Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Colorado College

After winning just twenty total games over his first three seasons behind the CC bench, head coach Mike Haviland has already won eleven games during the 2017-18 campaign and has his Tigers just four points out of a home-ice playoff spot ahead of this weekend’s league series against North Dakota.

Colorado College (11-11-4 overall, 5-8-3-2 NCHC) has struggled in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, 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. Colorado College is averaging 3.04 goals per contest this year after averaging just a shade over two goals per game (215 goals in 107 games) over the past three seasons.

This season, a trio of Tiger forwards (Mason Bergh, Trey Bradley, and Nick Halloran) are leading the way offensively, scoring almost half (45.4 percent) of their team’s points. Halloran (16-23-39 in 26 games played) won NCHC Player of the Month honors in both December and January and is tied for the nation’s scoring lead on a points/game basis (both he and Northeastern junior forward Adam Gaudette [20-22-42 in 28 gp] are averaging 1.50 points per game). UND expects Mike Haviland to keep those three forwards together, and with the last line change, Brad Berry will most likely match with his top defensive pair (Colton Poolman and Christian Wolanin) and either the Rhett Gardner line or the Dixon Bowen line. Gardner is returning to the Fighting Hawks lineup after missing the past five games due to injury. UND did not win a game during Gardner’s absence (0-2-3).

The future is also looking up for Colorado College, as Mike Haviland does not have a senior on his roster this season. Former Wisconsin commit Grant Cruikshank and former Denver commit Erik Middendorf committed to CC this week, and former UND forward Chris Wilkie will be eligible to play next season (he’ll be a junior) after transferring back in May and sitting out this year under NCAA transfer rules.

Fighting Hawks’ freshman forward Grant Mismash has been invisible over the past ten games. Mismash started the season with a line of 5-9-14 through his first seventeen games in a UND uniform (including two goals in a 6-2 victory over Colorado College in October) but has been held to one goal and one assist in his past nine appearances and was a healthy scratch on January 6th vs. Omaha.

If UND hopes to make a deep playoff run, junior forward Shane Gersich (8-12-20) and senior forward Austin Poganski (9-5-14) will need to continue their recent scoring prowess. The two combined for 33 goals and 29 assists last year but struggled to find open ice in the first half of the season. From October through December, Poganski went 4-2-6 and Gersich added 5-6-11 in twenty games each. In the past eight games, the two have scored eight goals and added nine assists.

It is worthy of note that Poganski has scored three goals and notched seven assists in fifteen career games against the Tigers while Gersich has enjoyed similar success (5-2-7 in ten career games).

According to KRACH, Colorado College has played the 17th-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks 13th. The Fighting Hawks lead the country in faceoff percentage at 56.2 percent. CC clocks in at 44.4 percent (worst in the nation).

Of the top fifteen faceoff men in the NCHC (minimum 100 attempts), five wear a Fighting Hawks jersey:

1. Nick Jones (60.2 percent)
7. Johnny Simonson (57.2 percent)
8. Rhett Gardner (56.9 percent)
9. Collin Adams (56.6 percent)
15. Ludvig Hoff (53.6 percent)

With Hoff representing his native Norway at the 2018 Winter Olympics (Pyeongchang, South Korea) and Jones out with an injury, Brad Berry will rely heavily on the trio of Simonson, Gardner, and Adams in the faceoff circle. Gardner and Jones were both out of the lineup during UND’s last series against Denver, which left Simonson (20-18, .526), Adams (14-11, .560), and Hoff (18-13, .581) to do the heavy lifting at the drop of the puck.

North Dakota enters this weekend’s series needing just two more wins to reach the 1,500-win plateau all-time as a program. UND has more wins over the past eleven seasons (302) than any other program in the country (Boston College [297] and Denver [285] round out the top three).

UND’s senior class of Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson (96-40-18, .682) needs four more victories to become the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games.

The Fighting Hawks have eight ties already this season, one shy of the school record set by the 2000-01 national runner-up squad that went 29-8-9. With only twelve victories and eight regular-season games remaining before the NCHC playoffs, it is possible that UND will finish the 2017-18 campaign with fewer than twenty wins. The last time a North Dakota men’s hockey team fell below that number was in 2001-02, when a Dean Blais-led group went 16-19-2 (.459) and missed the NCAAs.

North Dakota has gone just 5-6-5 (.469) over the last eight weekends of hockey after beginning the year 7-2-3 (.708), and Brad Berry’s squad will need two victories this weekend in order to solidify their place in the NCAA tournament.

According to Jim Dahl (collegehockeyranked.com), UND would most likely stay at 8th in the Pairwise rankings (which mimic the tourney selection process) with two wins this weekend, drop to 12th with a split, and drop to 15th with two losses. Due to autobids and tournament upsets, teams with postseason aspirations hope to be no lower than 12th or 13th after the final games have been played on Saturday, March 17th.

North Dakota has made the tournament for fifteen consecutive seasons (every year since 2001-02), the longest active streak in Division I men’s ice hockey.

Colorado College Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Haviland (4th season at CC, 31-90-13, .280)

Pairwise Ranking: 24th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 11-11-4 overall (.500), 5-8-3-2 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 8-24-4 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 4-16-4-1 NCHC (8th of 8 teams)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.04 goals scored/game – 24th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 3.27 goals allowed/game – 49th of 60 teams
Power Play: 18.4% (26 of 141) – 30th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 73.0% (81 of 111) – 60th of 60 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Nick Halloran (16-23-39), Junior F Mason Bergh (15-19-34), Junior F Trey Bradley (5-20-25), Junior F Westin Michaud (9-10-19), Junior F Trevor Gooch (10-6-16), Sophomore D Kristian Blumenschein (2-11-13), Junior D Ben Israel (1-8-9), Junior D Andrew Farny (1-7-8), Sophomore G Alex Leclerc (11-9-4, 3.18 GAA, .903 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 67-30-15, .665)

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

This Season: 12-8-8 (.571) overall, 6-6-4-2 NCHC (t-4th)
Last Season: 21-16-3 (.562) overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.86 goals scored/game – 32nd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.32 goals allowed/game – 10th of 60 teams
Power Play: 20.0% (23 of 115) – 23rd of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 81.6% (93 of 114) – 29th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Nick Jones (9-12-21), Junior F Shane Gersich (8-12-20), Freshman F Grant Mismash (6-10-16), Senior F Austin Poganski (9-5-14), Junior F Rhett Gardner (5-10-15 in 23 gp), Junior D Christian Wolanin (8-14-22), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (6-10-16), Senior G Cam Johnson (8-6-5, 2.14 GAA, .906 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: October 28, 2017 (Colorado Springs, CO). North Dakota freshman forward Grant Mismash netted two goals and paced UND to a 6-4 victory over the Tigers. Colorado College won Friday’s opener 2-1 behind 26 saves from Alex Leclerc and one goal apiece from Mason Bergh and Nick Halloran.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: March 12, 2016. Mike Haviland chose to start a clearly-injured Jacob Nehama in net, and it did not go well for the Tigers. Nehama allowed four goals on fourteen shots in the first period before giving way to Derek Shatzer. Nick Schmaltz had three goals and three assists in the weekend sweep for UND, which won the first playoff game by a final score of 7-1. The Fighting Hawks went 5-0-1 against Colorado College during their most recent national championship season, outscoring the Tigers 29-10 in the six meetings.

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, 156-82-11 (.649), including a sparkling 100-21-7 (.809) record in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: North Dakota has seven wins and a tie in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring CC 41-21 over that span. UND had gone unbeaten in 14 straight (13-0-1) against the Tigers until the two most recent series in Colorado Springs (January 2017 and October 2017) ended in splits.

Game News and Notes

These two coaching staffs coached against each other at the AHL and NHL levels prior to the NCHC. The Fighting Hawks are 7-3-5 (.633) at home this season; the Tigers are 4-7-1 (.375) on the road. Colorado College has won two national titles (1950, 1957). Since 1957, the Tigers have appeared in the NCAA tournament thirteen times (most recently in 2011) and advanced to three Frozen Fours (1996, 1997, 2005).

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend can be seen live on Midco Sports Network, with Saturday’s rematch also available on FOX College Sports Central. A high definition webcast of the games is also 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). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

The Prediction

North Dakota has several advantages in this series: more size, more depth, and all of the home ice perks – last line change, a partisan crowd, and a narrower sheet of ice. Colorado College won’t make things easy, but the Fighting Hawks will earn their first sweep in over two months. UND 4-2, 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!