Ice Breaker Tournament Preview: UND vs. Lake Superior

It’s the official start of the Brad Berry head coaching era at the University of North Dakota. Since 1978. UND has known only three men behind the bench: John “Gino” Gasparini, Dean Blais, and Dave Hakstol. Berry (North Dakota ’02) becomes the fourth in that span (38 years) and the 16th head coach in UND men’s hockey history. The former UND and NHL defenseman spent nine years as an assistant coach at North Dakota and two seasons in that same role with the Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL). Brad Berry takes over the reins from Dave Hakstol (now with the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers), and he inherits a program both built and expected to win – every season.

North Dakota’s first opponent this year is Lake Superior State, a team that once held such lofty expectations. From 1987-1996, the Lakers were a college hockey dynasty. Head coaches Frank Anzalone and Jeff Jackson amassed a combined record of 277-80-39 (.749), and Lake Superior appeared in nine straight NCAA tournaments with three national titles and a runner-up finish in 1993. Perhaps the most astounding fact of all is that the best Laker team, the 1990-91 squad, went 36-5-4 but lost their first round NCAA playoff series to Clarkson and didn’t make the Frozen Four. Still, it’s been 19 seasons since those glory days without a single noteworthy accomplishment or tournament appearance. Until that changes, the Lakers are stuck in the past.

Beginning in 1996-97, Lake Superior fell off the college hockey map just as the Fighting Sioux were returning to national prominence. Even though LSSU has competed at the Division 1 level since 1966, the two teams have never been members of the same conference or met in postseason play. Remarkably, the two schools have only met four times in almost fifty seasons of hockey (UND swept a home series against the Lakers in December 1973 and again last season).

Lake Superior State boasts two North Dakota connections on its roster. Senior forward Bryce Schmitt, the Lakers’ leading returning scorer (and alternate captain), hails from Minot and is a three year letter winner for the Lakers after spending time with the Bismarck Bobcats (NAHL). Freshman forward C.J. Hayes, who hails from Margate, Florida, played for the Fargo Force of the USHL.

These games are critical for North Dakota’s postseason aspirations. Last season, Dave Hakstol’s squad went 9-1-1 in regular season non-conference action and advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four, while Lake Superior State sported an abysmal 0-7-1 record in non-league games and missed the national tournament. UND’s other non-conference opponents this season will be Maine, Bemidji State, Vermont, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Alabama-Huntsville (all currently unranked).

Seven of North Dakota’s eight October games will be played on the road, with only a single home tilt versus Bemidji State on Saturday, October 17th to satisfy the fans in Grand Forks. Beginning with a November visit from the Wisconsin Badgers, however, UND will have eight home series and only six weekends away from Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Lake Superior Team Profile

Head Coach: Damon Whitten (2nd season at LSSU, 8-28-2, .237)
National Ranking: NR/NR
This Season: 0-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 WCHA
Last Season: 8-28-2 overall, 7-20-1 (t-8th)

2014-15 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 1.58 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.45 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 8.1% (13 of 160)
Penalty Kill: 73.6% (103 of 140)

Key Returning Players (2014-15 statistics): Senior F Bryce Schmitt (7-8-15), Junior F Alex Globke (5-5-10), Junior F Gus Correale (4-6-10), Senior F Austin McKay (5-0-5), Senior D Eric Drapluk (3-8-11), Sophomore D James Roll (1-10-11), Sophomore G Gordon Defiel (8-26-2, 3.08 GAA, .915 SV%, 4 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND)
National Ranking: #4/#4
This Season: 0-0-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)

2014-15 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.29 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.24 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.4% (34 of 167)
Penalty Kill: 84.0% (142 of 169)

Key Returning Players (2014-15 statistics): Senior F Drake Caggiula (18-18-36), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (5-21-26), Junior F Luke Johnson (11-13-24), Junior D Paul LaDue (5-17-22), Junior D Troy Stecher (3-10-13), Sophomore D Tucker Poolman (8-10-18), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (0-0-0, 5.54 GAA, .765 SV% in 43 minutes of game action)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: December 6, 2014 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after outshooting the Lakers 43-25 and handing them a 7-4 defeat, homestanding (and top-ranked) North Dakota outlasted Lake Superior 3-1 to earn the series sweep. In the rematch, junior defenseman Jordan Schmaltz picked up a goal and an assist. Over the two games, UND thwarted all nine Laker power play opportunities.

All-time: North Dakota has won all four of the meetings between the teams by a combined score of 24-10.

Game News and Notes

The Lakers have not made the NCAA tournament since a thirty win season in 1995-96. North Dakota has advanced to the tourney 18 times since then, winning two national titles (1997 and 2000). UND was 18-0-1 last season when leading after two periods of play. Lake Superior State will battle Michigan State on Saturday afternoon, while North Dakota will face host Maine in Saturday evening’s finale.

The Prediction

Goaltending is the big question mark here. Sophomore Cam Johnson (43 minutes of college experience) will get the start for UND, while his counterpart for LSSU (fellow second-year netminder Gordon Defiel) has appeared in 36 NCAA contests, posting four shutouts. North Dakota will need to rely on a veteran group of defensemen to allow Johnson to settle in and see the puck. I see the Lakers getting on the board early, with the Green and White coasting to victory over the final two periods. UND 4-1.