Hall Of Fame Game Preview: North Dakota vs. Michigan Tech

Saturday’s contest will mark the eleventh time that North Dakota will take part in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game (now called the “Face-Off Classic”). UND is 6-3-1 all-time in the annual event and first hosted the Hall of Fame Game on October 5, 2001, the grand opening of the new Ralph Engelstad Arena. The debut of the new “Ralph”, which went down as a 7-5 Minnesota victory, dropped North Dakota’s record in Hall of Fame Games to 0-3-1.

The Green and White have fared better in more recent Hall of Fame Games, defeating Minnesota Duluth 3-2 (2003), Michigan State 6-0 (2007), Air Force 3-2 [OT] (2014), and RPI 5-2 (2016) in Grand Forks, blitzing the Bulldogs 5-0 in Duluth during the grand opening of Amsoil Arena (December 30, 2010), and handling the Minnesota Golden Gophers 3-1 in Las Vegas almost exactly one year ago.

In the first 27 years of the event (1974-2000), North Dakota appeared in three Hall Of Fame Games (against Minnesota in 1978 and against Minnesota Duluth in 1988 and 1992). Beginning in 2001, UND has been a part of eight such contests, including six in Grand Forks. This is mostly a testament to the athletic department’s ability and willingness to host events like these and the draw of Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Six full seasons have come and gone since the college hockey landscape changed forever. With Minnesota and Wisconsin departing the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for the Big Ten after the 2012-13 season, several other conference schools and two members of the now-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association created the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and left Alaska Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, and Minnesota State behind in a watered-down WCHA.

It is abundantly clear that the NCHC has been the premier hockey conference since its inception, and particularly over the past five seasons. The eight teams in the league have gone 276-135-49 (.653) in non-conference action since the start of the 2014-15 season and sent nine teams to the Frozen Four (UND and Omaha in 2015, UND and Denver in 2016, Denver and Duluth in 2017, Duluth in 2018, and Denver and Duluth in 2019) over that five-year stretch. Conference members North Dakota (2016), Denver (2017), and Minnesota Duluth (2018, 2019) have won the last four national titles.

Michigan Tech has benefitted from its new conference as well, making the NCAA tournament in three of the past five seasons (2015, 2017, and 2018):

In 2018, MTU lost 4-3 to #2 Notre Dame in the East Regional.
In 2017, MTU lost 5-2 to #1 Denver In the Midwest Regional.
In 2015, the best MTU squad in recent memory lost 3-2 in overtime to #13 St. Cloud State in the West Regional) despite outshooting SCSU 38-21.

More to the point, Michigan Tech and North Dakota were both members of the WCHA from 1984-85 through 2012-13 (29 seasons), and the Huskies put together exactly two winning seasons during that stretch:

1992-93: 17-15-5 (.527)
2006-07: 18-17-5 (.512)

Since the reshaping of the WCHA six seasons ago, Michigan Tech has enjoyed four of its best seasons in program history:

2014-15: 29-10-2 (.732)
2015-16: 23-9-5 (.689)
2016-17: 23-15-7 (.589)
2017-18: 22-17-5 (.557)

Last season’s version of the Huskies won only fourteen games (14-20-4, .421) after averaging over 24 wins per year from 2014-2018. MTU is looking to regain some of its scoring touch after losing a tremendous amount of firepower from its three tournament teams:

Forward Alex Petan (59 goals and 76 assists for 135 points in 153 games played)
Forward Tanner Kero (55-56-111 in 153 gp)
Forward Blake Pietila (46-60-106 in 153 gp)
Forward David Johnstone (36-67-103 in 127 gp)
Forward Joel L’Esperance (46-52-98 in 152 gp)
Defenseman Shane Hanna (21-69-90 in 163 gp)
Defenseman Mark Auk (21-63-84 in 150 gp)

In terms of overall offense, the best NCAA tournament team that Michigan Tech put together (2014-15) scored 3.49 goals/game. The other two tourney teams were not far behind:

2016-17 offense: 2.89 goals scored/game
2017-18 offense: 3.05 goals scored/game

This season, the Huskies are scoring goals at a rate of 2.83/game, good for 22nd in the nation among the 54 teams which have played at least one game to this point in the season.

Last season’s losses at Canisius College in early January were certainly instrumental in keeping North Dakota out of the national tournament, but other inter-conference losses and ties last year didn’t help, either. UND went just 6-4-1 in out-of-conference games in 2018-19 and missed the NCAAs for the second consecutive season after appearing in fifteen consecutive tourneys (2003-2017).

Here’s a look at the non-conference records under fifth-year head coach Brad Berry:

2015-2016: 9-1-2 (.833) ~ National Champions
2016-2017: 7-2-2 (.727) ~ NCAA West Regional Semifinalist
2017-2018: 6-2-4 (.677) ~ missed NCAA tournament
2018-2019: 6-4-1 (.591) ~ missed NCAA tournament
2019-2020: 4-1-1 (.750)

After this weekend’s tilt against Michigan Tech, UND’s other non-conference opponents during the 2019-20 campaign will be at Minnesota (November 28-29) and at home vs. Alabama Huntsville (January 3-4).

Last weekend, North Dakota swept former WCHA foe Bemidji State, coming back for a 2-1 overtime victory in Friday’s opener before handling the Beavers 4-1 in Saturday’s rematch. Michigan Tech traveled to face #17 Bowling Green last weekend, dropping a 3-1 decision before rebounding for a 4-2 victory.

For UND, the goal is simple: return to national prominence after a two-year absence from the national tournament. There is reason for optimism in Grand Forks, with an experienced d-corps, plenty of returning grit and skill, and a crop of freshmen with a tremendous amount of upside.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. Through six games, the Fighting Hawks lead the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (17.7) and trail only Massachusetts and Air Force in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 63.5%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 61.0%

By comparison, Michigan Tech sits at 48.8% in Corsi (30th) and 49.3% in Fenwick (27th).

Last season, UND trailed only national champion Duluth in both puck possession categories across all Division I teams but could not finish enough of their chances. This year, fans of the Green and White should already be noticing that more shots are going in the net. North Dakota is scoring on 12.3 percent of their shots on goal, good for sixth-best in the country. Last season, UND lit the lamp on only 7.8 percent of their shots on goal (52nd in the nation).

One key area to watch this weekend is the face-off circle. The Fighting Hawks improved on draws last weekend against Bemidji State and are now sitting at 50.8 percent on the young season (21st) after leading the nation at 57.1 percent a year ago. Michigan Tech has won 48.9 percent of its faceoffs through six games (32nd in the country).

Michigan Tech Team Profile

Head Coach: Joe Shawhan (3rd season at MTU, 39-40-9, .494)

National Rankings: NR
This Season: 3-3-0 overall, 1-3-0 WCHA (6th)
Last Season: 14-20-4 overall, 13-12-3-1 WCHA (6th)

Team Offense: 2.83 goals scored/game (22nd of 54 teams)
Team Defense: 1.83 goals allowed/game (9th of 54 teams)
Power Play: 21.6% (29 of 134)
Penalty Kill: 80.6% (116 of 144)

Key Players: Sophomore F Alec Broetzman (4-4-8), Freshman F Parker Saretsky (2-4-6), Sophomore F Tommy Parrottino (4-0-0), Sophomore F Trenton Bliss (2-2-4), Freshman F Logan Pietila (1-3-4), Sophomore F Brian Halonen (2-1-3), Junior F Greyson Reitmeier (0-2-2), Sophomore D Colin Swoyer (0-5-5), Junior D Seamus Donohue (0-3-3), Junior G Robbie Beydoun (1-0-0, 1.26 GAA, .941 SV%), Senior G Matt Jurusik (2-3-0, 2.04 GAA, .926 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (5th season at UND; 94-53-20, .623)

National Rankings: #14/#14
This Season: 4-1-1 overall
Last Season: 18-17-2 overall, 12-11-1-0 NCHC (5th)

Team Offense: 4.00 goals scored/game (6th of 54 teams)
Team Defense: 1.50 goals allowed/game (5th of 54 teams)
Power Play: 10.0% (2 of 20)
Penalty Kill: 94.4% (17 of 18)

Key Players: Junior F Jordan Kawaguchi (1-5-6), Sophomore F Mark Senden (2-2-4), Senior F Dixon Bowen (3-1-4), Senior F Westin Michaud (3-1-4), Freshman F Harrison Blaisdell (2-2-4), Freshman F Shane Pinto (2-3-5), Sophomore D Jacob Bernard-Docker (0-6-6), Senior D Colton Poolman (1-3-4), Junior D Gabe Bast (2-1-3), Sophomore G Adam Scheel (4-1-1, 1.48 GAA, .915 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: March 17, 2013 (Grand Forks, ND). It was a bonnie St. Paddy’s Day for the lads in green, as UND netminder Clarke Saunders pitched a shutout (6-0, 27 saves) in the third and decisive game of the WCHA first round playoff series. The first two games of the series followed a familiar pattern, with North Dakota winning Friday’s opener 5-3 but struggling to end an opponent’s season, dropping Game 2 by a final of 2-1.

Most Important Meeting: The Sioux and Huskies have never met in the NCAA tournament, so I will go with the most important meeting that never was: in 1965, the Sioux lost to Boston College, 4-3, one game short of the national championship game, where they would have faced the Michigan Tech Huskies, who won the second of their three titles by defeating the Eagles. UND settled for third place that season, downing Brown University, 9-5. North Dakota went 13-3-0 in the regular season in 1964-65, with two of those three losses coming at the hands of Michigan Tech.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 149-94-10 (.609), including a dominating 84-34-5 (.703) record in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: North Dakota is 8-1-1 (.850) in the last ten meetings between the schools, outscoring the Huskies 49-13 over that stretch. Before 2013, the last time Michigan Tech defeated UND was in the first round of the WCHA playoffs in March 2008 (Grand Forks, ND). As was the case five years later, MTU took the middle game of the three-game series but North Dakota came back to win on Sunday night to advance to the Final Five.

Game News and Notes

Coming into Saturday night, these two storied programs have faced off 253 times. UND’s Brad Berry has never faced Michigan Tech in his head coaching career. North Dakota men’s hockey teams are a combined 244-93-44 (.698) at Ralph Engelstad Arena since the building opened in 2001.

The Prediction

While it is certainly true that anything can happen in a one-game situation, the only thing in doubt in my mind is the final score. Michigan Tech should be able to keep this game close, but if North Dakota gets up by two goals early, it will be off to the races. UND 4-1.

Broadcast Information

Saturday’s game will be televised live on Midco Sports Network and also available online at NCHC.tv. All UND men’s hockey games, home and away, can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network as well as through the iHeart Radio app.

Social Media

Keep up with the action live during all UND hockey games by following @UNDmhockey and @UNDInsider on Twitter. Fans can also read the action via Brad Schlossman’s live chat on the Grand Forks Herald website.

Ticket Information

Information about tickets can be found at the UND Box Office inside Ralph Engelstad Arena or online at FightingHawks.com/tickets.

On A Personal Note

I have participated in Movember for the past seven years and have proudly raised over $11,000 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!

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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