Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Omaha

January 7th, 2017. Omaha, Nebraska. UND had just completed a sweep of the homestanding Mavericks. And the word “sweep” does not do justice to North Dakota’s dominance over Omaha that weekend. Brad Berry’s club scored sixteen goals on the weekend and allowed only four. Coupled with a split against Western Michigan and road wins over Boston College and Union, things were looking up for the Green and White…

At the time, North Dakota boasted an overall record of 12-6-3. A winning record in the NCHC (5-4-1-1). A Pairwise ranking of 7th and a national ranking to match. A second-half schedule that appeared favorable: road series at Colorado College, Western Michigan, and Miami and home series vs. Miami, Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State, and Omaha.

Since that offensive outburst in Omaha, UND is averaging just 2.1 goals per contest, and their highest goal output in a weekend series has been six (3-6, 3-1 vs. Miami). North Dakota is just 3-7-0 in the last ten games and could very well find themselves on the road in the first round of the league playoffs for the first time in fifteen seasons.

Omaha, on the other hand, is 4-4-2 in the past ten games and scored twelve goals in their last series, a split against Western Michigan two weekends ago. By comparison, UND could muster only a pair of goals each night in a pair of losses against WMU last weekend.

North Dakota is currently tied with Omaha for fifth place in the league standings (26 points each), with the top four teams hosting in the first round of the NCHC tournament (March 10-12). St. Cloud State is in fourth place with 28, two points clear of UND and UNO. Miami sits five points back of North Dakota and Omaha and has played one more game than those two teams. Needless to say, points are critical for the Fighting Hawks this weekend. Here are the games being played over the final two weekends of the regular season:

February 23-25:
Miami at Minnesota-Duluth (Duluth defeated Miami 4-3 on Thursday, February 23rd. The rematch is set for Friday, February 24th)
Omaha at North Dakota
St. Cloud State at Denver
Western Michigan at Colorado College

March 3-4:
Colorado College at St. Cloud State
Denver at Omaha
Minnesota-Duluth at Western Michigan
North Dakota at Miami

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, 144-128-30, .526)

Pairwise Ranking: 18th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 15-12-5 overall, 8-10-2-0 NCHC (t-5th)
Last Season: 18-17-1 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-15-1-0 NCHC (6th)

Team Offense: 3.38 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.34 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 25.3% (41 of 162)
Penalty Kill: 76.5% (114 of 149)

Key Players: Senior F Austin Ortega (17-22-39), Junior F Tyler Vesel (12-21-33), Junior F David Pope (11-15-26), Junior F Jake Randolph (5-17-22), Junior D Luc Snuggerud (11-18-29), Senior D Ian Brady (3-18-21), Sophomore G Evan Weninger (9-7-4, 3.11 GAA, .904 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (2nd season at UND, 49-19-7, .700)

Pairwise Ranking: 14th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #16/#15
This Season: 15-13-3 overall, 8-11-1-1 NCHC (t-5th)
Last Season: 34-6-4 overall (NCAA champions), 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st of 8 teams)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.06 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.52 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.9% (25 of 132)
Penalty Kill: 84.3% (113 of 134)

Key Players: Sophomore F Shane Gersich (19-15-34), Sophomore F Brock Boeser (11-15-26), Freshman F Tyson Jost (11-14-25), Junior F Austin Poganski (9-11-20), Junior D Tucker Poolman (5-18-23), Sophomore D Christian Wolanin (3-12-15), Junior G Cam Johnson (14-10-3, 2.32 GAA, .907 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: January 7, 2017 (Omaha, Nebraska). North Dakota got to UNO netminder Evan Weninger early and often in cruising to a 7-3 victory and the weekend sweep (UND crushed the Mavericks 9-1 in Friday’s opener). Tyson Jost collected four points on the weekend after his emotional return from the World Juniors. Specialty teams were huge for the visitors, as the Fighting Hawks scored six power play goals and a shorthanded goal on the weekend while allowing Omaha just one goal with the man advantage in the two-game series.

Last meeting in Grand Forks: January 16, 2016. North Dakota spotted UNO the a 1-0 lead in the first period, but it wouldn’t last long. Drake Caggiula potted a power play goal with seven seconds remaining in the opening frame and UND added two goals in each of the next two periods to defeat the visiting Mavericks 5-1. Omaha won Friday’s opener 4-3 in overtime, helped along by Jake Randolph’s tally with one tick left on the second period clock.

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.

Last ten: North Dakota has seven wins and a tie in the last ten contests between the schools, outscoring the Mavericks 43-22 over that stretch. Four of the last ten games have gone to overtime.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 14-7-1 (.659) and has a slight edge (5-4-1, .550) in games played in Grand Forks.

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. The next victory for current UND bench boss Brad Berry will be the 50th of his coaching career. Omaha has scored 41 goals on the power play and allowed 38; UND has scored 25 and allowed 21.

Media Coverage

This weekend’s series will be telecast live by Midco Sports Network. Saturday’s game will also be carried live on FOX College Sports Pacific. 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

I expect two tight contests, with Saturday’s rematch the closer 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. UND 4-3, UNO 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!