Weekend Preview: UND at Minnesota Duluth

#9 North Dakota (17-11-1) travels to AMSOIL Arena this weekend to take on #7 Minnesota Duluth (15-11-3) for a pair of NCHC contests. When the teams squared off in Grand Forks back on November 19th and 20th, the Bulldogs won Friday’s opener 4-1 but were unable to complete the sweep, as UND broke a 1-1 tie five minutes into the third period and held on for a 2-1 victory. The Fighting Hawks held the advantage in the faceoff circle all weekend, winning 68 of 115 faceoffs (59.1%). In game one, UMD went 1-for-6 with the man advantage and held UND scoreless on six power plays. In the rematch, it was North Dakota scoring on the power play and holding the Bulldogs without a power play goal.

And turning back the clock to March 27th, 2021, 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, Duluth has 12 seniors and grad students on their roster; North Dakota? Only six. And that’s all thanks to the transfer portal, which allowed Brad Berry to bring in senior forwards Ashton Calder and Connor Ford, a graduate transfer on defense (Chris Jandric), 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, and they are both dealing with injuries. Hain will not play this weekend in Duluth, while Senden is considered probable to make his way into the lineup.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that it would be an uphill climb for UND to catch Denver in this year’s race for the league title despite being only three points behind with ten games to play.

North Dakota has tightened the race over the past three weekends, collecting fifteen of eighteen possible league points against St. Cloud State (7-1 win, 3-3 tie with a shootout victory), Omaha (4-1 win, 2-3 overtime loss), and Colorado College (3-2 win, 4-0 win). With six NCHC games remaining, UND now trails Denver by just two points in the race for the Penrose Cup. The Fighting Hawks are currently five points clear of Western Michigan and ten points better than Duluth in the fight for second place (it is worth noting, however, that Duluth has one extra game remaining on its schedule due to COVID-19 rescheduling). North Dakota will host WMU next weekend before traveling to Omaha to close out the regular season.

By effectively going 5-1 over their past six games, the Fighting Hawks have moved to #11 in the all-important Pairwise rankings. As I have been saying since January, good results each weekend may not move the Pairwise needle much in the moment, but they will help the team’s resume in the long run.

North Dakota’s four January losses (two vs. PWR 25 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 (7th), Minnesota (5th), and St. Cloud State (8th). In the first half of the season, UND split its series with Quinnipiac, Duluth, Minnesota, and St. Cloud State and lost to Bemidji State (26th) and Penn State (24th).

Duluth has put together its impressive tournament resume by playing the country’s toughest schedule according to KRACH; North Dakota’s slate of games currently ranks as the sixth-toughest in all of college hockey.

Junior netminder Ryan Fanti has played nearly 85 percent of the minutes in goal for the Bulldogs, going 13-8-3 with a goals-against average of 1.91, a save percentage of .922, and four shutouts. Sophomore Zach Stejskal appeared in two games back in October before receiving a cancer diagnosis; he returned to the crease last Friday night at Denver, appearing in relief after Fanti was unable to return to the ice for the start of the second period due to illness. Stejskal turned away 20 of 22 shots to earn the road victory over the Pioneers.

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).

Nearly a month 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. That allowed Brad Berry to start Hellsten against St. Cloud State, and the freshman played brilliantly on Friday night, allowing just one goal on twenty shots. Saturday was a different story, however, and he was pulled after allowing three goals in the first period. It should be noted, however, that one was a power-play tally and the other two were breakaways – one shorthanded and one just as a penalty expired.

Driscoll righted the ship in that Saturday contest, making 20 of 20 saves as North Dakota clawed back and forced overtime. After a scoreless three-on-three session, Driscoll stopped all four attempts in the shootout as the Fighting Hawks secured the extra league point.

Since then, it’s been Driscoll’s crease, and he’s responded. Over the past five games, he’s gone 3-1-1 with a goals-against average of 1.25, a save percentage of .952, and one shutout.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Scott Sandelin’s squad has six regulars in the lineup who meet that threshold: sophomore forward Blake Biondi (12-10-22), senior forward Noah Cates (8-11-19), junior forward Quinn Olson (6-15-21), senior forward Casey Gilling (7-12-19), graduate forward Kobe Roth (9-10-19), and senior forward Koby Bender (4-11-15). Freshman forward Dominic James (3-9-12), freshman defenseman Owen Gallatin (2-12-14), and sophomore defenseman Wyatt Kaiser (1-10-11) nearly meet that same offensive threshold.

Noah Cates is doubtful to make an appearance this weekend after finishing up with the U.S. Olympic Team in Beijing, China. Head coach Scott Sandelin will get Dominic James back this weekend; James missed last weekend’s games at Denver with an injury.

By that same measure, North Dakota has nine players at a half point or better, although at least two of those – sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (Olympics, 7-17-24 in 21 games) and senior forward Gavin Hain (injury, 6-3-9 in 18 games) – will not be in the lineup this weekend, while a third – senior forward Mark Senden (injury, 5-10-15) – will be a game-time decision. Brad Berry will have the services of sophomore forward Riese Gaber (14-20-34), senior forward Connor Ford (4-18-22), senior forward Ashton Calder (10-8-18), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (6-10-16) and freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (6-10-16). Sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (7-8-15) will also return to the lineup after missing last weekend’s games against Colorado College.

With Sanderson out of the lineup, Brad Berry will rely on a trio of blueliners – junior Ethan Frisch (8-6-14, 96 total shot attempts), graduate student Chris Jandric (1-10-11, 75), and sophomore Tyler Kleven (4-3-7, 126) – 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 has scored a goal in five of his past six games and has already surpassed his goal-scoring total from his first two seasons at North Dakota (four goals in 55 games).

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, North Dakota is still managing 3.17 goals per game; 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 2.66 per game this season.

UND is scoring on 11.5 percent of its shots on goal, a mark good for 10th in the country. Minnesota Duluth clocks in at 9.3 percent (38th).

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 54.9%, good for 4th in the nation. Minnesota Duluth sits at 44.9 percent, the second-worst mark in the country.

For UND, Connor Ford (61.9% of faceoffs won) takes nearly every important draw, while Jake Schmaltz (52.2%) has improved over the course of his first college season. Louis Jamernik (53.6%) has been a steady third option for Brad Berry.

For Duluth, senior Casey Gilling (47.6%) has spent the most time in the faceoff circle and has had the most success, although freshman Dominic James (47.3%) and senior Jesse Jacques (47.6%) are not far behind. Remarkably, freshman Carter Loney has taken 333 draws this season despite clocking in at under forty percent (38.2%).

A disparity in faceoff success often leads to a similar imbalance in puck possession statistics as well, and that’s the case here:

Corsi: UND 52.0% (18th), Duluth 49.2% (33rd)
Fenwick: UND 52.7% (16th), Duluth 50.5% (28th)

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 (12.78– 10.44) in conference play than its opponents. The Fighting Hawks have had 104 man-advantage situations this season but have been shorthanded 120 times. With 24 power play goals scored, 26 power play goals allowed, two shorthanded goals scored, and two shorthanded goals allowed, UND’s specialty teams net is at minus-2.

UMD is in better shape in the penalty department, averaging 11.12 penalty minutes per conference game while seeing their opponents whistled for 11.29. Overall, however, the Bulldogs have enjoyed just 102 man-advantage situations on the season against 112 shorthanded situations. With 17 power play goals, 18 power play goals against, two shorthanded goals scored, and FIVE shorthanded goals allowed, Minnesota-Duluth sits at minus-4.

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

Minnesota Duluth power play: 17 of 102, 16.7 percent (41st)
Minnesota Duluth penalty kill: 94 of 112, 83.9 percent (21st)

North Dakota power play: 24 of 104, 23.1 percent (13th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 94 of 120, 78.3 percent (46th)

After this weekend, the Bulldogs will head to St. Cloud State for a rare Tuesday tilt before traveling to Miami for a pair of games. UMD will close out the season at home against SCSU on March 4th and 5th.

Over the two weekends of the regular season, the Fighting Hawks will host the Western Michigan Broncos and travel to Omaha to face the Mavericks.

Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (21st season at UMD, 421-343-94, .545)

National Rankings: #7/#7
Pairwise Ranking: 7th
KRACH Ranking: 8th

This Season: 15-11-3 overall, 8-6-3 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 15-11-2 overall (NCAA National Semifinalist), 13-9-2-0 NCHC (3rd)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.72 goals scored/game – 34th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.38 goals allowed/game – 14th of 59 teams

Power Play: 16.7% (17 of 102) – 41st of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 83.9% (94 of 112) – 21st of 59 teams

Key players: Sophomore FBlake Biondi (12-10-22), Senior F Noah Cates (8-11-19), Junior F Quinn Olson (6-15-21), Senior F Casey Gilling (7-12-19), Graduate F Kobe Roth (9-10-19), Senior F Koby Bender (4-11-15), Sophomore D Wyatt Kaiser (1-10-11), Freshman D Owen Gallatin (2-12-14), Junior G Ryan Fanti (13-8-3, 1.91 GAA, .922 SV%, 4 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND, 155-74-25, .659)

National Rankings: #9/#10
Pairwise Ranking: 11th
KRACH Ranking: 9th

This Season: 17-11-1 overall, 12-5-1 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCHC Midwest Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.17 goals scored/game – 21st of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.66 goals allowed/game – 25th of 59 teams

Power Play: 23.1% (24 of 104) – 13th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.3% (94 of 120) – 46th of 59 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (14-20-34), Senior F Connor Ford (4-18-22), Senior F Ashton Calder (10-8-18), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (6-10-16), Junior F Judd Caulfield (7-5-12), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (6-10-16), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (7-8-15), Junior D Ethan Frisch (8-6-14), Senior Chris Jandric (1-10-11), Sophomore D Tyler Kleven (4-3-7), Senior G Zach Driscoll (15-9-1, 2.44 GAA, .899 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: November 20, 2021 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota’s Brendan Budy broke a 1-1 tie at the 5:05 mark of the third period and UND hung on for the 2-1 victory. The Fighting Hawks scored a power play goal in the first period (Ethan Frisch) and held the Bulldogs scoreless with the man-advantage. Duluth won Friday’s opener 4-1 behind two goals from Casey Gilling and an empty-net goal with just under two minutes remaining in the game.

Last Meeting in Duluth: January 25, 2020. One night after Duluth thumped UND 7-4 by scoring five unanswered goals in the second and third periods, the Fighting Hawks responded with two third-period goals (Matt Kiersted, Jonny Tychonick) just 94 seconds apart to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 road victory. UMD’s Jarod Hilderman made Duluth’s comeback attempt more difficult by committing a tripping penalty with under five minutes remaining in the hockey game.

Most Important 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.

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, 150-88-11 (.624). 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 25-24 over that stretch thanks to a 7-4 home victory and a 4-1 road win in the past calendar year. Only three of the past ten UND-UMD games were played in Duluth.

Game News and Notes

Duluth went 10-3-1 in October and November but has gone just 5-8-2 since that time. No UND player expected to be in the lineup this weekend has more than one career goal against the Bulldogs. Friday’s series opener will be the 250th all-time meeting between the two storied programs. 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, whose wife Kathleen (“Tootsie”) died unexpectedly on Wednesday of this week. Tootsie was inducted into the Grand Forks Public School Teachers’ Hall Of Fame in 2016.

The Prediction

Both teams will be without several players this weekend, with the status of injured players and Olympic returnees still up in the air. There is also a non-COVID illness going through the UMD locker room, which may affect head coach Scott Sandelin’s ability to field a full and healthy lineup. I expect the teams to play it a bit closer to the vest, particularly early on Friday. With both goaltenders playing well, specialty teams will be key. The Fighting Hawks should have the puck the majority of the time, and that may lead to an extra power play or two. If North Dakota can find success with the man advantage, a better result than a split is possible. As it is, though, that’s what I’ve got. UND 3-2, UMD 4-3.

Broadcast Information

Friday’s opener will be available exclusively on CBS Sports Network, with Saturday’s rematch broadcast live by My9Sports out of Duluth and carried on Midco Sports Network and 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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