Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Western Michigan

In most Division I men’s hockey games, the first team to three goals is almost always the winner. This weekend, it might take five goals to win.

Western Michigan brings a familiar brand of size, speed, and skill to Ralph Engelstad Arena this weekend along with more than a few question marks about its goaltending. #11 North Dakota is finding its scoring touch while clamping down defensively (2.22 goals allowed/game), yet the Fighting Hawks are still struggling on the penalty kill (as are the Broncos). If this series becomes a penalty fest like so many UND/WMU matchups in the past, we could see twenty goals scored this weekend.

UND’s roster features eight NHL draft picks, the most of any NCHC program: goaltender Peter Thome (Columbus, Round 6/#155 in 2016), defensemen Jacob Bernard-Docker (Ottawa, Round 1/#26 in 2018) and Jonny Tychonick (Ottawa, Round 2/#48 in 2018), and forwards Gavin Hain (Philadelphia, Round 6/#174 in 2018), Grant Mismash (Nashville, Round 2/#61 in 2017), Collin Adams (New York Islanders, Round 6/#170 in 2016), Rhett Gardner (Dallas, Round 4/#116 in 2016), and Jasper Weatherby (San Jose, Round 4/#102 in 2018).

Western Michigan has three NHL draft picks on its roster: defenseman Mattias Samuelsson (Buffalo, Round 2/#32 in 2018) and forwards Wade Allison (Philadelphia, Round 2/#52 in 2016) and Hugh McGing (St. Louis, Round 5/#138 in 2018).

A fourth NHL draft pick (forward Paul Cotter, Vegas, Round 4/#115 in 2018) left the Broncos to sign with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.

In most home games, UND has a decided advantage with last line change, manipulating matchups and shutting down the opponent’s top-scoring players. This weekend, Western Michigan head coach Andy Murray effectively negates that advantage with three scoring lines.

For the Broncos, scoring has come from expected and unexpected sources. Senior forward Colton Conrad and junior forwards Hugh McGing and Dawson DiPeitro have carried the load for the better part of a year while third-year forward Wade Allison recovers from an injury sustained in January. Those four have posted the following lines over the past three seasons:

2016-17: 81 total points in 116 combined games played
2017-18: 122 total points in 120 combined games played
2018-19: 24 total points in 27 combined games played

Wade Allison appeared in one game last weekend (his first of the 2018-19 season) and is expected to be in the lineup for Friday’s opener in Grand Forks.

The secondary scoring has been the biggest surprise, vaulting Western Michigan to 11th nationally in team offense (3.60 goals scored/game). Sophomore forwards Josh Passolt (4-5-9) and Ethan Frank (2-7-9) managed just 23 points between them in 65 games played a year ago but have nearly eclipsed that total through their first 19 combined games this season.

And aside from these six forwards, the Broncos have three other forwards and three defensemen averaging at least a half point per contest (by comparison, North Dakota has eight players at .5/game or better).

According to Western Michigan head coach Andy Murray, the Achilles heel for his squad rests squarely between the pipes. The Broncos have a team save percentage of .861 and are giving up 3.8 goals per game, good for sixth-worst in the nation. All three netminders (senior Trevor Gorsuch, junior Ben Blacker, and sophomore Austin Cain) have seen action this season, with none of them able to string together consecutive quality appearances:

Vs. #20 Bowling Green: Cain allowed 5 goals on 18 shots (loss)
At Ferris State: Cain allowed 3 goals on 23 shots (win)
Vs. Ferris State: Gorsuch allowed 0 goals on 26 shots (win)
At #11 Michigan: Gorsuch allowed 6 goals on 30 shots (loss)
Vs. #11 Michigan: Cain allowed 4 goals on 28 shots (win)
At #15 Bowling Green: Cain allowed 3 goals on 17 shots (loss)
At #15 Bowling Green: Gorsuch allowed 1 goal on 13 shots (no decision)
At #8 Denver: Blacker allowed 5 goals on 29 shots (loss)
At #8 Denver: Blacker allowed 4 goals on 40 shots (OT loss)
Vs. Omaha: Gorsuch allowed 2 goals on 18 shots (win)
Vs. Omaha: Gorsuch allowed 3 goals on 29 shots (loss)

The North Dakota goaltending situation is a bit more settled, with freshman Adam Scheel (5-2-1, 1.70 GAA, .917 SV%, 1 SO) earning the majority of the starts so far. I would expect sophomore netminder Peter Thome (0-1-0, 4.51 GAA, .786 SV%) to get one start this weekend against the Broncos or next weekend against Alaska Anchorage.

After a home sweep of Wisconsin two weeks ago, UND moved its non-conference record to 4-2-1 (.643) on the 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 next weekend (November 23-24) and a road series at Canisius in Buffalo, New York (January 4-5).

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

North Dakota will also travel to face the Broncos in Kalamazoo, Michigan on February 15th and 16th, 2019.

Western Michigan Team Profile

Head Coach: Andy Murray (8th season at WMU, 122-122-34, .500)

National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 4-6-0 overall, 1-3-0-0 NCHC (t-6th)
Last Season: 15-19-2 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 10-13-1-0 NCHC (t-5th)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.60 goals scored/game – 11th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 3.80 goals allowed/game – 55th of 60 teams
Power Play: 17.6% (9 of 51) – 36th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 76.4% (42 of 55) – 49th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Colt Conrad (3-5-8), Junior F Wade Allison (1-0-1 in one game), Junior F Hugh McGing (5-4-9), Junior F Dawson DePietro (1-5-6), Sophomore F Josh Passolt (4-5-9), Sophomore F Ethen Frank (2-7-9), Junior D Cam Lee (4-5-9), Freshman D Mattias Samuelsson (3-2-5), Senior G Trevor Gorsuch (2-2-0, 2.83 GAA, .897 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 77-38-18, .647)

National Rankings: #11/#11

This Season: 5-3-1 overall, 1-1-0-0 NCHC (t-6th)
Last Season: 17-13-10 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.89 goals scored/game – 30th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.22 goals allowed/game – 13th of 60 teams
Power Play: 14.6% (6 of 41) – 45th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 77.4% (24 of 31) – 44th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Nick Jones (1-5-6), Sophomore F Grant Mismash (3-1-4), Senior F Rhett Gardner (4-1-5), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (2-5-7), Junior F Cole Smith (2-3-5), Junior D Colton Poolman (3-2-5), Senior D Hayden Shaw (0-4-4), Sophomore D Gabe Bast (2-3-5), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (2-3-5) Freshman G Adam Scheel (5-2-1, 1.70 GAA, .917 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 2, 2017 (Grand Forks, ND). #6 North Dakota scored four answered goals to upend the visiting Broncos 4-1 and complete the weekend sweep. UND won Friday’s opener 4-3 behind two first-period goals from Austin Poganski, although the Fighting Hawks took three penalties in the final two minutes of the contest to make things interesting. Ben Blacker made 46 saves in two nights of action for Western Michigan, which came into the weekend ranked #10 in the country.

Most Important Meeting: March 24, 2012 (St. Paul, MN). North Dakota upended Western Michigan 3-1 in the NCAA West Regional semifinal. Brock Nelson had two points, including an empty net goal with 25 seconds remaining that sent UND to the regional finals against Minnesota. Aaron Dell made 24 saves for the Green and White. The Broncos, who have played at the Division I level since 1975-76, have six NCAA tournament appearances.

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Saturday, March 22, 2014 (Minneapolis, MN). North Dakota faced a must-win situation in the 3rd place game at the inaugural NCHC Frozen Faceoff, and did not disappoint the partisan crowd. The Green and White rolled to a 5-0 victory behind two first-period goals from Conner Gaarder. UND netminder Zane Gothberg made 25 saves for the shutout, and Dave Hakstol’s crew played the waiting game for several more hours before discovering that they had indeed made the NCAA tournament for the twelfth consecutive season.

All-Time Series: In the short history between the schools, UND has won 18 of the 22 games, outscoring the Broncos 86-43. Before the 2016-17 season in which Western Michigan won three of the four meetings, WMU’s lone victory over North Dakota was a 2-1 road win on March 8th, 2014. The teams first met in 1997.

Last Ten: UND is 7-3 in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring Western Michigan 35-21 over that stretch. The Broncos have turned the tables more recently and have won three of the past five games.

Game News and Notes

Western Michigan moved up to the Division I ranks beginning with the 1975-76 season and has advanced to the NCAA tournament six times. WMU head coach Andy Murray’s son Brady played two seasons at North Dakota (2003-05) and finished with a scoring line of 27-39-66 in 63 career games. Brady Murray spent most of his professional hockey career in the Swiss-A league (Rapperswil-Jona and Lugano, among other teams) but did appear in four NHL games with the Los Angeles Kings in 2007-08, scoring one goal. In the 2018-19 National Collegiate Hockey Conference Preseason Media Poll, North Dakota was picked to finish in third place behind Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State, while Western Michigan was tabbed for fourth place.

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend will be carried live by Midco Sports Network and streamed live 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.

On A Personal Note

I have participated in Movember for the past six years and have proudly raised over $10,000 to help change the face of men’s health. Will you join me and support the cause? Please visit my Movember fundraising page to learn more and to donate. Thank you!

The Prediction

With so much skill and toughness on the ice this weekend, it’s hard to imagine anything other than a split. In this case, however, goaltending is the great un-equalizer, and if North Dakota can get pucks to the net and win the special teams battle, a sweep is there for the taking. UND 5-3, 4-2.

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!

Leave a Reply