Weekend Preview: UND at Minnesota Duluth

March 17th, 2018. Xcel Energy Center. St. Paul, Minnesota. North Dakota and Minnesota Duluth square off in the third-place game of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff with NCAA tournament hopes hanging in the balance. UND defeats the Bulldogs 4-1, and both teams are left to play the waiting game.

According to twincities.com:

After losing to the Fighting Hawks, UMD needed a win by either Clarkson or Providence to clinch an NCAA tournament berth. Both teams lost, leaving just one obscure scenario remaining for Duluth to continue playing.

Notre Dame’s overtime goal against Ohio State just before 10:00 p.m. (on St. Patrick’s Day) was the exclamation point on that scenario, forcing a tie between the Bulldogs and Minnesota for 12th in the Pairwise rankings — the formula used to select at-large teams and seed the 16-team field.

Notre Dame’s win gave the Bulldogs the tiebreaker for 12th in the Pairwise as UMD’s Ratings Percentage Index — a part of the Pairwise formula — was one ten-thousandth of a point (.0001) higher than the Gophers.

Typically, finishing 13th or 14th in the Pairwise gets a team into the tournament, but not that season, as No. 13 Minnesota and No. 14 North Dakota learned. Because four teams — Air Force (Atlantic Hockey), Michigan Tech (WCHA), Boston University (Hockey East) and Princeton (ECAC) — instead of the usual one or two from outside the bubble won their conference tournament for an automatic bid, that meant No. 12 was the cutoff for at-large teams.

With that unfortunate news, North Dakota saw its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances come to an end, while Duluth took advantage of its program-record fourth straight tourney bid, winning four consecutive one-goal games to claim the program’s second national title:

Minnesota Duluth 3, Minnesota State 2 (OT)
Minnesota Duluth 2, Air Force 1
Minnesota Duluth 2, Ohio State 1
Minnesota Duluth 2, Notre Dame 1

Before UND’s victory at the 2018 NCHC Frozen Faceoff, Scott Sandelin’s crew had won eight consecutive games against the Green and White. That losing streak for North Dakota was the longest against one team since Wisconsin won nine in a row from 1987-89.

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.

After winning its second consecutive national title (and third in team history) in 2019, the Bulldogs were picked to finish first in the NCHC and capture the program’s first-ever Penrose Cup this year. Things looked to be on schedule for UMD, as they took a 7-1-2 record into St. Cloud last weekend. The Huskies earned a home sweep over Duluth (2-1, 2-0) to send the Bulldogs home reeling. North Dakota, which held a three-point lead over Scott Sandelin’s crew before last week’s games, took five of six points at Miami to extend its lead to eight points over Duluth and nine points over Denver (which tied Omaha twice last weekend, picking up four of six league points).

Despite being picked to finish fourth in the NCHC standings this season, UND has fared remarkably well in conference play, with a record of 9-1-2-2 over its first twelve league 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
January 17-18: at Miami: 4-4 tie (shootout win), 5-3 win

After this weekend’s action, the Fighting Hawks will only face one currently-ranked opponent the rest of the regular season:

January 24-25: at #11 Minnesota-Duluth (12th in the Pairwise)
Jan. 31-Feb. 1: vs. Colorado College (37th in the Pairwise)
February 7-8: No games scheduled
February 14-15: vs. #5 Denver (t-4th in the Pairwise)
February 21-22: at St. Cloud State (34th in the Pairwise)
February 28-29: vs. Western Michigan (26th in the Pairwise)
March 6-7: at Nebraska Omaha (28th in the Pairwise)

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)

For UND, the goal is simple: return to national prominence after a two-year absence from the national tournament. Optimism and upside have turned into results for North Dakota, with plenty of new faces (Shane Pinto, Westin Michaud, Harrison Blaisdell, and Ethan Frisch) adding to an already-impressive lineup.

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 (7-14-21), senior forward Cole Smith (9-5-14), senior forward Dixon Bowen (6-2-8), and junior defenseman Matt Kiersted (2-17-19). Those four players have combined for 62 points in 91 games played (0.68 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 23 games, the Fighting Hawks lead the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (20.4) and are first in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 60.6%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 60.8%

By comparison, the Bulldogs are 9th in both Corsi (55.2%) and Fenwick (54.9%), averaging 32.7 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 31.2/game) while allowing 25.7 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 13.5 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). Minnesota Duluth’s shooting percentage is 9.2 percent (28th of 60 teams).

Here’s another way to highlight North Dakota’s scoring prowess: UND has scored five or more goals in nine of its 23 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 53.4 percent on the season (6th) after leading the nation at 57.1 percent a year ago. The Bulldogs are 4th in the country with a faceoff win rate of 54.9 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 sixteen power play goals over its past sixteen games (16 for 66, 24.2 percent) and now faces a Bulldog penalty kill that has allowed sixteen power play goals this season (71 of 87, 81.6%). UMD has already scored four shorthanded goals this season, two off of the national lead.

On the other side of the specialty teams ledger, UND had only allowed six power play goals all season long (64 of 70, 90.8%) before heading to Miami last weekend. The RedHawks scored four power play goals on ten opportunities in the series to drop North Dakota’s season-long penalty kill percentage down to 87.5% (8th best in the country).

Two Duluth players are one game misconduct away from an automatic suspension – junior defenseman Scott Perunovich (3-22-25, 60 penalty minutes) and sophomore forward Tanner Laderoute (5-4-9, 38 penalty minutes). Two other Bulldogs – sophomore forward Jesse Jacques (0-1-1, 17 penalty minutes) and sophomore defenseman Hunter Lellig (0-1-1, 17 penalty minutes in four games played) – and two North Dakota players – Cole Smith (9-5-14, 27 penalty minutes) and Shane Pinto (11-7-18, 25 penalty minutes) – have one misconduct each. Head coach Scott Sandelin has been without Hunter Lellig since October.

UMD has been penalized an average of 13.2 minutes per game. North Dakota clocks in at 9.3 penalty minutes per game. Duluth has had 89 power plays and 87 penalty kills this season; UND has had 91 power plays and 80 penalty kills. Last season’s series in Duluth resulted in 119 penalty minutes.

North Dakota is 1st in the country in scoring offense (4.22 goals scored/game) and 4th in the country in scoring defense (1.96 goals allowed/game), and that leads to the country’s second-best goal differential (+52). Minnesota State (22-3-1) has put up a +59 through their first 26 games.

To put that in perspective: In 2018-2019, North Dakota outscored opponents 93-90 over 37 games (18-17-2). This season, UND (18-2-3) has throttled the opposition by a margin of 97-45 over the first 23 games of the campaign. By comparison, Minnesota Duluth has outscored opponents 66-53 this season for a goal differential of plus-13.

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

Despite only three losses in NCHC play, Minnesota Duluth is in a precarious Pairwise position (currently 12th) due to a 5-5-2 mark in non-conference play. More than anything else, two October losses at Wisconsin are weighing the Bulldogs down. Wisconsin was ranked #17 at the time but has since gone into freefall, going 6-11-1 since that series (including 4-9-1-1 in the Big Ten) and dropping to 32nd in the Pairwise rankings. Despite the rivalry, UMD fans should be cheering for the Badgers the rest of the way.

Minnesota Duluth Team Profile

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (20th season at UMD, 381-319-89, .539)

Pairwise Ranking: 12th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #11/#11

This Season: 12-8-2 (.591) overall, 7-3-2-0 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 29-11-2 (.714) overall (NCAA national champions), 14-9-1-0 NCHC (2nd)

2019-2020 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.00 goals scored/game – 19th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.41 goals allowed/game – 17th of 60 teams
Power Play: 27.0% (24 of 89) – 5th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 81.6% (71 of 87) – 29th of 60 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Noah Cates (11-10-21), Sophomore F Cole Koepke (8-11-19), Sophomore F Jackson Cates (7-11-18), Junior F Nick Swaney (7-10-17), Junior F Kobe Roth (9-5-14), Junior F Justin Richards (7-6-13), Junior D Scott Perunovich (3-22-25), Junior D Dylan Samberg (0-13-13), Senior D Nick Wolff (0-5-5), Senior G Hunter Shepard (12-8-2, 2.28 GAA, .911 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (North Dakota ’02, 5th season at UND; 108-54-22, .647)

Pairwise Ranking: 1st of 60 teams
National Rankings: #2/#2

This Season: 18-2-3 (.848) overall, 9-1-2-2 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 18-17-2 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 12-11-1-0 NCHC (5th)

2019-2020 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 4.22 goals scored/game – 1st of 60 teams
Team Defense: 1.96 goals allowed/game – 4th of 60 teams
Power Play: 19.8% (18 of 91) – 22nd of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 87.5% (70 of 80) – 8th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Jordan “#HobeyGuchi” Kawaguchi (12-23-35), Senior F Westin Michaud (10-9-19), Junior F Collin Adams (7-14-21), Sophomore F Jasper Weatherby (7-3-10), Freshman F Shane Pinto (11-7-18), Junior F Grant Mismash (7-9-16), Senior F Cole Smith (9-5-14), Sophomore D Jacob Bernard-Docker (3-13-16), Senior D Colton Poolman (2-9-11), Junior D Matt Kiersted (2-17-19), Sophomore D Jonny Tychonick (3-6-9 in 17 games played), Sophomore G Adam Scheel (17-2-2, 1.85 GAA, .910 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: February 23, 2019 (Grand Forks, ND). Two 5-on-3 power play goals proved to be the difference for the visiting Bulldogs, as they defeated the homestanding Fighting Hawks 3-2. North Dakota’s Gavin Hain scored with just a tick over two minutes remaining in the contest to draw his team within one, but the equalizer was not to be found. On Friday night, UND scored three of the four first period goals and added a Cole Smith empty netter for a 4-1 victory.

Last Meeting in Duluth: December 1, 2018. North Dakota got two goals in the first five minutes of the hockey game (Jordan Kawaguchi, Grant Mismash) and made that hold up in a 2-1 victory. UND netminder Adam Scheel made 28 of 29 saves. Duluth won Friday’s opener 5-0 behind two goals from Kobe Roth and a 22-save shutout performance by Hunter Shepard. Scheel came on in relief of UND starter Peter Thome (18 saves on 23 shots) and stopped all seven shots he faced in 26 minutes of action. There were 119 minutes of penalties assessed in the weekend series.

Most Important Meeting: March 22, 1984 (Lake Placid, NY) Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota met in the national semifinal game, with the Bulldogs defeating the Fighting Sioux 2-1 in overtime to advance to the championship. UND went on to defeat Michigan State 6-5 (OT) for third place, while Duluth fell to Bowling Green 5-4 in four overtimes, the longest championship game ever played.

The Meeting That Never Was: Both teams advanced to the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four at Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minnesota). UND could not get past Michigan, falling 2-0 despite outshooting the Wolverines 40-20. In the other national semifinal, Minnesota-Duluth defeated Notre Dame 4-3 and rode that momentum to the title game. The Bulldogs took the Wolverines to overtime before senior forward Kyle Schmidt scored the game winner and earned UMD their first national championship. North Dakota won two of the three games against Duluth that season, outscoring Scott Sandelin’s team 11-5.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 147-85-10 (.628), including a 60-44-5 (.573) mark in games played in Duluth. The teams first met in 1954, with North Dakota winning the first ten games between the schools by a combined score of 72-16. UMD’s first win over the Fighting Sioux (a 3-2 road victory on December 18th, 1959) did not sit well with the defending national champions. UND defeated Duluth 13-2 the following night.

Last Ten: Duluth is 7-3-0 (.700) in the last ten games between the teams, outscoring the Hawks 34-23 over that stretch. Six of the past ten contests have taken place in the state of Minnesota, with the Bulldogs winning four times.

Game News and Notes

Duluth senior forward Jade Miller (Minto, ND) is the only North Dakotan on the Bulldog roster (15 from Minnesota, two each from Alberta and Ontario, and one each from California, Iowa, Montana, Ohio and Saskatchewan). Both head coaches this weekend are alumni of the University of North Dakota; Brad Berry (1983-86) and Scott Sandelin (1982-86) both played for UND under John “Gino” Gasparini. In 2015, Boston University defeated both Minnesota-Duluth (3-2) and North Dakota (5-3) in the NCAA tournament on their way to the championship game. The Terriers fell 4-3 to the Providence Friars, one win short of a national title. Through twelve league games, North Dakota and Minnesota Duluth boast seven of the top ten scorers in the NCHC. Duluth junior defenseman Scott Perunovich has scored 16 of his 25 points on the power play. This is the only scheduled matchup between the Fighting Hawks and Bulldogs this season.

Media Coverage

Friday’s opener will be televised on CBS Sports Network. Saturday’s rematch will be available on Midco Sports Network and streamed live in high definition via 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). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com

The Prediction

I can’t see North Dakota taking any more than three points from this series. Both of these teams are used to having the puck and dictating play, and I predict that frustration will mount throughout the series. If one of these games gets out of hand from a penalty perspective, I give the edge in the specialty teams battle to Duluth, particularly on the power play. The Bulldogs are looking to atone for last weekend’s results and also have the goaltending advantage and last line change. If Brad Berry’s crew gives up early leads again this weekend, it could be a sweep for the home team and a very interesting race for the Penrose Cup. As it is, I’ve got the Fighting Hawks scoring enough in the series to take one victory back to Grand Forks. UMD 3-2, UND 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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