After a full year of waiting, the postseason is finally here. Top seed North Dakota (18-5-1) will face eighth-seeded Miami (5-17-2) in the first matchup between the two teams in nearly three months. UND’s NCAA tournament bid is locked up – the Fighting Hawks will be playing in the Fargo regional two weekends from now – while Chris Bergeron’s squad will need three consecutive victories in the modified NCHC Frozen Faceoff to continue their season.
Way back on December 2nd, these two teams met in Omaha in the first pod game for either side. North Dakota blanked Miami 2-0 and put 39 shots on goal.
And in the rematch on December 20th – the final game of the Omaha pod – the RedHawks managed to score twice but allowed six North Dakota goals on 39 shots.
Miami put a total of 42 shots on frame over the course of those six periods of hockey.
Unfortunately for the RedHawks, that’s been the case far too frequently, as Chris Bergeron’s squad has only scored 46 goals all season (1.92 goals/game) and has been outshot 839-559. Goaltending has kept things close (more on that later), but Miami has scored more than two goals in a game just seven times this year (in 24 games played).
By comparison, North Dakota has scored at least two goals in all but one contest this year, averaging 3.92 goals/game (94 goals in 24 games).
Despite the apparent advantages that Brad Berry’s crew will enjoy in tonight’s league playoff opener – home ice, last line change, and a deeper, more talented roster – Chris Bergeron has one ace up his sleeve: Ludvig Persson. The freshman netminder from Hindas, Sweden started five games during the Omaha pod, with a goals-against average of 1.91 and a save percentage of .962. His best performance came 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 has not faced North Dakota this season.
For the season, Miami has allowed 83 goals. With Persson in net? They have scored 24 and allowed 24.
Over the first eight seasons of the NCHC, Miami has averaged worse than a sixth-place finish (8th, 2nd, 5th, 7th, 8th, 8th, 7th, 8th), with a combined league record of 55-117-20 (.339).
By comparison, North Dakota has finished 2nd, 1st, 1st, 4th, 4th, 5th, 1st, and 1st for an average finish somewhere between 2nd and 3rd place and a combined league record of 116-61-15 (.643). No other league member has collected as many conference wins as UND.
Miami is used to dreadful postseason positioning, and the RedHawks have the only three victories by #8 seeds over #1 seeds in league history, all against St. Cloud State (a 2-0 series victory in 2014 and a 2-1 series loss in 2018). With the single-elimination format of the entire NCHC playoff bracket, MU would need just one victory over North Dakota (rather than the typical two) to advance into the semifinal round.
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).
As another sign that Berry has righted the ship, UND is now 44-10-5 (.788) over the past two seasons.
Junior netminder Adam Scheel (16-3-1. 1.80 GAA, .929 SV%, 4 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (2-2-0, 2.83 GAA, .872 SV%) appearing in five games. 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 NCHC Goaltender of the Year and a 2021 Mike Richter Award finalist (along with eight other goaltenders; Scheel is the only finalist from the NCHC). The winner of this year’s Richter 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 Chris Bergeron’s squad has just four players who meet that threshold: junior forward Matt Barry (2-15-17), senior forward Casey Gilling (4-10-14), freshman forward Matthew Barbolini (5-9-14), and junior defenseman Derek Daschke (4-8-12). No other Miami player on the roster has more than eight points on the season.
By that same measure, Brad Berry has ten players at a half point or better per game: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (15-13-28), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (7-20-27), senior forward Collin Adams (9-15-24), 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 (11-8-19), junior forward Mark Senden (3-10-13), junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker (2-13-15), and freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (2-9-11 in 17 games). Pinto, Kawaguchi, Adams, and Mismash are all averaging a full point or better per contest, although Mismash (upper body injury) is expected to miss his sixth consecutive game.
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 141 shot attempts this season and won the league scoring title over Kawaguchi and Duluth’s Nick Swaney (13-14-27). Pinto was recently named the NCHC Player of the Year, Forward of the Year, and Defensive Forward of the Year.
Both Kawaguchi (14th in the nation in scoring) and Pinto (8th) should be considered candidates for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award along with teammate Matt Kiersted, whose 19 points rank fourth 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. Miami has zero drafted players on its roster and the same number in its recruiting pipeline. UND is expected to bring in four more drafted players next season – Ethan Bowen, Matteo Costantini, Jackson Kunz, and Jake Schmaltz.
It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot during the postseason, and the numbers bear that out. After 24 games, the Fighting Hawks are 5th in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (24.7) and are ninth in the country in two key puck possession statistics:
Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 55.1%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 56.2%
By comparison, the RedHawks are 47th in both Corsi (41.8%) and Fenwick (40.6%), averaging 23.3 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 31.0/game) while allowing 35.0 shots on goal against/contest.
Miami has been outshot 839-559 this season; North Dakota is outshooting opponents 745-593.
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 55.5 percent, while Miami is 34th (48.1%) 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 (62.0%), Jasper Weatherby (53.9%), and Collin Adams (56.0%). Miami will counter with Casey Gilling (46.2%), Monte Graham (57.0%), and Matt Barry (44.1%).
In their two games against Miami in the Omaha pod, North Dakota won 67 of 126 faceoffs (53.2%).
The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.6 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 2nd in the country. The RedHawks are near the bottom of the list, lighting the lamp on just 8.2 percent of their shots on goal (41st).
North Dakota’s puck possession game and sharpshooting have led to 94 goals scored by nineteen different players in 24 games (3.92 goals scored/game); 94 goals was the high-water mark in the NCHC regular season. Miami’s 46 goals (1.92 goals/game) have been scored by 21 different players.
Only Colorado College (35 goals scored in 22 games played) was a more futile offensive unit than the RedHawks.
UND’s offensive prowess is matched by their stingy defense, as the Fighting Hawks have only allowed 47 goals in 24 games (1.96 goals allowed/game), the lowest total in the NCHC. Minnesota Duluth finished in second place defensively, having allowed 54 goals in 24 games this season for an average of 2.25 goals allowed per game.
By comparison, Miami allowed 3.46 goals per contest (83 goals allowed in 24 games), one less goal than the Western Michigan Broncos allowed as the league’s worst defensive team.
Through 24 games, Miami has blocked 279 shots as a team, led by Jack Clement (40), Derek Daschke (32), Bray Crowder (25), and Dylan Moulton (18).
North Dakota has blocked 309 shots in its 24 games, with Matt Kiersted (44), Jacob Bernard-Docker (31), Gabe Bast (21), and forward Mark Senden (21) leading the way.
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 tonight. Miami’s six most likely starters on defense have combined for 13 goals and 17 assists in 126 combined games this season (0.24 points/game), while the six UND defenders expected in the lineup tonight have put together a line of 16 goals and 46 assists in 117 combined games (0.53 points/game). Matt Kiersted, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Jake Sanderson, Ethan Frisch, Tyler Kleven, and Gabe Bast 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 offensive numbers while also allowing less than two goals per contest (1.96, good for 5th in the country). By comparison, Miami is allowing 3.46 goals per game (38th).
Through each team’s 24 regular season games, here is the specialty teams ledger:
Miami power play: 12 of 81, 14.8 percent (43rd)
Miami penalty kill: 58 of 77, 75.3 percent (43rd)
North Dakota power play: 27 of 108, 25.0 percent (7th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 88 of 102, 86.3 percent (9th)
North Dakota has scored four shorthanded goals this season, while the RedHawks have one to their credit. The Fighting Hawks have not allowed a shorthanded tally this year; MU has given up one. That leaves Miami’s net specialty teams at a -7, while UND weighs in at +17.
The RedHawks have scored 12 of their 46 goals this season with the man advantage, while the Fighting Hawks have scored 27 of their 94 goals this season on the power play.
The NCHC playoff semifinals (Monday, March 15th) and championship game (Tuesday, March 16th) will also be played at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks are hosting an NCAA Regional 70 miles south in Fargo 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 has gone 6-1-0 at home this season, outscoring opponents 30-8 while going 8-for-35 (22.9%) on the power play and killing 25 of 27 opponent man-advantage situations (92.6%). 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.
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: Chris Bergeron (2nd season at Miami, 13-38-7, .284)
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 5-17-2 overall, 5-17-2 NCHC (8th)
Last Season: 8-21-5 overall, 5-16-3 NCHC (7th)
2020-2021 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 1.92 goals scored/game – 45th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 3.46 goals allowed/game – 38th of 51 teams
Power Play: 14.8% (12 of 81) – 43rd of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 75.3% (58 of 77) – 43rd of 51 teams
Junior F Matt Barry (2-15-17), Senior F Casey Gilling (4-10-14), Freshman F Matthew Barbolini (5-9-14), Senior F Phil Knies (2-6-8), Sophomore F Ryan Savage (2-3-5), Junior D Derek Daschke (4-8-12), Freshman D Robby Drazner (3-4-7), Junior D Bray Crowder (2-1-3), Freshman G Ludvig Persson (5-10-2, 2.40 GAA, .930 SV%, 2 SO)
North Dakota Fighting Hawks
Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 134-62-24, .664)
National Rankings: #2/#2
This Season: 18-5-1 overall, 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)
2020-2021 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.92 goals scored/game – 1st of 51 teams
Team Defense: 1.96 goals allowed/game – 5th of 51 teams
Power Play: 25.0% (27 of 108) – 7th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 86.3% (88 of 102) – 9th of 51 teams
Key players: Sophomore F Shane Pinto (15-13-28), Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (7-20-27), Senior F Grant Mismash (9-9-18), Freshman F Riese Gaber (8-8-16), Senior F Collin Adams (9-15-24), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (11-8-19), Junior F Mark Senden (3-10-13), Senior D Matt Kiersted (3-16-19), Junior D Jacob Bernard-Docker (2-13-15), Sophomore D Ethan Frisch (3-5-8), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (2-9-11 in seventeen games), Junior G Adam Scheel (16-3-1. 1.80 GAA, .929 SV%, 4 SO)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: December 20, 2020 (Omaha, NE). For the second consecutive game against Miami, UND freshman phenom Riese Gaber was the difference maker, breaking a 2-2 tie just over eight minutes into period two. North Dakota would add two more goals in the middle frame (Shane Pinto, Collin Adams) and a third period shorthanded tally by Ethan Frisch for a final score of 6-2. In the first pod meeting between the teams, the Fighting Hawks outshot Miami 29-9 through two periods but held a tenuous 1-0 lead on a power play goal from Matt Kiersted. Enter Gaber, who – in his first collegiate game – scored the only goal of the third period just 67 seconds into the final frame. In the two games combined, UND netminder Adam Scheel stopped 37 of 39 shots on goal.
Last Meeting in Grand Forks: November 9, 2019. North Dakota’s Collin Adams scored two goals in the 5-4 UND victory, with the RedHawks making it interesting by scoring the last two goals of the contest. One night earlier, the Fighting Hawks boatraced Miami 7-1, with three players notching three points each. Noah Jordan scored MU’s lone goal three minutes into the third period to spoil the shutout bid by Adam Scheel (21 saves).
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 six wins and two ties (6-2-2, .700) in the past ten contests between the teams, outscoring Miami 39-24 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 19-7-4 (.700), including a 9-2-2 (.769) record in games played in Grand Forks. 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 twelve assists in twelve games and senior defenseman Matt Kiersted has two goals and ten assists in ten games. North Dakota has not allowed a third period goal at home this season (nine goals for). UND is 17-0-0 when it scores the first goal and 1-5-1 when its opponent lights the lamp first. Green Hawks are preferable to RedHawks.
It is always difficult to end a team’s season, and tonight’s quarterfinal matchup will have a similar feel to Sunday night Game Threes from past first-round series. 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 for Fargo 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, particularly since UND dropped its last home game one week ago. The Fighting Hawks should survive, advance, and head into Monday with another opponent in its sights. UND 3, Miami 1.
All of Friday and Saturday’s quarterfinal matchups will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and 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!