U.S. Hockey Hall Of Fame Game Preview: UND vs. Penn State

North Dakota’s first destination game took place nearly ten years ago, as UND hosted Clarkson at Bell MTS Place, home of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets. The four showcase events that have built up to this Saturday night have all gone the way of the Green and White:

2012: Bell MTS Place (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
North Dakota 3, Clarkson 1

2013: T.D. Ameritrade Park (Omaha, Nebraska)
North Dakota 5, Omaha 2

2016: Madison Square Garden (New York City)
North Dakota 4, Boston College 3

2018: Orleans Arena (Las Vegas, Nevada)
North Dakota 3, Minnesota 1

This writer was able to witness the last two performances firsthand, and while it is difficult to measure “which team wants it more”, it is clear that the UND hockey program does not take these opportunities for granted.

On Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena (Nashville, Tennessee), #6 North Dakota (4-2-0) will face off against unranked Penn State (5-1-0); the two teams have never met on the ice. The Nittany Lions have competed at the Division I level since the 2012-2013 season and are primarily responsible for the creation of the Big Ten Hockey Conference (six teams are required for the NCAA to award an autobid to the national tournament). Penn State has posted a winning record in six of its eight seasons in the Big Ten, with a regular season title in 2020, a playoff title in 2017, and two national tournament appearances. In 2017, Guy Gadowsky’s squad blitzed Union 10-3 before falling to Denver 6-3 in the Midwest Regional Final; one year later, PSU lost their opening game to those same Pioneers by a score of 5-1.

Because this year’s North Dakota – Penn State contest was pushed back one year due to COVID-19, UND fans will have the opportunity to travel to a destination game again next season. The Green and White will return to Las Vegas but will see an upgrade in facilities (and capacity) by hosting at T-Mobile Arena, home of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights. At Orleans Arena, the announced attendance was a sold-out 7412. T-Mobile has a capacity of 17,500 for ice hockey. The opponent has not been confirmed but is believed to be Arizona State, which would be another first-time opponent unless the two teams tangle in the NCAA tournament this season.

Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald reports that fans traveled to the 2018 Vegas game from 44 states; as of Friday afternoon, he had heard of travelers from 47 different states this time around (and yes, Alaska and Hawaii are represented!). The only states without a pin on the map this time around are Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia.

Penn State and UND have both faced Niagara in non-conference action this season, and each team dispatched the Purple Eagles by identical (though reversed) scores. North Dakota defeated NU 6-2 and 4-0 at Ralph Engelstad Arena, while the Nittany Lions completed a home sweep of Niagara with 4-0 and 6-2 wins last Thursday and Friday

Aside from their two victories over NU, here are the other non-conference results for tonight’s opponents:

Penn State:

October 3rd: 3-1 home win over Long Island
October 4th: 5-2 home win over Long Island
October 8th: 1-4 home loss to Canisius
October 9th: 5-2 home win over Canisius.

North Dakota:

October 15th: 4-3 road win over #20 Bemidji State
October 16th: 3-4 (OT) home loss to #20 Bemidji State
October 22nd: 2-5 road loss to #7 Quinnipiac
October 23rd: 3-1 road win over #7 Quinnipiac

After tonight’s “neutral site’” Hall Of Fame Game matchup against Penn State, UND’s other four non-conference games during the 2021-2022 campaign will be played at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks:

November 26th and 27th vs. #7 Minnesota
January 7th and 8th vs. #16 Cornell

By comparison, Penn State will travel to face St. Thomas in late November and host Maine over New Year’s weekend. Neither of those teams is ranked (or even receiving votes) in the latest USCHO poll.

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.

Since its inception, the Big Ten has sent just five teams to the NCAA Frozen Four, and three of those were in one season (Michigan, Notre Dame, and Ohio State in 2018). Notre Dame also made the Frozen Four in 2017, while Minnesota advanced to the 2014 national title game with a 2-1 victory over North Dakota.

The Big Ten Hockey Conference has never claimed a men’s Division I ice hockey national championship.

Since the start of the BTHC, the narrative has been that the stronger teams still reside in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. In the first year of competition between the two new leagues (2013-2014), that wasn’t exactly true, as the NCHC ended up with a mark of just 10-9-1 (.525) against Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin.

After that year, however, the Big Ten might as well have been the little ten, with a mark of just 16-60-8 (.190) against Colorado College, Denver, Miami, Minnesota Duluth, North Dakota, Omaha, St. Cloud State, and Western Michigan over the next five seasons.

The past three years have seen dead-even play between the fourteen teams that make up the two conferences (15-15-2).

This season, 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 (3-4-7) 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 six games, the Fighting Hawks’ d-corps has produced 5 of the team’s 22 goals and 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 has played every minute in net for North Dakota this season, winning four of six games while posting a goals-against average of 2.35, a save percentage of .907, and one shutout. His play was particularly valuable on Saturday night against Quinnipiac, as he made 35 of 36 saves in a 3-1 UND victory. The Fighting Hawks only managed 19 shots on goal in the road win over the Bobcats.

After thoroughly dominating in the faceoff circle over the past two seasons, North Dakota has come back to earth, winning just 51.5% of draws. PSU clocks in at 53.5%. UND will count on Connor Ford (88 of 146, 60.3%) to take most of the important draws in the defensive end, as Jake Schmaltz (33 of 78, 42.3%) and Louis Jamernik (30 of 67, 44.8%) still need to improve in that area. Freshman center Matteo Costantini has performed well in more limited action (26 of 47, 55.3%).

Penn State has had the puck a lot this season, checking in with a Corsi of 62.3% (3rd in the country) and a Fenwick of 62.4% (5th). Conversely, North Dakota is squarely in the middle of the pack in both categories (51.0%, 49.3%). Corsi measures shot attempts vs. opponents; Fenwick measures unblocked shot attempts vs. opponents.

Last season’s skilled centermen (Shane Pinto, Jasper Weatherby, and Collin Adams) drove a North Dakota offense that outshot and frustrated opponents. That UND squad was 6th in the country in both puck possession statistics (56.0%, 57.1%).

Penn State Team Profile

Head Coach: Guy Gadowsky (10th season at PSU, 333-331-60, .501)
National Ranking: NR/NR
This Season: 5-1-0 overall, 0-0-0 Big Ten
Last Season: 10-12-0 overall, 7-11-0 Big Ten (5th of 7 teams)

Team Offense: 4.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.83 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.2% (4 of 22)
Penalty Kill: 96.4% (27 of 28)

Key Players: Junior F Kevin Wall (6-1-7), Freshman F Danny Dzhaniyev (2-3-5), Junior F Connor MacEachern (2-3-5), Freshman F Ryan Kirwan (2-2-4), Sophomore D Christian Berger (2-4-6), Senior D Clayton Phillips (1-2-3), Senior G Oskar Autio (3-1-0, 1.50 GAA, .938 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND ; 142-65-24, .667)
National Ranking: #6/#6
This Season: 4-2-0 overall, 0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCAA Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

Team Offense: 3.67 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 25.0% (5 of 20)
Penalty Kill: 88.9% (24 of 27)

Key Players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (2-4-6), Senior F Ashton Calder (4-3-7), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (3-3-6), Junior F Judd Caulfield (2-3-5), Senior F Connor Ford (1-5-6), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (1-2-3), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (3-4-7), Sophomore D Tyler Kleven (1-1-2), Junior D Ethan Frisch (1-1-2), Senior G Zach Driscoll (4-2-0, 2.35 GAA, .907 SV%, 1 SO)

Game News and Notes

Although Penn State and North Dakota have never faced off on the ice, UND has faced a Guy Gadowsky-led team before, battling to a 5-1 victory over Princeton in the 2008 NCAA tournament. In that game, Ryan Duncan had a hat trick for the Green and White. Penn State is 5-0-0 when a freshman scores a goal; first-year players have produced 17 of the Nittany Lions 61 points this season (27.9%). Only two players on UND’s roster played in the 2018 Vegas game: Gavin Hain and Mark Senden. The Fighting Hawks went 2 of 6 on the power play last weekend. North Dakota has outscored opponents 9-2 in the second period this season.

Media Coverage

Tonight’s game can be seen live on Midco Sports or online at NCHC.tv. 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

Any time two teams meet for the first time, there is a feeling-out process. Expect some tentative play in the first ten minutes or so, with ebbs and flows of momentum throughout the game. As always, goaltending and specialty teams will both play a huge factor in this one, with the “neutral” crowd at Bridgestone Arena providing an edge for the Green and White. North Dakota has never lost a destination game, and I don’t see that changing tonight. UND 4, PSU 3.

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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