NCHC Frozen Faceoff Preview: UND vs. Minnesota-Duluth

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.

In that same poll, North Dakota was picked to finish third (Denver was slotted in 2nd). The media also predicted that St. Cloud State would finish in 6th place.

It is my contention that the four teams competing at the 2016 NCHC Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis this weekend (UND, SCSU, DU, and UMD) are not just the four best teams in the league this season; they are the four who have been the best over the first three seasons of conference play.

Duluth has been able to stay relatively healthy (the Bulldogs’ top six forwards have only missed a combined three games, the top five blueliners have only missed seven, and their goaltender has appeared in all but one game). By comparison, UND’s top six forwards have missed sixteen games, the top five blueliners have missed ten, and North Dakota had to play third-string goaltender Matt Hrynkiw in fourteen contests due to injuries to both scholarship netminders.

Considering all of that, North Dakota’s 30-win season (the 12th in program history) and 2nd consecutive league championship (their 17th overall) have to be seen as a surprise while Duluth’s 17-14-5 mark and 4th place finish in the NCHC must be somewhat disappointing. All that can change for the Bulldogs, however, with a successful weekend in Minneapolis and a berth in the NCAA tournament. UMD would, of course, make the NCAAs with two victories; a single win (or a loss and a tie) might be enough, depending on the results of other league playoff games.

Junior forwards Dominic Toninato and Alex Iafallo have not been a huge factor for Scott Sandelin’s squad this season but could find their scoring touch this weekend. The pair scored 51 points in 68 combined games last season but have just 39 in 72 total games this year.

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 (23-0-2) 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 180 such situations (161-7-12).

North Dakota’s Brock Boeser traded roles with linemate Nick Schmaltz last weekend in a home sweep of Colorado College in the NCHC quarterfinals. Boeser, a first-year forward from Burnsville, Minnesota, collected five assists while Schmaltz netted three goals (to give him eight for the season). Here are the top five freshman point-getters in the nation:

1. Kyle Connor (Michigan): 30-31-61 in 34 games (1.79 points/game)
2. Brock Boeser (North Dakota): 25-23-48 in 36 games (1.33 points/game)
3. Dylan Gambrell (Denver): 15-27-42 in 36 games (1.17 points/game)
4. Colin White (Boston College): 18-22-40 in 33 games (1.21 points/game)
5. Max Letunov (Connecticut): 16-24-40 in 36 games (1.11 points/game)

Since 1983-84, the only UND freshman to score more goals than Boeser’s 25 was Zach Parise, who had 26 in 2002-03. In their first years at North Dakota, T.J. Oshie scored 24 and Jonathan Toews scored 22. The only other freshmen in Fighting Sioux men’s hockey history to score 25 or more goals in a season are Troy Murray (33 in 1980-81), Kevin Maxwell (31, 1978-79), Perry Berezan (31, 1983-84), and Cary Eades (27, 1978-79). In fact, of the first twelve rookies to reach the twenty-goal plateau, ten went on to play in the NHL (Eades and Ian Kallay were the exception).

Amazingly, UND is 7th of 60 teams nationally in scoring offense and 3rd in scoring defense, notching 139 goals and allowing only 69 in 38 games this season (Duluth has marks of 27th and 8th, respectively, and has outscored opponents 98-73 in 36 games). Nationally, only St. Cloud State (164 goals for/82 goals against in 38 games) and Boston College (143 goals for/71 goals against in 37 games) boast a better scoring margin than North Dakota. Quinnipiac is close behind, outscoring opponents 144-75 in 37 games.

North Dakota is now a stone-cold lock to make its 14th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, the longest active streak in men’s Division 1 ice hockey. 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 1st in the Pairwise rankings, one of four NCHC teams (along with St. Cloud State, Denver, and Minnesota-Duluth) who would make the NCAAs if the season ended today. To be fair, Duluth (13th) should be considered squarely on the playoff bubble (due to autobids and upsets in other conference tournaments), with Omaha (t-17th), Miami (26th), Western Michigan (43rd), and Colorado College (55th) on the outside looking in.

In the same way that North Dakota’s Cam Johnson, Brock Boeser, and Drake Caggiula were overlooked for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award (link opens video), Duluth’s Kasimir Kaskisuo was quite possibly the first goaltender left out of the Mike Richter Award conversation (given to the nation’s best netminder).

In the Hobey race, Caggiula, who missed four games due to injury, never quite regained the same form (15-15-30 in 23 games pre-injury; just 4-8-12 in the ten games after his return). Brock Boeser (25-23-48 in 36 games) was hurt by the fact that North Dakota promoted Caggiula for the award (rather than both of them), especially early in the year. Boeser began to attract more of the spotlight once Caggiula went out, going 3-3-6 in four games without his linemate and 7-10-17 down the stretch (ten games), but by then, it was too late to generate enough Hobey steam.

Despite the fact that sophomore netminder Cam Johnson (a Mike Richter Award finalist) leads the nation in goals-against average, save percentage, and winning percentage, he was not named as one of the ten Hobey Baker finalists. Here are the total stat lines for Johnson as well as Thatcher Demko (Boston College) and Alex Lyon (Yale), the two goaltenders who did make the final ballot:

Thatcher Demko: 25-6-4, 1.78 goals-against average, .938 save percentage, ten shutouts
Cam Johnson: 20-3-1, 1.58 goals-against average, .938 save percentage, five shutouts
Alex Lyon: 19-7-4, 1.59 goals-against average, .938 save percentage, five shutouts

And here’s the line for UMD’s Kasimir Kaskisuo: 17-13-5, 1.89 goals-against average, .924 save percentage, five shutouts

Kaskisuo’s thirteen losses certainly hurt him, but his goals-against average (8th) and shutout numbers (6th) are right up there with the best in the country. He only allowed 66 goals all season, not many more than Thatcher Demko (63), but he only made 800 saves to Demko’s 953, which caused his save percentage to suffer (20th in the country). To be fair, the low number of shots on net (25.3/game) is a credit to the team in front of him, but if Kaskisuo had a save percentage like Demko, Johnson, and Lyon (all tied for 1st in the nation at .938), the Bulldogs would have allowed twelve fewer goals on the season and would likely have flipped many of their seven one-goal losses to victories.

In the four head-to-head matchups between the teams, North Dakota’s Cam Johnson won the goaltending battle against Kasimir Kasisuo four times. Johnson shut out the Bulldogs twice in Duluth and allowed a single goal each night in Grand Forks, making a total of 137 saves on 139 shots in the four meetings. Kaskisuo allowed nine goals in the four games (including five at home), stopping 84 of the 93 shots he faced. Here are the stat lines for each in the season series:

Cam Johnson: 4-0-0, 0.49 goals-against average, .986 save percentage, two shutouts
Kasimir Kaskisuo: 0-4-0, 2.28 goals-against average, .903 save percentage

Another result of those four UND victories is that eight North Dakota players have already scored on Kaskisuo this season, and another five notched assists. That level of confidence might help the Hawks as they attempt to bury their chances in Friday’s first semifinal. On the other side of the ledger, only two Bulldogs (Dominic Toninato and Cal Decowski) have put a puck behind Johnson this season, while just three others have picked up a point against the former Fighting Sioux.

Special teams have not been the deciding factor between these two teams. In the four meetings this year, UND went just 2 for 17 with the man advantage; Duluth, 1 of 16.

Here are a few more interesting comparisons:

North Dakota’s record when scoring the first goal: 18-2-2
North Dakota’s record when opponent scores the first goal: 12-3-1
Minnesota-Duluth’s record when scoring the first goal: 14-6-1
Minnesota-Duluth’s record when opponent scores the first goal: 3-8-4

North Dakota’s record against the NCHC Frozen Faceoff field: 7-3-0 (29 goals scored, 22 goals allowed)
Minnesota-Duluth’s record against the NCHC Frozen Faceoff field: 2-6-2 (14 goals scored, 25 goals allowed)

North Dakota’s record in one-goal games: 7-1-0 (an overtime loss to Omaha)
Minnesota-Duluth’s record in one-goal games: 4-7-0 (including two one-goal losses at Denver and two more at North Dakota)

North Dakota’s road record: 13-3-1
North Dakota’s non-conference record: 9-1-2
Minnesota-Duluth’s road record: 7-8-3
Minnesota-Duluth’s non-conference record: 4-4-2

North Dakota scoring in the first period: 43 goals scored, 21 goals allowed
North Dakota scoring the rest of the way: 96 goals scored, 48 goals allowed
Minnesota-Duluth scoring in the first period: 31 goals scored, 18 goals allowed
Minnesota-Duluth scoring the rest of the way: 66 goals scored, 55 goals allowed

And finally, a look back to 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, 285-275-75, .508)

Pairwise Ranking: 13th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #16/#15
This Season: 17-14-5 overall, 11-10-3-1 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 21-16-3 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional finalist, 12-9-3-0 NCHC (5th)

Team Offense: 2.72 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.03 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 15.8% (23 of 146)
Penalty Kill: 86.2% (112 of 130)

Key Players: Senior F Austin Farley (13-15-28), Senior F Tony Cameranesi (10-24-34), Junior F Alex Iafallo (7-13-20), Junior F Dominic Toninato (13-6-19), Senior D Andy Welinski (6-13-19), Freshman D Neal Pionk (4-13-17), Sophomore G Kasimir Kaskisuo (17-13-5, 1.89 GAA, .924 SV%, 5 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 30-5-3, .829)

Pairwise Ranking: 1st of 60 teams
National Rankings: #1/#1
This Season: 30-5-3 overall, 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.66 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.82 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.5% (29 of 149) four of eight last wknd
Penalty Kill: 86.0% (123 of 143)

Key Players: Freshman F Brock Boeser (25-23-48), Senior F Drake Caggiula (19-23-42), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (8-32-40), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (11-10-21), Junior D Troy Stecher (7-19-26), Sophomore F Tucker Poolman (4-18-22), Junior D Paul LaDue (4-12-16), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (20-3-1, 1.58 GAA, .938 SV%, 5 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: February 20, 2016 (Grand Forks, ND). For the second consecutive night, the homestanding Hawks downed the Bulldogs by a score of 2-1. On this night, freshman phenom Brock Boeser netted the game winner at the 14:39 mark of the third period. Boeser also assisted on the game-tying goal late in the middle frame. In the series opener, sophomore forward Austin Poganski scored on a penalty shot in overtime to send the home fans happy. On the weekend, UND netminder Cam Johnson made 59 of 61 saves to earn his 14th and 15th victories of the season (four of those came against the Bulldogs).

Last Playoff Meeting: March 18, 2010 (St. Paul, MN). After eliminating Minnesota from the WCHA tournament (6-0, 2-4, 4-1) in an epic home quarterfinal series, UND headed down to Xcel Energy Center and turned their attention to Duluth. The Fighting Sioux blanked the Bulldogs 2-0 in front of 15,292 fans to advance to the Final Five semifinals. Jason Gregoire (shorthanded) and Evan Trupp scored third-period goals for the Green and White, who got 22 saves from Brad Eidsness. UMD’s Kenny Reiter made 32 saves. North Dakota went on to defeat Denver and St. Cloud State to claim the first of three consecutive Broadmoor Trophies.

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.

The Meeting That Never Was: Both teams advanced to the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four at Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minnesota). UND could not get past Michigan, falling 2-0 despite outshooting the Wolverines 40-20. In the other national semifinal, Minnesota-Duluth defeated Notre Dame 4-3 and rode that momentum to the title game. The Bulldogs took the Wolverines to overtime before senior forward Kyle Schmidt scored the game winner and earned UMD their first and only national championship. North Dakota won two of the three games against Duluth that season, outscoring Scott Sandelin’s team 11-5.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 144-77-9 (.646), but the teams have split five neutral site games (2-2-1). The teams first met in 1954, with North Dakota winning the first ten games between the schools 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 8-2-0 (.800) in the last ten games between the teams, outscoring Duluth 32-18 over that stretch.

Game News and Notes

UND netminder Cam Johnson has five shutouts this season and has allowed exactly one goal on 14 other occasions (including six of the past eight games). He has allowed three or more goals only six times in 28 appearances, going 0-2 with four no-decisions. By comparison, Duluth netminder Kasimir Kaskisuo (five shutouts) has allowed exactly one goal on ten other occasions (including four of the past eight games). Kaskisuo has allowed three or more goals twelve times this season (35 appearances), posting a record of 2-8-2 in those games. 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

UND and Duluth will face off at 4:08 p.m., with the game between SCSU and Denver scheduled to begin at 7:38 p.m. Both semifinals (as well as Saturday night’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game) will be televised on CBS Sports Network. The third-place game will be streamed live at 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

Pre-Game Events

UND fans attending the NCHC Frozen Faceoff are invited to join the UND Alumni Association & Foundation and UND Athletics for pregame festivities beginning three hours prior to any game in which UND is playing. The pregame events will be held at the Pourhouse in Minneaplois (10 South 5th Street), within walking distance of the Target Center. All UND alumni, family, and friends are invited to this free event with cash bars, a full restaurant, DJs, a live band, and more! The Pourhouse invites all UND fans back to the venue after each hockey game. The usual cover charge will be FREE to UND fans or anyone with a ticket.

The Prediction

Despite all of the stats in UND’s favor, this game is basically a coin flip due to the rivalry and playoff atmosphere. I don’t buy the argument that Duluth has “more to play for”: North Dakota wants to solidify its #1 overall ranking and atone for a 1-3 record in its first two NCHC Frozen Faceoff tournaments; the Bulldogs want to earn their way into the NCAAs and make their mark in the school’s first appearance. I can easily see this game going to overtime, with UND’s top-end talent sealing the deal. North Dakota 3-2 (OT).

Bonus Prediction

In the evening semifinal, it will be interesting to see which team the North Dakota fans cheer for. St. Cloud State has enough firepower to get the job done (particularly in front of a partisan crowd), but will the twenty Denver fans in attendance make enough noise to cheer their team to victory? I’ve got the Huskies in this one, setting up #1 vs. #2 in the title game. SCSU 5-2 (EN).

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