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. North Dakota 2.07 (29 points in 14 games)
2. Omaha 2.00 (24 points in 12 games)
3. St. Cloud State 1.88 (30 points in 16 games)
4. Minnesota Duluth 1.62 (21 points in 13 games)
5. Denver 1.29 (18 points in 14 games)
6. Western Michigan 1.19 (19 points in 16 games)
7. Colorado College 1.07 (15 points in 14 games)
8. Miami 1.00 (15 points in 15 games)
#3 North Dakota (10-3-1) played all ten scheduled games in the Omaha pod, but the second half has had a few hiccups. 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 a Sunday-Monday series in Colorado Springs two weekends ago. After sweeping the Tigers (3-0, 2-1), Brad Berry’s squad returned home to prepare for last weekend’s series against the 18th-ranked Pioneers, only to learn last Wednesday that that series would also be pushed back two days. As I mentioned last week, the flexibility that the Fighting Hawks have shown in adjusting to game times and days will benefit this team in the national tournament.
Amazingly, UND played its first fourteen games of the season on the road (ten in the Omaha pod plus road series at Colorado College and Denver). Brad Berry’s team is one of just five in men’s Division I ice hockey without a home game to its credit. Of course, that will change tonight at Ralph Engelstad Arena. After 330 days, the Fighting Hawks will be on home ice, playing in front of nearly 3000 fans (25 percent capacity) and raising a banner as 2020 NCHC regular season champions.
Of the other four teams who have been on the road to this point in the season, Sacred Heart (2-3-0) is scheduled to play a home game next weekend, with Long Island (3-5-0) following suit on February 13th. Maine (2-5-1) is at the mercy of the league office, as Hockey East is setting schedules on a weekly basis. Arizona State (5-11-2) is playing all of its games on the road this season.
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 (3-5-1, 2.71 GAA, .897 SV%) has been steady as Colorado College (3-9-2) sorts out its goaltending situation. 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 six appearances (0-4-1) with a goals-against average of 3.88 and a save percentage of just .843.
Junior netminder Adam Scheel (9-2-1. 1.98 GAA, .923 SV%, 2 SO) has been the clear-cut #1 for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (1-1-0, 3.18 GAA, .870 SV%) appearing in three games. Scheel won both games against the Tigers in Colorado Springs, allowing just one goal on 51 shots in the two-game sweep and earning NCHC Goaltender of the Week honors. Last weekend against Denver, Scheel was pulled after two periods in the opener (four goals allowed on twenty shots) but rebounded with a strong performance on Monday night, stopping 32 of 33 in the 5-1 victory.
A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Mike Haviland’s squad has just three players who meet that threshold: sophomore forward Josiah Slavin (4-6-10), junior forward Grant Cruikshank (6-2-8 in ten games; out of the lineup for the last four), and junior forward Ben Copeland (4-6-10). Freshman defenseman Jack Millar has been held scoreless over the past four games after opening his collegiate career with two goals and four assists in his first ten games.
By that same measure, eight North Dakota players make the list: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (5-10-15), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (4-12-16), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (3-11-14), senior forward Grant Mismash (7-7-14), freshman forward Riese Gaber (8-2-10), senior forward Collin Adams (5-7-12), junior forward Mark Senden (1-8-9), and newly-added freshman forward Louis Jamernik (0-2-2 in four games).
Kawaguchi was the only NCHC player to notch at least one point in each of his team’s games in the Omaha pod. Mismash, who scored in each game of the series in Colorado Springs (including the game-winner in the rematch), will not be available for the first game this weekend in Grand Forks after the NCHC issued him a one-game suspension for checking Denver goaltender Magnus Chrona during Monday night’s game. Chrona left the game after hitting his head on the ice, and there has been no update on his condition.
It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After fourteen games, the Fighting Hawks are sixth in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (25.8) and are in the top fifteen in two key puck possession statistics:
Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 53.4% (11th)
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 54.5% (12th)
By comparison, the Tigers are 30th in Corsi (49.0%) and 27th in Fenwick (49.2), averaging 28.6 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 29.1/game) while allowing 26.3 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 56.1 percent, while the Tigers are 37th in the nation at 47.2%. 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 (63.0%), Jasper Weatherby (52.7%), Collin Adams (58.0%), and Mark Senden (46.6%). Colorado College will counter with Logan Will (55.4%), Josiah Slavin (49.0%), Jackson Jutting (46.9%), and Troy Conzo (39.1%).
The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.3 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 6th in the country. By contrast, the Tigers are lighting the lamp on just 7.0% of their shots on goal (46th).
North Dakota’s puck possession game and sharpshooting have led to fifty goals scored by sixteen different players in fourteen games (3.57 goals scored/game); 50 goals is the high-water mark in the NCHC this season.
Here are the three closest teams in terms of offensive production:
Western Michigan: 48 goals scored in 16 games (3.00 goals scored/game)
Omaha: 43 goals scored in 12 games (3.58)
St. Cloud State: 43 goals scored in 15 games (2.87)
No other league team has scored more than 37 goals this season.
UND’s offensive prowess is matched by their stingy defense, as the Fighting Hawks have only allowed 30 goals in fourteen games (2.14 goals allowed/game). Only Omaha has allowed fewer total goals to this point in the season (26 goals allowed in 12 games; 2.17). Minnesota Duluth is close behind (31 in 13, 2.38), with Miami in fourth place (38 in 14, 2.71)
UND’s scoring margin of 50-30 is certainly impressive, but a look inside the numbers reveals that the Fighting Hawks outscored Western Michigan and Miami 22-7 in four victories and played relatively even (28 goals for, 23 goals against) in its other ten matchups (four games against Denver and two each vs. Colorado College, Duluth, and St. Cloud State). In the series against the Tigers two weeks ago, North Dakota outscored CC 5-1.
Amazingly, Western Michigan has already allowed 61 goals through sixteen games, an average of 3.81 goals allowed/game. North Dakota scored 14 of those goals in its two pod contests against the Broncos.
Through fourteen games, Colorado College has blocked 196 shots as a team, led by Zach Berzolla (44!), Jack Millar (21), Hugo Blixt (17), and Connor Mayer (15).
North Dakota has blocked 182 shots, with Matt Kiersted (25), Jacob Bernard-Docker (22), and Gabe Bast (16) leading the way.
Special teams is a huge area of concern for Mike Haviland’s squad. CC has only scored four goals with the man advantage this season and has already allowed 14 power play goals to opponents. The Tigers have also allowed three shorthanded goals while scoring just one for net of minus-twelve.
By comparison, North Dakota is a plus-nine (15 power play goals scored, 8 power play goals allowed, 2 shorthanded goals scored, 0 shorthanded goals allowed). Colorado College has scored just one power play in its last twenty man-advantage opportunities.
On the injury front, Colorado College junior forward Grant Cruikshank will not be in the lineup this weekend after having his appendix removed. Cruikshank leads the Tigers in goals (six) and is second in shots on goal (38) despite missing the past four games. In his absence, Ben Copeland (four goals, 44 shots on goal) and Josiah Slavin (four goals, 33 shots on goal) will lead the way. Cruikshank is the son of four-team Olympic speed skating parents Bonnie Blair (four gold medals) and Dave Cruikshank.
In much the same way that North Dakota added freshman forward Louis Jamernik to fill out their lineup, Colorado College has added center Matthew Gleason from the Chicago Steel. Gleason, who put up a line of 3-3-6 in thirteen USHL games this season, was a finalist for Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey Award and was named the Star Tribune Metro player of the year.
There may be a couple of holes on the blue line this weekend for North Dakota. Senior defenseman Gabe Bast did not make the trip to Denver last weekend, and sophomore Ethan Frisch left Sunday’s game against the Pioneers and did not return that night or in the rematch. In their absence, freshman Cooper Moore and senior Josh Rieger made up the third pair on Sunday night. An update on the availability of Bast and Frisch for tonight’s contest has not been provided.
Last weekend, North Dakota struggled out of the gate in a 4-1 loss at Denver before rebounding for a resounding 5-1 victory. Colorado College lost two home games against Omaha by identical 3-2 scores this week, including a heartbreaking loss on Tuesday with 0.9 seconds remaining in overtime. The Tigers had the better of the play for large stretches – outshooting the Mavs 69-45 – but went 0-for-11 with the man advantage and fell just short in both games.
Colorado College Tigers
Head Coach: Mike Haviland (7th season at CC, 66-145-22, .330)
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 3-9-2 overall, 3-9-2 NCHC
Last Season: 11-20-3 overall, 4-17-3-1 NCHC (8th)
2020-2021 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.00 goals scored/game – 45th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 3.14 goals allowed/game – 35th of 51 teams
Power Play: 8.2% (4 of 49) – 48th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 68.2% (30 of 44) – 49th of 51 teams
Key players: Sophomore F Josiah Slavin (4-6-10), Junior F Grant Cruikshank (6-2-8), Junior F Ben Copeland (4-6-10), Freshman F Hunter McKown (2-2-4), Senior F Troy Conzo (1-3-4), Sophomore F Patrick Cozzi (1-4-5), Freshman D Jack Millar (2-4-6), Junior D Bryan Yoon (1-1-2), Freshman D Nicklas Andrews (1-2-3), Freshman G Dominic Basse (3-5-1, 2.71 GAA, .897 SV%)
North Dakota Fighting Hawks
Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 126-60-24, .657)
National Rankings: #3/#3
This Season: 10-3-1 overall, 10-3-1 NCHC
Last Season: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)
2020-2021 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.57 goals scored/game – 12th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 2.14 goals allowed/game – 9th of 51 teams
Power Play: 25.4% (15 of 59) – 5th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 86.4% (51 of 59) – 15th of 51 teams
Key players: Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (4-12-16), Sophomore F Shane Pinto (5-10-15), Senior F Grant Mismash (7-7-14), Freshman F Riese Gaber (8-2-10), Senior F Collin Adams (5-7-12), Junior F Mark Senden (1-8-9), Senior D Matt Kiersted (3-11-14), Sophomore D Ethan Frisch (2-3-5 in 11 games), Junior D Jacob Bernard-Docker (1-5-6), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (1-2-3 in seven games), Junior G Adam Scheel (9-2-1. 1.98 GAA, .923 SV%, 2 SO)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: January 11, 2021 (Colorado Springs, CO). After the two teams traded power play goals in the middle frame (Riese Gaber for UND, Ben Copeland for CC), it was Grant Mismash who unknotted the score in favor of the visitors early in the third period. North Dakota locked it down after that, allowing the Tigers only three shots on goal in the final twenty minutes of play. One night earlier, the Fighting Hawks blanked CC 3-0 despite being outshot 27-18.
Last Meeting in Grand Forks: February 1, 2020. 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.
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, 164-84-11 (.654), with a remarkable record of 105-22-7 (.810) in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1948.
Last Ten: North Dakota has eight wins in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring CC 37-20 over that span. UND has won five straight against the Tigers, with CC scoring a combined three goals in those five games. The Fighting Hawks’ last home loss to Colorado College was on February 9, 2018 (4-2).
Game News and Notes
These two coaching staffs coached against each other at the AHL and NHL levels prior to the NCHC. North Dakota head coach Brad Berry has had far the better of it, with a overall record of 15-4-1 (.775) against Colorado College. 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). In their careers against Colorado College, Jordan Kawaguchi has five goals and seven assists in twelve games and Grant Mismash has six goals and two assists in eight games. The Tigers have played teams fairly evenly in first periods this season (eight goals scored, nine goals allowed) but have faded after that, allowing 35 goals over the final 45 minutes of games (2nd periods, 3rd periods, and overtime sessions) while scoring just 20. Had last season been allowed to continue, North Dakota would have hosted Colorado College in the first round of the NCHC playoffs. UND will play seven of its final ten regular season games at home.
North Dakota has the depth to handle the absence of Grant Mismash, while Colorado College will continue to struggle without Grant Cruikshank. UND will benefit from home ice, the banner-raising ceremony, at least a few thousand fans, and, if that isn’t enough – the dog cutouts. Most teams would be raring to go after losing in heartbreaking fashion like the Tigers did, so a quick start is important for both sides. CC has not had much success at Ralph Engelstad Arena, and with the home team’s edge in net and on specialty teams, I don’t see anything to indicate a break from that trend. UND 4-2, 5-1.
Both games will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and streamed 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!