Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Minnesota

Quite simply, North Dakota vs. Minnesota is a hockey rivalry unlike any other.

#3 North Dakota (10-1-2) is three years removed from its eighth national championship but missed the NCAA tournament in each of the past two seasons after making fifteen straight appearances (2003-2017).

Minnesota (5-6-3) has only advanced to the NCAAs five times in the last eleven seasons and is stuck on five national titles, the most recent in 2002 and 2003.

More to the point…

The Golden Gophers played from 1947-1973 without a title (26 seasons).

Head coach Herb Brooks led Minnesota to three NCAA championships in a six year stretch (1974, 1976, and 1979).

The Golden Gophers then played from 1979-2001 without a title (22 seasons).

Head coach Don Lucia won back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003.

This year will mark the seventeenth anniversary of Minnesota’s most recent NCAA crown.

North Dakota has been relevant in every decade, with head coaches Bob May, Barry Thorndycraft, John “Gino” Gasparini, Dean Blais, and Brad Berry all lifting college hockey’s most coveted trophy.

Here is a closer look at the thirteen combined national titles won by these two storied programs.

Despite only nine tournament victories since Minnesota’s last title (UND has 22 in that same span), Gophers’ head coach Don Lucia was inexplicably given a two-year extension that was supposed to keep him behind the bench through the 2018-19 campaign. After the Gophers sputtered to a 19-17-2 record two seasons ago. Lucia was replaced by former St. Cloud State bench boss Bob Motzko.

Motzko, who guided St. Cloud State to the national tournament eight times in his thirteen seasons behind the SCSU bench, only managed an overall NCAA tourney record of 5-8 and one Frozen Four appearance.

Thankfully for fans of college hockey’s greatest matchup, this week’s game marks the fourth of seven consecutive seasons in which the teams are guaranteed to meet; after this season, there are three year’s remaining on the schedule agreement:

2020-21: Ralph Engelstad Arena (Grand Forks, North Dakota)
2021-22: 3M Arena at Mariucci (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
2022-23: Ralph Engelstad Arena (Grand Forks, North Dakota)

Minnesota can no longer lay claim to having a roster made up exclusively of the State of Hockey’s “Pride On Ice”, with players hailing from Eagle River (Wisconsin), Fenton (Michigan), Scottsdale (Arizona), Irvine (California), Newport Beach (California), Mississauga (Ontario), Kindersley (Saskatchewan), and Naantali (Finland).

The last two seasons have been far from milestone campaigns for Brad Berry’s squad, as his teams sputtered to records of 17-13-10 (.550) and 18-17-2 (.514). To put that in perspective, those two teams combined for 35 victories over two seasons, just one more than the 2015-16 team collected in one season on their way to the program’s eighth national title. Prior to the 2017-2018 season, North Dakota had made fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the second-longest streak of all time (Michigan appeared in 22 straight NCAA tourneys from 1991 to 2012). Denver now boasts the nation’s longest active streak with twelve consecutive tourney bids (2008-2019).

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)

After this week’s series at Minnesota, UND will only have two more non-conference games this season: a home series vs. unranked Alabama Huntsville on January 3rd and 4th, 2020.

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. So far this season, several returning players have seen a noticeable uptick in their production and in their overall play on the ice, most notably junior forward Collin Adams (5-6-11), senior forward Cole Smith (5-2-7), senior forward Dixon Bowen (4-1-5), and junior defenseman Matt Kiersted (1-8-9). Those four players have combined for 32 points in 52 games played (0.62 points/game) after amassing 95 points in 324 games played (0.29 points/game) prior to this year.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. Through thirteen games, the Fighting Hawks lead the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (19.7) and are second only to Massachusetts in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 60.4%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 60.5%

By comparison, Minnesota is 43rd in the country in Corsi (46.7%) and 46th in the country in Fenwick (46.6%) and is averaging 28.3 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 30.0/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 12.8 percent of their shots on goal, good for third-best in the country and best among teams which have played more than eight games. Last season, UND lit the lamp on only 7.8 percent of their shots on goal (52nd in the nation). Minnesota’s shooting percentage this season weighs in at 9.1 percent (34th in the country).

And here’s another way to highlight North Dakota’s scoring prowess: UND has scored four goals or more in eight of its thirteen games this season; in 2018-19, the Fighting Hawks had twelve 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 four weekends and are now sitting at 54.2 percent on the season (8th) after leading the nation at 57.1 percent a year ago. Minnesota has won 47.3 percent of its faceoffs through fourteen games (49th in the country).

After sputtering on the power play to open the season with just two power play goals on their first 25 attempts (8.0 percent), UND has scored seven power play goals over its past six games (7 for 26, 26.9 percent) and now faces a mediocre Minnesota penalty kill that has already allowed eight power play goals (39 of 47, 83.0%).

By comparison, UND has only allowed three power play goals all season long (42 of 45, 93.3%) and currently boasts the fourth-best penalty kill unit in men’s Division I hockey this season.

North Dakota is 5th in the country in scoring offense (3.85 goals scored/game) and 3rd in the country in scoring defense (1.54 goals allowed/game), and that leads to the country’s second-best goal differential (+30). Through the first thirteen games of the season, the Fighting Hawks are outscoring opponents 50-20. Minnesota has been outscored 36-44 this year for a goal differential of minus-eight.

After suffering through an embarrassing home sweep at the hands of #8 Penn State (2-8, 3-6), Minnesota played much better at home last weekend, defeating #16 Wisconsin 4-1 on Friday night before battling to a 3-3 tie in Saturday’s rematch.

Minnesota Team Profile

Head Coach: Bob Motzko (2nd season at Minnesota, 23-22-7, .510)

National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 5-6-3 overall, 2-3-3-2 Big Ten (4th of 7 teams)
Last Season: 18-16-4 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 11-10-3-0 Big Ten (3rd of 7 teams)

2019-2020 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.57 goals scored/game – 33rd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 3.14 goals allowed/game – 42nd of 60 teams
Power Play: 15.9% (7 of 44) – 39th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 83.0% (39 of 47) – 26th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Brandon McManus (4-6-10), Sophomore F Sampo Ranta (5-4-9), Sophomore F Sammy Walker (5-3-8), Junior F Scott Reedy (6-1-7), Freshman F Ben Meyers (1-6-7), Freshman D Jackson LaCombe (0-7-7), Freshman D Matt Staudacher (1-3-4), Senior D Tyler Nanne (1-3-4), Freshman G Jared Moe (3-3-1, 2.65 GAA, .912 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (North Dakota ’02, 5th season at UND; 100-53-21, .635)

National Rankings: #3/#3
This Season: 10-1-2 overall, 5-0-1-1 NCHC (1st of 8 teams)
Last Season: 18-17-2 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 12-11-1-0 NCHC (5th)

2019-2020 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.85 goals scored/game – 5th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 1.54 goals allowed/game – 3rd of 60 teams
Power Play: 17.6% (9 of 51) – 32nd of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 93.3% (42 of 45) – 4th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Jordan Kawaguchi (4-14-18), Senior F Westin Michaud (6-5-11), Junior F Collin Adams (5-6-11), Freshman F Harrison Blaisdell (2-5-7), Freshman F Shane Pinto (4-4-8), Senior F Dixon Bowen (4-1-5), Junior F Grant Mismash (2-4-6), Senior F Cole Smith (5-2-7), Sophomore D Jacob Bernard-Docker (2-8-10), Senior D Colton Poolman (1-7-8), Junior D Matt Kiersted (1-8-9), Sophomore D Jonny Tychonick (3-2-5 in 8 games played), Sophomore G Adam Scheel (10-1-2, 1.52 GAA, .922 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: October 27, 2018 (Las Vegas, NV). The “Duel in the Desert” left #5 Minnesota feeling high and dry as #17 North Dakota played the Gophers even through a scoreless opening period before outshooting their guests 25-12 over the final forty minutes of play. UND’s Colton Poolman scored two goals for the Fighting Hawks, while fellow blueliner Hayden Shaw assisted on all three goals in a 3-1 North Dakota victory. Attendance was recorded as 412 Gopher fans and 7000 fans of the Green and White.

Last meeting in Minneapolis: November 5, 2016. The Fighting Hawks outshot the homestanding Gophers 33-20 but could not solve netminder Eric Schierhorn and fell by a final of 2-0. Friday’s opener featured ten goals, with Minnesota rallying four times to tie the score (including an extra-attacker goal by Tommy Novak with 77 seconds remaining in regulation).

Most important meeting: March 24, 1979 (Detroit, MI). North Dakota and Minnesota met to decide the national championship, and the Gophers prevailed, 4-3. Neal Broten scored the game-winning goal for the U of M, and Steve Janaszak was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.

All-time: Minnesota leads the all-time series by an ten-game margin, 142-132-15 (.517), including a 76-51-7 (.593) advantage in games played in Minneapolis. 8 > 5. The teams first met in 1948.

Last ten: The Gophers have gone 5-3-2 in the last ten meetings between the schools, outscoring UND 29-27 in those games.

Game News and Notes

North Dakota junior forward Jordan Kawaguchi is eighth in the country with 18 points and fourth in the country with 14 assists. UND head coach Brad Berry picked up his 99th and 100th head coaching win last weekend in a home sweep of St. Cloud State. In an effort to alleviate parking concerns, Minnesota fans are asked to park in St. Paul and walk to 3M Arena at Mariucci.

Broadcast Information

Both games (Thursday and Friday) will be broadcast live on FOX Sports North and streamed on TSN.ca (Canada) and foxsportsgo.com (United States). 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).

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 $14,000 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!

The Prediction

Let’s get this out of the way first: North Dakota has proven itself to be the better, more complete team to this point of the season. UND is deep enough up front that having last line change may not matter for Bob Motzko. However, Minnesota still has two advantages: experience on the wider sheet of ice and a raucous home crowd. Well, make that one advantage. The easiest thing to do would be to call both games 4-2 in favor of North Dakota, but I have a feeling that one game will be closer than that. UND 3-2, 4-1.

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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