A quick rewind to March 2014:
Plenty was written about the roller coaster ride of emotions that North Dakota faced after defeating Western Michigan 5-0 in the 3rd place game of the NCHC tournament (Target Center, Minneapolis, MN). The team had done its part, but needed some help to make the NCAAs.
That help came in the form of the Wisconsin Badgers, former WCHA foe and long-time rival. On Saturday night, across the river at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Bucky was facing Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament championship. Down 4-2 with seven minutes remaining, UW scored twice in twenty seconds and rang a shot off the post in overtime before Mark Zengerle notched the game-winner at 7:48 of the first extra session.
To be fair, North Dakota’s 23-13-3 record and second-place finish in the NCHC would have been good enough for an at-large bid in most seasons. But the new league did not fare well out of conference (37-31-16, .536), including an abysmal 9-17-8 (.382) mark against Hockey East and the ECAC.
Thanks to Wisconsin, UND had new life and nothing to lose. #4 North Dakota managed to defeat the top-seeded Badgers (UW had gone 20-5-1 since November 30th, 2013) and outlasted #2 seed Ferris State for a trip to the Frozen Four (Philadelphia, PA).
Since that regional semifinal twenty months ago, the Badgers have become virtually unrecognizable. One of the criticisms leveled against UW head coach Mike Eaves is that he recruits in a cycle, bringing in huge freshman classes every four years in the hopes that a dominant senior class will bring a title to Madison down the road.
And it worked. Once. In 2006, the Badgers won a national championship on the backs of three seniors (forwards Adam Burish and Ryan MacMurchy and defenseman Tom Gilbert) plus forwards Joe Pavelski and Robbie Earl, underclassmen who left the program after that season. Mike Eaves came close four years later, but Wisconsin fell to Boston College 5-0 in the title game. North Dakota derailed UW’s title hopes at the end of the 2014 season, and now Bucky is left to rebuild again.
So is that one championship in Mike Eave’s previous 13 seasons enough to satisfy the fans in Madtown? The attendance figures at the Kohl Center suggest otherwise. Season ticket sales are down 52 percent from their 2006 championship campaign, and the Badgers are only drawing 7,239 fans per game so far this season. Here’s why:
In the three strongest seasons under Mike Eaves (2006, 2010, 2014), the Badgers went 82-32-9 for a winning percentage of .703. But in the other ten seasons, Wisconsin went just 177-174-49 (.504).
The 2014-15 season (4-26-5, .186) was historically bad for UW hockey. Before that, the last time Bucky won fewer than ten games was in 1963-64, when the Badgers went 8-5-3 in the first season of the modern era of UW hockey (Wisconsin also played as an independent from 1921 to 1935). That’s a stretch of 50 years without a season as bad as last year was for Mike Eaves.
And it’s more of the same this year. The Badgers are 2-2-3 on the young season, with two home victories over first-year Division 1 program Arizona State. Those two victories broke a 14 game winless streak for Mike Eaves, and it doesn’t get any easier this weekend.
The Brad Berry head coaching era at the University of North Dakota is off to a white-hot start, as #1 UND is unbeaten in its first eight games (6-0-2) despite playing only one of those games at home. Aside from Cornell, Harvard, and Yale (three ECAC schools that have just begun their season and are currently 2-0), only #2 Providence (6-0-1) and #5 Quinnipiac (6-0-0) remain among the unbeaten.
North Dakota has been dominant 5 on 5 this season, outscoring opponents 19-7 over the first eight games of the year. Despite the fact that UND has scored and allowed six power play goals this season, Brad Berry’s crew has been deeper offensively in every series and is outscoring opponents by two full goals per game. One measure of offensive talent up and down the roster is the number of players who are scoring at least one point every weekend (0.5 points per game or better). Currently, 11 North Dakota skaters are at that mark, including four defensemen. To this point in the season, Wisconsin has eight, and only two other teams in the NCHC have more (Denver and Western Michigan each have 12).
UND’s penalty kill has improved after a dismal start. Over the first three games, North Dakota’s opponents scored five power play goals in 12 opportunities (a penalty kill mark of just 58.3%). Since that time, UND has only allowed one power play goal in 18 opportunities (94.4%) while scoring a shorthanded goal (Rhett Gardner’s game winning shorthanded tally at Colorado College). The improvement is due in large part to junior netminder Matt Hrnkiw, who is much more comfortable in the crease than when he was first forced in to action against Bemidji State on October 16th.
Hrnkiw has been the MVP of the season to this point, filling in for Cam Johnson and Matej Tomek as both recover from injuries. Hrnkiw, who did not see the ice in his first two seasons at North Dakota, has not allowed more than two goals in any contest this season and has posted a goals-against average of 1.48 (11th best in the country) and a save percentage of .942 (13th) to go along with his two shutouts (3rd).
His counterpart in the Badger crease this weekend will be freshman goaltender Matt Jurusik, who has done a capable job to this point in the year. Jurusik has difficult skates to fill, as he replaces four-year starter Joel Rumpel. Rumpel, who appeared in 114 games as a Badger, had a record of 49-27-7 with a 2.16 GAA and a .926 SV% before last season crushed his career statistics. Rumpel finished with a line of 53-50-11, 2.51 GAA, .918 SV%.
Junior forward Grant Besse continues to be a bright spot for the Badgers. Besse has collected 22 goals and 22 assists in his UW career (76 games) and has scored eight points in eight games this season.
Wisconsin Team Profile
Head Coach: Mike Eaves (14th season at UW, 261-209-61, .549)
National Ranking: NR
This Season: 2-3-3 overall, 0-0-0 Big Ten
Last Season: 4-26-5 overall, 2-15-3-2 Big Ten (6th of 6 teams)
Team Offense: 2.38 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.00 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 22.2% (8 of 36)
Penalty Kill: 84.4% (27 of 32)
Key Players: Junior F Grant Besse (3-5-8), Freshman F Seamus Malone (2-5-7), Freshman F Luke Kunin (2-4-6), Sophomore F Ryan Wagner (3-2-5), Senior D Kevin Schulze (0-4-4), Sophomore D Jake Linhart (2-1-3), Freshman G Matt Jurusik (2-2-2, 2.84 GAA, .904 SV%)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 6-0-2, .875)
National Ranking: #1/#1
This Season: 6-0-2 overall, 2-0-0-0 NCHC (t-1st)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st out of 8 teams)
Team Offense: 3.62 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.62 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.2% (6 of 33)
Penalty Kill: 80.0% (24 of 30)
Key Players: Senior F Drake Caggiula (2-7-9), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (0-6-6), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (5-2-7), Freshman F Brock Boeser (5-2-7), Junior D Paul LaDue (0-1-1), Junior D Troy Stecher (2-5-7), Junior G Matt Hyrnkiw (5-0-1, 1.48 GAA, .942 SV%, 2 SO)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: November 8, 2014 (Madison, WI). #2 North Dakota scored three third period goals in a six minute stretch to turn a 2-1 contest into a 5-1 victory and a road sweep. 11 different players figured into the scoring for UND, while junior netminder Zane McIntyre stopped 23 of 24 shots, allowing only a second period tally to Grant Besse. North Dakota won Friday’s opener 4-3 behind two goals from Michael Parks, who scored the shorthanded game winner with under eight minutes remaining in the game. Wisconsin’s Grant Besse figured into three of the four Badger goals on the weekend.
Last Meeting in Grand Forks: February 2, 2013. One night after the teams skated to a 1-1 overtime tie, UND built a 4-0 lead after two periods en route to a 4-1 victory. Mark MacMillan scored a power play goal just 45 seconds into the rematch, and Michael Parks added two goals in the middle frame for North Dakota. It was the last meeting between the two schools as members of the WCHA.
Most Important Meeting: March 27, 1982 (Providence, RI). A 2-2 tie after two periods turned into a 5-2 Sioux victory, as Phil Sykes netted a hat trick and led UND to its fourth National Championship. Glen White scored the first goal of the game for North Dakota and assisted on two of Sykes’ goals. Darren Jensen backstopped the Green and White and was named to the all-tournament team along with Sykes, defenseman James Patrick, and forward Cary Eades. This title would be the second of three North Dakota titles won at the Providence Civic Center (1980, 2000).
All-time Series: Wisconsin leads the all-time series, 86-68-12 (.554), including a 36-33-9 (.519) record in Madison. The teams first met in December 1968.
Last Ten: The Green and White have had Bucky’s number lately, going 7-2-1 (.750) in the last ten tilts. UND is unbeaten in the last seven (6-0-1), outscoring UW 28-13.
Game News and Notes
Wisconsin has just one victory in its last 22 road games. At 6-0-2, North Dakota currently has the longest unbeaten streak to start a season since 1999-2000, when the eventual national champions opened the year 8-0-1 before falling 6-5 to Minnesota State in the Mavericks’ first season in the WCHA. The Badgers outshot Arizona State 56-19 in Friday’s 5-1 victory. UND senior forward Drake Caggiula, the nation’s leader in career games played (131), will be unavailable for Friday’s opener due to a one game suspension handed down by the league. Assuming Minnesota State senior forward Bryce Gervais (130 career games played) suits up for the Mavericks tonight, he will tie Caggiula for the top spot.
This weekend’s series against Wisconsin is televised on MidcoSports Network, and a webcast of both games is available to NCHC.tv subscribers. 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.
UND will easily score eight goals this weekend, so the only question is whether they win a couple of 4-2 games or whether one game becomes a blowout. I’ve got a close one on Friday night, with Drake Caggiula’s return to the lineup on Saturday sparking the North Dakota offense. UND 3-2,2, 5-2.