Weekend Preview: UND vs. Minnesota-Duluth

Minnesota-Duluth just might be the biggest fan of 3-on-3 overtime in the entire league.

The Bulldogs took the extra point at home against #8 Denver on November 14th to break a four-game losing streak. During those four losses, UMD was outscored 17-7. Since that night, the first instance of 3-on-3 in the NCHC, Scott Sandelin’s club has won four straight, outscoring Colorado College and Western Michigan by a combined margin of 24-2.

North Dakota has also put together an impressive stretch of hockey over the past two weekends. UND has back-to-back sweeps of Michigan State and Denver, scoring 16 goals and allowing three in those four games combined.

UND’s situation between the pipes has solidified 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 over the past two weekends against Michigan State and Denver, stopping 97 of 100 shots and allowing only a single goal in three straight games before posting his first career shutout last Saturday night against the Pioneers. For his efforts, Johnson was named NCHC Goaltender of the Week for the second consecutive week and for the third time this season.

Minnesota-Duluth was tabbed to win the NCHC this season after finishing fifth a year ago. The Bulldogs returned goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo (18-14-3, 2.30 goals-against average, .917 save percentage, one shutout) and 94 of their 115 goals (81.7%) from last season. Here’s what I wrote about UMD in my NCHC Season Preview and Predictions:

Duluth is a legitimate title contender this year, with almost all of the key pieces returning. The Bulldogs tightened up defensively last season and could be even better this time around. If UMD stays healthy, they will have their most successful season since 2011, when Scott Sandelin hung a national championship banner inside the DECC.

With those lofty expectations, Duluth’s start has to be seen as a disappointment. While it is true that UMD picked up four big league wins over the past two weekends, those victories were against Western Michigan and Colorado College. The Bulldogs were swept at Omaha and managed to pick up just two of six conference points at home while hosting Denver. If Scott Sandelin’s club expects to make a push for the NCHC title, they’ll need to do better on home ice, and it starts this weekend against North Dakota.

Junior forwards Dominic Toninato and Alex Iafallo have not been a huge factor for the Bulldogs lately but could heat up in the second half. The pair combined for 51 points in 68 combined games last season but are stuck on 15 combined points through the team’s first fifteen contests this year. Toninato had a nice October, with two game-winning goals (vs. Minnesota in the second game of a home-and-home and at Massachusetts-Lowell), and his third period goal at Minnesota in the series opener effectively iced the game just 32 seconds after the Gophers cut the lead to one. Unfortunately, Toninato, who scored 16 goals in 2014-15, has lit the lamp just three times in the past nine games dating back to Halloween night.

Toninato’s line (he has been skating with Iafallo and freshman Adam Johnson) did put together a nice weekend against Western Michigan, posting four goals and an assist. All three scored in Friday’s 7-0 win, and Johnson added a goal on Saturday for the first two goals of his NCAA career.

North Dakota forwards Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser, and Nick Schmaltz have been everything for the Green and White over the past eight games, notching 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists) and posting a combined plus-48 rating. During that stretch, the ‘CBS’ line has accounted for over 60 percent of UND’s goals. Sophomore forward Austin Poganski (5-4-9) did score three goals last weekend against Denver, but Duluth is deeper at forward than UND right now. Secondary scoring will need to come from senior Bryn Chyzyk (6-3-9), junior Luke Johnson (3-4-7), and sophomore Johnny Simonson (2-6-8) if North Dakota is to stay on top of the league race.

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 (7-0-1) 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 163 such situations (145-7-11).

North Dakota head coach 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 (3-9-2, 2-8-2 WCHA) remaining on the non-conference schedule. The Fighting Hawks are currently 5th in the Pairwise rankings, one of four NCHC teams (along with Omaha, St. Cloud State, and Denver) who would make the NCAA’s if the season ended today. Brad Berry’s .833 winning percentage (14-2-2) is tied with Bob Peters (15-3-0) for the best 18-game start in program history.

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference as a whole has a solid record against other leagues once again this season, particularly against the Big Ten. North Dakota’s split against Wisconsin is currently the only league loss against the six teams in the conference that destroyed college hockey as we knew it.

NCHC overall record vs. other conferences: 34-21-7 (.605, second best in the country)

NCHC record vs. Atlantic Hockey: 4-2-0 (.667)
NCHC record vs. Big Ten: 14-1-1 (.906)
NCHC record vs. ECAC: 1-6-0 (.143)
NCHC record vs. Hockey East: 5-11-4 (.350)
NCHC record vs. WCHA: 10-1-2 (.846)

The six teams in the Big Ten (Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin) are a combined 29-32-11 (.479) in non-league play, the second-worst winning percentage in college hockey (Atlantic Hockey, 10-40-3, .217). Not including a 12-2-1 mark against Atlantic Hockey and a 2-0-0 record against D-I independents, the Big Ten sports a dismal 15-30-10 (.364) record against the other four major hockey conferences.

Last season, Boston University defeated both Minnesota-Duluth (3-2) and North Dakota (5-3) in the NCAA tournament on their way to the championship game. The Terriers fell 4-3 to the Providence Friars, one win short of a national title.

Minnesota-Duluth Team Profile

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (15th season at UMD, 275-266-73, .507)
National Rankings: #17/NR
This Season: 7-5-3 overall, 4-3-1-1 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 21-16-3 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional finalist, 12-9-3-0 NCHC (5th)

Team Offense: 3.20 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.07 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.7% (15 of 69)
Penalty Kill: 85.5% (47 of 55)

Key Players: Senior F Austin Farley (10-9-19), Senior F Tony Cameranesi (5-12-17), Junior F Alex Iafallo (2-6-8), Junior F Dominic Toninato (6-1-7), Senior D Andy Welinski (2-8-10), Freshman D Neal Pionk (1-7-8), Sophomore G Kasimir Kaskisuo (7-5-3, 1.82 GAA, .928 SV%, 4 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 14-2-2, .833)
National Rankings: #4/#4
This Season: 14-2-2 overall, 7-1-0-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.56 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.89 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.9% (12 of 67)
Penalty Kill: 81.9% (59 of 72)

Key Players: Senior F Drake Caggiula (13-12-25), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (3-21-24), Freshman F Brock Boeser (11-8-19), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (6-3-9), Sophomore D Tucker Poolman (1-10-11), Junior D Troy Stecher (3-10-13), Freshman D Christian Wolanin (3-5-8), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (5-0-1, 1.53 GAA, .934 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 10, 2015 (Grand Forks, ND). #1 North Dakota rallied from a 4-1 defeat to earn a home split with a 5-2 win over the visiting Bulldogs. Senior Brendan O’Donnell led the way for the Green and White with a hat trick, while teammate Zane McIntyre made 41 of 43 saves and picked up an assist on Mark McMillan’s second period goal. UND would not lose again in regulation until March 7th at #5 Miami.

Last Meeting in Duluth: February 22, 2014. North Dakota blitzed the Bulldogs 6-2 to complete the road sweep (UND won 3-0 in Friday’s opener). Freshman defenseman Paul LaDue scored two power play goals while Rocco Grimaldi, Mitch MacMillan, Dillon Simpson, and Jordan Schmaltz all registered two-point nights. The Green and White went 3-for-4 with the man advantage and held Duluth scoreless on five power play opportunities.

Most Important Meeting: March 22, 1984 (Lake Placid, NY) Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota met in the national semifinal game, with the Bulldogs defeating the Fighting Sioux 2-1 in overtime to advance to the championship. UND went on to defeat Michigan State 6-5 (OT) for third place, while Duluth fell to Bowling Green 5-4 in four overtimes, the longest championship game ever played.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 140-77-9 (.639), including a 57-39-5 (.589) record in games played in Duluth. The teams first met in 1954, with North Dakota winning the first ten games between the schools by a combined score of 72-16. UMD’s first win over the Fighting Sioux (a 3-2 road victory on December 18th, 1959) did not sit well with the defending national champions. UND defeated Duluth 13-2 the following night.

Last Ten: North Dakota is 6-3-1 (.650) in the last ten games between the teams, outscoring Duluth 37-29 over that stretch.

Game News and Notes

The Bulldogs are 1-4-1 against teams in the top 15 of the Pairwise rankings. The two schools did not play in Duluth last season. Senior forward Drake Caggiula became the 85th member of UND’s Century Club (100 or more career points) last weekend. Caggiula has appeared in 140 games in his North Dakota career, tied with Minnesota State’s Bryce Gervais for the most among all active NCAA Division I men’s hockey players. Both head coaches this weekend are alumni of the University of North Dakota; Brad Berry (1983-86) and Scott Sandelin (1982-86) both played for UND under John “Gino” Gasparini.

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend will be televised on Midco Sports Network (channel 322 in Grand Forks). 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

North Dakota is playing better hockey than anyone else in the country right now and could very well sweep this weekend at the DECC. However, the Bulldogs have an edge in combined specialty teams and a proven netminder in sophomore Kasimir Kaskisuo (25 career victories). I’ve got a feeling UMD will rally on Saturday night to earn a hard-fought split. UND 4-1, UMD 3-2.

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