NCHC Playoff Preview: UND vs. Colorado College

After opening the season with a home sweep of Alabama-Huntsville, the Colorado College Tigers hosted UND at the World Arena. North Dakota erupted for ten goals in the two game sweep and sent the home team reeling. That series started a stretch of fifteen games with only victory (and that against Wisconsin, a team that everyone is beating these days).

North Dakota hosted CC in January and dispatched the Tigers by scores of 2-1 and 5-3, although Saturday’s series finale was also a one-goal contest until a late empty-net goal sealed the victory for UND.

Colorado College has only won two league games all season. One of those victories was against Nebraska-Omaha in mid-January, and the other came two weeks ago in a home series against Western Michigan. CC tied the Broncos 2-2 on Friday night (but lost the shootout) before throttling WMU 5-0 in the rematch. The Tigers also tied at UNO last Friday night and picked up a shootout win.

The biggest struggle for the boys from Colorado Springs has been goaltending. Since January 16th (the start of the second half of their NCHC schedule), CC has played fifteen games and given up three or more goals in ten of them. Over that same stretch, the Tigers have scored more than two goals only five times. As a result, Colorado College went 2-11-2-1 against those league opponents and sputtered to a last-place finish in the league standings.

The feeling among the Tiger faithful is that new blood behind the bench will eventually translate into new life on the ice. First-year head coach Mike Haviland is new to Division I hockey, but he was named the AHL coach of the year in 2006-07 (Norfolk Admirals) and served as an assistant coach with the Chicago Blackhawks for four seasons (2008-12), winning a Stanley Cup in 2010. He was most recently head coach for the AHL’s Hershey Bears.

UND and Colorado College met five times last season (all in Grand Forks), with North Dakota winning four of the five contests. As I wrote in this article, it has been extremely difficult to sweep in the first round of the conference tournament, and last year’s playoffs were no exception. CC notched an overtime victory in Game 2 of the NCHC quarterfinals to force a third and decisive game. Dave Hakstol’s crew ended the Tigers’ season with a 4-3 victory on Sunday night.

North Dakota will be without the services of senior forward Mark MacMillan for the rest of the season. The senior from Penticton, British Columbia sustained a lower body injury while blocking a shot during a key 5-on-3 penalty kill against St. Cloud State. MacMillan, one of three finalists for the NCHC defensive forward of the year, finishes his North Dakota career with 99 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.

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 54 points over the last fourteen games and rank as the fifth-most productive senior group in the nation with 120 points (Mercyhurst 171, Air Force 143, Minnesota 128, Dartmouth 124).

The last time North Dakota played on home ice, a Senior Night celebration was held for those seven players. The 2015 senior class has amassed a combined record of 98-47-16 (.658) 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 35 games, North Dakota blueliners have scored 22 goals and added 79 assists for 101 points, or 2.89 points per game. Denver is second in that category with 98 points in 34 games (2.88 points/game).

More to the point, North Dakota’s top six defensemen have notched 16 goals and added 70 assists for 86 points (2.76 points/game). By comparison, the six Tiger blueliners expected to be in the lineup this weekend have combined for 19 goals and 34 assists for 53 points (1.69 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 took a step backward in the Hobey Baker race with an up-and-down performance last weekend. After a fantastic outing (43 of 44 saves) in Friday’s 2-1 victory at Miami, he made only 23 of 28 stops in Saturday’s 6-3 defeat. McIntyre, who now sits 13th in the country in goals-against average (1.99) and 7th in save percentage (.931), has played the second-most minutes in the nation and is tied for first with 25 victories. In my opinion, the junior from Thief River Falls, Minnesota will earn a Hobey Baker nomination, but a berth in the Hobey Hat Trick (three finalists) would be a surprise.

Only three goalies in North Dakota hockey history have more wins in a season than McIntyre’s 25: 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. With one more win, McIntyre would tie Jordan Parise (2003-06, 55 career goaltending victories) for fourth place on UND’s all-time list. Karl Goehring (1997-2001, 80 wins), Lamoureux (2004-08, 60 wins), and Brad Eidsness (2008-12, 58 wins) hold the top three spots in that category.

It should be noted that Zane McIntyre is also statistically the best goaltender in North Dakota hockey history. His career goals-against average (2.09) 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 (21-0-2) 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 151 such situations (134-7-10). 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 (7th), and Denver (8th) would all make the field of 16 if the season ended today. St. Cloud State (16th) sits squarely on the bubble for the national tournament after losing three of its last four games. The Huskies play at Nebraska-Omaha in the first round of the NCHC playoffs and will more than likely need to advance to Minneapolis to continue their season. Incidentally, SCSU and UNO swapped places from the NCHC preseason media poll. The Huskies were picked to finish 3rd, while the Mavericks were slotted in 6th. The other six teams in the league finished exactly as predicted (#1 North Dakota, #2 Miami, #4 Denver, #5 Minnesota-Duluth, #7 Western Michigan, and #8 Colorado College).

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). Since Dave Hakstol was hired (2004-05), his teams are 50-21 (.704) in the postseason (conference and NCAA tournaments). No other NCHC school has more than 31 victories in that timeframe.

Colorado College Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Haviland (1st season at CC, 6-24-3, .227)

Pairwise Ranking: 50th of 59 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 6-24-3 overall, 2-19-3-1 NCHC (8th)
Last Ten Games: 1-7-2 overall, 1-7-2-1 NCHC
Last Season: 7-24-6 overall, 6-13-5-1 NCHC (7th)

Team Offense: 2.15 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.88 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.0% (26 of 124)
Penalty Kill: 77.5% (100 of 129)

Key players: Junior F Cody Bradley (10-19-29), Junior F Hunter Fejes (5-13-18), Senior F Scott Wamsganz (8-11-19), Sophomore F Sam Rothstein (6-8-14), Sophomore D Jaccob Slavin (5-12-17), Senior D Peter Stoykewych (3-7-10), Sophomore G Tyler Marble (5-16-2, 3.39 GAA, .899 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (11th season at UND, 285-140-43, .655)

Pairwise Ranking: 1st of 59 teams
National Rankings: #1/#1
This Season: 25-7-3 overall, 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Ten Games: 7-2-1 overall, 7-2-1-0 NCHC
Last Season: 25-14-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 15-9-0-0 NCHC (2nd)

Team Offense: 3.34 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.17 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.5% (30 of 146)
Penalty Kill: 83.6% (122 of 146)

Key Players: Junior F Drake Caggiula (16-17-33), Senior F Michael Parks (12-19-31), Freshman F Nick Schmaltz (5-20-25), Senior F Brendan O’Donnell (11-6-17), Junior D Jordan Schmaltz (3-23-26), Sophomore D Paul LaDue (4-15-19), Senior D Nick Mattson (3-13-16), Junior G Zane McIntyre (25-7-3, 1.99 GAA, .931 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 24th, 2015 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota completed the weekend sweep of the visiting Tigers with a 5-3 triumph. Five different players tallied goals for UND , eleven North Dakota skaters figured in the scoring, and Zane McIntyre made 25 saves. Colorado College went two for three on the power play and also scored an extra-attacker goal with under two minutes to play. Drake Caggiula’s unassisted empty-netter with 27 seconds remaining iced the victory.

Most Important Meeting: March 27, 1997. UND defeated Colorado College, 6-2, in the Frozen Four Semifinals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Two nights later, North Dakota downed Boston University, 6-4, to claim its sixth NCAA Championship. North Dakota and Colorado College also met in the 2001 East Regional (Worcester, Mass.), with UND prevailing, 4-1.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 147-80-10 (.641), including a stellar 89-21-6 (.793) record in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: North Dakota has won eight of the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring CC 38-24 over that span. Both of the Tigers’ victories were overtime wins in league playoff action (WCHA Final Five in 2013, NCHC Quarterfinal in 2014). Sixteen of the last seventeen games have been decided by two goals or less.

Game News and Notes

CC has just one victory on the road this season and sports a 1-15-2 (.111) record in games away from the Springs. UND head coach Dave Hakstol has an overall record of 24-13-1 (.645) against Colorado College. Three North Dakota forwards in this weekend’s lineup have scored ten or more career points against Colorado College: junior forward Drake Caggiula and senior forward Michael Parks have gone 8-5-13 and 5-7-12 respectively in their fourteen games against the Tigers, while senior defenseman Nick Mattson has played against Colorado College fifteen times, scoring three goals and adding eight assists. For the second time in two seasons, a college hockey team in Colorado has a new coach (Jim Montgomery took over for George Gwozdecky at DU last year). UND went the entire regular season without being swept on the road (11-4-0 away from Ralph Engelstad Arena this year).

The Prediction

I feel like this series will play out like so many playoff weekends in the past. Friday’s opener will be no contest, with CC pushing back on Saturday night. Expect Colorado College seniors Scott Wamsganz and Peter Stoykewych to figure heavily in the outcome of these games as they battle to extend their season (and collegiate careers). If the Tigers’ power play gets clicking, this one could go to three games. As it is, however, I’ve got North Dakota in two. UND 4-1, 3-2.

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