The top two programs in NCAA Division I men’s hockey history will square off today with a chance to advance to the 2016 Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida. The Michigan Wolverines are seeking their tenth NCAA championship, while North Dakota is looking to hoist banner number eight.
It is worth noting that Michigan collected six national championships by 1956. In the past 55 years, the Wolverines have three. During that same span (1957-2010), the Fighting Sioux have won seven national titles, most recently in 2000.
The Fighting Hawks and Wolverines also boast the top two lines and the top two rookies in all of college hockey. Michigan’s Kyle Connor (35-35-70) is the nation’s Rookie of the Year and the prohibitive favorite to win the Hobey Baker Memorial Award. UND’s Brock Boeser (26-28-54) is second in the country in scoring among freshmen.
Red Berenson’s ‘CCM’ line of Connor, JT Compher (14-47-61), and Tyler Motte (32-25-57) has scored more goals than nine other college hockey teams this season. North Dakota’s ‘CBS’ line has Boeser paired with Drake Caggiula (20-25-45) and Nick Schmaltz (10-34-44). With the last line change, UND head coach Brad Berry will likely keep his top line away from the CCM trio and instead counter with his “heavy line” of Rhett Gardner, Luke Johnson, and Austin Poganski.
Despite their combined 67 tournament appearances (Michigan 36, North Dakota 31), the two teams have only met four times in the NCAA playoffs. In 1998 and 2011, Michigan ended two of the most promising seasons in North Dakota men’s hockey history. The Wolverines hosted UND at the NCAA Midwest Regional at Yost Ice Arena (their home rink) on March 28, 1998 and took down a 30-7-1 Fighting Sioux team by the score of 4-3, ending North Dakota’s promising season one game short of the Frozen Four. The 2011 Matt Frattin-led UND squad outshot Michigan 40-20 but couldn’t light the lamp and fell 2-0 (a full summary is below).
North Dakota has enjoyed twenty consecutive seasons of unprecedented success, advancing to the NCAA tournament 19 times with ten Frozen Four appearances and two national titles. Brad Berry is in his first year behind the North Dakota bench but has already set the program record for most wins by a rookie head coach (31). Michigan’s Red Berenson won titles with the Wolverines in 1996 and 1998, and has taken his team to nine other Frozen Fours since 1991 (two since 2003).
The Maize and Blue played in the NCAA tournament for 22 consecutive seasons, a streak that ended in 2011 (before that stretch, Michigan had appeared in the national tournament once between 1964 and 1990). With their fourteenth consecutive NCAA tourney bid, North Dakota boasts the longest active streak in men’s Division I college hockey (and the second-longest of all time). Since 2004-05, UND has gone 17-4 (.810) 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).
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, 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 regional final (Wolanin was in the stands yesterday), but all seven have shown the ability to take over games in all three zones. Expect the top two pairs (Poolman-LaDue and Ausmus-Stecher) to be on the ice every time Michigan’s CCM line hops over the boards.
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 (24-0-2) 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 181 such situations (162-7-12).
North Dakota’s Brock Boeser has traded roles with linemate Nick Schmaltz over the past three weekends of play. Boeser, a first-year forward from Burnsville, Minnesota, has collected ten assists over those five 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): 35-35-70 in 37 games (1.89 points/game)
2. Brock Boeser (North Dakota): 26-28-54 in 39 games (1.38 points/game)
3. Dylan Gambrell (Denver): 15-28-43 in 38 games (1.13 points/game)
4. Colin White (Boston College): 19-23-42 in 35 games (1.20 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 as many goals as Boeser’s 26 was Zach Parise, who also 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 more than 25 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, added three points against Northeastern yesterday, 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 7th of 60 teams nationally in scoring offense and 3rd in scoring defense, notching 148 goals and allowing only 76 in 41 games this season (Michigan has marks of 1st and 36th, respectively, and has outscored opponents 179-110). Nationally, only St. Cloud State (171 goals for/85 goals against in 40 games), Boston College (151 goals for/77 goals against in 39 games), and Quinnipiac (151 goals for/77 goals against in 39 games) boast a better scoring margin than North Dakota.
Here are a few more interesting comparisons:
North Dakota’s record when leading/tied after one period of play: 27-5-4
North Dakota’s record when trailing after one period of play: 4-1-0
Michigan’s record when leading/tied after one period of play: 22-3-3
Michigan’s record when trailing after one period of play: 3-4-2
North Dakota’s record against the NCAA tournament field: 8-4-1
Michigan’s record against the NCAA tournament field: 3-1-0
North Dakota’s record in one-goal games: 7-1-0
Michigan’s record in one-goal games: 3-5-0
North Dakota’s road/neutral site record: 15-4-3
Michigan’s road/neutral site record: 13-4-3
Michigan’s 3-2 overtime victory over Notre Dame yesterday marked their first win in extra time this season. The Wolverines were previously 0-3-5.
To this point, UND has played the 11th most difficult schedule in the country (according to KRACH). Michigan’s strength of schedule is in the middle of the pack, 30th of sixty teams in Division I men’s hockey and the worst of any tournament team not named Ferris State or RIT. Coming in to the NCAA tourney, Red Berenson’s squad had played only three games against the field, splitting a pair with Boston University (2-3 L, 4-2 W) in November and defeating Ferris State University 5-2 in February.
By comparison, the NCHC schedule prepared the Fighting Hawks for March and April, with twelve games combined against Denver, Duluth, and St. Cloud State. UND went 7-4-1 in those games.
The Wolverines boast the nation’s top power play unit (47 power play goals scored in 148 attempts; 31.76 percent) but are just 42nd of 60 teams on the penalty kill (26 power play goals allowed in 131 attempts; 80.2 percent).
Michigan Team Profile
Head Coach: Red Berenson (32nd season at Michigan, 835-406-89, .661)
Pairwise Ranking: 7th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #5/#6
This Season: 25-7-5 overall, 12-5-3-2 Big Ten (2nd)
Last Season: 22-15-0 overall, 12-8-0-0 Big Ten (3rd)
Team Offense: 4.84 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.97 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 31.8% (47 of 148)
Penalty Kill: 80.2% (105 of 131)
Key Players: Freshman F Kyle Connor (35-35-70), Junior F JT Compher (14-47-61), Junior F Tyler Motte (32-23-55), Sophomore D Zach Werenski (11-24-35), Junior D Michael Downing (3-17-20), Senior G Steve Racine (20-5-3, 2.85 GAA, .913 SV%, 1 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 31-6-4, .805)
Pairwise Ranking: 3rd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #3/#3
This Season: 31-6-4 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: 3.61 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.85 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.4% (30 of 155)
Penalty Kill: 86.8% (132 of 152)
Key Players: Freshman F Brock Boeser (26-28-54), Senior F Drake Caggiula (20-25-45), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (10-34-44), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (12-10-22), Junior D Troy Stecher (8-19-27), Sophomore F Tucker Poolman (5-18-23), Junior D Paul LaDue (4-12-16), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (21-4-2, 1.66 GAA, .934 SV%, 5 SO)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: April 7, 2011 (St. Paul, MN). In what many faithful fans call “The One That Got Away”, the Fighting Sioux dominated the national semifinal game for long stretches but could not solve Michigan netminder Shawn Hunwick (40 saves). Ben Winnett scored the game-winner at 13:26 of the first period, and the Wolverines survived the last two periods during which UND outshot Michigan 26-7. Red Berenson’s crew was committed to the defensive side of the game, blocking sixteen North Dakota shots. The Wolverines added a late empty net goal to make the final score 2-0, and UND lost its first game since January 28th. Michigan would fall to Duluth 3-2 in overtime two nights later.
Last Ten Games: North Dakota holds a record of 6-3-1 (.650) in the last ten meetings between the schools. The teams have not been a part of the same conference since Michigan left for the CCHA in 1981.
All-time Series: Michigan leads the series 46-40-4 (.533). Each team was won two of the four NCAA tournament games between the schools. The teams first met on January 9, 1948, a 6-5 UND victory that put North Dakota hockey on the map. The Wolverines would win the next ten meetings between the schools by a combined score of 89-32.
Game News and Notes
UND netminder Cam Johnson has five shutouts this season and has allowed exactly one goal on fifteen other occasions (including six of the last ten games). He has allowed three or more goals only seven times in 31 appearances, going 0-3 with four no-decisions. By comparison, Michigan netminder Steve Racine (one shutout) has allowed exactly one goal on six other occasions (including two of the past ten games). Racine has allowed three or more goals fourteen times this season (30 appearances), posting a record of 6-5-3 in those games. North Dakota’s all-time winning percentage of .662 (49-25) in the NCAA tourney is the best in the country. UND is one win away from their third straight Frozen Four.
UND and Michigan will face off at 5:00 p.m. CT, with the game shown live on ESPN2 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 today’s regional championship. 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 additional events have been planned, please visit ndchampionsclub.com.
All of the advantages are in UND’s corner: last line change, more time between games for rest and preparation, and playoff experience. Michigan’s goaltending is suspect, and the Wolverines might need to score five goals to win. North Dakota is too deep up front and too strong in their own end to let that happen. UND 5, Michigan 3.