Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Bemidji State

Five full seasons have come and gone since the college hockey landscape changed forever. With Minnesota and Wisconsin departing the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for the Big Ten after the 2012-13 season, several other conference schools created the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and left Alaska Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, and Minnesota State behind in a watered-down WCHA.

It is abundantly clear that the NCHC has been the premier hockey conference since its inception, and particularly over the past four seasons. The eight teams in the league have gone 209-105-40 (.647) in non-conference action since the start of the 2014-15 season and sent seven teams to the Frozen Four (UND and Omaha in 2015, UND and Denver in 2016, Denver and Duluth in 2017, and Duluth in 2018) over that four-year stretch. Conference members North Dakota, Denver, and Minnesota Duluth have won the last three national titles.

After winning the WCHA in 2016-17 with a stellar 20-6-2 conference record, Bemidji State took a step back last season (13-9-6 WCHA, 16-14-8 overall), finishing in fourth place in the ten-team league.

North Dakota will play a home and home series against Bemidji State, with Friday’s opener in Bemidji and Saturday’s rematch at Ralph Engelstad Arena. These out-of-conference games are critical for North Dakota’s postseason aspirations. After going 9-1-2 (.833) in non-conference play in 2015-16 and 7-2-2 (.727) out-of-conference in 2016-17, Brad Berry’s squad went just 6-2-4 (.667) last season and snapped its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. UND’s other non-conference opponents during the 2018-19 campaign will be Minnesota State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Alaska Anchorage, and Canisius.

Goaltender Michael Bitzer (65-54-19, 1.98 goals-against average, .921 save percentage, and 21 shutouts as a four-year starter at BSU) is no longer between the pipes for the Beavers, and that leaves Tom Serratore with junior Jack Burgart (0-1-0, 3.49 GAA, and an .896 SV% in 86 minutes of game action) and sophomore Henry Johnson (0-0-0, one save on one shot in 20 minutes of game action) from last year’s squad. Sophomore netminder Zach Driscoll transferred to BSU after having spent his freshman season at St. Cloud State.

Another huge loss on the back end for Bemidji State was the early departure of defenseman Zach Whitecloud, who gave up his final two seasons of eligibility to sign a three-year entry level contract with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights. Whitecloud recorded seven goals and 29 assists in 77 career college games.

North Dakota was not immune to the early departure bug during the 2018 offseason, as defenseman Christian Wolanin (12-23-35 in 2017-18, 22-50-72 in 109 career games at North Dakota) and forward Shane Gersich (13-16-29 in 2017-18, 43-34-77 in 117 career games at North Dakota) each gave up his senior season to sign a pro contract (Wolanin with Ottawa, Gersich with Washington).

And the previous three summers haven’t been any easier for fans of the Green and White, as multiple players have left eligibility on the table to join the professional ranks (years of eligibility remaining at the time of signing):

2017: Forward Brock Boeser (2), Forward Tyson Jost (3), Defenseman Tucker Poolman (1)

2016: Forward Luke Johnson (1), Forward Nick Schmaltz (2), Defenseman Paul LaDue (1), Defenseman Troy Stecher (1), Defenseman Keaton Thompson (1)

2015: Defenseman Jordan Schmaltz (1), Goaltender Zane McIntyre (1)

In 2014, forward Rocco Grimaldi left after his sophomore campaign to sign with the Florida Panthers (NHL). In 2013, defenseman Derek Forbort signed with the Los Angeles Kings after his junior year. North Dakota also lost two players (Brock Nelson and Aaron Dell) to early departures in 2012 and two others (Jason Gregoire and Brett Hextall) in 2011.

Bemidji State Team Profile

Head Coach: Tom Serratore (18th season at BSU, 282-270-78, .510)
National Ranking: NR/NR
This Season: 0-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 WCHA
Last Season: 16-14-8 overall, 13-9-6 WCHA (4th of 10 teams)

2017-18 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.71 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.7% (31 of 143)
Penalty Kill: 86.5% (115 of 133)

Key Returning Players (2017-18 statistics): Junior F Adam Brady (8-18-26), Senior F Jay Dickman (15-8-23), Sophomore F Charlie Combs (13-7-20), Senior D Justin Baudry (9-10-19), Senior D Dan Billett (1-9-10), Junior G Jack Burgart (0-1-0, 3.49 GAA, .896 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 72-35-17, .649)
National Ranking: #13/#12
This Season: 0-0-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 17-13-10 overall, 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2017-18 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.92 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.38 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.5% (37 of 172)
Penalty Kill: 82.8% (130 of 157)

Key Returning Players (2017-18 statistics): Senior F Nick Jones (15-15-30), Sophomore F Grant Mismash (9-13-22), Senior F Rhett Gardner (7-13-20), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (5-14-19), Junior D Colton Poolman (7-22-29), Senior D Hayden Shaw (3-10-13), Sophomore G Peter Thome (5-4-3, 2.31 GAA, .910 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 13, 2018 (Grand Forks, ND). In a microcosm of UND’s year, the Fighting Hawks outshot the Beavers 32-20 but could manage only a 2-2 tie (one of ten ties on the season). Bemidji State rallied twice from a goal down, the second time off of a deflection midway through the final frame.

Last Meeting in Bemidji: January 12, 2018. North Dakota senior forward Austin Poganski scored just eighteen seconds into the contest and UND dominated the third period, turning a 1-1 tie into a 5-1 blowout. Junior Nick Jones and Poganski each potted two goals, and Cam Johnson made 28 saves in the road victory.

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 32-24 over that stretch of games. Six of the last ten tilts have been decided by a goal or less, with Bemidji State going 0-3-3 in those games.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 31-3-5 (.865), including a 21-2-3 (.865) record in games played in Grand Forks and a 10-1-2 (.846) mark in Bemidji, 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 led the entire country in faceoff efficiency (55.5 percent) last season and returns Nick Jones (59.3 percent), Rhett Gardner (58.6 percent), and Ludvig Hoff (54.5 percent). Johnny Simonson graduated after winning 53.7 percent of his faceoffs a year ago. Bemidji State has not appeared in the NCAA tournament since moving to the WCHA (eight seasons). In eleven seasons as members of the CHA, the Beavers made four NCAA tournament appearances, including a Frozen Four run in 2008-09. Friday’s opener will be played at Sanford Center (capacity 4,373) in Bemidji, Minnesota.

Set the Expectation (from fightinghawks.com)

The University of North Dakota is honored to host Brenda Tracy at Saturday’s game and all weekend long as part of her “Set the Expectation” campaign to end sexual violence.

Tracy, herself a sexual assault survivor, is making her second visit to the UND campus after having initially brought her message to UND’s student-athletes back in February.

The Fighting Hawks will be sporting both decals on their helmets and patches on their game jerseys for Saturday’s game in support of Tracy’s campaign.

For more information on Brenda Tracy and the Set the Expectation campaign, please visit BrendaTracy.com.

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.

Ticket Information (from fightinghawks.com)

Single-game seats remain available for Saturday night’s game. Tickets can be purchased at the UND Box Office at Ralph Engelstad Arena or online at FightingHawks.com/tickets.

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!

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