Weekend Preview: UND vs. Western Michigan

Freshmen are leading the way for the Western Michigan Broncos, as 18 of the team’s first 58 goals (31 percent) have been scored by first-year players. Forward Griffen Molino is tied for third in the league scoring race with 18 points (7g, 11a), while classmate Colt Conrad (5-8-13) is tied for ninth. First-year blueliner Oliver Kaski has also chipped in with 11 points. Among other accolades, Molino was named the NCHC Rookie of the Month for December.

The Broncos are coming off of a home shellacking at the hands of SCSU, losing 8-2 and 7-3 to the first-place Huskies. St. Cloud State scored on six of ten power play opportunities, dropping WMU’s penalty kill rate to under 70 percent, easily the worst unit in the country.

The boys from Kalamazoo, Michigan like to play a tight, physical brand of hockey, but that has meant quite a bit of time in the penalty box. WMU has been in 109 shorthanded situations already this season (compared to 79 power play opportunities). The Broncos’ power play has scored 16 goals this year (converting at 20.3%), but their penalty killers have allowed 34 goals to the opposition. By comparison, North Dakota has scored twenty power play goals and allowed fifteen in an equal number of man-advantage and shorthanded situations (101 each).

This season, the race for the Penrose is down to North Dakota and St. Cloud State. The Huskies (12-3-1-1, 38 points) are idle this weekend and have eight league games remaining, while the Fighting Hawks (11-2-1-1, 35 points) have ten. 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 two more victories in the books and pass 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 a second consecutive weekend of action. In their absence last weekend against Colorado College, the top five forwards in the lineup for North Dakota (Brock Boeser, Bryn Chyzyk, Rhett Gardner, Luke Johnson, and Austin Poganski) accounted for eight goals and eight assists. Boeser also scored the only goal in Friday’s shootout victory over the Tigers, UND’s first shootout win in the history of the NCHC.

WMU’s Lukas Hafner, a senior goaltender who played his junior hockey with the Cornwall Colts (CCHL), has the worst numbers of his four-year career (3.49 goals-against average and a save percentage of .901), but that has as much to do with the team in front of him as it does his own play. Hafner has the ability to steal games and was a force two seasons ago, posting a 2.06 GAA and a save percentage of .925. The Toledo, Ohio native also has six assists in his career.

His counterpart in the UND net, sophomore Cam Johnson, has had two rough outings in his last four starts after going 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) . The Hockey Commissioners’ Association and NCHC Player of the Month for the month of December allowed four goals on 23 shots against Omaha and three goals on 11 shots against Colorado College in two consecutive Friday home starts this month. Johnson was able to bounce back from both of those outings (making 46 of 48 stops in the two Saturday rematches) and is currently first in the nation in goals-against average (1.42) and tied for second in save percentage (.942).

During the 2015-16 campaign, Brad Berry’s squad is unbeaten (17-0-2) when leading after the first forty minutes of play. In fact, North Dakota has gone 65 straight games without a loss when leading after the first two periods. Amazingly, UND is 8th nationally in scoring offense and 3rd in scoring defense, notching 93 goals and allowing only 46 in 26 games this season. Nationally, only St. Cloud State (113 goals for/52 goals against in 26 games), Boston College (100 goals for/45 goals against in 24 games), and Quinnipiac (92 goals for/40 goals against in 25 games) boast 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 (19th) and Miami (t-20th) are close, with Western Michigan and Colorado College outside the top 25.

Western Michigan Team Profile

Head Coach: Andy Murray (5th season at WMU, 80-73-27, .519)

Pairwise Ranking: t-30th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 7-14-3 overall, 4-9-1-1 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 14-18-5 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 6-13-5-4 NCHC (7th)

Team Offense: 2.42 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.96 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.3% (16 of 79)
Penalty Kill: 68.8% (75 of 109)

Key Players: Freshman F Griffen Molino (7-11-18), Junior F Sheldon Dries (10-4-14), Freshman F Colt Conrad (5-8-13), Senior F Nolan LaPorte (5-6-11), Freshman D Oliver Kaski (4-7-11), Junior D Chris Dienes (2-8-10), Senior G Lukas Hafner (5-9-3, 3.49 GAA, .901 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 20-3-3, .827)

Pairwise Ranking: 3rd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #2/#2
This Season: 20-3-3 overall, 11-2-1-1 NCHC (2nd)
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: 1.77 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.8% (20 of 101)
Penalty Kill: 85.1% (86 of 101)

Key Players: Freshman F Brock Boeser (15-12-27), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (9-7-16), Junior forward Luke Johnson (7-7-14), Sophomore F Austin Poganski (6-9-15), Sophomore D Tucker Poolman (3-11-14), Junior D Troy Stecher (5-14-19), Junior D Paul LaDue (2-8-10), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (11-1-1, 1.42 GAA, .942 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: February 21, 2015 (Kalamazoo, MI). Western Michigan scored two extra-attacker goals in the last four minutes of the third period to knot the game at two, but Drake Caggiula sent the home fans home unhappy with a goal at 3:31 of overtime. Zane McIntyre made 34 of 36 saves for the Green and White, who also won Friday’s contest by a score of 3-1. The Broncos’ lone goal in the opener came with 33 seconds remaining in the game, also with the goalie pulled. Yes, that’s right, all three of WMU’s goals on the weekend came with an extra attacker on the ice.

Most Important Meeting: March 24, 2012 (St. Paul, MN). North Dakota upended Western Michigan 3-1 in the NCAA West Regional semifinal. Brock Nelson had two points, including an empty net goal with 25 seconds remaining that sent UND to the regional finals against Minnesota. Aaron Dell made 24 saves for the Green and White. The Broncos, who have played at the Division I level since 1975-76, have five NCAA tournament appearances but have not been in the national tournament since 2012.

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Saturday, March 22nd (Minneapolis, MN). North Dakota faced a must-win situation in the 3rd place game at the inaugural NCHC Frozen Faceoff, and did not disappoint the partisan crowd. The Green and White rolled to a 5-0 victory behind two first period goals from Conner Gaarder. UND netminder Zane Gothberg made 25 saves for the shutout, and Dave Hakstol’s crew played the waiting game for several more hours before discovering that they had indeed made the NCAA tournament for the 13th consecutive season.

All-time Series: In the short history between the schools, UND has won eleven of the twelve games, outscoring the Broncos 51-22. WMU’s lone victory over North Dakota was a 2-1 road win on March 8th, 2014. The teams first met in 1997.

Game News and Notes

UND forward Luke Johnson has collected three goals and four assists in seven career games against Western Michigan but was held off the scoresheet in last February’s road sweep. North Dakota is 9-1-1 on the road this season, while the Broncos are 6-2-1 at Lawson Ice Arena, suffering their first two home defeats of the year at the hands of St. Cloud State last weekend. UND has never lost in Kalamazoo (6-0-0). The Fighting Hawks and Broncos will also meet at Ralph Engelstad Arena on March 4th and 5th, the last two games of the regular season.

Media Coverage

Friday’s opener will not be televised, but Saturday’s contest will be shown live on American Sports Network, MidcoSN2, TSN2 (Canada), and WDAY’Z Extra. 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 can take a huge step forward in the league race with two NCHC victories this weekend. It won’t be easy, but UND showed last weekend that they can score without Caggiula and Schmaltz in the lineup. UND 4-1, 3-2.

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