Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Miami

Over the first three seasons of the NCHC, Miami has averaged a 5th-place finish (8th, 2nd, 5th), with a combined league record of 29-39-4-4 (.440).

This season is looking like more of the same for the RedHawks. Through ten games, Enrico Blasi’s squad sports a record of 3-4-3-1 (.433), good for fifth place in the eight-team league.

When the National Collegiate Hockey Conference was formed, Miami appeared positioned to be a dominant player. Prior to the 2013-14 season (their inaugural campaign in the NCHC), the RedHawks had made eight consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, with consecutive Frozen Four bids in 2009 and 2010. Since joining the NCHC, Miami has just one NCAA tournament appearance (2015), and that ended quickly with a first-round loss to eventual national champion Providence.

For comparison, North Dakota has finished 2nd, 1st, and 1st in the first three seasons of the new league and currently sits in third place (5-4-1-1, 17 points) with 14 league games remaining.

Last weekend marked the tenth weekend out of eleven that North Dakota faced off against a ranked opponent; UND went 14-5-1 (.725) against top-twenty teams a year ago but is just 9-5-2 (.625) 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)
at #20 Omaha (W 9-1, W 7-3)

Other ranked teams remaining on the second-half schedule include home series vs. #3 Minnesota-Duluth and a road series at #14 Western Michigan.

According to KRACH, North Dakota has played the third-toughest schedule in the country to date; Miami’s ranks 7th of 60 teams.

Last season, Miami lost to Minnesota-Duluth four straight times to end their season. The Bulldogs hosted the RedHawks on the final weekend of the regular season, sweeping Miami 5-0 and 3-1. In the first weekend of the league playoffs, Enrico Blasi’s squad performed admirably but UMD swept again (5-4, 3-1) to end Miami’s season.

The RedHawks come into this weekend as winners of four straight games after suffering a ten game winless streak (0-7-3) that stretched from October 29th through December 9th.

Miami Team Profile

Head Coach: Enrico Blasi (18th season at Miami, 373-256-65, .584)

Pairwise Ranking: 28th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 7-8-5 overall, 3-4-3-1 NCHC (t-5th)
Last Season: 15-18-3 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 9-13-2-2 NCHC (5th)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.60 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.75 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.8% (19 of 107)
Penalty Kill: 85.3% (87 of 102)

Key Players: Senior F Anthony Louis (11-14-25), Sophomore F Kiefer Sherwood (10-13-23), Sophomore F Josh Melnick (6-11-17), Freshman F Carson Meyer (5-12-17), Junior D Louie Belpedio (3-6-9), Sophomore D Grant Hutton (5-2-7), Freshman G Ryan Larkin (6-6-5, 2.48 GAA, .914 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (2nd season at UND, 46-12-7, .762)

Pairwise Ranking: 7th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #7/#7
This Season: 12-6-3 overall, 5-4-1-1 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 34-6-4 overall (NCAA champions), 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st of 8 teams)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.52 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.19 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.3% (20 of 94)
Penalty Kill: 81.9% (77 of 94)

Key Players: Sophomore F Shane Gersich (15-13-28), Freshman F Tyson Jost (10-12-22), Sophomore F Brock Boeser (10-11-21), Junior F Austin Poganski (7-10-17), Junior D Tucker Poolman (4-14-18), Sophomore D Christian Wolanin (2-10-12), Junior G Cam Johnson (12-6-3, 2.09 GAA, .916 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: November 14, 2015 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota used some late-game heroics from Nick Schmaltz (an extra-attacker goal with 94 seconds remaining) to send the game to overtime, and Luke Johnson made the final 4-3 with his tally from a strange angle 83 seconds into the extra session. Matt Hrynkiw started both games of the series in net for UND, who won Friday’s opener 6-2. North Dakota outshot their fellow Hawks 68-35 on the weekend.

Most memorable meeting: March 6, 2015 (Oxford, OH). North Dakota went on the road and took care of business, securing a hard-fought 2-1 victory over the RedHawks and earning the Penrose Cup, UND’s 16th regular season conference title. UND scored early in each of the first two periods (Keaton Thompson at 2:43 of the first; Conner Gaarder at 1:56 of the second) and survived a furious Miami rally. Zane McIntyre made 43 of 44 saves, including 38 stops in the final two periods. Miami finished 2nd in the league in 2014-15 (six points behind North Dakota), their best finish by far over the first three seasons of the NCHC.

Last Ten: UND has picked up six wins in the past ten contests, outscoring Miami 35-29 over that stretch of games.

All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 9-4-1 (.679), including a 5-1-1 (.786) mark in games played in Grand Forks. Five of the fourteen all-time meetings between the schools came during the 2013-14 season, with UND picking up wins in three of those five games. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).

Game News and Notes

North Dakota and Miami have two of the four largest groups of underclassmen in the country. UND’s 19 freshmen and sophomores have scored 147 points this season (59 goals, 88 assists), while Miami’s 20 underclassmen have a line of 33-62-95. With four more consecutive starts between the pipes, UND junior goaltender Cam Johnson would equal a record set by Jean-Phillippe Lamoureux, who started 55 straight games in net for North Dakota from 2006-08.

Media Coverage

Both games will be televised live on Midco Sports Network. 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 is relatively healthy and really rolling right now. Miami could steal a game if goaltender Ryan Larkin can shut down UND’s offense, but I think the home side prevails both nights. UND 4-2, 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!