Weekend Preview: UND at Denver

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries. This weekend’s games will be the tenth and eleventh games played between the teams 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 last March when the two teams met in the third-place game at the 2015 NCHC Frozen Faceoff.

This weekend’s action will feature the top two rookies in the NCHC. North Dakota’s Brock Boeser currently leads the conference with 31 points, while Denver’s Dylan Gambrell is second with 26 points. Boeser is currently 22nd nationally in points among all scorers, while Gambrell is 50th. Here are the top five freshman point-getters in the nation:

1. Kyle Connor (Michigan): 20-24-44 in 25 games (1.76 points/game)
2. Colin White (Boston College): 16-19-35 in 26 games (1.35 points/game)
3. Brock Boeser (North Dakota): 18-13-31 in 26 games (1.19 points/game)
4. Max Letunov (Connecticut): 15-16-31 in 28 games (1.11 points/game)
5. Miles Wood (Boston College): 8-18-26 in 25 games (1.04 points/game)

Since 1999-2000, the only UND freshmen to score more goals than Boeser’s 18 are Zach Parise (26), T.J. Oshie (24), Jonathan Toews (22), Travis Zajac (20), and Brady Murray (19).

Denver goaltenders Tanner Jaillet (18 games played, 7-3-5, 2.52 GAA, .916 SV%, 2 SO) and Evan Cowley (12 games played, 6-5-0, 2.44 GAA, .917 SV%, 1 SO) have split time for the Pioneers this season, with Jaillet played just over sixty percent of the minutes in net. Both goalies started a game at Ralph Engelstad Arena back in December, and I expect each to play one game at Magness Arena this weekend.

Their counterpart in the UND net, sophomore Cam Johnson, began his stretch of 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) at home against Denver. The Hockey Commissioners’ Association and NCHC Player of the Month for the month of December had a couple of rough January outings, allowing four goals on 23 shots against Omaha and three goals on 11 shots against Colorado College in two consecutive Friday home starts. Johnson has bounced back with three outstanding games in a row (3-0-0, 0.67 goals against average, .975 save percentage, one shutout) and is currently first in the nation in both goals-against average (1.31) and save percentage (.948). Since returning November 27th after missing ten games due to injury, the Troy, Michigan native has collected a record of 12-1-0 with a GAA of 1.03, a SV% of .960, and five shutouts in fourteen starts.

During the 2015-16 campaign, Brad Berry’s squad is unbeaten (18-0-2) when leading after the first forty minutes of play. In fact, North Dakota has gone 66 straight games without a loss when leading after the first two periods. Amazingly, UND is 9th nationally in scoring offense and 2nd in scoring defense, notching 97 goals and allowing only 47 in 28 games this season. Nationally, only St. Cloud State (130 goals for/62 goals against in 30 games), Boston College (112 goals for/50 goals against in 28 games), and Quinnipiac (107 goals for/50 goals against in 28 games) boast a better scoring margin than North Dakota.

This season, the race for the Penrose Cup is down to North Dakota and St. Cloud State, the two teams tied at the top of the league standings. The Huskies (13-4-1-1, 41 points) are idle this weekend and have six league games remaining, while the Fighting Hawks (13-2-1-1, 41 points) have eight. SCSU and UND, winners of the first two NCHC regular season league titles, will not meet again in the regular season.

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. Miami (24th) and Minnesota-Duluth (t-25th) are within striking distance, with Western Michigan and Colorado College outside the top 25.

North Dakota has all 27 players on the roster available for the first time this season (13 players have missed a total of 62 games with injuries). UND’s potent top line of Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser, and Nick Schmaltz has only been together for one game over the past two months but will appear on the ice at Magness this weekend. The only players not on the trip to Denver (due to travel restrictions) are four freshman: goalies Ryan Anderson and Matej Tomek, defenseman Danys Chartrand, and forward Mike Gornall. There will be tough lineup decisions for head coach Brad Berry, but that’s a luxury he hasn’t had much this year. There will be a defenseman (most likely Hayden Shaw) and two forwards (my guesses would be Joel Janatuinen and Trevor Olson) sitting and watching Friday’s opener and waiting for a chance to play, and the players on the ice will be well aware that any drop in performance will have them trading in their jersey for a business suit and a seat in the stands.

UND has a road record of 11-1-1 this season, with their only loss coming at St. Cloud State in November. North Dakota has already collected road sweeps against Colorado College, Michigan State, Minnesota-Duluth, and Western Michigan. After this weekend, the Fighting Hawks’ only remaining road series is against Omaha on February 26th and 27th.

Denver Team Profile

Head Coach: Jim Montgomery (3rd season at DU, 57-38-13, .588)

Pairwise Ranking: 12th of 60 teams
National Ranking: #13/#13
This Season: 13-8-5 overall, 9-5-2-0 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 24-14-2 overall (NCAA East Regional finalist), 13-10-1-1 NCHC (4th)
Last Ten Games: 6-1-3 overall, 6-1-1-0 NCHC (19 of 24 possible league points)

Team Offense: 2.88 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.58 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 16.7% (16 of 96)
Penalty Kill: 83.5% (66 of 79)

Key Players: Sophomore F Danton Heinen (10-10-20), Freshman F Dylan Gambrell (7-19-26), Junior F Trevor Moore (4-20-24), Senior F Gabe Levin (5-5-10), Senior F Quentin Shore (8-6-14), Junior D Will Butcher (5-14-19), Senior D Nolan Zajac (2-12-14), Sophomore G Tanner Jaillet (7-3-5, 2.52 GAA, .916 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 22-3-3, .839)

Pairwise Ranking: 3rd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #2/#2
This Season: 22-3-3 overall, 13-2-1-1 NCHC (t-1st)
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: 1.68 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.1% (21 of 110)
Penalty Kill: 86.4% (95 of 110)

Key Players: Senior F Drake Caggiula (15-15-30), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (3-24-27), Freshman F Brock Boeser (18-13-31), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (9-8-17), Junior D Troy Stecher (5-14-19), Sophomore F Tucker Poolman (3-12-15), Junior D Paul LaDue (2-9-11), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (13-1-1, 1.31 GAA, .948 SV%, 5 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 5, 2015 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota forward Austin Poganski scored a shorthanded goal with one second remaining in the opening period and added a power play goal midway through the hockey game as UND blanked the visiting Pios 4-0. Cam Johnson stopped all 18 shots he faced and earned the first of four consecutive shutouts. UND also continually frustrated Denver in Friday’s opener and outscored the Pioneers 9-1 on the weekend to earn the home sweep.

Last Meeting in Denver: December 13, 2014. UND used goals by Nick Mattson, Nick Schmaltz, and Drake Caggiula and 32 saves from Zane McIntyre to down the homestanding Pioneers 3-1. Nolan Zajac scored the lone goal for DU at the nine minute mark of the third period to bring the Pios within two. Both teams went 0-3 with the man advantage. Denver won Friday’s opener 4-1 (with an empty netter scored at the 19:59 mark of period three).

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 the better of it lately, going 6-3-1 (.650) in the last ten meetings between the schools and outscoring Denver 31-22 over that span.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 142-120-9 (.540), although Denver owns a 70-53-3 (.567 advantage in games played at altitude. 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. DU has gone 0-4 against UND and St. Cloud State this season and 9-1-2 against the rest of the league. Brock Boeser (18-13-31 in 26 games) and Dylan Gambrell (7-19-26 in 26 games) are the top two rookie scorers in the NCHC.

Media Coverage

Friday’s game will be carried live on CBS Sports Network, while Saturday’s rematch will appear live on ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain. This series will not be 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

UND hasn’t swept in Denver since 2003 and hasn’t been swept at Magness Arena since a pair of one-goal losses in 2009. That trend continues this weekend, with the homestanding Pios ready to exact some revenge for December’s shellacking. North Dakota will rebound on Saturday, with the recently reunited CBS line leading the way. DU 3-2, UND 5-1.

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