Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Minnesota Duluth

March 17th, 2018. Xcel Energy Center. St. Paul, Minnesota. North Dakota and Minnesota Duluth square off in the third-place game of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff with NCAA tournament hopes hanging in the balance. UND defeats the Bulldogs 4-1, and both teams are left to play the waiting game.

According to twincities.com:

After losing to the Fighting Hawks, UMD needed a win by either Clarkson or Providence to clinch an NCAA tournament berth. Both teams lost, leaving just one obscure scenario remaining for Duluth to continue playing.

Notre Dame’s overtime goal against Ohio State just before 10:00 p.m. (on St. Patrick’s Day) was the exclamation point on that scenario, forcing a tie between the Bulldogs and Minnesota for 12th in the Pairwise rankings — the formula used to select at-large teams and seed the 16-team field.

Notre Dame’s win gave the Bulldogs the tiebreaker for 12th in the Pairwise as UMD’s Ratings Percentage Index — a part of the Pairwise formula — was one ten-thousandth of a point (.0001) higher than the Gophers.

Typically, finishing 13th or 14th in the Pairwise gets a team into the tournament, but not (last) season, as No. 13 Minnesota and No. 14 North Dakota learned. Because four teams — Air Force (Atlantic Hockey), Michigan Tech (WCHA), Boston University (Hockey East) and Princeton (ECAC) — instead of the usual one or two from outside the bubble won their conference tournament for an automatic bid, that meant No. 12 was the cutoff for at-large teams.

With that unfortunate news, North Dakota saw its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances come to an end, while Duluth took advantage of its program-record fourth straight tourney bid, winning four consecutive one-goal games to claim the program’s second national title:

Minnesota Duluth 3, Minnesota State 2 (OT)
Minnesota Duluth 2, Air Force 1
Minnesota Duluth 2, Ohio State 1
Minnesota Duluth 2, Notre Dame 1

Before UND’s victory at the 2018 NCHC Frozen Faceoff, Scott Sandelin’s crew had won eight consecutive games against the Green and White. That losing streak for North Dakota was the longest against one team since Wisconsin won nine in a row from 1987-89.

North Dakota was done in by an unprecedented ten ties during the 2017-18 campaign, the most in program history. This year, a few of those close games have turned into victories and helped #15 UND to a 7-5-1 overall record through the first two months of the season. The Fighting Hawks have just one victory in four conference games, however, and with #2 Duluth (road) and #7 Denver (home) on the horizon before the Christmas break, it will definitely be an uphill climb in the second half.

Last season, Scott Sandelin brought in five first-year defensemen as a part of a ten-player freshman class. Three of those blueliners – Mikey Anderson, Scott Perunovich, and Dylan Samberg – played for the United States at the World Junior Championships. That trio joined teammates Joey Anderson and Riley Tufte, both sophomore forwards. Most impressively, the Bulldogs only gave up 2.09 goals/game over the course of the 2017-18 season with a relatively young d-corps.

Joey Anderson gave up his final two seasons of eligibility to sign a three-year entry level contract with the NHL’s New Jersey Devils. Anderson, who collected 23 goals and 64 points in 75 career college games, underwent surgery on Tuesday to repair a broken ankle; he is on injured reserve and his recovery is considered week-to-week.

Duluth’s Scott Perunovich (2-14-16 in 12 games this season) is currently the second-highest scoring D-man in the country, trailing only junior Adam Fox (Harvard). Fox, the only player in the country averaging over two points per game, has scored four goals and added thirteen assists for seventeen points in only eight games played. Perunovich, who also led the Bulldogs in scoring a season ago with a scoring line of 11-25-36 in 42 games played, was drafted in the second round (#45 overall) by the St. Louis Blues in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. The sophomore blueliner from Hibbing, Minnesota will face some pressure to sign with the Blues at the conclusion of this season.

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.

UND’s power play has come on lately after sputtering out of the gates. Here are the splits for the first ten games of the season compared to the past three games:

October 12th – November 16th: 6 goals in 43 power play opportunities (14.0%)
November 17th – November 24th: 6 goals in 14 power play opportunities (42.9%)

Much of North Dakota’s recent success can be attributed to a better net-front presence, the ability to get pucks through from the blue line, and continued success in the faceoff circle. On the season, senior forward/faceoff wizard Rhett Gardner has three power play goals, while defensemen Jacob Bernard-Docker (1), Matt Kiersted (2), and Colton Poolman (1) have chipped in from the point.

Last year’s senior class at North Dakota (Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson) went 101-45-20 (.669) and became the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games. This year’s group (Ryan Anderson, Rhett Gardner, Joel Janatuinen, and Hayden Shaw) currently sits at 79-40-18 (.642) and would need 21 more victories in the final 31 games remaining on the schedule (at most) to continue that impressive streak.

After a home sweep of Alaska Anchorage last weekend, UND moved its non-conference record to 6-2-1 (.722) 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 only other non-conference games of the 2018-19 campaign will be a road series at Canisius (5-7-1 overall, 4-6-1 Atlantic Hockey) in Buffalo, New York on January 4th and 5th.

As a whole, the NCHC has fared extremely well in non-conference action, collecting a combined record of 36-14-7 (.693) and sporting a winning record against all five of the other leagues across the college hockey landscape. Here are the inter-conference records, from best to worst:

NCHC: 36-14-7 (.693)
Big Ten: 28-17-3 (.615)
ECAC: 25-26-1 (.490)
Hockey East: 27-30-5 (.476)
WCHA: 20-31-3 (.398)
Atlantic Hockey: 8-26-3 (.257)

On the injury front, senior forward Nick Jones (lower-body injury) will miss his sixth and seventh consecutive games for North Dakota, and according to the Grand Forks Herald’s Brad Schlossman, “it’s looking more likely that his injury will keep him out until after Christmas”. Furthermore, “sophomore forward Collin Adams is questionable after sustaining an injury in practice this week, and senior forward Joel Janatuinen has been limited this week in practice due to an illness”.

This weekend’s games will mark the eighth of nine consecutive weekends of hockey action for North Dakota. UND will face #7 Denver at home next weekend before enjoying a two-week holiday break.

According to KRACH, Minnesota-Duluth has played the eighth-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks 27th. The two teams will meet again in Grand Forks on February 22nd and 23rd, 2019.

Minnesota-Duluth Team Profile

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (19th season at UMD, 349-302-86, .532)

National Rankings: #2/#2

This Season: 9-2-1 (.792) overall, 3-1-0-0 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 25-16-3 (.602) overall (NCAA national champions), 13-11-0-0 NCHC (3rd)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.42 goals scored/game – 13th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.00 goals allowed/game – 6th of 60 teams
Power Play: 23.3% (10 of 43) – 11th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 88.4% (38 of 43) – 4th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Parker Mackay (6-6-12), Sophomore F Justin Richards (3-8-11), Senior F Peter Krieger (2-8-10), Sophomore F Nick Swaney (4-5-9), Junior F Riley Tufte (4-3-7), Sophomore D Scott Perunovich (2-14-16), Junior D Nick Wolff (2-7-9), Junior G Hunter Shepard (9-2-1, 1.87 GAA, .914 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 79-40-18, .642)

National Rankings: #15/#15

This Season: 7-5-1 (.577) overall, 1-3-0-0 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 17-13-10 (.550) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.85 goals scored/game – 29th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.54 goals allowed/game – 20th of 60 teams
Power Play: 20.7% (12 of 58) – 17th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 76.6% (36 of 47) – 48th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Rhett Gardner (8-1-9), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (2-7-9), Sophomore F Grant Mismash (4-4-8), Junior F Cole Smith (2-4-6), Junior D Colton Poolman (3-2-5), Freshman D Jacob Bernard-Docker (3-6-9), D Gabe Bast (2-4-6), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (3-5-8) Freshman G Adam Scheel (6-3-1, 2.18 GAA, .899 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 17, 2018 (St. Paul, MN). North Dakota built up a 2-0 lead after two periods behind goals by Austin Poganski and Joel Janatuinen, and Duluth’s Nick Wolff halted any thoughts of a comeback when he was assessed a five-minute major for kneeing UND’s Nick Jones at the 14:42 mark of the final frame. Shane Gersich and Ludvig Hoff both scored on the major penalty, while UMD managed a shorthanded tally to make the final 4-1 in favor of the Green and White. The Fighting Hawks went 2-for-5 with the man advantage and held the Bulldogs scoreless on three power plays, while senior netminder Cam Johnson made 27 of 28 saves in his final game between the pipes for North Dakota.

Last Meeting in Duluth: January 20, 2018. North Dakota stormed out to a 2-0 first period lead behind goals just 30 seconds apart from Shane Gersich and Austin Poganski, but Duluth rallied back with five consecutive goals (including two second-period tallies by Scott Perunovich). The Bulldogs won Friday’s opener by a final score of 5-3 (ENG). UND went just 1-for-11 with the man advantage on the weekend, while Duluth went 6-for-11.

Most Important Meeting: March 22, 1984 (Lake Placid, NY) Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota met in the national semifinal game, with the Bulldogs defeating the Fighting Sioux 2-1 in overtime to advance to the championship. UND went on to defeat Michigan State 6-5 (OT) for third place, while Duluth fell to Bowling Green 5-4 in four overtimes, the longest championship game ever played.

The Meeting That Never Was: Both teams advanced to the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four at Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minnesota). UND could not get past Michigan, falling 2-0 despite outshooting the Wolverines 40-20. In the other national semifinal, Minnesota-Duluth defeated Notre Dame 4-3 and rode that momentum to the title game. The Bulldogs took the Wolverines to overtime before senior forward Kyle Schmidt scored the game winner and earned UMD their first and only national championship. North Dakota won two of the three games against Duluth that season, outscoring Scott Sandelin’s team 11-5.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 145-85-9 (.626), including a 59-43-5 (.575) mark in games played in Duluth. The teams first met in 1954, with North Dakota winning the first ten games between the schools by a combined score of 72-16. UMD’s first win over the Fighting Sioux (a 3-2 road victory on December 18th, 1959) did not sit well with the defending national champions. UND defeated Duluth 13-2 the following night.

Last Ten: Duluth is 8-2-0 (.800) in the last ten games between the teams, outscoring the Hawks 37-21 over that stretch. North Dakota’s last victory over Duluth at Amsoil Arena was on December 12th, 2015.

Game News and Notes

The Bulldogs are 8-0-0 when scoring first and 1-2-1 when allowing the first goal. North Dakota has been outscored 18-7 in its last four games at AmsOil Arena (all losses). Duluth junior forward Jade Miller (Minto, ND) is the only North Dakotan on the Bulldog roster (16 from Minnesota, two each from Alberta and Ontario, and one each from California, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Saskatchewan). Senior forward Peter Krieger (Oakdale, Minnesota) is a transfer from Alaska Fairbanks. Both head coaches this weekend are alumni of the University of North Dakota; Brad Berry (1983-86) and Scott Sandelin (1982-86) both played for UND under John “Gino” Gasparini. In 2015, Boston University defeated both Minnesota-Duluth (3-2) and North Dakota (5-3) in the NCAA tournament on their way to the championship game. The Terriers fell 4-3 to the Providence Friars, one win short of a national title.

Media Coverage
Friday’s opener will be televised on Fox Sports North Plus, with Saturday’s game available on Midco Sports Network and WDAZ Xtra. The series will 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 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

All signs point to a Bulldog sweep in this one, but I see North Dakota rebounding for at least a tie (and maybe more) in Saturday’s rematch. I’ll give the Fighting Hawks the extra point in a shootout victory in Game Two. UMD 4-2 (ENG), 3-3 tie (UND wins the shootout).

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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