Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Colorado College

After winning just twenty total games over his first three seasons behind the CC bench, head coach Mike Haviland won fifteen games (15-17-5) during the 2017-18 campaign and took Denver to three games in the first round of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs (2-0 W, 2-3 L, 1-6 L).

Last season, Colorado College registered its most wins under Mike Haviland (17) and most since joining the NCHC. CC went 9-12-3-0 and finished 6th in the league.

The feeling among the Tiger faithful has always been that new blood behind the bench would eventually translate into new life on the ice, and CC fans are finally being rewarded for their patience. Colorado College is averaging well over three goals per game since the beginning of the 2017-18 season after averaging just a shade over two goals per contest (215 goals in 107 games) in Haviland’s first three campaigns.

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.

Despite being picked to finish fourth in the NCHC standings this season, UND has fared remarkably well in conference play, with a record of 10-2-2-2 over its first fourteen 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
January 24-25: at Minnesota Duluth: 4-7 loss, 3-2 win

The Fighting Hawks will only face one currently-ranked opponent during the rest of the regular season:

Jan. 31-Feb. 1: vs. Colorado College (39th 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 (35th in the Pairwise)
February 28-29: vs. Western Michigan (22nd in the Pairwise)
March 6-7: at Nebraska Omaha (24th 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.

Michaud is not a new face to college hockey or to UND fans. The graduate student transferred to North Dakota after playing three undergraduate seasons in Colorado Springs.

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 (9-6-15), senior forward Dixon Bowen (6-2-8), and junior defenseman Matt Kiersted (4-19-23). Those four players have combined for 67 points in 98 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 25 games, the Fighting Hawks lead the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (21.3) and are first in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 59.6%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 59.6%

By comparison, the Tigers are 41st in Corsi (47.4%) and 47th in Fenwick (54.9%), averaging 31.0 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is also averaging 31.0/game) while allowing 35.7 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 13.4 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). Colorado College boasts a shooting percentage of 9.1 percent (32nd 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 25 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 52.9 percent on the season (10th) after leading the nation at 57.1 percent a year ago. The Tigers are dead last in the country with a faceoff win rate of just 41.0 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 eighteen power play goals over its past eighteen games (18 for 75, 24.0 percent) and now faces a Tiger penalty kill that has allowed sixteen power play goals this season and is 60th of 60 teams with a penalty kill success rate of just 67.9 percent.

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 the past two road weekends against Miami and Duluth brought them crashing down to earth. The RedHawks scored four power play goals on ten opportunities in their series, and the Bulldogs scored two goals in eight man advantage situations to drop North Dakota’s season-long penalty kill percentage down to 86.4% (8th best in the country).

North Dakota is 1st in the country in scoring offense (4.16 goals scored/game) and 9th in the country in scoring defense (2.16 goals allowed/game), and that leads to the country’s second-best goal differential (+50). Minnesota State (22-3-1) has put up a +58 through their first 28 games.

To put that in perspective: In 2018-2019, North Dakota outscored opponents 93-90 over 37 games (18-17-2). This season, UND (19-3-3) has throttled the opposition by a margin of 104-54 over the first 25 games of the campaign. By comparison, Colorado College has been outscored 62-81 this season for a goal differential of minus-19.

According to KRACH, North Dakota has put up this season’s stellar results while facing the fourth-toughest schedule in the country; CC’s slate of games ranks as the 18th-most difficult out of sixty men’s Division I hockey programs.

This weekend’s series will feature the heaviest team in the country (UND, an average of 194.1 pounds) and the lightest (CC, 177.5 pounds).

Colorado College Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Haviland (6th season at CC, 60-129-18, .333)

Pairwise Ranking: 39th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 8-13-1 overall (.386), 3-10-1-0 NCHC (8th)
Last Season: 17-20-4 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 9-12-3-0 NCHC (6th of 8 teams)

2019-2020 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.82 goals scored/game – 27th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 3.68 goals allowed/game – 57th of 60 teams
Power Play: 15.3% (15 of 98) – 47th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 67.9% (53 of 78) – 60th of 60 teams

Key players: Senior F Chris Wilkie (17-8-25), Senior F Chris Halloran (8-14-22), Junior F Bailey Conger (4-7-11), Sophomore F Ben Copeland (3-8-11), Senior F Alex Berardinelli (3-8-11), Sophomore F Grant Cruikshank (7-3-10), Sophomore D Bryan Yoon (0-12-12), Freshman D Connor Mayer (1-6-7), Junior D Zach Berzolla (1-5-6), Senior D Kristian Blumenschein (1-4-5), Freshman G Matt Vernon (5-9-1, 3.56 GAA, .901 SV%), Senior G Ryan Ruck (3-4-0, 3.52 GAA, .900 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (North Dakota ’02, 5th season at UND; 109-55-22, .645)

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

This Season: 19-3-3 (.820) overall, 10-2-2-2 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 18-17-2 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 12-11-1-0 NCHC (5th)

2019-2020 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 4.16 goals scored/game – 1st of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.16 goals allowed/game – 9th of 60 teams
Power Play: 20.0% (20 of 100) – 25th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 86.4% (76 of 88) – 8th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Jordan “#HobeyGuchi” Kawaguchi (13-24-37), Senior F Westin Michaud (12-10-22), Junior F Collin Adams (7-14-21), Sophomore F Jasper Weatherby (8-5-13), Freshman F Shane Pinto (11-9-20), Junior F Grant Mismash (7-9-16), Senior F Cole Smith (9-6-15), Sophomore D Jacob Bernard-Docker (3-13-16), Senior D Colton Poolman (2-9-11), Junior D Matt Kiersted (4-19-23), Sophomore D Jonny Tychonick (4-6-10 in 18 games played), Sophomore G Adam Scheel (17-3-2, 2.08 GAA, .903 SV%, 2 SO), Junior G Peter Thome (2-0-1, 1.89 GAA, .895 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 2, 2019 (Colorado Springs, CO). North Dakota built a 2-0 lead in the first period (Cole Smith, Matt Kiersted) and made it hold up in a 2-1 road victory. The Fighting Hawks outshot the Tigers 36-25. CC won Friday’s opener 3-1, with Westin Michaud assisting on the game winner. All four Friday goals were scored in the third period.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: January 12, 2019. North Dakota squandered a two-goal lead before sophomore forward Jordan Kawaguchi netted the game-winner in the opening minute of overtime for a 3-2 victory and a sweep of the weekend series. UND also needed overtime on Friday night, with Ludvig Hoff scoring late in the extra session for a 4-3 win.

Most Important Meeting: March 27, 1997. UND defeated Colorado College, 6-2, in the Frozen Four Semifinals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Two nights later, North Dakota downed Boston University, 6-4, to claim its sixth NCAA Championship. North Dakota and Colorado College also met in the 2001 East Regional (Worcester, Mass.), with UND prevailing, 4-1.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 160-84-11 (.649), with a remarkable record of 103-22-7 (.807) in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: North Dakota has six wins in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring CC 29-26 over that span. UND had gone unbeaten in 14 straight (13-0-1) against the Tigers until four of the last five series between the schools ended in splits. The only Fighting Hawks sweep in the last ten was the aforementioned January 2019 series at the Ralph which required two overtime winners to accomplish.

Game News and Notes

These two coaching staffs coached against each other at the AHL and NHL levels prior to the NCHC. CC has won two national titles (1950, 1957). Since 1957, the Tigers have appeared in the NCAA tournament thirteen times (most recently in 2011) and advanced to three Frozen Fours (1996, 1997, 2005). UND graduate transfer Westin Michaud collected 29 goals and 62 points in his three seasons at Colorado College. CC senior forward Chris Wilkie is the nation’s second-best goal scorer with 17 goals in 22 games. The Tigers have been outscored 32-17 in third periods this season.

Media Coverage

This weekend’s games will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). The flagship station for the network is 96.1 FM (The Fox). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

The Prediction

North Dakota needs two victories this weekend to stay at #1 in the Pairwise, and that should be the goal moving forward, as the Fighting Hawks have much greater success when they have last line change and can put the Hain-Senden-Smith line against the opponent’s best forwards. Mike Haviland has split up Chris Wilkie and Chris Halloran to balance out the scoring, but it won’t matter enough in this series. Look for Peter Thome to start Friday night, with Adam Scheel on Saturday in an effort to get him untracked. Saturday’s game will be closer, but North Dakota will do enough to get the sweep. UND 5-2, 4-3 (OT).

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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