Weekend Preview: UND vs. Cornell

#14 Cornell (9-3-1) was ranked as high as 9th in the USCHO poll back in December, but a pair of losses at Arizona State last weekend (2-5, 2-3) dropped them to 26th in the Pairwise. A closer look at the strength of schedule for the Big Red reveals that it may be tough task to climb in the rankings in the second half of the season.

According to KRACH, Cornell has played the 44th toughest schedule in the country to this point of the season (for comparison, #5 North Dakota has played the 4th-toughest schedule, behind only Duluth, Minnesota, and St. Cloud State). Aside from two games against Quinnipiac (7th in PWR) and this weekend’s series at UND (4th), Cornell will play the following schedule in the second half of the season:

Clarkson (21st)
Harvard (24th)
Rensselaer (37th)
2 games against Colgate (40th)
St. Lawrence (43rd)
Union (48th)
2 games against Princeton (50th)
Dartmouth (51st)
Brown (56th)
Yale (59th)

Needless to say, a split or better against the Fighting Hawks this weekend and good results against the QU Bobcats may be the only chances that Cornell has of moving up far enough in the Pairwise rankings to secure an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament.

Incidentally, the twelve teams in the ECAC have combined to win seven NCAA titles, with only two of those (Yale in 2013 and Union in 2014) coming in the last 30 years. Before the league’s two recent national championships, the last conference member to claim college hockey’s biggest prize was Harvard in 1989. Cornell lays claim to two of those seven crowns, with title game victories in 1967 and 1970. The 1967 championship came after a 1-0 triumph over North Dakota in the semifinals.

The Big Red did not play any games last season due to COVID-19. In fact, only four league members competed (Quinnipiac, Clarkson, St. Lawrence, and Colgate). Cornell joined the other five Ivy League teams (Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale) as well as Rensselaer and Union in sitting out the season.

UND has played Cornell just eight times in school history, with three of those meetings in the NCAA tournament. The two teams last squared off in January 2010 in the first two UND games ever played in Ithaca, New York. Cornell won the opener 1-0 before North Dakota evened the series with a 3-1 victory.

Without much history between the two programs, let’s dive into the stats to see how the teams measure up…

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Mike Schafer’s squad has eight players who meet that threshold: junior forward Matt Stienburg (8-11-19), senior forward Max Andreev (7-10-17), senior forward Brenden Locke (4-8-12), junior forward Ben Berard (6-4-10), freshman forward Ondrej Psenicka (6-1-7), junior defenseman Sam Malinski (3-7-10), junior defenseman Travis Mitchell (2-6-8), and sophomore defenseman Tim Rego (2-6-8).

By that same offensive metric, Brad Berry has nine players at a half point or better per game, with THREE of those are averaging a point per game or better: sophomore forward Riese Gaber (8-12-20), sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (6-13-19 in 15 games), and senior forward Ashton Calder (7-7-14 in 14 games), Other offensive contributors include senior forward Connor Ford (3-13-16), freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (5-7-12), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (5-5-10 in 14 games), senior forward Mark Senden (3-8-11), sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (7-5-12), and senior forward Gavin Hain (6-3-9).

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, North Dakota is still managing well over three goals per game (3.37); last year, UND scored 3.93 goals/game. A more glaring difference can be found on the defensive side of the puck: after allowing less than two goals per game last year (1.97), the Fighting Hawks are giving up an average of 2.84 per game this season.

Two players in particular are driving the offense for North Dakota: forward Riese Gaber and defenseman Jake Sanderson. The two have combined for 198 shot attempts in 34 games played, almost six each per game. No one else on the team has more than 75 attempts.

UND is scoring on 12.4 percent of its shots on goal, a mark good for 6th in the country. Cornell is just ahead of the Fighting Hawks at 13.0 percent (3rd).

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 struggled early but now clock in at 54.4%, good for 5th in the nation. Cornell sits in 7th nationally at 53.8%.

For UND, Connor Ford (60.5% of faceoffs won) takes nearly every important draw, while Jake Schmaltz (50.8%) has improved over the course of his first college season. Louis Jamernik (50.7%) has been a steady third option for Brad Berry.

For Cornell, a trio of seniors lead the way in the faceoff circle. Max Andreev (60.1%) has been stellar, with Kyle Betts (56.3%) and Brenden Locke (53.3%) producing fantastic results as well.

With both teams faring extremely well on draws, it is no surprise that each team finds itself in the upper third nationally in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi: UND 52.1% (20th), Cornell 55.4% (11th)
Fenwick: UND 52.5% (19th) Cornell 55.3% (12th)

Corsi measures the percentage of shots taken vs. opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shots taken vs. opponents.

North Dakota’s penalty disparity is becoming problematic, as UND averages almost a full minor penalty more per game (13.79 – 12.00) than opponents. The Fighting Hawks have had 71 man-advantage situations this season but have been shorthanded 83 times. With 17 power play goals scored, 16 power play goals allowed, and one shorthanded goal scored, UND’s specialty teams net is only +2.

Cornell is roughly even in the penalty department, averaging just 10.77 penalty minutes per game while seeing their opponents whistled for 10.46. That has led to 47 man advantage situations and just 41 shorthanded situations for the Big Red. With eight power play goals and five power play goals allowed, CU sits at +3.

Cornell head coach Mike Schafer has split the goaltending duties between freshman Joe Howe and senior Nate McDonald, with no discernable pattern. Howe played both games on November 12th and 13th, with McDonald taking the reigns on two separate weekends (November 19th/20th and December 3rd/4th). On three other occasions, the two have split games, but even that has been a roll of the dice, with Howe getting the Friday start twice and McDonald once.

Despite being a senior, McDonald had not appeared in a game before this season. As a freshman and a sophomore, he was third on the depth chart behind Matthew Galajda and Austin McGrath. And, as mentioned above, the Big Red did not compete last year during his junior campaign.

Before UND’s last series at Colorado College, fifth-year senior Zach Driscoll had played nearly every meaningful minute between the pipes for North Dakota, going 11-6-0 with a goals-against average of 2.62, a save percentage of .889, and one shutout. Both Driscoll and freshman Jakob Hellsten got a start in Colorado Springs, and each performed admirably (Driscoll made 28 of 30 saves on Friday night, while Hellsten stopped 23 of 24 in the rematch).

After this weekend’s final nonconference games of the season, North Dakota is scheduled to start up the second half of league play with a home series against league foe Omaha next weekend.

Cornell Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Schafer (26th season at Cornell, 490-264-100, .632)

National Rankings: #14/#14
Pairwise Ranking: 26th

This Season: 9-3-1 overall, 6-1-1 ECAC (2nd)
Last Season: Did not participate

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.85 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.46 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.0% (8 of 4)
Penalty Kill: 87.8% (36 of 41)

Key Players: Junior F Matt Stienburg (8-11-19), Senior F Max Andreev (7-10-17), Senior F Brenden Locke (4-8-12), Junior F Ben Berard (6-4-10), Freshman F Ondrej Psenicka (6-1-7), Junior D Sam Malinski (3-7-10), Junior D Travis Mitchell (2-6-8), Sophomore D Tim Rego (2-6-8), Freshman G Joe Howe (4-2-0, 2.35 GAA, .905 S%, 1 SO), Senior G Nate McDonald (5-1-1, 2.50 GAA, .896 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND, 151-69-24, .668)

National Rankings: #5/#5
Pairwise Ranking: 4th

This Season: 13-6-0 overall, 6-2-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall, 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.37 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.84 goals allowed/game

Power Play: 23.9% (17 of 71)
Penalty Kill: 80.7% (67 of 83)

Key players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (8-12-20), Senior F Connor Ford (3-13-16), Senior F Ashton Calder (7-7-14 in 14 games),
Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (5-7-12), Junior F Judd Caulfield (3-5-8), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (5-5-10 in 14 games), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (7-5-12), Senior F Mark Senden (3-8-11), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (6-13-19 in 15 games), Junior D Ethan Frisch (3-4-7), Senior G Zach Driscoll (12-6-0, 2.58 GAA, .893 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 23, 2010 (Ithaca, New York). One night after dropping a 1-0 decision despite outshooting Cornell 28-15, North Dakota scored early (Brad Malone at 1:33 of the first period) late (Chris VandeVelde at 11:18 of the third period), and later (Jason Gregoire at 19:58 of the third period) to counteract an extra attacker goal by Cornell with ten seconds remaining. For the weekend, UND outshot the host team 54-31.

Last meeting in Grand Forks: November 29, 2008. One night after the Fighting Sioux drubbed Cornell 7-3, the teams played a tighter contest on Saturday, with the Big Red scoring the game winner with under four minutes to play. UND had a power play goal disallowed earlier in the contest.

Most Important Meeting: The teams have met twice in the NCAA semifinals, with Cornell coming out on top 1-0 in 1967 and North Dakota returning the favor the following season, 3-1.

All-Time: North Dakota leads the all-time series 5-3-0 (.625). The teams have only played twice in Grand Forks.

Game News and Notes

With ten more victories, Cornell bench boss Mike Schafer (Cornell ’86) will reach 500 coaching wins in his illustrious career. Schafer has lead the Big Red to six regular season titles, five league playoff titles, thirteen NCAA tournament appearances, and one Frozen Four (2003). His teams have only had losing records four times, and those teams were barely under .500 (15-16 in 1997-98, 12-15 in 1998-99, 15-16 in 2012-13, and 11-14 in 2014-15). The Big Red have outscored opponents in every period this season but appear to be most vulnerable in the final frame, outscoring opponents 18-15 while being outshot 115-111. Some of this could be a function of Cornell simply locking down leads over the final twenty minutes of games. CU’s record is also buoyed by a 3-0 record in 3-on-3 overtime sessions. UND has been prone to slow starts but has really turned things on in second periods, outscoring opponents 22-13 while holding a shots-on-goal advantage of 182-137.

The Prediction

Cornell has something to prove after being swept at Arizona State last weekend, while North Dakota came out flat in its exhibition contest against the US-Under 18 squad on New Year’s Day and would like to get back on track before re-entering league play one week from tonight. I expect a methodical first period, with both teams adjusting to the speed, skill, and game plan of the other. Keep an eye on which team works its way more crisply through the neutral zone; that will be a good early indicator of success. The biggest question mark for me is how quickly Brad Berry can get his squad playing at the level and in the style that brought them so many victories in the first half. I think things will get squared away in game two, with tonight’s opener proving more of a challenge. UND 3-2, 5-3.

Broadcast Information

Both games this weekend will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and will also be available via high-definition 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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