Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Western Michigan

North Dakota has only lost twice in ten games at Western Michigan in the short history of the series, but those losses came in UND’s last trip to Kalamazoo almost exactly two seasons ago. This year, the #9-ranked Broncos are equally tough at home, with a sparkling 10-2-1 mark at Lawson Ice Arena. The Fighting Hawks are just 3-7-1 on the road this season.

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 its thirteen home games this season, Western Michigan has outscored opponents 50-31, with five of their ten victories at Lawson Ice Arena coming by a single goal. The Broncos have gone 6-1-1-1 over their first four home conference series this season (vs. Omaha, Duluth, Miami, and Denver).

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 two separate injuries. 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: 72 total points in 86 combined games played

The secondary scoring has been the biggest surprise, vaulting Western Michigan to 6th nationally in team offense (3.54 goals scored/game). Sophomore forwards Josh Passolt (15-10-25) and Ethan Frank (13-9-22) managed just 23 points between them in 65 games played a year ago but have crushed that total over their first 48 combined games this season.

And aside from these six forwards, the Broncos have two other players (junior defenseman Cam Lee and sophomore forward Austin Rueschhoff) averaging at least a half point per contest (by comparison, North Dakota has only three players – forwards Nick Jones and Jordan Kawaguchi and defensemen Jacob Bernard-Docker – at .5/game or better).

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 85-47-19 (.626) and would need fifteen more victories in the final seventeen games remaining on the schedule (at most) to continue that impressive streak.

Currently, UND leads the nation in faceoff efficiency (58.1 percent); Western Michigan is 8th at 53.8 percent. North Dakota also outpaces the Broncos in both Corsi (59.0 to 47.3 percent) and Fenwick (58.9 to 49.5 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.

After getting swept at Canisius last 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: 52-44-8 (.538)
ECAC: 43-46-6 (.484)
WCHA: 22-38-5 (.377)
Atlantic Hockey: 14-44-6 (.266)

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), Duluth (4th), Denver (7th), and Western Michigan (10th) would make the national tourney, with North Dakota (21st) on the outside looking in and Colorado College (25th), Miami (39th), and Omaha (41st) even further back.

According to KRACH, Western Michigan has played the eighth-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks as the tenth-most difficult out of sixty men’s Division I hockey programs.

This weekend marks the first of four consecutive conference opponents to finish out the regular season, and the February schedule is definitely more challenging than the slate of games in March. Here are the remaining series for the Fighting Hawks:

February 15-16: at #9 Western Michigan
February 22-23: vs. #4 Minnesota Duluth
March 1-2: at Colorado College
March 8-9: vs. Nebraska-Omaha

UND is currently in fifth place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, three points behind fourth-place Denver. However, the Pioneers have a game in hand due to a contest at Colorado College that was rescheduled for Tuesday, February 26th due to the weather. At 7-8-1-0 (22 points) in league play, North Dakota will likely need five more victories over its final eight conference games to secure home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs. Over the first five seasons of the league, 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 would move up to 16th in the Pairwise with a sweep of Western Michigan and to 19th with a split. A Broncos sweep would keep North Dakota at 21.

On the injury front, North Dakota junior defenseman Colton Poolman (4-7-11, plus-7) will return to the lineup this weekend after missing the games at Denver (the first two of his collegiate career after appearing in 105 straight contests) with an undisclosed injury. Forwards Joel Janatuinen and Grant Mismash and goaltender Peter Thome are also out this weekend.

Western Michigan Team Profile

Head Coach: Andy Murray (8th season at WMU, 134-125-35, .515)

Pairwise Ranking: 10th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #9/#9

This Season: 16-9-1 overall (.635), 9-6-1-1 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 15-19-2 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 10-13-1-0 NCHC (t-5th)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.54 goals scored/game – 6th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.85 goals allowed/game – 32nd of 60 teams
Power Play: 18.1% (21 of 116) – 31st of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 80.3% (102 of 127) – 33rd of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Colt Conrad (8-20-28), Junior F Wade Allison (3-3-6 in twelve games), Junior F Hugh McGing (12-14-26), Junior F Dawson DePietro (4-8-12), Sophomore F Josh Passolt (15-10-25), Sophomore F Ethen Frank (13-9-22), Junior D Cam Lee (6-14-20), Freshman D Mattias Samuelsson (4-6-10), Senior G Trevor Gorsuch (14-5-1, 2.31 GAA, .923 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 85-47-19, .626)

Pairwise Ranking: 21st of 60 teams
National Rankings: #22/NR

This Season: 13-12-2 (.519) overall, 7-8-1-0 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: 2.52 goals scored/game – 46th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.44 goals allowed/game – 20th of 60 teams
Power Play: 15.2% (16 of 105) – 48th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 81.6% (84 of 103) – 29th of 60 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (6-13-19), Senior F Nick Jones (5-10-15 in twenty games), Senior F Rhett Gardner (8-3-11), Junior F Cole Smith (2-7-9), Freshman D Jacob Bernard-Docker (4-10-14), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (5-7-12), Junior D Colton Poolman (4-7-11), Freshman G Adam Scheel (12-9-2, 2.03 GAA, .910 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: November 17, 2018 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota starting netminder Adam Scheel allowed four goals on eighteen shots (including three second-period goals in the span of under six minutes) before giving way to Peter Thome. Colt Conrad (one goal, four assists) figured in on five of Western Michigan’s six goals as the Broncos completed the sweep with a 6-2 road win after a 2-0 victory in Friday’s opener. The Fighting Hawks managed just two goals all weekend despite outshooting WMU 64-45.

Last Meeting in Kalamazoo: February 18, 2017. North Dakota outshot WMU 46-19 (including 34-7 over the final two periods) but could not rally from a 3-0 deficit as the Broncos held on for a 3-2 victory and a series sweep over the Fighting Hawks. UND sophomore forward Brock Boeser assisted on both North Dakota goals (Shane Gersich, Austin Poganski). The goal by Gersich came just nine seconds after WMU’s Taylor Fleming made it 3-0 early in the middle frame. Western Michigan won Friday’s opener by a score of 4-2 (ENG).

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 24 games (including eight of the ten games played in Kalamazoo). The Broncos have turned the tables recently, winning five of the past seven games overall. 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: Each team has won five of the past ten games despite the fact that eight of the last ten have been played in Grand Forks. Over that stretch, UND has outscored Western Michigan 33-28.

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

Friday’s opener will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network, with Saturday’s rematch available on high definition webcast 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

Western Michigan has too much scoring depth and plays too well at home for North Dakota fans to hope for anything more than a split this weekend. If there is a weakness for the Broncos, however, it’s on the penalty kill, as WMU has surrendered 25 power play goals this season. Both teams were idle last weekend, so that’s a non-factor here. WMU 3-2, UND 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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