The Northeastern Huskies, a Division I program since 1929, are making their fifth national tournament appearance in school history this weekend. NU failed to advance past the first round of the NCAAs in 1988, 1994, and 2009. The bright spot for the Huskies? A Frozen Four appearance in 1982. The opponent? North Dakota.
The University of North Dakota blitzed NU by a score of 6-2 in the national semifinals on their way to a fourth NCAA title. Current NU head coach Jim Madigan played at Northeastern from 1981 to 1985 (voted Rookie of the Year in 1982) and was an assistant coach from 1986 to 1993 before becoming the program’s ninth head coach in 2011. In between coaching stints with the Huskies, Madigan was a professional scout for the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins, winning a Stanley Cup with the latter in 2009.
Northeastern, a member of ECAC beginning in 1961, moved to Hockey East in 1984 when that conference was formed. The Huskies have never won a regular season conference title but had two league playoff championships to their credit (1982 ECAC, 1988 Hockey East) before accomplishing that feat again last weekend.
For five seasons in the 1980s (1984-89), the Fighting Sioux and Huskies met regularly as part of a schedule agreement that saw games between the WCHA and Hockey East count in both leagues’ conference standings. During that stretch, North Dakota went 4-2-2 against Northeastern. The teams have not met since October 2007.
Northeastern’s strong second half (20-1-2 after a 1-11-2 start) propelled the Huskies to the sixth twenty-win season in program history. Two of the previous five most successful years (1982 and 2009) saw NU reach the 25 victory plateau.
By comparison, North Dakota has won at least twenty games in each of the past fourteen seasons and has a run of fourteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances (the longest active streak in men’s Division I hockey and the second-longest all-time). The benchmark for UND has been thirty victories, a feat twelve teams in program history (including this year’s squad) have been able to accomplish.
Since 2004-05, UND has gone 16-4 in NCAA regional games and has qualified for the Frozen four in seven of those eleven seasons. No team has advanced to more national semifinal games in that time.
Many within the Huskies’ program credit a trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland with turning their season around. The New York Times did an excellent job on that story here.
Here are some amazing first half/second half splits for Northeastern:
Overall record, scoring offense, scoring defense:
First 14 games: 1-11-2 record, 1.9 goals for/game, 3.4 goals against/game
Last 26 games: 21-2-3 record, 4.1 goals for/game, 2.0 goals against/game
First 14 games: 14.3% on the power play, 75.9% on the penalty kill
Last 26 games: 29.1% on the power play, 81.8% on the penalty kill
North Dakota has been strong all season long, losing back-to-back games only once in six situations (4-1-1). UND’s offense receives most of the accolades (particularly the ‘CBS’ line of Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser, and Nick Schmaltz), but there may not be a better defensive group in the nation than Gage Ausmus, Paul LaDue, Tucker Poolman, Hayden Shaw, Troy Stecher, Keaton Thompson, and Christian Wolanin. One of the freshmen (Shaw or Wolanin) will sit for today’s tournament game, but all seven have shown the ability to take over games in all three zones.
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 has traded roles with linemate Nick Schmaltz over the past two weekends of play. Boeser, a first-year forward from Burnsville, Minnesota, has collected eight assists over those four games while Schmaltz has netted five goals (to give him ten for the season). Here are the top five freshman point-getters in the nation:
1. Kyle Connor (Michigan): 35-34-69 in 36 games (1.92 points/game)
2. Brock Boeser (North Dakota): 25-26-51 in 38 games (1.34 points/game)
3. Dylan Gambrell (Denver): 15-28-43 in 38 games (1.13 points/game)
4. Colin White (Boston College): 19-22-41 in 34 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). Boeser assisted on all three UND goals at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff last weekend and joined Zach Parise (25-35-61) as the only North Dakota freshmen in the past 35 years to notch at least 50 points.
Amazingly, UND is 8th of 60 teams nationally in scoring offense and 3rd in scoring defense, notching 142 goals and allowing only 74 in 40 games this season (Northeastern has marks of 12th and 20th, respectively, and has outscored opponents 132-99 in 40 games). Nationally, only St. Cloud State (171 goals for/85 goals against in 40 games), Boston College (147 goals for/76 goals against in 38 games), and Quinnipiac (151 goals for/77 goals against in 39 games) boast a better scoring margin than North Dakota. Michigan (176 goals for/108 goals against in 37 games) is tied with UND with a +68 goal differential.
Northeastern has easily the worst penalty kill (46th) of any team in the national tournament. The Huskies have allowed 27 power play goals in 131 shorthanded situations (79.4 percent).
Here are a few more interesting comparisons:
North Dakota’s record when leading/tied after one period of play: 26-5-4
North Dakota’s record when trailing after one period of play: 4-1-0
Northeastern’s record when leading/tied after one period of play: 20-3-1
Northeastern’s record when trailing after one period of play: 2-10-4
North Dakota’s record against the NCAA tournament field: 7-4-1
Northeastern’s record against the NCAA tournament field: 5-8-4
North Dakota’s record in one-goal games: 7-1-0
Northeastern’s record in one-goal games: 6-7-0
North Dakota’s road/neutral site record: 14-4-3
Northeastern’s road/neutral site record: 12-8-4
The first period of today’s regional semifinal will tell the tale for the remainder of the contest. Will the Huskies continue to ride their wave of momentum? Will an early North Dakota goal (or three) allow doubt to creep in on the Northeastern bench? How much will NCAA tournament experience factor in? How will UND head coach Brad Berry use the last line change to his advantage? With all of the extra television timeouts, will the teams shorten their benches?
Northeastern Team Profile
Head Coach: Jim Madigan (5th season at NU, 79-80-22, .497)
Pairwise Ranking: 13th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #9/#10
This Season: 22-13-5 overall, 10-8-4 Hockey East (6th of 12 teams)
Last Season: 16-16-4 overall, 11-9-2 Hockey East (6th of 12 teams)
Team Offense: 3.30 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.48 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 23.5% (39 of 166)
Penalty Kill: 79.4% (104 of 131)
Key Players: Junior F Zach Aston-Reese (14-29-43), Sophomore F Nolan Stevens (19-22-41), Junior F John Stevens (10-25-35), Senior F Mike McMurtry (8-22-30), Sophomore D Garret Cockerill (8-13-21), Junior D Matt Benning (5-13-18), Freshman G Ryan Ruck (20-10-4, 2.26 GAA, .912 SV%, 2 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 30-6-4, .800)
Pairwise Ranking: 3rd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #3/#3
This Season: 30-6-4 overall, 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)
Team Offense: 3.55 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.85 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.8% (29 of 154)
Penalty Kill: 86.7% (130 of 150)
Key Players: Freshman F Brock Boeser (25-26-51), Senior F Drake Caggiula (19-25-44), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (10-32-42), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (11-10-21), Junior D Troy Stecher (8-19-27), Sophomore F Tucker Poolman (4-18-22), Junior D Paul LaDue (4-12-16), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (20-4-2, 1.64 GAA, .935 SV%, 5 SO)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: October 20, 2007 (Boston, MA). #1-ranked North Dakota got to play three periods of hockey on their second night in Boston after only playing two periods at Boston College one night earlier due to foggy conditions. As it turned out, UND needed the final frame to pull away from Northeastern, who put 31 shots on goal but could not solve Jean-Phillippe Lamoureux (third consecutive shutout). North Dakota scored a first period power play goal (Brad Miller) and scored twice on odd-man rushes in the third period (Rylan Kaip, Andrew Kozek) to down the Huskies 3-0. Northeastern went 0-for-7 with the man advantage.
Most Important Meeting: March 25, 1982 (Providence, RI). North Dakota rolled to the title game with a 6-2 victory over NU. Current Huskies’ head coach Jim Madigan, who was a player at the time, was quoted at yesterday’s press conference by Brad Schlossman as saying, “I think they had ten guys who played in the National Hockey League for a long time. They were much bigger and more physical, tougher and meaner than we were.” Northeastern would go on to defeat New Hampshire 10-4 in the 3rd place game.
All-time Series: UND holds a 9-5-3 (.618) advantage all-time against Northeastern, but the series is tied 4-4-2 over the past ten games.
Game News and Notes
UND netminder Cam Johnson has five shutouts this season and has allowed exactly one goal on fifteen other occasions (including seven of the last ten games). He has allowed three or more goals only seven times in 30 appearances, going 0-3 with four no-decisions. By comparison, Northeastern netminder Ryan Ruck (two shutouts) has allowed exactly one goal on seven other occasions (including three of the past ten games). Ruck has allowed three or more goals thirteen times this season (36 appearances), posting a record of 4-7-2 in those games. North Dakota’s all-time winning percentage of .658 (48-25) in the NCAA tourney is the best in the country.
UND and NU will face off at 1:00 p.m. CT, with the game shown live on ESPNU as well as TSN2 in Canada. There will also be a webcast available via the ESPN3/WatchESPN app. 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.
UND fans attending the NCAA Midwest Regional in Cincinnati are invited to gather for pregame festivities beginning three hours prior to any game in which UND is playing. The pregame events will be held at the Moerlein Lager House (115 Joe Nuxhall Way), within walking distance of U.S. Bank Arena. All UND alumni, family, and friends are invited to this free event with cash bars, a full menu, and more! There are also watch parties organized in Bloomington, Cedar Rapids, Denver, Dickinson, Grand Forks, Hatton, Minneapolis, and Waite Park. For more information or to see if more events are being planned, please visit ndchampionsclub.com.
It plays to North Dakota’s advantage that most of the hype leading up to this contest has been focused on Northeastern. UND has all of the advantages afforded the top seed in their regional (last change, home locker room, etc.) but can approach this game as the underdog. Furthermore, last weekend’s disappointing results in Minneapolis have Brad Berry’s squad focused and ready, while the Huskies might fall victim to “we’re just happy to be here” syndrome. A first period advantage would be big for NU, as they have not shown much ability to come back. As it stands, North Dakota has too much talent and experience to let this opportunity slip away. UND 4, NU 2
In the Midwest Regional’s second semifinal, the Wolverines and Fighting Irish will go down to the wire, with Kyle Connor proving yet again why he is not only the nation’s best rookie but also the nation’s best player. Michigan 5, Notre Dame 4