UND Game Preview: NCHC Pod Game #1 vs. Miami

Over the first seven seasons of the NCHC, Miami has averaged worse than a sixth-place finish (8th, 2nd, 5th, 7th, 8th, 8th, 7th), with a combined league record of 50-100-18 (.351).

By comparison, North Dakota has finished 2nd, 1st, 1st, 4th, 4th, 5th, and 1st, for an average finish somewhere between 2nd and 3rd place and a combined league record of 98-56-14 (.625). The only other league member to collect as many conference wins as UND is St. Cloud State (98).

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.

Long-tenured head coach Enrico Blasi was fired after posting a fourth consecutive losing season in 2018-2019. 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 (8-21-5 last season in Miami) 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 one in this season’s NCHC media preseason poll, with Denver, Minnesota Duluth, and St. Cloud State rounding out the top four. Miami was picked to finish last in the eight-team league this year.

It is hard to believe that seven 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 six seasons. The eight teams in the league have gone 326-158-63 (.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 (there was no national tournament last season). Conference members North Dakota (2016), Denver (2017), and Minnesota Duluth (2018, 2019) have won the last four national titles.

After sputtering to records of 17-13-10 (.550) and 18-17-2 (.514) and missing the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons, UND head coach Brad Berry got his team on the right track last year, winning the program’s third Penrose Cup as NCHC champions and collecting an overall record of 26-5-4 (.800).

Although North Dakota will miss (among others) forwards Westin Michaud (16-12-28), Cole Smith (11-7-18), and Dixon Bowen (6-4-10) and defenseman Colton Poolman (4-13-17) from last year’s squad, the team returns 68 percent of its goal scoring (92 of 135 goals) from a year ago. Offensively, forwards Jordan Kawaguchi (15-30-45, Hobey Hat Trick finalist), Shane Pinto (16-12-28), Collin Adams (12-16-28), Grant Mismash (8-12-20), Jasper Weatherby (10-8-18), Judd Caulfield (4-8-12), Harrison Blaisdell (2-10-12), Mark Senden (5-6-11), and Gavin Hain (2-8-10) will lead the way along with defensemen Matt Kiersted (6-23-29), Jacob Bernard-Docker (7-18-25), Gabe Bast (2-3-5), and Ethan Frisch (1-4-5).

Miami also returns 68 percent of its goal scoring (63 of 92 goals) from last season, but the problem for the RedHawks is that they didn’t score a lot in 2019-20 (2.71 goals per game, 32nd in the nation). To make matters worse for Chris Bergeron’s team, the fourth-worst defensive team in the country a year ago (3.74 goals allowed per game) now has to compete without goaltender Ryan Larkin (7-12-2, 3.47 GAA, .901 SV%, 3 shutouts last season; 37-62-16, 3.07 GAA, .901 SV%, and 8 shutouts in his collegiate career).

These two teams are also scheduled to face each other in the NCHC Pod on Sunday, December 20th, the last pod game for either team. In the unbalanced conference schedule designed to limit travel and exposure, UND and Miami will not meet in the second half of the season.

For a complete NCHC pod preview and information about all eight league teams, please click this link.

Miami RedHawks

Head Coach: Chris Bergeron (2nd season at Miami, 8-21-5, .309)

2019-20 Season Results: 8-21-5 overall, 5-16-3-2 NCHC (7th)

2019-20 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.71 goals scored/game
(32nd in the nation)

Team Defense: 3.74 goals allowed/game
(57th in the nation)

Power Play: 23.9% (28 of 117)
(10th in the nation)

Penalty Kill: 75.4% (101 of 134)
(54th in the nation)

Key graduation losses: F Gordie Green (14-22-36), F Karch Bachman (10-21-31), D Grant Frederic (2-2-4), G Ryan Larkin (7-12-2, 3.47 GAA, .901 SV%, 3 SO)

Key returning players: Senior F Casey Gilling (9-22-31), Junior F Matt Barry (3-8-11 in 17 games), Sophomore F Ryan Savage (7-7-14), Sophomore F Chase Pletzke (6-8-14), Sophomore F John Sladic (7-6-13), Junior D Monte Graham (5-8-13), Senior D Phil Knies, Junior D Derek Daschke (10-13-23), Sophomore D Jack Clement (4-5-9), Junior D Bray Crowder (1-7-8), Sophomore G Ben Kraws (1-7-2, 4.12 GAA, .871 SV%)

Additions: Freshman F Joe Cassetti (0-2-2 in 14 games at Merrimack last season; he also put up 11-8-19 in 22 games last season with Waterloo [USHL]. In two previous seasons at Waterloo, Cassetti put together a line of 28-27-55 over 106 games. Prior to his USHL career, the left wing from Pleasanton, California was a member of the U.S. Under-17 and Under-18 teams.)

Potential impact freshmen: F Matthew Barbolini, D Hampus Rydqvist, D Robby Drazner, G Ludvig Persson

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 116-57-23, .651)

2019-20 Season Results: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2019-20 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.86 goals scored/game
(4th in the nation)

Team Defense: 1.94 goals allowed/game
(4th in the nation)

Power Play: 21.2% (29 of 137)
(17th in the nation)

Penalty Kill: 88.0% (103 of 117)
(5th in the nation)

Key graduation losses: F Westin Michaud (16-12-28), F Cole Smith (11-7-18), F Dixon Bowen (6-4-10), D Colton Poolman (4-13-17), D Andrew Peski (1-9-10)

Departures: Junior D Jonny Tychonick (4-7-11, transferred to Omaha)

Key returning players: Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (15-30-45), Sophomore F Shane Pinto (16-12-28), Senior F Collin Adams (12-16-28), Senior F Grant Mismash (8-12-20), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (10-8-18), Senior D Matt Kiersted (6-23-29), Junior D Jacob Bernard-Docker (7-18-25), Junior G Adam Scheel (19-4-2, 2.07 GAA, .904 SV%, 2 SO)

Additions: Sophomore F Brendan Budy (19-30-49 in 50 games with the Langley Rivermen [BCHL]. In 2018-19, Budy split time between Denver [scoreless in six games] and the USHL’s Tri-City Storm [11-21-31 in 31 games]. In two previous seasons with the Rivermen, the hometown hero from Langley, British Columbia put up a line of 37-64-101 in 105 games.)

Potential impact freshmen: F Griffin Ness, F Riese Gaber, D Jake Sanderson, D Tyler Kleven

By The Numbers:

Last Meeting: January 18, 2020 (Oxford, Ohio). Miami led 2-0 midway through the first period before UND’s Judd Caulfield got the visitors on the board. The teams traded goals in the middle frame, and North Dakota’s Jordan Kawaguchi tied things up nearly five minutes into the third. Cole Smith put the Fighting Hawks ahead with just 64 seconds remaining, and Westin Michaud added an empty-netter 37 seconds later for a 5-3 win. One night earlier, the two teams skated to a 4-4 tie, with UND earning the extra league point with a shootout victory.

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 five wins and three ties in the past ten contests between the teams, outscoring Miami 38-26 over that stretch of games.

All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 17-7-4 (.679), including a 3-0-1 record last season and a 2-1 record at neutral sites. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).

Game News and Notes

In their careers against Miami, Jordan Kawaguchi has five goals and ten assists in ten games and Matt Kiersted has one goal and ten assists in eight games. With a victory to open up their time in the NCHC Pod, North Dakota would collect its 99th league win, tying St. Cloud State for the most among conference members. Green Hawks are preferable to RedHawks.

The Prediction

Without preseason or non-conference play, all we have to go on are last season’s results and this year’s rosters. All signs point to a North Dakota rout, but both teams should have their scoring chances in this one. The biggest question mark for Miami is between the pipes, and until that is solidified, the RedHawks will take their lumps. UND 6-2.

Broadcast Information

Wednesday afternoon’s contest will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and will also be available online at NCHC.tv. All UND men’s hockey games 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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