Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Miami

Over the first five seasons of the NCHC, Miami has averaged a sixth-place finish (8th, 2nd, 5th, 7th, 8th), with a combined league record of 34-53-9-7 (.394).

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, 4th, and 4th in the first five seasons of the new league and has hosted the first round of their league playoffs (WCHA and NCHC) a combined sixteen consecutive times, the longest active streak in the nation (Boston College is in second place with nine; no other school in the nation has more than six).

The Fighting Hawks came in at number three in the annual NCHC media preseason poll, trailing only Duluth and St. Cloud State. Miami was picked to finish last in the eight-team league again this year.

Enrico Blasi, now in his twentieth season behind the Miami bench, is hoping that ten new faces (five traditional freshman recruits, two graduate transfers [defenseman River Rymsha and goaltender Jordan Uhelski], one decommit from Boston College [forward Monte Graham], and two decommits from Omaha [defensemen Bray Crowder and Derek Daschke]) in the lineup will translate into more success on the ice.

And so far, the victories have come: seven through the first ten games (7-3-0) after a dismal 12-20-5 overall record last year. To be fair, the #19 RedHawks have chalked up wins against relatively light competition (KRACH rankings in parenthesis):

Alabama-Huntsville (60th): 5-1 W, 4-0 W
Providence (17th): 0-4 L
Mercyhurst (45th): 3-0 W
UMass Lowell (37th): 0-3 L, 2-1 W
Colgate (53rd): 4-1 W, 6-0 W
Omaha (47th): 4-1 W, 3-6 L

By comparison, #11 North Dakota’s schedule ranks fourth-toughest in the nation (again, KRACH rankings in parenthesis):

Bemidji State (7th): 1-2 L, 1-1 (OT) T
Minnesota State (1st): 4-7 L, 4-3 W
Minnesota (16th): 3-1 W
Wisconsin (28th): 5-0 W, 3-2 (OT) W

After this most recent home sweep of Wisconsin, UND moved its record to 4-2-1 (.643) on the young season. 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. North Dakota’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).

When North Dakota failed to make the tournament last season, many pointed to the road series at Miami as the “games that got away”. Let’s get in the DeLorean, shall we?

Friday, February 23rd, 2018. Steve Cady Arena. Miami, Ohio. 1.21 jiggawatts…

#12 UND led the unranked RedHawks 3-0 in the second period before surrendering four unanswered goals, the last in overtime. Had the Fighting Hawks held onto the lead and won that game, it would have been invited to the NCAAs for a sixteenth consecutive season. And conversely, Minnesota Duluth, the eventual national champion, would have been watching the tourney from home.

This weekend’s games will mark the fifth of nine consecutive weekends of hockey action for North Dakota. UND’s league schedule begins tonight, and the Fighting Hawks will also face NCHC foes Western Michigan (home), #1 Minnesota Duluth (road), and #5 Denver (home) along with the aforementioned Alaska Anchorage Seawolves before enjoying a two-week holiday break.

Miami will not travel to face North Dakota at Ralph Engelstad Arena this season.

Miami Team Profile

Head Coach: Enrico Blasi (20th season at Miami, 394-291-72, .568)

National Rankings: #19/#20

This Season: 7-3-0 overall, 1-1-0-0 NCHC (t-3rd)
Last Season: 12-20-5 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 6-14-4-2 NCHC (8th of 8 teams)

Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.10 goals scored/game – 25th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 1.70 goals allowed/game- 6th of 60 teams
Power Play: 17.4% (8 of 46) – 36th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 82.9% (34 of 41) – 24th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Gordie Green (6-6-12), Senior F Josh Melnick (3-7-10), Junior F Karch Bachman (3-2-5), Freshman F Jonathan Gruden (1-4-5), Senior D Grant Hutton (4-6-10), Freshman D Derek Daschke (2-5-7), Senior D River Rymsha (2-2-4), Junior G Ryan Larkin (6-2-0, 1.51 GAA, .942 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 76-37-18, .649)
National Rankings: #11/#11
This Season: 4-2-1 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: 3.00 goals scored/game – 26th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.29 goals allowed/game – 15th of 60 teams
Power Play: 14.3% (5 of 35) – 46th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 75.0% (18 of 24) – 48th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Nick Jones (1-5-6), Sophomore F Grant Mismash (3-1-4), Senior F Rhett Gardner (3-1-4), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (0-5-5), Junior F Cole Smith (2-2-4), Junior D Colton Poolman (3-2-5), Senior D Hayden Shaw (0-4-4), Sophomore D Gabe Bast (2-2-4), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (1-2-3) Freshman G Adam Scheel (4-1-1, 1.58 GAA, .923 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last Meeting: February 24, 2018 (Oxford, OH). Miami’s Josh Melnick scored the first goal of the contest with a rare unassisted short-handed marker early in the second period, and Kiefer Sherwood (spoiler alert: overtime hero) made it 2-0 just 26 seconds into the third period. North Dakota rallied back behind goals from Hayden Shaw and Nick Jones, and after a scoreless five-minute overtime session, Sherwood scored a breakaway goal during the three-on-three OT. Cam Johnson made 25 saves for the Fighting Hawks.

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 six wins and two ties in the past ten contests, outscoring Miami 36-26 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 13-6-3 (.659), including a 4-3-1 (.563) record in games played in Oxford, Ohio. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).

Game News and Notes

According to KRACH, North Dakota has played the fourth-toughest schedule in the country, facing Bemidji State, Minnesota State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Miami’s slate of games (Alabama Huntsville, Providence, Mercyhurst, UMass Lowell, Colgate, Omaha) ranks 57th. Miami’s average home attendance through their first six home games is 2160, less than 60% of the capacity of Steve Cady Arena (3,642). By comparison, UND ranks first nationally with an average attendance of 11,547 through five home dates.

Media Coverage

This weekend’s series will not be televised, but 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

I correctly called a sweep against Wisconsin last weekend because this year’s North Dakota squad passes the eye test. Over the past four games, UND has demonstrated determination, superb goaltending, and an ability to win games late, all attributes that travel well. It won’t be easy, but the Fighting Hawks will leave Oxford in much better shape this time around. UND 3-2 (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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