Weekend Preview: UND vs. Western Michigan

Western Michigan has one victory in 2016 (1-11-2), with a home split versus Miami two weeks ago the only bright spot in a dismal second half.

North Dakota has only three losses during the same time frame (10-3-1) and finds itself alone in first place in the NCHC, needing only one point this weekend (by virtue of a single victory or tie) to win the Penrose Cup and league championship outright.

Freshmen are leading the way for the Western Michigan Broncos, as 22 of the team’s 70 goals (31 percent) have been scored by first-year players. First-year forward Griffen Molino (10-11-21) has slowed down considerably (in his last ten, a hat trick on February 20th vs. Miami but no points in the other nine contests) while two classmates, forward Colt Conrad (5-8-13) and blueliner Oliwer Kaski (4-8-12), have performed above expectations. Among other accolades, Molino was named the NCHC Rookie of the Month for December.

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 140 shorthanded situations already this season (compared to 113 power play opportunities). The Broncos’ power play has scored 20 goals this year (converting at 17.7%), but their penalty killers have allowed 41 goals to the opposition. By comparison, North Dakota has scored 23 power play goals and allowed sixteen in an equal number of man-advantage and shorthanded situations (129 each).

UND has the nation’s best penalty kill since December 1st, allowing just three power play goals in 67 penalty kill situations (95.5 percent). The Fighting Hawks have killed twelve straight power plays and have held their opponent without a man advantage goal in eight of the past nine games.

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 (3.59 goals-against average and a save percentage of .897), 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, rebounded from two rough losses in Denver (eight goals allowed on 54 shots; .889 save percentage) to post a home sweep of Duluth and a road sweep of Omaha over the past two weekends. Johnson made 105 of 110 saves in the four wins and is currently second in the nation in both goals-against average (1.54) and save percentage (.940) with 17 wins (9th in the country) and five shutouts (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 (17-0-1) 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 39-39-11 (.500) 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 25-36-10 (.423) record against the other four major hockey conferences.

North Dakota’s Brock Boeser is one of the best rookies in the country. Here are the top five freshman point-getters in the nation:

1. Kyle Connor (Michigan): 26-28-54 in 30 games (1.80 points/game)
2. Colin White (Boston College): 17-22-39 in 30 games (1.30 points/game)
3. Dylan Gambrell (Denver): 13-26-39 in 32 games (1.22 points/game)
4. Max Letunov (Connecticut): 16-23-39 in 34 games (1.15 points/game)
5. Brock Boeser (North Dakota): 22-15-37 in 32 games (1.16 points/game)

Since 1999-2000, the only UND freshmen to score more goals than Boeser’s 22 are Zach Parise (26) and T.J. Oshie (24). Jonathan Toews also had 22 goals in his first year at North Dakota. Other Fighting Sioux freshman to score 22 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). In fact, 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).

Amazingly, UND is 10th of 60 teams nationally in scoring offense and 2nd in scoring defense, notching 114 goals and allowing only 62 in 32 games this season. Nationally, only St. Cloud State (142 goals for/72 goals against in 34 games), Boston College (134 goals for/64 goals against in 34 games), Quinnipiac (129 goals for/65 goals against in 34 games), and Michigan (142 goals for/88 goals against in 30 games) boast a better scoring margin than North Dakota.

It is looking like North Dakota is a lock to make its 14th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. One reason for that outlook is that UND went 9-1-2 in non-conference games this season, with a home split against Wisconsin accounting for the only loss in twelve games. The Fighting Hawks are currently 2nd 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. Minnesora-Duluth (t-14th) and Miami (18th) sit squarely on the playoff bubble, with Western Michigan and Colorado College outside the top 30.

In terms of scoring depth, Western Michigan has just three players averaging a point per weekend, while North Dakota has eight. The Broncos have allowed 51 more goals than they have scored (70-121), while the Fighting Hawks are currently a plus-52 in scoring differential (114-62).

Western Michigan Team Profile

Head Coach: Andy Murray (5th season at WMU, 81-80-27, .503)

Pairwise Ranking: t-37th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 8-21-3 overall, 5-16-1-1 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 14-18-5 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 6-13-5-4 NCHC (7th)

Team Offense: 2.19 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.78 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.7% (20 of 113)
Penalty Kill: 70.7% (99 of 140)

Key Players: Freshman F Griffen Molino (10-11-21), Junior F Sheldon Dries (10-7-17), Freshman F Colt Conrad (5-8-13), Senior F Nolan LaPorte (7-7-14), Freshman D Oliwer Kaski (4-8-12), Junior D Chris Dienes (2-10-12), Senior G Lukas Hafner (5-16-3, 3.59 GAA, .897 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 26-5-3, .809)

Pairwise Ranking: 2nd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #2/#2
This Season: 26-5-3 overall, 17-4-1-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.35 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.82 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.8% (23 of 129)
Penalty Kill: 87.6% (113 of 129)

Key Players: Senior F Drake Caggiula (17-19-36), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (4-26-30), Freshman F Brock Boeser (22-15-37), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (10-9-19), Junior D Troy Stecher (6-16-22), Sophomore F Tucker Poolman (4-15-19), Junior D Paul LaDue (3-9-12), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (17-3-1, 1.54 GAA, .940 SV%, 5 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 30, 2016 (Kalamazoo, MI). Brock Boeser scored the game-winning goal with less than three minutes remaining in a wild second period that saw all three goals scored (UND won 2-1) and a combined 33 shots on goal (North Dakota outshot WMU 19-14 for the period and 37-29 for the game). The Fighting Hawks won Friday’s opener 2-0 (both goals by Boeser) despite being outshot 31-30.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: March 18, 2014. Western Michigan’s Colton Hargrove scored a shorthanded goal (his second of the game) eight minutes into the third period to break a 1-1 tie, and the Broncos held on to defeat homestanding North Dakota 2-1 in front of almost 12,000 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena. WMU’s victory was its first and only win in fourteen games against UND, who won Friday’s opener 2-0.

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 22, 2014 (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 12th consecutive season.

All-time Series: In the short history between the schools, UND has won thirteen of the fourteen games, outscoring the Broncos 55-23. WMU’s lone victory over North Dakota was the aforementioned 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 nine career games against Western Michigan but is scoreless in his last four against the Broncos. WMU is a dismal 1-13-2 on the road this season. North Dakota’s Penrose Cup championship marks the 17th time that a UND hockey team has claimed a regular season conference title. No Division 1 men’s hockey program has won more conference championships than North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks will honor four seniors – forwards Drake Caggiula, Bryn Chyzyk, Coltyn Sanderson, and Coltyn St. Clair – before Saturday’s regular season finale.

Media Coverage

Friday’s opener, starting at 8:07 Central Time, will be televised on CBS Sports Network, while Saturday’s rematch will be shown on Midco Sports Network 2 and FOX College Sports Atlantic. A high definition webcast of Saturday’s game will also 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

North Dakota will dominate on Friday to secure the Penrose Cup outright. With less motivation on Saturday, it will be a struggle. UND 5-1, 3-2.

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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