Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Miami

Over the first six seasons of the NCHC, Miami has averaged a sixth-place finish (8th, 2nd, 5th, 7th, 8th, 7th), with a combined league record of 39-70-11-8 (.378).

When the National Collegiate Hockey Conference was formed, Miami appeared positioned to be a dominant program. Prior to the 2013-14 season (their inaugural campaign in the NCHC), the RedHawks had made eight consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, with consecutive Frozen Four bids in 2009 (2nd) and 2010 (3rd). Since joining the NCHC, Miami has just one NCAA tournament appearance (2015), and that ended quickly with a first-round loss to eventual national champion Providence.

For comparison, North Dakota has finished 2nd, 1st, 1st, 4th, 4th, and 5th in the first six seasons of the new league, for an average finish of 3rd place.

Long-tenured head coach Enrico Blasi was fired during the offseason after posting a fourth consecutive losing season. Over that stretch of time, the RedHawks were 47-81-19 (.384). There is reason for optimism in Oxford, however, with new bench boss Chris Bergeron taking over the program after leading Bowling Green to six consecutive winning seasons, five consecutive years with twenty or more victories, and an NCAA tournament appearance in 2018-2019.

The Fighting Hawks came in at number four in the annual NCHC media preseason poll, trailing Denver, Duluth, and Western Michigan. Miami was picked to finish last in the eight-team league again this year.

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 280-136-51 (.654) 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.

The blame for UND’s absence from last season’s NCAA tourney rests squarely on the two road losses at Canisius. When North Dakota failed to make the national tournament following the 2017-2018 season, many pointed to the road series at Miami as the “games that got away”. Let’s get in the DeLorean, shall we?

Friday, February 23rd, 2018. Steve Cady Arena. Miami, Ohio. 1.21 jiggawatts…

#12 UND led the unranked RedHawks 3-0 in the second period before surrendering four unanswered goals, the last in overtime. Had the Fighting Hawks held onto the lead and won that game, it would have been invited to the NCAAs for a sixteenth consecutive season. And conversely, Minnesota Duluth, the eventual national champion, would have been watching the tourney from home.

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: 5-1-1 (.786)

UND’s other non-conference opponents during the 2019-20 campaign will be at Minnesota (November 28th and 29th, 2019) and at home vs. Alabama Huntsville (January 3rd and 4th, 2020).

Last weekend, North Dakota toppled Michigan Tech by a final score of 3-1 in the U.S. Hockey Hall Of Fame Game while Miami handled the US Under-18 Team 4-2 in exhibition action.

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 seven games, the Fighting Hawks lead the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (14.7) and two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 63.0%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 64.2%

By comparison, Miami sits at 48.5% in Corsi (38th) and 46.3% in Fenwick (48th).

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 among teams which have played more than two games. 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 Saturday against Michigan Tech and are now sitting at 51.2 percent on the young season (4th) after leading the nation at 57.1 percent a year ago. Miami has won 53.7 percent of its faceoffs through seven games (12th in the country).

Miami Team Profile

Head Coach: Chris Bergeron (1st season at Miami, 2-3-2, .429)

National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 2-3-2 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 11-23-4 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 5-17-2-1 NCHC (t-7th of 8 teams)

Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.86 goals scored/game – 28th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 3.71 goals allowed/game – 50th of 60 teams
Power Play: 10.3% (3 of 29) – 47th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 75.8% (25 of 33) – 48th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Gordie Green (4-5-9), Senior F Karch Bachman (4-3-7), Junior F Casey Gilling (1-6-7), Freshman F John Sladic (2-1-3), Sophomore F Brian Hawkinson (0-1-1), Sophomore D Derek Daschke (1-5-6), Freshman D Jack Clement (2-3-5), Sophomore D Bray Crowder (0-2-2), Senior G Ryan Larkin (2-3-0, 3.72 GAA, .890 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (5th season at UND; 95-53-20, .625)

National Rankings: #10/#10
This Season: 5-1-1 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 18-17-2 overall, 12-11-1-0 NCHC (5th)

Team Offense: 3.86 goals scored/game – 11th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 1.43 goals allowed/game – 1st of 60 teams
Power Play: 8.0% (2 of 25) – 49th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 95.2% (20 of 21) – 5th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Jordan Kawaguchi (2-5-7), 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 (5-1-1, 1.42 GAA, .917 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last Meeting: November 10, 2018 (Oxford, OH). It was a furious third period at Steve Cady Arena, with each team scoring two goals. The difference was that Miami’s Josh Melnick had opened the scoring with a power play marker in the opening frame and the RedHawks prevailed 3-2. North Dakota won 3-1 one night earlier in the conference opener for both teams. UND outshot Miami 68-40 on the weekend.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: November 11, 2017. The shootout took four rounds, but in the end, Christian Wolanin blasted a slapshot from the faceoff circle (at the 4:30 mark of this video) and UND emerged victorious after tying the visiting RedHawks 3-3. One night earlier, it was all North Dakota, as Nick Jones (two goals), Rhett Gardner (one goal), and Grant Mismash (one goal) all lit the lamp in a 4-1 victory.

Most Important Meeting: March 6, 2015 (Oxford, OH). North Dakota claimed the Penrose Cup with a 2-1 road victory over Miami. UND fell flat the following night, losing 6-3 in the final game of the regular season.

Last Ten: UND has picked up five wins and two ties in the past ten contests between the teams, outscoring Miami 31-25 over that stretch of games. North Dakota has only hosted four of the past ten meetings between the schools.

All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 14-7-3 (.646), including a 7-2-2 (.727) record in games played at Ralph Engelstad Arena. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).

Game News and Notes

UND is 5-0-0 at home this year and 0-1-1 on the road. North Dakota men’s hockey teams are a combined 245-93-44 (.699) at Ralph Engelstad Arena since the building opened in 2001. After this weekend, UND will only have one more home series in 2019 (November 22nd and 23rd vs. St. Cloud State). Brad Berry’s squad will travel to Oxford to face Miami in January. Green Hawks are preferable to RedHawks.

The Prediction

All signs point to a North Dakota sweep. This will be the weekend that the power play will get untracked, and at least one game will see five goals for the Green and White. UND 5-2, 4-3.

Broadcast Information

This series 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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