Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Niagara

It has been seven seasons since North Dakota tangled with Niagara, and the Green and White handled the Purple Eagles 7-1 and 5-0 in a home sweep.

The teams had tangled two seasons earlier in a 2013 national tournament game featuring three of that season’s ten Hobey Baker finalists: Niagara junior goaltender Carsen Chubak (who led the nation with six shutouts) and North Dakota senior forwards Danny Kristo and Corban Knight faced off in the 2013 NCAA Midwest Regional. UND prevailed 2-1 behind a pair of third period goals, but would fall 4-1 to eventual champion Yale in the regional final.

Incidentally, the 2012-2013 version of the Purple Eagles went 23-10-5, the last time NU finished a season above .500. Since that time, the squad from Niagara Falls, New York has gone 80-175-33 (.335) and replaced head coach Dave Burkholder with Jason Lammers after the 2016-2017 campaign.

One would expect North Dakota in particular and the NCHC in general to have success against Atlantic Hockey. In addition to this weekend’s series at Ralph Engelstad Arena, the other scheduled games between the two conferences will be Air Force vs. Denver, Air Force vs. Colorado College, and Mercyhurst vs. Miami. Atlantic Hockey league member AIC is the highest ranked member of Atlantic Hockey, clocking in at #21. The NCHC boasts four of the top twelve teams in the country (#2 St. Cloud State, #5 Minnesota Duluth, #8 North Dakota, and #12 Denver) and two other ranked teams (#17 Omaha and #22 Western Michigan).

After this weekend, North Dakota will play a home-and-home series against Bemidji State, while Niagara will have an off week before traveling to Hockey Valley to face Penn State on Thursday, October 21st and Friday, October 22nd. Coincidentally, the Penn State Nittany Lions will face UND in the Hall Of Fame Game on Saturday, October 30th at Bridgestone Arena (Nashville, Tennessee).

UND led the nation in scoring last season (3.93 goals/game) but lost seven of their top eight scorers to the pro ranks. To fill the void, UND has brought in five transfers and nine freshmen.

By contrast, Niagara returns eighteen players from last year’s squad. The biggest loss for NU was defenseman Croix Evingson, who would have been a senior but gave up his final year of eligibility to ink a deal with the Jacksonville Icemen of the ECHL. The 6-foot-5, 230 pounder from Anchorage, Alaska put up a line of 1-11-12 in 21 games last season after transferring from UMass-Lowell. Evingson was a seventh-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

Niagara also lost forward Ludwig Stenlund, who scored 35 goals and added 31 assists in his three seasons at NU (74 games). Stenlund opted to join Vita Hasten HC in his native Sweden rather than return for his senior campaign.

Niagara Team Profile

Head Coach: Jason Lammers (5th season at NU, 47-71-15, .410)

National Rankings: NR
Last Season: 7-12-3, overall, 3-9-3 Atlantic Hockey (9th of 11 teams)

Last Season’s Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.55 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.18 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.6% (13 of 74)
Penalty Kill: 85.0% (68 of 80)

Key Players (last season’s statistics): Senior F Walker Sommer (8-7-15), Senior F Jack Billings (7-6-13), Junior F Ryan Naumovski (3-10-13), Senior F Ryan Cox (7-4-11), D Josef Mysak (2-3-5), Junior G Chad Veltri (5-7-2, 2.61 GAA, .914 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND, 138-63-24, .667)

National Rankings: #8/#7
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCAA Regional FInalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

Last Season’s Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.93 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.97 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 23.2% (29 of 125)
Penalty Kill: 86.2% (100 of 116)

Key Players (last season’s statistics): Sophomore F Riese Gaber (11-10-21), Senior F Mark Senden (3-11-14), Junior F Judd Caulfield (4-7-11), Senior F Connor Ford (16-12-28 at Bowling Green), Senior F Ashton Calder (16-13-29 at Lake Superior State), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (2-13-15), Junior D Ethan Frisch (3-7-10), Junior D Chris Jandric (5-17-22 at Alaska), Senior G Zach Driscoll (15-10-3, 2.32 GAA, .922 SV%, 2 SO at Bemidji State)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 17, 2015 (Grand Forks, ND). Zane McIntyre posted a 15-save shutout as the home team rolled by a final score of 5-0. One night earlier, Austin Poganski (two goals) and Brendan O’Donnell (one goal) each tallied three points in a 7-1 North Dakota victory. Niagara’s Albin Karlsson spoiled the shutout bid with just under six minutes remaining in the hockey game. UND outshot the Purple Eagles 85-43 on in the weekend sweep.

Most Important Meeting: March 29, 2013 (Grand Rapids, MI). In the semifinals of the NCAA Midwest Regional, Niagara scored first but couldn’t make it hold up. UND outshot the Purple Eagles 20-7 in the third period, making two of them count and escaping with a 2-1 victory. Zane McIntyre was the goaltender of record, making stopping 28 of 29 shots and earning his first tournament victory.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series 7-0 and has outscored the Purple Eagles 32-11. The teams first met on March 25, 2000 (NCAA West Regional). Jeff Panzer tallied three assists to lead North Dakota to a 4-1 victory over the Purple Eagles at Mariucci Arena. UND forward Lee Goren scored early in the third period after NU cut the lead to 2-1 in the middle frame. Andy Kollar made 26 saves for the Fighting Sioux, who outshot Niagara 43-27.

Game News and Notes

The Purple Eagles play their home games at Dwyer Arena (capacity 2100). Former North Dakota recruit Carter Randklev (2-3-5 in 17 games last season) returns to the Purple Eagles as a sophomore. The 14 newcomers on the UND roster are the most for the program since the 1973-1974 Fighting Sioux had 15 new players.

The Prediction

In the twenty years that Ralph Engelstad Arena has been open, we’ve seen many examples of North Dakota taking opponents too lightly as well as opposing teams bringing their best effort to the Ralph. This year’s version of the Green and White does not have a wide margin for error, particularly early in the season when lines and systems are just coming together. I expect a tight contest in Game One, with depth and talent shining through in the rematch. UND 3-2, 4-1.

Broadcast Information

Both games will be broadcast live on Midco Sports and also available via webcast 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.

Social Media

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!

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