UND Game Preview: NCHC Pod Game #8 vs. St. Cloud State

North Dakota did not come out with enough effort in its first pod matchup with St. Cloud State, took too long to establish a forecheck, and fell 5-3 to the Huskies. Today’s tilt will be UND’s only opportunity to even the score, as the two teams will not meet during the remainder of the regular season.

Before taking a closer look at today’s game, here’s a look back at the past few seasons for each squad….

St. Cloud State entered the 2019 NCAA tournament as the #1 overall seed and with an overall record of 30-5-3. The Huskies quickly ran into a buzzkill – literally – as the swarming Yellow Jackets of #19 American International shocked the college hockey world and dispatched SCSU by a final score of 2-1. That defeat would be just the sixth loss for Brett Larson’s crew in his first season behind the St. Cloud State bench.

Fast forward one season, and the Huskies went just 13-15-6 (.471).

After winning the Penrose Cup in the inaugural season of the new league (2013-14) with an overall record of 22-11-5 (.645), St. Cloud State made the NCAA tournament again in 2014-15 with a relatively pedestrian mark of 20-19-1 (.512). At the end of that season, SCSU had the unfortunate circumstance of facing and falling to North Dakota in the West Regional final (Fargo, ND), a virtual home game for the Green and White.

SCSU captured the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship and another NCAA tourney bid in 2015-16 with a sparkling record of 31-9-1 (.768) but unfortunately suffered an overtime loss in the opening round of the national tournament. St. Cloud State, the top seed in the NCAA West Regional (Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, MN), rallied to tie #18 Ferris State in the third period, but the Bulldogs scored just 18 seconds into the extra session to knock off the Huskies (who were ranked #2 in the country heading into the NCAAs) by a final of 5-4.

North Dakota ended St. Cloud State’s 2016-17 campaign with a home sweep in the first round of the NCHC playoffs. UND cruised 5-2 in the opener before besting the Huskies in a 6-5 overtime thriller. As I have said before, we have come to expect close matchups in NCHC playoff games played on Saturdays (and often Sundays), as the visiting team is almost always playing to extend their season.

The 2017-2018 campaign brought more playoff agony for the Huskies, as head coach Bob Motzko brought the NCHC regular-season champions (24-9-6) into the NCAA West Regional (Sioux Falls, SD) to face Air Force (22-14-5) in the opening round. Blake Lizotte got St. Cloud State within one with 2:51 remaining in the contest, but two empty-net goals sealed the deal for the Falcons, who got 39 saves from netminder Billy Christopoulos. It was only the second time since the tournament expanded to sixteen teams that the top overall seed lost their first game.

And unfortunately for St. Cloud State, they duplicated that feat in the 2019 NCAA tournament by dropping their opening game to #19 American International as the #1 overall seed, bringing an abrupt end to a fantastic season. Head coach Brett Larson compiled a sparkling record of 30-6-3 in his first campaign.

Both North Dakota and St. Cloud State posted historically good records in 2015-16. Thirty-win seasons are extremely rare in today’s college hockey landscape, with more parity and more ties taking away the opportunity to rack up victories. Since I started traveling to St. Cloud for the UND/SCSU games back in 1998, the Fighting Sioux/Hawks and the Huskies have both reached the 30-victory plateau on multiple occasions. Remarkably, St. Cloud State posted identical marks of 31-9-1 (.768) in milestone seasons (2001 and 2016).

1997-98 North Dakota (30-8-1)
1998-99 North Dakota (32-6-2)
1999-00 North Dakota (31-8-5)
2000-01 St. Cloud State (31-9-1)
2003-04 North Dakota (30-8-3)
2010-11 North Dakota (32-9-3)
2015-16 North Dakota (34-6-4)
2015-16 St. Cloud State (31-9-1)
2018-19 St. Cloud State (30-6-3)

For more on the rarity and importance of a thirty-win season, follow this link.

Incidentally, the 2019-2020 North Dakota Fighting Hawks (26-5-4) were ahead of the pace set by the 2015-2016 team, and, had the season continued, UND fans could have definitely seen another 30-win season from the Green and White.

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).

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. So far, the Bulldogs (17 points in 7 games played) have come out on top, with the Huskies (12 points in 6 games) and Fighting Hawks (12 points in 7 games) not far behind. Denver (10 points in 7 games) has lost to each of the other three teams in the top four of the preseason poll, but the Pios found redemption with a narrow victory over UND last Tuesday afternoon.

As North Dakota will not face Minnesota Duluth or St. Cloud State in the second half of the year, tonight’s matchup with the Huskies and Saturday’s noon tilt with the Bulldogs will go a long way toward determining the 2020-2021 Penrose Cup championship.

After UND and SCSU played on Saturday, both teams suited up for Sunday games before having the past couple of days off. St. Cloud State was blanked by Omaha (2-0) despite outshooting the Mavericks 41-21. North Dakota handled Western Michigan 6-3, although the Broncos came back from a 3-0 deficit and brought the game to within a goal five minutes into the third period. Thankfully for fans of the Green and White, freshman phenom Riese Gaber (five goals in seven games) answered 27 seconds later to double UND’s lead, and Brad Berry’s squad never looked back.

It’s been a tale of two game scripts for North Dakota in the Omaha pod.

In its win over Miami and two victories against Western Michigan, the Fighting Hawks never trailed while leading for nearly 127 of 180 game minutes.

UND had to chase the game far too often in its more competitive games (Denver twice, Minnesota Duluth, and St. Cloud State), holding the lead for less than six minutes combined while trailing for over 144 minutes of game action.

Playing with the lead allows North Dakota to settle in and use the entire lineup, thereby easing the burden on its top two lines and top three defensemen.

Although 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, the team returned 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, St. Cloud State returned nearly 70 percent of its goal scoring from last season, led by senior F Easton Brodzinski (12-15-27), junior F Sam Hentges (7-17-24), junior F Micah Miller (7-11-18), sophomore F Jami Krannila (5-9-14), senior F Kevin Fitzgerald (5-7-12), junior F Nolan Walker (2-10-12), junior D Nick Perbix (4-11-15), and junior D Spencer Meier (4-6-10).

The problem is that the Huskies only scored 94 goals last season (UND scored 135).

North Dakota rookie defensemen Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven will not appear in today’s contest, having made the final roster for the 2021 U.S. National Junior Team competing in the World Junior Championships (December 25th, 2020 through January 5th, 2021). The team arrived into the Edmonton bubble late Sunday evening, immediately traveling from the plane to the hotel. Team USA views the four-day quarantine period as an opportunity to make the team better and bring them closer together before competition begins one week from Friday.

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 ten days ago against Western Michigan (one assist). Rieger has appeared in 37 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 (sophomore) sustained an upper-body injury against St. Cloud State on Saturday, I expect both Moore and Rieger to log plenty of minutes against the Huskies.

UND head coach Brad Berry has not ruled out Frisch’s return for today’s game, and is clear that the sophomore blueliner from Moorhead, Minnesota is certainly closer to returning than either of UND’s injured forwards (Harrison Blaisdell and Judd Caulfield).

Each team’s first seven NCHC pod games have given us a glimpse of what we can expect in the last week of the pod and during the second half of the season.

#1 North Dakota blanked Miami 2-0 to open up their pod schedule, followed that up with a 4-3 overtime victory over #4 Denver, boat raced #17 Western Michigan 8-2, fell 3-2 to the Pioneers in last Tuesday’s rematch, took #3 Minnesota Duluth to overtime on Thursday, lost to #13 St. Cloud State by a final of 5-3, and handled WMU on Sunday (6-2).

#13 St. Cloud State got off to a fast start in the pod, downing #17 Western Michigan (4-3), #4 Denver (4-3), and Omaha (5-3). However, the Huskies suffered two close defeats last week, dropping a 2-1 decision to WMU and a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Omaha Mavericks.

For SCSU, senior David Hrenak (4-3-1, 2.77 GAA, .912 SV%) has been solid in the pod so far, and last Wednesday’s loss to the Broncos was certainly not on him (30 saves on 32 shots). Sophomore goaltender Jaxon Castor (1-0-0, 3.00 GAA, .889 SV%) got the start against Omaha, but I can’t imagine that it’s not Hrenak’s crease this evening.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (3-1-1, 2.18 GAA, .912 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 UND’s loss to St. Cloud State after Thome allowed four goals on 18 shots in 33 minutes of action. With their results so far and another two days off after today’s contest, I would expect Scheel (3-1-0, 1.58 GAA, .931 SV% in his career against SCSU) to start against St. Cloud State (Wednesday) and Minnesota Duluth (Saturday), with Thome in line to play on Sunday against the Miami RedHawks.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and St. Cloud State has nine players who meet that threshold: senior forward Kevin Fitzgerald (3-2-5), junior defenseman Nick Perbix (2-3-5), junior forward Sam Hentges (2-2-4), sophomore forward Jami Krannila (2-2-4), senior forward Easton Brodzinski (2-2-4), junior forward Nolan Walker (1-3-4), freshman forward Veeti Miettinen (1-3-4), sophomore forward Zach Okabe (1-2-3 in five games), and sophomore defenseman Ondrej Trejbal (0-2-2 in four games).

By that same measure, ten North Dakota players make the list: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (3-7-10), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (2-7-9), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (2-5-7), senior forward Grant Mismash (3-4-7), freshman forward Riese Gaber (5-1-6), senior forward Collin Adams (1-4-5), sophomore defenseman Ethan Frisch (1-2-3 in six games), freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (1-2-3), sophomore forward Brendan Budy, and junior forward Jasper Weatherby (2-2-4). Kawaguchi is the only NCHC player to notch at least one point in each of his team’s games in the Omaha pod.

Although the Fighting Hawks will sorely miss freshman blueliners Jake Sanderson (1-2-3 in three games) and Tyler Kleven (1-0-1 in three games) for the remainder of their games in the Omaha pod, they will certainly contend for the highest-scoring defensive unit in the country.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After seven games, the Fighting Hawks are ninth in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (24.7) and are sixth in the nation in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 57.1%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 57.8%

By comparison, the Huskies are 33rd in both Corsi (46.7%) and Fenwick (48.5%), averaging 30.3 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 32.3/game) while allowing 28.8 shots on goal against/contest.

To St. Cloud’s credit, they have made up for a lack of puck possession by blocking a ton of shots this season. Through their first six games, SCSU has blocked 98 shots (16.3/game). By comparison, North Dakota has only blocked 80 shots in its seven games (11.4/game).

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot. The Fighting Hawks are third in the nation in faceoff win percentage at 59.9 percent, while the Huskies are 29th (48.3%) among the 47 men’s college hockey teams to have played at least one game this season.

Leading the way in the faceoff circle for North Dakota have been Shane Pinto (66.1%, 20th in the country), Jasper Weatherby (61.9%, 32nd in the country), Collin Adams (55.6%), and Mark Senden (51.0%). St. Cloud State will counter with Will Hammer (55.7%), Sam Hentges (53.0%). Nolan Walker (45.6%), and Jami Krannila (36.6%).

The Huskies (10.4%) and Fighting Hawks (12.0%) are both scoring on a high percentage of their shots on goal, good for 17th and 10th in the country.

Up to this point in the season, here is the specialty teams ledger and team offense/defense for each side:

St. Cloud State team offense: 3.17 goals scored/game
St. Cloud State team defense: 2.67 goals allowed/game
St. Cloud State power play: 2 of 17, 11.8 percent
St. Cloud State penalty kill: 23 of 25, 92.0 percent

North Dakota team offense: 3.86 goals scored/game
North Dakota team defense: 2.57 goals allowed/game
North Dakota power play: 9 of 31, 29.0 percent
North Dakota penalty kill: 24 of 31, 77.4 percent

UND’s scoring margin of 27-18 through seven games looks impressive, but a look inside the numbers reveals that the Fighting Hawks outscored Western Michigan 14-5 in two victories and played its other five opponents even (13 goals for, 13 goals against).

UND went scoreless on five man-advantage situations against St. Cloud State on Saturday, 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 (and has not scored one since). 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 the 5-3 loss.

After seven games in the first twelve days of the pod (December 2nd-13th), North Dakota will only play three games over the last seven days of the pod. This was done so that UND’s student-athletes would have more off-days during finals week.

After today’s tilt with the Huskies, the Fighting Hawks will not face SCSU during the remainder of the regular season. 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.

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: 6-3 win vs. Western Michigan

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.)

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

St. Cloud State Huskies

Head Coach: Brett Larson (3rd season at SCSU, 47-23-9, .652)

2019-20 Season Results: 13-15-6 overall, 10-12-2-1 NCHC (5th)

2019-20 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.76 goals scored/game
(29th in the nation)

Team Defense: 3.18 goals allowed/game
(48th in the nation)

Power Play: 18.1% (21 of 116)
(34th in the nation)

Penalty Kill: 79.1% (91 of 115)
(43rd in the nation)

Key graduation losses: F Nick Poehling (8-18-26), F Jack Poehling (9-11-20), F Jake Wahlin (4-8-12), D Jack Ahcan (7-18-25)

Key returning players: Senior F Easton Brodzinski (12-15-27), Junior F Sam Hentges (7-17-24), Junior F Micah Miller (7-11-18), Sophomore F Jami Krannila (5-9-14), Senior F Kevin Fitzgerald (5-7-12), Junior F Nolan Walker (2-10-12), Junior D Nick Perbix (4-11-15), Junior D Spencer Meier (4-6-10), Senior G David Hrenak (12-11-6, 2.76 GAA, .906 SV%, 2 SO)

Additions: Senior F Jared Cockrell (23-29-52 in 112 games over four seasons at Colgate, including an injury-shortened seven-game season in 2018-19), Senior D Seamus Donohue (7-48-55 in 117 games over three seasons at Michigan Tech)

Potential impact freshmen: F Veeti Miettinen, F Joe Molenaar, D Brady Ziemer

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 120-59-24, .650) – check record

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 12, 2020 (Omaha, NE). Brendan Budy’s goal drew North Dakota even at two goals apiece early in the second period, but St. Cloud State rattled off two goals in less than two minutes midway through the middle frame. The teams traded goals in the third period, highlighted by a penalty shot marker from UND’s Grant Mismash. The Fighting Hawks outshot the Huskies 36-30.

Last Meeting Outside Of The Pod: February 22nd, 2020 (St. Cloud, MN). In the last college hockey game I watched in person, St. Cloud’s Jack Poehling broke a 1-1 tie six minutes into the third period and the Huskies made it hold up despite being outshot 13-5 in the final frame and 30-19 for the game. One night earlier, the teams skated to a 3-3 tie before St. Cloud State notched the extra league point with a shootout win.

Most Important Meeting: NCAA West Regional Final in Fargo, ND (March 28, 2015). North Dakota scored three unassisted goals over the final two periods of the hockey game to defeat St. Cloud State 4-1 in the West Regional Final and advance to the NCAA Frozen Four. Jimmy Murray got the Huskies on the board less than 90 seconds in to the hockey game, but that did nothing to quiet the partisan crowd of 5,307 at SCHEELS Arena. Four different players scored for UND, while Zane McIntyre made 19 stops to earn his 29th and final victory of the season.

All-Time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series, 74-46-15 (.604). Aside from their 2015 and 2018 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal victories, the Huskies also defeated North Dakota in the 2001 WCHA Final Five championship game. The teams have been squaring off regularly since the 1989-90 season, but have only met once in the NCAA tournament (2015).

Last Ten: SCSU has won five of the last ten meetings between the teams, with two others ending in ties. Each team has scored 26 goals over that stretch of games. Five of the last ten meetings have gone to overtime.

Game News and Notes

St. Cloud State has won the regular season league title four times over the past seven seasons (WCHA 2012-13; NCHC 2013-14, 2017-18, & 2018-19). UND senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (32-67-99 in 115 games) is one point shy of reaching 100 points in his North Dakota career. SCSU has made the national tournament 13 times in the past twenty seasons, with one Frozen Four appearance (2013). North Dakota’s 27 goals have come from 14 different players. In this year’s unbalanced schedule, this will be the last time that the two teams tangle in the regular season.

The Prediction

It will take a stronger start for North Dakota to come out on top in this one. Both teams should be rested and ready, with a slight depth edge to St. Cloud State unless Ethan Frisch can return to the lineup for the Fighting Hawks. Five of the last ten tilts between these two squads have gone to overtime, and I feel like we’re in for another one tonight. I don’t like shootouts, but I think that the Green and White will end it before we get there. UND 4, SCSU 3 (OT).

Broadcast Information

Wednesday 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.

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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