Weekend Preview: UND vs. St. Cloud State

A battle of two top-ten teams. A matchup between the first two winners of the Penrose Cup (NCHC regular season champions). A rematch of last season’s NCAA West Regional final in Fargo, North Dakota. Two teams who battled six times a year ago, with North Dakota winning four. An arena that will feel like Christmas in November, with nearly half of the fans in green to combat the hometown red. The only two undefeated teams in conference play, who have combined to score 84 goals in their first 22 games. The top two teams in the NCHC in scoring offense, scoring defense, and (of course) scoring margin. The only two times these rivals will meet during the 2015-16 regular season.

And if all of that wasn’t enough, this weekend will mark the first time that the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team takes the ice as the Fighting Hawks (UND Hawkey, anyone?). The players will continue to wear the same “North Dakota” jerseys with the crossed ND design for the forseeable future (a new logo has yet to be created), but there is still some intrigue this weekend. Will the visiting fans, typically among the most vocal and passionate in all of college hockey, rally around the Fighting Hawks? Continue to chant “Let’s Go, Sioux”? Cheer when the public address announcer mentions the new nickname?

These two teams last played at SCHEELS Arena in Fargo, North Dakota in the 2015 NCAA West Regional. With a trip to the Frozen Four on the line, North Dakota topped SCSU 4-1 behind a vocal UND fan contingent. One night earlier, in a battle of Huskies, St. Cloud State took Michigan Tech to overtime before defeating their long-time WCHA foe 3-2 and advancing to face UND. I wrote about goaltender Charlie 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”.

Many of the players who featured prominently in the six UND/SCSU games last year will not take the ice this weekend. North Dakota graduated forwards Michael Parks, Mark MacMillan, Brendan O’Donnell, Connor Gaarder, Stephane Pattyn, and Colten St. Clair (plus blueliner Nick Mattson), all significant contributors to Dave Hakstol’s final Frozen Four run.

Mark MacMillan, the NCHC Defensive Player of the Year last season, sustained a lower body injury while blocking a shot during a key 5-on-3 penalty kill in a home victory against St. Cloud State that clinched a share of the Penrose Cup. MacMillan finished 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.

Meanwhile, St. Cloud State said goodbye to forwards Joe Rehkamp, Nick Oliver, and Brooks Bertsch and defensemen Andrew Prochno and Tim Daly after all saw plenty of action during last season’s 20 win campaign.

The Huskies were bit by the early departure bug when forward Jonny Brodzinksi (64-48-112 in 120 games) announced that he was giving up his final season of NCAA eligibility to sign with the Los Angeles Kings. There are currently four seniors on the SCSU roster, the same number that North Dakota claims.

UND defenseman Jordan Schmaltz (13-51-64 in 125 games) left one year early to sign with the St. Louis Blues, but his departure left only the second-biggest hole to fill. Netminder Zane McIntyre, last season’s Mike Richter Award winner, inked a deal with the Boston Bruins after his junior campaign. McIntyre had a career record of 58-24-9 at UND with a goals-against average of 2.10, a save percentage of .926, and four shutouts.

UND’s 2015-16 goaltenders were slated to be sophomore Cam Johnson and freshman Matej Tomek, but when both of them went down with injuries, the job was left to junior walk-on (and practice goalie) Matt Hrnkiw. North Dakota scored enough goals and defended well enough early on to allow Hrnkiw to gain confidence, and his goaltending has been better each weekend as a result. The third-year netminder from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan had not seen a minute of game action before this season.

Hrnkiw’s counterpart between the St. Cloud pipes is Charlie Lindgren, who has been everything for the Huskies during the early part of this season. Lindgren (7-2-0, 1.49 GAA, .944 SV%) has only given up more than two goals twice this year and has already posted four shutouts. The junior from Lakeville, Minnesota allowed nine goals in two losses at Quinnipiac and four goals in his other seven games combined.

UND’s freshman have been the offensive story thus far this season. The top four first-year forwards (Brock Boeser, Shane Gersich, Chris Wilkie, and Rhett Gardner) have scored 17 of North Dakota’s 43 goals through the first twelve games, and freshman defenseman Christian Wolanin has picked up two game-winners and six points overall (three goals, three assists).

According to KRACH, St. Cloud State has played the most difficult schedule in the country to this point in the season, while North Dakota’s slate of opponents ranks 47th. The Huskies were swept at Quinnipiac (10-0-0, the nation’s only remaining perfect record) but completed sweeps at the Kendall Hockey Classic (Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage), vs. Minnesota State, vs. Miami, and at Western Michigan to vault into the top ten of the USCHO rankings (currently #7).

North Dakota, meanwhile, has collected sweeps at Vermont and Colorado College and a pair of home victories vs. Miami. UND also managed a win (Lake Superior State) and a tie (Maine) at the IceBreaker and in a home-and-home with Bemidji State, but a home split with lowly Wisconsin has fans in Grand Forks hoping that the Badgers will be good for more than four victories this season (Mike Eaves’ club went 4-26-5 in 2014-15).

Perhaps the biggest reason for UND’s early success this season has been North Dakota’s ability to hold a lead. Brad Berry’s squad is unbeaten (6-0-1) when leading after the first forty minutes of play. In fact, over the past eight years, North Dakota is converting over 90 percent of second intermission leads into victories and has just seven losses in the last 162 such situations (144-7-11). 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.

In 2004, the Center Ice Club created a commemorative trophy to mark the rivalry, and the two teams have been battling it out each season to claim the Challenge Cup.

UND had the better of the play in the first eight years of the Challenge Cup era, claiming the Cup four times and sharing the trophy three times while St. Cloud State only won the trophy once (2005-06). However, the Huskies earned the trophy two of the last three seasons. With only two regular season games scheduled this year, the Cup is on the line this weekend in St. Cloud.

St. Cloud State Team Profile

Head Coach: Bob Motzko (11th season at SCSU, 212-157-41, .567)
National Rankings: #7/#7
This Season: 8-2-0 overall, 4-0-0-0 NCHC (t-1st)
Last Season: 20-19-1 overall (NCAA West Regional finalist), 11-12-1-0 NCHC (6th)

Team Offense: 4.10 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.6% (8 of 37)
Penalty Kill: 84.6% (22 of 26)

Key Players: Sophomore F Patrick Russell (6-6-12), Senior F Kalle Kossila (2-10-12), Senior F Joey Benik (7-3-10), Sophomore F Judd Peterson (6-3-9), Senior D Ethan Prow (1-7-8), Sophomore D Nathan Widman (0-6-6), Junior G Charlie Lindgren (7-2-0, 1.49 GAA, .944 SV%, 4 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 9-1-2, .833)
National Ranking: #4/#4
This Season: 9-1-2 overall, 4-0-0-0 NCHC (t-1st)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.58 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.83 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 14.3% (7 of 49)
Penalty Kill: 79.1% (34 of 43)

Key Players: Senior F Drake Caggiula (4-9-13), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (2-11-13), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (6-3-9), Freshman F Brock Boeser (7-5-12), Junior D Paul LaDue (1-2-3), Junior D Troy Stecher (2-7-9), Junior G Matt Hyrnkiw (8-1-1, 1.82 GAA, .920 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 28, 2015 (Fargo, ND). North Dakota scored three unassisted goals over the final two periods of the hockey game to defeat St. Cloud State 4-1 in the West Regional Final and advance to the NCAA Frozen Four. Jimmy Murray got the Huskies on the board less than 90 seconds in to the hockey game, but that did nothing to quiet the partisan crowd of 5,307 at SCHEELS Arena. Four different players scored for UND, while Zane McIntyre made 19 stops to earn his 29th and final victory of the season.

Last Meeting in St. Cloud: November 22, 2014. On his 21st birthday, North Dakota freshman Trevor Olson potted the first two goals of his career (including the game-winner) and led UND to the 3-2 road victory over the Huskies. St. Cloud native Austin Poganski assisted on both Olson goals against his hometown team, and Brendan O’Donnell also scored for the Green and White. UND outshot the Huskies 39-29, and both teams went 0-for-3 with the man advantage. SCSU won Friday’s opener 3-2.

Most Important Meeting: The aforementioned NCAA West Regional final was the most important meeting between the two teams. The schools also faced off on March 20th, 2015 in the NCHC semifinals (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.

All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series, 65-38-12 (.617), including a 26-20-6 (.558) record in St. Cloud. Aside from their 2015 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal victory, the Huskies also defeated North Dakota in the 2001 WCHA Final Five championship game. 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 only met once in the NCAA tournament (2015).

Last Ten: UND holds a 5-4-1 (.550) edge in the last ten meetings between the teams and has outscored St. Cloud State 24-23 over that stretch of games. The last twenty games are just as close, with North Dakota holding a slim 10-9-1 (.525) advantage.

Game News and Notes

St. Cloud State has not lost at home this season (4-0-0), while UND is 5-0-2 away from Ralph Engelstad Arena. North Dakota sophomore forward Austin Poganski (St. Cloud, MN) has four points in six games against his hometown team. No team has swept this series in the past 14 years.

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend will be televised. Friday’s opener can be seen on FOX Sports North Plus/FOX College Sports (Channels 339/639 in Grand Forks), and Saturday’s finale will be available all across the Midco Sports Network (27/322/622). A high definition stream 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.

Pregame Event (from Center Ice View)

The annual gathering of SCSU and North Dakota fans will take place on Saturday, November 21st from 4:00-6:00 p.m. on the second level of Brothers Bar and Grill (119 5th Avenue South) in St. Cloud. Complimentary appetizers will be served, and the Challenge Cup will be on hand. All St. Cloud State and UND fans are encouraged to attend.

The Prediction

St. Cloud State would love for each side to get four power plays per game, while North Dakota would rather roll four lines and take their chances at even strength. UND netminder Matt Hrnkiw has not faced a team with this much firepower, nor has he played in such a hostile environment. The early edge will go to the Huskies on the wide sheet of ice, with Brad Berry claiming the first Fighting Hawks victory in Saturday’s rematch. SCSU 3-1, UND 4-3.

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