Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Alaska Anchorage

Four full seasons have come and gone since the college hockey landscape changed forever. With Minnesota and Wisconsin departing the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for the Big Ten after the 2012-13 season, several other conference schools created the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and left Alaska Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, and Minnesota State behind in a watered-down WCHA.

It is abundantly clear that the NCHC has been the premier hockey conference since its inception, and particularly over the past three seasons. The eight teams in the league have gone 149-72-28 (.655) in non-conference action since 2015-16 and sent two teams to the Frozen Four in each of those three years. Conference members North Dakota and Denver claimed the past two national titles, with DU besting Minnesota-Duluth for the championship in April.

The University of Alaska Anchorage became a member of the WCHA beginning with the 1993-94 season and has not advanced to the NCAA tournament since that time (the Seawolves made three tourney appearances as an independent from 1989-92). UAA has had only one winning season in the past 24 years (18-16-4 in 2013-14), with travel being the biggest factor in the team’s lack of success.

These out-of-conference games are critical for North Dakota’s postseason aspirations. Last season, Brad Berry’s squad went 7-2-2 in regular season non-conference action (after going 9-1-2 in 2015-16) and made its fifteenth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance (the longest active streak in the country). UND’s other non-conference opponents during the 2017-18 campaign will be St. Lawrence, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Union, and Bemidji State. Teams who travel to Alaska receive an exemption for those games, and therefore can play two extra non-conference games during the season.

Alaska Anchorage Team Profile

Head Coach: Matt Thomas (5th season at UAA, 44-79-17, .375)
National Ranking: NR/NR
This Season: 0-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 WCHA
Last Season: 7-21-6 overall, 6-16-6 WCHA (10th of 10 teams)

2016-17 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 1.74 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.00 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 8.3% (15 of 181)
Penalty Kill: 83.1% (148 of 178)

Key Returning Players (2016-17 statistics): Senior F Matt Anholt (5-17-22), Senior F Tad Kozun (5-14-19), Junior F Jonah Renouf (3-6-9), Junior F Alex Jackstadt (4-4-8), Senior D Jarrett Brown (5-10-15), Senior D Tanner Johnson (3-3-6), Senior G Olivier Mantha (7-18-4, 2.82 GAA, .913 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 55-22-7, .696)
National Ranking: #7/#7
This Season: 0-0-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 21-16-3 overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2016-17 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.17 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.60 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.5% (32 of 173)
Penalty Kill: 83.8% (140 of 167)

Key Returning Players (2016-17 statistics): Junior F Shane Gersich (21-16-37), Senior F Austin Poganski (12-13-25), Junior F Rhett Gardner (8-13-21), Junior F Joel Janatuinen (8-11-19), Junior D Christian Wolanin (6-16-22), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (2-10-12), Senior G Cam Johnson (20-13-3, 2.39 GAA, .903 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: October 27, 2012 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after dispatching the Seawolves by a 4-1 margin, North Dakota needed an extra-attacker goal from Derek Forbort to manage a 3-3 tie. Corban Knight and Rocco Grimaldi also scored for the Fighting Sioux, who scored once in each period. Both teams went 0-for-2 with the man advantage, although UAA’s Tyler Currier tallied a shorthanded marker early in the third period to tie the game at 2-2. The late great Butch Mousseaux served as one of the on-ice officials for the contest.

Last meeting in Alaska: October 19, 2012 (Fairbanks, AK). Despite playing with only 15 skaters (nine forwards) due to suspensions and injuries, UND steamrolled Alaska-Anchorage 5-0 in the opening game of the Goal Rush tournament. Sophomore forward Mark MacMillan led the way for North Dakota with two goals, while junior netminder Clarke Saunders stopped all 21 shots he faced to earn the victory.

Most Important Meeting: March 19, 2004 (St. Paul, MN). The Fighting Sioux and Seawolves met in the semifinal round of the WCHA Final Five, and UND cruised to the championship game with a 4-2 victory.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 46-17-5 (.713), with a slight edge (17-14-1, .547) in games played in Anchorage.

Last Ten: UND has a 7-2-1 (.750) record in the last ten games between the teams, outscoring the Seawolves 41-16 over that span.

Game News And Notes

North Dakota is unbeaten in the last seven meetings between the programs. UND is the winningest men’s collegiate hockey program in the nation over the past eleven seasons (290 victories); Alaska Anchorage has notched 118 wins over that same stretch. The Fighting Hawks were the only team in the nation to draw more than 200,000 fans in 2016-17 and led the nation in average home attendance (11,505). The Seawolves last hosted UND in Anchorage in December 2011, with North Dakota sweeping the series (5-2, 4-1).

The Prediction

North Dakota has an advantage all over the ice and will prove too much for Alaska Anchorage to handle. I see Friday’s contest as the more difficult one, with UND pulling away late after struggling to find their legs early. Cam Johnson should be able to blank the Seawolves in Saturday’s rematch. UND 4-2, 3-0.

Media Coverage

All UND men’s hockey games, home and away, can be heard on 96.1 FM (The Fox) and on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network, as well as through the iHeart Radio app. This weekend’s series will not be televised, but both games will be streamed live via WCHA.tv.

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!