UND Game Preview: NCHC Pod Game #3 vs. Western Michigan

Each team’s first two NCHC pod games have given us a glimpse of what we can expect over the next couple of weeks and throughout the season.

#1 North Dakota (2-0-0) blanked Miami 2-0 to open up their pod schedule, and followed that up with a 4-3 overtime victory over #4 Denver on Friday night.

In its first game, #17 #Western Michigan (0-2-0) dropped a close 4-3 decision to St. Cloud State and lost their starting goaltender (sophomore Brandon Bussi, 18-12-4, 2.65 goals-against average, and a save percentage of .910 last season). Bussi went down just over eight minutes into the contest with what appeared to be a groin injury. The sophomore from Sound Beach, New York was expected to stabilize things on the back end while the team dealt with the loss of defensemen Luke Bafia, Kale Bennett, Cam Lee, and Mattias Samuelsson.

In the first game without Bussi, the Broncos lost 10-2 to Omaha.

It appears as though senior Austin Cain will shoulder the load in Bussi’s absence, although he has given up ten goals on fifty shots in eighty minutes of game action over two games. Cain appeared in 13 games over his first two seasons in Kalamazoo (2017-19, stats) but did not see any game action last year. Unfortunately for the Broncos, his stat line reads like something out of “Slapshot”:

Win/loss record: 4-9-0 (.308)
Goals-against average: 4.56
Save percentage: .838

Freshman netminder Alex Aslanidis also took the ice in the Omaha shellacking, allowing three goals on eleven shots in his twelve minutes between the pipes.

Bussi, who started 34 of 36 games for WMU a year ago, is not expected to return to action in the first half of the season.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (2-0-0, 1.48 GAA, .927 SV%, 1 SO) started the first two games of the pod for North Dakota, although I would expect UND bench boss Brad Berry to call on Peter Thome (7-1-2, 1.37 GAA, .935 SV%, 2 SO last season) for Sunday’s noon start. With so many games in a short stretch of days, I am expecting a 60/40 or 70/30 split of minutes for the Fighting Hawks.

Aside from senior forward Josh Passolt (two assists), no Broncos player has more than one point through two games. One could argue that Passolt also assisted on St. Cloud State’s game-winning tally with 27 seconds remaining, as he batted a puck out of the air and into his own net. The Huskies’ Nick Perbix was given credit for the goal.

North Dakota has six players at two points through two games, and three of them are defensemen (sophomore Ethan Frisch, freshman Jake Sanderson, and senior Matt Kiersted have each tallied a goal and an assist). Blueliners Jacob Bernard-Docker and Gabe Bast should also chip on offensively for the Fighting Hawks, who will contend for the highest-scoring defensive unit in the country.

UND fared remarkably well in conference play last season, winning its third Penrose Cup with a league record of 17-4-3-2. By opening up the pod with two victories, the Fighting Hawks became the first NCHC team to notch 100 wins in league play. St. Cloud State duplicated that feat with a victory over Denver last night. Here’s the complete league leaderboard:

1. North Dakota and St. Cloud State (100)
3. Minnesota Duluth (95)
4. Denver (92)
5. Western Michigan (70)
6. Omaha (66)
7. Miami (50)
8. Colorado College (37)

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After two games, the Fighting Hawks are third the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (20.5) and are in the top five in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent):
59.9% (fourth in the nation)

Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent):
63.4% (third in the nation)

By comparison, the Broncos are 30th in Corsi (44.8%) and 31st in Fenwick (44.1%), averaging 25.0 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 37.0/game) while allowing 35.5 shots on goal against/contest.

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot. The Fighting Hawks are leading the nation in faceoff win percentage at 66.1 percent. Western Michigan is fifth in the country at 57.5 percent.

Leading the way in the faceoff circle for North Dakota have been Shane Pinto (80.4%, including a remarkable 18-0 vs. Denver), Jasper Weatherby (64.0%), and Collin Adams (62.1%). Western Michigan will counter with Paul Washe (72.9%), Drew Worrad (52.8%), and Brett Van Os (50.0%).

Through two games, here is the specialty teams ledger:

Western Michigan power play: 1 of 5, 20.0 percent
Western Michigan penalty kill: 2 of 2, 100.0 percent

North Dakota power play: 2 of 9, 22.2 percent
North Dakota penalty kill: 7 of 9, 77.8 percent

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. Western Michigan was tabbed to finish fifth.

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, Western Michigan only returns 51 percent of its point production from last season, with senior forward Paul Washe (12-9-21), senior forward Ethen Frank (9-11-20), junior forward Cole Gallant (4-16-20), junior forward Rhett Kingston (9-8-17), junior forward Drew Worrad (6-11-17), senior forward Josh Passolt (5-11-16), junior defenseman Michael Joyaux (2-15-17), and sophomore defenseman Ronnie Attard (6-8-14) leading the way.

It will be strange to face a Broncos team without forward Wade Allison. The oft-injured right winger seemingly played for WMU forever, scoring 45 goals in 106 career games at Western Michigan.

While North Dakota mostly avoided the early-departure bug, WMU lost forward Austin Rueschhoff (12-14-26) and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson (2-12-14) to the pro ranks. Rueschhoff left one year early, while Samuelsson left two years of eligibility on the table.

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 will be headed to Plymouth, Michigan for the 2021 U.S. National Junior Team training camp. Sanderson is one 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. Sanderson, who is expected to make the team, will miss the final seven games of the pod and UND’s first two games of the second half (December 31st and January 1st at Omaha).

While a noon start is unusual, I am glad that UND will get the first ice of the day at Baxter Arena, as there are two more games scheduled on the same sheet later on Sunday (Duluth vs. Miami at 4:05 and Omaha vs. St. Cloud State at 8:05).

North Dakota and Western Michigan will face off for the second time in the NCHC Pod on Sunday, December 13th at 4:05 p.m.. In this year’s unbalanced schedule, that will be the last time that the two teams tangle in the regular season.

Here is the complete NCHC Pod schedule and results for North Dakota:

Pod Game #1: 2-0 win vs. Miami

Pod Game #2: 4-3 overtime win vs. Denver

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.

Western Michigan Broncos

Head Coach: Andy Murray (10th season at WMU, 157-146-40, .516)

2019-20 Season Results: 18-13-5 overall, 12-9-3-2 NCHC (4th)

2019-20 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.47 goals scored/game
(8th in the nation)

Team Defense: 2.81 goals allowed/game
(32nd in the nation)

Power Play: 19.8% (25 of 126)
(24th in the nation)

Penalty Kill: 76.8% (116 of 151)
(52nd in the nation)

Key graduation losses: F Hugh McGing (13-22-35), F Dawson DiPietro (12-17-29), F Wade Allison (10-13-23), F Lawton Courtnall (5-5-10), D Cam Lee (3-18-21), D Luke Bafia (1-10-11), D Kale Bennett (3-5-8)

Departures: F Austin Rueschhoff (12-14-26, left one year early), D Mattias Samuelsson (2-12-14, left two years early)

Key returning players: Senior F Paul Washe (12-9-21), Senior F Ethen Frank (9-11-20), Junior F Cole Gallant (4-16-20), Junior F Rhett Kingston (9-8-17), Junior F Drew Worrad (6-11-17), Senior F Josh Passolt (5-11-16), Junior D Michael Joyaux (2-15-17), Sophomore D Ronnie Attard (6-8-14), Sophomore G Brandon Bussi (18-12-4, 2.65 GAA, .910 SV%)

Potential impact freshmen: F Chad Hillebrand, F Luke Grainger, F Hugh Larkin, D Daniel Hilsendager, D Aidan Fulp

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 118-57-23, .654)

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: February 29th, 2020 (Grand Forks, ND). After trading first-period goals, the two teams went scoreless for 45 game minutes before freshman Shane Pinto scored exactly two minutes into overtime to send North Dakota to a 2-1 victory and a four-game season sweep of Western Michigan. #3-ranked UND managed only 19 shots on goal but held the 16th-ranked Broncos to just 16. One night earlier, Western Michigan got the game within one in the third period but allowed a Westin Michaud power play goal with 104 seconds left. Less than thirty seconds after that, WMU freshman defenseman Ronnie Attard was given a five minute major and a game misconduct for contact to the head. North Dakota’s home sweep of the Broncos put them into position to win the Penrose Cup in Omaha one week later.

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 23 of the 30 games (23-7-0, .767). 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: North Dakota has won seven of the last ten meetings between the two teams, outscoring the Broncos 31-21 over that stretch of games.

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 seven 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. Through two games, Western Michigan has been outshot 29-9 and outscored 8-0 in the third period.

The Prediction

When two league foes get together, anything can happen. Andy Murray’s Broncos will be ready to go after giving up a ten-spot in their last outing. WMU will certainly bring a rough, physical brand of hockey to this one, but if North Dakota can stay out of the penalty box and roll all four forward lines, the game should open up in the second and third periods. North Dakota 6, Western Michigan 1.

Broadcast Information

Sunday’s noon 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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