brought that number down to 2.28. (North Dakota is allowing just 2.09 goals/game). And the RedHawks have been able to score with anyone, notching three or more goals in 19 of 32 games this year (and potting two goals in eight others).
This season, RedHawks netminder Jay Williams has taken over the starting spot, and he had a spectacular first half. The junior from McLean, Virginia went 12-2-0 over the first three months of the season with three shutout victories. Since the calendar turned to 2015, however, Williams has struggled, giving up three or more goals in four of eight contests and posting a pedestrian record of 4-4-0. More incredibly, Williams only made 38 of 45 stops in back-to-back losses against Minnesota-Duluth and Denver (his two most recent appearances) and was chased by the Pioneers after less than thirteen minutes (four goals allowed on thirteen shots).
North Dakota will be without the services of senior forward Mark MacMillan this weekend and for the foreseeable future. The senior from Penticton, British Columbia sustained a lower body injury while blocking a shot during a key 5-on-3 penalty kill early in last Saturday’s game against St. Cloud State. MacMillan, who may have played his last game for the Green and White, has 99 career points in 151 games at UND. The last player to fall one point short of UND’s Century Club was forward Wes Dorey (1997-2001), who collected 47 goals and 52 assists in 140 career games.
It appears as though Trevor Olson will be inserted in the lineup at wing this weekend, with senior forward Stephane Pattyn moving to center. North Dakota fans may remember that two key UND players were out of the lineup for the home split against Miami earlier this season; freshman forward Nick Schmaltz and sophomore defenseman Paul LaDue both missed that November series.
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 52 points over the last twelve games and rank as the fourth-most productive senior group in the nation with 118 points (Mercyhurst 171, Air Force 128, Minnesota 124).
North Dakota honored those seven players during last Saturday’s Senior Night celebration. The 2015 senior class has amassed a combined record of 97-46-16 (.660) 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 33 games, North Dakota blueliners have scored 21 goals and added 77 assists for 98 points, or 2.97 points per game. Denver is second in that category with 94 points in 32 games (2.94 points/game).
More to the point, North Dakota’s top six defensemen have notched 14 goals and added 68 assists for 82 points (2.81 points/game). By comparison, the six Miami blueliners expected to be in the lineup this weekend have combined for 12 goals and 42 assists for 54 points (1.80 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 six assists.
Five different members of UND’s defensive corps (Paul LaDue, Nick Mattson, Jordan Schmaltz, Troy Stecher, and Keaton Thompson) have nabbed NCHC Defenseman of the Week honors this season, while Tucker Poolman has been named the league’s Rookie of the Week.
UND junior netminder Zane McIntyre is squarely in the Hobey Baker conversation after another stellar performance last weekend against St. Cloud State (49 of 52 saves in the home sweep while not allowing an even-strength goal). McIntyre, who now sits 8th in the country in goals-against average (1.93) and 7th in save percentage (.933), has played the third-most minutes in the nation and has the most victories in the country (24). 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 two weekends of action to remain in contention for college hockey’s highest individual award.
Only three goalies in North Dakota hockey history have more wins in a season than McIntyre’s 24: Aaron Dell went 30-7-2 in 2010-11, Eddie Belfour notched 29 victories against only four defeats during his only season in Grand Forks (1986-87), and Jean-Phillippe Lamoureux posted a record of 27-11-4 in 2007-08.
It should be noted that Zane McIntyre is also statistically the best goaltender in North Dakota hockey history. His career goals-against average (2.06) 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 (20-0-2) 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 150 such situations (133-7-10). 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.
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 first place in the Pairwise rankings, one of five NCHC teams in line to make the NCAA tournament. Minnesota-Duluth (3rd), Miami (4th), Nebraska-Omaha (5th), and Denver (8th) would all make the field of 16 if the season ended today. St. Cloud State dropped from 14th to 17th in the Pairwise after losing two road games against North Dakota 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 six straight seasons of twenty or more wins, and Quinnipiac’s Rand Pecknold has four).
North Dakota has already clinched a share of the Penrose Cup, which is awarded to the regular season league champion (Miami is the only team within striking distance). With one point this weekend, UND will claim the title outright and face Colorado College at home in the first round of the NCHC playoffs.
If league games were not decided by shootout, North Dakota would have already won the Penrose Cup: UND’s 15-5-2 record in NCHC action would be good for 32 points, while Miami’s 13-8-1 mark would only get them to 27.
The reason North Dakota is in such an enviable position (in the league and nationally) is that Dave Hasktol’s squad has played thirteen different teams this season and has a winning record against ten of them. UND earned splits against their other three opponents (Bemidji State, Minnesota-Duluth, and Miami), and would like at least a split this weekend to continue winning the Pairwise comparison against the RedHawks.
Miami Team Profile
Head Coach: Enrico Blasi (16th season at Miami, 346-227-57, .594)
Pairwise Ranking: 4th of 59 teams
National Ranking: #5/#5
This Season: 20-11-1 overall, 13-8-1-1 NCHC (2nd)
Last Ten Games: 6-3-1 overall, 6-3-1-1 NCHC
Last Season: 15-20-3 overall, 6-17-1-1 NCHC (8th)
Team Offense: 2.97 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.28 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.3% (27 of 140)
Penalty Kill: 83.1% (13 of 136)
Key players: Junior F Riley Barber (16-15-31), Senior F Austin Czarnik (2-30-32), Sophomore F Sean Kuraly (16-7-23), Senior F Blake Coleman (12-12-24), Sophomore F Anthony Louis (6-21-27). Sophomore D Matthew Caito (3-15-18), Freshman D Louie Belpedio (4-10-14), Junior G Jay Williams (16-6-0, 1.90 GAA, .920 SV%, 4 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (11th season at UND, 284-139-43, .656)
Pairwise Ranking: 1st of 59 teams
National Rankings: #1/#1
This Season: 24-6-3 overall, 15-5-2-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Ten Games: 8-1-1 overall, 8-1-1-0 NCHC
Last Season: 25-14-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 15-9-0-0 NCHC (2nd)
Team Offense: 3.39 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.09 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.9% (29 of 139)
Penalty Kill: 84.1% (116 of 138)
Key Players: Junior F Drake Caggiula (15-16-31), Senior F Michael Parks (12-19-31), Freshman F Nick Schmaltz (5-19-24), Senior F Brendan O’Donnell (11-6-17), Junior D Jordan Schmaltz (3-22-25), Sophomore D Paul LaDue (4-15-19), Senior D Nick Mattson (3-13-16), Junior G Zane McIntyre (24-6-3, 1.93 GAA, .933 SV%, 1 SO)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: November 15, 2014 (Grand Forks, ND). After surrendering the first goal early in the second period, North Dakota came roaring back with three of their own in the middle frame and cruised to a 4-1 win in front of 11,802 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Junior forward Drake Caggiula potted two goals (including a highlight reel dangle through Ben Paulides’ skates) and assisted on another, while seniors Mark MacMillan and Michael Parks collected two points each. Zane McIntyre made 28 of 29 saves in the victory, while UND hung the loss on Ryan McKay (23 of 27 saves). Since then, McKay has only appeared in eight games for the RedHawks, going 4-2-1. Miami won the series opener by a final of 3-2, with both teams scoring a shorthanded goal.
Last Meeting in Oxford: October 19, 2013. Blake Coleman’s hat trick led the way for Miami, as the RedHawks rolled to a 6-2 home victory over UND. Zane Gothberg (now McIntyre) was chased from the game after allowing four goals on fifteen shots. Less than fifteen seconds after Clarke Saunders entered the game, Coleman, who had just scored on Gothberg, put one top-shelf on Saunders to make it 5-0. North Dakota won the opener, 4-2, with Blake Coleman being issued a game misconduct early in the contest. 3642 fans came through the gates each night (Steve Cady Arena’s listed capacity is 3200).
Most Important Meeting: Last season’s loss to Miami at the Frozen Faceoff could have ended North Dakota’s season, but UND rebounded with a 5-0 victory over Western Michigan. After Wisconsin did their part across the river in St. Paul, the Green and White used their second chance as fuel for a Frozen Four run. The series these two teams will play this weekend has both NCHC and NCAA tournament implications.
All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 6-3-1 (.650), including a 1-1-0 (.500) mark in games played in Oxford. Five of the ten all-time meetings between the schools came during the 2013-14 season, with UND picking up wins in three of those five games. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).
Game News and Notes
North Dakota is 9-2 in one-goal games this season. Miami has only been outshot in six of 32 games this season; the RedHawks are 0-6 in those games. UND has not allowed an even-strength goal in almost 260 minutes of action. Miami made the NCAA tournament in nine of Enrico Blasi’s previous fifteen seasons as head coach. North Dakota senior forward Michael Parks has collected eleven points in seven career games against the RedHawks, leading all current players in that category.
In the absence of Mark MacMillan, it will take some time for Dave Hakstol’s new line combinations to gel. I give Miami the edge in Friday’s opener, with North Dakota roaring back in the rematch to remain unbeaten on Saturday nights (currently 15-0-2) and hoist the Penrose Cup. Miami 3-2, UND 4-2.