North Dakota and SCSU took different paths to tonight’s West Regional final, and now these familiar foes will face off for the sixth time this season with a trip to Boston and a berth in the NCAA Frozen Four on the line.
The Huskies took the long road home yesterday in Fargo, surviving the opening 40 minutes thanks in large part to the play of goaltender Charlie Lindgren (36 of 38 saves). I wrote about Lindgren’s play and the ups and downs on the St. Cloud State bench in a feature for College Hockey News called “Huskies Never Say Die”. SCSU took yesterday’s tilt with Michigan Tech (a battle of the Huskies, if you will) to overtime before defeating their long-time WCHA foe 3-2 and advancing in the NCAA tournament.
For UND, the 4-1 victory over Quinnipiac was only easy on the scoreboard. North Dakota was able to score a power play goal, an even-strength goal from behind the end line, and two shorthanded goals to put the game out of reach. Despite giving up a late 6-on-4 power play tally to spoil Zane McIntyre’s shutout bid (the junior from Thief River Falls, Minnesota has now allowed exactly one goal 15 times this season), the Green and White used the energy from the partisan crowd and an unbelievable effort in their own end to block 28 Bobcat shot attempts. With almost 15 minutes on the penalty kill over the course of the game, Dave Hakstol’s crew had to win the special teams battle to move on, and the boys from Grand Forks got it done in a virtual home game.
I also wrote a feature called “Bobcats Buried In Fargo” for College Hockey News on the Quinnipiac hockey team and what went wrong for them yesterday. There are some interesting quotes from QU head coach Rand Pecknold about regionals being held at neutral (or not so neutral) sites.
In my opinion, UND will not be able to trade power plays with St. Cloud State and expect a good result. In three victories over the Huskies, North Dakota killed 11 of 14 penalties. Bob Motzko’s two victories over the Green and White this season rode were aided by a potent SCSU power play (two goals in seven attempts). In the season series, the Huskies have scored 11 goals against UND in five games, with five goals coming with the man advantage and a sixth scored into the empty net.
North Dakota went 2-for-10 on the power play in three wins over St. Cloud State and was held scoreless on five attempts in two defeats. It is my contention that UND does not rely nearly as heavily on power play scoring as their counterparts in the red and black and would be better served staying out of the penalty box tonight. This is easier said than done, however, as these NCHC rivals will certainly play all the way until the whistle (and often after it), and Dave Hakstol wants his team playing right on the edge.
According to KRACH, St. Cloud State has played the second-most difficult schedule in the country to this point in the season. Saturday’s matchup between North Dakota and SCSU at Scheels Arena in Fargo marks the Huskies’ fourteenth straight game against an opponent ranked in the top eight in the country. Over the last seven weekends, St. Cloud has gone 8-5-0 against #6 Minnesota-Duluth, #5 Nebraska Omaha, #1 North Dakota, #7 Denver, #8 Nebraska-Omaha, #1 North Dakota, #6 Miami, and #5 Michigan Tech (rankings are for the week the games were played).
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 saw senior defenseman Andrew Prochno (3-12-15) and junior forward Kalle Kossila (6-20-26) return to the lineup after missing the NCHC Frozen Faceoff with injuries. Kossila scored SCSU’s first goal against Michigan Tech in yesterday’s regional semifinal. In the first period of the same game, Huskies’ forward Jonny Brodzinski sustained a lower-body injury but was able to return and net the game-tying goal with 38 seconds remaining in the hockey game. Brodzinski’s availability for tonight’s contest is still unknown, but I would expect him to suit up for St. Cloud State.
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 (24-0-2) 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 154 such situations (137-7-10). 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.
Incredibly, Dave Hakstol has brought his team to the NCAA regional final in nine of his eleven seasons behind the UND bench. Hakstol already has six Frozen Fours to his credit and is looking to add a seventh to his resume and an eighth national title to the rafters at Ralph Engelstad Arena. With three more victories, North Dakota would accomplish both of those tasks.
St. Cloud State Team Profile
Head Coach: Bob Motzko (10th season at SCSU, 204-154-41, .563)
National Rankings: #13/#13
This Season: 20-18-1 overall, 11-12-1-0 NCHC (6th)
Last Ten Games: 6-4-0 (with two overtime victories)
Last Season: 22-11-5 overall (NCAA Region semifinalist), 15-6-3-0 NCHC (1st)
Team Offense: 2.77 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.38 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 24.0% (37 of 154)
Penalty Kill: 80.2% (93 of 116)
Key Players: Junior F Jonny Brodzinski (21-17-38), Junior F Joey Benik (16-23-39), Junior F Kalle Kossila (6-20-26), Freshman F Patrick Russell (10-15-25), Junior D Ethan Prow (4-19-23), Senior D Andrew Prochno (3-12-15), Sophomore G Charlie Lindgren (19-17-1, 2.24 GAA, .920 SV%, 2 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (11th season at UND, 288-142-43, .654)
National Rankings: #3/#3
This Season: 28-9-3 overall, 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Ten Games: 7-3-0 (with two overtime victories)
Last Season: 25-14-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 15-9-0-0 NCHC (2nd)
Team Offense: 3.27 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.20 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.8% (32 of 162)
Penalty Kill: 84.7% (138 of 163)
Key Players: Junior F Drake Caggiula (17-18-35), Senior F Michael Parks (12-20-32), Freshman F Nick Schmaltz (5-21-26), Senior F Brendan O’Donnell (13-7-20), Junior D Jordan Schmaltz (4-23-27), Sophomore D Paul LaDue (5-17-22), Senior D Nick Mattson (4-16-20), Junior G Zane McIntyre (28-9-3, 2.02 GAA, .930 SV%, 1 SO
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: March 20th, 2015 (Minneapolis, MN). St. Cloud State silenced the pro-North Dakota crowd with two goals in a span of 19 seconds late in the first period to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead after twenty minutes of play. SCSU forward Joe Rehkamp added an empty net goal with 1:05 left in the game and the Huskies advanced to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game. Zane McIntyre made 21 saves for UND; Charlie Lindgren stopped 19 of 20 North Dakota shots on goal.
Last Meeting in North Dakota: February 28, 2015 (Grand Forks). 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 regular season record against St. Cloud State this season, North Dakota won the 2014-15 Challenge Cup.
Most Important Meeting: With a berth in the 2015 Frozen Four on the line, I will call tonight’s NCAA West Regional final the most important meeting between the two teams.
All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series, 64-38-12 (.614), including a 6-2-0 (.750) record at neutral sites. SCSU’s most recent tournament victory was last weekend in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals (Minneapolis, MN). The Huskies also defeated North Dakota at the 2001 WCHA Final Five. UND is 10-3-0 (.769) against St. Cloud State in the conference playoffs, with their most recent triumph coming in the 2012 WCHA Final Five quarterfinals. The teams have never met in the NCAA tournament.
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 5-6-1 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 288 coaching victories in eleven seasons, is 26-16-7 (.602) in his career against the Huskies.
Because these teams are so familiar with each other, I expect this game to be played fast and loose. If Bob Motzko has Jonny Brodzinski available in all situations and for all three periods, SCSU has a good chance at advancing to the Frozen Four. 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 SCHEELS Arena into yet another home game and tipping the scales in favor of the Green and White. UND 3, SCSU 2.
Pregame Event (from UNDsports.com)
The North Dakota Champions Club is hosting an official UND pregame party at Fargo Billiards and Gastro Pub. The pregame party starts at 5:00 p.m. tonight (Saturday, March 28th).
Parking at SCHEELS Arena is limited and fans are encouraged to consider alternate parking options. A shuttle service will run between Fargo Billiards and Gastro Pub, Anderson Softball Complex on 45th Street South, Bulldog Tap, and SCHEELS Arena. Shuttles will begin at 6:00 p.m. tonight and will continue until one hour after the game ends.