Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Western Michigan

North Dakota has only lost four times in twelve home games vs. Western Michigan in the short history of the series, but two of those losses came in the Broncos’ last trip to Grand Forks (November 2018). That sweep at the hands of WMU was the only time that UND has been swept in its last thirty home series.

Despite the narrative that Lawson Ice Arena is the most difficult place to play in the NCHC, the Broncos have gone just 22-13-1 (.625) 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 28-7-1 (.792) at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

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; ten games missed). Sophomore defenseman Mattias Samuelsson (BUF 2nd) and freshman defenseman Ronnie Attard (PHI 4th) have missed six 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 five contests, while senior defenseman Cam Lee has missed ten games. Thankfully for Andy Murray, his Broncos appear to be getting healthier at the right time of the season.

On the North Dakota side, junior forward Jordan Kawaguchi is expected to play this weekend after missing last Saturday’s game at SCSU with an undisclosed injury. Sophomore forward Gavin Hain is questionable with a lower-body injury suffered on February 1st against Colorado College. Hain, a key cog in the GMC line (along with Mark Senden and Cole Smith), has been practicing with the team.

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 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: 9-1-1 (.864) ~

Despite being picked to finish fourth in the NCHC standings this season (Minnesota Duluth was tabbed for 1st place while Denver was picked to finish 2nd), UND has fared remarkably well in conference play, with a record of 14-3-3-2 over its first twenty 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 #11 Minnesota Duluth: 4-7 loss, 3-2 win
Jan. 31 – Feb. 1 vs. Colorado College: 1-0 win, 8-1 win
February 14-15 vs. Denver: 4-1 win, 3-1 win
February 21-22 at St. Cloud State: 3-3 tie (shootout loss), 1-2 loss

The Fighting Hawks have the following conference schedule remaining over the last two weeks of the regular season as they attempt to secure the program’s third Penrose Cup and eighteenth regular season championship overall:

February 28-29: vs. #16 Western Michigan (15th in the Pairwise)
March 6-7: at Nebraska Omaha (26th in the Pairwise)

North Dakota leads Duluth by six points in the league standings and would clinch the Penrose outright by finishing the weekend with a lead of seven or more points. Duluth’s remaining schedule is as follows:

February 28-29: at Colorado College (41st in the Pairwise)
March 6-7: vs. St. Cloud State (22nd in the Pairwise)

#3-ranked UND has returned 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 of North Dakota’s returning players have seen a noticeable uptick in their production and in their overall play on the ice, most notably junior forward Collin Adams (11-16-27), senior forward Cole Smith (10-6-16), sophomore forward Jasper Weatherby (10-7-17), and junior defenseman Matt Kiersted (5-21-26). Those four players have combined for 86 points in 122 games played (0.70 points/game) after amassing 79 points in 262 games played (0.30 points/game) prior to this year.

Adams, Smith, and Weatherby are three of six North Dakota players with ten or more goals, joining junior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (15-30-45), freshman Shane Pinto (15-11-26), and senior transfer Westin Michaud (14-12-26).

The Broncos boast three double-digit goal scorers: senior forward Dawson DiPietro (11-14-25), junior forward Austin Rueschhoff (10-13-23), and junior forward Paul Washe (10-9-19). Two other WMU forwards (senior Hugh McGing and sophomore Rhett Kingston) have nine goals while two others (senior Wade Allison and junior Ethen Frank) have eight.

Last season, Kawaguchi led all UND scorers with ten goals, while WMU had five players hit that milestone.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After last weekend’s series at St. Cloud State, the Fighting Hawks are still first in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (21.7) but are now fourth in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 58.3%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 58.6%

By comparison, the Broncos are 19th in Corsi (51.9%) and 17th in Fenwick (53.0%), averaging 34.8 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 30.7/game) while allowing 30.2 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 13.0 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). Western Michigan boasts a shooting percentage of 9.9 percent (19th of 60 teams).

Here’s another way to highlight North Dakota’s scoring prowess: UND has scored five or more goals in ten of its 31 games this season; in 2018-19, the Fighting Hawks had five such games all year. In eight other games this year, Brad Berry’s crew has scored four goals, which means that the team has scored four or more goals in well over half (58.1%) of its games this season.

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 24 power play goals over its past 24 games (24 for 93, 25.8 percent) and now goes up against a Western Michigan penalty kill that ranks 47th in the country at 78.1 percent. For the season, the Fighting Hawks’ power play checks in at 21.8 percent, good for sixteenth-best in the country.

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 road weekends at 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). The Fighting Hawks have rebounded in their last three series, holding Colorado College scoreless on eight power plays, allowing only a Bobby Brink goal in five Denver chances, and giving up one SCSU power play goal on six opportunities last weekend. UND’s season-long penalty kill percentage now sits at 86.9%, sixth-best in the nation.

North Dakota is 2nd in the country in scoring offense (4.00 goals scored/game) and 6th in the country in scoring defense (2.00 goals allowed/game), and that leads to the country’s second-best goal differential (+62). Minnesota State (28-4-2) has put up a +87 through their first 34 games, but the Mavericks are now dealing with the loss of junior center Jared Spooner, who is out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury.

To put that scoring margin in perspective: In 2018-2019, North Dakota outscored opponents 93-90 over 37 games (18-17-2). This season, UND (23-4-4) has throttled the opposition by a margin of 124-62 over the first 31 games of the campaign. By comparison, the Broncos have outscored opponents 110-90 this season for a goal differential of plus-20.

The other result of such a lopsided scoring margin is that nine of the top eleven NCHC players in plus-minus hail from North Dakota, led by Collin Adams with a plus-26. The other two league leaders in that statistic are Broncos: Ronnie Attard (+20) and Mattias Samuelsson (+17).

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

UND did not have a question mark in net during the first half of the season, as sophomore Adam Scheel played every minute between the pipes on his way to a record of 14-1-2 with eye-popping goaltending statistics: a goals-against average of 1.56, a save percentage of .927, and two shutouts.

The holiday break was not kind to North Dakota’s #1 netminder.

After giving up four goals on 28 shots faced in two January home starts against Alabama Huntsville, Scheel had three awful games in his last four starts:

January 10th vs. Omaha: 4 goals allowed on 8 shots (pulled after 32:43)
January 17th at Miami: 3 goals allowed on 8 shots (pulled after 20:00)
January 24th at Minnesota Duluth: 7 goals allowed on 38 shots (finished the game)

Adam Scheel’s GAA has ballooned to 2.08, while his save percentage has plummeted to .903.

Thankfully for fans of the Green and White, junior goaltender Peter Thome answered the bell, relieving Scheel twice and earning eight starts, going 6-1-2 with a 1.52 GAA, a save percentage of .930, and one shutout. Even more remarkably, he has only allowed a total of seven even-strength goals in his eight starts this year. Thome’s current GAA (2nd) and SV% (3rd) would rank among the best single-season marks in program history.

Western Michigan has received adequate but not exceptional goaltending from freshman Brandon Bussi, who has played over 90% of the minutes in net for the Broncos. Bussi has a season record of 16-11-4 with a goals-against average of 2.63 and a save percentage of .911.

One key area to watch this weekend is the face-off circle. The Fighting Hawks have improved on draws over the past five weekends and are now sitting at 54.1 percent on the season (6th) after leading the nation at 57.1 percent a year ago. Western Michigan has won 55.0 percent of its faceoffs this season (3rd in the country).

Leading the way in the faceoff circle for North Dakota have been Jasper Weatherby (59.2%), Shane Pinto (58.8%), and Collin Adams (54.2%). This weekend, Western Michigan will counter with Paul Washe (64.6%), Austin Rueschhoff (51.9%), and Drew Worrad (55.0%).

Western Michigan Team Profile

Head Coach: Andy Murray (9th season at WMU, 155-142-40, .519)

Pairwise Ranking: 15th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #16/#14

This Season: 16-11-5 (.578) overall, 10-7-3-2 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: 3.44 goals scored/game – 8th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.81 goals allowed/game –30th of 60 teams
Power Play: 19.8% (23 of 116) – 23rd of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.1% (107 of 137) – 47th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Paul Washe (10-9-19), Junior F Ethan Frank (8-9-17), Senior F Hugh McGing (9-21-30), Sophomore F Drew Worrad (6-11-17), Senior F Dawson DiPietro (11-14-25), Junior F Josh Passolt (5-11-16), Senior F Wade Allison (8-10-18 in 22 games played), Junior F Austin Rueschhoff (10-13-23), Sophomore D Michael Joyaux (2-15-17), Senior D Luke Bafia (1-9-10), Freshman D Ronnie Attard (6-6-12), Sophomore D Mattias Samuelsson (2-11-13), Freshman G Brandon Bussi (16-11-4, 2.63 GAA, .911 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (North Dakota ’02, 5th season at UND; 113-56-23, .648)

Pairwise Ranking: 1st of 60 teams
National Rankings: #3/#1

This Season: 23-4-4 (.806) overall, 14-3-3-2 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 18-17-2 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 12-11-1-0 NCHC (5th)

2019-2020 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 4.00 goals scored/game – 2nd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.00 goals allowed/game – 6th of 60 teams
Power Play: 22.0% (26 of 118) – 16th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 86.9% (93 of 107) – 6th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Jordan “#HobeyGuchi” Kawaguchi (15-30-45), Senior F Westin Michaud (14-12-26), Junior F Collin Adams (11-16-27), Sophomore F Jasper Weatherby (10-7-17), Freshman F Shane Pinto (15-11-26), Junior F Grant Mismash (8-11-19), Senior F Cole Smith (10-6-16), Sophomore D Jacob Bernard-Docker (5-16-21), Senior D Colton Poolman (2-11-13), Junior D Matt Kiersted (5-21-26), Sophomore D Jonny Tychonick (4-7-11 in 23 games played), Sophomore G Adam Scheel (17-3-2, 2.08 GAA, .903 SV%, 2 SO), Junior G Peter Thome (6-1-2, 1.52 GAA, .930 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 7, 2019 (Kalamazoo, MI). One night after a 1-0 overtime victory thanks to Gavin Hain’s overtime winner, the Fighting Hawks dominated the Broncos 8-2. Judd Caulfield and Shane Pinto each scored twice for the visitors, who received 68 saves on the weekend from Adam Scheel.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: November 17, 2018. North Dakota starting netminder Adam Scheel allowed four goals on eighteen shots (including three second-period goals in the span of under six minutes) before giving way to Peter Thome. Colt Conrad (one goal, four assists) figured in on five of Western Michigan’s six goals as the Broncos completed the sweep with a 6-2 road win after a 2-0 victory in Friday’s opener. The Fighting Hawks managed just two goals all weekend despite outshooting WMU 64-45.

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 21 of the 28 games (including eight of the twelve games played in Grand Forks). 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: Each team has won five of the last ten games between the schools, with six of those ten games played in Kalamazoo. Over that stretch, UND has outscored the Broncos 30-26, thanks in large part to the 8-2 shellacking mentioned above.

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 second in the country with 45 points and third in the country with 30 assists. #HobeyGuchi

Broadcast Information

This weekend’s series will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network, with both games also 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.

The Prediction

For the first time in a long time, Western Michigan is healthier than North Dakota. These are meaningful games for both squads, as UND could wrap up the Penrose Cup this weekend and the Broncos are looking to secure home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs. After the way last weekend ended, I like the Fighting Hawks on Friday night, with Saturday’s game coming down to the wire. UND 4-2, WMU 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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