Weekend Preview: UND vs. Minnesota Duluth

North Dakota was down 2-0 to Minnesota Duluth with just 101 seconds remaining in the third period of the 2021 NCAA Midwest Regional final at Scheels Arena in Fargo, North Dakota. The Bulldogs had built their lead with two goals just 80 seconds apart early in the final frame on a pair of fluky plays. A partially blocked shot off the stick of Jackson Cates fluttered past Fighting Hawks’ netminder Adam Scheel, and a broken stick at the blue line sent Cole Koepke in alone on a breakaway.

Through the first 25 games of the season, UND had only won one game after allowing the first goal (1-5-1). But after coming back against both Denver and St. Cloud State to claim the program’s first NCHC Frozen Faceoff postseason title, Brad Berry’s squad had to feel like another comeback was possible.

And it was indeed possible. Collin Adams and Jordan Kawaguchi scored extra-attacker goals 44 seconds apart to send the partisan crowd into a frenzy and send the game to overtime. And overtime. And overtime. And overtime.

UMD’s Luke Mylymok scored the game-winner just over two minutes into the FIFTH overtime session; his second goal of the season ended the longest NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey tournament game in history.

One could argue that after over 140 minutes of game action, Duluth had a built-in advantage: the Bulldogs (14-10-2) were scheduled to face Michigan in the regional semifinal, but after the Wolverines withdrew due to a positive COVID-19 test in their hockey program, UMD advanced in a “no contest” and therefore had fresher legs than top overall seed North Dakota (22-5-1).

Adams and Kawaguchi were two of six North Dakota players to finish the season with double digit goal totals. Of those six, only Riese Gaber remains at North Dakota.

Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State both advanced to the 2021 NCAA Frozen Four in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which meant that the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) was represented on college hockey’s biggest stage for the seventh consecutive tourney (every season that the league has existed).

Here are the NCHC teams to appear in the Frozen Four since the NCHC began play in 2013-2014:

2014: North Dakota
2015: North Dakota, Omaha
2016: North Dakota (champion), Denver
2017: Denver (champion), Minnesota Duluth
2018: Minnesota Duluth (champion)
2019: Minnesota Duluth (champion), Denver
2020: No NCAA tournament (COVID-19)
2021: Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State

The Bulldogs played ten games at the Division I level in the early 1930s but didn’t really get started until after World War II. Its first 19 seasons after the war were played as an independent before joining the WCHA in 1965. It would take 18 seasons – and a head coach named Mike Sertich – before UMD would make the NCAA tournament, and Sertich would take them there in three consecutive seasons:

1982-1983: National Quarterfinalist
1983-1984: 2nd Place (National Runner-Up)
1984-1985: 3rd Place (Consolation Champion)

In 1984, Duluth was tantalizingly close to winning its first title. The Bulldogs defeated North Dakota 2-1 in overtime (behind a goal by Bill Watson) to advance to the championship game, where they would face Bowling Green in the longest NCAA final in Division I men’s hockey history. Gino Cavallini scored for the Falcons in the fourth overtime session, ending a game that took over 97 minutes of game action to complete.

And, perhaps, fittingly, UMD would find themselves locked in overtime contests in 1985 as well. The Bulldogs took RPI to three overtimes in the national semis before falling 6-5. Back in those days, there was still a third-place game, and so Duluth faced Boston College (which had also played three overtimes in its semifinal) for no reason at all. Of course, that game also went to overtime, with UMD defeating the Eagles 7-6.

After that three-year splash on the national scene, Mike Sertich would manage just one more tournament appearance (1993) over the final fifteen years of his head coaching career before giving way to Scott Sandelin, who has guided the Bulldogs to the NCAAs ten times in his 21 seasons behind the Bulldog bench.

Even though UMD has been a more frequent participant over the past two decades than at any other point in team history, Duluth and North Dakota have only met twice in the national tournament (1984 and 2021). UND had a chance to meet the Bulldogs in the 2011 title game but fell to the Wolverines in the semifinals 2-0 (with an empty-net goal) despite outshooting Michigan 40-20.

Before the Wolverines were forced to withdraw, UMD and Michigan were set to square off in the national tournament for the first time since that overtime thriller in St. Paul.

With three national titles in a nine-year stretch, the Bulldogs could certainly be considered the best team of the 2010s; North Dakota’s eight national titles have been spread out across the decades: 1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000, and 2016.

The Wolverines have won nine NCAA titles but only two since 1964, those coming in 1996 and 1998. For that reason, I consider North Dakota (eight titles) and Denver (eight titles) the two best programs in NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey history.

Turning the page to this season, #4 Duluth (7-2-1 overall, 2-1-1 NCHC) has 12 seniors and grad students on this year’s roster; North Dakota? Only five. And that’s all thanks to the transfer portal, which allowed Brad Berry to bring in senior forwards Ashton Calder and Connor Ford and senior netminder Zach Driscoll. Forwards Gavin Hain and Mark Senden are the only two current UND seniors who were on last year’s roster.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Scott Sandelin’s squad has eight regulars in the lineup who meet that threshold: sophomore forward Blake Biondi (4-4-8), senior forward Noah Cates (3-5-8), junior forward Quinn Olson (2-5-7), senior forward Tanner Laderoute (5-1-6), senior forward Casey Gilling (2-4-6), graduate forward Kobe Roth (1-5-6), senior forward Koby Bender (2-3-5), and sophomore defenseman Wyatt Kaiser (1-4-5).

By that same measure, #6 North Dakota (8-3-0 overall, 4-0-0 NCHC) has nine players at a half point or better per game and FOUR averaging a point per game or better: sophomore forward Riese Gaber (6-7-13), sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (6-9-15), senior forward Ashton Calder (7-6-13), and senior forward Connor Ford (1-9-10). Other offensive contributors include freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (4-5-9), junior forward Judd Caulfield (3-5-8), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (4-5-9), sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (3-3-6), and junior defenseman Ethan Frisch (2-4-6).

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 3.82 goals per game through its first eleven contests; last year, North Dakota scored 3.93 goals/game. However, there are two key differences between this year’s team and last year’s to this point of the season:

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 #12 (53.2%).

The other glaring statistic surrounding this year’s squad is that opponents are averaging 2.56 goals per game; last season, UND held the opposition under two goals per contest (1.94).

After experiencing slow starts against Bemidji State, Quinnipiac, and Penn State, UND got back to its game over the past two weekends against Denver and Miami:

The Fighting Hawks scored twice early against DU 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 Denver second period, and completed the sweep with two goals in the third.

In the two-game series against the Pios, North Dakota led for nearly ninety minutes of game action and never trailed. And last weekend on the road at Miami, the Fighting Hawks scored the first goal of each game, extended leads, never trailed, and led on the scoreboard for 85 game minutes.

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 114-76 while scoring fifteen goals and allowing just seven – 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 a three-week gauntlet against #4 Duluth, #2 St. Cloud State, and #7 Minnesota? 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 4-0 start in league play (the first since 2015-2016), this team is still finding its identity and will be a much tougher opponent in the second half of the season.

On the plus side, UND is taking advantage of scoring opportunities when they present themselves, lighting the lamp on 13.9% of shots on goal (good for 2nd in the country). Minnesota Duluth is in 32nd place in that category at 9.7%.

Duluth’s only two losses this season were a 5-1 home shellacking at the hands of #1 Michigan and a 4-3 road loss at #13 Western Michigan. UMD rebounded the following night with a 3-0 victory, and outscored Colorado College 5-0 last weekend. The only trouble with the CC result was that all five goals were scored in Friday’s opener; the teams skated to a snoozefest of a 0-0 tie on Saturday. The Bulldogs also have a home-and-home sweep of Minnesota to their credit this year (5-3, 2-1).

Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (21st season at UMD, 413-334-92, .547)
National Rankings: #4/#4

This Season: 7-2-1 overall, 2-1-1 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 15-11-2 overall, 13-9-2-0 NCHC (3rd)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.80 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.80 goals allowed/game

Power Play: 17.1% (6 of 35
Penalty Kill: 86.5% (32 of 37)

Key players: Sophomore FBlake Biondi (4-4-8), enior F Noah Cates (3-5-8), Junior F Quinn Olson (2-5-7), enior F Tanner Laderoute (5-1-6), Senior F Casey Gilling (2-4-6), Graduate F Kobe Roth (1-5-6), Senior F Koby Bender (2-3-5), Sophomore D Wyatt Kaiser (1-4-5), Freshman D Owen Gallatin (2-2-4), Junior G Ryan Fanti (6-1-1, 1.36 GAA, .946 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND ; 146-66-24, .669)
National Ranking: #6/#6
This Season: 8-3-0 overall, 4-0-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCAA Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

Team Offense: 3.82 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.55 goals allowed/game

Power Play: 28.2% (11 of 39)
Penalty Kill: 80.0% (36 of 45)

Key Players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (6-7-13), Senior F Ashton Calder (7-6-13), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (4-5-9), Junior F Judd Caulfield (3-5-8), Senior F Connor Ford (1-9-10), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (3-3-6), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (4-5-9), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (6-9-15), Sophomore D Tyler Kleven (3-2-5), Junior D Ethan Frisch (2-4-6), Senior G Zach Driscoll (8-3-0, 2.38 GAA, .896 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 27, 2021 (Fargo, ND). Minnesota Duluth outlasted North Dakota 3-2 in five overtimes to advance to the NCAA Frozen Four. UND scored two extra-attacker goals in the final two minutes of regulation to send the game long into the night. The three goaltenders involved in the contest combined to make 114 saves.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: February 23, 2019. One night after a three-goal first period allowed North Dakota to cruise to a 4-1 victory, it was a two-goal second period that propelled the Bulldogs to a 3-2 win and a series split. The game-winning goal was scored on a 5×3 after UND’s Jackson Keane and Rhett Gardner took penalties 29 seconds apart. The teams combined for just 33 shots on goal in a tight-checking affair.

The Meeting That Never Was: Both teams advanced to the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four at Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minnesota). UND could not get past Michigan, falling 2-0 despite outshooting the Wolverines 40-20. In the other national semifinal, Minnesota-Duluth defeated Notre Dame 4-3 and rode that momentum to the title game. The Bulldogs took the Wolverines to overtime before senior forward Kyle Schmidt scored the game winner and earned UMD their first national championship. North Dakota won two of the three games against Duluth that season, outscoring Scott Sandelin’s team 11-5.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 149-87-11 (.626). The teams first met in 1954, with North Dakota winning the first ten games between the schools by a combined score of 72-16. UMD’s first win over the Fighting Sioux (a 3-2 road victory on December 18th, 1959) did not sit well with the defending national champions. UND defeated Duluth 13-2 the following night.

Last Ten: North Dakota is 5-4-1 (.550) in the last ten games between the teams, although the Bulldogs have outscored the Hawks 26-25 over that stretch thanks to two five-goal performances in Duluth back in 2018 and a 7-4 home victory back in January of last year. Only two of the past ten UND-UMD games were played in Grand Forks.

Game News and Notes

Both head coaches this weekend are alumni of the University of North Dakota; Brad Berry (1983-86) and Scott Sandelin (1982-86) both played for UND under John “Gino” Gasparini. No current UND player has more than one career goal against the Bulldogs. According to KRACH, Minnesota Duluth has played the toughest schedule in the country to this point in the season; North Dakota’s schedule ranks 10th. These two teams will also tangle on February 18th and 19th in Duluth.

The Prediction

Both teams are playing very well right now, although Duluth appears to have an edge in experience and in net. The Fighting Hawks have a few things going for them as well: a more talented group of defensemen, the home crowd, and last line change. Brad Berry will match up his shutdown line of Gavin Hain, Louis Jamernik, and Mark Senden against Scott Sandelin’s skilled forwards, and that should keep both games close. With all of the growing pains that this year’s version of the Green and White have gone through, a split would be an excellent result, and that’s what I’ve got: UMD 3-2, UND 3-1.

Broadcast Information

Both games this weekend will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and also available online at NCHC.tv. Friday’s opener can also be seen on TSN in Canada. 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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