Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Omaha

Omaha has gone just 7-11-0-0 in conference play, which currently has them in 7th place in the eight-team NCHC. Despite that sub-par mark, #13 UNO is tied for 9th in the Pairwise Rankings thanks to a 7-2-1 non-conference record (against UMass-Lowell, Arizona State, Notre Dame, Northern Michigan, and Union).

On the plus side, Omaha is scoring 3.61 goals per game, the fourth-highest scoring offense in the country.

On the minus side, Omaha is allowing 3.96 goals per game, the worst scoring defense in the country.

Out of conference, North Dakota had decent success (6-2-4, .667) against Alaska Anchorage, St. Lawrence, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Union, and Bemidji State. The league as a whole went 45-22-13 (.644) in non-conference play and could easily place five or even six teams in the NCAA tournament field. If the season ended today, St. Cloud State (1st), Denver (4th), Omaha (10th), Duluth (11th), and North Dakota (13th) would all make the tourney, with only Colorado College (24th) and Miami (27th) on the outside looking in.

Fighting Hawks’ freshman forward Grant Mismash has been nearly invisible over the past twelve 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 two goal and two assists in his past eleven appearances and was a healthy scratch on January 6th vs. Omaha.

Omaha has been dealing with the loss of junior forward Mason Morelli (4-10-14 in 16 games). According to the Omaha World-Herald, Morelli tore his ACL in a freak accident over the winter break and is lost for the season.

On the injury front, North Dakota finally appears to be getting healthy after losing 67 man-games due to injury, illness, or suspension this season. UND has used a different lineup in every game this year, including 55 different line combinations at forward and ten different defensive pairings. Expect head coach Brad Berry to keep the line of junior Rhett Gardner centering junior Shane Gerisch and senior Austin Poganski together. In their past three games as linemates, the trio combined for 17 points and three victories.

If UND hopes to make a deep playoff run, Gersich (9-13-22) and Poganski (10-7-17) will need to continue their recent scoring prowess. The two combined for 33 goals and 29 assists during the 2016-17 season but struggled to find open ice in the first half of this year. From October through December, Poganski went 4-2-6 and Gersich added 5-6-11 in twenty games each. In the past ten games, the two have scored ten goals and added twelve assists.

It is worthy of note that Poganski has scored two goals and notched eight assists in fourteen career games against the Mavs while Gersich has enjoyed similar success (2-5-7 in nine career games).

According to KRACH, Omaha has played the second-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks 13th.

UND leads the nation in faceoff efficiency (56.2 percent); Omaha is 24th at 50.8 percent. Of the top fifteen faceoff men in the NCHC (minimum 100 attempts), five wear a Fighting Hawks jersey:

1. Nick Jones (60.2 percent)
3. Collin Adams (58.6 percent)
5. Rhett Gardner (58.3 percent)
9. Johnny Simonson (56.6 percent)
15. Ludvig Hoff (53.6 percent)

Hoff is currently representing his native Norway at the 2018 Winter Olympics (Pyeongchang, South Korea).

On the other bench, Omaha boasts two centermen among the top fifteen:

10. Luke Nogard (55.6 percent)
14. Teemu Pulkkinen (54.1 percent)

North Dakota enters this weekend’s series needing just one more win to reach the 1,500-win plateau all-time as a program. UND has more wins over the past eleven seasons (303) than any other program in the country, with Boston College (298) and Denver (285) rounding out the top three.

UND’s senior class of Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson (97-41-18, .679) needs three 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 6-7-5 (.472) over the last nine weekends of hockey after beginning the year 7-2-3 (.708), and Brad Berry’s squad will need a victory or two 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 10th with a split, and drop to 14th 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. 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).

Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (1st season at UNO, 14-13-1, .518)

Pairwise Ranking: t-9th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #13/#13

This Season: 14-13-1 (.518) overall, 7-11-0-0 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 16-16-5 (.500) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 9-13-2-0 NCHC (6th)

Team Offense: 3.61 goals scored/game – 4th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 3.96 goals allowed/game – 60th of 60 teams
Power Play: 27.0% (34 of 126) – 2nd of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 77.7% (101 of 130) – 51st of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F David Pope (19-19-38), Senior F Tyler Vesel (10-16-26), Sophomore F Zach Jordan (13-9-22), Senior F Jake Randolph (5-17-22), Junior F Fredrik Olofsson (6-14-20), Senior D Joel Messner (5-15-20), Sophomore D Ryan Jones (1-8-9), Junior G Evan Weninger (12-10-0, 3.65 GAA, .888 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 68-31-15, .662)

Pairwise Ranking: 13th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #9/#10

This Season: 13-9-8 (.567) overall, 7-7-4-2 NCHC (t-3rd)
Last Season: 21-16-3 (.562) overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.90 goals scored/game – 33rd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.33 goals allowed/game – 10th of 60 teams
Power Play: 19.5% (25 of 128) – 24th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 82.9% (102 of 123) – 19th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Shane Gersich (9-13-22), Junior F Nick Jones (9-12-21), Freshman F Grant Mismash (7-11-18), Senior F Austin Poganski (10-7-17), Junior F Rhett Gardner (5-11-16), Junior D Christian Wolanin (9-16-25), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (7-10-17), Freshman G Peter Thome (5-3-3, 2.15 GAA, .917 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: January 6, 2018 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after Evan Weninger made 34 saves in a 4-1 road victory, the Fighting Hawks exploded for seven goals and freshman netminder Peter Thome stopped all fifteen shots he faced. In the second period alone, North Dakota scored three goals and outshot the Mavericks 19-1 (32-15 for the game). UND senior forward Austin Poganski had a three-point night with an assist on junior Rhett Gardner’s first-period goal and two third-period tallies of his own, while Gardner added two assists to match Poganski in the scoring column.

Last Meeting in Omaha: January 7, 2017. North Dakota got to UNO netminder Evan Weninger early and often in cruising to a 7-3 victory and the weekend sweep (UND crushed the Mavericks 9-1 in Friday’s opener). Tyson Jost collected four points on the weekend after his emotional return from the World Juniors. Specialty teams were huge for the visitors, as the Fighting Hawks scored six power play goals and a shorthanded goal on the weekend while allowing Omaha just one goal with the man advantage in the two-game series.

Most memorable meeting: The game that UND fans will long remember is the outdoor game played at TD Ameritrade Park (Omaha, Nebraska) on February 9th, 2013. One day after winning a tight 2-1 contest indoors, North Dakota throttled UNO 5-2 on a sunny, melty afternoon. Mavericks netminder John Faulkner was pulled after allowing three goals on five shots in just ten minutes of game action. In my opinion, this hockey weekend solidified the notion that for UND hockey, it’s always a home game.

Last ten: North Dakota has won seven of the last ten contests between the schools, outscoring the Mavericks 46-23 over that stretch. Maverick goaltender Evan Weninger made 56 combined saves in two road victories (February 2017 and January 2018).

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 16-9-1 (.635), including an impressive 9-3-0 (.750) record in games played in Omaha.

Game News and Notes

In 2015, both North Dakota and Omaha advanced to the Frozen Four but neither team made the championship game. UND fell to Boston University 5-3, while the Mavericks were upended 4-1 by eventual national champion Providence. Fighting Hawks juniors Joel Janatuinen and Christian Wolanin will both appear in their 100th career NCAA contest on Friday night in Omaha. The Mavs are 10-3-1 at home this season and 4-10-0 on the road. North Dakota is 8-4-5 at home and 5-5-3 on the road.

Media Coverage

Friday’s opener (6:38 p.m. CT) will be telecast nationally on CBS Sports Network, with Saturday’s rematch (7:07 p.m. CT) available on YurView. Saturday’s game will also be streamed live in high definition via NCHC.tv.

UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports 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.

The Prediction

After this weekend, North Dakota travels to Miami (10-15-3 overall, 5-11-2-1 NCHC) before hosting St. Cloud State (19-6-3 overall, 13-4-1-0 NCHC) on the last weekend of the regular season. According to collegehockeyranked.com, three victories in the last six games should keep North Dakota on the correct side of the playoff bubble. Assuredly, it will be easier to pick up wins against Omaha and Miami on the road than it will be to accomplish the same feat at home against SCSU. A split is the minimum from this weekend’s games, and that’s the result. The Mavericks are much stronger in series openers (10-4-0) than finales (4-9-1), so I’ll go with that. UNO 4-2, UND 5-1.

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!

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