NCHC Frozen Faceoff 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. This season, the Green and White won the Penrose Trophy as the top team in the NCHC while the Huskies fell to sixth place.

I wrote about which teams have had the most success through two seasons in the NCHC here.

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.

And in 2014-15, a November split in St. Cloud and a UND sweep in Grand Forks (February 27-28) led to the first Challenge Cup victory for North Dakota since the 2010-11 season (the teams shared the cup in 2011-12).

According to KRACH, St. Cloud State has played the second-most difficult schedule in the country to this point in the season. Friday’s matchup between North Dakota and SCSU at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff marks the Huskies’ eleventh straight game against an opponent ranked in the top eight in the country. Over the last five weekends, St. Cloud went 6-4-0 against #6 Minnesota-Duluth, #5 Nebraska Omaha, #1 North Dakota, #7 Denver, and #8 Nebraska-Omaha (rankings are for the week the games were played).

Last weekend, the Huskies traveled to Omaha, Nebraska to face Dean Blais’ Mavericks in the first round of the NCHC playoffs. SCSU outlasted UNO in a 2-1 double-overtime thriller in Friday’s opener before handing the homestanding Mavs a 3-1 defeat in Game Two to advance to this weekend’s Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis. David Morley (3 goals) and Joey Benik (1 goal, 2 assists) led the way for St. Cloud in the two game sweep, while Charlie Lindgren made 80 of 82 saves (Nebraska-Omaha outshot SCSU 46-39 and 36-28 in the series).

Bob Motzko’s crew is in an unusual position headed into this weekend’s action. Currently tied for 10th in the Pairwise rankings, the Huskies (18-17-1 overall) need to avoid two losses this weekend in Minneapolis to remain above .500 for the season and under consideration for the NCAA tournament. With a loss to North Dakota in Friday’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal, St. Cloud would need to win (or tie) the third place game on Saturday afternoon to remain eligible for the postseason.

North Dakota will be without the services of senior forward Mark MacMillan for the rest of the season. The NCHC Defensive Player of the Year sustained a lower body injury while blocking a shot during a key 5-on-3 penalty kill against St. Cloud State. The senior from Penticton, British Columbia, one of five finalists for the Hockey Humanitarian Award, 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.

St. Cloud State will be without senior defenseman Andrew Prochno (3-12-15) this weekend after the Huskies’ assistant captain suffered a hand injury blocking a shot in the same game that took MacMillan out of the North Dakota lineup. SCSU junior forward Kalle Kossila (5-20-25) practiced on Thursday but is a game-time decision for Bob Motzko. Kossila was injured in last weekend’s NCHC quarterfinal action against Nebraska-Omaha, and UNO’s Brian Cooper was given a major penalty (boarding) and a game misconduct for the incident.

UND’s seven senior skaters (forwards Conner Gaarder, Mark MacMillan, Brendan O’Donnell, Michael Parks, and Stephane Pattyn, along with defensemen Nick Mattson and Andrew Panzerella) have combined for 63 points over the last sixteen games and rank as the fourth-most productive senior group in the nation with 130 points (Mercyhurst 191, Air Force 149, Minnesota 137).

The last time North Dakota played on home ice, those seven players were the first to hoist the Penrose Trophy as NCHC regular season champions. The 2015 senior class has amassed a combined record of 100-47-16 (.663) 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 37 games, North Dakota blueliners have scored 26 goals and added 84 assists for 110 points, or 2.97 points per game. Denver is second in that category with 104 points in 36 games (2.89 points/game).

More to the point, North Dakota’s top six defensemen have notched 19 goals and added 75 assists for 94 points (2.83 points/game). By comparison, the six St. Cloud blueliners expected to be in the lineup on Friday afternoon have combined for 9 goals and 43 assists (52 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 seven 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 has been showered with accolades over the past couple of days. The junior from Thief River Falls, Minnesota was named the NCHC Goaltender of the Year, one of five finalists for the Mike Richter Award (best goaltender), and one of ten finalists for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award. McIntyre, who now sits 9th in the country in goals-against average (1.96) and 6th in save percentage (.932), has played the third-most minutes in the nation and is tied for first with 27 victories.

Only two goalies in North Dakota hockey history have more wins in a season than McIntyre’s 27: Aaron Dell went 30-7-2 in 2010-11, and Eddie Belfour notched 29 victories against only four defeats during his only season in Grand Forks (1986-87). Incidentally, Jean-Phillippe Lamoureux posted a record of 27-11-4 in 2007-08. With 56 career goaltending victories, McIntyre now sits in 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 (2.07) 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.

There is an excellent article by Brad Schlossman here that discusses why Zane changed his name from Gothberg to McIntyre and how much his mother and grandmother have influenced him, both on and off the ice.

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 (23-0-2) 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 153 such situations (136-7-10). 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. Denver (3rd), Minnesota-Duluth (6th), Miami (7th), and Nebraska-Omaha (8th) are all expected to make the NCAAs regardless of the results of this weekend’s action.

And speaking of Hakstol, the NCHC Coach of the Year 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 UMass-Lowell’s Norm Bazin, Minnesota’s Don Lucia, and Quinnipiac’s Rand Pecknold have four). Since Dave Hakstol was hired (2004-05), his teams are 52-21 (.712) in the postseason (conference and NCAA tournaments). No other NCHC school has more than 33 victories in that timeframe. UND’s 25-win season is Hakstol’s eighth in his eleven years behind the North Dakota bench.

St. Cloud State Team Profile

Head Coach: Bob Motzko (10th season at SCSU, 202-153-41, .562)
Pairwise Ranking: t-10th of 59 teams
National Ranking: #18/#16
This Season: 18-17-1 overall, 11-12-1-0 NCHC (6th)
Last Ten Games: 6-4-0 overall, 4-4-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 22-11-5 overall (NCAA Region semifinalist), 15-6-3-0 NCHC (1st)

Team Offense: 2.78 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.42 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 24.1% (35 of 145)
Penalty Kill: 80.0% (88 of 110)

Key Players: Junior F Jonny Brodzinski (19-16-35), Junior F Joey Benik (14-21-35), Junior F Kalle Kossila (5-20-25), Freshman F Patrick Russell (10-13-23), Junior D Ethan Prow (4-15-19), Senior D Tim Daly (1-7-8), Sophomore G Charlie Lindgren (17-16-1, 2.27 GAA, .920 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (11th season at UND, 287-140-43, .656)

Pairwise Ranking: 1st of 59 teams
National Rankings: #1/#1
This Season: 27-7-3 overall, 16-6-2-0 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: 3.38 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.14 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.3% (31 of 153)
Penalty Kill: 84.2% (128 of 152)

Key Players: Junior F Drake Caggiula (16-17-33), Senior F Michael Parks (12-20-32), Freshman F Nick Schmaltz (5-21-26), Senior F Brendan O’Donnell (13-6-19), Junior D Jordan Schmaltz (4-23-27), Sophomore D Paul LaDue (5-16-21), Senior D Nick Mattson (4-16-20), Junior G Zane McIntyre (27-7-3, 1.97 GAA, .932 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: February 28, 2015 (Grand Forks, ND). Conner Gaarder led the way with a goal and an assist and North Dakota chased SCSU netminder Charlie Lindgren after two periods of play as UND completed the sweep of the visiting Huskies by a score of 3-1. Nick Mattson scored North Dakota’s third goal with 41 seconds remaining in the middle frame, and Zane McIntyre made 27 of 28 saves for the Green and White after stopping 22 of 24 shots in the series opener (a 3-2 UND victory). With a 3-1 record against St. Cloud State this season, North Dakota won the 2014-15 Challenge Cup.

Last Playoff Meeting: March 15, 2012 (St. Paul, MN). Two empty net goals in the final minute turned a tightly-contested 2-1 game into a 4-1 UND victory in front of 15,133 fans at Xcel Energy Center. North Dakota’s Corban Knight and Danny Kristo each scored a goal and assisted on another while Brock Nelson tallied two goals. The Thursday quarterfinal win sent North Dakota into the semifinals against Minnesota, the game UND fans remember as “The Timeout Game” (video here). Dave Hakstol used a break in the action with six minutes remaining in the second period to rally the troops and turn a 3-0 deficit into a 6-3 victory. North Dakota went on to defeat Denver 4-0 in the WCHA Final Five championship game.

Most Important Meeting: Since St. Cloud State is fighting for an NCAA tournament berth and North Dakota is looking to maintain the #1 overall seed, I will call Friday’s Frozen Faceoff semifinal the most important game between the two schools.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 64-37-12 (.619), including a 6-1-0 (.857) record at neutral sites. St. Cloud’s only tournament victory was an overtime win over North Dakota at the 2001 WCHA Final Five (St. Paul, MN). UND is 10-2-0 (.833) against SCSU in the conference playoffs, with their most recent triumph coming in the 2012 WCHA Final Five quarterfinals.

Last Ten: St. Cloud holds a 5-4-1 (.550) edge in the last ten meetings between the teams and has outscored North Dakota 24-22 over that stretch of games.

Game News and Notes

UND goaltender Zane McIntyre is 5-5-1 against the Huskies in his three years at North Dakota. Head coach Bob Motzko picked up his 200th career victory (ten seasons) with a win over Denver on the final night of the NCHC regular season. North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol, who has 287 coaching victories in eleven seasons, is 26-15-7 (.615) in his career against the Huskies. UND is 11-4-0 on the road this season; St. Cloud State, 8-10-1.

The Prediction

I expect this game to play out much like an NCAA tournament game, with both teams keeping things tight early. With so much at stake, the Huskies will have to guard against playing too tentatively. If Bob Motzko can get his team playing fast and loose, SCSU has a good chance at advancing to the championship game. UND has an edge in net and on defense, but if the teams trade power plays, the advantage goes to St. Cloud State. This feels like a one-goal game either way, with North Dakota’s fans turning Target Center into yet another home game and tipping the scales in favor of the Green and White. UND 3, SCSU 2.

Bonus Prediction

In the other Frozen Faceoff semifinal, I’ve got the RedHawks knocking off Denver to set up a championship tilt between the top two teams in the NCHC. Miami 4, DU 2.

Pregame Events (from

UND fans attending the NCHC Frozen Faceoff are invited to join the UND Alumni Association & Foundation and UND Athletics for pregame festivities beginning three hours prior to any game in which UND is playing. The pregame events will be held at the Pourhouse (10 South 5th Street), within walking distance of the Target Center and area hotels.

All UND alumni, family and friends are invited to this free event with cash bars, a full restaurant, DJs, a live band and more! The Pourhouse invites all UND fans back to the venue after each hockey game. The usual cover charge will be FREE to UND fans or anyone with a ticket. On-site and nearby parking are available.

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