Weekend Preview: UND at 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. To this point of the season, UND is 1st in the league standings (8-1-1-1) and Miami is in 5th place (3-6-1-1), two points out of a home ice spot in the playoffs and at the same time just two points ahead of last place St. Cloud State.

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.

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)

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

January 17-18: at Miami (43rd in the Pairwise)
January 24-25: at #8 Minnesota-Duluth (9th in the Pairwise)
Jan. 31-Feb. 1: vs. Colorado College (35th in the Pairwise)
February 7-8: No games scheduled
February 14-15: vs. #4 Denver (4th in the Pairwise)
February 21-22: at St. Cloud State (t-37th in the Pairwise)
February 28-29: vs. Western Michigan (29th in the Pairwise)
March 6-7: at Nebraska Omaha (27th 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 (7-12-19), senior forward Cole Smith (7-5-12), senior forward Dixon Bowen (6-2-8), and junior defenseman Matt Kiersted (2-12-14). Those four players have combined for 53 points in 83 games played (0.64 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 21 games, the Fighting Hawks lead the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (20.6) and are first in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 60.3%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 60.3%

By comparison, the RedHawks are 51st in Corsi (45.3%) and 54th in Fenwick (44.5%), averaging 25.8 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 30.7/game) while allowing 32.1 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 13.7 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). Miami’s shooting percentage is 11.6 percent (10th 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 21 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 53.2 percent on the season (10th) after leading the nation at 57.1 percent a year ago. Miami is 21st in the country with a faceoff win rate of 51.2 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 thirteen power play goals over its past fourteen games (13 for 57, 22.8 percent) and now faces a Miami penalty kill that has allowed nineteen power play goals this season (66 of 85, 77.6%).

On the other side of the specialty teams ledger, UND has only allowed six power play goals all season long (64 of 70, 90.8%) and currently boasts the fourth-best penalty kill unit in men’s Division I hockey this season.

North Dakota is 1st in the country in scoring offense (4.19 goals scored/game) and 4th in the country in scoring defense (1.81 goals allowed/game), and that leads to the country’s second-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 (17-2-2) has throttled the opposition by a margin of 88-38 over the first 21 games of the campaign. By comparison, Miami has been outscored 60-70 this year for a goal differential of minus-10.

According to KRACH, North Dakota has put up this season’s stellar results while facing the fourth-toughest schedule in the country; Miami’s slate of games ranks as the 24th-most difficult out of sixty men’s Division I hockey programs.

North Dakota is at the top of the league standings after stellar results (8-1-1-1) in its first ten 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
January 10-11 vs. Omaha: 3-6 loss, 4-1 win

North Dakota head coach Brad Berry has a few lineup decisions to make this weekend with Shane Pinto ineligible to play on Friday night (league suspension), captain Colton Poolman unavailable for this weekend (upper body injury), and top defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker questionable (lower body injury). I would expect the Grant Mismash-Collin Adams-Jordan Kawaguchi and Gavin Hain-Mark Senden-Cole Smith forward lines to remain intact, with Jasper Weatherby sliding up into Pinto’s spot between Westin Michaud and Harrison Blaisdell. The fourth line will be some combination of Casey Johnson, Dixon Bowen, Jackson Keane, and Judd Caulfield (Zach Yon is also out with an injury).

On defense, Matt Kiersted will likely be paired with Bernard-Docker, with Gabe Bast, Ethan Frisch, Johnny Tychonick, and Andrew Peski comprising the other two pairs. I expect Josh Rieger to be dressed as the extra skater in the event that Bernard-Docker is unable to take a regular shift on the back end.

Miami Team Profile

Head Coach: Chris Bergeron (1st season at Miami, 6-11-3, .375)

Pairwise Ranking: 43rd of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 6-11-3 overall, 3-6-1-1 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 11-23-4 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 5-17-2-1 NCHC (t-7th)

Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.00 goals scored/game – 21st of 60 teams
Team Defense: 3.50 goals allowed/game – 54th of 60 teams
Power Play: 21.7% (15 of 69) – 16th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 77.6% (66 of 85) – 49th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Gordie Green (9-15-24), Senior F Karch Bachman (7-12-19), Junior F Casey Gilling (5-11-16), Freshman F John Sladic (5-5-10), Freshman F Chase Pletzke (5-6-11), Sophomore D Derek Daschke (6-10-16), Freshman D Jack Clement (4-4-8), Sophomore D Bray Crowder (0-6-6), Senior G Ryan Larkin (5-8-0, 3.72 GAA, .895 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (North Dakota ’02, 5th season at UND; 107-54-21, .646)

Pairwise Ranking: 2nd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #1 (tie)/#2

This Season: 17-2-2 (.857) overall, 8-1-1-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 18-17-2 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 12-11-1-0 NCHC (5th)

2019-2020 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 4.19 goals scored/game – 1st of 60 teams
Team Defense: 1.81 goals allowed/game – 4th of 60 teams
Power Play: 18.3% (15 of 82) – 29th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 91.4% (64 of 70) – 4th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Jordan “#HobeyGuchi” Kawaguchi (10-20-30), Senior F Westin Michaud (8-9-17), Junior F Collin Adams (7-12-19), Sophmore F Jasper Weatherby (7-3-10), Freshman F Shane Pinto (10-6-16), Junior F Grant Mismash (6-9-15), Senior F Cole Smith (7-5-12), 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 15 games played), Sophomore G Adam Scheel (17-2-2, 1.73 GAA, .916 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last Meeting: November 9, 2019 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after throttling the visiting RedHawks 7-1, North Dakota had all they could handle in a 5-4 victory. UND scored four times in the first period for a two-goal lead and extended that margin with a Collin Adams goal in the middle frame. Miami scored the final two goals of the contest but could not get the equalizer. North Dakota outshot Miami 29-20 for the game and 57-42 for the weekend.

Last Meeting in Oxford:: November 10, 2018. 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.

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 six wins and two ties in the past ten contests between the teams, outscoring Miami 37-23 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 16-7-3 (.673), including a 5-4-1 (.550) record in games played at Steve Cady Arena. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).

Game News and Notes

Matt Kiersted has one goal and six points in six career games against Miami. With five goals this weekend, North Dakota would match its goal scoring output from all of last season, and UND would equal last season’s victory total with one win. Green Hawks are preferable to RedHawks.

The Prediction

Lines and defensive pairs will be shuffled this weekend with Colton Poolman (upper-body injury; did not travel) and Shane Pinto (one-game suspension) out of the lineup. Miami has been playing better lately and will benefit from the last line change this weekend. I’ve got a hunch that North Dakota will lose a close one on Friday before storming back for an easy victory in Saturday’s rematch. Miami 4-3, UND 5-1.

Broadcast Information

Friday’s opener will be televised live nationally on CBS Sport Network Both games will also 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.

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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