Weekend Preview: UND vs. Omaha

After a trip to the Frozen Four in 2015, Dean Blais could only manage a mark of 35-34-6 over his final two seasons behind the Omaha bench. He was replaced by Mike Gabinet (Omaha ’04), and Gabinet finished up his rookie campaign with an eerily similar record of 17-17-2.

Maverick fans were certainly hopeful that improvement was coming this season, but Omaha sputtered out of the gate with a record of 0-6-1. Things leveled off a bit after that, with a record of 6-4-1 to close out 2018. Once the calendar year turned, however, Gabinet was only able to lead his team to three more wins (the last coming on February 8th) and a season record of 9-24-3.

UNO fans have been a bit more pleased with this season’s results, as the 2019-20 version of the Mavs has already amassed eight victories (8-9-3).

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). This year’s stellar record outside of NCHC play has UND sitting 1st in the Pairwise and in great shape to return to the national tournament.

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: 9-1-1 (.864)

Last weekend’s games concluded UND’s non-conference schedule for the season; here are North Dakota’s remaining NCHC games in the race for the Penrose Cup:

January 10-11: vs. Nebraska-Omaha (34th in the Pairwise)
January 17-18: at Miami (45th in the Pairwise)
January 24-25: at #9 Minnesota-Duluth (10th in the Pairwise)
Jan. 31-Feb. 1: vs. Colorado College (28th in the Pairwise)
February 7-8: No games scheduled
February 14-15: vs. #5 Denver (4th in the Pairwise)
February 21-22: at St. Cloud State (35th in the Pairwise)
February 28-29: vs. Western Michigan (28th in the Pairwise)
March 6-7: at Nebraska Omaha (34th in the Pairwise)

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 (6-12-18), senior forward Cole Smith (7-3-10), senior forward Dixon Bowen (6-1-7), and junior defenseman Matt Kiersted (2-12-14). Those four players have combined for 49 points in 75 games played (0.65 points/game) after amassing 95 points in 324 games played (0.29 points/game) prior to this year.

Two players to watch for Omaha are junior forward Kevin Conley and senior forward Zach Jordan. Conley (8-10-18) was a freshman on Denver’s 2017 national title team before sitting out a year and transferring to Omaha. Jordan (9-3-12) is a load at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds and has already picked up 25 minutes in penalties this season. When picturing Zach Jordan, UND fans could come up with a good comparison by imagining Cole Smith with a harder shot and more straight-away speed (but with the same amount of grit).

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. Through nineteen games, the Fighting Hawks lead the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (21.1) and are second only to Massachusetts in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 60.1%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 59.8%

By comparison, the Mavericks are 18th in Corsi (52.2%) and 24th in Fenwick (51.3%), averaging 30.4 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 30.9/game) while allowing 28.0 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 the best mark in the country. Last season, UND lit the lamp on only 7.8 percent of their shots on goal (52nd in the nation). Omaha’s shooting percentage is 11.2 percent (11th of 60 teams).

Here’s another way to highlight North Dakota’s scoring prowess: UND has scored five or more goals in eight of its nineteen 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 are now sitting at 53.0 percent on the season (10th) after leading the nation at 57.1 percent a year ago. Omaha is 33rd in the country with a faceoff win rate of 49.8 percent. UND’s best faceoff man this season is Jasper Weatherby (57.8 percent).

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 twelve power play goals over its past twelve games (12 for 51, 23.5 percent) and now faces an Omaha penalty kill that has allowed seventeen power play goals this season (64 of 81, 79.0%).

On the other side of the specialty teams ledger, UND has only allowed six power play goals all season long (59 of 65, 90.8%) and currently boasts the seventh-best penalty kill unit in men’s Division I hockey this season. To make matters worse for Omaha, the Mavericks have already allowed four shorthanded goals this season.

The specialty teams could get a bit lopsided this weekend, as Omaha averages 15.7 penalty minutes per game (6th in the nation). UND averages just 9.0 penalty minutes per game (50th).

North Dakota is 1st in the country in scoring offense (4.26 goals scored/game) and 3rd in the country in scoring defense (1.63 goals allowed/game), and that leads to the country’s best goal differential (+50).

To put that in perspective: In 2018-2019, North Dakota outscored opponents 93-90 over 37 games (18-17-2). This season, UND (16-1-2) has throttled the opposition by a margin of 81-31 over the first 19 games of the campaign. By comparison, Omaha has outscored teams 68-62 this year for a goal differential of plus-6.

According to KRACH, North Dakota has put up this season’s stellar results while facing the second-toughest schedule in the country; Omaha’s slate of games ranks as the 28th-most difficult out of sixty men’s Division I hockey programs.

Omaha has turned to two first-year goaltenders to man the crease this season, with Isaiah Saville handling roughly two-thirds of the minutes. Fellow freshman Austin Roden started the past four games for the Mavericks while Saville spent time on USA’s World Junior team, but I would expect Saville to get the start on Friday night after not playing in the world juniors.

Austin Roden: 2-4-1, 2.90 goals-against average, .899 save percentage, 1 shutout
Isaiah Saville: 6-5-2, 3.04 goals-against average, .889 save percentage

Roden previously played for the Merritt Centennials (BCHL), while Saville backstopped the Tri-City Storm (Kearney, Nebraska) of the USHL.

By comparison, North Dakota sophomore goaltender Adam Scheel has played every minute for UND this season, compiling a record of 16-1-2 with a goals-against average of 1.61, a save percentage of .922, and two shutouts. Scheel has to be considered a finalist for the Mike Richter award, given annually to the best goaltender in Division I men’s hockey.

UND has fared far better than Omaha in tight games this season:

One-goal games: UND 5-1, Omaha 3-5
Overtime games: UND 3-0-2, Omaha 1-0-3

North Dakota is at the top of the league standings after stellar results (7-0-1-1) in its first eight 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)
December 6-7 at #17 Western Michigan: 1-0 win (OT), 8-2 win

Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (3rd season at UNO, 34-50-8, .413)

Pairwise Ranking: 34th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 8-9-3 (.475) overall, 2-5-1-0 NCHC (t-7th)
Last Season: 9-24-3 (.292) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 5-17-2-1 NCHC (t-7th)

Team Offense: 3.40 goals scored/game – 10th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 3.10 goals allowed/game – 42nd of 60 teams
Power Play: 20.5% (18 of 88) – 18th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 79.0% (64 of 81) – 40th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Kevin Conley (8-10-18), Sophomore F Taylor Ward (10-6-16), Sophomore F Tyler Weiss (3-12-15), Senior F Teemu Pulkkinen (4-9-13), Freshman F Ryan Brushett (1-12-13), Senior F Zach Jordan (9-3-12), Freshman D Brandon Scanlin (2-9-11), Senior D Ryan Jones (2-5-7), Senior D Dean Stewart (1-6-7), Freshman G Isaiah Saville (6-5-2, 3.04 GAA, .889 SV%), Freshman G Austin Roden (2-4-1, 2.90 GAA, .899 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (North Dakota ’02, 5th season at UND; 106-53-21, .647)

Pairwise Ranking: 1st of 60 teams
National Rankings: #1/#1

This Season: 16-1-2 (.895) overall, 7-0-1-1 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: 4.26 goals scored/game – 1st of 60 teams
Team Defense: 1.63 goals allowed/game – 3rd of 60 teams
Power Play: 18.4% (14 of 76) – 31st of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 90.8% (59 of 65) – 7th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Jordan “#HobeyGuchi” Kawaguchi (10-18-28), Senior F Westin Michaud (8-8-16), Junior F Collin Adams (6-12-18), Sophmore F Jasper Weatherby (6-3-9), Freshman F Shane Pinto (9-6-15), Senior Junior F Grant Mismash (5-8-13), Senior F Cole Smith (7-3-10), Sophomore D Jacob Bernard-Docker (3-11-14), Senior D Colton Poolman (2-9-11), Junior D Matt Kiersted (2-12-14), Sophomore D Jonny Tychonick (3-6-9 in 14 games played), Sophomore G Adam Scheel (16-1-2, 1.61 GAA, .922 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: March 9, 2019 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after Nick Jones scored the third-period game winner for a 2-1 North Dakota victory, Jordan Kawaguchi potted his own GWG just sixteen seconds into overtime and UND prevailed 5-4. Omaha scored the final two goals of the third period (Nate Knoepke, Tristan Keck) to force the extra session. The Fighting Hawks outshot the Mavericks 86-45 in earning the weekend sweep, their final victories of the 2018-2019 season.

Most memorable meeting: The game that UND fans will long remember is the outdoor game played at TD Ameritrade Park (Omaha, Nebraska) on February 9th, 2013. One day after winning a tight 2-1 contest indoors, North Dakota throttled UNO 5-2 on a sunny, melty afternoon. Mavericks netminder John Faulkner was pulled after allowing three goals on five shots in just ten minutes of game action. In my opinion, this hockey weekend solidified the notion that for UND hockey, it’s always a home game.

Last ten: North Dakota has won seven of the last ten contests between the schools, outscoring the Mavericks 36-25 over that stretch.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 22-11-1 (.662), including an 11-6-1 (.639) record in games played in Grand Forks. North Dakota owns a record of 17-8-1 (.673) against the Mavericks since both teams joined the NCHC. The teams first met on November 19, 2010.

Game News and Notes

In 2015, both North Dakota and Omaha advanced to the Frozen Four but neither team made the championship game. UND fell to Boston University 5-3, while the Mavericks were upended 4-1 by eventual national champion Providence. Since joining the WCHA in 2011 (and later the NCHC), the Mavs have never reached the Twin Cities for the second weekend of the conference tournament despite having home ice in three of those eight years. Hawks’ senior defenseman (and captain) Colton Poolman has two goals and fourteen points in fourteen career games against Omaha. The Mavericks have not made the national tournament since their run to the Frozen Four in 2015. With a sweep this weekend, North Dakota (16-1-2) would match their win total from all of last season (18-17-2). UND junior forward Jordan Kawaguchi is fourth in the country with 28 points and eighth in the country with 18 assists. #HobeyGuchi

Broadcast Information

Both games of this weekend’s series will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and also 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.

Must-follow Twitter accounts for this weekend:
@OmahaHKY (official men’s hockey team account), @omavs (official Athletic Department feed), @RedArmyOmaha (Omaha fan organization), @unocowbell (UNO alum), @SusannahDunn (Omaha hockey fan)

Mav Hockey hashtags: #EveryoneForOmaha, #OmahaHKY

The Prediction

If the faceoff percentages and fancy stats (Corsi, Fenwick) are any indication, the Fighting Hawks will have the puck most of this weekend. The results of this series will rest on the goaltending efforts of Omaha’s two freshman netminders. Unfortunately for the Mavs, I don’t think that either one will hold up particularly well, and I expect North Dakota’s home winning streak to continue. UND 5-3, 4-2.

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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