Weekend Preview: UND at Quinnipiac

In 22 years at the Division I level, Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold has only had ONE losing season (16-18-4 in 2017-2018). The Bobcats have made the last two national tournaments and six of the past eight, appearing in the championship game in 2013 (losing 4-0 to Yale) and again against UND in 2016. That 5-1 title game loss against North Dakota was just the fourth loss of the season for QU (32-4-7).

UND and QU met one other time in the national tournament (at the 2015 West Regional in Fargo, ND). North Dakota downed the Bobcats 4-1 in that tilt, and the two teams have only faced each other on one other occasion: an October 2006 series in Grand Forks that went in the books as a UND sweep. Sioux forwards Ryan Duncan, T.J. Oshie and Jonathan Toews figured heavily in those results.

At last season’s NCAA West Regional in Loveland, Colorado, QU held a 3-1 lead over Minnesota State with just over five minutes remaining in regulation before the Mavericks brought the game to within one. An extra-attacker goal with 62 seconds remaining sent the game to an extra frame, and Ryan Sandelin won the game for the Mavs just over halfway through the first overtime session.

Before this recent stretch of tournament appearance, the only Quinnipiac showing on the national scene came in 2001-02, when the team (competing in the MAAC and known for the last time as the ‘Braves’) suffered a 6-1 loss to Cornell in the regional semifinal.

It is fairly difficult to compare teams from different conferences, but there are some measurables. The NCHC has been the premier hockey conference since its inception, and particularly over the past five seasons. The eight teams in the league have gone 385-199-80 (.640) in non-conference action since the start of the 2014-15 season and sent eleven teams to the Frozen Four (UND and Omaha in 2015, UND and Denver in 2016, Denver and Duluth in 2017, Duluth in 2018, Denver and Duluth in 2019, Duluth and St. Cloud State in 2021) over that seven-year stretch (there was no national tournament in 2020). Conference members North Dakota (2016), Denver (2017), and Minnesota Duluth (2018, 2019) have won four of the last five national titles.

Despite all of those accomplishments, the NCHC has not dominated the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference in recent history. Since the 2016 title game, UND and its seven league mates are just 23-18-10 (.549) against the likes of Quinnipiac, Clarkson, St. Lawrence, Union, Colgate, Rensselaer, and the six Ivy League colleges (Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale).

Incidentally, only four ECAC teams – Quinnipiac, Clarkson, St. Lawrence, and Colgate – played games last season.

And this year, Colorado College is responsible for the NCHC’s 0-2-2 mark against the ECAC, with eerily similar results over two weekends of non-conference play:

Friday, October 8th vs. St. Lawrence: 2-1 loss
Saturday, October 9th vs. St. Lawrence: 1-1 (OT)

Friday October 15th at Union: 2-1 loss
Saturday, October 16th at Union: 3-3 (OT)

Two weekends ago, North Dakota (3-1-0) hosted Niagara for a pair at Ralph Engelstad Arena, dispatching the Purple Eagles by final scores of 6-2 and 4-0. Last weekend, UND traveled to Bemidji and held on for a 4-3 Friday victory before falling in overtime at home the following night by an identical score.

After this weekend’s road series at Quinnipiac (Hamden, Connecticut), UND’s other non-conference opponents during the 2021-2022 campaign will be Penn State (Hall Of Fame Game, “neutral”), Minnesota (home), and Cornell (home).

On its opening weekend, Quinnipiac (2-0-1) tied Boston College 2-2 before shutting out Northeastern by a final score of 3-0. Last Saturday night, the Bobcats blanked Vermont 2-0. QU’s out-of-conference games also include Holy Cross, American International, Arizona State, Long Island, and Sacred Heart.

UND is still finding its identity, with fourteen new faces on the roster. One key area so far has been contributions from the blue line, with defensemen Jake Sanderson (2-2-4) leading the way and Tyler Kleven (1-1-2), Cooper Moore (0-2-2), Chris Jandric (0-2-2), and Ethan Frisch (1-1-2) chipping in two points apiece. Through four games, the Fighting Hawks’ d-corps has produced over 28% of North Dakota’s points. This trend will need to continue if UND aspires to make the NCAA tournament this season. Incidentally, last season’s total of 83 points (20 goals) from the blue was second only to national champion Massachusetts (26-63-89).

One of the fresh faces on Brad Berry’s bench is senior transfer Zach Driscoll, who played three seasons in goal for Bemidji State, appearing in 88 games and posting a sparkling record of 46-29-11 with a goals-against average of 2.05, a save percentage of .924, and nine shutouts.

Driscoll made 18 saves each night against Niagara, allowing two goals on the same shorthanded sequence in Friday’s opener before posting a shutout in Saturday’s rematch. Last Friday, Driscoll again played every minute, helping North Dakota hold on by making 30 of 33 saves. Saturday’s first period was a different story, with Bemidji State scoring three times on seven shots against their former teammate. Of the ten shots that followed over the final 41 minutes, Driscoll only allowed the 3×3 overtime winner to BSU’s Ross Armour.

Rand Pecknold’s squad also has a transfer in net. Dylan St. Cyr joined the Bobcats through the transfer portal after spending four seasons at Notre Dame. St. Cyr saw limited action in his first three campaigns before posting a record of 11-9-1, a goals-against average of 2.44, a save percentage of .921, and three shutouts with the Fighting Irish last year. The senior from Northville, Michigan is the son of Manon Rheaume, a retired Canadian goaltender who became the first woman to play in any of the major North American pro sports leagues when she signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992. She appeared in preseason games in both 1992 and 1993. Rheaume also played on Canada’s national team, winning IIHF gold in 1992 and 1994.

Aside from St. Cyr, Pecknold also added four other graduate transfers: forward Oliver Chau from national champion UMass and three defensemen: Brendan Less from Dartmouth, Tony Stillwell from Brown, and Griffin Mendel from Denver.

It will be difficult for QU to replace the production and playmaking ability of Odeen Tufto, who departed for the Tampa Bay Lightning organization after putting up a line of 8-39-47 in 29 games for the Bobcats last year. In his four-year collegiate career, Tufto scored 39 goals and notched 129 assists for 168 points in 139 games played.

Left to shoulder the scoring load up front are senior Michael Lombardi (2-2-4), junior Skyler Brind’Amour (1-2-3), sophomore Ty Smilanic (1-1-2), and Ethan de Jong (0-2-2). Defenseman TJ Friedmann has scored twice and fellow senior blueliner Zach Metsa has chipped in an assist for the only three points from the Bobcats back end.

Brind’Amour, the son of Carolina Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour, was taken by the Oilers in the sixth round (177th pick) in the 2017 NHL draft. Before his head coaching career began in 2011, father Rod played 1484 NHL games, amassing 452 goals and adding 732 assists to go along with 1100 penalty minutes. Rod Brind’Amour’s crowning achievement as a player was captaining the Hurricanes to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship in 2006 (former UND defenseman Mike Commodore was also a member of that title team).

Senior defenseman Marcus Chorney has played all three games so far this season for QU. His father Mark (1977-81) and older brother Taylor (2005-08) both played for North Dakota.

After thoroughly dominating in the faceoff circle over the past two seasons, North Dakota has come back to earth, winning just 53.2% of draws. QU clocks in at 54.0%. UND will count on Connor Ford (61.5%) to take most of the important draws in the defensive end, as Jake Schmaltz (43.1%) and Louis Jamernik (44.2%) still need improvement in that area.

In a sentence I never thought I would write, Quinnipiac has not scored a power play goal (0 of 11) or allowed a power play goal (10 of 10) this season. North Dakota has scored three goals with the man advantage (3 of 14, 21.4%) and allowed one power play goal to opponents (14 of 15, 93.3%) through its first four games.

Quinnipiac Team Profile

Head Coach: Rand Pecknold (28th season at QU, 551-326-98, .615)
National Ranking: #7/#7

This Season: 2-0-1 overall, 0-0-0 ECAC
Last Season: 17-8-4 overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 9-3-4-2 ECAC (1st of 4 teams)

Team Offense: 2.33 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 0.67 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 0.0% (0 of 11)
Penalty Kill: 100.0% (10 of 10)

Key Players: Senior F Michael Lombardi (2-2-4), junior F Skyler Brind’Amour (1-2-3), Sophomore F Ty Smilanic (1-1-2), Senior F Ethan de Jong (0-2-2), Senior F Desi Burgart (0-1-1), Senior D TJ Friedmann (2-0-2), Senior D Zach Metsa (0-1-1), Sophomore G Yaniv Perets (1-0-1, 0.96 GAA, .947 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND ; 141-64-24, .668)
National Ranking: #6/#6

This Season: 3-1-0 overall, 0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCAA Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

Team Offense: 4.25 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.25 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.4% (3 of 14)
Penalty Kill: 93.3% (14 of 15)

Key Players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (2-4-6), Senior F Ashton Calder (4-2-6), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (3-2-5), Junior F Judd Caulfield (1-3-4), Senior F Connor Ford (0-4-4), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (1-2-3), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (2-2-4), Sophomore D Tyler Kleven (1-1-2), Senior G Zach Driscoll (3-1-0, 2.26 GAA, .898 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: April 9, 2016 (Tampa, FL). Two nights after UND’s late-game heroics against Denver, the Fighting Hawks outlasted the Bobcats 5-1 to claim the program’s eighth national championship. Shane Gersich and Brock Boeser scored first-period goals for North Dakota before Quinnipiac got on the board with a 5-on-3 tally late in the opening frame. After a tight, scoreless second period, Drake Caggiula scored twice in the first four minutes of the third to open up the contest. Autin Poganski potted his tenth of the year midway through the final frame, and the last nine minutes felt like one long, slow coronation for the Green and White.

Six Years Ago: March 27, 2015 (Fargo, ND). North Dakota blocked 28 shots in front of a partisan crowd at Scheels Arena and downed the Bobcats 4-1 to advance to the NCAA West Regional Final, where they would play St. Cloud State. Tucker Poolman, Bryn Chyzyk, Drake Caggiula, and Luke Johnson all scored for UND, who received 29 saves from 2015 Mike Richter Award winner Zane McIntyre. Quinnipiac went 1-for-8 with the man advantage, scoring only an extra-attacker power play goal with less than two minutes remaining.

Fifteen Years Ago: October 7, 2006 (Grand Forks, ND). A late Quinnipiac power play goal got the Bobcats within a goal, but the damage had been done by then. T.J. Oshie assisted on all three Jonathan Toews goals (remarkably, the only hat trick of his Fighting Sioux career) and Ryan Duncan had a three point night (1 g, 2 a) in a 4-2 North Dakota victory. UND blew out the Bobcats 6-1 in Friday’s opener despite only one goal from the Oshie-Toews-Duncan (D.O.T.) line.

All-time Series: The two teams have only played four games (the aforementioned October 2006 series in Grand Forks, the 2015 West Regional semifinal, and the 2016 national championship game), with UND sweeping the Bobcats by a combined score of 19-5. Three of the four contests were played in the state of North Dakota.

Game News and Notes

Quinnipiac has competed at the Division I level since the 1999-2000 season; that was the year UND won its seventh national championship. UND’s Connor Ford (1-3-4 in two games) and Brady Ferner (1-0-1 in four games) have faced the Bobcats before with their previous teams. Friday’s game will be QU’s first home game of the season; over the past two seasons, Rand Pecknold’s squad went 24-9-0 at Frank Perrotti, Jr. Arena (3,386). The Bobcats have outshot their three opponents 100-52. North Dakota netminder Zach Driscoll has eleven career shutouts.

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend will be available on ESPN+ (a subscription is required). All UND men’s hockey games, home and away, 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.

The Prediction

North Dakota fans should keep one thing in mind headed into this weekend: “Past performance is not an indication of future results.” That is to say, this year’s version of the Green and White is still experiencing some growing pains as line combinations get sorted out and defensive zone coverage improves. I see this as a split, with Brad Berry making some critical adjustments before Saturday’s rematch. QU 3-2, UND 4-1.

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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