Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Denver

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries. The teams have played 26 times during the first six seasons of the new conference, but the feud goes all the way back to Geoff Paukovitch’ illegal check on Sioux forward Robbie Bina during the 2005 WCHA Final Five.

Since that 2005 Final Five contest (a Denver victory), the two teams have met twelve times in tournament play. Denver won the 2005 NCAA title with a victory over North Dakota and claimed a 2008 WCHA Final Five win as well. UND has earned six victories and a tie in the last ten playoff games between the schools, including three consecutive victories in the WCHA Final Five (2010-2012), the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional final which sent the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four, 2016’s thrilling Frozen Four semifinal (a 4-2 UND victory) in Tampa, Florida, and the 2017 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Denver turned the tables by dispatching North Dakota in the first round of the league playoffs at Magness Arena last season (2-0, 4-2).

(It is impossible to bring up the Paukovitch/Bina incident without also writing that Brad Malone‘s check on Denver’s Jesse Martin during an October 2010 contest at Ralph Engelstad Arena fractured three of Martin’s vertebrae and ended the hockey career of the Atlanta Thrashers’ draft pick.)

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 284-137-52 (.655) 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.

In last season’s NCAA tournament, league members Denver and St. Cloud State were both placed in the West Regional (Fargo, North Dakota) and were on track to face off in the regional final. The Pioneers (#6 in the country) held up their end of the bargain with a 2-0 victory over #9 Ohio State, but #19 American International shocked the college hockey world and dispatched the #1-ranked Huskies by a final score of 2-1. One night later, Denver blanked AIC 3-0 to advance to their third Frozen Four in four seasons. The Pios would eventually fall to #4 Massachusetts in overtime in the national semifinal.

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 unranked Minnesota (November 28th and 29th, 2019) and at home vs. unranked Alabama Huntsville (January 3rd and 4th, 2020).

Last weekend, North Dakota swept Miami at home (7-1, 5-4) in the conference opener for both schools, while Denver got two of six league points from its trip to #7 Minnesota Duluth, earning a shootout win after a 3-3 tie on Friday night before falling 5-2 in Saturday’s rematch.

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 nine games, the Fighting Hawks lead the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (18.4) and are second only to Massachusetts in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 61.5%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 62.8%

Those numbers will change after this weekend, however, as Denver is third in both categories (Corsi 58.6%, Fenwick 58.9%) and is averaging over 35 shots on goal per contest (North Dakota is averaging 30.7/game).

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 have already noticed that more shots are going in the net. North Dakota is scoring on an astounding 14.1 percent of their shots on goal, good for fourth-best in the country and second-best among teams which have played more than four games. Last season, UND lit the lamp on only 7.8 percent of their shots on goal (52nd in the nation). Denver’s shooting percentage this season weighs in at 10.8 percent (19th in the country).

And here’s another way to highlight North Dakota’s scoring prowess: UND has scored five goals or more in four of its nine games this season; in 2018-19, the Fighting Hawks had five such games all year.

One key area to watch this weekend is the face-off circle. The Fighting Hawks have improved on draws over the past two weekends and are now sitting at 52.7 percent on the young season (14th) after leading the nation at 57.1 percent a year ago. Denver has won 51.5 percent of its faceoffs through ten games (18th in the country).

Denver Team Profile

Head Coach: David Carle (Denver ’12, 2nd season at DU, 32-13-6, .686)

National Rankings: #2/#1
This Season: 8-1-1 overall, 0-1-1-1 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 24-12-5 overall (NCAA Frozen Four Semifinalist), 11-10-3-3 NCHC (4th)

2019-20 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.80 goals scored/game – 9th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.10 goals allowed/game – 11th of 60 teams
Power Play: 20.8% (10 of 48) – 18th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 92.9% (39 of 42) – 6th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Liam Finlay (3-8-11), Sophomore F Brett Stapley (3-6-9), Sophomore F Emilio Pettersen (1-8-9), Senior F Tyson McLellan (4-4-8), Freshman F Bobby Brink (4-3-7), Sophomore F Cole Guttman (3-2-5), Junior D Ian Mitchell (3-7-10), Junior D Griffin Mendel (1-3-4), Senior D Michael Davies (0-1-1), Freshman G Magnus Chrona (7-1-1, 2.20 GAA, .913 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (North Dakota ’02, 5th season at UND; 97-53-20, .629)

National Rankings: #9/#9
This Season: 7-1-1 overall, 2-0-0-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 18-17-2 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 12-11-1-0 NCHC (5th)

Team Offense: 4.33 goals scored/game – 3rd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 1.67 goals allowed/game – 2nd of 60 teams
Power Play: 14.7% (5 of 34) – 38th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 93.1% (27 of 29) – 5th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Jordan Kawaguchi (3-10-13), Senior F Westin Michaud (5-3-8), Junior F Collin Adams (4-4-8), Freshman F Harrison Blaisdell (2-5-7), Freshman F Shane Pinto (2-4-6), Senior F Dixon Bowen (4-1-5), Junior F Grant Mismash (2-3-5), Sophomore D Jacob Bernard-Docker (1-7-8), Senior D Colton Poolman (1-6-7), Junior D Matt Kiersted (1-6-7), Sophomore D Jonny Tychonick (3-2-5), Sophomore G Adam Scheel (7-1-1, 1.66 GAA, .910 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 16, 2019 (Denver, CO). North Dakota’s season came to an end despite peppering DU netminder Filip Larsson with 42 shots on goal. Denver scored twice in the middle frame (Colin Staub, Jarid Lukosevicius) and added an empty netter for the 4-2 final score. Senior forward Nick Jones scored both goals for UND, and Fighting Hawks goaltender Peter Thome made 14 saves in the losing effort. One night earlier, the Pioneers blanked UND 2-0 despite being outshot 32-17, a common theme for the Green and White last season.

A Recent Memory: April 7, 2016 (Tampa, Florida). In the semifinals of the NCAA Frozen Four, the two league rivals squared off in a tightly-contested contest. Senior forward Drake Caggiula scored twice early in the middle frame to stake UND to a 2-0 lead, but the Pioneers battled back with a pair of third period goals. The CBS line came through when it mattered most, with Nick Schmaltz scoring the game winner off of a faceoff win with 57 seconds remaining in the hockey game. North Dakota blocked 27 Denver shot attempts and goaltender Cam Johnson made 21 saves for the Fighting Hawks, who won the program’s eighth national title on the same sheet of ice two nights later.

Most Important Meeting: It’s hard to pick just one game, as the two teams have played four times for the national title. Denver defeated UND for the national championship in 1958, 1968, and 2005, while the Sioux downed the Pioneers in 1963. But the game that stands out in recent memory as “the one that got away” was DU’s 1-0 victory over the Fighting Sioux in the 2004 NCAA West Regional final (Colorado Springs, CO). That North Dakota team went 30-8-4 on the season (Dean Blais’ last behind the UND bench) and featured one of the deepest rosters in the past twenty years: Brandon Bochenski, Zach Parise, Brady Murray, Colby Genoway, Drew Stafford and David Lundbohm up front; Nick Fuher, Matt Jones, Matt Greene, and Ryan Hale on defense; and a couple of goaltending stalwarts in Jordan Parise and Jake Brandt.

Last Ten Games: UND has three victories and three ties over the past ten games, with Denver outscoring North Dakota 24-20 over that stretch. Three of the last eight meetings have gone into overtime.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 146-128-15 (.531), although Denver enjoys a 76-54-4 (.582) advantage in games played at altitude. The teams first met in 1950, with North Dakota prevailing 18-3 in Denver.

Game News and Notes

North Dakota has not swept in Denver since 2003. Both UND (7-0-0) and DU (4-0-0) have been perfect on home ice this season. Brad Berry is 6-8-5 (.447) in his coaching career vs. the Pioneers. Four North Dakota players have scored multiple career goals against DU (Westin Michaud 4, Matt Kiersted 2, Colton Poolman 2, Cole Smith 2). Since seven of Michigan’s nine titles were earned by 1964, I consider Denver (eight titles) and North Dakota (eight titles) to be the top two men’s college hockey programs of all time.

The Prediction

The best that North Dakota can hope for this weekend is a split. The Fighting Hawks would like to play as much of this series at even strength as possible. I give the slight edge to Denver in Friday’s opener, with UND rebounding for a fairly convincing victory in Saturday’s rematch. DU 3-2, UND 4-1.

Broadcast Information

Saturday’s game will be shown live on Midco Sports Network. Both games will be 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.

On A Personal Note

I have participated in Movember for the past seven years and have proudly raised over $12,000 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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