Weekend Preview: North Dakota at 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 last season, but Omaha struggled 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 thirteen victories (13-16-5).

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) ~

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 16-3-3-2 coming into the final weekend of the regular season:

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. #5 Denver: 4-1 win, 3-1 win
February 21-22 at St. Cloud State: 3-3 tie (shootout loss), 1-2 loss
February 28-29 vs. #14 Western Michigan: 3-1 win, 2-1 win (OT)

The Fighting Hawks clinched at least a share of the program’s third Penrose Cup and eighteenth regular season championship overall; UND would claim the NCHC regular season title outright with at least one conference point this weekend (or at least one conference point for St. Cloud State, which is at Duluth for a pair of games against the 2nd-place Bulldogs).

Omaha (13-16-5 overall, 7-12-3-0 NCHC, 24 points) is currently in sixth place in the eight-team NCHC and cannot catch fifth-place St. Cloud State (13-13-6 overall, 10-10-2-1 NCHC, 33 points). Miami (8-19-5 overall, 5-14-3 NCHC, 20 points) could overtake the Mavericks with a good weekend at Western Michigan (16-13-5 overall, 10-9-3-2 NCHC, 35 points) and some help.

Colorado College (11-9-2 overall, 4-16-2-1 NCHC, 15 points) is playing a home-and-home series against Denver this weekend and will almost certainly end up in eighth place in the league. That result would most likely earn them a first-round league playoff series at North Dakota.

According to KRACH, the most likely results for next weekend’s NCHC quarterfinal action would be:

Colorado College at North Dakota
Miami at Minnesota Duluth
Omaha at Denver
St. Cloud State at Western Michigan

#2-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 (12-16-28), senior forward Cole Smith (10-6-16), sophomore forward Jasper Weatherby (10-8-18), and junior defenseman Matt Kiersted (6-23-29). Those four players have combined for 91 points in 129 games played (0.71 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 (16-11-27), and senior transfer Westin Michaud (15-12-27). Junior forward Grant Mismash (8-11-19) looks to be the next UND player to hit the double-digit mark in goals.

On the injury front, UNO is dealing with the loss of sophomore forward Taylor Ward, who suffered a season-ending injury two weekends ago in the opening minutes of a home game against Colorado College. Ward, who was leading the Mavericks in scoring with 16 goals and 27 points this season, was third on the team in scoring as a freshman a year ago (9-18-27).

The two active Mavericks with at least ten goals this season are junior forward Kevin Conley and senior forward Zach Jordan. Conley (12-15-27) was a freshman on Denver’s 2017 national title team before sitting out a year and transferring to Omaha. Jordan (11-4-15) is a load at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds and has already picked up 29 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).

Last season, Kawaguchi led all UND scorers with ten goals, while UNO had two players (seniors Mason Morelli and Fredrick Olofsson) hit that milestone.

North Dakota looks to be as healthy as they have been all season long, with Gavin Hain (lower body injury) eyeing a return to the lineup this weekend and a reunification with shutdown linemates Mark Senden and Cole Smith. Omaha is still bothered by nagging injuries to freshmen forwards Joey Abate (five games missed) and Nolan Sullivan (three games missed). Both Abate and Sullivan played both games last weekend at Miami but did not figure in the scoring.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck as we enter into postseason play, and the numbers bear that out. After last weekend’s series vs. Western Michigan, the Fighting Hawks are still first in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (21.7) and in the top five in the country in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 57.7% (5th)
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 58.2% (4th)

By comparison, the Mavericks are 35th in Corsi (48.6%) and 39th in Fenwick (47.6%), averaging 28.2 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 30.0/game) while allowing 30.7 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 13.0 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). Omaha boasts a shooting percentage of 10.8 percent (11th 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 33 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 (54.5%) 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 25 power play goals over its past 26 games (25 for 100, 25.0 percent) and now goes up against an Omaha penalty kill that ranks 30th in the country at 81.1 percent. For the season, the Fighting Hawks’ power play checks in at 21.6 percent, good for 16th-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 four series, holding Colorado College scoreless on eight power plays, allowing only a Bobby Brink goal in five Denver chances, giving up one SCSU power play goal on six opportunities, and blanking Western Michigan on two attempts last weekend. UND’s season-long penalty kill percentage now sits at 87.2%, sixth-best in the nation.

UNO has been whistled for 13.38 penalty minutes per game this season, while North Dakota has been charged with just 10.24 penalty minutes per game. That has led to the following disparity in specialty teams play:

Omaha: 141 power plays (26 goals scored) vs. 143 penalty kill situations (27 goals allowed)
UND: 109 power plays (27 goals scored) vs. 109 penalty kill situations (14 goals allowed)

North Dakota is 3rd in the country in scoring offense (3.91 goals scored/game) and 5th in the country in scoring defense (1.94 goals allowed/game), and that leads to the country’s second-best goal differential (+65). Minnesota State (29-5-2) has put up a +88 through their first 36 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 (25-4-4) has throttled the opposition by a margin of 129-64 over the first 33 games of the campaign. By comparison, the Mavericks have outscored opponents 104-101 this season for a goal differential of plus-3.

The other result of such a lopsided scoring margin is that nine of the top ten NCHC players in plus-minus hail from North Dakota, led by Collin Adams with a plus-27. The only other team listed among the league leaders is Western Michigan, with strong>Ronnie Attard clocking in at plus-21. The highest ranking Omaha player on the list is Martin Sundberg, who ranks 31st on the list with a plus-8.

According to KRACH, North Dakota has put up this season’s stellar results while facing the 3rd-toughest schedule in the country; Omaha’s slate of games ranks as the 15th-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 three-quarters of the minutes. Fellow freshman Austin Roden started four games for the Mavericks while Saville spent time on USA’s World Junior team but has played only twice since then; I would expect Saville to get the start on Friday night against the Fighting Hawks.

Austin Roden: 3-5-1, 2.75 goals-against average, .910 save percentage, 1 shutout
Isaiah Saville: 10-11-4, 2.88 goals-against average, .905 save percentage, 1 shutout

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

The difference in talent and production between the rosters is most evident when looking at the defensemen for each team. Omaha’s six most likely starters on defense have combined for just 11 goals and 44 assists in 191 games this season (0.29 points/game), with only three blueliners (freshman Brandon Scanlin [3-11-14], senior Ryan Jones [2-9-11], and senior Dean Stewart [2-8-10] reaching double digits in points this season.

By comparison, North Dakota generates plenty of offense from the back end, with five defensemen (junior Matt Kiersted [6-23-29], sophomore Jacob Bernard-Docker [5-17-22], senior Colton Poolman [2-13-15], sophomore Jonny Tychonick [4-7-11], and senior Andrew Peski [1-9-10]) reaching double-digit point totals already this season. UND’s top six have scored 19 goals and added 73 assists in 176 games (0.52 points/game)

The Fighting Hawks’ d-corps has put up those numbers while also allowing just 1.94 goals per contest (5th in the country). By comparison, Omaha is allowing 2.97 goals per game (41st).

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 next 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)

Those results caused Adam Scheel’s GAA to balloon to 2.08 and his save percentage to plummet .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.

Scheel did start both games last weekend in a home sweep of Western Michigan, allowing just a single goal each night while making 41 saves in the two-game series.

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

One-goal games: UND 8-2, Omaha 3-7
Overtime games: UND 4-0-4, Omaha 1-0-5

One key area to watch this weekend is the face-off circle. The Fighting Hawks are now sitting at 53.6 percent on the season (7th) after leading the nation at 57.1 percent a year ago. Omaha has won 50.7 percent of its faceoffs this season (26th in the country).

Leading the way in the faceoff circle for North Dakota have been Shane Pinto (59.0%, 281 wins), Jasper Weatherby (58.7%, 269 wins), and Collin Adams (52.6%, 201 wins). This weekend, Omaha will counter with Nolan Sullivan (60.5%, 274 wins), Teemu Pulkkinen (50.3%, 166 wins), and Joey Abate (47.9%, 186 wins).

Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (3rd season at UNO, 39-57-10, .415)

Pairwise Ranking: 35th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 13-16-5 (.456) overall, 7-12-3-0 NCHC (6th)
Last Season: 9-24-3 (.292) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 5-17-2-1 NCHC (t-7th)

Team Offense: 3.06 goals scored/game – 21st of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.97 goals allowed/game – 41st of 60 teams
Power Play: 18.4% (26 of 141) – 32nd of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 81.1% (116 of 143) – 30th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Kevin Conley (12-15-27), Sophomore F Tyler Weiss (4-18-22), Sophomore F Chase Primeau (8-12-20), Senior F Teemu Pulkkinen (7-11-18), Freshman F Ryan Brushett (1-15-16), Senior F Zach Jordan (11-4-15), Freshman D Brandon Scanlin (3-11-14), Senior D Ryan Jones (2-9-11), Senior D Dean Stewart (2-8-10), Freshman G Isaiah Saville (10-11-4, 2.88 GAA, .905 SV%, 1 SO), Freshman G Austin Roden (3-5-1, 2.75 GAA, .910 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (North Dakota ’02, 5th season at UND; 115-56-23, .652)

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

This Season: 25-4-4 (.818) overall, 16-3-3-2 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 18-17-2 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 12-11-1-0 NCHC (5th)

2019-2020 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.91 goals scored/game – 3rd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 1.94 goals allowed/game – 5th of 60 teams
Power Play: 21.6% (27 of 125) – 16th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 87.2% (95 of 109) – 6th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Jordan “#HobeyGuchi” Kawaguchi (15-30-45), Senior F Westin Michaud (15-12-27), Junior F Collin Adams (12-16-28), Sophomore F Jasper Weatherby (10-8-18), Freshman F Shane Pinto (16-11-27), Junior F Grant Mismash (8-11-19), Senior F Cole Smith (10-6-16), Sophomore D Jacob Bernard-Docker (5-17-22), Senior D Colton Poolman (2-13-15), Junior D Matt Kiersted (6-23-29), Sophomore D Jonny Tychonick (4-7-11 in 23 games played), Sophomore G Adam Scheel (19-3-2, 1.99 GAA, .907 SV%, 2 SO), Junior G Peter Thome (6-1-2, 1.52 GAA, .930 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: January 11, 2020 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after the Mavericks handed North Dakota its only home loss of the season by scoring six goals on thirteen shots and chasing Adam Scheel (four goals allowed, four saves), the Fighting Hawks scored three first-period goals (Casey Johnson, Collin Adams, and Mark Senden) in a 4-1 victory. Omaha’s Taylor Ward scored the lone goal for the visiting side, while UND’s Shane Pinto earned himself a one-game suspension for a third period cross-check across the back of Joey Abate. North Dakota outshot Omaha 56-32 in the two-game series.

Last meeting in Omaha: January 19, 2019. The Mavericks scored three unanswered goals over the final 27 minutes of the hockey game to come from behind for a 4-3 win. Eleven different players figured in on the scoring for UNO, who got 31 saves from senior netminder Evan Weninger. One night earlier, UND’s Jackson Keane scored the game-winner with less than two minutes remaining for a 4-3 road victory. North Dakota outshot Omaha 71-44 on the weekend.

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 35-28 over that stretch.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 23-12-1 (.653), including an 11-5-0 (.688) record in games played in Omaha. North Dakota owns a record of 18-9-1 (.661) 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 sixteen career games against Omaha. The Mavericks have not made the national tournament since their run to the Frozen Four in 2015. North Dakota is 13-1-1 when leading after one period and 18-0-1 when leading after two periods this season. By comparison, Omaha is 7-1-2 when leading after one period and 9-0-3 when leading after two periods. UND junior forward Jordan Kawaguchi is second in the country with 45 points and sixth in the country with 30 assists. For more information on #HobeyGuchi, please visit fightinghawks.com/kawahobey

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). The puck drops at 7:07 p.m. Central Time each night; Omaha’s five seniors will be honored before Saturday’s tilt.

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. If North Dakota wins the opener and clinches the Penne Rosa outright on Friday night, I wonder how much motivation will be left for the rematch. Even though North Dakota will have the better of the play throughout the series, strange things happen when these two teams meet. I’ve got a sense that Saturday’s game will end up in overtime, where the Green and White have shined all season long. UND 5-2, 3-2 (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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