Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Minnesota-Duluth

In late October 2016, the Bulldogs (3-1-2 at the time and ranked #2 in the country) and the Fighting Hawks (5-0-0; then #1) squared off in Duluth. UMD hadn’t won a series against North Dakota since November 2008, but used timely special teams play and excellent goaltending to sweep UND by scores of 5-2 and 3-0.

After that weekend, North Dakota went two more weekends without a victory (0-2-2 against Minnesota and Denver). UND righted the ship with a sweep at St. Cloud State in mid-November and boasts a mark of 8-3-1 beginning with that weekend. Even with this recent run, UND (now ranked #8 in the country) finds themselves in third place in the league standings with twelve conference games remaining. The #4 Bulldogs are on top of the NCHC with a record of 9-4-1-1 (three points ahead of Denver and nine clear of UND) but have played two more league games than the other contenders. Even so, Brad Berry’s squad will need more than a split this weekend if it hopes to gain ground in the race for the Penrose Cup.

Duluth has stayed at or near the top of the Pairwise and national rankings due to their steady play in non-conference games (4-1-3, .688), and the fact that they have only suffered consecutive losses once this season (January 7th vs. Colorado College and January 13th vs. St. Cloud State). The Bulldogs have two non-conference games remaining, as they will take part in the North Star College Cup next weekend. The Bulldogs will square off against #7 Minnesota in the opener and face either Bemidji State or St. Cloud State next Saturday.

Two seasons ago, Boston University defeated both Minnesota-Duluth (3-2) and North Dakota (5-3) in the NCAA tournament on their way to the championship game. The Terriers fell 4-3 to the Providence Friars, one win short of a national title.

Scott Sandelin has brought his team within one game of the Frozen Four in each of the last two seasons but has yet to regain the national championship form his squad experienced in 2011. North Dakota has made the NCAA tournament in each of the past 14 seasons (the longest active streak in men’s Division I college hockey) and finally made it to the mountaintop in Tampa, claiming the program’s eighth national title.

Coming into this season, goaltending was a question mark for the Bulldogs. Kasimir Kaskisuo (19-15-5, 1.92 goals-against average, .923 save percentage, and five shutouts in 39 appearances last season) gave up his final two seasons of eligibility to sign with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Kaskisuo won 37 games for UMD in his brief college career. Freshman Hunter Miska has been everything Scott Sandelin could have asked for and then some, taking control of the crease in his nineteen games played (12-4-2, 2.20 GAA, .918 SV%, 3 SO).

According to KRACH, Minnesota-Duluth has played the toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks 3rd (with Denver 2nd). In fact, seven NCHC schools boast the seven toughest schedules across college hockey, with Omaha’s ranked 15th.

Minnesota-Duluth Team Profile

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (17th season at UMD, 300-282-79, .514)

Pairwise Ranking: 3rd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #4/#3
This Season: 13-5-4 overall, 9-4-1-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 19-16-5 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional finalist), 11-10-3-1 NCHC (4th)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.14 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.18 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.0% (18 of 100)
Penalty Kill: 80.4% (86 of 107)

Key Players: Senior F Alex Iafallo (10-14-24), Sophomore F Adam Johnson (8-10-18), Freshman F Joey Anderson (6-12-18), Senior F Kyle Osterberg (10-7-17), Sophomore D Neal Pionk (5-13-18), Senior D Carson Soucy (3-10-13), Freshman G Hunter Miska (12-4-2, 2.20 GAA, .918 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (2nd season at UND, 47-13-7, .754)

Pairwise Ranking: 7th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #8/#8
This Season: 13-7-3 overall, 6-5-1-1 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 34-6-4 overall (NCAA champions), 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st of 8 teams)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.48 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.30 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.0% (21 of 105)
Penalty Kill: 82.7% (86 of 104)

Key Players: Sophomore F Shane Gersich (16-14-30), Freshman F Tyson Jost (10-13-23), Sophomore F Brock Boeser (11-11-22), Junior F Austin Poganski (8-11-19), Junior D Tucker Poolman (4-14-18), Sophomore D Christian Wolanin (3-11-14), Junior G Cam Johnson (13-7-3, 2.14 GAA, .913 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: October 29, 2016 (Duluth, MN). The Bulldogs scored three times in the second period – once on the power play and twice while shorthanded – and got a thirty save shutout from Hunter Miska in a 3-0 victory over #1 North Dakota. Duluth, which defeated the Fighting Hawks 5-2 in the opener, secured the home sweep by killing all seven UND power plays.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: February 20, 2016. After sweeping the Bulldogs in Duluth by identical 3-0 scores in December, the games were much closer at Ralph Engelstad Arena. One night after Austin Poganski sent the home crowd into a frenzy with a penalty shot goal in overtime, Brock Boeser scored with 5:21 remaining in the third period to secure the 2-1 victory for UND. Cam Johnson made 59 saves in the weekend sweep.

Most Important Meeting: March 22, 1984 (Lake Placid, NY) Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota met in the national semifinal game, with the Bulldogs defeating the Fighting Sioux 2-1 in overtime to advance to the championship. UND went on to defeat Michigan State 6-5 (OT) for third place, while Duluth fell to Bowling Green 5-4 in four overtimes, the longest championship game ever played.

The Meeting That Never Was: Both teams advanced to the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four at Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minnesota). UND could not get past Michigan, falling 2-0 despite outshooting the Wolverines 40-20. In the other national semifinal, Minnesota-Duluth defeated Notre Dame 4-3 and rode that momentum to the title game. The Bulldogs took the Wolverines to overtime before senior forward Kyle Schmidt scored the game winner and earned UMD their first and only national championship. North Dakota won two of the three games against Duluth that season, outscoring Scott Sandelin’s team 11-5.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 144-80-9 (.637), including an 80-33-3 (.703) mark in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1954, with North Dakota winning the first ten games between the schools by a combined score of 72-16. UMD’s first win over the Fighting Sioux (a 3-2 road victory on December 18th, 1959) did not sit well with the defending national champions. UND defeated Duluth 13-2 the following night.

Last Ten: North Dakota is 6-4-0 (.600) in the last ten games between the teams, outscoring the Bulldogs 26-22 over that stretch. Duluth has won the last three meetings between these two storied programs.

Game News and Notes

UND sophomore Brock Boeser has three goals and three assists in seven career games against the Bulldogs. Minnesota-Duluth has only lost one game on the road this season (6-1-2). Both head coaches this weekend are alumni of the University of North Dakota; Brad Berry (1983-86) and Scott Sandelin (1982-86) both played for UND under John “Gino” Gasparini. Sandelin picked up career win #300 last Saturday night in a 4-3 overtime victory over St. Cloud State.

Media Coverage

Friday’s opener will be shown live on CBS Sports Network, with Saturday’s rematch available on FOX College Sports and Midco Sports Network. Saturday’s game 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

This weekend hinges on the play of UMD freshman netminder Hunter Miska. I see this playing out much the same way as it did for the Bulldogs in Denver last month: Miska was average on Friday night (four goals allowed on 31 shots in a 4-3 loss) and outstanding on Saturday (one goal allowed on 39 shots in a 3-1 victory). North Dakota just might have enough to earn a tie in the second game, but I don’t see it. UND 4-2, Duluth 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!