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 and over the first few weeks of the second half, it can be difficult to get a handle on who is ahead in the conference 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 NCHC leaderboard (three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime or shootout win, and one point for an overtime or shootout loss)
1. St. Cloud State 2.08 (27 points in 13 games)
2. North Dakota 2.00 (20 points in 10 games)
3. Omaha 1.90 (19 points in 10 games)
4. Minnesota Duluth 1.62 (21 points in 13 games)
5. Colorado College 1.40 (14 points in 10 games)
6. Denver 1.25 (15 points in 12 games)
7. Miami 1.07 (15 points in 14 games)
8. Western Michigan 0.93 (13 points in 14 games)
#3 North Dakota (7-2-1) played all ten scheduled games in the Omaha pod, but it has not been smooth sailing to open the second half. UND has already had four games scratched against Omaha, with those games rescheduled for later this season. Not wanting two consecutive weekends off, the Fighting Hawks worked with the NCHC to squeeze in this unusual Sunday-Monday series in Colorado Springs in advance of its series at Denver on Friday and Saturday (January 15-16), but it remains to be seen whether the games against the Pioneers will go off without a hitch.
This will be UND’s last regular-season trip to World Arena, which is one of only a handful of Olympic ice sheets remaining in college hockey. The Tigers will move to an on-campus rink next season (Robson Arena), with an NHL ice surface and less than half of the number of seats.
North Dakota freshman defensemen Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven won gold with Team USA at the World Junior Championships and have been cleared to return to the UND lineup. Both blueliners played in three games before departing Omaha to play for their country.
After winning just twenty total games over his first three seasons behind the CC bench, head coach Mike Haviland won fifteen games (15-17-5) during the 2017-18 campaign and took Denver to three games in the first round of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs (2-0 W, 2-3 L, 1-6 L). Two seasons ago. Colorado College registered its most wins under Mike Haviland (17) and most since joining the NCHC. CC went 9-12-3-0 in league play and finished 6th in the league. Last year, however, the Tigers went just 11-20-3 overall and won only four games in the NCHC, finishing in last place.
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).
Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, freshman netminder Dominic Basse (3-3-1, 2.75 GAA, .894 SV%) has been steady as Colorado College sorts out its goaltending situation. Sophomore Matt Vernon got the majority of the starts for CC last year (8-16-3, 3.43 GAA, .901 SV%), but the sophomore from Calgary, Alberta has struggled mightily in the early going, going winless in four appearances (0-2-1) with a goals-against average of 4.70 and a save percentage of just .846.
Junior netminder Adam Scheel (6-1-1. 2.13 GAA, .913 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. I would expect Scheel to get the start tonight against the Tigers.
A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Mike Haviland’s squad has just four players who meet that threshold: sophomore forward Josiah Slavin (3-6-9), junior forward Grant Cruikshank (6-2-8), junior forward Ben Copeland (2-4-6), and freshman defenseman Jack Millar (2-4-6).
By that same measure, eleven North Dakota players make the list: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (5-8-13), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (3-10-13), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (2-7-9), senior forward Grant Mismash (4-6-10), freshman forward Riese Gaber (7-2-9), senior forward Collin Adams (4-5-9), freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (1-2-3 in three games), sophomore defenseman Ethan Frisch (2-3-5 in eight games), junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker (1-4-5), junior forward Jasper Weatherby (3-3-6), and junior forward Mark Senden (1-4-5).
Kawaguchi was the only NCHC player to notch at least one point in each of his team’s games in the Omaha pod. UND’s 39 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 ten games, the Fighting Hawks are third in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (24.7) and are in the top ten in two key puck possession statistics:
Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 54.7% (9th)
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 56.5% (5th)
By comparison, the Tigers are 37th in Corsi (46.4%) and 35th in Fenwick (46.9), averaging 28.1 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 30.5/game) while allowing 27.6 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 57.1 percent, while the Tigers are 38th in the nation at 46.7%. To this point of the season, 51 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 (65.2%), Jasper Weatherby (56.6%), Collin Adams (53.4%), and Mark Senden (47.3%). Colorado College will counter with Grant Cruikshank (56.1%), Logan Will (55.7%), Josiah Slavin (51.5%), Jackson Jutting (42.7%), and Troy Conzo (39.0%).
The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.8 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 5th in the country. By contrast, the Tigers are only lighting the lamp on 8.2% of their shots on goal (41st).
UND’s scoring margin of 39-24 through ten games looks impressive, but a look inside the numbers reveals that the Fighting Hawks outscored Western Michigan and Miami 22-7 in four victories and was exactly even (17 goals for, 17 goals against) in its other six matchups (two each vs. Denver, Duluth, and St. Cloud State).
Through ten games, Colorado College has blocked 152 shots as a team, led by Zach Berzolla (35), Hugo Blixt (15), and Connor Mayer.
North Dakota has blocked 130 shots, with Matt Kiersted (19), Jacob Bernard-Docker (18), and Gabe Bast (14) leading the way.
Special teams is a huge area of concern for the Tigers. CC has only scored three goals with the man advantage this season and has already allowed 11 power play goals to opponents for a net of minus-eight. By comparison, North Dakota is a plus-five (12 power play goals scored, 7 power play goals allowed).
On the injury front, Colorado College junior forward Grant Cruikshank will not be in the lineup on Sunday evening (appendicitis) and could miss Monday’s rematch as well. Cruikshank leads the Tigers in goals (six) and shots on goal (38); no other CC player has more than three tallies this season or 21 shots on goal this season.
Colorado College Tigers
Head Coach: Mike Haviland (7th season at CC, 66-141-22, .336)
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 3-5-2 overall, 3-5-2 NCHC
Last Season: 11-20-3 overall, 4-17-3-1 NCHC (8th)
2020-2021 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.30 goals scored/game – 38th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 3.30 goals allowed/game – 37th of 51 teams
Power Play: 10.3% (3 of 29) – 43rd of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 65.6% (21 of 32) – 51st of 51 teams
Key players: Sophomore F Josiah Slavin (3-6-9), Junior F Grant Cruikshank (6-2-8), Junior F Ben Copeland (2-4-6), Freshman F Hunter McKown (2-2-4), Senior F Troy Conzo (1-3-4), Sophomore F Patrick Cozzi (1-3-4), Freshman D Jack Millar (2-4-6), Junior D Bryan Yoon (1-1-2), Freshman D Nicklas Andrews (1-1-2), Freshman G Dominic Basse (3-3-1, 2.75 GAA, .894 SV%)
North Dakota Fighting Hawks
Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 123-59-24, .655)
National Rankings: #3/#3
This Season: 7-2-1 overall, 7-2-1 NCHC
Last Season: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)
2020-2021 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.90 goals scored/game – 5th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 2.40 goals allowed/game – 13th of 51 teams
Power Play: 27.9% (12 of 43) – 5th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 82.9% (34 of 41) – 20th of 51 teams
Key players: Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (3-10-13), Sophomore F Shane Pinto (5-8-13), Senior F Grant Mismash (4-6-10), Freshman F Riese Gaber (7-2-9), Senior F Collin Adams (4-5-9), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (3-3-6), Senior D Matt Kiersted (2-7-9), Sophomore D Ethan Frisch (2-3-5), Junior D Jacob Bernard-Docker (1-4-5), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (1-2-3 in three games), Junior G Adam Scheel (6-1-1. 2.13 GAA, .913 SV%, 1 SO)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: February 1, 2020 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after a third-period power play goal held up for a 1-0 UND victory, North Dakota built a snowman with an 8-1 win, outshooting the Tigers 35-15 in the process. Seven different Fighting Hawks lit the lamp, including Jordan Kawaguchi, who had two goals and an assist.
Last Meeting in Colorado Springs: March 2, 2019 (Colorado Springs, CO). North Dakota built a 2-0 lead in the first period (Cole Smith, Matt Kiersted) and made it hold up in a 2-1 road victory. The Fighting Hawks outshot the Tigers 36-25. CC won Friday’s opener 3-1, with Westin Michaud assisting on the game winner. All four Friday goals were scored in the third period.
Most Important Meeting: March 27, 1997. UND defeated Colorado College, 6-2, in the Frozen Four Semifinals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Two nights later, North Dakota downed Boston University, 6-4, to claim its sixth NCAA Championship. North Dakota and Colorado College also met in the 2001 East Regional (Worcester, Mass.), with UND prevailing, 4-1.
All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 162-84-11 (.652), although Colorado College holds a slim 60-55-4 (.521) advantage in games played in Colorado Springs. The teams first met in 1948.
Last Ten: North Dakota has seven wins in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring CC 33-21 over that span. UND had gone unbeaten in 14 straight (13-0-1) against the Tigers until four of the last six series between the schools ended in splits.
Game News and Notes
These two coaching staffs coached against each other at the AHL and NHL levels prior to the NCHC. CC has won two national titles (1950, 1957). Since 1957, the Tigers have appeared in the NCAA tournament thirteen times (most recently in 2011) and advanced to three Frozen Fours (1996, 1997, 2005). UND last swept at Robson Arena during the 2015-2016 season on their way to their eighth national title. In their careers against Colorado College, Jordan Kawaguchi has five goals and six assists in eleven games and Grant Mismash has four goals and two assists in six games.
UND is healthy, rested, and ready to finally get the second half underway. The wide sheet of ice is normally problematic for road teams, particularly on the first night of a weekend series. This year’s version of the Green and White has the skating ability, puck possession, and goaltending to mitigate any advantage the Tigers normally have. One of these games will be close, but North Dakota should collect all six points this weekend. UND 3-2, 5-1..
Sunday evening’s contest will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network. Both games 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!