Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Minnesota

It’s a tale of two programs as we enter the 2017-18 season…

North Dakota is one year removed from its eighth national championship and boasts a string of fifteen consecutive tournament appearances, the longest active streak in college hockey.

Minnesota has only advanced to the NCAAs five times in the last nine seasons and is stuck on five national titles, the most recent in 2002 and 2003.

More to the point…

The Golden Gophers played from 1947-1973 without a title (26 seasons).

Head coach Herb Brooks led Minnesota to three NCAA championships in a six year stretch (1974, 1976, and 1979).

The Golden Gophers then played from 1979-2001 without a title (22 seasons).

Head coach Don Lucia won back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003.

This year will mark the fifteenth anniversary of Minnesota’s most recent NCAA crown.

Despite only nine tournament victories since Minnesota’s last title (UND has 22 in that same span), Gophers’ head coach Don Lucia was given a two-year extension last year that will keep him behind the bench through the 2018-19 campaign.

North Dakota has been relevant in every decade, with head coaches Bob May, Barry Thorndycraft, John “Gino” Gasparini, Dean Blais, and Brad Berry all lifting college hockey’s most coveted trophy.

Thankfully for fans of college hockey’s greatest matchup, this weekend’s games mark the second of seven consecutive seasons in which the teams are guaranteed to meet:

October 20 and 21, 2017: Ralph Engelstad Arena (Grand Forks, North Dakota)
October 27, 2018: Orleans Arena (Las Vegas, Nevada) *Hall Of Fame Game*
2019-20: 3M Arena at Mariucci (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
2020-21: Ralph Engelstad Arena (Grand Forks, North Dakota)
2011-22: 3M Arena at Mariucci (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
2022-23: Ralph Engelstad Arena (Grand Forks, North Dakota)

The two teams have met 286 times and were members of the same conference for over sixty years. Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald has an excellent article about some key moments in the series.

On the injury front, Minnesota will most likely be without the services of freshman forward Scott Reedy (one goal in three games) and junior captain Tyler Sheehy (one assist in two games this season; 32-52-84 in his 77-game Gopher career). UND freshman defenseman Gabe Bast (9-31-40 in 49 games with the Penticton Vees in 2014-15) has been cleared to play and may see game action this weekend. Bast had each of his past two junior seasons cut short by injury and will turn 21 this December.

Including two East Grand Forks products (sophomore forward Dixon Bowen and sophomore defenseman Colton Poolman), UND has twelve Minnesotans on its roster. Four of the other ten were plucked from the Twin Cities (Shane Gersich/Chaska, Grant Mismash/Edina, Hayden Shaw/Woodbury, and Peter Thome/Minneapolis), while the others hail from Brainerd, Duluth, Elk River, Roseau (two), and St. Cloud. Sophomore defenseman Casey Johnson and senior forward Johnny Simonson are from Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Minnesota can no longer lay claim to having a roster made up exclusively of the State of Hockey’s “Pride On Ice”, with players hailing from Anchorage (Alaska), Commerce Township and Grand Rapids (Michigan), Mississauga (Ontario), Newport Beach (California), River Falls (Wisconsin), and Stockholm (Sweden).

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 Wisconsin, Union, and Bemidji State. Teams who travel to Alaska (as North Dakota did last month) receive an exemption for those games, and therefore can play two extra non-conference games during the season.

Minnesota Team Profile

Head Coach: Don Lucia (19th season at Minnesota, 440-233-71, .639)

National Rankings: #8/#7
This Season: 2-2-0 overall, 1-1-0-0 Big Ten (t-1st)
Last Season: 23-12-3 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional Semifinalist), 14-5-1-0 Big Ten (1st)

Team Offense: 3.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 15.0% (3 of 20)
Penalty Kill: 66.7% (12 of 18)

Key Players: Junior F Tommy Novak (1-3-4), Sophomore F Rem Pitlick (1-3-4), Freshman F Brannon McManus (3-0-3), Freshman F Casey Mittelstadt (2-1-3, zero pullups), Senior F Mike Szmatula (0-1-1), Sophomore D Ryan Zuhlsdorf (0-3-3), Sophomore D Ryan Lindgren (0-1-1), Junior G Eric Schierhorn (2-2-0, 2.50 GAA, .918 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 58-22-8, .705)
National Ranking: #4/#4
This Season: 3-0-1 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)

2017-18 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.25 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.0% (4 of 21)
Penalty Kill: 93.8% (15 of 16)

Key Players: Junior F Shane Gersich (1-1-2), Junior F Rhett Gardner (1-2-3), Junior F Joel Janatuinen (0-3-3), Sophomore F Ludvig Hoff (1-1-2), Junior D Christian Wolanin (1-2-3), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (0-3-3), Senior G Cam Johnson (3-0-1, 1.23 GAA, .938 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last meeting:November 5, 2016 (Minneapolis, MN). The Fighting Hawks outshot the homestanding Gophers 33-20 but could not solve netminder Eric Schierhorn and fell by a final of 2-0. Friday’s opener featured ten goals, with Minnesota rallying four times to tie the score.

Last meeting in Grand Forks: January 14, 2012. Minnesota’s Nick Bjugstad and Nate Condon each scored twice as the Gophers routed North Dakota 6-2. Condon’s second, a shorthanded marker early in the third period, essentially put the game out of reach. In Friday’s opener, Brock Nelson scored with under four minutes remaining in regulation to break a 1-1 tie and give UND the victory.

Most important meeting: March 24, 1979 (Detroit, MI). North Dakota and Minnesota met to decide the national championship, and the Gophers prevailed, 4-3. Neal Broten scored the game-winning goal for the U of M, and Steve Janaszak was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.

All-time: Minnesota leads the all-time series by a ten-game margin, 140-130-16 (.517), although North Dakota has a 70-55-8 (.556) edge in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1948.

Last ten: The Gophers have gone 7-1-2 in the last ten meetings between the schools, outscoring UND 37-23 in those games.

Game News and Notes

Gophers’ head coach Don Lucia (Notre Dame ’81) is the only member of his coaching staff without a degree from the University of Minnesota. Associate head coach Mike Guentzel, assistant head coach Scott Bell, and goaltending coach Justin Johnson all attended the U of M. The number eight is greater than the number five. In an effort to alleviate parking concerns, Minnesota fans are asked to park in Duluth and walk to Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend can be seen on Midco Sports Network as well as on Mediacom cable outlets in Minnesota and Iowa. Friday’s game begins at 7:37 p.m. Central Time with Saturday’s opening faceoff set for 7:07 p.m. CT. The games 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

There will certainly be a buzz at Ralph Engelstad Arena this weekend. This rivalry has shown that whichever side handles the pressure and energy better will emerge victorious. I see UND coming out a bit too amped up for this one with the Gophers taking advantage. The Fighting Hawks will tighten things up in the rematch to earn a split. Minnesota 3-2, North Dakota 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!