Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Denver

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries. The teams have played thirteen times 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 nine 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 five of the past seven playoff games between the schools, including three consecutive victories in the WCHA Final Five (2010-2012), the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional final which sent the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four, and last season’s thrilling Frozen Four semifinal (a 4-2 UND victory) in Tampa, Florida.

Two nights after dispatching their league rival, North Dakota defeated Quinnipiac in the championship game and moved ahead of DU on the list of teams with the most NCAA titles in program history (8-7). It is worth noting that Denver collected five national championships by 1969. In the past 47 seasons, the Pioneers have won two. During that same span (1970-2016), the Fighting Sioux/Hawks won six titles and are the defending national champions.

Both rosters have changed quite a bit since that April meeting in the Sunshine State…

Denver lost three forwards (Grant Arnold, Gabe Levin, and Quentin Shore) and defenseman Nolan Zajac to graduation after last season. Those four scored 26 goals and added 50 assists for 76 points in 158 games played in 2015-16.

The Pios could have kept the Pacific Rim line intact, as Dylan Gambrell, Danton Heinen, and Trevor Moore all had college eligibility remaining. The trio went an incredible 48-91-139 for Denver last season. Unfortunately for the DU faithful, Heinen (a sophomore) and Moore (a junior) left for the pros, leaving Gambrell (17-30-47 as a freshman) searching for new linemates.

All told, Denver lost 57 of 133 goals scored from last year (43 percent of goal production).

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.

Much like Denver’s Pacific Rim line, North Dakota’s CBS line (Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser, Nick Schmaltz) was everything for UND last season, as the three scored 63 goals and added 94 assists for 157 points in 118 games. Only Boeser (27-33-60 as a freshman last year) remains on the Fighting Hawks roster.

This weekend marks the fourth 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 (T 5-5, L 0-2)
vs. #2 Denver
at #13 St. Cloud State

North Dakota has struggled on special teams over the past two weekends against the Bulldogs and Gophers, scoring only two power play goals in 21 man-advantage situations (9.5%), allowing seven power play goals in 21 chances (66.7%), and giving up two shorthanded goals in a single period that led directly to UMD’s 3-0 Saturday victory. UND will certainly need to shore up those situations if they hope to contend in the NCHC this season.

Denver Team Profile

Head Coach: Jim Montgomery (4th season at DU, 75-42-14, .626)

Pairwise Ranking: 5th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #2/#2
This Season: 6-2-0 overall, 2-0-0 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 25-10-6 overall (NCAA Frozen Four semifinalist), 17-6-1-1 NCHC (t-2nd)

Team Offense: 2.75 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.88 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 15.6% (7 of 45)
Penalty Kill: 84.6% (33 of 39)

Key Players: Freshman F Henrik Borgstrom (4-5-9), Sophomore F Troy Terry (3-3-6), Sophomore F Jarid Lukosevicius (3-3-6), Sophomore F Dylan Gambrell (2-2-4), Senior D Will Butcher (2-5-7), Junior D Adam Plant (0-1-1), Junior G Tanner Jaillet (6-1-0, 1.73 GAA, .931 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (2nd season at UND, 39-9-5, .783)

Pairwise Ranking: t-11th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #6/#6
This Season: 5-3-1 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: 3.33 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.67 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 13.3% (6 of 45)
Penalty Kill: 78.7% (37 of 47)

Key Players: Sophomore F Brock Boeser (7-6-13), Sophomore F Shane Gersich (4-8-12), Freshman F Tyson Jost (3-7-10), Sophomore F Joel Janatuinen (3-3-6), Junior D Tucker Poolman (2-5-7), Senior D Gage Ausmus (0-2-2), Junior G Cam Johnson (5-3-1, 2.56 GAA, .889 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: April 7, 2016 (Tampa, Florida). In the semifinals of the NCAA Frozen Four, the two league rivals squared off in a tightly-contested contest. Senior forward Drake Caggiula scored twice early in the middle frame to stake UND to a 2-0 lead, but the Pioneers battled back with a pair of third period goals. The CBS line came through when it mattered most, with Nick Schmaltz scoring the game winner off of a faceoff win with 57 seconds remaining in the hockey game. North Dakota blocked 27 Denver shot attempts and goaltender Cam Johnson made 21 saves for the Fighting Hawks, who won the program’s eighth national title on the same sheet of ice two nights later.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: December 5, 2015. North Dakota forward Austin Poganski scored a shorthanded goal with one second remaining in the opening period and added a power play goal midway through the hockey game as UND blanked the visiting Pios 4-0. Cam Johnson stopped all 18 shots he faced and earned the first of four consecutive shutouts. UND also continually frustrated Denver in Friday’s opener and outscored the Pioneers 9-1 on the weekend to earn the home sweep.

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: UND has a 5-3-2 (.600) advantage in the last ten games between the schools and has outscored Denver 30-25 over that stretch of games. Six of those ten games occurred a season ago, with both teams sweeping on home ice before tying 1-1 in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff third-place game. North Dakota broke the tie in the season series with a dramatic 4-2 victory in the NCAA Frozen Four.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 143-122-11 (.538). The teams first met in 1950, with North Dakota prevailing 18-3 in Denver.

Game News and Notes

UND sophomore forward Brock Boeser has eight points (four goals, four assists) in six career games against the Pioneers. 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. North Dakota is unbeaten in its past fifteen games on home ice (14-0-1).

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend can be seen on Midco Sports Network. The series 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

Saturday’s tilt against Minnesota was the best North Dakota had played in four games, and they still couldn’t score. Goaltending, special teams, defensive play, and secondary scoring are all question marks right now, but a rivalry series at home could be just what the Fighting Hawks need to get back in the win column. The Pioneers have done it with defense, allowing only nine goals total during their current six-game winning streak. If DU can contain North Dakota’s top line, it could be a long weekend in Grand Forks. I see a split here in a pair of tight contests. Denver 3-2, UND 3-2.

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!