Ice Breaker Tournament Preview: UND vs. Maine

This weekend marks 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.

Brad Berry’s North Dakota squad has one victory on the young season, a 5-2 triumph over Lake Superior State in the opening game of the 2015 Ice Breaker Tournament (Portland, Maine). UND now turns its attention to Maine, the host school for the tourney even though the Black Bears play their home games in Orono (two hours away).

It’s hard to find a North Dakota fan who doesn’t have admiration and respect for the Maine Black Bears. There’s a certain affinity for other great hockey teams that survive and thrive in smaller markets and are the flagship programs for their state.

More specifically, the connection between UND and Maine is well-documented. Former UND head coach Dean Blais is fondly remembered for his tribute to Shawn Walsh during Walsh’s cancer battle. I remember vividly the game played in Orono, Maine on Friday, October 13th, 2000, when the defending national champion Fighting Sioux took to the ice in matching “Walsh” jerseys and donated the game-worn uniforms to defray coach Walsh’s medical costs.

It was only fitting that when the late Shawn Walsh’s shamrock was retired and hoisted to the rafters at Alfond Arena in October 2004, North Dakota was once again on hand as the visiting team.

Both teams were hit by the early departure bug during this most recent offseason. Maine forward Devin Shore (14-21-35 in 39 games) signed with the Dallas Stars, while defenseman Ben Hutton (9-12-21 in 39) inked a deal with Vancouver. Both players gave up their senior season in the process.

Meanwhile, North Dakota lost two key underclassmen on the back end. Stalwart blueliner Jordan Schmaltz (4-24-28 in 42 games) and Mike Richter award winner Zane McIntyre (29-10-3, 2.05 GAA, .929 SV%) left one year early. Schmaltz is now with the St. Louis organization and McIntyre signed with the Boston Bruins.

Turning our attention to this season, Maine managed just a tie in Friday evening’s contest with Michigan State after the Spartans scored a late extra attacker power play goal. Five of the six goals in the game were scored with the man advantage or shorthanded.

These early season 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 the Black Bears sported a pedestrian 5-8-1 record in non-league games and missed the national tournament. UND’s other non-conference opponents this season will be 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.

Maine Team Profile

Head Coach: Dennis “Red” Gendron (3rd season at Maine, 30-37-8, .453)
National Ranking: NR/NR
This Season: 0-0-1 overall, 0-0-0 Hockey East
Last Season: 14-22-3 overall, 8-12-2 (t-9th)

2014-15 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.77 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.26 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 13.1% (19 of 145)
Penalty Kill: 82.9% (121 of 146)

Key Returning Players (2014-15 statistics): Senior F Steven Swavely (8-20-28), Junior F Cam Brown (7-21-28), Junior F Blaine Byron (12-15-27), Junior D Dan Renouf (3-9-12), Senior D Conor Riley (3-8-11), Senior G Matt Morris (7-9-2, 2.99 GAA, .905 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 1-0-0, 1.000)
National Ranking: #4/#4
This Season: 1-0-0 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: October 15, 2011 (Grand Forks, ND). Maine scored a power play goal midway through the third period to salvage a 3-3 tie with homestanding North Dakota. Five of the six goals were scored on the power play. Danny Kristo notched two goals and an assist to lead UND.

Last Meeting in Maine: October 23, 2010 (Orono, ME). The Black Bears chose to start freshman goaltender Dan Sullivan in the second game of the series and he responded, stopping 23 of 25 North Dakota shots in earning a 4-2 victory and a weekend sweep for his squad. Maine won the opener, 7-3.

Most Important Meeting: April 6, 2000 (Providence, RI). The Fighting Sioux scored twice in the second period and Karl Goehring stopped all 30 shots he faced as UND advanced to the national title game with a 2-0 victory over Maine. Two nights later, the Green and White would claim their seventh national championship.

Last Ten: The teams have split the last ten meetings, with each school winning four times and two games ending in a tie.

All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 12-8-2 (.591), including a 6-3-0 (.667) edge in games played in Maine.

Game News and Notes

Maine was just 3-6 in one goal contests and 1-5-3 in overtime games last season. UND was 18-0-1 last year when leading after two periods of play. North Dakota is now 42-19-7 (.669) in season openers.

The Prediction

Goaltending remains a question mark for North Dakota. Sophomore Cam Johnson (just over 100 minutes of college experience) will get the start for UND, while his counterpart for Maine (senior Matt Morris) has appeared in 27 NCAA contests and logged over 1400 minutes of game action. As in Friday’s opener, North Dakota will need to rely on a veteran group of defensemen to allow Johnson to settle in and see the puck. I see a repeat of yesterday’s script, with the Green and White falling behind early before coming back to win. UND 3-2.