Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. St. Cloud State

Last season, North Dakota and St. Cloud State battled five times, with SCSU having the better of it (3-0-2) despite four overtime contests:

NCHC Regular Season
December 8, 2017 (St. Cloud): SCSU 2, UND 2 (OT)
December 9, 2017 (St. Cloud): SCSU 3, UND 1

NCHC Regular Season
March 2, 2018 (Grand Forks): SCSU 4, UND 3 (OT)
March 3, 2018 (Grand Forks): SCSU 2, UND 2 (OT)

NCHC Frozen Faceoff Semifinal
March 16, 2018 (St. Paul): SCSU 3, UND 2 (OT)

It’s been up and down for the Huskies in the first six seasons of the NCHC, but things are definitely trending in the right direction for the Cardinal and Black. After winning the Penrose Cup in the inaugural season of the new league (2013-14) with an overall record of 22-11-5 (.645), St. Cloud State made the NCAA tournament again in 2014-15 with a relatively pedestrian mark of 20-19-1 (.512). At the end of that season, SCSU had the unfortunate circumstance of facing and falling to North Dakota in the West Regional final (Fargo, ND), a virtual home game for the Green and White.

SCSU captured the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship and another NCAA tourney bid in 2015-16 with a sparkling record of 31-9-1 (.768) but unfortunately suffered an overtime loss in the opening round of the national tournament. St. Cloud State, the top seed in the NCAA West Regional (Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, MN), rallied to tie #18 Ferris State in the third period, but the Bulldogs scored just 18 seconds into the extra session to knock off the Huskies (who were ranked #2 in the country heading into the NCAAs) by a final of 5-4.

North Dakota ended St. Cloud State’s 2016-17 campaign with a home sweep in the first round of the NCHC playoffs. UND cruised 5-2 in the opener before besting the Huskies in a 6-5 overtime thriller. As I have said before, we have come to expect close matchups in NCHC playoff games played on Saturdays (and often Sundays), as the visiting team is almost always playing to extend their season.

And last year brought more playoff agony for the Huskies, as head coach Bob Motzko brought the NCHC regular-season champions (24-9-6) into the NCAA West Regional (Sioux Falls, SD) to face Air Force (22-14-5) in the opening round. Blake Lizotte got St. Cloud State within one with 2:51 remaining in the contest, but two empty-net goals sealed the deal for the Falcons, who got 39 saves from netminder Billy Christopoulos. It was only the second time since the tournament expanded to sixteen teams that the top overall seed lost their first game.

Turning back the clock to that 2015-16 season, both North Dakota and St. Cloud State posted historically good records. Thirty-win seasons are extremely rare in today’s college hockey landscape, with more parity and more ties taking away the opportunity to rack up victories. Since I started traveling to St. Cloud for the UND/SCSU games back in 1998, the Fighting Sioux/Hawks and the Huskies have both reached the 30-victory plateau on multiple occasions. Remarkably, St. Cloud State posted identical marks of 31-9-1 (.768) in their milestone seasons (2001 and 2016).

1997-98 North Dakota (30-8-1)
1998-99 North Dakota (32-6-2)
1999-00 North Dakota (31-8-5)
2000-01 St. Cloud State (31-9-1)
2003-04 North Dakota (30-8-3)
2010-11 North Dakota (32-9-3)
2015-16 North Dakota (34-6-4)
2015-16 St. Cloud State (31-9-1)

With a current record of 17-3-2 (.818), it is very possible but that #1 St. Cloud State will reach the thirty-victory mark this year. By comparison, last year’s stellar SCSU squad finished the season at 25-9-6.

For more on the rarity and importance of a thirty-win season, follow this link.

Last season was far from a milestone campaign for Brad Berry’s squad, as the group sputtered to a record of 17-13-10 (.550) and missed the NCAAs for the first time since the 2001-02 team finished at 16-19-2 (.459). Prior to last year, North Dakota had made fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the second-longest streak of all time (Michigan appeared in 22 straight NCAA tourneys from 1991 to 2012). Denver now boasts the nation’s longest active streak with eleven consecutive tourney bids (2008-2018).

Currently, UND leads the nation in faceoff efficiency (58.5 percent); St. Cloud State is 4th at 55.1 percent. North Dakota also outpaces SCSU in both Corsi (59.8 to 57.7 percent) and Fenwick (59.7 to 58.5 percent). Corsi measures the percentage of shot attempts by a team compared to that of its opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shot attempts by a team compared to that of its opponents.

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 84-45-18 (.633) and would need sixteen more victories in the final 21 games remaining on the schedule (at most) to continue that impressive streak.

After getting swept at Canisius earlier this month, UND saw its non-conference record drop to 6-4-1 (.591) 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.

As a whole, the NCHC fared extremely well in non-conference action, collecting a combined record of 50-21-8 (.684) and sporting a winning record against four of the other five leagues across the college hockey landscape (losing the head-to-head with the ECAC, 2-3-1). Here are the inter-conference records, from best to worst:

NCHC: 50-21-8 (.684)
Big Ten: 34-22-5 (.598)
Hockey East: 51-42-8 (.545)
ECAC: 42-45-6 (.484)
WCHA: 22-38-5 (.377)
Atlantic Hockey: 13-44-6 (.254)

Not only could the NCHC as a whole field four or even five teams in the NCAA tournament, but North Dakota’s record against Minnesota (1-0-0) and Wisconsin (2-0-0) will also help them specifically in Pairwise comparisons against all of the Big Ten teams. If the season ended today, St. Cloud State (1st in the Pairwise rankings), Denver (3rd), Duluth (4th), and Western Michigan (13th) would make the national tourney, with North Dakota (21st) and Miami (29th) on the outside looking in.

According to KRACH, St. Cloud State has played the fourth-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks as the 21st most difficult out of sixty men’s Division I hockey programs.

This weekend marks the third of eight consecutive conference opponents to finish out the regular season, and the schedule sets up favorably for North Dakota, with two of its three most difficult matchups on home ice. Here are the remaining series for the Fighting Hawks:

Home: St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth, Omaha
Road: Denver, Western Michigan, Colorado College

Note: North Dakota will not face NCHC foe Miami in the second half of the season.

Last weekend’s road split at Omaha (4-3 W, 3-4 L) kept UND in fifth place in the NCHC, six points clear of sixth-place Miami and only two points back of fourth-place Western Michigan. At 6-6-0-0 (18 points) in league play, North Dakota will likely need six more victories over its final twelve conference games to secure home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs. Over the first five seasons, the fourth-place finisher (final home ice spot) has averaged roughly 36 points (11-11-2-1).

According to Jim Dahl of collegehockeyranked.com, UND will likely need to win nine of those twelve conference games to end the regular season between 8th and 14th in the Pairwise (>90% chance of landing in this range). A 9-3 record will be tough to come by, given UND’s remaining opponents. To find nine victories, North Dakota would need to sweep at Colorado College and vs. Omaha plus one more series (vs. St. Cloud State, at Denver, at Western Michigan, vs. Duluth) and then split the other three weekends.

St. Cloud State Team Profile

Head Coach: Brett Larson (1st season at SCSU, 17-3-2, .818)

Pairwise Ranking: 1st of 60 teams
National Rankings: #1/#1

This Season: 17-3-2 (.818) overall, 9-1-2-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 25-9-6 (.700) overall (NCAA West Regional Semifinalist), 16-4-4-1 NCHC (1st)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.91 goals scored/game – 2nd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.09 goals allowed/game – 7th of 60 teams
Power Play: 24.7% (21 of 85) – 6th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 88.9% (64 of 72) – 3rd of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Patrick Newell (11-12-23), Senior F Robby Jackson (10-11-21), Freshman F Nolan Walker (6-13-19), Junior F Ryan Poehling (3-16-19), Sophomore F Easton Brodzinski (10-6-16), Junior D Jack Ahcan (2-18-20), Senior D Jimmy Schuldt (6-13-19), Sophomore G David Hrenak (13-2-1, 2.17 GAA, .905 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 84-45-18, .633)

Pairwise Ranking: 21st of 60 teams
National Rankings: #21/NR

This Season: 12-10-1 (.543) overall, 6-6-0-0 NCHC (5th)
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: 2.61 goals scored/game – 42nd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.57 goals allowed/game – 21st of 60 teams
Power Play: 16.8% (16 of 95) – 39th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 79.3% (69 of 87) – 37thth of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Rhett Gardner (8-2-10), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (6-11-17), Senior F Nick Jones (4-10-14 in sixteen games), Junior F Cole Smith (2-6-8), Junior D Colton Poolman (4-6-10), Freshman D Jacob Bernard-Docker (4-10-14), D Gabe Bast (4-5-9), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (5-7-12) Freshman G Adam Scheel (11-7-1, 2.14 GAA, .899 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 16, 2018 (St. Paul, MN). North Dakota freshman Jordan Kawaguchi knotted the game at 2-2 midway through the third period, but UND couldn’t even survive two minutes of overtime. St. Cloud State’s Nick Poehling netted the game-winner at 1:47 of the extra session, propelling the Huskies to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game. Cam Johnson made 31 saves for the Fighting Hawks, who were outshot 34-23.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: March 3, 2018. One night after SCSU’s Ryan Poehling potted the overtime winner for the Huskies, the teams needed more than sixty minutes yet again. UND’s Grant Mismash and Rhett Gardner had put the home team up by two after forty minutes of play, but Ryan Poehling and Jacob Benson knotted things up in the third. North Dakota won the shootout after the extra session expired, and those conference points were just enough for the Fighting Hawks to earn the fourth and final home ice spot in the NCHC playoffs, with Colorado College, Omaha, and Western Michigan each two points back.

Most Important Meeting: NCAA West Regional Final in Fargo, ND (March 28, 2015). North Dakota scored three unassisted goals over the final two periods of the hockey game to defeat St. Cloud State 4-1 in the West Regional Final and advance to the NCAA Frozen Four. Jimmy Murray got the Huskies on the board less than 90 seconds in to the hockey game, but that did nothing to quiet the partisan crowd of 5,307 at SCHEELS Arena. Four different players scored for UND, while Zane McIntyre made 19 stops to earn his 29th and final victory of the season.

All-Time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series, 71-43-14 (.609), including a 35-18-7 (.642) record in games played in Grand Forks. Aside from their 2015 and 2018 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal victories, the Huskies also defeated North Dakota in the 2001 WCHA Final Five championship game. The teams have been squaring off regularly since the 1989-90 season, but have only met once in the NCAA tournament (2015).

Last Ten: The two teams have each won four of the last ten games, with the other two ending in ties. North Dakota has outscored the Huskies 27-25 over that stretch of games. Six of the last eight meetings have gone to overtime.

Game News and Notes

St. Cloud State has outscored opponents 34-12 in second periods this season; UND has been outscored 21-16 in the middle frame. North Dakota leads the nation in attendance once again this season (11,357/game) and is bidding to lead the NCAA in total attendance for the eighth consecutive year and in average attendance for the fifth consecutive year. SCSU clocks in 16th in the country, with an average of 4216 fans per game. The Huskies are 14-0-0 on Olympic ice sheets (200×100) this season and 3-3-2 on NHL ice sheets (200×85).

Media Coverage

Friday’s game will be available exclusively on CBS Sports Network, with Saturday’s rematch available on Midco Sports Network, Fox College Sports, and TSN2. Both games will be streamed in high definition on NCHC.tv. UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports 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.

A Personal Note

Due to a scheduling conflict, SiouxSport.com is unable to host a UND/SCSU pre-game event this weekend. We plan to resume this event next season and for many years to come. Here’s to hockey!

The Prediction

Let’s get this out of the way first: St. Cloud State is a better team than North Dakota this season. However, the Fighting Hawks have some intangibles in their favor, including a home ice crowd and a smaller ice surface. In some cases where one side is outmatched, special teams and goaltending can make up the difference. In this case, however, I think UND’s best shot is to play as much of the game at even strength as possible. One way or another, the Huskies will prevail in each contest, although the home side will take at least one of the games to overtime. SCSU 4-1, 4-3 (OT).

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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