Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Minnesota 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.

The last time that Minnesota State (then known as Minnesota State University – Mankato) played North Dakota was at the tail end of UND’s last season in the WCHA, a split in Mankato in March 2013. The Mavericks last played at Ralph Engelstad Arena on the last weekend of the 2011-12 regular season, a series which saw the Fighting Sioux clinch home ice for the first round of the playoffs with a 4-2 victory on Friday night and follow that up with a 3-0 victory on Saturday night.

After #16 North Dakota’s less-than-stellar showing in last weekend’s home and home series against Bemidji State (2-1 loss in Bemidji; 1-1 [OT] tie in Grand Forks), these next three weekends of 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, Wisconsin, Alaska Anchorage, and Canisius.

One week ago, #7 Minnesota State fashioned an excellent start to the season with a home sweep (4-3, 5-3) over #8 Boston University. The Mavericks are also scheduled to face Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth (plus either Clarkson or Arizona State) during the non-conference portion of their 2018-19 campaign.

Last season was another magnificent one for head coach Mike Hastings. His Mavericks breezed through the regular season with a mark of 26-7-1 (.779) before dispatching Alaska (8-2, 6-2) in the first round of their conference tournament. Things were going according to form the following weekend with a 2-1 victory over Michigan Tech in Game One of that playoff series, but the Huskies roared back with a pair of playoff wins to end Minnesota State’s hopes of a second league playoff title (2015).

The Mavs had an extra week to prepare for the opening round of the national tournament, but it wasn’t quite enough. Minnesota-Duluth needed overtime to best their in-state rivals by a final of 3-2 after trailing 2-0 for much of the contest. The Bulldogs won all four of their games in the 2018 NCAAs by one goal each.

Less than a week after that heartbreaking loss, unrestricted free agent defenseman (and Hobey Baker finalist) Daniel Brickley gave up his final season of eligibility to sign a two-year entry level contract with the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League. Brickley (20-57-77 in 107 career NCAA games played) appeared in one NHL game last season and is currently assigned to the Ontario Reign (AHL).

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.

Minnesota State Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Hastings (7th season at MSU, 153-72-19, .666)
National Ranking: #7/#8
This Season: 2-0-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 WCHA
Last Season: 29-10-1 overall (NCAA Regional Semifinalist), 22-5-1-0 WCHA (1st of 10 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 4.50 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.00 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 8.3% (1 of 12)
Penalty Kill: 87.5% (7 of 8)

Key Players: Junior F Parker Tuomie (2-2-4), Junior F Marc Michaelis (1-2-3), Sophomore F Jared Spooner (0-2-2), Sophomore D Riese Zmolek (1-2-3), Sophomore F Jake Jaremko (0-1-1), Sophomore D Connor Mackey (1-1-2), Junior D Ian Scheid (0-0-0), Freshman G Dryden McKay (2-0-0, 3.00 GAA, .891 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 72-36-18, .643)
National Ranking: #16/#NR
This Season: 0-1-1 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 17-13-10 overall, 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 1.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 0.00% (0 of 8)
Penalty Kill: 75.0% (3 of 4)

Key Players: Senior F Nick Jones (0-2-2), Sophomore F Grant Mismash (1-0-1), Senior F Rhett Gardner (0-0-0), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (0-1-1), Junior D Colton Poolman (0-0-0), Sophomore D Gabe Bast (1-0-1), Senior D Hayden Shaw (0-0-0), Freshman G Adam Scheel (0-0-1, 0.93 GAA, .938 SV%), Sophomore G Peter Thome (0-1-0, 2.07 GAA, .889 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 9, 2013 (Mankato, MN). Mavericks forward Brett Knowles netted the game-winner 202 seconds into overtime to send most of the 5088 in attendance at Verizon Wireless Center into celebration mode. Danny Kristo scored North Dakota’s only goal just over a minute into the game. MSU-M netminder Stephon Williams stopped 30 of 31 shots on goal in the contest.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: March 3, 2012. Senior goaltender Brad Eidsness pitched a 29 save shutout on Senior Night and Brock Nelson added an empty-netter with 90 seconds to play as UND rolled the Mavericks 3-0. North Dakota won Friday’s opener 4-2 on the strength of a three-goal first period.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 38-11-7 (.741), including a 23-6-3 (.766) record in games played in Grand Forks.

Last ten: North Dakota has a sparkling 8-2-0 record in the last ten contests, outscoring the Mavericks 32-23 over that stretch of games.

Game News and Notes

North Dakota led the entire country in faceoff efficiency (55.5 percent) last season and is fifth in the country this season (58.3 percent). Nick Jones (59.3 percent last season), Rhett Gardner (58.6 percent), and Ludvig Hoff (54.5 percent) are all back inside the circle for the Fighting Hawks. Gardner won 29 of his 41 draws last weekend (70.7 percent) and is now in third place on UND’s all-time list for faceoff wins (behind only Corban Knight and Chris VandeVelde). Minnesota State has never won an NCAA tournament game (0-5).

The Prediction

If college hockey is indeed a race to three goals, North Dakota needs to improve its offensive pace (two total goals through the first two games of the 2018-19 season) and score a goal or two on the power play (0-for-8 thus far) this weekend. I anticipate the Fighting Hawks breaking through in Friday’s opener, with Minnesota State powering back for the weekend split. UND 3-1, MSU 4-2.

Ticket Information (from fightinghawks.com)

Single-game seats remain available for this weekend’s series against Minnesota State. Tickets can be purchased at the UND Box Office at Ralph Engelstad Arena or online at FightingHawks.com/tickets.

Media Coverage

This weekend’s games will be 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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