Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Colorado College

After winning just twenty total games over his first three seasons behind the CC bench, head coach Mike Haviland has his Tigers (4-2-0) well above the .500 mark ahead of this weekend’s National Collegiate Hockey Conference opener against North Dakota.

Colorado College has struggled in the NCHC, winning just sixteen conference games combined over the first four seasons of the league’s existence. Of the eight teams in the conference, the Tiger have finished last in each of the past three campaigns after a seventh place finish in 2013-14.

The feeling among the Tiger faithful has always been that new blood behind the bench would eventually translate into new life on the ice, and CC fans are finally being rewarded for their patience.

This season, a trio of Tiger forwards (Mason Bergh, Trey Bradley, and Nick Halloran) are among the top point-getters in the NCHC with eight points each. CC is averaging three goals per contest after averaging just a shade over two goals per game (215 goals in 107 games) over the past three seasons.

So far this season North Dakota has been led up front by freshman Grant Mismash (1-4-5), junior Rhett Gardner (2-2-4), and freshman Collin Adams (2-1-3). On the blueline, junior Christian Wolanin (3-3-6) and sophomore Colton Poolman (1-3-4) lead the way offensively.

Junior Shane Gersich (1-1-2 with 19 shots on goal) and senior Austin Poganski (0-0-0 with 13 shots on goal) have yet to get untracked this season after combining for a line of 33-29-62 in 40 games a year ago. As the top two returning scorers on a young North Dakota team, Gersich and Poganski will need to contribute in league play if the Fighting Hawks hope to secure home ice for a sixteenth consecutive season.

UND has fared far better offensively on the second night of their first three weekend series. Here’s the breakdown:

Friday nights: 1-1-1 record (four goals scored, four goals allowed)
Saturday nights: 3-0-0 record (thirteen goals scored, three goals allowed)

In short, North Dakota has been able to make adjustments and wear down opponents over the course of two games, benefiting from their physical play and forward depth to create time and space in the offensive zone.

The one constant for the Green and White in the early going has been the play in their own end. North Dakota has allowed two goals or less in each of the first six games (one, two, one, one, two, and zero goals respectively) and leads the nation in team defense (1.17 goals allowed/game). Senior netminder Cam Johnson ranks 2nd in the country in wins (four), 3rd in goals-against average (1.16), 10th in save percentage (.946), and 2nd in shutouts (one) on the young season. UND’s penalty killers have successfully negated 26 of 27 opponent power plays this year for a success rate of 96.3 percent (2nd in the country behind Bemjidi State’s 14-of-14 PK).

The teams will meet again on February 9th and 10th, 2018 at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Colorado College Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Haviland (4th season at CC, 24-81-8, .248)

National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 4-2-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 8-24-4 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 4-16-4-1 NCHC (8th of 8 teams)

2017-18 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.67 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 13.5% (5 of 37)
Penalty Kill: 74.1% (20 of 27)

Key players: Junior F Mason Bergh (5-3-8), Sophomore F Nick Halloran (2-6-8), Junior F Trey Bradley (1-7-8), Junior F Westin Michaud (1-4-5), Junior D Cole McCaskill (1-2-3), Junior D Ben Israel (1-1-2), Sophmore G Alex Laclerc (4-2-0, 2.51 GAA, .915 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 59-23-8, .700)

National Rankings: #4/#4
This Season: 4-1-1 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: 2.83 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.17 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 22.2% (8 of 36)
Penalty Kill: 96.3% (26 of 27)

Key Players: Junior F Shane Gersich (1-1-2), Junior F Rhett Gardner (2-2-4), Freshman F Grant Mismash (1-4-5), Junior F Joel Janatuinen (0-3-3), Sophomore F Ludvig Hoff (1-1-2), Junior D Christian Wolanin (3-3-6), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (1-3-4), Senior G Cam Johnson (4-1-1, 1.16 GAA, .942 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: February 28, 2017 (Colorado Springs, CO). Freshman netminder Alex Leclerc stopped all 45 shots he faced in a 3-0 CC victory. The Fighting Hawks put fifteen shots on net during five power play opportunities but managed only to hit two pipes in the process. The Tigers got a late first-period goal past Matt Hrynkiw and added two empty-netters in the final minute. The defeat was UND’s first regular-season loss against Colorado College since January 2013. In Friday’s opener, North Dakota got goals from five different players over the final forty minutes of play after CC raced to a 2-0 lead after one and chased starting goaltender Matej Tomek, who made only six saves.

Most Important Meeting: March 27, 1997. UND defeated Colorado College, 6-2, in the Frozen Four Semifinals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Two nights later, North Dakota downed Boston University, 6-4, to claim its sixth NCAA Championship. North Dakota and Colorado College also met in the 2001 East Regional (Worcester, Mass.), with UND prevailing, 4-1.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 155-81-11 (.650), although Colorado College holds a 58-53-4 (.522) advantage in Colorado Springs. North Dakota has 100 victories over the Tigers in Grand Forks (100-21-7, .809). The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: North Dakota has eight wins and a tie in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring CC 42-18 over that span. UND had gone unbeaten in 14 straight (13-0-1) against the Tigers until their most recent matchup.

Game News and Notes

Eight of North Dakota’s seventeen goals this season have been scored with the man advantage. These two coaching staffs coached against each other at the AHL and NHL levels prior to the NCHC. The Tigers have appeared in the NCAA tournament twice in the past ten seasons (2008, 2011). Through the first six games, UND has won 58 percent of faceoffs.

Media Coverage

This weekend’s games will not be televised, although a high definition webcast of the games is available to NCHC.tv subscribers. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app. The flagship station for the network is 96.1 FM (The Fox), although Saturday’s game will instead be broadcast on 100.3 FM. Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

The Prediction

The Friday scoring struggles will continue as North Dakota adjusts to the wide sheet of ice. Colorado College might be able to eke out a tie in the opener, but I think UND has just enough to pull away late before dominating in Saturday’s rematch. UND 3-2, 4-1.

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!