Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Michigan State

Michigan State and North Dakota competed in the MCHL from 1951 to 1959 and in the WCHA from 1959 until 1981, when then-head coach Ron Mason took the Spartans to the newly-formed CCHA. In their 22 seasons in the WCHA, MSU won exactly zero league titles and made only two NCAA tournament appearances. Ron Mason made the most of those chances, however, with a national championship in 1966.

Ron Mason’s clubs fared far better after leaving the WCHA. In 21 CCHA seasons under Mason, the Spartans collected eight regular season championships, ten playoff titles, and 19 NCAA appearances, including five trips to the Frozen Four. Mason collected the progam’s second NCAA title in 1986 and finished runner-up to Gino Gasparini’s Hrkac Circus in 1987.

This is only the second ranked opponent for the Spartans this season. MSU hosted #6 Denver, with the Pioneers sweeping by scores of 2-1 and 3-1.

Last weekend marked the fifth consecutive weekend against a ranked opponent for North Dakota; UND went 14-5-1 (.725) against top-twenty teams a year ago but is just 4-4-2 (.500) in those situations so far this season. Here’s a closer look at the five-week grind that the Fighting Hawks had to endure:

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 (T 1-1, L 2-3)
at #12 St. Cloud State (W 4-0, W 3-0)

The Spartans will open up Big Ten play in early December by hosting #11 Minnesota, while North Dakota has already played six conference games, going 2-3-1 (with a shootout win) to find themselves in 5th place in the NCHC, one league point back of Omaha and Western Michigan (both 3-3-0). Michigan State has finished 5th, 2nd, and 5th over the first three seasons of the Big Ten, the league that destroyed the WCHA as we knew it.

UND is 5-1-1 at home this season with an identical 5-1-1 non-conference record. North Dakota’s out-of-conference schedule will conclude with single games against #4 Boston College at Madison Square Garden next Saturday night and at #17 Union on New Year’s Eve. Brad Berry is hoping to lead the team to a fifteenth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance (longest active streak in the nation), and a large part of that winning tradition is due to success outside of the league. UND has lost just twice in its last 29 non-conference games (23-2-4), and victories this weekend will help secure North Dakota’s postseason aspirations.

Michigan State Team Profile

Head Coach: Tom Anastos (6th season at MSU, 74-104-20, .424)

Pairwise Ranking: 50th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 3-6-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten
Last Season: 10-23-4 overall, 7-12-2-0 Big Ten (5th of 6 teams)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.33 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.78 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 13.2% (7 of 53)
Penalty Kill: 73.3% (33 of 45)

Key Players: Sophomore F Mason Appleton (5-6-11), Senior F Villiam Haag (3-4-7), Freshman F Taro Hirose (2-5-7), Sophomore D Zach Osburn (2-4-6), Junior D Carson Gatt (1-0-1), Junior G Ed Minney (3-3-0, 3.16 GAA, .879 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (2nd season at UND, 41-10-6, .772)

Pairwise Ranking: t-3rd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #5/#5
This Season: 7-4-2 overall, 2-3-1-1 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 34-6-4 overall (NCAA Champions), 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st of 8 teams)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.08 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.15 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 16.9% (10 of 59)
Penalty Kill: 81.0% (51 of 63)

Key Players: Sophomore F Brock Boeser (7-9-16), Sophomore F Shane Gersich (10-8-18), Freshman F Tyson Jost (3-10-13), Junior F Austin Poganski (3-4-7), Junior D Tucker Poolman (3-9-12), Senior D Gage Ausmus (0-3-3), Junior G Cam Johnson (7-4-2, 2.07 GAA, .915 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: November 29, 2015 (East Lansing, Michigan). In a rare Friday-Sunday series, North Dakota used four goals by Drake Caggiula and superb goaltending from Cam Johnson (57 saves) to sweep the homestanding Spartans 3-1 and 4-1. The Fighting Hawks held Michigan State to just one power play goal on nine opportunities.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: October 13, 2007 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota blitzed the defending national champions 6-0 in the US Hockey Hall of Fame Game. Twelve Fighting Sioux players made the scoresheet, and the names read like a who’s who of UND hockey in the 21st century: Robbie Bina, Taylor Chorney, Ryan Duncan, Matt Frattin, Chay Genoway, Rylan Kaip, Andrew Kozek, Brad Malone, T.J. Oshie, Evan Trupp, Chris VandeVelde, and Darcy Zajac. Jean-Phillippe Lamoureux made 23 saves for the shutout.

Most Important Meeting: March 28. 1987 (Detroit, MI). The Hrkac Circus invaded Joe Louis Arena and took home North Dakota’s fifth national championship with a 5-3 victory over the Spartans. More recently, the Fighting Sioux scored twice on “unscoreonable” Hobey Baker winner Ryan Miller and advanced to the 2001 national championship game with a 2-0 Frozen Four semifinal victory over MSU.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 64-36-2 (.637), including a 34-11-1 (.750) record in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met as members of the Midwest Collegiate Hockey League (MCHL) during the 1951-52 season.

Last Ten: North Dakota has won eight of the previous ten meetings between the schools, outscoring the Spartans 40-21 in that stretch. Three of the last ten MSU-UND games have come in the national tournament, with North Dakota winning all three, most importantly the 1987 championship game and a 2001 semifinal contest. The Fighting Sioux also defeated Sparty 6-5 in overtime to win the 1984 third-place game (Lake Placid, NY),

Game News and Notes

Michigan State has not made the NCAA tournament since 2012 and has just two tourney appearances since their national championship in 2007. Two of North Dakota’s eight national titles have come against the Spartans (1959 and 1987). UND is 19-6-3 (.732) all-time in the Subway Holiday Classic. Shane Gersich is the first UND player since Matt Frattin to score ten goals before Thanksgiving. Tyson Jost is really good at faceoffs (63.2%).

Media Coverage

This weekend’s games will be televised on the Midco Sports Network, and a high definition webcast is available at 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

North Dakota is finally clicking in all three zones and has the advantage over the Spartans in every facet of the game. I see Saturday’s contest being the closer of the two, with Cam Johnson proving to be the difference yet again. UND 4-1, 3-2.

Thank you for reading. As always, I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Here’s to hockey!