Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Bemidji State

Bemidji State won the WCHA last season with a stellar 20-6-2 conference record. The Beavers also won both of their shootouts to best second-place Michigan Tech by a whopping ten points in the league standings. Despite all of that, BSU failed to advance to the NCAA tournament. And the reason is simple:

Tom Serratore’s squad won just twice in thirteen non-conference games (2-10-1).

Included in those ten losses were a pair of one-goal defeats (2-3, 4-5) at #1-ranked North Dakota in October 2016. BSU also tied and lost (1-1, 1-2) in a home-and-home series versus #1 Duluth two months later and suffered a one-goal loss against unranked St. Cloud State in the opening round of the North Star College Cup in January 2017.

In the WCHA playoffs, top-seeded Bemidji State dispatched Northern Michigan in three games in the opening round, earning home ice for the semifinal series against Bowling Green, who swept the hosts and knocked the Beavers out of the NCAA tournament picture.

This season, BSU has already won three non-conference games (3-2-1), including a 5-2 victory over #5-ranked Duluth in the season opener. Bemidji State skated to a 0-0 tie at Duluth the following night.

BSU has won six straight after tying three consecutive games, giving them a nine-game unbeaten streak. Granted, the competition has been suspect:

Dates – Team (Pairwise ranking): Friday score, Saturday score
December 1-2 – Bowling Green (17th): 1-3, 3-3
December 8-9 – Northern Michigan (28th): 1-1, 4-4
December 15-16 – Alaska Anchorage (60th): 5-1, 4-0
December 29-30 – Alabama Huntsville (53rd): 3-1, 4-1
January 5-6 – Lake Superior (58th): 3-0, 6-3

For North Dakota, three things are key:

#1: Scoring two goals is the recipe for success. UND has not been shut out this season but has scored exactly one goal on seven occasions (at Anchorage, vs. Minnesota, at Colorado College, at Denver, vs. Union, at St. Cloud State, and vs. Omaha. The Fighting Hawks went 0-6-1 in those games (compared to 11-0-4 when scoring two or more). Five of those offensive power outages occurred on Friday nights, and it is clear that Brad Berry’s squad has been more potent offensively in the second game of each weekend series this season.

Friday nights (5-4-2): 25 goals scored (2.27 goals scored/game)
Saturday nights (6-2-3): 39 goals scored (3.55 goals scored/game)

#2: On the injury front, North Dakota finally appears to be healthy after losing 46 man-games due to injury or illness in the first half. UND used a different lineup in each of their first twenty games, including 39 different line combinations at forward and ten different defensive pairings. Having some depth at forward will allow Brad Berry greater flexibility from game to game and lead to more competition for ice time.

#3: UND has two goaltenders who are more than capable of carrying the team. After senior Cam Johnson struggled in Friday’s home opener against Omaha (four goals allowed on 21 shots), freshman Peter Thome stopped all fifteen shots he faced in Saturday’s 7-0 rout. I would expect both netminders to see the ice in this weekend’s home-and-home series, with the slight edge to Johnson on Friday night, given his experience playing on the road.

Two players to watch for Bemidji State:

Senior goaltender Michael Bitzer, who was a finalist for the Mike Richter Award as the country’s top goalie a year ago, came back for his senior season. He started the year by going 5-5-4 with a .901 save percentage and a 2.59 goals-against average. Since December 9th, however, Bitzer is 6-0-1 with a .934 save percentage and a 1.41 goals-against average and two shutouts (one caveat: the strength of competition over that stretch has been detailed above).

Sophomore defenseman Zach Whitecloud (3-9-12) has been generating quite a bit of NHL interest. As an undrafted player, he may decide to head to the pro ranks after this season while the iron is still hot. When the 6-foot-2, 203-pound Whitecloud was in Europe playing for Team Canada in November, the Beavers allowed thirteen goals in a pair of home losses against #10 Minnesota State (the two WCHA rivals will meet again on February 23rd and 24th).

Out of conference, North Dakota had decent success (5-2-3, .650) against Alaska Anchorage, St. Lawrence, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Union but would like to notch two wins in its final non-conference series of the season. Against the other five leagues the NCHC is a sparkling 46-20-14 (.662) and could easily place five or even six teams in the NCAA tournament field.

The WCHA inter-conference record is 17-34-6 (.351), including a 3-14-4 (.238) record against the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Despite identical 11-6-5 records, Bemidji State has played the 56th most difficult schedule (according to KRACH) while North Dakota’s slate of games ranks as the 8th toughest in the country.

To see what these non-conference records mean in real terms, all eight NCHC squads (SCSU 1st, DU 6th, UND 8th, WMU 10th, UNO t-13th, UMD 15th, Miami 16th, and CC 21st) rank above Bemidji State (25th) in the Pairwise. If the season ended today, only Minnesota State (7th) would make the NCAA tournament out of the WCHA (Bowling Green is currently 17th).

If Brad Berry can lead the program to its sixteenth-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, North Dakota would be placed in the 2018 West Regional (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) as the host school. The 2018 NCAA Frozen Faceoff will take place at Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minnesota).

Bemidji State Team Profile

Head Coach: Tom Serratore (17th season at BSU, 277-262-75 .512)

Pairwise Ranking: 25th of 60 teams
National Ranking: NR/NR

This Season: 11-6-5 (.614) overall, 8-4-4-2 WCHA (4th)
Last Season: 22-16-3 (.573) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 20-6-2-2 WCHA (1st)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.14 goals scored/game – 18th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.41 goals allowed/game – 13th of 60 teams
Power Play: 23.8% (20 of 84) – 10th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 90.3% (65 of 72) – 2nd of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Kyle Bauman (8-16-24), Senior F Gerry Fitzgerald (6-17-23), Junior F Jay Dickman (11-6-17), Sophomore F Adam Brady (6-10-16), Sophomore D Zach Whitecloud (3-9-12), Junior D Justin Baudry (5-6-11), Senior G Michael Bitzer (11-5-5, 2.19 GAA, .911 SV%, 4 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 66-28-12, .679)

Pairwise Ranking: 8th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #7/#8

This Season: 11-6-5 (.614) overall, 6-4-2-2 NCHC (t-1st)
Last Season: 21-16-3 (.562) overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.91 goals scored/game – 29th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.18 goals allowed/game – 6th of 60 teams
Power Play: 19.8% (18 of 91) – 25th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 85.7% (78 of 91) – 11th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Nick Jones (6-9-15), Freshman F Grant Mismash (5-9-14), Junior F Shane Gersich (6-8-14), Junior F Rhett Gardner (5-9-14), Junior D Christian Wolanin (6-12-18 and a wicked slap shot for a shootout goal), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (5-8-13), Senior G Cam Johnson (7-4-2, 2.00 GAA, .909 SV%, 1 SO), Freshman G Peter Thome (4-2-3, 2.28 GAA, .913 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: October 22, 2016 (Grand Forks, ND) Shane Gersich netted three points and linemate Brock Boeser tallied two goals in a 5-4 victory as the Fighting Hawks bested Bemidji by one goal for the second consecutive night. Boeser scored all three goals in Friday’s opener.

Last Meeting in Bemidji: October 16, 2015. The Beavers put two goals past Matt Hrynkiw in the third period (after Cam Johnson left with an injury) to earn a 4-4 tie with #1-ranked North Dakota. One night later, UND freshman forward Brock Boeser netted his first career hat trick in a 5-2 UND at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Most Important Meeting: October 15, 2010 (Bemidji, MN). In the first game played at the BREC, North Dakota spotted BSU the opening goal less than two minutes into the contest and then steamrolled the Beavers 5-2. The Fighting Sioux outshot their fellow Green-and-Whiters 38-14.

Last Ten: North Dakota is 6-1-3 (.750) in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring the Beavers 31-25 over that stretch of games. Eight of the last twelve tilts have been decided by a goal or less, with Bemidji State going 2-7-3 in those games.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 30-3-4 (.865), including a 21-2-2 (.880) record in games played in Grand Forks. Two of BSU’s three wins over North Dakota have come in the past six seasons (November 2011 and October 2014). Bemidji’s other victory over UND came in 1970.

Game News and Notes

North Dakota leads the nation in faceoff win percentage at 56.3, while the Beavers are 26th (50.4). When leading after one period of play, UND is 6-0-1 and BSU is 5-1-1. When leading after two, UND is 9-0-1 and BSU is 7-0-0. North Dakota junior Rhett Gardner played in his 100th career game last Friday, while classmate Shane Gersich enters the week with 99 career games played. Three other active Fighting Hawks (Austin Poganski 144, Johnny Simonson 121, and Trevor Olson 104) have already reached that milestone. With five more victories, North Dakota’s senior class (95-38-15) would become the thirteenth consecutive recruiting class to amass at least 100 career victories. Bemidji State has not appeared in the NCAA tournament since moving to the WCHA (seven seasons). In eleven seasons as members of the CHA, the Beavers made four NCAA tournament appearances, including a Frozen Four run in 2008-09.

The Prediction

This weekend will not be an easy one for North Dakota. Watch for the Beavers to jump out to an early lead on Friday, with UND needing to mount a late comeback to take the contest to overtime. The Fighting Hawks will showcase their depth and talent in Saturday’s rematch. 2-2 tie, UND 4-1.

Media Coverage

Friday’s opener can only be seen via webcast at WCHA.tv ($8.99 for a one-day pass), with Saturday’s rematch telecast live on Midco Sports Network and also streamed live in high definition via NCHC.tv. 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). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

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!</em