Vermont is opening up the 2015-16 season by playing arguably the toughest schedule in the country. The Catamounts began the year by blanking #9 Minnesota 3-0 at Mariucci Arena. #3 Nebraska-Omaha traveled to Vermont last weekend and swept the home team in two tight contests. And after this weekend’s test against #1 North Dakota, Kevin Sneddon’s club will face #7 Massachusetts-Lowell, #8 Boston University, #17 St. Lawrence, and #18 Union, all before the Christmas break.
This trip to Burlington (the first ever for North Dakota men’s hockey) is the second half of a schedule agreement that brought Vermont to Grand Forks in October 2013 (North Dakota earned a win and a tie in that series). Despite the fact that Vermont and UND have only met four times on the ice, the Catamounts roster (and particularly its blueline) has North Dakota fingerprints all over it.
Defenseman Dan Senkbeil (affectionately known as “Jim” or “Jimmer”) transferred to Vermont after playing his first two years at UND. Senkbeil sat out a season due to NCAA transfer rules and is now in his final season with Vermont. And senior defenseman Yvan Pattyn, the Catamounts’ captain, is the younger brother of former UND forward (and captain) Stephane Pattyn.
North Dakota is playing in its third season in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference after 54 seasons in the WCHA. Vermont went through a similar transition 12 years ago, moving to Hockey East after 31 years in the ECAC. Catamounts head coach Kevin Sneddon took Vermont to the Frozen Four in 2008-09 and back to the NCAA tournament the following season and in 2013-14, but he also had a three year stretch (2010-13) where his teams only won 25 games. Combined.
These early season games are critical for UND’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. North Dakota’s other non-conference opponents this season will be Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Alabama-Huntsville (all currently unranked). UND enters this week’s series at Vermont having lost just once in its last 19 nonconference games (14-1-4) dating back to the second half of the 2013-14 season.
Seven of North Dakota’s eight October games will be played on the road, with only Saturday’s home opener versus Bemidji State 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.
North Dakota’s penalty kill (64.3%, 49th in the country) will need to improve if the boys from Grand Forks want to compete for a league title again this year. In the first four games of the season, UND has surrendered a total of five power play goals (to put that in perspective, Dave Hakstol’s group allowed only 27 power play goals in 42 games last year). The struggle was especially apparent against last Friday night, as three Beaver power play goals fueled the Bemidji State comeback and North Dakota had to settle for a 4-4 tie despite allowing only 20 shots on goal.
The penalty kill numbers will improve as the goaltending situation improves (UND’s top two netminders – Matej Tomek and Cam Johnson – are both out with injury), but until that happens, the key will be to stay out of the penalty box.
Vermont Team Profile
Head Coach: Kevin Sneddon (13th season at Vermont, 190-206-60, .482)
National Ranking: NR/NR
This Season: 1-2-0 overall, 0-0-0 Hockey East
Last Season: 22-15-4 overall, 10-9-3 Hockey East (7th out of 12 teams)
Team Offense: 2.33 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.33 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.2% (2 of 11)
Penalty Kill: 92.3% (12 of 13)
Key Players: Junior F Mario Puskarich (3-1-4), Junior F Tom Forgione (1-1-2), Freshman F Liam Coughlin (0-2-2), Senior D Alexx Privitera (0-2-2), Junior D Rob Hamilton (0-2-2), Junior G Mike Santaguida (1-2-0, 2.03 GAA,.917 SV%, 1 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 2-0-2, .750)
National Ranking: #1/#1
This Season: 2-0-2 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st out of 8 teams)
Team Offense: 3.75 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.25 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 22.2% (4 of 18)
Penalty Kill: 64.3% (9 of 14)
Key Players: Senior F Drake Caggiula (1-5-6), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (0-3-3), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (3-1-4), Junior F Luke Johnson (1-2-3), Junior D Paul LaDue (0-1-1), Junior D Troy Stecher (1-4-5), Junior G Matt Hyrnkiw (1-0-1, 2.82 GAA, .879 SV%)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: October 12, 2013 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota built an early 2-0 lead but could not make it hold up against the visitors from Vermont. Chris McCarthy’s shorthanded goal evened the game up at 2-2, and UND’s late push to win the game resulted in three shots off the post. Catamounts netminder Mike Santaguida made 31 saves, including 23 over the first two periods, to earn the tie. UND won Friday’s opener 5-3.
Most Lopsided Meeting: November 27, 1999 (Durham, NH). The Fighting Sioux blitzed the Catamounts 8-0 in the opening round of the UNH Classic. Bryan Lundbohm scored twice, Jason Ulmer picked up three points (2g, 1a), and Jeff Panzer notched three assists for North Dakota, which went 4-for-4 with the man advantage. UND would fall to host New Hampshire 6-2 in the championship game.
Most Important Meeting: Considering the two schools have only met four times on the ice, I will call Friday’s opener the most important meeting, with both teams looking to set the tone early in the season.
All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 3-0-1 (.875), outscoring the Catamounts 22-10 in those four games. The teams have never played in Vermont.
Game News and Notes
Gutterson Fieldhouse (capacity 4,035) holds an ice sheet that is 200 feet long and 90 feet wide (five feet wider than NHL ice). UND senior forward Drake Caggiula has two goals and two assists in two career games against the Catamounts. Caggiula leads all current NCAA men’s hockey players in career games played (127). North Dakota went 16-3-3 on the road last season.
This weekend’s series at Vermont will not be televised, but a free live stream of both games will be available here. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.
Vermont will keep the games close by scoring with the man advantage. UND will earn a sweep by staying out of the penalty box. If each side gets their share of power play opportunities, it’s anyone’s guess. I have a feeling that the Catamounts take one of these games to overtime. UND 4-1, 3-3 tie.