Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Minnesota

It’s a tale of two programs as we enter the 2016-17 season…

North Dakota is fresh off of its eighth national championship and a string of fourteen consecutive tournament appearances, the longest active streak in college hockey.

Minnesota has only advanced to the NCAAs four times in the last eight seasons and is stuck on five national titles, the most recent being in 2002 and 2003.

UND bench boss Brad Berry has never lost to Minnesota in his head coaching career; Minnesota’s Don Lucia has already suffered 26 losses to the Green and White. Of course, Lucia has been coaching the Gophers since the 1999-2000 campaign, but that may be part of the problem.

Despite only nine tournament victories since Minnesota’s last title in 2003 (UND has 22 in that same span), the Gophers’ head coach was given a two-year extension last month that will keep him behind the bench through the 2018-19 campaign. Perhaps the worst part is that he’ll have to play North Dakota at least five more times before he moves on.

Even though Lucia attempted to diffuse the rivalry by not scheduling North Dakota once the Big Ten (and Minnesota) ruined college hockey as we knew it, the two teams met in the Frozen Four at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. Defenseman Gage Ausmus and goaltender Matt Hyrnkiw were freshmen on the North Dakota roster that year but did not play. The Gophers upended UND 2-1 and advanced to the championship game, falling to Shayne Gostisbehere and the Union Dutchmen by a final score of 7-4.

Thankfully for fans of college hockey’s greatest matchup, this weekend’s games mark the first of seven consecutive seasons that the teams are guaranteed to meet:

2016-17: Ralph Engelstad Arena (Grand Forks, North Dakota)
October 27, 2018: Orleans Arena (Las Vegas, Nevada) *Hall Of Fame Game*
2019-20: Mariucci Arena (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
2020-21: Ralph Engelstad Arena (Grand Forks, North Dakota)
2011-22: Mariucci Arena (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
2022-23: Ralph Engelstad Arena (Grand Forks, North Dakota)

The two times have met 284 times and were members of the same conference for over sixty years. Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald has an excellent article here about some key moments in the series.

With five consecutive non-conference victories to open the season, 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 contests against teams from other leagues, going a combined 27-13-6 (.652) to open the year. That record is helped by a 12-3-1 (.781) mark in games against the WCHA.

This weekend marks the third 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 (L 2-5, L 0-3)
at #13 Minnesota
vs. #2 Denver
at #8 St. Cloud State

North Dakota struggled on special teams last weekend against the Bulldogs, scoring only one power play goal in thirteen man-advantage situations, allowing Duluth three power play goals in ten chances, and giving up two shorthanded goals during the second period on Saturday that proved to be the difference in a 3-0 UMD victory. UND will certainly need to shore up those situations if they hope to contend with the Gophers this weekend.

Minnesota Team Profile

Head Coach: Don Lucia (18th season at Minnesota, 418-221-69, .639)

National Rankings: #13/#13
This Season: 3-2-1 overall, 0-0-0 Big Ten
Last Season: 20-17-0 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 14-6-0-0 Big Ten (1st)

Team Offense: 4.17 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.83 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.8% (5 of 24)
Penalty Kill: 80.6% (25 of 31)

Key Players: Sophomore F Tyler Sheehy (3-5-8), Junior F Leon Bristedt (3-4-7), Senior F Justin Kloos (2-3-5), Senior F Vinni Lettieri (2-3-5), Senior D Jake Bischoff (2-4-6), Junior D Steve Johnson (0-2-2), Sophomore G Eric Schierhorn (3-2-1, 2.78 GAA, .890 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (2nd season at UND, 39-8-4, .804)
National Rankings: #3/#3
This Season: 5-2-0 overall, 0-2-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 34-6-4 overall (NCAA Champions), 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st of 8 teams)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.57 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.43 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 13.5% (5 of 37)
Penalty Kill: 83.3% (30 of 36)

Key Players: Sophomore F Brock Boeser (6-6-12), Sophomore F Shane Gersich (4-6-10), Sophomore F Joel Janatuinen (1-5-6), 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 (5-2-0, 2.31 GAA, .894 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: April 10, 2014 (Philadelphia, PA). In what can only be described as the most shocking finish ever for UND at the Frozen Four, Minnesota’s Justin Holl scored a shorthanded tally with 0.6 seconds remaining on the clock to defeat North Dakota 2-1 and advance to the national championship game.

Last meeting in Minneapolis: January 19, 2013. North Dakota twice saw two-goal leads vanish at Mariucci Arena in the last meeting between the two teams as WCHA foes, a 4-4 tie. Nick Bjugstad and Nate Condon scored third period goals for the Gophers to send the game to overtime, and the teams combined for just one shot on net in the extra frame. Zane Gothberg made 31 saves for UND, while Adam Wilcox turned aside 22 shots.

Most important meeting: March 24, 1979 (Detroit, MI). North Dakota and Minnesota met to decide the national championship, and the Gophers prevailed, 4-3. Neal Broten scored the game-winning goal for the U of M, and Steve Janaszak was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.

All-time: Minnesota leads the all-time series by a slim margin, 139-130-15 (.516), including a 74-51-7 (.587) advantage in games played in Minneapolis. The teams first met in 1948.

Last ten: The Gophers have gone 6-3-1 in the last ten meetings between the schools, outscoring UND 32-24 in those games.

Game News and Notes

Gophers’ head coach Don Lucia (Notre Dame ’81) is the only member of his coaching staff without a degree from the University of Minnesota. Associate head coach Mike Guentzel, assistant coach Grant Potulny, and goaltending coach Justin Johnson all attended the U of M. The number eight is greater than the number five. In an effort to alleviate parking concerns, Minnesota fans are asked to park in Duluth and walk to Mariucci Arena.

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend can be seen on FOX Sports North and Fox College Sports. Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. Central Time; Saturday’s opening faceoff will occur at 8:00 p.m. CT. The games will also be streamed live in high definition via BTN2GO.com. 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

Only one UND team has swept at Mariucci since 1980, and I don’t think this year’s squad can replicate that feat. The Fighting Hawks are still searching for an identity after last season’s title run, and they will take some lumps along the way. Expect North Dakota to come out firing on Friday night after being embarrassed by Duluth, with the Gophers’ power play taking over Game 2. UND 4-2, Minnesota 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!