Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Omaha

After a trip to the Frozen Four in 2015, Dean Blais could only manage a mark of 35-34-6 over his final two seasons behind the Omaha bench. He was replaced by Mike Gabinet (Omaha ’04), and Gabinet finished up his rookie campaign with an eerily similar record of 17-17-2.

Maverick fans were certainly hopeful that improvement was coming this season, but Omaha sputtered out of the gate with a record of 0-6-1. Things have certainly leveled off since then with a mixed bag of results, and the Mavs bring an overall record of 9-20-3 into this weekend’s road series at North Dakota (16-15-2).

Omaha has had a bit more offensive success than North Dakota this season (2.59 goals scored/per game for UNO; 2.55 goals scored/game for UND), although they have not been able to keep the puck out of their own net. If three goals is the magic number for success in men’s college hockey, here’s how the two teams stack up:

Omaha scoring three or more goals: 17 times
(including both games vs. North Dakota in January)

Omaha allowing three or more goals: 25 times
(including both games vs. North Dakota in January)

North Dakota scoring three or more goals: 16 times

North Dakota allowing three or more goals: 14 times

North Dakota is allowing 2.39 goals per contest (15th-best in the country); while Omaha clocks in at an abysmal 3.72 goals allowed per game (58th).

More to the point, UND has allowed three or more goals in both games of a weekend series only twice this season:

October 19-20, 2018 vs. Minnesota State: 4-7 L, 4-3 W
January 18-19, 2019 at Nebraska-Omaha: 4-3 W, 3-4 L

That has usually translated into splits, as North Dakota has held opponents to five total goals or less in twelve of sixteen series this season (aside from Minnesota State [ten] and Omaha [seven], Duluth scored six goals in a home series and Western Michigan scored eight at REA in November).

Omaha has struggled mightily in conference play this year, with only five victories (5-15-2-1). UNO has allowed a league-high 82 goals in NCHC play this season while scoring the second-fewest (51). By contrast, North Dakota (10-11-1-0 in league play) has scored 52 but allowed only 53.

Two familiar names in UND hockey history – Morelli and Ward – have been leading the charge for Mike Gabinet’s squad. Senior forward Mason Morelli (grandson of Reg Morelli; 19-13-32 this season) and freshman forward Taylor Ward (son of Dixon Ward; 8-18-26) rank 1st and 3rd in team scoring for the Mavericks. Those two followed in the footsteps of Josh Archibald (son of Jim), Dayn Belfour (son of Ed), and Dominic Zombo (son of Rick) as “legacy” players who followed Dean Blais down I-94 from Grand Forks to Omaha.

North Dakota hockey fans will also recognize another name on the Omaha roster. Junior goaltender Matej Tomek (0-1-0, 4.73 goals-against average, .845 save percentage in five appearances) spent the 2016-17 at UND, appearing in two games while backing up Cam Johnson. Tomek, who spent last season with the Waterloo Blackhawks of the USHL, is a 3rd round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League (#90 overall in 2015)

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 88-50-19 (.621) and will be unable to continue that impressive streak, as only ten possible victories remain on the schedule.

Currently, UND leads the nation in faceoff efficiency (57.3 percent); UNO is 56th at 44.9 percent. North Dakota outpaces Omaha in both Corsi (58.1 to 45.8 percent) and Fenwick (58.0 to 45.2 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 back in January, 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 (3rd), Denver (6th), with Western Michigan (14th) on the bubble and North Dakota (20th), Colorado College (31st), Miami (34th), and Omaha (44th) even further back.

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

This weekend marks the last weekend of the regular season, and UND is currently in fifth place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, four points behind fourth-place Western Michigan. At 10-11-1-0 (31 points) in league play, North Dakota will need to earn five more league points than the Broncos (11-10-1-1, 35 points) this weekend 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). UND has hosted the first round of its league playoffs (WCHA/NCHC) for sixteen consecutive seasons.

If UND fans are hopeful that Miami can sweep WMU this weekend in Oxford, Ohio, there is this: MU hasn’t swept a league opponent since January 6-7, 2017 vs. St. Cloud State (a stretch of 30 series without a sweep) and are 2-12 in their last seven weekends against NCHC teams. The RedHawks lost a pair of one-goal games in Kalamazoo back in January

According to Jim Dahl of collegehockeyranked.com, UND is most likely to end up at #16 in the Pairwise with a sweep over Omaha and at #20 with a split. A Mavericks sweep would most likely drop North Dakota to #22.

On the injury front, North Dakota sophomore goaltender Peter Thome (upper body injury) has played well over the past two weekends in place of freshman netminder Adam Scheel, who suffered a lower body injury three weeks ago at Western Michigan. The timeline for Scheel’s return is officially listed as week to week.

Thome (2-2-0, 1.78 goals-against average, .928 save percentage over his last four games) helped UND earn splits vs. Duluth and at Colorado College.

Forwards Joel Janatuinen and Grant Mismash are also out this weekend, although Mismash has resumed skating. Senior center Nick Jones (undisclosed) is expected to return to the lineup against Omaha.

One bright spot for Omaha has been their power play efficiency; the Mavericks clock in at just under 24 percent (8th-best in the country). To this point of the season, 33 of UNO’s 83 goals have been scored with the man advantage. On the flip side, Omaha has been dreadful on the penalty kill, allowing 28 goals in 131 shorthanded situations (78.6 percent, 44th).

By comparison, UND’s power play has been stuck all season long and currently sits at just 15.0 percent (20 of 133; 50th). The Fighting Hawks have allowed 26 power play goals on 129 attempts (79.9 percent; 37th) for a special teams differential of minus-six.

Slow starts have plagued UNO this season, as the Mavericks have been outscored 43-24 in the first period and 42-27 in the second. The final frame has been a wash for Omaha (32 goals scored, 33 goals allowed). Overall this season, UNO is allowing 34 shots per game while generating an average of 28 shots on goal.

North Dakota has been best in first periods this season, outscoring opponents 34-20 and outshooting teams by a collective margin of 341-240. In 33 games, UND has put 1027 shots on goal (31.1/game) while allowing just 771 (23.4/game).

In a strange set of stats, Omaha senior netminder Evan Weninger has seen his numbers drop every season in college hockey:

2015-16: 13-8-0, 2.46 goals-against average, .923 save percentage
2016-17: 11-11-4, 2.94 goals-against average, .907 save percentage
2017-18: 15-14-1, 3.36 goals-against average, .899 save percentage
2018-19: 9-19-3, 3.56 goals-against average, .897 save percentage

Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (2nd season at UNO, 26-37-5, .419)

Pairwise Ranking: 44th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 9-20-3 (.328) overall, 5-15-2-1 NCHC (t-7th)
Last Season: 17-17-2 (.500) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 10-13-1-0 NCHC (t-5th)

Team Offense: 2.59 goals scored/game – 39th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 3.72 goals allowed/game – 58th of 60 teams
Power Play: 23.9% (33 of 138) – 8th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.6% (103 of 131) – 44th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Mason Morelli (19-13-32), Senior F Fredrik Olofsson (10-21-31), Junior F Zach Jordan (7-17-24), Freshman F Taylor Ward (8-18-26), Junior D Dean Stewart (5-15-20), Junior D Ryan Jones (0-11-11), Senior G Evan Weninger (9-19-3, 3.56 GAA, .897 SV%, 4 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 88-50-19, .621)

Pairwise Ranking: 20th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #19/NR

This Season: 16-15-2 (.515) overall, 10-11-1-0 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: 2.55 goals scored/game – 41st of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.39 goals allowed/game – 15th of 60 teams
Power Play: 15.0% (20 of 133) – 50th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 79.8% (103 of 129) – 37th of 60 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (8-16-24), Senior F Nick Jones (5-10-15), Senior F Rhett Gardner (8-6-14), Junior F Cole Smith (4-10-14), Freshman F Mark Senden (6-7-13), Freshman D Jacob Bernard-Docker (5-11-16), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (7-10-17), Junior D Colton Poolman (5-10-15), Sophomore G Peter Thome (3-5-0, 2.80 GAA, .883 SV%)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: January 19, 2019 (Omaha, NE). The Mavericks scored three unanswered goals over the final 27 minutes of the hockey game to come from behind for a 4-3 win. Eleven different players figured in on the scoring for UNO, who got 31 saves from senior netminder Evan Weninger. One night earlier, UND’s Jackson Keane scored the game-winner with less than two minutes remaining for a 4-3 road victory. North Dakota outshot Omaha 71-44 in the two-game series.

Last meeting in Grand Forks: March 10, 2018. In the second and decisive game of the NCHC quarterfinal series between North Dakota and Omaha, Fighting Hawks’ forward Nick Jones scored the game-tying goal at 10:45 of the third period and the game-winner 53 seconds into overtime to propel the Green and White to their sixteenth-consecutive Twin Cities tournament weekend (WCHA Final Five/NCHC Frozen Faceoff). UND won Friday’s opener 4-0 on the strength of three second-period goals (by Christian Wolanin, Jones, and Joel Janatuinen).

Most memorable meeting: The game that UND fans will long remember is the outdoor game played at TD Ameritrade Park (Omaha, Nebraska) on February 9th, 2013. One day after winning a tight 2-1 contest indoors, North Dakota throttled UNO 5-2 on a sunny, melty afternoon. Mavericks netminder John Faulkner was pulled after allowing three goals on five shots in just ten minutes of game action. In my opinion, this hockey weekend solidified the notion that for UND hockey, it’s always a home game.

Last ten: North Dakota has won six of the last ten contests between the schools, outscoring the Mavericks 35-27 over that stretch.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 20-11-1 (.641), including a 9-6-1 (.594) record in games played in Grand Forks. North Dakota owns a record of 15-8-1 (.646) against the Mavericks since both teams joined the NCHC. The teams first met on November 19, 2010.

Game News and Notes

In 2015, both North Dakota and Omaha advanced to the Frozen Four but neither team made the championship game. UND fell to Boston University 5-3, while the Mavericks were upended 4-1 by eventual national champion Providence. Since joining the WCHA in 2011 (and later the NCHC), the Mavs have never reached the Twin Cities for the second weekend of the conference tournament despite having home ice in three of those eight years. North Dakota ended UNO’s season in the first round of the league playoffs one year ago (4-0, 4-3 OT). The Mavs are 2-11-1 on the road this season, UND is 10-6-1 at home. Hawks’ junior defenseman (and captain) Colton Poolman has two goals and twelve points in twelve career games against Omaha.

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend can be seen live on Midco Sports Network and Fox College Sports, with a high definition webcast of the series also available to NCHC.tv subscribers. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). The flagship station for the network is 96.1 FM (The Fox). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

The Prediction

If the faceoff percentages and fancy stats (Corsi, Fenwick) are any indication, North Dakota will have the puck most of this weekend. The results of this series will rest on the goaltending efforts of Omaha’s Evan Weninger. In nine victories, he has allowed fifteen total goals (1.67 goals allowed/game) with four shutouts; in nineteen losses, he has given up 79 (4.16 goals allowed/game). The Fighting Hawks are still in the mix for home ice and will celebrate Senior Night on Saturday, and both of those things should translate into some intensity from the Green and White side. The first team to three goals will win each contest, and it will be North Dakota on back-to-back nights. UND 4-3, 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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