Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Omaha

North Dakota finds itself looking up at Omaha in the NCHC standings as we begin league play in 2017, but only three points separate 3rd place from 6th place in the conference standings. With Minnesota-Duluth and Denver firmly entrenched as the top two teams over the first half of the season, UND and UNO will be battling St. Cloud State and Western Michigan for the final two home ice positions as we look ahead to the league playoffs.

This weekend will mark the ninth weekend out of ten 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 7-5-2 (.556) in those situations so far this season. Here’s a closer look at the grind that the Fighting Hawks had to endure in the first half of the 2016-17 season:

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)
vs. #3 Boston College (W 4-3)
vs. #18 Western Michigan (W 5-1, L 1-3)
at #10 Union (W 3-1)

Other ranked teams remaining on the second-half schedule include home series vs. #1 Minnesota-Duluth, #18 St. Cloud State and #20 Omaha and a road series at #16 Western Michigan.

According to KRACH, North Dakota has played the third-toughest schedule in the country to date; Omaha’s ranks 20th of 60 teams.

The Mavericks have played only six games against ranked opponents this season, going a combined 2-4 in series against Massachusetts-Lowell, Minnesota-Duluth, and St. Cloud State.

In 2015, both North Dakota and Omaha advanced to the Frozen Four but neither team made the championship game. UND fell to Boston University 5-3, while the Mavericks were upended 4-1 by eventual national champion Providence.

Today’s Trivia Question: Since the NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey tournament expanded to 16 teams for the 2002-03 season, very few teams have missed the tourney one year after making a Frozen Four appearance. Omaha accomplished that feat in 2015-16, losing eight straight games to end their season. Who are the other teams who belong in this less-than-elite company?

Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Dean Blais (8th season at UNO, 140-122-28, .531)

Pairwise Ranking: 14th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #18/#17
This Season: 11-6-3 overall, 4-4-0-0 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 18-17-1 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-15-1-0 NCHC (6th)

Team Offense: 3.65 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.85 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 26.7% (28 of 105)
Penalty Kill: 81.2% (78 of 96)

Key Players: Senior F Austin Ortega (14-13-27), Junior F Tyler Vesel (9-14-23), Junior F David Pope (6-13-19), Junior F Jake Randolph (4-13-17), Junior D Luc Snuggerud (6-12-18), Senior D Ian Brady (2-15-17), Sophomore G Evan Weninger (7-3-2, 2.52 GAA, .919 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (2nd season at UND, 44-12-7, .754)

Pairwise Ranking: 8th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #7/#7
This Season: 10-6-3 overall, 3-4-1-1 NCHC (6th)
Last Season: 34-6-4 overall (NCAA champions), 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st of 8 teams)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.05 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.21 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.1% (14 of 82)
Penalty Kill: 81.2% (69 of 85)

Key Players: Sophomore F Shane Gersich (14-11-25), Junior F Austin Poganski (7-9-16), Sophomore F Rhett Gardner (4-6-10), Junior D Tucker Poolman (4-11-15), Sophomore D Christian Wolanin (0-8-8), Junior G Cam Johnson (10-6-3, 2.10 GAA, .915 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: February 27, 2016 (Omaha, Nebraska). North Dakota rode a strong second period to a 4-1 victory over the homestanding Mavericks, clinching at least a share of the NCHC regular season championship in the process. UND won Friday night’s opener by a score of 4-2 after the teams split a January series at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks.

Most memorable meeting: The game that UND fans will long remember is the outdoor game played at TD Ameritrade Park (Omaha, Nebraska) on February 9th, 2013. One day after winning a tight 2-1 contest indoors, North Dakota throttled UNO 5-2 on a sunny, melty afternoon. Mavericks netminder John Faulkner was pulled after allowing three goals on five shots in just ten minutes of game action. In my opinion, this hockey weekend solidified the notion that for UND hockey, it’s always a home game.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 12-7-1 (.625), including a 7-3-0 (.700) record in games played in Omaha. Four of the last eight games have gone to overtime.

Game News and Notes

Dean Blais, who was the head coach at UND from 1994-2004, collected 262 victories at North Dakota and led the school to national titles in 1997 and 2000. Omaha has scored 28 goals on the power play and allowed 18; UND has scored 14 and allowed 16.

Media Coverage

Friday’s game will not be televised, but Saturday’s rematch will be televised nationally by American Sports Network and available locally in the Grand Forks viewing area on WDAY’Z Xtra. A high definition webcast of both games will be available to NCHC.tv subscribers. 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 will surely miss the presence of forwards Brock Boeser (7-9-16 in 13 games) and Tyson Jost (7-11-18 in 17 games), particularly late in both games. I expect two tight contests, with Saturday’s rematch the tighter affair. If the Fighting Hawks can stay out of the penalty box, they’ve got a shot at more than a split, but I don’t see it playing out that way. UNO 4-3, UND 3-1.

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!

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