Weekend Preview: UND vs. Denver

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries. The teams have played nine games over the past three seasons, but the feud goes all the way back to Geoff Paukovitch’ illegal check on Sioux forward Robbie Bina during the 2005 WCHA Final Five.

Since that 2005 Final Five contest (a Denver victory), the two teams have met seven times in tournament play. Denver won the 2005 NCAA title with a victory over North Dakota and claimed a 2008 WCHA Final Five win as well. UND has won the four of the past five playoff games between the schools, including three consecutive victories in the WCHA Final Five (2010-2012) and the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional final which sent the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four. The Pioneers throttled North Dakota 5-1 back in March when the two teams met in the third-place game at the 2015 NCHC Frozen Faceoff.

This season, the Pioneers went just 3-3 in October, including two overtime losses. Denver flipped the script last month, going 4-0-2 despite playing five of six games on the road. Each DU loss this season has been by a single goal, including back-to-back heartbreakers at Boston College (4-3) and Boston University (5-4) over Halloween weekend.

This weekend’s action will feature two of the top rookies in the NCHC. North Dakota’s Brock Boeser currently leads the conference with 16 points, while Denver’s Dylan Gambrell is tied for third with 11 points. UND’s Christian Wolanin also finds himself in the top six of the freshman scoring race with eight points.

Denver goaltenders Tanner Jaillet (3-1-2, 2.11 GAA, .929 SV%) and Evan Cowley (4-2-0, 2.33 GAA, .915 SV%) have each started six games for the Pioneers, with each netminder also coming on once in relief for the other this year. Expect Jaillet and Cowley to each play one game at Ralph Engelstad Arena this weekend.

UND’s situation between the pipes has solidified somewhat after a rocky beginning. In 2015-16, head coach Brad Berry expected his goaltenders to be sophomore Cam Johnson and freshman Matej Tomek, but both of them went down with injuries. The job was left to junior walk-on (and practice goalie) Matt Hrnkiw, and he responded by keeping North Dakota in games and racking up wins until UND could get healthy again. Johnson has since reclaimed the crease and played very well last weekend against Michigan State, stopping 57 of 59 shots on the weekend and allowing only a single goal each night.

North Dakota forwards Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser, and Nick Schmaltz have been everything for UND over the past six games, notching 33 points (13 goals, 20 assists) and posting a combined plus-33 rating. During that stretch, the ‘CBS’ line has accounted for nearly 60 percent of UND’s goals.

Another big reason for UND’s success this season has been North Dakota’s ability to hold a lead. During the 2015-16 campaign, Brad Berry’s squad is unbeaten (5-0-1) when leading after the first forty minutes of play. In fact, over the past eight years, North Dakota is converting almost 90 percent of second intermission leads into victories and has just seven losses in the last 161 such situations (143-7-11).

After last weekend’s sweep at Michigan State, Brad Berry has his team in very good position for a 14th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. UND’s record outside the NCHC now sits at 7-1-2, with only a January home series against Alabama-Huntsville (3-8-1, 2-7-1 WCHA) remaining on the non-conference schedule. The Fighting Hawks are currently 7th in the Pairwise rankings, one of four NCHC teams (along with St. Cloud State, Omaha, and Denver) who would make the NCAA’s if the season ended today.

Denver Team Profile

Head Coach: Jim Montgomery (3rd season at DU, 51-33-10, .596)
National Ranking: #9/#9
This Season: 7-3-2 overall, 3-0-1-0 NCHC (t-3rd)
Last Season: 24-14-2 overall (NCAA East Regional finalist), 13-10-1-1 NCHC (4th)

Team Offense: 3.50 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.25 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.4% (8 of 46)
Penalty Kill: 89.7% (35 of 39)

Key Players: Sophomore F Danton Heinen (5-5-10), Freshman F Dylan Gambrell (2-9-11), Junior F Trevor Moore (2-6-8), Senior F Gabe Levin (2-5-7), Senior F Quentin Shore (4-2-6), Junior D Will Butcher (3-9-12), Senior D Nolan Zajac (1-9-10), Sophomore G Tanner Jaillet (3-1-2, 2.11 GAA, .929 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 12-2-2, .813)
National Ranking: #4/#4
This Season: 12-2-2 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: 3.44 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.06 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 16.7% (10 of 60)
Penalty Kill: 79.0% (49 of 62)

Key Players: Senior F Drake Caggiula (11-10-21), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (2-19-21), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (6-3-9), Freshman F Brock Boeser (8-8-16), Junior D Paul LaDue (1-2-3), Junior D Troy Stecher (3-10-13), Freshman D Christian Wolanin (3-5-8), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (3-0-1, 1.92 GAA, .921 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 21, 2015 (Minneapolis, MN). Denver knocked off top-seed North Dakota 5-1 in the third place game of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff behind goals from five different scorers. Nolan Zajac and Matt Tabrum led the way for the Pioneers with two points each, and netminder Tanner Jaillet made 25 of 26 saves in the victory. Conner Gaarder scored the lone goal for UND at the 14:34 mark of period one, but DU answered with two of their own before the first frame ended. Zane McIntyre stopped 30 shots in defeat.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: February 14, 2015. One night after defeating the Pioneers 4-2 on home ice, North Dakota let a two goal lead evaporate in the third period and had to settle for a 3-3 tie (Denver won the shootout for the extra NCHC point). UND built the lead thanks to two first-period power play goals just 27 seconds apart while Trevor Moore served a five minute major for clipping. Moore remained in the game and scored two of Denver’s three regulation goals.

Most Important Meeting: It’s hard to pick just one game, as the two teams have played four times for the national title. Denver defeated UND for the national championship in 1958, 1968, and 2005, while the Sioux downed the Pioneers in 1963. But the game that stands out in recent memory as “the one that got away” was DU’s 1-0 victory over the Fighting Sioux in the 2004 NCAA West Regional final (Colorado Springs, CO). That North Dakota team went 30-8-4 on the season (Dean Blais’ last behind the UND bench) and featured one of the deepest rosters in the past twenty years: Brandon Bochenski, Zach Parise, Brady Murray, Colby Genoway, Drew Stafford and David Lundbohm up front; Nick Fuher, Matt Jones, Matt Greene, and Ryan Hale on defense; and a couple of goaltending stalwarts in Jordan Parise and Jake Brandt.

Last Ten Games: North Dakota has had slightly the better of it lately, going 5-4-1 (.550) in the last ten meetings between the schools and outscoring Denver 32-29 over that span.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 140-120-9 (.537), including an 82-42-7 (.653) advantage on home ice. North Dakota last home sweep of the Pioneers came on February 15th and 16th, 2008. The teams first met in 1950.

Game News and Notes

The teams were dead even in five contests last season, with each team winning two games and the fifth ending in a tie. Denver sophomore forward Danton Heinen, last year’s NCHC Rookie of the Year and the reigning league overall scoring champion (16-29-45 in 40 games), is expected to sign with the NHL’s Boston Bruins after this season. UND senior forward Drake Caggiula needs three more points to become the 85th member of North Dakota’s Century Club (100 or more career points). Caggiula, who has collected nine points in 11 career games against the Pioneers, has appeared in 138 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

Both games this weekend will be televised on Midco Sports Network, with Saturday’s game also carried live on FOX College Sports. A high definition webcast of the games is also 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.

The Prediction

Both teams can score and defend, but North Dakota’s penalty kill is vulnerable if the teams trade power plays. I’ve got a feeling that at least one of these games will go to overtime, with the teams shaking hands on Saturday night after a hard-earned split and the fans looking forward to the February rematch in Denver. DU 3-2 (OT), UND 4-2.

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