Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Miami

The Miami RedHawks only faced North Dakota three times last season, but that was more than enough for Chris Bergeron’s squad.

Way back on December 2nd, 2020, the 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.

After those two December tilts, the teams were not scheduled to face each other in the second half of the season. As fate would have it, however, top-seeded UND (18-5-1) drew last-place Miami (5-17-2) in the first round of the modified NCHC Frozen Faceoff. There was little drama in the contest, as the Fighting Hawks scored three goals in the first six minutes of the hockey game and cruised to a 6-2 victory, outshooting MU 46-28.

In the season series, North Dakota outscored Miami 14-4 while holding a 124-70 advantage in shots on goal.

Unfortunately for the RedHawks, that was the case all of last season, as Chris Bergeron’s squad only scored 48 goals all year (1.92 goals/game) while allowing 89 and were outshot 885-587. Goaltending kept things close, but Miami scored more than two goals in a game just seven times last year (in 25 games played).

Sophomore goaltender Ludvig Persson was a bright spot for Miami last season (5-11-2, 2.62, .925, 2 SO), but he has come down to earth in his first seven appearances this year, going just 2-4-1 with a goals-against average of 3.29 and a save percentage of .892.

Miami is scoring at a better pace this season (2.88 goals per game) and has scored more than two goals in four of eight games this year. The issue has been that MU is allowing 3.5 goals per contest and has not held an opponent under two goals all season.

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.

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 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.

Incidentally, Bergeron recruited current UND grad transfer Connor Ford to Bowling Green; Ford scored 53 goals and added 61 assists for 114 points in his four seasons (148 games) with the Falcons.

Eight 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 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. And now, the WCHA is no more, and the CCHA has re-formed for the 2021-2022 campaign.

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.

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 over the past two seasons, winning the program’s third and fourth Penrose Cup as NCHC champions and collecting an overall record of 48-11-5 (.789) during the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons.

Last year, North Dakota definitely benefitted from having a number of players stick around for a title run rather than turn pro. And UND’s roster is now feeling the effects of all of those departures happening at once, with fourteen new faces in Green and White this season. Despite bringing in five experienced transfers (forwards Ashton Calder and Connor Ford, defensemen Chris Jandric and Brady Ferner, and goaltender Zach Driscoll), the Fighting Hawks lost their top five scorers (and seven of their top eight) from a season ago: Jordan Kawaguchi, Collin Adams, Shane Pinto, Jasper Weatherby, Matt Kiersted, Grant Mismash, and Jacob Bernard-Docker combined for over 60% of UND’s offense last season (69 of 114 goals and 185 of 308 total points).

In addition to those seven skaters, Brad Berry also lost forwards Jackson Keane and Harrison Blaisdell, defensemen Gabe Bast and Josh Rieger, and goaltenders Adam Scheel and Peter Thome.

Despite losing all of that firepower and scoring depth, the offensive numbers appear to be fine on the surface. UND is averaging 3.67 goals per game through its first nine contests; last year, North Dakota scored 3.93 goals/game. There is one concerning metric, however: in my opinion, the Fighting Hawks have been relying too heavily on the power play (10 of 33 goals this season, 30.3% of the team’s offensive production) and not generating enough chances at even strength. Last year, the power play units were effective but not essential, accounting for 29 of UND’s 114 goals scored (25.4%).

This is concerning for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Brad Berry’s squad will not have the puck enough this season to draw the number of power plays required to win in this fashion. Through nine games, UND has had 31 man advantage opportunities (3.4/game) while finding themselves shorthanded 37 times (4.1/game) and allowing six power play goals. Last year, the Green and White averaged 4.3 power plays per game while finding themselves shorthanded exactly four times per contest. Coupled with four shorthanded goals, this led to a +17 specialty teams margin last season. This year, North Dakota sits at +3 through nine games and now finds itself in the gauntlet of the NCHC schedule.

And to drill down on this point a bit further, why will UND not enjoy a power play quantity advantage over opponents this season? Quite simply, they will not possess the puck enough. The team chasing the puck will hook, hold, obstruct, interfere, and trip opponents in order to regain possession or prevent scoring chances. North Dakota made a living with the puck last season (7th and 5th in two key puck possession statistics), and it started in the faceoff circle. In particular, Shane Pinto, Collin Adams, and Jasper Weatherby had UND at #1 in the nation in faceoff percentage (56.2%); this year, the Green and White clock in at #19 (52.1%).

Having the puck most of the time also led to a 33-26 shot advantage last season; this year, it’s nearly dead even at 26-24. With top-end talent and puck possession, UND scored nearly four goals per game last year while allowing less than two (1.94); the most glaring statistic with this year’s squad is that opponents are averaging 2.56 goals per game.

After experiencing slow starts against Bemidji State, Quinnipiac, and Penn State, UND got back to its game against Denver last weekend. The Fighting Hawks scored twice early in the second period to build a 2-0 lead on Friday night and held on to win 3-1, following up that effort with their most complete period of the season in Saturday’s opening frame. Brad Berry’s squad jumped out to a 2-0 lead after eleven minutes, survived a strong DU second period, and completed the sweep with two goals in the third.

In the two-game series, North Dakota led for nearly ninety minutes of game action and never trailed. This is the recipe for success for this year’s squad – keep games close and settle in rather than having to chase the game.

In its three losses (vs. Bemidji State, at Quinnipiac, vs. Penn State), North Dakota trailed each opponent by multiple goals at various points in the contest. BSU scored two goals in the opening 90 seconds and led until UND tied it with 38 seconds remaining, QU scored four consecutive goals to build a 4-1 lead midway through the third period, and PSU built a 2-0 lead through the first thirteen minutes of the opening frame in Nashville. In those three losses, the Fighting Hawks led for a TOTAL of five minutes and seven seconds.

The Fighting Hawks will need to do a better job of keeping games close early if they expect to complete for a top-half finish in the NCHC. To be fair, UND has played better in second periods this season – outshooting opponents 92-61 while scoring thirteen goals and allowing just six – but when they’ve struggled out of the gate, they have often been behind and chasing the scoreboard by that point.

Why is it important to bring all of this up as UND enters league play? Because the stronger competition will expose these areas even as Brad Berry’s team develops some chemistry. Splits are very possible on home ice, something that has been nearly unheard of over the past two seasons (North Dakota went 27-2-0 over the past two seasons at the Ralph). An overall record of 45-10-5 (.792) over the past two seasons has certainly raised the already-high bar for the UND faithful, but fans should temper expectations and expect close, frustrating contests until January and beyond. Even with North Dakota’s home sweep of Denver last weekend, this team is still finding its identity and will be a much tougher opponent in the second half of the season.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Chris Bergeron’s squad has ten players who meet that threshold: junior forward Joe Cassetti (3-2-5), senior forward Matt Barry (2-3-5), freshman forward Chase Gresock (3-2-5), junior forward Ryan Savage (3-1-4), freshman forward Red Savage (0-4-4), sophomore forward Thomas Daskas (2-2-4), senior forward Michael Regush (1-3-4), senior defenseman Derek Daschke (2-3-5), junior defenseman Alec Capstick (1-2-3), and junior defenseman Jack Clement (1-3-4).

By that same measure, Brad Berry has nine players at a half point or better per game and three averaging a point per game or better: sophomore forward Riese Gaber (4-7-11), sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (3-6-9), and senior forward Ashton Calder (5-4-9). Other offensive contributors include freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (4-4-8), junior forward Judd Caulfield (3-5-8), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (3-4-7), senior forward Connor Ford (1-5-6), sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (3-3-6), and junior defenseman Ethan Frisch.

On the plus side, UND is taking advantage of scoring opportunities when they present themselves, lighting the lamp on 14.1% of shots on goal (good for 3rd in the country). Miami is in 12th place in that category at 11.9%.

Both teams have had goaltending struggles to this point in the season, with Miami (a team save percentage of .888) and North Dakota (.895) ranking in the bottom half of all men’s Division I hockey teams in that statistic. To be fair, Zach Driscoll (6-3-0, 2.35 GAA, .904 SV%, 1 SO), who has played every minute in net for UND, rebounded from a subpar performance in Nashville (five goals allowed on 22 shots) to make 43 of 45 saves last weekend against Denver (one goal allowed each night).

For Miami, sophomore Ludvig Persson (2-4-1, 3.29 GAA, .892 SV%) has played the majority of minutes between the pipes, with junior Logan Neaton (0-1-0, 2.99 GAA, .907%) appearing in two games. Persson is the reigning NCHC Rookie of the Year.

After this weekend, #7/#7 North Dakota (6-3-0) will face three consecutive ranked opponents, all from the state of Minnesota:

November 19th and 20th: vs. #4/#4 Minnesota Duluth (6-2-0)
November 26th and 27th: vs. #6/#8 Minnesota (6-4-0)
December 3rd and 4th: at #1/#1 St. Cloud State (8-2-0)

Miami RedHawks

Head Coach: Chris Bergeron (3rd season at Miami, 15-44-8, .284)
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 2-5-1 overall, 1-1-0 NCHC (t-3rd)
Last Season: 5-18-2 overall, 5-17-2 NCHC (8th)

Team Offense: 2.71 goals scored/game – 29th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 3.57 goals allowed/game – 50th of 59 teams
Power Play: 16.1% (5 of 31) – 33rd of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.3% (18 of 23) – 43rd of 59 teams

Key players: Junior F Joe Cassetti (3-2-5), Senior F Matt Barry (2-3-5), Freshman F Chase Gresock (3-2-5), Junior F Ryan Savage (3-1-4), Freshman F Red Savage (0-4-4), Sophomore F Thomas Daskas (2-2-4), Senior F Michael Regush (1-3-4), Senior D Derek Daschke (2-3-5), Junior D Alec Capstick (1-2-3), Junior D Jack Clement (1-3-4), Sophomore G Ludvig Persson (2-4-1, 3.29 GAA, .892 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND ; 144-66-24, .667)
National Ranking: #7/#7
This Season: 6-3-0 overall, 2-0-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCAA Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

Team Offense: 3.67 goals scored/game – 9th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.56 goals allowed/game – 27th of 59 teams
Power Play: 30.3% (10 of 33) – 6th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 84.6% (33 of 39) – 29th of 59 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (4-7-11), Senior F Ashton Calder (5-4-9), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (4-4-8), Junior F Judd Caulfield (3-5-8), Senior F Connor Ford (1-5-6), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (3-3-6), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (3-4-7), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (3-6-9), Sophomore D Tyler Kleven (2-1-3), Junior D Ethan Frisch (2-3-5), Senior G Zach Driscoll (6-3-0, 2.35 GAA, .904 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 12, 2021 (Grand Forks, ND). Top-seeded UND (18-5-1) drew last-place Miami (5-17-2) in the first round of the modified NCHC Frozen Faceoff. There was little drama in the contest, as the Fighting Hawks scored three goals in the first six minutes of the hockey game (including two by Collin Adams and cruised to a 6-2 victory, outshooting MU 46-28. Over the next four days, North Dakota would defeat Denver 2-1 (OT) and St. Cloud State 5-3 to claim the program’s first NCHC postseason tournament title.

Last Meeting in Miami: January 18, 2020. One night after the teams skated to a 4-4 tie, North Dakota exploded with three goals in the third period to escape with a 5-3 road victory. Miami had taken a 3-2 lead on a power play goal with just fifty seonds remaining in the middle frame. UND’s Cole Smith potted the game-winner with just 64 ticks on the clock, and Westin Michaud added an empty net goal 37 seconds later to ice the contest. The Fighting Hawks outshot the RedHawks 36-22 for the game and 73-38 in the series.

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 seven wins and two ties (7-1-2, .800) in the past ten contests between the teams, outscoring Miami 42-22 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 20-7-4 (.710), including a 6-4-2 (.583) record in games played in Oxford, Ohio. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).

Game News and Notes

In his three games against Miami last season, sophomore forward Riese Gaber scored four goals and added an assist. In this year’s unbalanced schedule, this will be the last time that the two teams tangle in the regular season. Friday’s opener will be MU’s second home game of the season. Green Hawks are preferable to RedHawks.

The Prediction

I don’t expect this to be easy for North Dakota, as Brad Berry will not have the benefit of last line change to contain Miami’s top two lines of Fletcher-Regush-Ryan Savage and Gresock-Red Savage-Barry. Those six players have accounted for 23 of MU’s 34 points from forwards this season. I expect some bumps in the road early in Friday’s contest, and I am also interested to see how Saturday’s afternoon start affects both teams. I think that the Fighting Hawks have grown over the past three weekends and will outscore the home team in this series; it’s really a matter of whether Miami can keep one close and win late. UND 3-2, 5-1.

Broadcast Information

Both games this weekend will be available online at NCHC.tv; puck drop is set for 6:05 Central Time on Friday and 4:05 Central Time on Saturday. 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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