College Hockey Showdown Preview: North Dakota vs. Boston College

The College Hockey Showdown was announced over 14 months ago and instantly became a must-see event for fans of these two programs and college hockey fans in general. The National Collegiate Hockey Conference and the University of North Dakota are co-hosts for this event, and the NCHC chose the two participants for a few very important reasons. Certainly, the league could count on a large following from both sides of what has become a fierce rivalry. Furthermore, over the past decade, North Dakota and Boston College are the top two winningest programs in the country (UND 276 wins, BC 275).

Here’s the full resume for Boston College and North Dakota:

13 National Championships (UND 8, BC 5)
47 Frozen Four Appearances (BC 26, UND 21)
5 Hobey Baker Winners (BC 3, UND 2)

North Dakota: 14 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances
Boston College: 8 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances

In the past 21 seasons…

Boston College has made the tourney 18 times, with eight league titles, nine playoff titles, twelve Frozen Four appearances, and four national titles (2001, 2008, 2010, 2012).

North Dakota has made the tourney 19 times, with nine league titles, six playoff titles, eleven Frozen Four appearances, and three national titles (1997, 2000, 2016).

In his 23rd season behind the BC bench, Jerry York is responsible for four of the Eagles’ five national titles (2001, 2008, 2010, 2012). Last season (his first as North Dakota’s bench boss), Brad Berry helped UND win the program’s eighth championship (and first since 2000).

Since 1957, North Dakota has just one stretch of “lean years”, otherwise known in Grand Forks as the Rube Bjorkman era. Bjorkman coached the Fighting Sioux from 1968-1978, and his teams collected exactly zero trophies. Otherwise, UND has been relevant and competitive throughout the history of the program, with multiple Frozen Four appearances in every decade.

Their opponent tonight can boast no such thing. The Jerry York era has been astounding at Boston College, but the flip side of that equation is that in the 47 seasons that BC competed for an NCAA title before York’s arrival in Chestnut Hill, the Eagles only played in the national title game three times and won exactly one championship (1949). So the question is this: are we talking about the storied history of Boston College, or the storied history of Jerry York?

Before we look forward to tonight’s matchup, let’s look back at some memorable moments in what has become an intense rivalry….

March 28, 1999. Madison, Wisconsin. BC defeats UND 3-1 (en) in the NCAA quarterfinals. The Sioux, who received a first-round bye in the NCAA tournament, lose for only the sixth time all season, and finish the year at 32-6-2, one game short of the Frozen Four.

April 8, 2000. Providence, Rhode Island. UND defeats BC 4-2 (en) in the NCAA title game to claim its seventh national championship. The Sioux rally from a 2-1 deficit after two periods.

April 7, 2001. Albany, New York. BC defeats UND 3-2 (OT) to win its first NCAA crown since 1949. Krys Kolanos nets the game-winner at 4:43 of overtime after UND scores twice in the final four minutes of regulation to even the score.

March 26, 2005. Worcester, Massachusetts. UND defeats BC 6-3 in the NCAA East Regional Final to advance to the first of four consecutive Frozen Fours. Colorado College, Denver, and Minnesota also advance, setting up an all-WCHA Frozen Four.

April 6, 2006. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. BC defeats UND 6-5 in the Frozen Four semifinal. North Dakota scores twice in the final five minutes to make it close, but it’s too little, too late.

April 5, 2007. St. Louis, Missouri. The NCAA Frozen Four semifinal. Yet another in a seemingly endless string of bouts between two heavyweights. Arguably the two hottest teams in the tournament: Boston College, winners of 12 straight games, versus North Dakota, winners of 19 of their last 21 contests. A furious final seven minutes turns a 2-2 tie into a 6-4 Eagles victory.

On Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, there will be a tremendous amount of talent on the ice. Unfortunately, though, Boston College will be without the services of Ryan Fitzgerald (5-11-16 in 16 games) who is out 4-6 weeks after suffering a high ankle sprain against Minnesota last weekend.

North Dakota’s Brock Boeser (upper body injury; 7-9-16 in 13 games) did not take the ice last weekend in UND’s home series against Michigan State, and although he made the trip to Manhattan, his status for tonight’s tilt is still in question.

If UND has an edge in this game, it’s the experience that netminder Cam Johnson brings to his locker room, bench, and crease. Johnson backstopped North Dakota to a national title last season, facing the nation’s hottest team (Northeastern), best line (Michigan’s CCM line), a bitter conference rival (Denver), and the country’s best team (Quinnipiac). On the other side, Boston College goaltender Joe Woll (9-4-1) has played well this season but, as a freshman, has never been on such a large stage.

This weekend will mark the sixth weekend out of seven that North Dakota will face off against a ranked opponent; 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 before 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 (T 1-1, L 2-3)
at #12 St. Cloud State (W 4-0, W 3-0)

UND carries a 5-2-2 non-conference record into this weekend. After Saturday’s clash with the Eagles, North Dakota’s out-of-conference schedule will conclude with a single game 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 three times in its last 31 non-conference games (23-3-5), and victories this weekend will help secure North Dakota’s postseason aspirations.

Boston College Team Profile

Head Coach: Jerry York (23rd season at BC, 557-268-77, .660)

Pairwise Ranking: t-5th of 60 teams
National Ranking: #3/#4
This Season: 12-4-1 overall, 7-0-1 Hockey East (1st)
Last Season: 28-8-5 (NCAA Frozen Four semifinalist), 15-2-5 Hockey East (t-1st)

Team Offense: 3.71 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.29 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 16.7% (14 of 84)
Penalty Kill: 82.2% (88 of 107)

Key Players: Senior F Matthew Gaudreau (5-13-18), Sophomore F Colin White (9-5-14), Senior F Austin Cangelosi (8-6-14), Sophomore F Christopher Brown (5-9-14), Sophomore D Casey Fitzgerald (5-8-13), Sophomore F Michael Kim (1-10-11), Freshman G Joe Woll (9-4-1, 2.32 GAA, .922 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (2nd season at UND, 41-11-7, .754)

Pairwise Ranking: 13th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #9/#10
This Season: 7-5-3 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: 3.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.27 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.2% (12 of 66)
Penalty Kill: 80.6% (58 of 72)

Key Players: Sophomore F Brock Boeser (7-9-16), Sophomore F Shane Gersich (11-10-21), Freshman F Tyson Jost (5-10-15), Junior F Austin Poganski (3-6-9), Junior D Tucker Poolman (4-10-14), Senior D Gage Ausmus (0-4-4), Junior G Cam Johnson (7-5-3, 2.19 GAA, .908 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: October 8, 2011 (Grand Forks, ND). In the championship game of the Icebreaker, UND led 2-1 early in the second period but saw the Eagles score four goals in a span of ten minutes to chase North Dakota netminder Aaron Dell (five goals allowed, ten saves) and take a 5-2 lead into the second intermission. Relief goaltender Brad Eidsness (one goal allowed, seven saves) gave the Sioux a fighting chance, but UND could not put any more pucks past Parker Milner, who finished with 22 saves for the Eagles. Aside from a fog-shortened 0-0 tie on Chestnut Hill, this game marked the fourth consecutive time that BC had scored six goals against North Dakota.

Most important meetings: The Sioux and Eagles have met twice to decide the National Championship, with UND taking the title in 2000 and BC winning it all in 2001.

All-time: The all-time series between the two schools is dead even at 11-11-1 (.500). The teams first met on December 29, 1959, with the Sioux winning 5-3. In addition to the more recent playoff meetings listed above, UND and BC also played in national semifinal games in 1963 and 1965, splitting the two contests. When the newly-formed Hockey East began play in 1984-1985, it created a five-year interlocking schedule with the WCHA. During that time, Boston College and North Dakota met 7 times, with John “Gino” Gasparini’s Fighting Sioux squad going 5-2-0 against Len Ceglarski’s Eagles.

Game News and Notes

Opponents have outshot Boston College 176-147 and outscored the Eagles 22-21 in third periods this season. BC has a huge edge (402-304 in shots; 42-17 in goals) over the first forty minutes of play. Boston College leads the nation with twelve victories this season. UND alum Brock Nelson and BC alum Brian Leetch (a Hobey Baker finalist in 1987) will drop the ceremonial first puck.

Pregame Festivities

There are pregame events scheduled at Heartland Brewery (350 5th Avenue, inside the Empire State Building) and Beer Authority (300 West 40th Street). All UND fans are welcome to attend.

Media Coverage

This Saturday’s game will be televised on CBS Sports Network; there will not be a webcast available. 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

If this game were decided by a “fans in Manhattan” contest, North Dakota would have already won in a landslide, as the UND contingent in New York City is quite impressive. As it stands, however, whichever side better handles the pressure of the big stage will have the early advantage. Brad Berry may need to urge his squad on to a furious comeback in the late stages of the game. I see this one going down to the wire (and possibly to overtime), with the Green and White faithful cheering their team to victory over 1500 miles from home. UND 4-3

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

  • I am going to hold you to that prediction.