Weekend Preview: UND vs. Colorado College

Mike Haviland’s second year behind the Colorado College bench has already produced better results than year one. Last season, the Tigers were historically bad, winning just twice (2-19-3-1) in 24 league games. This year, CC already has three conference victories (a December home sweep against Miami and a road split at St. Cloud State two weekends ago), and Haviland’s squad has posted a 5-4-0 overall record in the past nine games after opening the season with thirteen consecutive losses.

The feeling among the Tiger faithful is that new blood behind the bench will eventually translate into new life on the ice, and that has certainly been true since the end of November. Haviland is new to Division I hockey, but he was named the AHL coach of the year in 2006-07 (Norfolk Admirals) and served as an assistant coach with the Chicago Blackhawks for four seasons (2008-12), winning a Stanley Cup in 2010. He was most recently head coach for the AHL’s Hershey Bears.

UND and Colorado College met six times last season (twice in Colorado Springs), with North Dakota winning all six games and outscoring the Tigers 25-10. Without those six victories, UND’s record last year would have looked far less impressive at 23-10-3 (.681). This season, Brad Berry’s first trip to Colorado Springs as head coach resulted in a pair of victories (5-2, 2-0).

This weekend’s games are critical for UND’s Penrose Cup hopes. Last year, North Dakota went 10-2-0 against the bottom four teams in the league (Colorado College, Western Michigan, St. Cloud State, and Minnesota-Duluth) en route to a 16-6-2 conference mark and the NCHC regular season title. A second reward for the Green and White was a first-round playoff series against Colorado College, the 13th time in a row that UND hosted the opening round of the conference tournament. The Green and White dispatched the Tigers in two games (5-1, 3-2) and advanced to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff.

This season, the race for the Penrose is down to North Dakota and St. Cloud State. The Huskies (10-3-1-1) have ten league games remaining, while the Fighting Hawks (10-2-0-0) have twelve. SCSU and UND, winners of the first two NCHC regular season league titles, will not meet again in the regular season.

If North Dakota is to put victories in the books and keep pace with the Huskies, they will need to do it with secondary scoring. Two Hobey Baker candidates, senior forward Drake Caggiula (15-15-30) and sophomore forward Nick Schmaltz (3-24-27), are expected to miss this weekend’s action. Freshman Brock Boeser (15-10-25) will be paired with new linemates but will need to finish his chances, as will senior forward Bryn Chyzyk (8-5-13). Other likely contributors among the forward group include junior Luke Johnson, sophomore Austin Poganski, and freshmen Shane Gersich and Rhett Gardner, all of whom have already netted five goals.

Colorado College has seen a resurgence in their offensive numbers since assembling a forward line of Hunter Fejes, Sam Rothstein, and Luc Gerdes eight games ago. The three upperclassmen (Fejes is a senior; the other two are juniors) have combined for 11 goals and 15 assists over the past four weekends, and the Tigers have averaged 2.88 goals per game over that same stretch, a far cry from the 1.57 goals/game over the first 14 games of the season.

Another storyline for the boys from Colorado Springs has been the play of freshman netminder Jacob Nehama. The Allen, Texas native has all five of the Tigers’ victories this season (junior Tyler Marble is 0-7-0), and those five wins have all come in his last eight starts.

His counterpart in the UND net, sophomore Cam Johnson, has been absolutely incredible since returning from injury in late November. Johnson leads the nation in both goals-against average (1.28) and save percentage (.949). The Flint, Michigan native went nearly 300 consecutive minutes without allowing a goal (a UND record and the second-longest in the history of NCAA Division I men’s hockey) and was named both the Hockey Commissioners’ Association and NCHC Player of the Month for the month of December.

Johnson’s play, equal parts steady and spectacular, has meant that North Dakota has been able to hold leads. During the 2015-16 campaign, Brad Berry’s squad is unbeaten (16-0-1) when leading after the first forty minutes of play. In fact, North Dakota has gone 63 straight games without a loss when leading after the first two periods. Amazingly, UND is 11th nationally in scoring offense and 3rd in scoring defense, notching 83 goals and allowing only 40 in 24 games this season. Nationally, only Quinnipiac (92 goals for/40 goals against in 25 games) boasts a better scoring margin than North Dakota.

Berry has his team in very good position for a 14th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. UND went 9-1-2 in non-conference games this season, with a home split with Wisconsin accounting for the only loss in twelve games. The Fighting Hawks are currently 3rd in the Pairwise rankings, one of four NCHC teams (along with St. Cloud State, Omaha, and Denver) who would make the NCAAs if the season ended today. Minnesota-Duluth sits squarely on the bubble (tied with Minnesota at 17), with Western Michigan, Miami, and Colorado College outside the top 25.

Colorado College Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Haviland (2nd season at CC, 11-43-3, .219)

Pairwise Ranking: t-52nd of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 5-17-0 overall, 3-9-0-0 NCHC (8th)
Last Season: 6-26-3 overall, 2-19-3-1 NCHC (8th)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.05 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.59 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 15.4% (14 of 91)
Penalty Kill: 81.1% (73 of 90)

Key players: Senior F Hunter Fejes (9-5-14), Junior F Luc Gerdes (4-9-13), Junior F Sam Rothstein (5-7-12), Senior F Cody Bradley (5-4-9), Sophomore D Teemu Kivihalme (3-9-12), Freshman D Andrew Farny (2-7-9), Freshman G Jacob Nehama (5-10-0, 3.37 GAA, .905 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 19-3-2, .833)

Pairwise Ranking: 3rd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #2/#2
This Season: 19-3-2 overall, 10-2-0-0 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.46 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.67 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.7% (19 of 92)
Penalty Kill: 85.1% (80 of 94)

Key Players: Freshman F Brock Boeser (15-10-25), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (8-5-13), Junior forward Luke Johnson (5-6-11), Sophomore F Austin Poganski (5-6-11), Sophomore D Tucker Poolman (3-11-14), Junior D Troy Stecher (5-14-19), Junior D Paul LaDue (2-6-8), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (10-1-1, 1.28 GAA, .949 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: October 31, 2015 (Colorado Springs, CO). The Tigers could not solve UND’s Matt Krynkiw, as the junior netminder stopped all 29 shots he faced (earning his second shutout) and propelled North Dakota to a 2-0 victory (goals by Christian Wolanin and Shane Gersich). On the weekend, the Green and White put 79 shots on goal and scored seven times (UND won 5-2 in Friday’s opener).

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: March 14, 2015. Senior forward Connor Gaarder potted the game-winner with under 90 seconds remaining in the hockey game to propel UND to a 3-2 victory over the visiting Tigers. Colorado College forward Luc Gerdes scored a wraparound goal at 6:10 of the third period to knot the game at 2. CC outshot the Green and White 33-31, but Zane McIntyre was up to the challenge, making 31 saves in the victory. North Dakota won Friday’s opener by a much more comfortable 5-1 margin.

Most Important Meeting: March 27, 1997. UND defeated Colorado College, 6-2, in the Frozen Four Semifinals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Two nights later, North Dakota downed Boston University, 6-4, to claim its sixth NCAA Championship. North Dakota and Colorado College also met in the 2001 East Regional (Worcester, Mass.), with UND prevailing, 4-1.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 151-80-10 (.647), including a blistering 97-21-6 (.806) mark in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: North Dakota has won nine of the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring CC 38-18 over that span. The only Tigers victory was an overtime win in the 2014 NCHC quarterfinals.18 of the last 21 games have been decided by two goals or less.

Game News and Notes

In first periods this season, North Dakota has outscored opponents 27¬-13 while Colorado College has been outscored 22-8. These two coaching staffs coached against each other at the AHL and NHL levels prior to the NCHC. Only six teams in UND men’s hockey history have won 20 games before the calendar turned to February. With four January games remaining on the schedule, Brad Berry currently has his team’s record at 19-3-2.

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend will be televised on Midco Sports Network. Saturday’s contest will also be featured on FOX College Sports Central. 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

If UND was healthy, I would have the home team winning by three goals each night, but that’s obviously not the case. Question marks abound: How will Brad Berry shuffle the lines to get the most out of his forwards? Will North Dakota’s top four defensemen be able to handle the Rothstein line? How will freshman goaltender Jacob Nahama respond in his first Ralph Engelstad Arena appearance? I’m giving the Fighting Hawks the edge in both contests, but these games will be much closer than most people expect. UND 3-2, 3-1.

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