Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Denver

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries. The teams have played sixteen times during the first three seasons of the new conference, but the feud goes all the way back to Geoff Paukovitch’ illegal check on Sioux forward Robbie Bina during the 2005 WCHA Final Five.

Since that 2005 Final Five contest (a Denver victory), the two teams have met ten times in tournament play. Denver won the 2005 NCAA title with a victory over North Dakota and claimed a 2008 WCHA Final Five win as well. UND has earned six victories and a tie in the last eight playoff games between the schools, including three consecutive victories in the WCHA Final Five (2010-2012), the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional final which sent the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four, 2016’s thrilling Frozen Four semifinal (a 4-2 UND victory) in Tampa, Florida, and last season’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

(It is impossible to bring up the Paukovitch/Bina incident without also writing that Brad Malone‘s check on Denver’s Jesse Martin during an October 2010 contest at Ralph Engelstad Arena fractured three of Martin’s vertebrae and ended the hockey career of the Atlanta Thrashers’ draft pick.)

And now, on to the games this weekend…

On the injury front, North Dakota senior netminder Cam Johnson (49-19-6, 2.04 goals-against average, .917 save percentage, and ten shutouts in his UND career) remains out of the lineup with an undisclosed injury he suffered during the morning skate last weekend in Madison, Wisconsin. In his absence, freshman goaltender Peter Thome has gone 2-0-2 for the Fighting Hawks with a goals-against average of 1.92 and a save percentage of .929. Thome is expected to start both games this weekend in Denver, with junior Ryan “Bob” Anderson backing him up.

Up front, UND is getting healthier, with sophomore forward Ludvig Hoff (5-4-19 in 44 career games played) and junior forward Joel Janatuinen (12-23-33 in 83 gp) available for Brad Berry this weekend. North Dakota will, however, be without the services of senior forward Trevor Olson (9-16-25 in 100 gp), who sustained an upper-body injury at Colorado College three weekends ago.

Playing at altitude is always a challenge for teams visiting Denver, but North Dakota’s depth should mitigate that somewhat. With the last line change, the Pioneers will make things difficult for UND’s defensemen and centers by splitting up their big guns across multiple lines. Here are the top four forwards for DU:

Junior forward Troy Terry: 5-13-18
Sophomore forward Henrik Borgström: 11-6-17
Junior forward Dylan Gambrell: 5-11-16
Junior forward Jarid Lukosevicius: 4-6-10

Terry and Borgström currently sit 1-2 in the NCHC scoring race, with Gambrell in fourth place.

By comparison, North Dakota is led by freshman forward Grant Mismash (4-7-11) and junior defenseman Christian Wolanin (3-7-10). No other Fighting Hawks skater has reached double-digit points this season, although seven other players have multiple goals and another seven have lit the lamp once.

If UND hopes to make a deep playoff run, junior forward Shane Gersich (4-4-8) and senior forward Austin Poganski (2-1-3) will need to find their scoring touch. The two combined for 33 goals and 29 assists last year but have struggled to find open ice through the first twelve games of this season.

If Denver has a weakness, it’s on the blue line. Of the six defensemen who suited up during DU’s national title run last season, only two will be in the lineup this weekend against North Dakota. Will Butcher (28-75-103 in 158 career games played) and Matt VanVoorhis (4-19-23 in 139 gp) graduated, and current seniors Tariq Hammond (5-15-20 in 94 gp) and Adam Plant (8-27-35 in 132 gp) are out of the lineup with injuries.

Hammond, the team captain, still hasn’t been cleared from off-season ankle surgeries. He’s practicing with contact but is still not skating effectively. Plant, an alternate captain, suffered an upper-body injury in the third period of last Saturday’s 5-1 victory over St. Cloud State and hasn’t practiced this week. It is still possible that Plant returns to the DU lineup on Saturday night.

Here’s a look at the likely defensive pairs for Jim Montgomery’s squad this weekend at Magness Arena (NCAA career stats in parenthesis):

Junior Blake Hillman (6-16-22 in 92 career games)
with freshman Ian Mitchell (0-8-8 in 10 career games)

Sophomore Michael Davies (4-17-21 in 54 career games)
with sophomore Erich Fear (0-1-1 in 14 career games)

Junior Sean Mostrom (0-1-1 in 4 career games)
with freshman Griffin Mendel (1-0-1 in 10 career games)

Both Mitchell and Mendel are 18-year-old freshmen.

Because of inexperience on the back end, Denver is allowing 2.80 goals per game this season after giving up just 1.82 goals/game last year.

Special teams play is always a factor in tightly-contested games, and I expect this weekend to be no different. One key situation to watch will be Denver’s power play (13 goals scored in 47 chances; 27.7 percent) against North Dakota’s penalty kill (2 goals allowed in 48 chances; 95.8 percent). UND has also been efficient with the man advantage, scoring 12 goals in 55 opportunities (21.8 percent). DU’s penalty killing has been miserable, allowing 8 goals on 36 opponent power plays.

Denver has one shorthanded goal on the season (Borgström), while North Dakota is still looking for its first.

Denver Team Profile

Head Coach: Jim Montgomery (5th season at DU, 108-49-20, .667)

National Rankings: #1/#1
This Season: 6-2-2 overall, 2-2-0-0 NCHC (t-4th)
Last Season: 33-7-4 overall (NCAA Champions), 18-3-3-2 NCHC (1st)

Team Offense: 4.20 goals scored/game – 2nd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.80 goals allowed/game – 27th of 60 teams
Power Play: 27.7% (13 of 47) – 4th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 77.8% (28 of 36) – 42nd of 60 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Henrik Borgström (11-6-17), Junior F Troy Terry (5-13-18), Junior F Jarid Lukosevicius (4-6-10), Junior F Dylan Gambrell (5-11-16), Junior D Blake Hillman (2-1-3), Freshman D Ian Mitchell (0-8-8), Sophomore D Michael Davies (1-3-4), Senior G Tanner Jaillet (5-1-2, 2.46 GAA, .911 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 62-24-10, .698)

National Rankings: #3/#3
This Season: 7-2-3 overall, 2-1-1-1 NCHC (3rd)
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 – 22nd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 1.75 goals allowed/game – 3rd of 60 teams
Power Play: 21.8% (12 of 55) – 20th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 95.8% (46 of 48) – 2nd of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Shane Gersich (4-4-8), Junior F Rhett Gardner (3-4-7), Freshman F Grant Mismash (4-7-11), F Nick Jones (5-4-9), Freshman F Collin Adams (4-1-5), Junior D Christian Wolanin (3-7-10 and a wicked slap shot for a shootout goal), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (2-5-7), Freshman G Peter Thome (2-0-2, 1.92 GAA, .929 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: Saturday, March 17, 2017 (Minneapolis, MN). North Dakota got an early third-period goal from junior forward Austin Poganski and made the lead hold up thanks to 21 saves by Cam Johnson. The 1-0 victory in the NCHC semifinals assured UND a berth in its fifteenth consecutive NCAA tournament (the longest active streak in Division I men’s ice hockey). The teams combined to go 0-for-7 with the man advantage. Denver had won thirteen games in a row coming into the contest.

Last Meeting in Denver: February 13, 2016. Dylan Gambrell scored two goals (with Danton Heinen and Trevor Moore assisting on both) as the Pioneers downed UND 4-1 to earn the home sweep. North Dakota outshot DU 35-25 for the game (and 80-56 on the weekend) but could only manage a first-period goal from Austin Poganski. Junior netminder Tanner Jaillet made 75 saves over the course of two games to continually frustrate the Fighting Hawks, who lost Friday’s opener 6-4.

A Recent Memory: April 7, 2016 (Tampa, Florida). In the semifinals of the NCAA Frozen Four, the two league rivals squared off in a tightly-contested contest. Senior forward Drake Caggiula scored twice early in the middle frame to stake UND to a 2-0 lead, but the Pioneers battled back with a pair of third period goals. The CBS line came through when it mattered most, with Nick Schmaltz scoring the game winner off of a faceoff win with 57 seconds remaining in the hockey game. North Dakota blocked 27 Denver shot attempts and goaltender Cam Johnson made 21 saves for the Fighting Hawks, who won the program’s eighth national title on the same sheet of ice two nights later.

Most Important Meeting: It’s hard to pick just one game, as the two teams have played four times for the national title. Denver defeated UND for the national championship in 1958, 1968, and 2005, while the Sioux downed the Pioneers in 1963. But the game that stands out in recent memory as “the one that got away” was DU’s 1-0 victory over the Fighting Sioux in the 2004 NCAA West Regional final (Colorado Springs, CO). That North Dakota team went 30-8-4 on the season (Dean Blais’ last behind the UND bench) and featured one of the deepest rosters in the past twenty years: Brandon Bochenski, Zach Parise, Brady Murray, Colby Genoway, Drew Stafford and David Lundbohm up front; Nick Fuher, Matt Jones, Matt Greene, and Ryan Hale on defense; and a couple of goaltending stalwarts in Jordan Parise and Jake Brandt.

Last Ten Games: The teams have split the last ten games with four victories each and two ties. In those ten meetings, UND has a slight 24-23 edge in combined score.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 144-123-12 (.538), although the Pioneers hold a 72-53-3 (.574) advantage in games played in Denver. The teams first met in 1950, with North Dakota prevailing 18-3 in Denver.

Game News and Notes

UND senior forward Austin Poganski has five goals and two assists in fourteen career games against the Pioneers. Denver (16) and North Dakota (15) have more consecutive seasons with twenty or more victories than any other Division I men’s hockey team in the country (Boston College is third with eight straight twenty-win seasons; Quinnipiac has accomplished the feat six consecutive times). Denver has not lost at home this season (3-0-1). Since seven of Michigan’s nine titles were earned by 1964, I consider Denver (eight titles) and North Dakota (eight titles) to be the top two men’s college hockey programs of all time.

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend will be televised live on Altitude 2 and DirecTV, with Friday’s game also available on TSN3 and TSN GO. A high-definition webcast of the series is 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

Earning more than a split at Denver is a mighty tall order, especially considering that North Dakota is without senior netminder Cam Johnson. These games will come down to goaltending and special teams, with Denver’s top-end talent possibly earning an extra point or two in the skills competitions (3-on-3 play and shootouts) that are likely this weekend. I see the Pios handling the Fighting Hawks in the opener, with the visitors rebounding to earn a hard-fought split. DU 4-2, UND 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!