NCAA Frozen Four Preview: UND vs. Denver

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries. Tonight’s NCAA Frozen Four semifinal will be the twelfth game played between the teams over the past three seasons, but the feud goes all the way back to Geoff Paukovitch’ illegal check on Sioux forward Robbie Bina during the 2005 WCHA Final Five.

Since that 2005 Final Five contest (a Denver victory), the two teams have met eight times in tournament play. Denver won the 2005 NCAA title with a victory over North Dakota and claimed a 2008 WCHA Final Five win as well. UND has won the four of the past six playoff games between the schools, including three consecutive victories in the WCHA Final Five (2010-2012) and the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional final which sent the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four. The Pioneers throttled North Dakota 5-1 last March when the two teams met in the third-place game at the 2015 NCHC Frozen Faceoff, and a similar matchup in Minneapolis last month netted only a 1-1 tie.

Both teams are looking to hoist banner number eight in Tampa, Florida this weekend. It is worth noting that Denver collected five national championships by 1969. In the past 46 years, the Pioneers have won two. During that same span (1970-2015), the Fighting Sioux won five national titles, most recently in 2000.

Tonight’s tournament action will feature two of the top three rookies in the country. North Dakota’s Brock Boeser (26-28-54) is fifth nationally among all scorers, while Denver’s Dylan Gambrell (17-30-47) is tenth. Among freshman point-getters, the two trail only Kyle Connor (35-36-71), whose Michigan team lost to UND in the Midwest Regional final. Colin White (Boston College) is a distant fourth with 19 goals and 23 assists in 36 games played.

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 in Minneapolis, added three points in the Midwest Regional (Cincinnati, Ohio), and joined Zach Parise (25-35-61) as the only North Dakota freshmen in the past 35 years to notch at least 50 points.

Denver’s ‘Pacific Rim’ line of Gambrell, Danton Heinen (20-28-48), and Trevor Moore (11-33-44) has scored 38 of the team’s 85 goals (44.7 percent) since January 1st. North Dakota’s ‘CBS’ line of Boeser paired with Drake Caggiula (20-25-45) and Nick Schmaltz (10-34-44) has scored 28 of UND’s 87 goals (32.2 percent) over that same stretch.

With the last line change, UND head coach Brad Berry will likely keep his top line away from the West Coast trio and instead counter with his “heavy line” of Rhett Gardner, Luke Johnson, and Austin Poganski.

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 Frozen Four semifinal (Wolanin was in the stands for the two NCAA regional games), 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 Denver’s Pacific Rim 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 (25-0-3) 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 183 such situations (163-7-13).

North Dakota has enjoyed twenty consecutive seasons of unprecedented success, advancing to the NCAA tournament 19 times with eleven Frozen Four appearances and two national titles. Brad Berry is in his first year behind the North Dakota bench and set the program record for most wins by a rookie head coach (32). 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 18-4 (.818) in NCAA regional games and has qualified for the Frozen four in eight of those twelve seasons (no team has advanced to more national semifinal games in that time).

Amazingly, UND is 7th of 60 teams nationally in scoring offense and 2nd in scoring defense, notching 153 goals and allowing only 78 in 42 games this season (Denver has marks of 11th and 13th, respectively, and has outscored opponents 132-92). Nationally, only St. Cloud State (175 goals for/90 goals against in 41 games) and Quinnipiac (159 goals for/78 goals against in 41 games) boast a better scoring margin than North Dakota. Boston College (154 goals for/79 goals against in 40 games) has identical numbers to UND despite playing two fewer games.

Here are a few more interesting comparisons:

North Dakota’s record when leading/tied after one period of play: 28-5-4
North Dakota’s record when trailing after one period of play: 4-1-0
Denver’s record when leading/tied after one period of play: 24-5-3
Denver’s record when trailing after one period of play: 1-4-3

North Dakota’s record against the NCAA tournament field: 9-4-1
Denver’s record against the NCAA tournament field: 7-7-4

North Dakota’s record in one-goal games: 7-1-0
Denver’s record in one-goal games: 5-3-0

North Dakota’s road/neutral site record: 16-4-3
Denver’s road/neutral site record: 12-7-3

Denver Team Profile
Head Coach: Jim Montgomery (3rd season at DU, 69-39-14, .623)

Pairwise Ranking: 5th of 60 teams
National Ranking: #7/#4
This Season: 25-9-6 overall, 17-6-1-1 NCHC (t-2nd)
Last Season: 24-14-2 overall (NCAA East Regional finalist), 13-10-1-1 NCHC (4th)
Last Ten Games: 8-1-1 (.850)

Team Offense: 3.30 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.30 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.0% (26 of 137)
Penalty Kill: 82.0% (100 of 122)

Key Players: Sophomore F Danton Heinen (20-28-48), Freshman F Dylan Gambrell (17-30-47), Junior F Trevor Moore (11-33-44), Senior F Quentin Shore (13-15-28), Junior D Will Butcher (8-23-31), Senior D Nolan Zajac (3-17-20), Sophomore G Tanner Jaillet (17-4-5, 2.25 GAA, .923 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 32-6-4, .810)
Pairwise Ranking: 2nd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #3/#2
This Season: 32-6-4 overall, 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Ten Games: 8-1-1 (.850)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.64 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.86 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.5% (31 of 159)
Penalty Kill: 86.4% (133 of 154)

Key Players: Freshman F Brock Boeser (26-28-54), Senior F Drake Caggiula (21-25-46), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (10-34-44), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (12-10-22), Junior D Troy Stecher (8-20-28), Sophomore F Tucker Poolman (5-19-24), Junior D Paul LaDue (5-13-18), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (22-4-2, 1.67 GAA, .934 SV%, 5 SO)

By The Numbers
Last Meeting: February 13, 2016 (Denver, CO). The Pioneers completed the weekend sweep of visiting North Dakota with a 4-1 victory. UND outshot the Pios 35-25 but could manage only an Austin Poganski goal midway through the first period. DU’s ‘Pacific Rim’ line scored three goals and added four assists. Denver won Friday’s opener 6-4 thanks to a game-winning shorthanded goal with under four minutes to play in the contest.

Most Important Meeting: It’s hard to pick just one game, as the two teams have played four times for the national title. Denver defeated UND for the national championship in 1958, 1968, and 2005, while the Sioux downed the Pioneers in 1963. But the game that stands out in recent memory as “the one that got away” was DU’s 1-0 victory over the Fighting Sioux in the 2004 NCAA West Regional final (Colorado Springs, CO). That North Dakota team went 30-8-4 on the season (Dean Blais’ last behind the UND bench) and featured one of the deepest rosters in the past twenty years: Brandon Bochenski, Zach Parise, Brady Murray, Colby Genoway, Drew Stafford and David Lundbohm up front; Nick Fuher, Matt Jones, Matt Greene, and Ryan Hale on defense; and a couple of goaltending stalwarts in Jordan Parise and Jake Brandt.

Last Ten Games: The teams are even (4-4-2) in the last ten meetings between the schools, although North Dakota has outscored Denver 30-24 over that stretch of games.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 142-122-11 (.536). The teams first met in 1950, with North Dakota prevailing 18-3 in Denver.

Game News and Notes
The teams are dead even in ten contests over the past two seasons, with each team winning four games and two contests ending in a tie. Denver sophomore forward Danton Heinen, last year’s NCHC Rookie of the Year and the reigning league overall scoring champion (16-29-45 in 40 games), is expected to sign with the NHL’s Boston Bruins after this season. North Dakota’s all-time winning percentage of .667 (50-25) in the NCAA tourney is the best in the country, and UND’s 50 tournament victories are tied with Michigan for 2nd all-time (Minnesota has 55 but might not win another one this decade). The Pioneers have lost just twice in 24 games (18-2-4) since the Christmas break. Denver (15) and North Dakota (14) have more consecutive seasons with twenty or more victories than any other Division I men’s hockey team in the country. Boston College is third with seven straight twenty-win seasons; Quinnipiac has accomplished the feat five consecutive times.

Media Coverage
UND and Denver will face off at 7:30 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

Pre-Game Events and Watch Parties
UND fans attending the NCAA Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida are invited to gather for pregame festivities beginning three hours prior to today’s national semifinal. The pregame event will be held at the Maloney’s Local Irish Pub (1120 East Kennedy Boulevard), just under a mile from Amelie 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 Atlanta, Bismarck, Bloomington, Boise, Boston, Cavalier, Denver, Dickinson, Fargo, Finley, Grand Forks, Hatton, Houston, Las Vegas, Littleton, Long Island, Minneapolis, Mountain Iron, Omaha, Prescott, Rapid City, San Diego, Sioux Falls, Virginia (MN), Scottsdale, Waite Park, Washington (D.C.), and West Fargo. For more information or to see if additional events have been planned, please visit

The Prediction
All of the advantages are in UND’s corner: last line change, better goaltending, a deeper defensive corps, and playoff experience. If Brad Berry has his team playing the way they did in Cincinnati, there’s not much the Pioneers can do. If each side gets four power plays, however, DU has a chance. As it stands, though, this is a special squad, and North Dakota will advance to Saturday’s championship game. UND 4, Denver 2.

Bonus Prediction
In Thursday’s first semifinal, BC and the Bobcats will square off for East Coast bragging rights. There are question marks surrounding QU’s Sam Anas and his ability to play through a shoulder injury. Anas will play, but he won’t score enough to hold off Jerry York’s Eagles. Boston College 3, Quinnipiac 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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