Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Minnesota-Duluth

AmsOil Arena has not been kind to the Bulldogs when North Dakota comes to town.

Minnesota-Duluth has not scored a goal at home against UND since February 2014. That’s a span of over 166 minutes (104 consecutive saves). All-time, North Dakota is 6-1 at AmsOil, outscoring the Bulldogs 27-8 (including four shutouts).

UMD hasn’t won a series against the boys in green and white since November 2008. Incidentally, 2008 is the last time that the #1 and #2 teams in college hockey met for a two-game series. North Dakota and Minnesota-Duluth are ranked #1/#2 in both national polls heading into this weekend.

It might be surprising to hear that North Dakota (5-0-0) is off to its best start since opening the 2002-03 campaign with six straight victories. With those five non-conference wins, UND is now 23-1-3 (.907) in its last 27 games outside the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

As a whole, the NCHC has fared well in non-conference action this season, going a combined 23-11-6 (.650) to open the year. That record is helped by a 9-2-1 (.792) mark in games against the WCHA.

This weekend marks the second of five consecutive weekends against ranked opponents for North Dakota; UND went 14-5-1 (.725) against top-twenty teams a year ago. Here’s a closer look at the five-week grind for the Fighting Hawks until Thanksgiving:

vs. #18 Bemidji State (W 3-2, W 5-4)
at #2 Minnesota Duluth
at #12 Minnesota
vs. #3 Denver
at #10 St. Cloud State

Two seasons ago, 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.

Scott Sandelin has brought his team within one game of the Frozen Four in each of the last two seasons but has yet to regain the national championship form his squad experienced in 2011. North Dakota has made the NCAA tournament in each of the past 14 seasons (the longest active streak in men’s Division I college hockey) and finally made it to the mountaintop in Tampa, claiming the program’s eighth national title.

It may be a bit more difficult for the Bulldogs to find postseason success this year as their goaltending situation is as yet unproven. Kasimir Kaskisuo (19-15-5, 1.92 goals-against average, .923 save percentage, and five shutouts in 39 appearances last season) gave up his final two seasons of eligibility to sign with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Kaskisuo won 37 games for UMD in his brief college career.

Sophomore netminder Nick Deery and a pair of freshman Hunters (Miska and Shepard) are tasked with backstopping the Bulldogs. So far, the crease belongs to Derry, who is unbeaten (1-0-2) in three starts with a goals-against average of 1.54 and a save percentage of .934. It will be interesting to see how that play holds up during the grind of the NCHC schedule.

It may take a while for North Dakota fans to get to know this year’s roster, as UND lost nine players from the 2015-16 championship squad. Last season’s senior class (forwards Drake Caggiula, Bryn Chyzyk, Coltyn Sanderson, and Colten St. Clair) would have been enough of a loss, as the quartet accounted for 44 goals and 41 assists in 116 combined games.

But the worst was yet to come as the early departure bug hit the program particularly hard. Five players gave up college eligibility to sign pro contracts, including forward Nick Schmaltz (11-35-46), who left after his sophomore season. The other four skaters would have been seniors this year:

Forward Luke Johnson (11-10-21)
Defenseman Troy Stecher (8-21-29)
Defenseman Paul LaDue (5-14-19)
Defenseman Keaton Thompson (2-15-17)

All told, the nine players accounted for exactly half of North Dakota’s goal scoring last season (81 of 162). Stecher, LaDue, and Thompson helped anchor a defensive unit that allowed only 1.84 goals/game and gave up zero or one goal 24 times in 2015-16.

UND has been the nation’s winningest team over the last decade (274 victories since 2006-07), and a large part of that success has been North Dakota’s ability to win when leading after two periods. The Fighting Hawks have not lost when leading after 40 minutes of play in nearly three years (75-0-5 since November 1st, 2013) and boast a mark of 169-7-13 (.929) in those situations since 2008-09.

Minnesota-Duluth Team Profile

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (17th season at UMD, 290-278-77, .509)
National Rankings: #2/#2
This Season: 3-1-2 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 19-16-5 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional finalist), 11-10-3-1 NCHC (4th)

Team Offense: 3.33 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.33 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.5% (8 of 39)
Penalty Kill: 76.7% (23 of 30)

Key Players: Sophomore F Adam Johnson (4-3-7), Freshman F Joey Anderson (0-6-6), Senior F Kyle Osterberg (3-2-5), Senior F Alex Iafallo (2-2-4), Sophomore D Neal Pionk (3-4-7), Senior D Willie Raskob (2-1-3), Sophomore G Nick Deery (1-0-2, 1,54 GAA, .934 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (2nd season at UND, 39-6-4, .837)
National Rankings: #1/#1
This Season: 5-0-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 34-6-4 overall (NCAA Champions), 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st of 8 teams)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 4.60 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.80 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 16.7% (4 of 24)
Penalty Kill: 88.5% (23 of 26)

Key Players: Sophomore F Brock Boeser (6-6-12), Sophomore F Shane Gersich (3-5-8), Sophomore F Joel Janatuinen (3-2-5), Freshman F Tyson Jost (2-5-7), Junior D Tucker Poolman (1-5-6), Senior D Gage Ausmus (0-2-2), Junior G Cam Johnson (5-0-0, 1.81 GAA, .899 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 18, 2016 (Minneapolis, MN). For the third consecutive season, North Dakota lost in the Frozen Faceoff semifinals. Duluth overcame an early deficit (UND forward Nick Schmaltz scored just 49 seconds into the contest) with three 2nd period goals and defeated the Fighting Hawks 4-2. The Bulldogs lost the NCHC playoff championship to St. Cloud State by a score of 3-1.

Last Meeting in Duluth: December 12, 2015. UND used three different goal scorers and a 38-save performance by Cam Johnson to defeat Duluth 3-0 for the second consecutive night. The Bulldogs outshot North Dakota 78-42 on the weekend but could not solve Johnson, who was in the middle of a stretch of over 298 minutes without allowing a goal.

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, 144-78-9 (.643), including a 59-39-5 (.597) record in games played in Duluth. 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 7-3-0 (.700) in the last ten games between the teams, outscoring the Bulldogs 30-20 over that stretch.

Game News and Notes

North Dakota is 29-4-2 (.857) in its last 35 games. UND sophomore forward Brock Boeser has three goals and three assists in five career games against the Bulldogs. UMD has been outscored 7-6 in first periods this season but has outscored opponents 14-7 the rest of the way. 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

Friday’s opener will be shown live on FOX Sports North and FOX College Sports Pacific, with Saturday’s rematch available on Midco Sports Network. The games will also be streamed live in high definition via NCHC.tv. 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

The Prediction

This is the first road test of the season for North Dakota and their eight freshmen. I expect some hiccups along the way, and Scott Sandelin will use the last line change to his advantage. The Fighting Hawks went 4-1 against the Bulldogs last season, but this weekend will end in a split. UND 4-1, UMD 4-3 .

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!