Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Western Michigan

North Dakota has only lost three times in twelve games at Western Michigan in the short history of the series, but those losses came in UND’s last two trips to Kalamazoo. Despite the narrative that Lawson Ice Arena is the most difficult place to play in the NCHC, the Broncos have gone just 15-9-1 (.620) at home since the beginning of the 2018-2019 season. Over that same stretch of time, the Fighting Hawks have put together a record of 21-6-1 (.768) at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

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 (34-6-4) 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: 7-1-1 (.833)

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 (5-8-13), senior forward Cole Smith (6-2-8), senior forward Dixon Bowen (5-1-6), and junior defenseman Matt Kiersted (1-9-10). Those four players have combined for 37 points in 60 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 fifteen games, the Fighting Hawks lead the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (20.1) and are second only to Massachusetts in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 60.0%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 59.9%

By comparison, Western Michigan is 25th in both Corsi (50.7%) and Fenwick (52.3%), averaging an astounding 33.4 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 29.9/game) but allowing 29.8 shots on goal against/contest.

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 a staggering 13.8 percent of their shots on goal, good for third-best in the country and best among teams which have played more than nine games. Last season, UND lit the lamp on only 7.8 percent of their shots on goal (52nd in the nation). Western Michigan’s shooting percentage this season weighs in at 9.4 percent (31st in the country).

And here’s another way to highlight North Dakota’s scoring prowess: UND has scored five or more goals in five of its fifteen 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 four weekends and are now sitting at 54.1 percent on the season (10th) after leading the nation at 57.1 percent a year ago. Western Michigan is leading the nation this year with a faceoff win rate of 56.4 percent, with junior forward Paul Washe leading the country at 67.4 percent. UND’s best faceoff men are Jasper Weatherby (60.3), Shane Pinto (58.6), and Colin Adams (55.7).

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 eight power play goals over its past eight games (8 for 32, 25.0 percent) and now faces a mediocre Western Michigan penalty kill that has already allowed thirteen power play goals this year (53 of 66, 80.3%).

By comparison, UND has only allowed five power play goals all season long (47 of 52, 90.4%) and currently boasts the seventh-best penalty kill unit in men’s Division I hockey this season.

North Dakota is 4th in the country in scoring offense (4.13 goals scored/game) and 3rd in the country in scoring defense (1.67 goals allowed/game), and that leads to the country’s best goal differential (+37).

To put that in perspective: In 2018-2019, North Dakota outscored opponents 93-90 over 37 games (18-17-2). This season, UND (12-1-2) has throttled the opposition by a margin of 62-25 over the first 15 games of the campaign. By comparison, Western Michigan has outscored opponents 44-39 this year for a goal differential of plus-five.

According to KRACH, North Dakota has put up this season’s stellar results while facing the second-toughest schedule in the country; Western Michigan’s slate of games ranks as the eighth-most difficult out of sixty men’s Division I hockey programs.

On the injury front, North Dakota junior defenseman Gabe Bast (upper body injury; 2-1-3 in four games played) is close to returning to the lineup; however, head coach Brad Berry is electing to keep him out of this weekend’s games and bring Bast back in early January.

For Western Michigan, all four NHL draft picks on the roster have missed time this season due to injury, led by senior forward Wade Allison (PHI 2nd round pick; seven games missed). Sophomore defenseman Mattias Samuelsson (BUF 2nd) and freshman defenseman Ronnie Attard (PHI 4th) have missed four games each, and senior forward Hugh McGing (STL 5th) has missed one. Key forward contributors Josh Passolt, Drew Worrad, and Cole Gallant have each missed four contests, while senior defenseman Cam Lee has only been able to suit up for four games. Thankfully for Andy Murray, his Broncos had last weekend off and appear to be getting healthier.

So far this season, Western Michigan has played three NCHC series, going 3-2-1-1 over those six games:

November 1-2 at Colorado College: 6-3 win, 4-4 tie (shootout win)
November 15-16 vs. #19 Omaha: 3-2 win, 3-6 loss
November 22-23 at #4 Denver: 2-1 win, 1-6 loss

North Dakota is at the top of the league standings after stellar results (5-0-1-1) in its first six conference games:

November 8-9 vs. Miami: 7-1 win, 5-4 win
November 15-16 at #2 Denver: 1-1 tie (3×3 win), 4-1 win
November 22-23 vs. St. Cloud State: 4-2 win, 2-1 win (OT)

#17 Western Michigan will be UND’s third ranked opponent of the season. Earlier this year, the Fighting Hawks faced Minnesota State and Denver; both were ranked #2 in the country at the time of the games.

In a strange scheduling oddity, the Broncos faced Bowling Green in three consecutive contests, defeating the Falcons 5-2 in the IceBreaker on October 12th before losing a home-and-home non-conference series (1-2, 1-2) the following weekend.

This weekend’s series will mark the fifth ranked opponent for WMU, and the new year won’t get any easier: the Broncos will play a home-and-home series with #9 Notre Dame before traveling to face #14 Minnesota Duluth over the first two weekends in January.

Since North Dakota swept the Broncos at Lawson Ice Arena on the way to the program’s eighth national title in 2016, the Fighting Hawks are just 1-3 at Western Michigan (WMU swept in February 2017, and the teams split in February 2019).

Last weekend, Western Michigan was idle while North Dakota swept the Minnesota Golden Gophers 9-3 and 3-2 in a virtual home series at 3M Arena at Mariucci (Minneapolis, Minnesota).

Western Michigan Team Profile

Head Coach: Andy Murray (9th season at WMU, 146-136-37, .516)

National Rankings: #17/RV (19th)

This Season: 7-5-2 overall, 3-2-1-1 NCHC (3rd of 8 teams)
Last Season: 21-15-1 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 13-10-1-1 NCHC (3rd)

2019-2020 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.14 goals scored/game – 18th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.79 goals allowed/game –18th of 60 teams
Power Play: 15.8% (9 of 57) – 42nd of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 80.3% (53 of 66) – 36th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Paul Washe (7-7-14), Junior F Ethan Frank (4-8-12), Senior F Hugh McGing (2-9-11), Sophomore F Drew Worrad (5-4-9 in 10 games played), Senior F Dawson DiPietro (4-5-9), Junior F Josh Passolt (1-6-7 in 10 gp), Senior F Wade Allison (1-2-3 in 7 gp), Sophomore D Michael Joyaux (0-7-7), Senior D Luke Bafia (0-6-6), Freshman D Ronnie Attard (4-1-5 in 10 gp), Sophomore D Mattias Samuelsson (1-3-4 in 10 gp), Freshman G Brandon Bussi (7-5-2, 2.68 GAA, .909 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (North Dakota ’02, 5th season at UND; 102-53-21, .639)

National Rankings: #3/#3
This Season: 12-1-2 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: 4.13 goals scored/game – 4th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 1.67 goals allowed/game – 3rd of 60 teams
Power Play: 17.5% (10 of 57) – 36th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 90.4% (47 of 52) – 7th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Jordan “#KawaHobey” Kawaguchi (7-15-22), Senior F Westin Michaud (6-6-12), Junior F Collin Adams (5-8-13), Freshman F Harrison Blaisdell (2-6-8), Freshman F Shane Pinto (6-5-11), Senior Junior F Grant Mismash (3-7-10), Senior F Cole Smith (6-2-8), Sophomore D Jacob Bernard-Docker (3-11-14), Senior D Colton Poolman (2-8-10), Junior D Matt Kiersted (1-9-10), Sophomore D Jonny Tychonick (3-4-7 in 10 games played), Sophomore G Adam Scheel (12-1-2, 1.64 GAA, .917 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: February 16, 2019 (Kalamazoo, MI). One night after blitzing #9 Western Michigan at Lawson Ice Arena, the Fighting Hawks fell just short in the rematch. The Broncos had a 3-0 lead midway through the final frame before North Dakota’s Gavin Hain and Jordan Kawaguchi brought their team back to within one. When WMU’s Cam Lee was called for kneeing at the 16:11 mark, things were set up perfectly for the road squad to complete the comeback. However, a shorthanded tally by Hugh McGing forty seconds later all but sealed the deal in a 4-2 Western Michigan victory. More devastating for the North Dakota program, freshman netminder Adam Scheel was injured in the aftermath of that shorthanded goal and saw his season come to an end.

Most Important Meeting: March 24, 2012 (St. Paul, MN). North Dakota upended Western Michigan 3-1 in the NCAA West Regional semifinal. Brock Nelson had two points, including an empty net goal with 25 seconds remaining that sent UND to the regional finals against Minnesota. Aaron Dell made 24 saves for the Green and White. The Broncos, who have played at the Division I level since 1975-76, have six NCAA tournament appearances.

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Saturday, March 22, 2014 (Minneapolis, MN). North Dakota faced a must-win situation in the 3rd place game at the inaugural NCHC Frozen Faceoff, and did not disappoint the partisan crowd. The Green and White rolled to a 5-0 victory behind two first-period goals from Conner Gaarder. UND netminder Zane Gothberg made 25 saves for the shutout, and Dave Hakstol’s crew played the waiting game for several more hours before discovering that they had indeed made the NCAA tournament for the twelfth consecutive season.

All-Time Series: In the short history between the schools, UND has won 19 of the 26 games (including nine of the twelve games played in Kalamazoo). The Broncos have turned the tables recently, winning six of the past nine contests. Before the 2016-17 season in which Western Michigan won three of the four meetings, WMU’s lone victory over North Dakota was a 2-1 road win on March 8th, 2014. The teams first met in 1997.

Last Ten: Western Michigan has won six of the last ten tilts between the teams despite the fact that only four of those games were played in Kalamazoo. Over that stretch, the Broncos have outscored UND 28-27.

Game News and Notes

Western Michigan moved up to the Division I ranks beginning with the 1975-76 season and has advanced to the NCAA tournament six times. The Broncos have made the NCAA tourney once (2017) in their first six seasons in the NCHC after advancing to the national tournament twice (2011, 2012) in the last three seasons in the now-defunct CCHA. WMU head coach Andy Murray’s son Brady Murray played two seasons at North Dakota (2003-05) and finished with a scoring line of 27-39-66 in 63 career games. Brady spent most of his professional hockey career in the Swiss-A league (Rapperswil-Jona and Lugano, among other teams) but did appear in four NHL games with the Los Angeles Kings in 2007-08, scoring one goal. In the 2019-2020 National Collegiate Hockey Conference Preseason Media Poll, Western Michigan was picked to finish in third place behind Minnesota Duluth and Denver, while UND was tabbed for fourth place. North Dakota junior forward Jordan Kawaguchi is third in the country with 22 points and fourth in the country with 15 assists. #HobeyGuchi

Broadcast Information

Both games of this weekend’s series will be streamed on NCHC.tv. 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, healthier, and more complete team to this point of the season. UND is deep enough up front that having last line change may not matter for Andy Murray, particularly with the players that will not be in the lineup for the Broncos. A split on the road (resulting in a first-half record of 13-2-2) would be a fine result, and that’s the most likely outcome. I keep saying that there’s something about this team, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Fighting Hawks took more than three of six possible league points this weekend. UND 5-2, 2-2 tie.

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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