Weekend Preview: UND vs. Omaha

#12 North Dakota (14-10-1) and #18 Omaha (16-10-0) will face off for the first time this season with a weekend series set to begin on Friday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks.

Last season, the two teams tangled six times over the course of 36 days in the second half of the season, and familiarity bred contempt. To that point, a line brawl erupted in the final minute of the fourth meeting between the squads, a 7-1 North Dakota home victory which secured the Fighting Hawks’ second consecutive league championship and saw Brad Berry’s squad hoist the #PenneRosa for the fourth time in the eight-year history of the NCHC.

The Saturday melee in Grand Forks started with Omaha sophomore forward Joey Abate slashing UND’s Louis Jamernik on the wrist instead of attempting to win the faceoff. Jamernik responded with a cross-check, and the royal rumble was on. Not surprisingly, Abate did the same thing late in Friday’s game with North Dakota leading 4-1 and less than two minutes on the clock. Fittingly, Abate led the NCAA in penalty minutes last season (63) after compiling 117 penalty minutes in his lone season in the NAHL and 246 in his final two seasons in the USHL.

This season, it’s Abate’s teammate – senior forward Kevin Conley – who leads the nation in sin bin time with 69 minutes.

As I mentioned earlier this week, it will be an uphill climb for UND to catch Denver in this year’s race for the league title despite being only three points (one game) behind with ten games to play.

Despite the aforementioned Maverick ruffians, Omaha was the biggest surprise in the NCHC last season. Of course, I expected them to have good results playing at home in the pod (and they did, posting a record of 6-3-1), but I also expected them to regress in the second half. On the contrary, the Mavs went a combined 7-3 against Colorado College (4-0), Denver (2-2), and North Dakota (1-1) over the first ten games of the “normal travel” portion of the schedule, finished with an overall record of 14-11-1, and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time since their Frozen Four appearance in 2015. UNO ended its season with two consecutive losses; a 5-4 defeat at the hands of Denver in the opening round of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and a 7-2 drubbing by #2 Minnesota in the NCAA West Regional (Loveland, CO). The Gophers would be blanked 4-0 in the regional final by #5 Minnesota State.

Omaha’s 2020-2021 campaign was buoyed by excellent results in close games, including four overtime victories, four wins by one goal in regulation, and a ninth in a shootout. The Mavericks’ two victories over UND last season were a 5-4 win on January 30th and a 3-2 overtime victory on March 5th. North Dakota defeated UNO by scores of 6-2, 4-1, 7-1, and 4-2 for a combined scoring margin of 27-14 over the six-game season series.

Omaha is 5-3 in one-goal games this season; the Fighting Hawks are 4-2.

Turning back the clock a bit more: After a trip to the Frozen Four in 2015, Dean Blais could only manage a mark of 35-34-6 over his final two seasons behind the Omaha bench. He was replaced by Mike Gabinet (Omaha ’04), and Gabinet finished up his rookie campaign with an eerily similar record of 17-17-2.

Maverick fans were certainly hopeful that improvement was coming three seasons ago, but Omaha struggled out of the gate with a record of 0-6-1. Things leveled off a bit after that, with a record of 6-4-1 to close out 2018. Once the calendar year turned, however, Gabinet was only able to lead his team to three more wins (the last coming on February 8th) and a season record of 9-24-3. UNO fans had to have been a bit more pleased the following year, as the 2019-20 version of the Mavs collected fourteen victories (14-17-5).

And after a 14-11-1 campaign and an NCAA tourney berth last season, Gabinet’s squad has already collected 16 victories this season. Despite the winning record, Omaha finds itself in 19th place in the all-important Pairwise rankings. The Mavericks fared well out-of-conference (10-2-0) but only have six wins in conference play (6-8-0). In particular, a November loss to Miami and two losses to Colorado College – along with non-conference splits with Lake Superior and St. Lawrene – have UNO currently on the outside of the NCAA tournament field.

After losing four straight games to open 2022, North Dakota rose to the occasion against St. Cloud State last weekend, securing five of six possible league points and solidifying itself at #13 in the Pairwise rankings. And yes, some may ask why UND didn’t “move up” in the Pairwise after last weekend. It’s important to remember that these games don’t exist in a vacuum; every result across the college hockey landscape affects the comparisons, and the only comparisons that truly matter are the ones that take place once the final games are played on Saturday, March 19th. Trust me when I tell you that last weekend’s 7-1 victory and shootout win over the Huskies will help the team’s resume in the long run.

North Dakota’s four January losses (two vs. PWR 22 Cornell, two at PWR 4 Western Michigan) continue to loom large on the national scene. For the moment, UND is being held up by early-season victories over Quinnipiac (6th) Denver (3rd, twice), Minnesota Duluth (9th), Minnesota (11th), and St. Cloud State (5th). In the first half of the season, UND split its series with Quinnipiac, Duluth, Minnesota, and St. Cloud State and lost to Bemidji State (27th) and Penn State (23rd).

Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, junior netminder Isaiah Saville (12-9-0, 2.37 GAA, .908 SV%, 4 SO) has been spectacular in net for the Mavs. Fellow third-year netminder Austin Roden has appeared in six games (4-1-0. 2.05 GAA, .933 SV%). Roden made a third-period relief appearance on Friday, November 12th at St. Cloud State, started the following night, and made 43 of 45 saves in a 3-2 overtime victory over the Huskies. Since that time, however, Roden has only squared off against one other NCHC opponent, stopping 28 of 31 in a home loss to Colorado College on December 4th. It appears to be Saville’s net for the foreseeable future.

Before UND’s December 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).

Two weekends ago, Driscoll again got the Friday start at Western Michigan, allowing four goals on 23 shots. Hellsten looked better in the rematch, allowing only a late first-period shorthanded goal while making 24 saves.

I correctly predicted before the St. Cloud State series that despite the recent trend of Driscoll on Friday nights and Hellsten on Saturday nights, Brad Berry would go with the freshman in net against the Huskies. Hellsten made 19 of 20 stops in the 7-1 boatrace of SCSU and earned the start the following night. In North Dakota’s worst period of the weekend, Hellsten allowed three goals on ten shots, including a power play goal, a breakaway straight out of the penalty box, and a shorthanded breakaway.

Driscoll came on at the start of the second period in a game which North Dakota had to have, and he responded, making all twenty saves and allowing his team to come back from a 3-1 deficit. After a scoreless overtime session, Driscoll made all four shootout saves to secure the extra league point for the Fighting Hawks.

This time around, I would guess that Driscoll will get the Friday night start, but last weekend showed that there is some healthy competition for the crease.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Mike Gabinet’s squad has seven active players who meet that threshold, including two first-year forwards: Cameron Berg (7-7-14) and Ty Mueller (4-3-7 in 14 games). Others chipping in offensively include senior forward Taylor Ward (15-12-27), senior forward Brandon McManus (7-14-21), senior forward Taylor Weiss (7-15-22), senior forward Chase Primeau (7-9-16), and junior defenseman Brandon Scanlin (2-20-22).

By that same offensive metric, Brad Berry will also have seven players in the lineup this weekend averaging a half point or better per game: sophomore forward Riese Gaber (11-15-26), senior forward Ashton Calder (10-7-17 in 20 games), senior forward Connor Ford (4-15-19), freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (6-9-15), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (5-10-15 in 20 games), senior forward Mark Senden (4-9-13), and sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (7-7-14).

Sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (7-17-24 in 21 games) would also appear on this list, but he is currently awaiting travel to Beijing, China to represent the United States as a member of the men’s Olympic ice hockey team.

With Sanderson out of the lineup, Brad Berry will rely on a trio of blueliners – junior Ethan Frisch (5-5-10), graduate student Chris Jandric (1-7-8), and sophomore Tyler Kleven (4-2-6) – to shoulder the offensive load. Frisch has come on after being added to the top power play unit; the third-year d-man from Moorhead, Minnesota scored a goal each night last weekend and has now surpassed his goal-scoring total from his first two seasons at North Dakota (four goals in 55 games).

Senior forward Gavin Hain (6-3-9 in 18 games) also meets that threshold but will be out of the lineup for the next couple of weeks after suffering 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 three goals per game; last year, UND scored 3.16 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 266 shot attempts in 44 games played, more than six each per game. Tyler Kleven is third on the team in shot attempts with 103; no one else on the squad has more than 88.

UND is scoring on 11.3 percent of its shots on goal, a mark good for 11th in the country. Omaha clocks in at 11.0 percent (15th).

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 land at 54.4%, good for 6th in the nation. Omaha sits in 12th nationally at 52.1%.

For UND, Connor Ford (60.6% of faceoffs won) takes nearly every important draw, while Jake Schmaltz (52.8%) has improved over the course of his first college season. Louis Jamernik (52.1%) has been a steady third option for Brad Berry.

For the Mavericks, it’s junior Nolan Sullivan (60.5%) and senior Chayse Primeau (49.3%) leading the way, with freshman Cameron Berg (54.9%) 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 52.6% (16th), Omaha 51.3% (22nd)
Fenwick: UND 53.3% (15th), Omaha 51.7% (22nd)

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 more than a full minor penalty more per game (13.36 – 11.57) in conference play than its opponents. The Fighting Hawks have had 91 man-advantage situations this season but have been shorthanded 105 times. With 20 power play goals scored, 22 power play goals allowed, one shorthanded goal scored, and costly shorthanded goals allowed each of the last two weekends, UND’s specialty teams net is at minus-3.

Omaha is in better shape in the penalty department, averaging just 14.08 penalty minutes per conference game while seeing their opponents whistled for 15.35. This has led to 135 man-advantage situations on the season against 133 shorthanded situations for the Mavericks. With 31 power play goals, twenty power play goals against, and an 3-2 advantage in shorthanded goals, UNO sits at +12.

To this point in the season, here is the complete specialty teams ledger:

Omaha power play: 31 of 135, 23.0 percent (14th)
Omaha penalty kill: 113 of 133, 85.0 percent (21st)

North Dakota power play: 20 of 91, 22.0 percent (15th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 83 of 105, 79.0 percent (44th)

The two teams were initially scheduled to play this series on January 14th and 15th; the series was rescheduled due to COVID-19 protocols within the UND hockey team.

According to KRACH, North Dakota has played the 4th-most difficult schedule in all of Division I men’s college hockey to this point in the season; Omaha’s schedule weighs in at 25th.

After this weekend, Omaha will travel to face the Miami RedHawks before ending the regular season with three straight home series: vs. St. Cloud State, vs. Denver, and vs. North Dakota.

UND will host Colorado College next weekend before traveling to face the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs. Before the rematch series at Omaha on March 4th and 5th, the Fighting Hawks will host the Western Michigan Broncos in a series that may well determine which team claims the Penrose Cup.

Omaha Mavericks

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (5th season at UNO, 70-79-11, .472)

National Rankings: #18
Pairwise Ranking: 18th

This Season: 16-10-0 overall, 5-8-1 NCHC (6th)
Last Season: 14-11-1 overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 10-9-5 NCHC (4th)

Team Offense: 2.93 goals scored/game – 28th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.19 goals allowed/game – 10th of 59 teams

Power Play: 23.0% (31 of 135) – 14th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 85.0% (113 of 133) – 21st of 59 teams

Key Players: Senior F Taylor Ward (15-12-27), Senior F Brandon McManus (7-14-21), Senior F Taylor Weiss (7-15-22), Senior F Chase Primeau (7-9-16), Freshman F Cameron Berg (7-7-14), Freshman F Ty Mueller (4-3-7 in 14 games), Junior D Brandon Scanlin (2-20-22), Junior G Isaiah Saville (12-9-0, 2.37 GAA, .908 SV%, 4 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND, 152-73-25, .658)

National Rankings: #12/#11
Pairwise Ranking: 13th

This Season: 14-10-1 overall, 9-4-1 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCAA Midwest Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.16 goals scored/game – 18th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.84 goals allowed/game – 29th of 59 teams

Power Play: 22.0% (20 of 91) – 15th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 79.0% (83 of 105) – 44th of 59 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (11-15-26), Senior F Connor Ford (4-15-19), Senior F Ashton Calder (10-7-17 in 20 games), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (6-9-15), Junior F Judd Caulfield (4-5-9), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (5-10-15 in 20 games), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (7-7-14), Senior F Mark Senden (4-9-13), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (7-17-24 in 21 games), Junior D Ethan Frisch (5-5-10), Senior G Zach Driscoll (12-8-1, 2.63 GAA, .889 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: March 5, 2021 (Grand Forks, ND). Omaha scored two power play goals on three chances – including the game-winner in overtime – and held UND scoreless on five man-advantage opportunities in securing a 3-2 road victory over #1 North Dakota. The Fighting Hawk’s Jordan Kawaguchi knotted the game at two just fifteen second into the third period. UND outshot the Mavericks 28-20.

Most memorable meeting: The game that UND fans will long remember is the outdoor game played at TD Ameritrade Park (Omaha, Nebraska) on February 9th, 2013. One day after winning a tight 2-1 contest indoors, North Dakota throttled UNO 5-2 on a sunny, melty afternoon. Mavericks netminder John Faulkner was pulled after allowing three goals on five shots in just ten minutes of game action. In my opinion, this hockey weekend solidified the notion that for UND hockey, it’s always a home game.

Last ten: North Dakota has won six of the last ten contests between the schools, outscoring the Mavericks 40-25 over that stretch.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 28-15-1 (.648), including a 14-8-1 (.630) record in games played in Grand Forks. North Dakota owns a record of 23-12-1 (.653) against the Mavericks since both teams joined the NCHC. The teams first met on November 19, 2010.

Game News and Notes

In 2015, both North Dakota and Omaha advanced to the Frozen Four but neither team made the championship game. UND fell to Boston University 5-3, while the Mavericks were upended 4-1 by eventual national champion Providence. Since joining the WCHA in 2011 (and later the NCHC), the Mavs have never reached the Twin Cities for the second weekend of the conference tournament despite having home ice in three of those eight years. North Dakota’s Brad Berry is 19-9-0 (.679) in his head coaching career against Omaha. In the last 17 contests in this series, the winning team is the one which scores the first goal.

The Prediction

Omaha has had particular struggles with series openers in the NCHC; the Mavericks have just one win on night one (1-6) and much better results after regrouping and looking at the film (5-2 in league rematches). If North Dakota can adjust to the absence of Jake Sanderson and win the specialty teams battle, good results will follow. I’ve got a feeling that UND is hitting its stride at just the right time, but the Mavericks won’t go down without a fight. UND 3-2, 3-3 (OT).

Broadcast Information

Both games will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and also available via livestream 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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