In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries. The teams have played 32 times during the first seven seasons of the new conference, but the feud goes all the way back to Geoff Paukovitch’ illegal check on Sioux forward Robbie Bina during the 2005 WCHA Final Five.
Since that 2005 Final Five contest (a Denver victory), the two teams have met twelve times in tournament play. Denver won the 2005 NCAA title with a victory over North Dakota and claimed a 2008 WCHA Final Five win as well. UND has earned six victories and a tie in the last ten playoff games between the schools, including three consecutive victories in the WCHA Final Five (2010-2012), the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional final which sent the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four, 2016’s thrilling Frozen Four semifinal (a 4-2 UND victory) in Tampa, Florida, and the 2017 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Denver turned the tables by dispatching North Dakota in the first round of the league playoffs at Magness Arena to end the Fighting Hawks’ 2018-2019 campaign.
(It is impossible to bring up the Paukovitch/Bina incident without also writing that Brad Malone‘s check on Denver’s Jesse Martin during an October 2010 contest at Ralph Engelstad Arena fractured three of Martin’s vertebrae and ended the hockey career of the Atlanta Thrashers’ draft pick.)
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.
In the 2019 NCAA tournament, league members Denver and St. Cloud State were both placed in the West Regional (Fargo, North Dakota) and were on track to face off in the regional final. The Pioneers (#6 in the country) held up their end of the bargain with a 2-0 victory over #9 Ohio State, but #19 American International shocked the college hockey world and dispatched the #1-ranked Huskies by a final score of 2-1. One night later, Denver blanked AIC 3-0 to advance to their third Frozen Four in four seasons. The Pios would eventually fall to #4 Massachusetts in overtime in the national semifinal.
In 2019-20, North Dakota’s Shane Pinto and Denver’s Bobby Brink were the two frontrunners for Rookie of the Year in the NCHC, with Pinto earning the honor at the end of the season and Brink nabbing a unanimous NCHC All-Rookie Team selection. Here’s how the two stat lines compared:
Bobby Brink (right wing): 11 goals and 13 assists in 24 games played (0.86 points/game)
Shane Pinto (center): 16 goals and 12 assists in 33 games played (0.85 points/game)
In the November series at altitude in Denver (1-1 tie, 4-1 UND victory), neither freshman figured in on the scoresheet. When the teams took the ice in Grand Forks for a pair of NCHC games in February of this year (a North Dakota sweep), Shane Pinto scored the first goal of the weekend and Bobby Brink notched a “natural answer” by potting the very next goal by either team. Pinto broke the head-to-head tie with an assist on Matt Kiersted’s opening-period goal in Saturday’s rematch.
Denver netminder Magnus Chrona (16-6-4, 2.15 goals-against average, a save percentage of .920, and two shutouts) was also named to the All-Rookie team and was a finalist for the league’s Goalie of the Year award (which was won by Duluth senior Hunter Shepard).
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.
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).
By comparison, Denver returns 63 percent of its point production from last season, led by Junior F Cole Guttman (14-14-28), Sophomore F Bobby Brink (11-13-24 in 28 games played), Junior F Brett Stapley (5-25-30), Senior F Kohen Olischefski (9-11-20), Junior F Tyler Ward (10-9-19), Senior D Griffin Mendel (3-6-9), and Junior D Slava Demin (2-7-9). Additionally, grad transfers Steven Jandric (26-54-80 in 107 games over three seasons playing forward at Alaska Fairbanks) and Bo Hanson (11-36-47 in 102 games over three seasons playing defense at St. Lawrence) should chip in offensively.
The only thing that I see separating these teams right now is that North Dakota mostly avoided the early departure bug while Denver lost forward Emilio Pettersen (13-22-35, left two years early), defenseman Ian Mitchell (10-22-32, left one year early), and goaltender Devin Cooley (4-3-2, 2.08 GAA, .908 SV%, left one year early). Of particular concern for the Pios is that Mitchell’s absence means that they return only seven goals and 24 total points on their blue line.
By comparison, North Dakota’s five returning defensemen (Gabe Bast, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Ethan Frisch, Matt Kiersted, and Josh Rieger scored 17 goals and added 48 assists for a total of 65 points last season.
I say UND mostly avoided the early-departure bug because while head coach Brad Berry did not see anyone leave his program early for the pro ranks, junior defenseman Jonny Tychonick transferred to Omaha. Tychonick, who put together a line of 4-7-11 in 24 games played last season, was looking for more playing time, and Maverick bench boss Mike Gabinet has certainly used the nimble blueliner in plenty of situations in UNO’s first two pod games against Minnesota Duluth (3-5 loss) and Western Michigan (10-2 win). The 2018 second-round pick of the Ottawa Senators notched his first point of the season with an assist on the Mavericks’ first goal against the Broncos.
After today’s matchup, UND freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson and Denver’s Bobby Brink will be headed to Plymouth, Michigan for the 2021 U.S. National Junior Team training camp. Sanderson and Brink are two of 29 players invited to the camp, which will run from December 6th until the final roster of 25 players is announced on December 13th. On that date, the team will depart for Edmonton, Alberta for the World Junior Championships, which will be played from December 25th, 2020 through January 5th, 2021.
North Dakota and DU will face off for the second time in the NCHC Pod on Tuesday, December 8th at 3:35 p.m. Central Time. UND is also scheduled to travel to Denver for a weekend series on January 15th and 16th and host the Pios at Ralph Engelstad Arena on February 5th and 6th.
Here is the complete NCHC Pod schedule and results for North Dakota:
Pod Game #1: 2-0 win vs. Miami
Pod Game #2: Denver
(Friday, December 4th at 7:35 p.m.)
Pod Game #3: Western Michigan
(Sunday, December 6th at 12:05 p.m.)
Pod Game #4: Denver
(Tuesday, December 8th at 3:35 p.m.)
Pod Game #5: Minnesota Duluth
(Thursday, December 10th at 7:35 p.m.)
Pod Game #6: St. Cloud State
(Saturday, December 12th at 4:05 p.m.)
Pod Game #7: Western Michigan
(Sunday, December 13th at 4:05 p.m.)
Pod Game #8: St. Cloud State
(Wednesday, December 16th at 7:35 p.m.)
Pod Game #9: Minnesota Duluth
(Saturday, December 19th at 12:05 p.m.)
Pod Game #10: Miami
(Sunday, December 20th at 8:05 p.m.)
After its pod games are complete, the Fighting Hawks are not scheduled to face Miami, Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State, or Western Michigan during the remainder of the regular season. In addition to four second-half games against Denver, UND will face Omaha six times and Colorado College six times.
For a complete NCHC pod preview and information about all eight league teams, please click this link.
Head Coach: David Carle (3rd season at DU, 45-22-11, .647)
2019-20 Season Results: 21-9-6 overall, 11-8-5-4 NCHC (3rd)
2019-20 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.28 goals scored/game
(11th in the nation)
Team Defense: 2.25 goals allowed/game
(11th in the nation)
Power Play: 23.1% (36 of 156)
(12th in the nation)
Penalty Kill: 84.2% (112 of 133)
(16th in the nation)
Key graduation losses: F Liam Finlay (5-23-28), F Tyson McLellan (5-6-11), D Michael Davies (1-4-5)
Departures: F Emilio Pettersen (13-22-35, left two years early), D Ian Mitchell (10-22-32, left one year early), G Devin Cooley (4-3-2, 2.08 GAA, .908 SV%, left one year early)
Key returning players: Junior F Brett Stapley (5-25-30), Junior F Cole Guttman (14-14-28), Sophomore F Bobby Brink (11-13-24 in 28 games played), Senior F Kohen Olischefski (9-11-20), Junior F Tyler Ward (10-9-19), Senior D Griffin Mendel (3-6-9), Junior D Slava Demin (2-7-9), Sophomore G Magnus Chrona (16-6-4, 2.15 GAA, .920 SV%, 2 SO)
Additions: Senior F Steven Jandric (26-54-80 in 107 games over three seasons at Alaska Fairbanks), Senior D Bo Hanson (11-36-47 in 102 games over three seasons at St. Lawrence), Senior G Corbin Kaczperski (29-22-4, 2.53 GAA, .911 SV%, 3 SO over three seasons at Yale)
Potential impact freshmen: F Antti Tuomisto, F Carter Savoie, D Mike Benning, D Reid Irwin
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: Saturday, February 15th (Grand Forks, ND). #1 North Dakota built a 2-0 lead after two periods before #6 Denver’s Brett Edwards cut the lead in half midway through the third period. A furious Pioneers rally fell short as UND’s Jasper Weatherby potted an empty-net goal with 12 seconds remaining. In Friday’s opener, the Fighting Hawks downed the Pios 4-1 behind power play goals from Westin Michaud and Jacob Bernard-Docker. Peter Thome made 51 saves for the Green and White in the weekend sweep.
A Recent Memory: April 7, 2016 (Tampa, Florida). In the semifinals of the NCAA Frozen Four, the two league rivals squared off in a tightly-contested matchup. Senior forward Drake Caggiula scored twice early in the middle frame to stake UND to a 2-0 lead, but the Pioneers battled back with a pair of third period goals. The CBS line came through when it mattered most, with Nick Schmaltz scoring the game winner off of a faceoff win with 57 seconds remaining in the hockey game. North Dakota blocked 27 Denver shot attempts and goaltender Cam Johnson made 21 saves for the Fighting Hawks, who won the program’s eighth national title on the same sheet of ice two nights later.
Most Important Meeting: It’s hard to pick just one game, as the two teams have played four times for the national title. Denver defeated UND for the national championship in 1958, 1968, and 2005, while the Sioux downed the Pioneers in 1963. But the game that stands out in recent memory as “the one that got away” was DU’s 1-0 victory over the Fighting Sioux in the 2004 NCAA West Regional final (Colorado Springs, CO). That North Dakota team went 30-8-4 on the season (Dean Blais’ last behind the UND bench) and featured one of the deepest rosters in the past twenty years: Brandon Bochenski, Zach Parise, Brady Murray, Colby Genoway, Drew Stafford and David Lundbohm up front; Nick Fuher, Matt Jones, Matt Greene, and Ryan Hale on defense; and a couple of goaltending stalwarts in Jordan Parise and Jake Brandt.
Last Ten Games: With a tie and three victories last season, North Dakota is now even with Denver over their last ten meetings (4-4-2). UND scored a total of eleven goals in the last three games after scoring only ten combined goals in the seven games before that. On a positive note, the Pioneers have only scored sixteen goals in the past ten. Three of the last ten meetings have gone into overtime.
All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 149-128-16 (.536), although the Pioneers hold a slight 8-6-1 (.567) edge in games played at neutral sites. The teams first met in 1950, with North Dakota prevailing 18-3 in Denver.
Game News and Notes
Denver’s leading scorer against North Dakota is senior forward Ryan Barrow, who has one goal and four assists in twelve career games against the Fighting Hawks. Four North Dakota players have scored multiple career goals against DU: Matt Kiersted (3), Colin Adams (2), Jacob Bernard-Docker (2), and Jasper Weatherby. Incredibly, senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi has never scored against the Pioneers in fifteen career games, although he has collected nine assists. Since seven of Michigan’s nine titles were earned by 1964, I consider Denver (eight titles) and North Dakota (eight titles) to be the top two men’s college hockey programs of all time.
Both teams are still putting the pieces together, and this one could truly go either way. I’ve got a hunch that DU’s loss against Duluth has them more prepared and focused to face the Fighting Hawks than does UND’s win over Miami. It will be interesting to watch how intense the compete level is for both of these squads and how little time and space is available. The first team to score three goals will win this one, and I give a slight edge to the Pios. Denver 3, North Dakota 2.
Friday evening’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.
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!