With all of the ties, shootouts, late-game heroics, 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.
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 2.00 (18 points in 9 games)
North Dakota 1.89 (17 points in 9 games)
St. Cloud State 1.88 (15 points in 8 games)
Omaha 1.78 (16 points in 9 games)
Colorado College 1.57 (11 points in 7 games)
Denver 1.33 (12 points in 9 games)
Miami 0.89 (8 points in 9 games)
Western Michigan 0.80 (8 points in 10 games)
Way back on December 2nd, these two teams met in the first pod game for either side. North Dakota blanked Miami 2-0 and put 39 shots on goal. Unfortunately for the RedHawks, that’s been the case far too frequently, as Chris Bergeron’s squad has only scored 13 goals all season (nine games, 1.44 goals/game) and has been outshot 309-196. Goaltending has kept things close (more on that later), but Miami has scored more than one goal in a game just three times this year.
By comparison, North Dakota has scored at least two goals in every contest this year, averaging 3.67 goals/game (33 goals in nine games).
UND played Minnesota Duluth at noon yesterday, outlasting a tough Bulldogs squad by scoring the game winner with 48 seconds remaining. Eight hours later, Miami and Colorado College went to overtime, with the Tigers gaining the extra league point with a shootout victory.
After today’s tilt, North Dakota will head into break until Thursday, December 31st.
Over the first seven seasons of the NCHC, Miami has averaged worse than a sixth-place finish (8th, 2nd, 5th, 7th, 8th, 8th, 7th), with a combined league record of 50-100-18 (.351).
By comparison, North Dakota has finished 2nd, 1st, 1st, 4th, 4th, 5th, and 1st, for an average finish somewhere between 2nd and 3rd place and a combined league record of 98-56-14 (.625). The only other league member to collect as many conference wins as UND is St. Cloud State (98).
When the National Collegiate Hockey Conference was formed, Miami appeared positioned to be a dominant program. Prior to the 2013-14 season (their inaugural campaign in the NCHC), the RedHawks had made eight consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, with consecutive Frozen Four bids in 2009 (2nd) and 2010 (3rd). Since joining the NCHC, Miami has just one NCAA tournament appearance (2015), and that ended quickly with a first-round loss to eventual national champion Providence.
Long-tenured head coach Enrico Blasi was fired after posting a fourth consecutive losing season in 2018-2019. Over that stretch of time, the RedHawks were 47-81-19 (.384). There is reason for optimism in Oxford, however, with new bench boss Chris Bergeron (8-21-5 last season in Miami) taking over the program after leading Bowling Green to six consecutive winning seasons, five consecutive years with twenty or more victories, and an NCAA tournament appearance in 2018-2019.
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 Minnesota Duluth 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).
Miami also returns 68 percent of its goal scoring (63 of 92 goals) from last season, but the problem for the RedHawks is that they didn’t score a lot in 2019-20 (2.71 goals per game, 32nd in the nation). To make matters worse for Chris Bergeron’s team, the fourth-worst defensive team in the country a year ago (3.74 goals allowed per game) now has to compete without goaltender Ryan Larkin (7-12-2, 3.47 GAA, .901 SV%, 3 shutouts last season; 37-62-16, 3.07 GAA, .901 SV%, and 8 shutouts in his collegiate career).
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 one week ago, and the international competition begins on Friday. Sanderson and Kleven are also expected to miss UND’s first two games of the second half (at Omaha on December 31st and January 1st) but could return to action at Ralph Engelstad Arena the following weekend (also against Omaha).
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 two weeks ago against Western Michigan (one assist). Rieger has appeared in 39 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 definitely helped North Dakota to have Ethan Frisch back in the lineup on defense yesterday against UMD. Barring a setback, Brad Berry should be able to field six healthy defensemen for his team’s final foray in the pod.
Each team’s first nine NCHC pod games have given us a glimpse of what we can expect today and in 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 the rematch, took #3 Minnesota Duluth to overtime, lost to #13 St. Cloud State by a final of 5-3, handled WMU 6-2 one week ago, scored eight seconds into overtime in Wednesday’s rematch with the Huskies, and followed up those heroics with a final-minute winner in yesterday’s thrilling victory over the Bulldogs.
It’s been a struggle in the pod for the RedHawks, with only two victories (1-0 vs. Omaha and 3-0 vs. Denver). Miami also took Omaha to overtime in their other matchup (losing 17 seconds into overtime) and fell to the Colorado College Tigers in a shootout last night. In their five regulation losses, Miami has been outscored 20-7.
For the RedHawks, goaltender Ludvig Persson (2-2-1, 1.19 GAA, .962 SV%, 2 SO) has been a revelation, keeping the RedHawks in games despite the team being outshot 107-160 in his five starts. The freshman from Hindas, Sweden was at his best against Omaha on December 12th, with a 30-save shutout in a game his team won 1-0 despite putting only twelve shots on frame. Persson had been alternating starts with sophomore Ben Kraws (0-4-0, 3.30 GAA, .912 SV%), but Chris Bergeron has to go with the hot hand in today’s tilt against the Fighting Hawks.
Junior netminder Adam Scheel (5-1-1, 2.13 GAA, .915 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. Earlier this week, I mentioned that I expected Thome to get the start today against Miami, but the way Scheel is playing between the pipes has me thinking that Brad Berry may just stick with what’s working in the pod.
A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Chris Bergeron’s squad has just one player who meets that threshold: junior forward Matt Barry (2-3-5) scored Miami’s lone goal in yesterday’s 1-1 tie (shootout loss) with the Tigers.
By that same measure, eight North Dakota players make the list: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (4-8-12), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (3-9-12), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (2-7-9), senior forward Grant Mismash (4-4-8), freshman forward Riese Gaber (5-1-6), senior forward Collin Adams (3-5-8), freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (1-2-3 in three games), and junior forward Jasper Weatherby (2-3-5).
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 33 goals this season have been scored by fifteen different players.
It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After nine games, the Fighting Hawks are sixth in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (24.9) and 11th in two key puck possession statistics:
Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 54.4%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 56.4%
By comparison, the RedHawks are 44th in both Corsi (43.1%) and Fenwick (41.3%), averaging 21.8 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 29.6/game) while allowing 34.3 shots on goal against/contest.
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 58.2 percent, while the RedHawks are 23rd in the nation at 49.9%. To this point of the season, 49 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 (65.5%), Jasper Weatherby (58.8%), Collin Adams (53.4%), and Mark Senden (49.1%). Miami will counter with Monte Graham (56.1%), Ben Lown (53.5%), Casey Gilling (49.0%), and Matt Barry (48.0%).
The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.4 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 7th in the country. By contrast, the RedHawks are only lighting the lamp on 6.6% of their shots on goal (42nd).
Through nine games, here is the specialty teams ledger and team offense/defense for each side:
Miami team offense: 1.44 goals scored/game
Miami team defense: 2.56 goals allowed/game
Miami power play: 2 of 29, 6.9 percent
Miami penalty kill: 24 of 27, 88.9 percent
North Dakota team offense: 3.67 goals scored/game
North Dakota team defense: 2.44 goals allowed/game
North Dakota power play: 11 of 39, 28.2 percent
North Dakota penalty kill: 31 of 38, 81.6 percent
UND’s scoring margin of 33-22 through nine 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 seven opponents almost even (19 goals for, 17 goals against).
Through nine games, Miami has blocked 113 shots as a team, led by Jack Clement (15) and Bray Crowder (13). Three other RedHawks have blocked eight.
North Dakota has blocked 119 shots, with Jacob Bernard Docker and Matt Kiersted at 17 apiece and Gabe Bast in third place with 13.
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 play 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 and Friday, January 1st, 2021, facing the Mavericks for a pair of NCHC contests. 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: 2-1 win vs. Minnesota Duluth
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.
Head Coach: Chris Bergeron (2nd season at Miami, 10-27-5, .298)
2019-20 Season Results: 8-21-5 overall, 5-16-3-2 NCHC (7th)
2019-20 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.71 goals scored/game
(32nd in the nation)
Team Defense: 3.74 goals allowed/game
(57th in the nation)
Power Play: 23.9% (28 of 117)
(10th in the nation)
Penalty Kill: 75.4% (101 of 134)
(54th in the nation)
Key graduation losses: F Gordie Green (14-22-36), F Karch Bachman (10-21-31), D Grant Frederic (2-2-4), G Ryan Larkin (7-12-2, 3.47 GAA, .901 SV%, 3 SO)
Key returning players: Senior F Casey Gilling (9-22-31), Junior F Matt Barry (3-8-11 in 17 games), Sophomore F Ryan Savage (7-7-14), Sophomore F Chase Pletzke (6-8-14), Sophomore F John Sladic (7-6-13), Junior D Monte Graham (5-8-13), Senior D Phil Knies, Junior D Derek Daschke (10-13-23), Sophomore D Jack Clement (4-5-9), Junior D Bray Crowder (1-7-8), Sophomore G Ben Kraws (1-7-2, 4.12 GAA, .871 SV%)
Additions: Freshman F Joe Cassetti (0-2-2 in 14 games at Merrimack last season; he also put up 11-8-19 in 22 games last season with Waterloo [USHL]. In two previous seasons at Waterloo, Cassetti put together a line of 28-27-55 over 106 games. Prior to his USHL career, the left wing from Pleasanton, California was a member of the U.S. Under-17 and Under-18 teams.)
Potential impact freshmen: F Matthew Barbolini, D Hampus Rydqvist, D Robby Drazner, G Ludvig Persson
North Dakota Fighting Hawks
Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 122-59-24, .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: December 2, 2020 (Omaha, NE). Despite outshooting Miami 29-9 through the opening two periods, North Dakota held a tenuous 1-0 lead on a power play goal from Matt Kiersted. Enter Riese Gaber, playing in his first collegiate game. The freshman potted the only goal of the third period just 67 seconds into the final frame and UND made the lead hold up for a 2-0 victory. The teams played a relatively even final twenty minutes, with each squad mustering ten shots on goal. North Dakota won 39 of 67 faceoffs (58.2%).
Last Meeting Outside The Pod: January 18, 2020 (Oxford, Ohio). Miami led 2-0 midway through the first period before UND’s Judd Caulfield got the visitors on the board. The teams traded goals in the middle frame, and North Dakota’s Jordan Kawaguchi tied things up nearly five minutes into the third. Cole Smith put the Fighting Hawks ahead with just 64 seconds remaining, and Westin Michaud added an empty-netter 37 seconds later for a 5-3 win. One night earlier, the two teams skated to a 4-4 tie, with UND earning the extra league point with a shootout victory.
Most Important Meeting: March 6, 2015 (Oxford, OH). North Dakota claimed the Penrose Cup with a 2-1 road victory over Miami. UND fell flat the following night, losing 6-3 in the final game of the regular season.
Last Ten: UND has picked up five wins and three ties (5-2-3, .650) in the past ten contests between the teams, outscoring Miami 36-25 over that stretch of games. The RedHawks have not beaten North Dakota since November 10, 2018, a 3-2 home victory.
All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 18-7-4 (.690), including a 3-0-1 record last season and a 3-1 record at neutral sites. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).
Game News and Notes
In their careers against Miami, senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi has five goals and eleven assists in eleven games and senior defenseman Matt Kiersted has two goals and ten assists in nine games. With an assist and the overtime winner against St. Cloud State on Wednesday evening, Kawaguchi (33-69-102 in 117 games) became the 86th member of North Dakota’s Century Club (100 career points). In this year’s unbalanced schedule, this will be the last time that the two teams tangle in the regular season. Green Hawks are preferable to RedHawks.
It will be a shooting gallery tonight in the Omaha pod, and Miami will need freshman phenom Ludvig Persson to be at his best between the pipes if they’re going to have a shot at the end. If North Dakota already has its mental bags packed and overlooks the RedHawks, things could get interesting; however, there are enough veterans and leaders in the locker room that I don’t see that happening. The Fighting Hawks should roll in this one and head into the break feeling good about the first half of their season. UND 3, Miami 1.
Sunday 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!