Weekend Preview: UND at Western Michigan

#9 North Dakota (13-8-0, 8-2-0 NCHC) has not won a game – exhibition or otherwise – since the calendar turned to 2022, and the task doesn’t get any easier with a weekend series against #4 Western Michigan (14-5-0, 6-4-0 NCHC) at Lawson Ice Arena in Kalamazoo.

First-year head coach Pat Ferschweiler (WMU ’93) has his team playing at an extremely high level, with the Broncos exhibiting plenty of offense, outstanding specialty teams, and excellent goaltending. Ferschweiler, who had previously been the WMU associate head coach under Andy Murray, also spent four seasons as an assistant coach for the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings.

At 6th in the Pairwise and with a non-conference record of 8-1-0, Western Michigan is in line to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017 and just the fourth time since 1996. WMU has just five losses on the season, coming against Michigan (2nd), Minnesota Duluth (7th), Denver (3rd, twice), and Omaha (17th).

On the other side of the ledger, two home losses to Cornell (13th) in early January dropped North Dakota to 10th in the Pairwise. At the moment, UND is being held up by early-season victories over Quinnipiac (5th) Denver (3rd, twice), Minnesota Duluth (7th), Minnesota (12th), and St. Cloud State (4th). UND ended up splitting its series with Quinnipiac, Duluth, Minnesota, and St. Cloud State; the Fighting Hawks also lost to Bemidji State (19th) and Penn State (28th) in the first half of the season

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Pat Ferschweiler’s squad has ten players who meet that threshold: senior forward Drew Worrad (5-22-27), senior forward Ethen Frank (17-7-24), senior forward Cole Gallant (7-9-16), junior forward Jason Polin (6-8-14), senior forward Paul Washe (8-5-13), sophomore forward Chad Hillebrand (2-4-6 in nine games), sophomore forward Ty Glover (4-8-12), senior forward Josh Passolt (2-8-10), senior defenseman Michael Joyaux (4-15-19), and junior defenseman Ronnie Attard (5-13-18).

By that same offensive metric, Brad Berry will have eight players in the lineup this weekend averaging a half point or better per game, with TWO of those are averaging a point per game or better: sophomore forward Riese Gaber (9-13-22) and sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (6-16-22 in 17 games); both Gaber and Sanderson are nominees for the 2022 Hobey Baker Memorial Award. Other offensive contributors include senior forward Ashton Calder (8-7-15 in 16 games), senior forward Connor Ford (3-13-16), freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (6-8-14), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (5-5-10 in 16 games), senior forward Mark Senden (4-8-12), and sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (7-6-12). Senior forward Gavin Hain (6-3-9 in 18 games) also meets that threshold but will be out of the lineup for the next few weeks after suffer a lower-body injury against Cornell.

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 (3.24); 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 2.90 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 217 shot attempts in 38 games played, almost six each per game. No one else on the team has more than 85 attempts.

UND is scoring on 11.8 percent of its shots on goal, a mark good for 6th in the country. Western Michigan is just behind the Fighting Hawks at 11.6 percent (8th).

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 54.5%, good for 4th in the nation. Western Michigan sits in 13th nationally at 52.0%.

For UND, Connor Ford (61.4% of faceoffs won) takes nearly every important draw, while Jake Schmaltz (50.6%) has improved over the course of his first college season. Louis Jamernik (50.4%) has been a steady third option for Brad Berry.

For the Broncos, it’s senior Drew Worrad (56.2%) and fifth-year senior Paul Washe (55.0%) leading the way, with underclassmen Max Sasson (40.0%), Tim Washe (48.7%), and Luke Grainger (54.8%) chipping in as well.

With both squads 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 53.0% (18th), Western Michigan 55.2% (11th)
Fenwick: UND 53.3% (17th), Western Michigan 56.0% (8th)

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 (13.38 – 11.95) than opponents. The Fighting Hawks have had 77 man-advantage situations this season but have been shorthanded 89 times. With 19 power play goals scored, 17 power play goals allowed, and one shorthanded goal scored, UND’s specialty teams net is only +3.

Western Michigan is in better shape in the penalty department, averaging just 10.79 penalty minutes per game while seeing their opponents whistled for 12.05. This has led to 90 man-advantage situations and just 83 shorthanded situations for the Broncos. With 21 power play goals, twelve power play goals against, and a 2-1 advantage in shorthanded goals, WMU sits at +10.

Junior netminder Brandon Bussi has played extremely well for the Broncos this season, notching fourteen wins against just five defeats. After enduring a three-game losing streak from November 6th-13th (vs. UMD, at Denver x 2), Bussi has gone 8-1 with a goals-against average of 1.70 and a save percentage of .940. During that stretch, his only defeat was a 1-0 home loss to Omaha in which he made 25 of 26 saves. The 6’5”, 210-pounder from Sound Beach, New York only appeared in four games last season, suffering a severe injury just eight minutes into the team’s first game of the season in the Omaha pod. Bussi, who went 18-12-4 with a goals-against average of 2.65 and a save percentage of .910. as a freshman in 2019-2020, managed to appear in the final three games of last season.

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). Each of the netminders also got one start in early January against Cornell, with Driscoll struggling on Friday night (13 saves on 17 shots) before giving way to Hellsten on Saturday (17 saves on 20 shots).

Zach Driscoll has faced the Broncos twice in his collegiate career, going 1-0-1 with a goals-against average of 2.40 and a save percentage of .917.

Western Michigan Broncos

Head Coach: Pat Ferschweiler (1st season at WMU, 14-5-0, .737)

National Rankings: #4/#3
Pairwise Ranking: 6th

This Season: 14-5-0 overall, 6-4-0 NCHC (t-3rd)
Last Season: 10-12-3 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 9-11-2-2 NCHC (6th)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.84 goals scored/game – 4th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.37 goals allowed/game – 17th of 59 teams

Power Play: 23.3% (21 of 90) – 11th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 85.5% (71 of 83) – 15th of 59 teams

Key Players: Senior F Drew Worrad (5-22-27), Senior F Ethen Frank (17-7-24), Senior F Cole Gallant (7-9-16), Junior F Jason Polin (6-8-14), Senior F Paul Washe (8-5-13), Senior D Michael Joyaux (4-15-19), Junior D Ronnie Attard (5-13-18), Junior G Brandon Bussi (14-5-0, 2.39 GAA, .916 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND, 151-71-24, .663)

National Rankings: #9/#10
Pairwise Ranking: 10th

This Season: 13-8-0 overall, 8-2-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCAA Midwest Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.24 goals scored/game – 18th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.90 goals allowed/game – 31st of 59 teams

Power Play: 24.7% (19 of 77) – 8th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 80.9% (72 of 89) – 32nd of 59 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (9-13-22), Senior F Connor Ford (3-13-16), Senior F Ashton Calder (8-7-15 in 16 games), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (6-8-14), Junior F Judd Caulfield (3-5-8), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (5-5-10 in 16 games), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (7-6-13), Senior F Mark Senden (4-8-12), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (6-16-22 in 17 games), Junior D Ethan Frisch (3-5-8), Senior G Zach Driscoll (12-7-0, 2.66 GAA, .888 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 13, 2020 (Omaha, NE). In the second of two meetings in the Omaha pod, North Dakota defeated the Broncos 6-3 behind two goals from freshman Riese Gaber. UND netminder Adam Scheel made 20 of 23 saves to improve the Fighting Hawks’ record in the pod to 4-2-1. One week earlier, North Dakota’s Grant Mismash and Shane Pinto scored two goals apiece and four other Fighting Hawks lit the lamp in an 8-2 shellacking of Western Michigan. UND erupted for four goals in the first period and outshot the Broncos 18-2 in the opening frame, chasing netminder Austin Cain after twenty minutes of play. On the other side of the ice, senior Peter Thome made 16 saves for the Green and White.

Last Meeting in Kalamazoo: December 7, 2019. One night after Gavin Hain’s overtime winner was the ONLY goal of the contest, the Green and White erupted for the first four goals of the contest in an 8-2 victory over the homestanding Broncos. WMU’s Mattias Samuelsson was assessed a major penalty at the 13:22 mark of the third period in a 5-2 game, and North Dakota scored three consecutive goals in a span of under three minutes to put the game out of reach. The 2019-2020 version of the Fighting Hawks would play from October 25th until January 10th without a loss.

Most Important Meeting: March 24, 2012 (St. Paul, MN). North Dakota upended Western Michigan 3-1 in the NCAA West Regional semifinal. Brock Nelson had two points, including an empty net goal with 25 seconds remaining that sent UND to the regional finals against Minnesota. Aaron Dell made 24 saves for the Green and White. The Broncos, who have played at the Division I level since 1975-76, have six NCAA tournament appearances.

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Saturday, March 22, 2014 (Minneapolis, MN). North Dakota faced a must-win situation in the 3rd place game at the inaugural NCHC Frozen Faceoff, and did not disappoint the partisan crowd. The Green and White rolled to a 5-0 victory behind two first-period goals from Conner Gaarder. UND netminder Zane Gothberg made 25 saves for the shutout, and Dave Hakstol’s crew played the waiting game for several more hours before discovering that they had indeed made the NCAA tournament for the twelfth consecutive season.

All-Time Series: In the short history between the schools, UND has won 25 of the 32 games (25-7-0, .781), including a record of 11-3-0 (.786) in games played in Kalamazoo. Before the 2016-17 season in which Western Michigan won three of the four meetings, WMU’s lone victory over North Dakota was a 2-1 road win on March 8th, 2014. The teams first met in 1997.

Last Ten: North Dakota has won seven of the last ten meetings between the two teams, outscoring the Broncos 37-22 over that stretch of games. UND has had a clean sweep in the past six, with a scoring margin of 28-10.

Game News and Notes

Western Michigan moved up to the Division I ranks beginning with the 1975-76 season and has advanced to the NCAA tournament six times. The Broncos have made the NCAA tourney once (2017) in their first eight seasons in the NCHC after advancing to the national tournament twice (2011, 2012) in the last three seasons in the now-defunct CCHA. The Broncos are 9-0-0 when leading after two periods of play but just 5-5-0 when trailing or tied. Western Michigan has outscored opponents 28-9 in third periods this season. The two teams will tangle again in Grand Forks on February 25th and 26th.

The Prediction

I’ve got a bad feeling about this. UND slept through much of its exhibition contest against the US Under-18 team on New Year’s Day, coughed up three third-period goals in a span of under five minutes against Cornell in Friday’s opener, and followed that up by scoring just once (at the 2:00 mark of the first period) in Saturday’s rematch. And to make matters worse, the goaltending situation is muddled, and Brad Berry will have to juggle lines after losing senior forward Gavin Hain, one member of the most defensively-sound trio that North Dakota has. Western Michigan is playing with confidence and will have the last line change to go along with the Lawson Lunatics this weekend. I expect the Fighting Hawks to keep one game close, and it’s more likely to be on Saturday night. Western Michigan 4-2, 2-2 tie.

Broadcast Information

Both games this weekend will be available via 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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