NCHC Frozen Faceoff Preview: North Dakota vs. St. Cloud State

It took St. Cloud State three games to dispatch Miami last weekend in the first round of the NCHC playoffs, as the RedHawks took Game 2 of the series with a 3-2 overtime victory. The two teams also went to overtime in Sunday’s Game 3, with SCSU prevailing on Mikey Eyssimont’s game-winner.

Overall, St. Cloud State was on the ice for 196 minutes of game action last weekend, while North Dakota defeated Omaha in two games (4-0, 4-3 OT) and was on the ice for 121 minutes of game action.

Last Saturday’s loss was the Huskies first since January 26th, when SCSU fell 5-1 at Duluth. Bob Motzko’s crew is 10-1-3 over their last fourteen games, while North Dakota is just 4-6-4 over that same stretch.

The top two seeds in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff (#1 St. Cloud State and #2 Denver) are guaranteed to be playing in the national tournament next weekend. #3 Minnesota-Duluth faces Denver in the second Friday semifinal, and the Bulldogs would make the NCAA tourney in 89 percent of scenarios in which they go 0-2 at Xcel Energy Center and would lock up a tournament bid with a single win this weekend (according to

And that leaves North Dakota, which is currently 14th in the Pairwise and in a precarious position, given the number of autobids yet to be determined in other conferences. UND could of course earn the league’s autobid with two victories and a Frozen Faceoff championship. puts Brad Berry’s crew at a 25 percent chance of an at-large bid with one win and at 14 percent with zero wins.

St. Cloud State earned the Penrose Cup as 2017-18 NCHC champions, their third regular-season league championship in the past six seasons (2012-13 WCHA, 2013-14 NCHC).

Last season, North Dakota and St. Cloud State battled six times, with UND clearly having the better of it and earning the UND/SCSU Challenge Cup with three regular-season victories in four meetings:

NCHC Regular Season
November 18, 2016 (St. Cloud): UND 4, SCSU 0
November 19, 2016 (St. Cloud): UND 3, SCSU 0

NCHC Regular Season
February 3, 2017 (Grand Forks): SCSU 3, UND 1
February 4, 2017 (Grand Forks): UND 2, SCSU 1 (OT)

NCHC First Round Playoff Series
March 10, 2017 (Grand Forks): UND 5, SCSU 2
March 11, 2017 (Grand Forks): UND 6, SCSU 5 (OT)

St. Cloud State earned the Challenge Cup for 2017-18 with two victories and two ties against North Dakota.

It’s been up and down for the Huskies in the first five seasons of the NCHC. After winning the Penrose Cup in the inaugural season of the new league (2013-14) with an overall record of 22-11-5 (.645), St. Cloud State made the NCAA tournament again in 2014-15 with a relatively pedestrian mark of 20-19-1 (.512). At the end of that season, SCSU had the unfortunate circumstance of facing and falling to North Dakota in the West Regional final (Fargo, ND), a virtual home game for the Green and White.

SCSU captured the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship and another NCAA tourney bid in 2015-16 with a sparkling record of 31-9-1 (.768) but unfortunately suffered an overtime loss in the opening round of the national tournament. St. Cloud State, the top seed in the NCAA West Regional (Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, MN), rallied to tie #18 Ferris State in the third period, but the Bulldogs scored just 18 seconds into the extra session to knock off the Huskies (who were ranked #2 in the country heading into the NCAAs) by a final of 5-4.

Thirty-win seasons are extremely rare in today’s college hockey landscape, with more parity and more ties taking away the opportunity to rack up victories. Since I started traveling to St. Cloud for the UND/SCSU games back in 1998, the Fighting Sioux/Hawks and the Huskies have both reached the 30-victory plateau on multiple occasions. Remarkably, St. Cloud State posted identical marks of 31-9-1 (.768) in their milestone seasons (2001 and 2016).

1997-98 North Dakota (30-8-1)
1998-99 North Dakota (32-6-2)
1999-00 North Dakota (31-8-5)
2000-01 St. Cloud State (31-9-1)
2003-04 North Dakota (30-8-3)
2010-11 North Dakota (32-9-3)
2015-16 North Dakota (34-6-4)
2015-16 St. Cloud State (31-9-1)

With a record of 24-7-6, it is possible but unlikely that St. Cloud State will reach the thirty-victory mark this year. A Frozen Faceoff championship and a national title would put SCSU at 30-7-6 for the season.

For more on the rarity and importance of a thirty-win season, follow this link.

Last season was far from a milestone season for Bob Motzko’s squad, as the group sputtered to a record of 16-19-1 (.458) and missed the NCAAs for the first time since the 2011-12 team finished at .500 (17-17-5). North Dakota has made fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the longest active streak in Division I men’s ice hockey and the second-longest streak of all time (Michigan appeared in 22 straight NCAA tourneys from 1991 to 2012).

North Dakota ended St. Cloud State’s 2016-17 campaign with a home sweep in the first round of the NCHC playoffs. UND cruised 5-2 in the opener before besting the Huskies in a 6-5 overtime thriller. As I have said before, we have come to expect close matchups in NCHC playoff games played on Saturdays (and often Sundays), as the visiting team is almost always playing to extend their season.

Last month, North Dakota reached the 1,500-win plateau all-time as a program. UND has more wins over the past eleven seasons (306) than any other program in the country, with Boston College (304) and Denver (289) rounding out the top three.

With two victories last weekend, UND’s senior class of Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson (100-44-20, .667) became the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games. North Dakota’s juniors have collected 71 wins over the past three seasons and will need a strong playoff run and a very successful senior campaign to keep the streak alive.

The Fighting Hawks have ten ties already this season, breaking a school record set by the 2000-01 national runner-up squad that went 29-8-9. With only sixteen wins on the season, it is certainly likely that UND will finish the 2017-18 campaign with fewer than twenty victories. 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 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).

St. Cloud State Team Profile

Head Coach: Bob Motzko (13th season at SCSU, 275-190-49, .583)

Pairwise Ranking: 1st of 60 teams
National Rankings: #1/#1

This Season: 24-7-6 (.730) overall, 16-4-4-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 16-19-1 (.458) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 10-13-1-0 NCHC (5th)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.76 goals scored/game – 2nd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.46 goals allowed/game – 14th of 60 teams
Power Play: 23.5% (39 of 166) – 9th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 80.3% (98 of 122) – 36th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Robby Jackson (15-27-42), Sophomore F Ryan Poehling (12-17-29), Junior F Mikey Eyssimont (17-21-38), Junior F Patrick Newell (5-20-25), Junior D Jimmy Schuldt (10-28-38), Sophomore D Jack Ahcan (3-18-21), Junior D Will Borgen (2-12-14), Freshman G David Hrenak (12-5-2, 1.93 GAA, .926 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 71-33-16, .658)

Pairwise Ranking: 14th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #12/#13

This Season: 16-12-10 (.553) overall, 8-10-6-3 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 21-16-3 (.562) overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.92 goals scored/game – 27th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.39 goals allowed/game – 12th of 60 teams
Power Play: 21.0% (34 of 162) – 20th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 82.2% (125 of 152) – 23rd of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Shane Gersich (12-16-28), Junior F Nick Jones (14-13-27), Freshman F Grant Mismash (9-13-22), Senior F Austin Poganski (10-8-18), Junior F Rhett Gardner (7-13-20), Junior D Christian Wolanin (12-22-34), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (7-20-27), Senior G Cam Johnson (11-8-7, 2.16 GAA, .907 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 3, 2018 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota clinched home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs with a 2-2 tie on the last night of the regular season. In the 3-on-3 overtime, NCHC defensive forward of the year Rhett Gardner took a pass from Christian Wolanin and put one past Hrenak for the extra conference point. UND lost two-goal leads to St. Cloud State on both nights of the series.

Most Important Meeting: NCAA West Regional Final in Fargo, ND (March 28, 2015). North Dakota scored three unassisted goals over the final two periods of the hockey game to defeat St. Cloud State 4-1 in the West Regional Final and advance to the NCAA Frozen Four. Jimmy Murray got the Huskies on the board less than 90 seconds in to the hockey game, but that did nothing to quiet the partisan crowd of 5,307 at SCHEELS Arena. Four different players scored for UND, while Zane McIntyre made 19 stops to earn his 29th and final victory of the season.

All-Time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series, 71-42-14 (.614). Aside from their 2015 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal victory, the Huskies also defeated North Dakota in the 2001 WCHA Final Five championship game. The teams have been squaring off regularly since the 1989-90 season, but have only met once in the NCAA tournament (2015).

Game News and Notes

St. Cloud State has outscored opponents 61-29 in third periods this season. North Dakota has made the second weekend of the conference tournament (WCHA Final Five/NCHC Frozen Faceoff) for sixteen consecutive seasons.

Media Coverage

Both Friday semifinals and Saturday’s championship will be available live on CBS Sports Network, with all four games streamed in high definition on 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

A Personal Note

The North Dakota Champions Club is hosting a pre-game event at McGovern’s Pub (225 7th Street West in St. Paul) beginning at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, March 16th. For more information about McGovern’s, please visit Here’s to hockey!

The Prediction

Let’s get this out of the way first: St. Cloud State is a better team than North Dakota this season. However, UND needs wins this weekend and has some intangibles in its favor, including a smaller ice surface and a virtual home crowd at Xcel Energy Center. The Fighting Hawks will play with a sense of urgency and come out with a huge effort on Friday afternoon. UND 4-2.

Bonus Prediction

In the second Friday semifinal, I’ve got Duluth prevailing over Denver by a score of 4-3.

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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