Weekend Preview: UND vs. Michigan State

Michigan State and North Dakota competed in the WCHA from 1959 until 1981, when then-head coach Ron Mason took the Spartans to the newly-formed CCHA. In their 22 seasons in the WCHA, MSU won exactly zero league titles and made only two NCAA tournament appearances. Ron Mason made the most of those chances, however, with a national championship in 1966.

Ron Mason’s clubs fared far better after switching conferences. In 21 CCHA seasons under Mason, the Spartans collected eight regular season championships, ten playoff titles, and 19 NCAA appearances, including five trips to the Frozen Four. Mason collected the progam’s second NCAA title in 1986 and finished runner-up to Gino Gasparini’s Hrkac Circus in 1987.

Michigan State has already played three ranked opponents this season, losing a pair at #5 Denver (4-2, 3-0) and a single game at #2 Boston College (6-4) before hosting #19 Michigan Tech last weekend. The Spartans played MTU tough, but managed only a 4-4 tie on Saturday night after dropping a 5-4 overtime decision the night before. MSU held third-period leads in both games against the Huskies.

The Spartans will open up Big Ten play next weekend at #20 Penn State, while North Dakota has already played six conference games, going 5-1-0-0 in sweeps of Colorado College and Miami and a split at St. Cloud State to find themselves tied atop the league standings. Michigan State finished 2nd in the six-team Big Ten last season after a fifth place finish in the first year of the league that destroyed the WCHA as we knew it.

Michigan State and North Dakota will play a rare Friday-Sunday series due to the Spartan football game vs. Penn State. UND will be on the road for Thanksgiving for the first time since 2012, when the Green and White traveled to Notre Dame and earned a split. Start times for this weekend’s games will be 7:05 p.m. Eastern time on Friday and 3:05 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday. The last time North Dakota played a pair of games on Friday and Sunday was in December 2010 (Mankato, Minnesota), when a blizzard pushed Saturday’s game back to Sunday.

After turning in a fine freshman campaign last year (5-21-26 in 38 games played), UND sophomore forward Nick Schmaltz has taken his game to another level. Schmaltz (2-15-17 in 14 games this season) is fourth in the nation in scoring and leads all NCAA players in plus/minus at +19. Linemates Drake Caggiula (+17, t-3rd) and Brock Boeser (+15, t-7th) are also in the top-20 nationally in scoring. The “CBS Line” has produced eight goals and 14 assists in the past four games. A key to North Dakota’s success in the second half of the season will be offensive production from the other three lines.

Spartan senior goaltender Jake Hildebrand, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, has started all 11 games for MSU, going 4-5-1 in those games. The former Cedar Rapids Roughrider posted a 17-16-2 record in 2014-15 with a goals-against average of 2.18 and a save percentage of .930. Hildebrand could have left school after last season, but decided to stay. His numbers this season pale in comparison: a GAA of 2.84 and a save percentage of .904. Michigan State has scored plenty of goals this season (3.36/game), but the goaltending will need to improve if they hope to contend in the Big Ten.

North Dakota’s 2015-16 netminders 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, but his goaltending took a step backward last weekend at St. Cloud State. The third-year netminder from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan had not seen a minute of game action before this season, but to his credit, Hrnkiw posted nine victories and kept UND in the hunt for a league title and an NCAA tournament bid while his counterparts got healthy. Cam Johnson, who is from nearby Troy, Michigan, replaced Hrnkiw in the second period last Saturday night and is expected to start this weekend against the Spartans.

UND is 5-1-1 on the road this season with a 5-1-2 non-conference record. North Dakota’s non-conference schedule will conclude with a January home series against Alabama-Huntsville (2-6-1 WCHA, 3-7-1 overall). Brad Berry is hoping to extend the nation’s-best thirteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, and victories this weekend will help secure that goal.

Michigan State Team Profile

Head Coach: Tom Anastos (5th season at MSU, 65-80-18, .454)
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 4-5-2 overall, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten
Last Season: 17-16-2 overall, 11-7-2-2 Big Ten (2nd)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.36 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.09 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.6% (9 of 51)
Penalty Kill: 90.5% (38 of 42)

Key Players: Junior F Mackenzie MacEachern (7-6-13), Junior F JT Stenglein (7-6-13), Freshman F Mason Appleton (3-9-12), Senior F Michael Ferrantino (2-9-11), Freshman D Zach Osburn (3-5-8), Senior D Travis Walsh (0-5-5), Senior D Rhett Holland (0-1-1), Senior G Jake Hildebrand (4-5-1, 2.84 GAA, .904 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 10-2-2, .786)
National Ranking: #5/#5
This Season: 10-2-2 overall, 5-1-0-0 NCHC (t-1st)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.43 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.21 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 16.4% (9 of 55)
Penalty Kill: 77.4% (41 of 53)

Key Players: Senior F Drake Caggiula (7-9-16), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (2-15-17), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (6-3-9), Freshman F Brock Boeser (7-7-14), Junior D Paul LaDue (1-2-3), Junior D Troy Stecher (3-9-12), Freshman D Christian Wolanin (3-4-7), Junior G Matt Hyrnkiw (9-2-1, 2.11 GAA, .911 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: October 13, 2007 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota blitzed the defending national champions 6-0 in the US Hockey Hall of Fame Game. Twelve Fighting Sioux players made the scoresheet, and the names read like a who’s who of UND hockey in the 21st century: Robbie Bina, Taylor Chorney, Ryan Duncan, Matt Frattin, Chay Genoway, Rylan Kaip, Andrew Kozek, Brad Malone, T.J. Oshie, Evan Trupp, Chris VandeVelde, and Darcy Zajac. Jean-Phillippe Lamoureux made 23 saves for the shutout.

Last Meeting in East Lansing: November 1, 1980. One night after doubling up the homestanding Spartans 6-3, the Fighting Sioux completed the road sweep with a 7-4 victory. UND’s 1980-81 team finished 21-15-2, but the defending national champions were left out of the NCAA tournament. Wisconsin defeated the Minnesota Golden Gophers 6-3 in the national championship game, held in Duluth, Minnesota.

Most Important Meeting: March 28. 1987 (Detroit, MI). The Hrkac Circus invaded Joe Louis Arena and took home North Dakota’s fifth national championship with a 5-3 victory over the Spartans. More recently, the Fighting Sioux scored twice on “unscoreonable” Hobey Baker winner Ryan Miller and advanced to the 2001 national championship game with a 2-0 Frozen Four semifinal victory over MSU.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 62-36-2 (.630), and holds a slim edge of 22-21-1 (.511) in games played in East Lansing.

Last Ten: North Dakota has won eight of the previous ten meetings between the schools, outscoring the Spartans 43-26 in that stretch. Three of the last MSU-UND games have come in the national tournament, with North Dakota winning all three, most importantly the 1987 championship game and a 2001 semifinal contest. The Fighting Sioux also defeated Sparty 6-5 in overtime to win the 1984 third-place game (Lake Placid, NY),

Game News and Notes

Michigan State has not made the NCAA tournament since 2012 and has just two tourney appearances since their national championship in 2007. Two of North Dakota’s seven national titles have come against the Spartans (1959 and 1987). Spartan junior forwards Mackenzie MacEachern and JT Stenglein are tied for the Big Ten scoring lead with 13 points each, while freshman Zach Osburn (3-5-8) is tied as the league’s highest scoring defenseman. UND senior forward Drake Caggiula needs eight more points to become the 85th member of North Dakota’s Century Club (100 or more career points). Caggiula has appeared in 136 games in his UND career, tied with Minnesota State’s Bryce Gervais for the most among all active NCAA Division I men’s hockey players.

Media Coverage

This weekend’s games will not be televised, but a live stream of both can be purchased at www.btn2go.com. 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.

The Prediction

Both teams can score, but the defensive edge goes to North Dakota. UND’s six blueliners can defend, move the puck, and contribute offensively. UND is also deeper than the Spartans and will hope to roll four lines against MSU. The Fighting Hawks should sweep this weekend, with Sunday afternoon’s finale a tougher contest. UND 5-2, 3-2.

Thank you for reading. As always, I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions.

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