With all of the ties and shootouts and overtime winners as well as the disparity in each team’s number of games played in the Omaha pod, it can be difficult to get a handle on who is ahead in the NCHC standings. The best way I have found is to look at the average number of points earned by each squad.
With that as our guide, here’s the leaderboard (three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime or shootout win, and one point for an overtime or shootout loss):
Minnesota Duluth 2.25 (18 points in 8 games)
St. Cloud State 1.88 (15 points in 8 games)
Omaha 1.78 (16 points in 9 games)
North Dakota 1.75 (14 points in 8 games)
Colorado College 1.50 (9 points in 6 games)
Denver 1.25 (10 points in 8 games)
Miami 0.88 (7 points in 8 games)
Western Michigan 0.78 (7 points in 9 games)
Points are critical when the puck drops at noon today, as North Dakota could draw within one point of the first-place Bulldogs with a regulation win or drop as many as seven points back with a loss. This is doubly important because the two teams will not meet in the second half of the season.
After today’s tilt, UND will face off against Miami tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. to close out the first half.
The Bulldogs and Fighting Hawks played to a 2-2 tie back on December 10th, with the teams going scoreless through the 3-on-3 overtime session and UMD winning the shootout 1-0 behind a goal from Nick Swaney.
Before we dig into today’s matchup, let’s take a look back at the past couple of seasons…
March 17th, 2018. Xcel Energy Center. St. Paul, Minnesota. North Dakota and Minnesota Duluth square off in the third-place game of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff with NCAA tournament hopes hanging in the balance. UND defeats the Bulldogs 4-1, and both teams are left to play the waiting game.
According to twincities.com:
After losing to the Fighting Hawks, UMD needed a win by either Clarkson or Providence to clinch an NCAA tournament berth. Both teams lost, leaving just one obscure scenario remaining for Duluth to continue playing.
Notre Dame’s overtime goal against Ohio State just before 10:00 p.m. (on St. Patrick’s Day) was the exclamation point on that scenario, forcing a tie between the Bulldogs and Minnesota for 12th in the Pairwise rankings — the formula used to select at-large teams and seed the 16-team field.
Notre Dame’s win gave the Bulldogs the tiebreaker for 12th in the Pairwise as UMD’s Ratings Percentage Index — a part of the Pairwise formula — was one ten-thousandth of a point (.0001) higher than the Gophers.
Typically, finishing 13th or 14th in the Pairwise gets a team into the tournament, but not that season, as No. 13 Minnesota and No. 14 North Dakota learned. Because four teams — Air Force (Atlantic Hockey), Michigan Tech (WCHA), Boston University (Hockey East) and Princeton (ECAC) — instead of the usual one or two from outside the bubble won their conference tournament for an automatic bid, that meant No. 12 was the cutoff for at-large teams.
With that unfortunate news, North Dakota saw its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances come to an end, while Duluth took advantage of its program-record fourth straight tourney bid, winning four consecutive one-goal games to claim the program’s second national title:
Minnesota Duluth 3, Minnesota State 2 (OT)
Minnesota Duluth 2, Air Force 1
Minnesota Duluth 2, Ohio State 1
Minnesota Duluth 2, Notre Dame 1
Before UND’s victory at the 2018 NCHC Frozen Faceoff, Scott Sandelin’s crew had won eight consecutive games against the Green and White. That losing streak for North Dakota was the longest against one team since Wisconsin won nine in a row from 1987-89.
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 winning its second consecutive national title (and third in team history) in 2019, the Bulldogs were picked to finish first in the NCHC and capture the program’s first-ever Penrose Cup last season. Things looked to be on schedule for UMD, as they took a 7-1-2 record into St. Cloud. The Huskies earned a home sweep over Duluth (2-1, 2-0) to send the Bulldogs home reeling. North Dakota, which held a three-point lead over Scott Sandelin’s crew before those games, took five of six points at Miami to extend its lead to eight points over Duluth and nine points over Denver. UND never looked back, securing the program’s third Penrose Cup (2015, 2016) with a conference record of 17-4-3-2.
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 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, Minnesota Duluth returned nearly 80 percent of its goal scoring from last season, led by Junior F Cole Koepke (16-17-33), Junior F Noah Cates (14-19-33), Senior F Nick Swaney (12-14-26), Junior F Jackson Cates (9-11-20), Senior F Kobe Roth (13-8-21), Junior F Tanner Laderoute (8-8-16), and sophomore F Quinn Olson (7-8-15).
The only thing that I see separating these teams right now is that North Dakota mostly avoided the early departure bug while Duluth lost forward Justin Richards (14-11-25, left one year early) and defensemen Scott Perunovich (6-34-30, left one year early) and Dylan Samberg (1-20-21, left one year early).
Of particular concern for the Bulldogs is that the absence of Perunovich and Samberg means that they return only two goals and eight 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.
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 viewed the four-day quarantine period as an opportunity to make the team better and bring them closer together before competition begins on 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 thirteen days ago against Western Michigan (one assist). Rieger has appeared in 38 games over his four seasons at North Dakota, with one goal, three assists, and 31 penalty minutes, including two minor penalties against Denver, one minor in game one against SCSU, and a major penalty for boarding in Wednesday’s rematch with the Huskies. 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 eight days ago, 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).
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 nine pod games. The 2018 second-round pick of the Ottawa Senators has notched a goal and an assist this season, with both points coming against Western Michigan.
Each team’s first eight 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 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, handled WMU on Sunday (6-2), and scored eight seconds into overtime in Wednesday’s rematch with the Huskies.
After a perfect 4-0 start in the pod, Duluth has earned just six conference points in its past four games, with a shootout win over North Dakota, a 4-1 victory over Denver, a 4-1 loss to Colorado College, and a shootout loss to Omaha.
For the Bulldogs, sophomore Ryan Fanti (4-1-2, 2.23 GAA, .919 SV%) has been one of the stories of the pod so far, serving as a more-than-adequate replacement for all-everything netminder Hunter Shepard (22-10-2, 2.18 GAA, .918 SV%, 2 shutouts last season). Freshman goaltender Zach Stejskal (1-0-0, 2.00 GAA, .920 SV%) has started one game for Duluth this season, but I can’t imagine that it’s not Fanti’s crease today.
Junior netminder Adam Scheel (4-1-1, 2.30 GAA, .909 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 two days off since the Fighting Hawks’ last contest, I would expect Scheel (1-1-1, 2.84 GAA, .906 SV% in his career against UMD) to start against Minnesota Duluth today, 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 Scott Sandelin’s squad has ten players who meet that threshold: senior forward Nick Swaney (3-9-12), senior forward Kobe Roth (5-2-7), junior forward Cole Koepke (3-4-7), junior forward Noah Cates (2-5-7), junior forward Jackson Cates (3-2-5), senior forward Koby Bender (2-2-4), senior defenseman Matt Cairns (0-4-4), freshman defenseman Wyatt Kaiser (0-4-4), freshman forward Luke Mylymok (0-1-1 in two games), and junior defenseman Jake Rosenbaum (0-1-1 in two games).
By that same measure, eleven North Dakota players make the list: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (4-8-12), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (3-8-11), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (2-6-8), senior forward Grant Mismash (3-4-7), freshman forward Riese Gaber (5-1-6), senior forward Collin Adams (2-4-6), freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (1-2-3 in three games), junior forward Jasper Weatherby (2-3-5), sophomore defenseman Ethan Frisch (1-2-3 in six games), sophomore forward Brendan Budy (2-2-4), and junior forward Mark Senden (1-3-4).
Kawaguchi is the only NCHC player to notch at least one point in each of his team’s games in the Omaha pod. UND’s 31 goals this season have been scored by fifteen different players.
Minnesota Duluth’s Noah Cates and Cole Koepke were two of six players named to the NCHC Preseason All-Conference Team along with UND’s Jordan Kawaguchi, Jacob Bernard-Docker, and Matt Kiersted and Denver netminder Magnus Chrona.
It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After eight games, the Fighting Hawks are seventh the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (25.0) and seventh in two key puck possession statistics:
Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 55.6%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 57.2%
By comparison, the Bulldogs are 20th in both Corsi (52.3%) and 20th Fenwick (52.3%), averaging 31.6 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 30.9/game) while allowing 27.8 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 59.2 percent, while the Bulldogs are 30th in the nation at 47.9%. To this point of the season, 48 men’s Division I college hockey teams have played at least one game.
Leading the way in the faceoff circle for North Dakota have been Shane Pinto (66.7%, 10th in the country), Jasper Weatherby (59.7%), Collin Adams (54.5%), and Mark Senden (49.1%). Minnesota Duluth will counter with Noah Cates (53.5%), Jackson Cates (47.1%), and Jesse Jacques (45.5%).
The Fighting Hawks (12.6%) and Bulldogs (9.9%) are both scoring on a high percentage of their shots on goal, good for 9th and 23rd in the country.
Through eight games, here is the specialty teams ledger and team offense/defense for each side:
Minnesota Duluth team offense: 3.13 goals scored/game
Minnesota Duluth team defense: 2.25 goals allowed/game
Minnesota Duluth power play: 7 of 31, 22.6 percent
Minnesota Duluth penalty kill: 26 of 32, 81.2 percent
North Dakota team offense: 3.88 goals scored/game
North Dakota team defense: 2.63 goals allowed/game
North Dakota power play: 10 of 35, 28.6 percent
North Dakota penalty kill: 27 of 34, 79.4 percent
UND’s scoring margin of 31-21 through eight 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 almost even (17 goals for, 16 goals against).
After seven games in the first twelve days of the pod (December 2nd-13th), North Dakota will only play three games this week (Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday). This was done so that UND’s student-athletes would have more off-days during finals week.
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.
North Dakota will open up the second half of the season back in Omaha on Thursday, December 31st, 2020 and Friday, January 1st, 2021, ringing in the new year with a pair of league games against the Mavericks. UNO will head to Grand Forks the following weekend for two more games (January 8th and 9th).
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: 4-3 overtime win vs. St. Cloud State
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.
Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs
Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (21st season at UMD, 396-322-91, .546)
2019-20 Season Results: 22-10-2 overall, 17-5-2-0 NCHC (2nd)
2019-20 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.35 goals scored/game
(10th in the nation)
Team Defense: 2.26 goals allowed/game
(12th in the nation)
Power Play: 25.4% (34 of 134)
(9th in the nation)
Penalty Kill: 81.9% (104 of 127)
(27th in the nation)
Key graduation losses: F Jade Miller (2-7-9), D Nick Wolff (0-10-10), G Hunter Shepard (22-10-2, 2.18 GAA, .918 SV%, 2 SO)
Departures: D Scott Perunovich (6-34-30, left one year early), F Justin Richards (14-11-25, left one year early), D Dylan Samberg (1-20-21, left one year early)
Key returning players: Junior F Cole Koepke (16-17-33), Junior F Noah Cates (14-19-33), Senior F Nick Swaney (12-14-26), Junior F Jackson Cates (8-15-23), Senior F Kobe Roth (13-8-21), Junior F Tanner Laderoute (8-8-16), Senior D Louie Roehl (2-3-5)
Additions: Senior D Matt Cairns (3-3-6 in 61 games over three seasons at Cornell)
Potential impact freshmen: F Blake Biondi, F Luke Mylymok, D Connor Kelley, D Darian Gotz, D Wyatt Kaiser, G Zach Stejskal
North Dakota Fighting Hawks
Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 121-59-24, .652)
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 10, 2020 (Omaha, NE). The Bulldogs struck seven minutes in on a goal by Jesse Jacques, and that lead held up for more than 25 minutes of game action. North Dakota’s Riese Gaber and Shane Pinto gave UND the lead, but it only held for four minutes. The two teams played a scoreless 3-on-3 overtime session before UMD won the shootout 1-0. Minnesota Duluth outshot the Fighting Hawks 32-28.
Last Meeting Outside The Pod: January 25th, 2020 (Duluth, MN). The score was 1-0 in UND’s favor after two periods thanks to Westin Michaud’s tally. Early in the third, Duluth’s Scott Perunovich assisted on the tying goal and scored the go-ahead goal. The Fighting Hawks stormed back with two markers of their own (Matt Kiersted, Jonny Tychonick) to claim the road victory. One night earlier, the Bulldogs prevailed 7-4 behind two goals from Kobe Roth. North Dakota led that game 3-1 early in the second period before the floodgates opened. The teams did not play in Grand Forks last season.
Most Important Meeting: March 22, 1984 (Lake Placid, NY) Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota met in the national semifinal game, with the Bulldogs defeating the Fighting Sioux 2-1 in overtime to advance to the championship. UND went on to defeat Michigan State 6-5 (OT) for third place, while Duluth fell to Bowling Green 5-4 in four overtimes, the longest championship game ever played.
The Meeting That Never Was: Both teams advanced to the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four at Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minnesota). UND could not get past Michigan, falling 2-0 despite outshooting the Wolverines 40-20. In the other national semifinal, Minnesota-Duluth defeated Notre Dame 4-3 and rode that momentum to the title game. The Bulldogs took the Wolverines to overtime before senior forward Kyle Schmidt scored the game winner and earned UMD their first national championship. North Dakota won two of the three games against Duluth that season, outscoring Scott Sandelin’s team 11-5.
All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 148-86-11 (.627). The teams first met in 1954, with North Dakota winning the first ten games between the schools by a combined score of 72-16. UMD’s first win over the Fighting Sioux (a 3-2 road victory on December 18th, 1959) did not sit well with the defending national champions. UND defeated Duluth 13-2 the following night.
Last Ten: Minnesota Duluth is 5-4-1 (.550) in the last ten games between the teams, outscoring the Hawks 32-26 over that stretch. Seven of the past ten contests have taken place in the state of Minnesota, with the Bulldogs winning four times.
Game News and Notes
Both head coaches this weekend are alumni of the University of North Dakota; Brad Berry (1983-86) and Scott Sandelin (1982-86) both played for UND under John “Gino” Gasparini. Sandelin is four victories away from 400 career wins.In 2015, Boston University defeated both Minnesota-Duluth (3-2) and North Dakota (5-3) in the NCAA tournament on their way to the championship game. The Terriers fell 4-3 to the Providence Friars, one win short of a national title. With an assist and the overtime winner against St. Cloud State, UND senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (33-68-101 in 116 games) became the 86th member of North Dakota’s Century Club (100 career points). Kawaguchi has nine points in his ten career games against UMD. In this year’s unbalanced schedule, this will be the last time that the two teams tangle in the regular season.
Goaltending and special teams will be key in this one (as they so often are). The absence of Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven on the back end makes a huge difference for North Dakota as they try to match up against Minnesota Duluth’s forward depth, and until I see if Frisch can play today, I’m giving the edge to the Bulldogs. The Fighting Hawks’ best chance is to get pucks in deep, establish the cycle, and outwork UMD down low. This one could go either way, but I’m predicting a narrow victory for the Green and White, with an empty netter for the final margin. UND 4, Minnesota Duluth 2.
Saturday’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.
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!