NCAA Frozen Four Preview: UND vs. Quinnipiac

In 17 years at the Division I level, Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold has never had a losing season. Pecknold has led the Bobcats to their fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance (and fifth overall), and QU faces a fairly unfamiliar opponent (North Dakota) in the national championship game. The two teams are tied for the most wins (109) over the past four seasons and are one-two this season in wins, winning percentage, and number of weeks at #1. Since Christmas, UND and Quinnipiac have been the only two schools at the top of the USCHO poll.

Despite Quinnipiac’s recent success and the Bobcats’ deep run in 2013 (national runner-up, losing 4-0 to Yale in the final), UND and QU have only met once in the national tournament (last year’s West Regional in Fargo, ND). North Dakota downed the Bobcats 4-1 in that tilt, and the two teams have only faced each other on one other occasion: an October 2006 series in Grand Forks that went in the books as a UND sweep. Sioux forwards Ryan Duncan, T.J. Oshie, and Jonathan Toews figured heavily in those results (note: current Quinnipiac defenseman Devon Toews is no relation to Jonathan).

Before this recent stretch of four straight NCAA tourney bids, the only Quinnipiac appearance on the national scene came in 2001-02, when the team (competing in the MAAC and known for the last time as the ‘Braves’) suffered a 6-1 loss to Cornell in the regional semifinal.

It is fairly difficult to compare teams from different conferences, but there are some measurables. The three common opponents for the two programs this season were Maine, Northeastern, and St. Cloud State. Quinnipiac defeated Maine 4-0 in October and swept SCSU (5-2, 4-1) at home the following weekend. In the first game of the new year, the Bobcats skated to a 3-3 tie at Northeastern and got the same result at Maine later in January. North Dakota tied Maine 1-1 at the IceBreaker in October, split at St. Cloud State (4-3, 1-6) in November, and took down Northeastern 6-2 in the NCAA Midwest Regional, handing the Huskies their first loss since February 1st and just their second since December 6th.

Incidentally, St. Cloud State was the team Quinnipiac defeated by a score of 4-1 at the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four, the Bobcats’ first and only other appearance in the last weekend of the college hockey season. Quinnipiac is seeking the program’s first NCAA title, and four of the past five national championships have gone to first-time winners: Duluth (2011), Yale (2013), Union (2014), and Providence (2015). Before that stretch, the last team to hoist the trophy for the first time was Maine in 1993. Three other teams won their first titles in the 80s; Bowling Green in 1984, Lake Superior State in 1988, and Harvard in 1989.

North Dakota is seeking the program’s eighth national title and first since 2000. Other men’s ice hockey championships for the school came in 1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, and 1997. Michigan has nine titles (six between 1948 and 1956 and another in 1964), while Denver also has seven (five between 1958 and 1969). With a win tonight and the eighth banner that would come with it, UND would unquestionably be at the top of the men’ Division I college hockey heap as the best program of all time.

There is some intrigue regarding the availability of QU junior forward Sam Anas, who has been limited by a shoulder injury and has been used most extensively in situations where Quinnipiac needs to generate offense. It seems that Rand Pecknold has not called upon Anas in situations where the junior forward (132 career points) would have to defend and protect a lead. It is worth noting that the Bobcats’ leading point-getter (24 goals, 26 assists) has only scored three goals since February 12th, a stretch of thirteen games. In that same span, however, he has continued to set up his linemates (nine assists).

Tonight’s tournament action will feature one of the top rookies in the country. North Dakota’s Brock Boeser (26-30-56) is fourth nationally among all scorers but was not named one of ten finalists for the 2016 Hobey Baker Memorial Award. Among freshmen, Boeser trails only Kyle Connor (35-36-71), whose Michigan team lost to UND in the Midwest Regional final. Connor was edged out by Harvard senior Jimmy Vesey for the Hobey yesterday.

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 five points in three NCAA tournament games, and joined Zach Parise (25-35-61) as the only North Dakota freshmen in the past 35 years to notch at least 50 points.

North Dakota’s ‘CBS’ line of Boeser paired with Drake Caggiula (23-26-49) and Nick Schmaltz (11-34-45) has scored 31 of UND’s 91 goals (34.1 percent) since January 1st. It will be interesting to see which Bobcat forward line jumps over the boards when 9, 8, and 16 are on the ice.

On the other side of the ledger, UND lost junior forward Luke Johnson (11-10-21) after he went knee-to-knee with teammate Brock Boeser in the second period of Thursday’s national semifinal against Denver. Johnson, a Grand Forks native, had appeared in every game for the Green and White this season and was a key cog in the team’s ‘Heavy Line’, also featuring sophomore Austin Poganski (9-15-24) and freshman Rhett Gardner (11-6-17). In Johnson’s absence, expect Gardner to move to center with one of two seniors on his wing: Coltyn Sanderson (7-5-12) or Colten St. Clair, an alternate captain who has been limited to nine games this year due to an upper body injury.

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 final (Wolanin has been in the stands for all three NCAA tournament games), 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 (26-0-3) 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 184 such situations (164-7-13).

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 (33). 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 157 goals and allowing only 80 in 43 games this season (Quinnipiac has marks of 4th and 3rd, respectively, and has outscored opponents 162-80 in 42 games). Aside from the Bobcats, only St. Cloud State (175 goals for/90 goals against in 41 games) boasts 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: 29-5-4
North Dakota’s record when trailing after one period of play: 4-1-0
Quinnpiac’s record when leading/tied after one period of play: 26-3-5
Qunnipiac’s record when trailing after one period of play: 6-0-2

North Dakota’s record against the NCAA tournament field: 10-4-1
Qunnipiac’s record against the NCAA tournament field: 10-1-1

North Dakota’s record in one-goal games: 7-1-0
Quinnipiac’s record in one-goal games: 8-2-0

North Dakota’s road/neutral site record: 17-4-3
Qunnipiacs’s road/neutral site record: 17-1-3

The Bobcats prefer to play with a lead and let their neutral zone trap (a 1-1-3 or a 1-3-1, depending on who is answering the question) create turnovers. Quinnipiac has trailed for less than 360 minutes in their 42 games combined this season, and that statistic is the main reason that Rand Pecknold’s crew has suffered only three defeats.

Here are the storylines worth watching in tonight’s battle of college hockey heavyweights:

Goaltending: The netminders tonight (Michael Garteig and Cam Johnson) will be called upon early and often (UND averages 32.5 shots on goal/game; QU, 34.7), as these two teams possess skill with and creativity without the puck. Whichever goaltender makes more game-changing saves and showcases the ability to find loose pucks in traffic will lead his team to victory.

‘CBS’ Line: Without last change, will the dynamic trio be able to handle the best of what the Bobcats have to offer defensively, and will they be able to use their speed and creativity through the neutral zone to carry the puck across the blueline?

Playing From Behind: Neither team wants to get down by two goals in this contest, as both squads have shown the ability to lock down a lead. The leader on the scoreboard going into the third period is likely to hold up the trophy at the final buzzer.

Sam Anas: Will he play? Will he be able to finish the game? Will Rand Pecknold need to shorten his bench to ten forwards in order to roll only three lines and protect Anas somewhat?

Specialty Teams: Quinnipiac has been lethal on the power play this year (27.5%, 4th in the nation) and effective on the penalty kill (89.0%, 3rd). North Dakota’s numbers with the man advantage (19.4%, 21st) are solid but not quite as spectacular, while their penalty kill (86.7%, 5th) has been a bright spot. UND would prefer not to trade power plays with the Bobcats, but rather play as much 5-on-5 hockey as possible.

Quinnipiac Team Profile

Head Coach: Rand Pecknold (22nd season at QU, 446-263-83, .616)
National Ranking: #1/#1
This Season: 32-3-7 overall, 16-1-5 ECAC (1st)
Last Ten Games: 9-1-0 (lost 5-4 to Cornell)
Last Season: 23-12-4 overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 16-3-3 ECAC (1st)

Team Offense: 3.86 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.90 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 27.5% (46 of 167)
Penalty Kill: 89.0% (137 of 154)

Key Players: Junior F Sam Anas (24-26-50), Senior F Travis St. Denis (22-26-48), Junior F Tim Clifton (18-24-42), Sophomore F Landon Smith (12-25-37), Junior D Devon Toews (7-23-30), Junior D Connor Clifton (7-20-27), Senior G Michael Garteig (32-3-7, 1.83 GAA, .926 SV%, 8 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 33-6-4, .814)
Pairwise Ranking: 2nd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #3/#2
This Season: 33-6-4 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 (lost 4-2 to Duluth; tied Denver 1-1)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.65 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.86 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.4% (31 of 160)
Penalty Kill: 86.7% (137 of 158)

Key Players: Freshman F Brock Boeser (26-30-56), Senior F Drake Caggiula (23-26-49), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (11-34-45), Sophomore F Austin Poganski (9-15-24), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (12-10-22), Junior D Troy Stecher (8-21-29), Sophomore F Tucker Poolman (5-19-24), Junior D Paul LaDue (5-13-18), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (23-4-2, 1.68 GAA, .933 SV%, 5 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 27, 2015 (Fargo, ND). North Dakota blocked 28 shots in front of a partisan crowd at Scheels Arena and downed the Bobcats 4-1 to advance to the NCAA West Regional Final, where they would play St. Cloud State. Tucker Poolman, Bryn Chyzyk, Drake Caggiula, and Luke Johnson all scored for UND, who received 29 saves from 2015 Mike Richter Award winner Zane McIntyre. Quinnipiac went 1-for-8 with the man advantage, scoring only an extra-attacker power play goal with less than two minutes remaining.

Almost Ten Years Ago: October 7, 2006 (Grand Forks, ND). A late Quinnipiac power play goal got the Bobcats within a goal, but the damage had been done by then. T.J. Oshie assisted on all three Jonathan Toews goals (remarkably, the only hat trick of his Fighting Sioux career) and Ryan Duncan had a three point night (1 g, 2 a) in a 4-2 North Dakota victory. UND blew out the Bobcats 6-1 in Friday’s opener despite only one goal from the Oshie-Toews-Duncan (D.O.T.) line.

Most Important Meeting: Saturday night’s national championship game is the most important meeting between the two programs.

All-time Series: The two teams have only played three games (the aforementioned October 2006 series in Grand Forks and last season’s West Regional semifinal), with UND sweeping the Bobcats by a combined score of 14-4. All three contests were played in the state of North Dakota.

Game News and Notes
North Dakota’s all-time winning percentage of .671 (51-25) in the NCAA tourney is the best in the country, and UND’s 51 tournament victories are good for 2nd all-time (Minnesota has 55 but might not win another one this decade). Quinnipiac has competed at the Division I level since the 1999-2000 season; that was the year UND won its seventh national championship. Only one player on the Bobcats’ roster, Travis St. Denis, was on the ice during the 2013 Frozen Four. The other five seniors watched from the stands. Quinnipiac will wear their yellow alternate jerseys tonight; expect UND to counter with their black “business suits” for the last game of the season.

Media Coverage
UND and Quinnipiac will face off at 7:00 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.

Pre-Game Events and Watch Parties
UND fans attending the NCAA Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida are invited to gather for pregame festivities prior to today’s national championship game. The pregame event will be held at Ferg’s Live, across the street 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, Flagstaff, Grand Forks, Grapevine, Hatton, Houston, Indianapolis, Kirkland, Las Vegas, Littleton, Long Island, Meridian, Minneapolis, Mountain Iron, Omaha, Prescott, Rapid City, Robins, Saint Paul, San Diego, Scottsdale, Sioux Falls, Virginia (MN), Waite Park, Washington (D.C.), and West Fargo. For more information or to see if additional events have been planned, please visit ndchampionsclub.com.

The Prediction
Quinnipiac will give UND fits with its overall team speed, and Cam Johnson will need to be up to the challenge as the Bobcats generate several odd-man rushes per game. The partisan green and white crowd at Amelie Arena and the weight of all the years of near-misses should give North Dakota the push it needs to earn an eighth national championship. UND 3, QU 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!