Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Miami

Over the first four seasons of the NCHC, Miami has averaged a fifth-place finish (8th, 2nd, 5th, 7th), with a combined league record of 34-53-9-7 (.410).

When the National Collegiate Hockey Conference was formed, Miami appeared positioned to be a dominant program. Prior to the 2013-14 season (their inaugural campaign in the NCHC), the RedHawks had made eight consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, with consecutive Frozen Four bids in 2009 and 2010. Since joining the NCHC, Miami has just one NCAA tournament appearance (2015), and that ended quickly with a first-round loss to eventual national champion Providence.

For comparison, North Dakota has finished 2nd, 1st, 1st, and 4th in the first four seasons of the new league.

This season, UND (14-10-8 overall, 8-8-4-2 NCHC) is tied with Duluth for third place in the league standings, two points clear of fifth-place Western Michigan and four points better than Coorado College. Meanwhile, the RedHawks (10-17-3 overall, 5-13-2-0 NCHC) are dead last, seven points behind seventh-place Omaha.

Enrico Blasi’s crew has hit the skids in the second half, losing their last five games and being shut out in the past three. Over the past six weekends, Miami is 2-9-1 against Denver, Omaha, Colorado College, Western Michigan, St. Cloud State, and Duluth. The RedHawks scored 30 goals in those twelve games (2.5 goals scored/game) but allowed 53 (4.42 goals allowed/game). Skewing those numbers somewhat was an 11-7 loss at Omaha on January 12th.

Over the same stretch of games, it’s been up and down for North Dakota. Since January 1st, UND has gone 4-5-3 and scored 37 goals (3.08/game) while allowing 32 (2.67/game) against Omaha (four games), Bemidji State, Duluth, Denver, and Colorado College. One could argue that the Fighting Hawks deserved a better fate in a handful of those ties and losses, but the margin of error is so small for this team.

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 47-22-15 (.649) 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 (t-4th), and Duluth (t-8th) would all easily make the tourney, with North Dakota (13th), Omaha (14th), and Western Michigan (15th) on the bubble. College (23rd) and Miami (28th) are on the outside looking in and probably need to secure the league’s autobid as NCHC Frozen Faceoff champions to advance to the NCAAs.

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

On the injury front, North Dakota finally appears to be getting healthy after losing 74 man-games due to injury, illness, suspension, or the Olympics this season. UND has used a different lineup in 31 of 32 games this season, including 57 different line combinations at forward and eleven 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 five games as linemates, the trio combined for 20 points and four victories.

If UND hopes to make a deep playoff run, Gersich (11-13-24) 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 twelve games, the two have scored twelve goals and added twelve assists.

It is worthy of note that Poganski has scored one goal and notched four assists in ten career games against the Mavs while Gersich has enjoyed similar success (1-2-3 in seven career games). Rhett Gardner leads all active UND players with six points in seven career games against Miami.

According to KRACH, Omaha has played the third-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks 12th.

UND leads the nation in faceoff efficiency (56.0 percent); Omaha is 21st at 51.2 percent. Of the top fifteen faceoff men in the NCHC (minimum 100 attempts), five wear a Fighting Hawks jersey:

1. Nick Jones (60.5 percent)
3. Collin Adams (59.1 percent)
6. Rhett Gardner (58.3 percent)
9. Johnny Simonson (55.9 percent)
14. Ludvig Hoff (53.6 percent)

Hoff has just returned to the team after representing his native Norway at the 2018 Winter Olympics (Pyeongchang, South Korea). Hoff and Canadian defenseman Chay Genoway became the 28th and 29th UND players to compete in men’s hockey at the Olympic Games.

On the other bench, Miami boasts one centerman among the top fifteen:

7. Casey Gilling (57.5 percent)

Last weekend, North Dakota reached the 1,500-win plateau all-time as a program. UND has more wins over the past eleven seasons (304) than any other program in the country, with Boston College (300) and Denver (286) rounding out the top three.

UND’s senior class of Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson (98-42-18, .677) needs two 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 7-8-5 (.475) over the last ten 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 move to 9th or 10th in the Pairwise rankings (which mimic the tourney selection process) with two wins this weekend, settle in at 12th or 13th split, and drop to 14th or 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. 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).

Miami Team Profile

Head Coach: Enrico Blasi (19th season at Miami, 385-285-70, .568)

Pairwise Ranking: 28th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 10-17-3 (.383) overall, 5-13-2-0 NCHC (8th)
Last Season: 9-20-7 (.347) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 5-14-5-3 NCHC (7th)

Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.77 goals scored/game – 37th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 3.43 goals allowed/game – 53rd of 60 teams
Power Play: 24.3% (33 of 136) – 7th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 80.2% (105 of 131) – 38th of 60 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Gordie Green (12-16-28), Junior F Josh Melnick (8-17-25), Junior F Kiefer Sherwood (6-14-20), Freshman F Phil Knies (10-7-17), Senior D Louie Belpedio (9-17-26), Junior D Grant Hutton (10-10-20), Sophomore G Ryan Larkin (10-15-3, 3.12 GAA, .884 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 69-32-15, .659)

Pairwise Ranking: 13th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #12/#12

This Season: 14-10-8 (.563) overall, 8-8-4-2 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: 2.91 goals scored/game – 27th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.38 goals allowed/game – 12th of 60 teams
Power Play: 19.9% (27 of 136) – 23rd of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 81.7% (107 of 131) – 27th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Shane Gersich (11-13-24), 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 (6-11-17), Junior D Christian Wolanin (9-17-26), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (7-13-20), Senior G Cam Johnson (9-6-5, 2.08 GAA, .909 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last Meeting: November 11, 2017 (Grand Forks, ND). In a back-and-forth affair, North Dakota spotted the visitors two goals before scoring three straight to take a 3-2 lead with less than four minutes remaining. Miami’s Josh Melnick knotted the game with 84 seconds remaining on the clock to send the game to overtime. After a scoreless five-minute session, it took four rounds of a shootout before UND’s Christian Wolanin blasted one past Ryan Larkin. Fighting Hawks netminder Peter Thome made his fourth consecutive start in place of the injured Cam Johnson. North Dakota won 4-1 on Friday night behind two goals from Nick Jones.

Last Meeting in Oxford: March 4, 2017. After a scoreless first period, North Dakota’s Tucker Poolman led the way in the final forty minutes with two goals and two assists as UND downed Miami 5-2. The Fighting Hawks outshot the RedHawks 27-11 on the night (and 68-27 on the weekend). In Friday’s opener, North Dakota got a rare unassisted shorthanded tally from Trevor Olson with 100 seconds remaining to win 3-2.

Most Important Meeting: March 6, 2015 (Oxford, OH). North Dakota claimed the Penrose Cup with a 2-1 road victory over Miami. UND fell flat the following night, losing 6-3 in the final game of the regular season.

Last Ten: UND has picked up seven wins and a tie in the past ten contests, outscoring Miami 36-27 over that stretch of games. The RedHawks have only hosted four of the past ten meetings between the schools.

All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 13-5-2 (.700), including a 4-2-0 (.667) record in games played in Oxford, Ohio. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).

Game News and Notes

North Dakota is unbeaten (4-0-1) in the past five meetings with Miami. The Fighting Hawks lead the nation in average attendance (11,475 per home game), while the RedHawks are 33rd (2,449 per home game). UND is 5-2-0 in one goal games this season, while Miami is 4-5-0 in those situations.

Media Coverage

Friday’s game will not be televised, but Saturday’s rematch is available on FOX College Sports Pacific. A high definition webcast of both games will be 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

Miami may not win another game this season, as it looks like the RedHawks have packed it in and will take the road to face either Denver or St. Cloud State in the first round of the league playoffs. North Dakota will put it all together this weekend, but Friday’s opener will be a struggle. UND 3-2, 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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