Weekend Preview: UND vs. Minnesota-Duluth

Heading into their December home series with UND, the Bulldogs had just gone through a four-game stretch during which they dismantled Colorado College and Western Michigan by a combined score of 24-2. Duluth went 9-for-21 (nearly 43 percent) with the man advantage over those two weekends and was converting at a 21.7% rate for the season. Furthermore, UMD had scored 48 goals over its first 15 contests (3.2 goals/game).

North Dakota blanked UMD on the weekend (3-0 each night) and killed all nine Bulldog power plays. Duluth has gone just 2 for 48 (4.2%) with the man advantage since December 11th and has just 26 goals in the past 13 games. Aside from a 5-2 victory at Miami on January 9th, the Bulldogs only impressive offensive output in the second half of the season came in consecutive home victories over Colorado College (5-3, 3-2) two weekends ago.

In short, Duluth is still controlling the puck and getting shots to the net; they just aren’t scoring. And to make matters worse for Scott Sandelin’s crew, North Dakota has the nation’s best penalty kill (52 of 54, 96.3%) since December 1st. On the season, UND’s penalty kill is at 87.1 percent, good for fifth in the nation.

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 season has to be seen as a disappointment. While it is true that UMD is still in the mix for home ice in the NCHC playoffs, the Bulldogs are currently tied for 22nd in the Pairwise rankings and will need to string some victories together (or win the NCHC Frozen Faceoff) to make the national tournament.

Junior forwards Dominic Toninato and Alex Iafallo have not been a huge factor for the Bulldogs this season after torching opponents last year. The pair combined for 51 points in 68 combined games last season but are stuck on 28 combined points (14 each) through the team’s first 28 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 four times in the past 14 games dating back December 5th.

A 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).

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: 48-26-10 (.631, 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: 2-7-0 (.286)
NCHC record vs. Hockey East: 5-12-7 (.354)
NCHC record vs. WCHA: 19-4-2 (.800)

The six teams in the Big Ten (Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin) are a combined 38-39-11 (.494) in non-league play, the third-worst winning percentage in college hockey. Not including a 12-3-1 mark against Atlantic Hockey and a 2-0-0 record against D-I independents, the Big Ten sports a dismal 24-36-10 (.414) record against the other four major hockey conferences.

North Dakota’s Brock Boeser is tied with Denver’s Dylan Gambrell for the most points among first-year players in the NCHC, and both are among the best in the country. Here are the top five freshman point-getters in the nation:

1. Kyle Connor (Michigan): 22-26-48 in 27 games (1.78 points/game)
2. Colin White (Boston College): 17-19-36 in 28 games (1.29 points/game)
3. Brock Boeser (North Dakota): 19-14-33 in 28 games (1.18 points/game)
4. Dylan Gambrell (Denver): 10-23-33 in 29 games (1.14 points/game)
5. Max Letunov (Connecticut): 15-18-33 in 30 games (1.10 points/game)

Since 1999-2000, the only UND freshmen to score more goals than Boeser’s 19 are Zach Parise (26), T.J. Oshie (24), Jonathan Toews (22), and Travis Zajac (20). Brady Murray also had 19 goals in his first year at North Dakota. Other Fighting Sioux freshman to score 20 or more goals in a season include Troy Murray (33 in 1980-81), Kevin Maxwell (31, 1978-79), Perry Berezan (31, 1983-84), Cary Eades (27, 1978-79), Ian Kallay (23, 1995-96), Garry Valk (23, 1987-88), Doug Smail (22, 1977-78), and Mark Taylor (22, 1976-77). Of the first twelve rookies to reach the twenty-goal plateau, ten went on to play in the NHL (Eades and Kallay were the exception).

Duluth’s top two freshman, forward Adam Johnson and defenseman Neal Pionk, have 12 points each.

UND netminder Cam Johnson racked up 120 of his 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 Duluth, two of his four consecutive shutouts. The Hockey Commissioners’ Association and NCHC Player of the Month for the month of December had two rough outings last weekend at altitude, allowing eight goals on 54 shots (.889) in consecutive road losses to Denver. Johnson is currently second in the nation in both goals-against average (1.61) and save percentage (.937).

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 8th nationally in scoring offense and 4th in scoring defense, notching 102 goals and allowing only 57 in 30 games this season. Nationally, only St. Cloud State (130 goals for/62 goals against in 30 games), Boston College (123 goals for/58 goals against in 30 games), Quinnipiac (113 goals for/56 goals against in 30 games), and Michigan (129 goals for/81 goals against in 27 games) boast a better scoring margin than North Dakota.

My article, the race for the Penrose Cup is down to North Dakota and St. Cloud State, may have been a bit premature. Denver’s home sweep of North Dakota has them just three points back of the league leaders, although the Pioneers (12-5-2-0, 38 points) have only five conference games remaining. The Huskies (13-4-1-1, 41 points) and the Fighting Hawks (13-2-1-1, 41 points) each have six:

UND: vs. Duluth, at Omaha, vs. Western Michigan
SCSU: at Omaha, vs. Duluth, at Colorado College
DU: vs. Colorado College (one game), at Western Michigan, vs. Omaha

St. Cloud State and North Dakota were winners of the first two NCHC regular season league titles. Denver’s last league title came in 2010 (WCHA).

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, Denver, and Omaha) who would make the NCAAs if the season ended today. Miami (20th) and Minnesota-Duluth (t-22nd) are within striking distance, with Western Michigan and Colorado College outside the top 25.

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, 279-273-75, .505)

Pairwise Ranking: t-22nd of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 11-12-5 overall, 7-8-3-1 NCHC (t-4th)
Last Season: 21-16-3 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional finalist, 12-9-3-0 NCHC (5th)

Team Offense: 2.64 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.18 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 14.5% (17 of 117) 2 of last 48 (used to be 15 of 69, 21.7%
Penalty Kill: 84.8% (89 of 105)

Key Players: Senior F Austin Farley (13-13-26), Senior F Tony Cameranesi (9-18-27), Junior F Alex Iafallo (6-8-14), Junior F Dominic Toninato (10-4-14), Senior D Andy Welinski (4-13-17), Freshman D Neal Pionk (2-10-12), Sophomore G Kasimir Kaskisuo (11-11-5, 2.01 GAA, .918 SV%, 4 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 22-5-3, .783)

Pairwise Ranking: 3rd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #4/#4
This Season: 22-5-3 overall, 13-4-1-1 NCHC (t-1st)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.40 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.90 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.6% (22 of 118)
Penalty Kill: 87.1% (101 of 116)

Key Players: Senior F Drake Caggiula (15-17-32), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (4-25-29), Freshman F Brock Boeser (19-14-33), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (9-8-17), Junior D Troy Stecher (6-15-21), Sophomore F Tucker Poolman (3-13-16), Junior D Paul LaDue (2-9-11), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (13-3-1, 1.61 GAA, .937 SV%, 5 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 12, 2015 (Duluth, MN). It was déjà vu all over again for the Bulldogs, as North Dakota continually frustrated the home squad. UND scored two second period power play goals just 31 seconds apart and Luke Johnson added a shorthanded empty netter late in the third as the Fighting Hawks blanked UMD 3-0 for the second consecutive night. Duluth outshot North Dakota 38-20 for the game (and 78-42 for the weekend) but could not score with the man advantage, going 0-for-4 one night after an 0-for-5 performance.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: January 10, 2015. #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.

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, 142-77-9 (.643), including a 78-33-3 (.697) record in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1954, with North Dakota winning the first ten games against “Duluth Branch” 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 7-2-1 (.750) in the last ten games between the teams, outscoring Duluth 36-23 over that stretch. UND has won three straight and five of the last six.

Game News and Notes

The Bulldogs are 1-9-4 against teams in the top 15 of the Pairwise rankings and 10-3-1 against other opponents. North Dakota is 8-4-0 against nationally-ranked teams this season. The Fighting Hawks can clinch home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs by capturing one or more points (via a win or a tie) this weekend. UND has hosted the first round for 13 consecutive seasons, the longest active streak in men’s college hockey. 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

Friday’s game will be shown live on CBS Sports Network, with the game also available on DirecTV 221 and DISH 158. Saturday’s rematch will be available on Midco Sports Network, FOX College Sports Central, DirecTV 608, and DISH 444. A high definition webcast of Saturday’s game will be available to NCHC.tv subscribers (Friday’s opener will not be streamed). 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 needs to rebound after two poor performances last weekend, and they will. The Fighting Hawks will blow the doors off of Duluth in the opener, with Saturday’s game going down to the wire. UND 4-1, 3-2 (OT).

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

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