#2 North Dakota (17-4-1) and #11 Omaha (13-8-1) will face off for the fifth time in less than a month at Baxter Arena on Friday night, and tensions are already high. Just six days ago, a line brawl erupted with less than a minute remaining in UND’s 7-1 win over the Mavericks, a victory that secured the Fighting Hawks’ second consecutive league championship and saw Brad Berry’s squad hoist the #PenneRosa for the fourth time in the eight-year history of the NCHC.
With only two weeks remaining in the regular season, the standings are coming into focus. North Dakota has clinched the #1 seed for the league playoffs, with the other three “home ice” teams decided but still jockeying for position within the table.
Here is the current NCHC leaderboard in terms of points earned/game:
1. North Dakota 2.27 (50 points in 22 games)
2. St. Cloud State 1.95 (43 points in 22 games)
3. Minnesota Duluth 1.77 (39 points in 22 games)
4. Omaha 1.73 (38 points in 22 games)
5. Denver 1.33 (28 points in 21 games)
6. Western Michigan 1.23 (27 points in 22 games)
7. Colorado College 0.86 (18 points in 21 games)
8. Miami 0.82 (18 points in 22 games)
Here is the remaining schedule for the eight league members to get each team to 24 conference games before the start of the NCHC playoffs (March 12th-16th):
North Dakota/Omaha (two games remaining):
@ UNO on Friday, February 26th
@ UND on Friday, March 5th
St. Cloud State/Minnesota Duluth (two games remaining):
@ UMD on Saturday, February 27th
@ SCSU on Saturday, March 6th
Denver/Colorado College (three games remaining):
@ DU on Saturday, February 27th and Thursday March 4th
@ CC on Saturday, March 6th
Western Michigan/Miami (two games remaining):
@ WMU on Friday, February 26th
@ Miami on Sunday, February 28th
North Dakota played all ten scheduled games in the Omaha pod, but it has not been smooth sailing in the second half. UND has already had multiple weekends scratched and rescheduled in the second half; the league has done an excellent job helping teams get games in when possible, and the flexibility the Fighting Hawks have shown in adjusting to game times and days will benefit the team in the national tournament.
Omaha has been the biggest surprise in the NCHC this season. While I expected them to have good results in the pod (and they did, posting a record of 6-3-1), I thought that they might regress in the second half, but they went a combined 7-3 against Colorado College (4-0), Denver (2-2), and North Dakota (1-1) over the first ten games of the “normal travel” portion of the schedule.
Last weekend, however, UNO ran into a buzzsaw of a North Dakota team playing perhaps its best hockey of the season, and the visitors were swept by a combined score of 11-2.
Mike Gabinet’s squad could be ranked even higher were it not for a disappointing 1-0 defeat at the hands of Miami back on December 12th. In that contest, the Mavs outshot the RedHawks 30-12 (including 15-2 in the third period) but could not solve Ludvig Persson. Other than that frustration, Omaha has fared extremely well in close games, winning three games in overtime, four games by one goal in regulation, and an eighth in a shootout. One of those one-goal regulation victories was UNO’s 5-4 home victory over the Fighting Hawks back on January 30th.
Turning back the clock a bit: After a trip to the Frozen Four in 2015, Dean Blais could only manage a mark of 35-34-6 over his final two seasons behind the Omaha bench. He was replaced by Mike Gabinet (Omaha ’04), and Gabinet finished up his rookie campaign with an eerily similar record of 17-17-2.
Maverick fans were certainly hopeful that improvement was coming two seasons ago, but Omaha struggled out of the gate with a record of 0-6-1. Things leveled off a bit after that, with a record of 6-4-1 to close out 2018. Once the calendar year turned, however, Gabinet was only able to lead his team to three more wins (the last coming on February 8th) and a season record of 9-24-3. UNO fans had to have been a bit more pleased with last season’s results, as the 2019-20 version of the Mavs collected fourteen victories (14-17-5).
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).
As another sign that Berry has righted the ship, UND is now 43-9-5 (.798) over the past two seasons.
Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, sophomore netminder Isaiah Saville (11-8-1, 2.78 GAA, .913 SV%, 1 SO) had been spectacular in net for the Mavs coming into last Saturday’s contest at Ralph Engelstad Arena, but the Fighting Hawks chased him after just 33 minutes of game action by scoring five goals on fifteen shots on goal. In Friday’s opener, Saville stopped 37 of the 41 shots he faced.
Fellow second-year netminder Austin Roden has appeared in four games (2-0-0. 2.67 GAA, .921 SV%, 1 SO), including his relief appearance on Saturday night (two goals allowed on twelve shots). Omaha has allowed more than two goals only ten times all season (including all four games against UND), while North Dakota’s opponents have scored more than two goals seven times.
Junior netminder Adam Scheel (15-3-1. 1.78 GAA, .928 SV%, 4 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (2-1-0, 2.79 GAA, .879 SV%) appearing in four 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. After giving up just four total goals in his previous four starts, Scheel allowed five goals on 27 shots in UND’s last game at Omaha but rebounded with a 24-save shutout performance against Denver last Friday night. Near the end of that contest, Denver captain Kohen Olischefski tripped Scheel from behind and earned himself a major penalty and a one-game suspension. Scheel was unable to play in Saturday’s rematch but earned both victories last weekend in Grand Forks, stopping 41 of 43 shots in the two-game sweep.
In addition to his four shutouts, Scheel has allowed just a single goal in six other victories this season. The junior from Lakewood, Ohio was recently named a 2021 Mike Richter Award finalist along with eight other goaltenders; Scheel is the only finalist from the NCHC. This year’s winner will be announced in April during the NCAA Frozen Four.
A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Mike Gabinet’s squad boasts nine players who meet that threshold: junior forward Chase Primeau (8-14-22), junior forward Taylor Ward (10-7-17), junior forward Tyler Weiss (6-14-20), senior forward Kevin Conley (8-7-15), freshman forward Matt Miller (7-5-12), sophomore forward Jack Randl (4-7-11), freshman forward Brock Bremer (5-7-12), defenseman Brandon Scanlin (2-12-14), and freshman defenseman Jake Harrison (0-3-3 in six games).
Sophomore forward Joey Abate (1-7-8) no longer appears on this list of offensive contributors after being held pointless last weekend and taking eighteen minutes in penalties. Abate is the NCAA leader in penalties and penalty minutes this season.
Saturday’s melee started with Abate slashing UND forward Louis Jamernik on the wrist instead of attempting to win the faceoff. Jamernik responded with a cross-check, and the line brawl was on. Not surprisingly, Abate did the same thing late in Friday’s game with North Dakota leading 4-1 and less than two minutes on the clock.
Over the course of the weekend, the Hawks chose to do most of their fighting on the scoreboard, and, as evidence of that, Brad Berry now has ten players at a half point or better per game: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (15-13-28), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (6-20-26), senior forward Collin Adams (9-14-23), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (3-16-19), senior forward Grant Mismash (9-9-18 in 18 games), freshman forward Riese Gaber (8-8-16), junior forward Jasper Weatherby (10-5-15), junior forward Mark Senden (2-10-12), junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker (2-11-13), and freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (1-8-9 in 15 games).
Jordan Kawaguchi was the only NCHC player to notch at least one point in each of his team’s games in the Omaha pod. Shane Pinto has already generated 138 shot attempts this season and leads the entire league in scoring, two points ahead of Kawaguchi and four points clear of Duluth’s Nick Swaney (10-14-24). Both Kawaguchi (9th in the nation in scoring) and Pinto (6th) should be considered candidates for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award along with teammate Matt Kiersted, whose 19 points rank third among defensemen.
Of UND’s four national award hopefuls, only Shane Pinto (Ottawa, #32 overall in 2019) has been drafted. Kiersted, Kawaguchi, and Scheel should all expect plenty of offers once they have used up their college eligibility. Including Pinto, the Fighting Hawks have twelve NHL draft picks on their roster, the most in the NCHC.
It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After 22 games, the Fighting Hawks are 6th in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (24.6) and are in the top ten in the country in two key puck possession statistics:
Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 55.3% (9th)
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 56.4% (5th)
By comparison, the Mavericks are 34th in Corsi (47.9%) and 32nd in Fenwick (48.3), averaging 28.1 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 30.9/game) while allowing 32.5 shots on goal against/contest.
Remarkably, Omaha is outscoring opponents 74-63 despite being outshot 715-618 on the season (North Dakota is outshooting opponents 680-541).
One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot (and not just for slashing). The Fighting Hawks are first in the nation in faceoff win percentage at 55.7 percent, while Omaha is 25th (50.5%) among the 51 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 (62.1%), Jasper Weatherby (53.2%), and Collin Adams (54.6%). Omaha will counter with Nolan Sullivan (58.5%), Noah Prokop (50.5%), Chayse Primeau (52.4%), and Joey Abate (41.6%).
In their January series in Omaha, the teams were relatively even in the faceoff circle on Friday, with UND holding a slight 29-27 edge (51.2%). North Dakota dominated the dot in the rematch, winning 46 of 71 (64.8%). For the weekend, the Fighting Hawks outshot the Mavericks 83-59.
Last weekend in Grand Forks, the faceoffs were nearly even, with UND winning 60 draws and Omaha winning 59. North Dakota outshot UNO 68-43 in the two-game series.
The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.9 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 2nd in the country. The Mavericks are right behind in 5th place, lighting the lamp on 12.0 percent of their shots on goal.
North Dakota’s puck possession game and sharpshooting have led to 88 goals scored by nineteen different players in 22 games (4.00 goals scored/game); 88 goals is the high-water mark in the NCHC this season. Omaha’s 74 goals (3.36 goals/game) have been scored by seventeen different players.
After UND and the Mavericks, here are the next closest teams in terms of offensive production:
St. Cloud State: 73 goals scored in 22 games (3.32 goals/game)
Minnesota Duluth: 64 goals scored in 22 games (2.91)
Western Michigan: 64 goals scored in 22 games (2.91)
UND’s offensive prowess is matched by their stingy defense, as the Fighting Hawks have only allowed 42 goals in 22 games (1.91 goals allowed/game), the lowest total in the NCHC. Minnesota Duluth is in second place defensively, having allowed 49 goals in 22 games this season for an average of 2.23 goals allowed per game.
By comparison, Omaha is allowing 2.86 goals per contest (63 goals allowed in 22 games).
UND’s scoring margin of 88-42 is certainly impressive, but a look inside the numbers reveals that the Fighting Hawks outscored Colorado College, Western Michigan, and Miami 36-9 in eight games (8-0-0) and played relatively even (52 goals for, 33 goals against) in its other fourteen matchups (six games against Denver, four games against Omaha, and two each vs. Duluth and St. Cloud State), going 9-4-1 in those contests.
In late January, North Dakota traveled to Omaha for a weekend series, winning 6-2 on Friday night before losing 5-4 in the rematch.
Through 22 games, Omaha has blocked 318 shots as a team, led by Jason Smallidge (45), Nate Knoepke (44), Kirby Proctor (29), and Nolan Sullivan (19).
North Dakota has blocked 284 shots in its 22 games, with Matt Kiersted (42), Jacob Bernard-Docker (30), and Ethan Frisch (19) leading the way. Gabe Bast has contributed twenty blocks in his sixteen games, although he will sit this one out after tangling with Omaha’s Noah Prokop in Saturday’s 7-1 UND victory.
When North Dakota is at full strength on the back end, they enjoy a roster advantage against nearly every opponent, and that will be the case again this weekend. Omaha’s six most likely starters on defense have combined for 12 goals and 37 assists in 121 combined games this season (0.40 points/game), while the six UND defenders expected in the lineup tonight have put together a line of 16 goals and 44 assists in 105 combined games (0.57 points/game). Matt Kiersted, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Jake Sanderson, Ethan Frisch, Tyler Kleven, and Cooper Moore can all defend, move the puck, and score, and Brad Berry has the luxury of trusting all of his defensemen in all situations, much like he had during North Dakota’s run to the national title in 2016 (with Gage Ausmus, Paul LaDue, Tucker Poolman, Hayden Shaw, Troy Stecher, Keaton Thompson, and Christian Wolanin manning the back end).
Remarkably, the Fighting Hawks’ d-corps has put up those numbers while also allowing less than two goals per contest (1.91, good for 5th in the country). By comparison, Omaha is allowing 2.86 goals per game (24th).
In addition to Gabe Bast, UND bench boss Brad Berry is likely to be without the services of senior forward Grant Mismash (9-9-18) for the fourth consecutive game. Berry may also choose to sit one or more other players dealing with minor injuries. I would expect freshman Cooper Moore in the lineup in place of Bast, with senior forward/defenseman Josh Rieger (1-1-2 in fourteen games) and sophomore forward Carson Albrecht (scoreless in eight games) in the lineup as well.
Through each team’s first 22 games, here is the specialty teams ledger:
Omaha power play: 18 of 87, 20.7 percent
Omaha penalty kill: 77 of 87, 88.5 percent
North Dakota power play: 24 of 99, 24.2 percent
North Dakota penalty kill: 83 of 95, 87.4 percent
North Dakota has scored three shorthanded goals this season, while the Mavericks have two to their credit. The Fighting Hawks have not allowed a shorthanded tally this year; UNO has given up four. That leaves Omaha’s net specialty teams at a +6, while UND weighs in at +15.
As one of the nation’s most penalized teams, North Dakota’s penalty kill finally let them down in their last game at Omaha, allowing three power play goals to the Mavericks on five man-advantage opportunities in a 5-4 loss. For the weekend, UND went 1 for 10 on the power play, while UNO scored four power play goals on twelve power plays.
Last weekend, things were a different story. The Fighting Hawks scored four goals on ten man advantage opportunities and held Omaha scoreless on five power plays.
The Mavericks have scored 18 of their 74 goals this season with the man advantage, while the Fighting Hawks have scored 24 of their 88 goals this season on the power play.
After this weekend, North Dakota will host the Mavericks on Friday, March 5th, and all of its games in the league playoffs will also be played at Ralph Engelstad Arena. The Fighting Hawks are hosting an NCAA Regional in Fargo, North Dakota on March 26 and 27 and would be automatically placed in that regional if they are selected for the national tournament, which seems to be a lock at this point.
Of course, being the home team means familiar surroundings and last line change, and that has certainly paid off for the Green and White this season. After going 18-1-0 at REA last season, North Dakota is a perfect 6-0-0 at home this season, outscoring opponents 28-5 while going 8-for-30 (26.7%) on the power play and killing all 24 opponent man-advantage situations. UND netminder Adam Scheel has been at his best at the Ralph, winning all five of his starts with a goals-against average of 0.60, a save percentage of .970, and two shutouts.
After tonight, UND’s next potential road game is on Thursday, April 8th in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the site of this season’s NCAA Frozen Four.
Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (4th season at UNO, 53-66-11, .450)
National Rankings: #11/#12
This Season: 13-8-1 overall, 13-8-1 NCHC
Last Season: 14-17-5 overall, 8-13-3-0 NCHC (6th)
Team Offense: 3.36 goals scored/game – 15th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 2.86 goals allowed/game – 24th of 51 teams
Power Play: 20.7% (18 of 87) – 18th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 88.5% (77 of 87) – 5th of 51 teams
Key Players: Junior F Chase Primeau (8-14-22), Junior F Taylor Ward (10-7-17), Junior F Tyler Weiss (6-14-20), Senior F Kevin Conley (8-7-15), Freshman F Matt Miller (7-5-12), Sophomore F Jack Randl (4-7-11), Sophomore D Brandon Scanlin (2-12-14), Freshman F Brock Bremer (5-7-12), Junior D Jason Smallidge (1-9-10), Sophomore G Isaiah Saville (11-8-1, 2.78 GAA, .913 SV%, 1 SO)
North Dakota Fighting Hawks
Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 133-61-24, .665)
National Rankings: #2/#1
This Season: 17-4-1 overall, 17-4-1 NCHC
Last Season: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)
2020-2021 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 4.00 goals scored/game – 1st of 51 teams
Team Defense: 1.91 goals allowed/game – 5th of 51 teams
Power Play: 24.2% (24 of 99) – 8th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 87.4% (83 of 95) – 9th of 51 teams
Key players: Sophomore F Shane Pinto (15-13-28), Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (6-20-26), Senior F Grant Mismash (9-9-18), Freshman F Riese Gaber (8-8-16), Senior F Collin Adams (9-14-23), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (10-5-15), Junior F Mark Senden (2-10-12), Senior D Matt Kiersted (3-16-19), Junior D Jacob Bernard-Docker (2-11-13), Sophomore D Ethan Frisch (3-5-8), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (1-8-9 in fifteen games), Junior G Adam Scheel (15-3-1. 1.78 GAA, .928 SV%, 4 SO)
By The Numbers:
Last meeting: February 20, 2021 (Grand Forks, ND). The Fighting Hawks boatraced Omaha 7-1 to complete the weekend sweep and secure the program’s fourth Penrose Cup in the eight-year history of the NCHC. UND’s Collin Adams scored two goals and added an assist for the league champions, who potted three power play goals in five attempts and killed all three Maverick power plays (Omaha was whistled for 63 minutes in penalties; UND, 41). One night earlier, the score was a bit closer, with North Dakota prevailing 4-1.
Last meeting in Omaha: January 30, 2021. Specialty teams was the difference in this one, as UND allowed three power play goals on five attempts to the homestanding Mavericks, including one to former North Dakota defenseman Jonny Tychonick, who scored his second goal of the season with eleven seconds remaining in the first period. Omaha netminder Isaiah Saville made 43 saves in the 5-4 victory. One night earlier, the Fighting Hawks scored five unanswered goals in the second and third periods to earn a 6-2 road victory.
Most memorable meeting: The game that UND fans will long remember is the outdoor game played at TD Ameritrade Park (Omaha, Nebraska) on February 9th, 2013. One day after winning a tight 2-1 contest indoors, North Dakota throttled UNO 5-2 on a sunny, melty afternoon. Mavericks netminder John Faulkner was pulled after allowing three goals on five shots in just ten minutes of game action. In my opinion, this hockey weekend solidified the notion that for UND hockey, it’s always a home game.
Last ten: North Dakota has won seven of the last ten contests between the schools, outscoring the Mavericks 41-25 over that stretch.
All-time: UND leads the all-time series 27-14-1 (.655), including a 13-7-0 (.650) record in games played in Omaha. North Dakota owns a record of 22-11-1 (.662) against the Mavericks since both teams joined the NCHC. The teams first met on November 19, 2010.
Game News and Notes
In 2015, both North Dakota and Omaha advanced to the Frozen Four but neither team made the championship game. UND fell to Boston University 5-3, while the Mavericks were upended 4-1 by eventual national champion Providence. Since joining the WCHA in 2011 (and later the NCHC), the Mavs have never reached the Twin Cities for the second weekend of the conference tournament despite having home ice in three of those eight years. UND senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi has sixteen points in seventeen career games against Omaha. The Mavericks have not made the national tournament since their run to the Frozen Four in 2015. North Dakota’s Brad Berry is 18-8-0 (.692) in his head coaching career against Omaha. Since coming out flat in game one at Denver a month ago, UND has outscored opponents 43-13 and won eight of nine contests. Five of those thirteen goals allowed came in the second game of the January series at Baxter Arena. North Dakota is 16-0-0 when scoring the first goal this season and 1-4-1 when allowing the first goal. Omaha is 10-5-1 (.656) at Baxter Arena this season, while UND clocks in with a record of 8-3-1 (.708).
UND split its last two road series (at Denver, at Omaha), scoring 16 goals and allowing 12. With only one game on the docket this weekend, a split is obviously impossible. I have to imagine that UNO can’t wait to get back on the ice after being swept out of Ralph Engelstad Arena last weekend, and therefore I give the edge to the homestanding Mavs. Fighting Hawks’ head coach Brad Berry may elect to rest a couple of players who are a bit banged up, and a post-#PenneRosa letdown has been a problem for UND in the past. While it is true that the Green and White could benefit from another victory in its quest for the #1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, the Mavericks are playing to avoid facing Denver in the first game of the league playoffs and are in a more precarious position nationally. Honestly, I just hope no one gets hurt in this one. Omaha 3, North Dakota 2.
Tonight’s game at Omaha (7:07 p.m. Central Time) will be available via streaming 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, I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!