Weekend Preview: North Dakota at 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 even worse for the RedHawks. With one weekend remaining in the league schedule, Enrico Blasi’s squad sports a record of 5-12-5-3 (.348), good for seventh place in the eight-team NCHC.

When the National Collegiate Hockey Conference was formed, Miami appeared positioned to be a dominant program. 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 fourth place (9-12-1-1, 29 points) with only this weekend’s games remaining in the regular season. It should be noted that UND is assured of its first losing record in conference play since going 11-15-2 in the WCHA back in 2001-02.

Denver, Duluth, and Western Michigan have locked up the three spots in the league standings (although the order has yet to be determined) and will certainly host the first round of the NCHC playoffs next weekend (March 10-12). That leaves just one home ice spot up for grabs heading into this weekend’s slate of games…

North Dakota is currently tied with Omaha for fourth place in the league standings (29 points each). with St. Cloud State in sixth place with 28. Miami sits six points back of North Dakota and Omaha. Needless to say, points are critical for the Fighting Hawks this weekend, both for playoff seeding and in the Pairwise Rankings (UND is currently 16th). UND holds the head-to-head tiebreakers with both Omaha and St. Cloud State.

Here are the NCHC games being played over the final weekend of the regular season:

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

Since the teams met in Grand Forks on January 13th and 14th (a split), Miami has scored 21 goals and allowed 34 in ten NCHC contests. Over that same stretch of time (and the same number of league games), North Dakota has scored 21 goals and allowed 32 while suffering three shutouts. The RedHawks have scored more than two goals only four times in the past ten games; the Fighting Hawks, three times. North Dakota is 11-0-1 when scoring four or more goals this season but just 5-14-2 when held under four goals.

Last year, 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.

Miami Team Profile

Head Coach: Enrico Blasi (18th season at Miami, 375-264-67, .579)

Pairwise Ranking: 29th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 9-16-7 overall, 5-12-5-3 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 15-18-3 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 9-13-2-2 NCHC (5th)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.50 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.97 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.4% (27 of 155)
Penalty Kill: 82.6% (128 of 155)

Key Players: Senior F Anthony Louis (13-23-36), Sophomore F Kiefer Sherwood (11-21-32), Sophomore F Josh Melnick (9-18-27), Freshman F Carson Meyer (9-16-25), Junior D Louie Belpedio (6-11-17), Sophomore D Grant Hutton (9-5-14), Freshman G Ryan Larkin (8-14-7, 2.72 GAA, .911 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (2nd season at UND, 50-20-7, .695)

Pairwise Ranking: 16th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #15/#15
This Season: 16-14-3 overall, 9-12-1-1 NCHC (t-4th)
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: 2.58 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.6% (26 of 140)
Penalty Kill: 84.6% (121 of 143)

Key Players: Sophomore F Shane Gersich (19-15-34), Sophomore F Brock Boeser (13-15-28), Freshman F Tyson Jost (13-15-28), Junior F Austin Poganski (9-12-21), Junior D Tucker Poolman (5-18-23), Sophomore D Christian Wolanin (4-12-16), Junior G Cam Johnson (15-11-3, 2.36 GAA, .907 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: January 14, 2017 (Grand Forks, North Dakota). UND outshot Miami 34-15 and got points from seven different players (including a second-period shorthanded goal from Rhett Gardner) to defeat the RedHawks 3-1 and salvage a split of the weekend series. In Friday’s opener, MU used five third-period goals from five different goal scorers to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 6-3 victory, chasing Fighting Hawks netminder Cam Johnson in the process. Incidentally, Miami’s comeback was the first time North Dakota had lost when leading after two periods of play since November 1st, 2013.

Last meeting in Oxford, Ohio: March 7, 2015. Miami defeated #1 UND 6-3 behind a four-point night from senior captain Austin Czarnik and 31 saves from Ryan McKay. North Dakota secured the Penrose Cup one night earlier with a hard-fought 2-1 victory. 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 36-28 over that stretch of games. The RedHawks have only hosted two of the past ten meetings between the schools.

All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 10-5-1 (.656), but the teams have split the four games that Miami has hosted (two victories each). 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 200 of the team’s 266 points this season (81 goals, 119 assists), while Miami’s 20 underclassmen have collected 56 goals and 95 assists (151 of the team’s 224 total points). The RedHawks have been outscored 95-77 in regulation this season but have three wins and seven ties in ten overtime games. The Fighting Hawks lead the nation in average attendance (11,627 per home game), while the RedHawks are 34th (2,528 per home game).

Media Coverage

Friday’s opener will not be televised, but Saturday’s rematch will be broadcast live on FOX College Sports Atlantic. 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’s two conference sweeps this season have come on the road (at St. Cloud State; at Omaha), and I’m calling for a third this weekend in Oxford. It won’t be easy or pretty, but the Fighting Hawks will get the job done. UND 3-2, 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!

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