Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Wisconsin

Since Jeff Sauer left the Badger bench following the 2001-02 season, Wisconsin men’s hockey has been just like the Olympic Games: good once every four years.

Former Badger coach Mike Eaves was widely criticized for recruiting in a cycle, bringing in huge freshman classes every four years in the hopes that a dominant senior class would bring a title to Madison down the road.

And it worked. Once. In 2006, the Badgers won a national championship on the backs of three seniors (forwards Adam Burish and Ryan MacMurchy and defenseman Tom Gilbert) plus forwards Joe Pavelski and Robbie Earl, underclassmen who left the program after that season. Mike Eaves came close four years later, but Wisconsin fell to Boston College 5-0 in the title game. North Dakota derailed UW’s title hopes at the end of the 2014 season, and Bucky fell way short last year, missing the NCAA tournament.

It remains to be seen whether current Badger bench boss Tony Granato (now in his third season) and his assistants (Mark Strobel, Mark Osiecki, and Brad Winchester) will be able to break the cycle and have the Badgers more competitive every year.

Here’s a look at the overall records and NCAA tournament results under former head coach Mike Eaves (NCAA tournament record for each year in parenthesis).

2002-03: 13-23-4 (.375) – missed NCAA tournament
2003-04: 22-13-8 (.605) – made NCAA tournament (1-1; regional finalist)
2004-05: 23-14-4 (.610) – made NCAA tournament (0-1; regional semifinalist)
2005-06: 30-10-3 (.733) – made NCAA tournament (4-0; National Champions)
2006-07: 19-18-4 (.512) – missed NCAA tournament
2007-08: 16-17-7 (.487) – made NCAA tournament (1-1; regional finalist)
2008-09: 20-16-4 (.550) – missed NCAA tournament
2009-10: 28-11-4 (.698) – made NCAA tournament (3-1; National Runner-Up)
2010-11: 21-16-4 (.561) – missed NCAA tournament
2011-12: 17-18-2 (.486) – missed NCAA tournament
2012-13: 22-13-7 (.607) – made NCAA tournament (0-1; regional semifinalist)
2013-14: 24-11-2 (.676) – made NCAA tournament (0-1; regional semifinalist)
2014-15: 4-26-5 (.186) – missed NCAA tournament
2015-16: 8-19-8 (.343) – missed NCAA tournament

In the three strongest seasons under Mike Eaves (2006, 2010, 2014), the Badgers went 82-32-9 for a winning percentage of .703. But in the other eleven seasons, Wisconsin went just 185-193-57 (.491). That’s an average record of 17-18-5.

The season that really stings for Wisconsin is the 2013-14 campaign, when a 24-10-2 Badger squad fell to UND by a score of 5-2 in the opening round of the NCAA tourney. North Dakota’s Mark MacMillan potted the game-winner with just over 100 seconds remaining in the third period and Rocco Grimaldi added two empty-net goals to give himself a hat trick and put the game out of reach.

The 2014-15 season (4-26-5, .186) was historically bad for UW hockey. Before that, the last time Bucky won fewer than ten games was in 1963-64, when the Badgers went 8-5-3 in the first season of the modern era of UW hockey (Wisconsin also played as an independent from 1921 to 1935). That’s a stretch of 50 years without a season as bad as that year was for Mike Eaves.

Eaves was given one more season to turn things around, but an eight-win season (8-19-8) was not enough for Eaves to keep his job, and he was let go after fourteen years.

Granato went 20-15-1 (.569) in his first season in Madtown but dipped to 14-19-4 (.432) last season. With a 4-2-0 (.667) start to the 2018-19 campaign, Bucky fans are hopeful for an NCAA tournament bid this year.

#16 Wisconsin’s season-opening home sweep of then-#12 Boston College looked impressive at the time, but everyone is beating the Eagles these days. The Badgers followed that up with a road trip to New York, falling to Clarkson (4-2) before dominating St. Lawrence (7-1). And last weekend, UW split with former WCHA foe Michigan Tech, losing 6-2 on Friday night and reversing the scores in a 6-2 Saturday victory.

Wisconsin’s defensive corps has been impressive through the first six games of the season. Sophomore Wyatt Kalynuk (#2) leads the team in scoring with four goals and five assists while demonstrating a knack for getting the puck through traffic and on net from beyond the circles. And Kalynuk isn’t even the most highly-touted defenseman on the Badgers’ roster.

Those accolades belong to freshman blueliner K’Andre Miller (#19), a 2018 first-round draft pick (22nd overall) of the New York Rangers (NHL). An elite skater, Miller spent two years at Minnetonka High School before joining the U.S. National Team Development Program, switching from forward to defense just two seasons ago. The former Hopkins native, listed at 6-3 and 205, was named the Hockey Commissioners Association National Rookie of the Month after posting a line of 2-5-7, garnering a plus-nine rating, and leading the Badgers in shots on goal (19) through six October games.

On the injury front, Wisconsin sophomore forward Linus Weissbach (2-6-8 in six games played) traveled with the team to Grand Forks but is not expected to play after injuring his hand during Monday’s practice. In his absence, I expect freshman forward Jack Gorniak to move up to wing on the second line (joining center Tarek Baker and right wing Sean Dhooghe). Through the first six games, the Weissbach-Baker-Dhooghe line scored nine goals and added fourteen assists.

#14 North Dakota took down #5 Minnesota in Las Vegas last Saturday night and now sits at 2-2-1 on the young season. Even with victories over Minnesota State and Minnesota, this weekend’s 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 games during the 2018-19 campaign will be a home series against Alaska Anchorage (November 23-24) and a road series at Canisius in Buffalo, New York (January 4-5).

A number of UND upperclassmen stood out last Saturday night in Las Vegas. Junior defenseman Colton Poolman (two goals) turned in his best effort of the season, senior defenseman Hayden Shaw assisted on all three North Dakota goals, and senior forward Rhett Gardner was called upon for almost all of the important draws and went an astonishing 25-11 (69.4 percent) in the faceoff circle. Poolman was named the NCHC’s Defenseman of the Week for his efforts against Minnesota.

Several freshmen also enjoyed the bright lights of Las Vegas last weekend. Forward Mark Senden continues to impress with his grit and determination, defenseman Johnny Tychonick grew by leaps and bounds with his play through the neutral zone and in his own end, and goaltender Adam Scheel stopped 20 of 21 shots and earned his second-straight victory over a top-ten opponent (he had 20 saves on 23 opportunities in a home victory vs. #7 Minnesota State). Scheel looks to have taken over North Dakota’s net for the time being, and his goals-against average (1.90) is third-lowest in the country among first-year netminders, trailing only Wisconsin’s Daniel Lebedeff (1.50) and Ferris State’s Roni Salmenkangas (1.52). Lebedeff (2-0-0, 1.50 GAA, .936 SV%) also looks to have taken the reins over from junior goaltender Jack Berry (2-2-0, 3.77 GAA, .876 SV%).

One huge loss for the Wisconsin Badgers was the early departure of forward Trent Frederic, who gave up his final two seasons of eligibility to sign a three-year entry level contract with the NHL’s Boston Bruins, the team which tabbed him in the first round (#29 overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft. After being named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2016-17 with a line of 15-18-33 in 30 games, Frederic followed that up with a 17-15-32 sophomore season for a college hockey career of 32-33-65 in 66 games.

And one year earlier, forward Luke Kunin (41-29-70 in 69 NCAA games played) signed with the Minnesota Wild after two seasons in Madtown. Kunin was the #15 overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.

As if the Frederic news wasn’t bad enough for Bucky fans, one highly-touted recruit never made it to campus. Sampo Ranta (Naantali, Finland) could not meet eligibility reqirements at UW and ended up at Minnesota instead. Ranta battled injuries during his first year with the Sioux City Musketeers (USHL), scoring just nine points (6g, 3a) in thirty games. He blossomed last season, however, scoring 23-14-37 in 53 games, finishing the season with the Finland team that won the under-18 world championship, and vaulting himself up to #18 among North American skaters in the Central Scouting pre-NHL draft rankings (the Badgers’ top player at the time of his decision to become a Gopher).

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.

All told, just three of seventeen NCAA players who were first-round draft picks between 2010 and 2015 made it to a third year of college hockey.

This weekend’s games will mark the fourth of nine consecutive weekends of hockey action for North Dakota. UND’s league schedule begins next Friday and Saturday night at #20 Miami, and the Fighting Hawks will also face NCHC foes #24 Western Michigan (home), #1 Minnesota Duluth (road), and #8 Denver (home) along with the aforementioned Alaska Anchorage Seawolves before enjoying a two week holiday break.

Wisconsin Team Profile

Head Coach: Tony Granato (3rd season at UW, 38-36-5, .513)
National Rankings: #16/#17
This Season: 4-2-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten
Last Season: 14-19-4 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-13-3-1 Big Ten (6th of seven teams)

Team Offense: 4.50 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.00 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 27.6% (8 of 29)
Penalty Kill: 64.3% (18 of 28)
Key Players: Senior F Seamus Malone (3-5-8), Sophomore F Tarek Baker (2-6-8), Sophomore F Sean Dhooghe (5-2-7), Senior F Will Johnson (2-3-5), Sophomore D Wyatt Kalynuk (4-5-9), Freshman D K’Andre Miller (2-5-7), Freshman G Daniel Lebedeff (2-0-0, 1.50 GAA, .936 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 74-37-18, .643)
National Ranking: #14/#15
This Season: 2-2-1 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 17-13-10 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.60 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.80 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.4% (4 of 23)
Penalty Kill: 66.7% (12 of 18)

Key Players: Senior F Nick Jones (0-4-4), Sophomore F Grant Mismash (2-0-2), Senior F Rhett Gardner (0-1-1), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (0-4-4), Junior F Cole Smith (2-2-4), Junior D Colton Poolman (2-0-2), Senior D Hayden Shaw (0-3-3), Sophomore D Gabe Bast (2-1-3), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (1-2-3) Freshman G Adam Scheel (2-1-1, 1.90 GAA, .900 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: November 4, 2017 (Madison, WI). North Dakota’s Shane Gersich potted the game-tying goal with 5:12 remaining in the third period and the teams skated to a 2-2 overtime tie (no shootouts in non-conference play). UND won Friday’s opener 3-2 behind 36 saves from freshman Peter Thome, making his first career collegiate start after Cam Johnson sustained an injury during the morning skate. Junior forward Nick Jones assisted on Friday’s game-tying goal and scored the game-winner more than halfway through the third period, while Fighting Hawks freshman forward Collin Adams netted a goal in each game of the series, two of his five tallies on the season.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: November 7, 2015. One night after the Badgers claimed a 3-1 victory, North Dakota turned the tables by the identical score. UND outshot Wisconsin 38-17 and used two third-period goals (Shane Gersich, Drake Caggiula) to pull away. In Friday’s opener, UND outshot the visitors 30-23 but could only put one past netminder Matt Jurusik, who made 64 saves in the weekend split.

Most Important Meeting: March 27, 1982 (Providence, RI). A 2-2 tie after two periods turned into a 5-2 Sioux victory, as Phil Sykes netted a hat trick and led UND to its fourth National Championship. Glen White scored the first goal of the game for North Dakota and assisted on two of Sykes’ goals. Darren Jensen backstopped the Green and White and was named to the all-tournament team along with Sykes, defenseman James Patrick, and forward Cary Eades. This title would be the second of three North Dakota titles won at the Providence Civic Center (1980, 2000).

All-time Series: Wisconsin leads the all-time series, 87-70-13 (.550), with a slight edge (37-34-9, .519) in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in December 1968.

Last Ten: The Green and White have had Bucky’s number lately, going 7-2-1 (.750) in the last ten tilts and outscoring the Badgers 32-18.

Game News and Notes

North Dakota’s Rhett Gardner, the reigning NCHC Defensive Forward of the Year, has won 70.2 percent of his faceoffs this season. UND and Wisconsin are not scheduled to meet again in any upcoming seasons, although both sides have said that they want the rivalry to continue. The Fighting Hawks are the only team in the country allowing fewer than twenty shots per game (19.8). “Badgers” cannot be spelled without “B-A-D”.

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network, and the games will also be streamed live in high definition via NCHC.tv. 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

One More Shift

North Dakota fan favorite Jim Archibald will return to Grand Forks and take the ice during the introduction of starting lineups against the University of Wisconsin. Archibald played for UND from 1981-82 to 1982-85 and helped the Fighting Sioux capture their fourth national championship in 1982. During his senior season in 1984-85, Archibald was named a co-captain and led the team in goals (37) and points (61) while being named to the All-WCHA First Team. He finished his collegiate career with 75 goals and 144 points in 154 career games and holds the program records for single-season penalties (81), single-season penalty minutes (197), career penalties (247), and career penalty minutes (540).

The Fighting Hawks plan to honor two former UND hockey greats in a similar manner each season.

The Prediction

North Dakota seems to have found its game of late, and Wisconsin is bringing nine freshman and seven sophomores to Ralph Engelstad Arena this weekend. UW can be exploited on the back end, so watch for several UND forwards (Nick Jones, Jordan Kawaguchi, and Rhett Gardner) to score their first goals of the season against the Badgers. I may be going out on a limb here, but I see a sweep for the Green and White.
UND 4-3 (OT), 3-2.

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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