In its NCHC pod opener, #17 #Western Michigan (2-3-1) 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.
Three days later, #1 North Dakota (3-2-1) boat raced WMU by a score of 8-2.
The good news for Western Michigan fans is that head coach Andy Murray has his squad playing much better this week, with a shootout win and a regulation win against Colorado College and an impressive 2-1 victory over #13 St. Cloud State.
It appears as though senior Austin Cain will shoulder the load in Bussi’s absence, and he has settled in a bit after giving up 14 goals on 68 shots in just over 100 minutes of game action over his first three games. Cain has been particularly solid over his past two, leading the Broncos to two consecutive victories while allowing only three goals on 53 shots.
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 (2-1-1, 1.99 GAA, .921 SV%, 1 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (1-1-0, 3.86 GAA, .833 SV%) appearing in two games. Scheel came on in relief in yesterday’s loss to St. Cloud State after Thome allowed four goals on 18 shots in 33 minutes of action. I am expecting a 60/40 or 70/30 split of minutes for the Fighting Hawks, with Scheel earning the start today against the Broncos.
A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Western Michigan has eight players who meet that threshold: senior forward Josh Passolt (3-4-7), senior forward Paul Washe (3-2-5), senior forward Ethan Frank (3-1-4), sophomore defenseman Ronnie Attard (0-4-4), freshman defenseman Aidan Fulp (0-4-4), sophomore forward Jason Polin (2-1-3), sophomore defenseman Scooter Brickey (1-2-3), and junior forward Drew Worrad (0-3-3). 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.
By that same measure, nine North Dakota players make the list: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (3-5-8), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (2-6-8), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (2-4-6), senior forward Grant Mismash (3-2-5), freshman forward Riese Gaber (3-1-4), senior forward Collin Adams (1-3-4), sophomore defenseman Ethan Frisch (1-2-3), freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (1-2-3), and junior forward Jasper Weatherby (1-2-3). Kawaguchi is the only NCHC player to notch at least one point in each of his team’s games in the Omaha pod.
It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After six games, the Fighting Hawks are sixth the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (25.0) and are in the top five in two key puck possession statistics:
Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent):
58.9% (fourth in the nation)
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent):
59.1% (fifth in the nation)
By comparison, the Broncos are 29th in Corsi (47.5%) and 28th in Fenwick (47.2%), averaging 27.5 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 33.2/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 second in the nation in faceoff win percentage at 60.4 percent, while Western Michigan is tenth in the country at 52.6 percent.
Leading the way in the faceoff circle for North Dakota have been Shane Pinto (65.8%, 19th in the country), Jasper Weatherby (64.0%, 22nd), Collin Adams (55.1%), and Mark Senden (47.9%). Western Michigan will counter with Paul Washe (58.0%), Drew Worrad (52.1%), Luke Grainger (51.7%), and Brett Van Os (43.3%).
The Broncos (10.3%) and Fighting Hawks (10.6%) are both scoring on a high percentage of their shots on goal, good for 17th and 15th in the country.
Up to this point in the season, here is the specialty teams ledger and team offense/defense for each side:
Western Michigan team offense: 2.83 goals scored/game
Western Michigan team defense: 4.67 goals allowed/game
Western Michigan power play: 5 of 19, 28.3 percent
Western Michigan penalty kill: 15 of 20, 75.0 percent
North Dakota team offense: 3.50 goals scored/game
North Dakota team defense: 2.50 goals allowed/game
North Dakota power play: 8 of 27, 29.6 percent
North Dakota penalty kill: 20 of 27, 74.1 percent
UND went scoreless on five man advantage situations against St. Cloud State yesterday and, to make matters worse, allowed two power play goals on five chances to a Huskies’ unit that had not scored a goal with the man advantage coming into the game. The Fighting Hawks were able to muster an extra-attacker goal on a delayed penalty (Brendan Budy) and a penalty shot goal (Grant Mismash), but it wasn’t enough in a 5-3 loss.
North Dakota rookie defensemen Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven will not appear in today’s contest, having arrived in Plymouth, Michigan for the 2021 U.S. National Junior Team training camp. Sanderson and Kleven have made the final roster for the World Junior Championships and will depart for Edmonton, Alberta today. The tournament will be played from December 25th, 2020 through January 5th, 2021.
The absence of Sanderson and Kleven will mean that both senior Josh Rieger and freshman Cooper Moore will once again be inserted into the lineup on defense. Moore’s first collegiate game was one week ago against Western Michigan (one assist). Rieger has appeared in 36 games over his four seasons at North Dakota, with one goal, three assists, and 26 penalty minutes, including two minor penalties against Denver and one against SCSU. Moore is growing into his role on the back end, and it has definitely helped both of them that head coach Brad Berry has split them up for the past two games (they played together on the third d-pair on Tuesday vs. Denver). As fellow blueliner Ethan Frisch sustained an injury (undisclosed) against St. Cloud State yesterday, I expect both Moore and Rieger to log more minutes against the Broncos.
There are three games scheduled at Baxter Arena today: Minnesota Duluth will face off in the first game today (12:05 p.m.), with UND and WMU scheduled for 4:05 p.m. St. Cloud State and Omaha will play the third game of the day at 8:05 p.m.
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: 8-2 win vs. Western Michigan
Pod Game #4: 2-3 loss vs. Denver
Pod Game #5: 2-2 tie/shootout loss vs. Minnesota Duluth
Pod Game #6: 3-5 loss vs. St. Cloud State
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.
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).
This season, North Dakota certainly misses (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, but 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 seems strange 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 six pod games. 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.
Western Michigan Broncos
Head Coach: Andy Murray (10th season at WMU, 159-147-41, .517)
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, 119-59-24, .649)
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: December 6, 2020 (Omaha, NE). North Dakota’s Grant Mismash and Shane Pinto scored two goals apiece and four other Fighting Hawks lit the lamp in an 8-2 shellacking of Western Michigan. UND erupted for four goals in the first period and outshot the Broncos 18-2 in the opening frame, chasing netminder Austin Cain after twenty minutes of play. On the other side of the ice, senior Peter Thome made 16 saves for the Green and White.
Last Meeting Outside Of The Pod: February 29, 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 24 of the 31 games (24-7-0, .774). 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 35-20 over that stretch of games. UND has had a clean sweep in the past five, with a scoring margin of 22-6.
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. UND senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (32-66-98 in 114 games) is two points shy of reaching 100 points in his North Dakota career. Western Michigan has been outscored 11-4 in third periods this season. In this year’s unbalanced schedule, that will be the last time that the two teams tangle in the regular season.
North Dakota bench boss Brad Berry will need to carefully manage minutes this afternoon, particularly in the fourth game of the week with only five healthy defensemen. The Fighting Hawks never trailed in their first game against the Broncos, and that’s the recipe for success today. 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 5, Western Michigan 2.
Sunday 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.
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!