Weekend Preview: UND at Omaha

#4 North Dakota (21-11-1, 16-5-1 NCHC) will head to Nebraska this weekend to face #20 Omaha (20-14-0, 10-12-0 NCHC) at Baxter Arena exactly one month after the two teams tangled in Grand Forks. With one victory in the series (or one Denver loss to Colorado College), UND would claim the program’s third-consecutive Penrose Cup as NCHC regular-season champions.

Before we dig into this weekend’s matchup, let’s take a quick look back at the past few games between the two teams…

On Friday, February 4th, UND broke a 1-1 tie with three goals in the second period, including a 5-on-3 tally by Ethan Frisch with seven seconds remaining. In Saturday’s rematch, North Dakota built a 2-0 lead through two periods but could not hold off the Mavs, allowing two third-period goals less than three minutes apart and surrendering a 3-on-3 goal midway through the five-minute overtime session.

Saturday’s rematch marked the first time in 19 games between the teams that the team scoring first did not prevail.

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 team in sin bin time (71 minutes; 8th-most in the country). UND’s Tyler Kleven is 7th in the nation with 72 minutes in penalties.

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 6-4 in one-goal games this season; the Fighting Hawks are 8-3.

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 twenty victories this season. Despite the winning record, Omaha finds itself in 21st place in the all-important Pairwise rankings. The Mavericks fared well out-of-conference (10-2-0) but only have ten wins in conference play (10-12-0). In particular, three losses to Miami and two losses to Colorado College – along with non-conference splits with Lake Superior and St. Lawrence – have UNO currently on the outside of the NCAA tournament field.

When North Dakota traveled to Kalamazoo to face Western Michigan in late January, the Fighting Hawks hadn’t won a game since December 11th, 2021.

UND dropped both games against the Broncos by final scores of 4-1 and 2-0, falling to 13th in the Pairwise Rankings.

Despite the two road defeats, there were signs that Brad Berry’s squad had righted the ship…

On Friday night, North Dakota outshot the Broncos 35-23 but were undone by three WMU power play goals and an 0-for-3 performance with the man advantage.

On Saturday night, shots were nearly even, with the decisive goal coming on a shorthanded breakaway in the final minute of the first period (Western Michigan would add a late empty-net goal).

Since those defeats at the hands of the Broncos, UND has faced St. Cloud State, Omaha, Colorado College, Minnesota Duluth, and Western Michigan, winning each weekend series and effectively going 9-1 over that stretch (27 of 30 league points) to leapfrog Denver for 1st place in the league standings.

Four 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.

With two NCHC games remaining, UND now leads Denver by four points in the race for the Penrose Cup. The Pioneers have a home-and-home series with the Colorado College Tigers this weekend (at CC Friday, at DU Saturday).

With sweeps over the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs (road) and the Western Michigan Broncos (home), UND has moved up to #5 in the all-important Pairwise Rankings, secured home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs, guaranteed no worse than a second-place finish in the conference standings, and locked up an NCAA tournament appearance.

UND has put together an impressive tournament resume by playing a tough slate of games all season long; the Fighting Hawks have played the country’s sixth-toughest schedule according to KRACH; Omaha’s slate of games currently ranks as the 18th-toughest in all of college hockey.

North Dakota’s sweep vs. Western Michigan moved them to 21-11-1 on the season and secured yet another 20-win campaign. Beginning in 1996-97, UND has collected twenty victories or more in 23 of 26 seasons, including last year, when the squad earned 22 wins in just 29 games.

Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, junior netminder Isaiah Saville (15-12-0, 2.47 GAA, .908 SV%, 4 SO) has been spectacular in net for the Mavs. Fellow third-year netminder Austin Roden has appeared in nine games (5-2-0. 2.21 GAA, .927 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. In the first half o the season, Roden only squared off against one other NCHC opponent, stopping 28 of 31 in a home loss to Colorado College on December 4th.

In February, however, Roden appeared in three league games, relieving Saville in Friday’s opener at North Dakota and splitting starts against St. Cloud State (win) and Denver (loss). Saville was not at his best through the first five weeks of the 2022 league schedule (33 goals in ten games), but he put together solid performances in victories against SCSU (28 of 29 saves) and DU (31 of 32 saves).

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).

After a bit of a back-and-forth between the two, Zach Driscoll has regained his status as UND’s #1 goaltender. Since taking over for Jacob Hellsten on January 29th against St. Cloud State, Driscoll has gone 7-1-1 with a goals-against average of 1.59, a save percentage of .946 (244 saves, 14 goals allowed), and one shutout. In February, the fifth-year netminder from Apple Valley, Minnesota was awarded three consecutive NCHC Goaltender Of The Week Awards and was named the NCHC Goaltender of the Month.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Mike Gabinet’s squad has nine active players who meet that threshold, including two first-year forwards: Cameron Berg (7-13-20) and Ty Mueller (8-4-12 in 20 games). Others chipping in offensively include senior forward Taylor Ward (17-18-35), senior forward Brandon McManus (9-19-28), senior forward Taylor Weiss (8-21-29), senior forward Chase Primeau (7-12-19), senior forward Kevin Conley (8-10-18), junior forward Jack Randl (7-10-17), and junior defenseman Brandon Scanlin (6-25-31).

By that same measure, North Dakota also has nine players at a half point or better, although at least two of those – sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (7-17-24 in 21 games) and senior forward Gavin Hain (6-3-9 in 18 games) – will not be in the lineup this weekend due to injury. Two others- sophomore forward Riese Gaber (14-21-35) and junior defenseman Ethan Frisch (9-6-15) are dealing with an injuries and will be game-time decisions.

UND got forward Mark Senden (5-11-16) back in the lineup last weekend after the senior captain had missed two consecutive series.

Brad Berry can also count on the offensive production of senior forward Connor Ford (4-20-24), senior forward Ashton Calder (11-8-19), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (7-12-19), freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (6-13-19), and sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (9-10-19).

With Sanderson out of the lineup, Brad Berry will rely on a trio of blueliners – junior Ethan Frisch (9-16-15, 107 total shot attempts), graduate student Chris Jandric (1-12-13, 87), and sophomore Tyler Kleven (5-3-8, 145) – 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 six of his past nine games and has already surpassed his goal-scoring total from his first two seasons at North Dakota (four goals in 55 games).

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 3.21 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 2.58 per game this season.

UND is scoring on 11.8 percent of its shots on goal, a mark good for 5th in the country. Omaha clocks in close behind at 11.2 percent (12th).

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 55.2%, good for 3rd in the nation. Omaha sits at 51.1 percent (19th).

For UND, Connor Ford (61.8% of faceoffs won) takes nearly every important draw, while Jake Schmaltz (52.1%) has improved over the course of his first college season. Louis Jamernik (54.4%) has been a steady third option for Brad Berry.

For the Mavericks, it’s junior Nolan Sullivan (59.3%) and senior Chayse Primeau (49.0%) leading the way, with freshman Cameron Berg (54.3%) chipping in as well.

With both squads faring extremely well on draws, it is no surprise that the teams find themselves neck-and-neck nationally in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi: UND 51.2% (24th), Omaha 50.8% (25th)
Fenwick: UND 51.9% (21st), Omaha 50.9% (27th)

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 nearly a full minor penalty more per game (11.82 – 10.59) in conference play. The Fighting Hawks have had 119 man-advantage situations this season but have been shorthanded 133 times. With 29 power play goals scored, 28 power play goals allowed, four shorthanded goals scored, and three allowed, UND’s specialty teams net is a +2.

Omaha is in better shape in the penalty department, averaging just 14.00 penalty minutes per conference game while seeing their opponents whistled for 14.35. This has led to 170 man-advantage situations on the season against 166 shorthanded situations for the Mavericks. With 43 power play goals, 29 power play goals against, and a 3-2 advantage in shorthanded goals, UNO sits at +15.

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

Omaha power play: 43 of 170, 25.3 percent (7th)
Omaha penalty kill: 137 of 166, 84.1 percent (28th)

North Dakota power play: 29 of 119, 24.4 percent (11th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 105 of 133, 78.9 percent (43rd)

This weekend will close out the NCHC regular season, with first-round matchups in the league playoffs yet to be determined. North Dakota will finish in first or second place in the standings; while Omaha could finish in fifth or sixth place. UND will face either Miami or Colorado College in a best-of-three series next weekend in Grand Forks; the games will be played on March 11th, March 12th, and March 13th (if necessary).

Omaha Mavericks

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (5th season at UNO, 74-83-11, .473)

National Rankings: #20
Pairwise Ranking: 21st
KRACH Rating: 175.1 (16th)

This Season: 20-14-0 overall, 10-12-0 NCHC (6th)
Last Season: 14-11-1 overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 10-9-5 NCHC (4th)

Team Offense: 3.21 goals scored/game – 19th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.56 goals allowed/game – 20th of 59 teams

Power Play: 25.3% (43 of 170) – 7th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 84.1% (137 of 166) – 28th of 59 teams

Key Players: Senior F Taylor Ward (17-18-35), Senior F Brandon McManus (9-19-28), Senior F Taylor Weiss (8-21-29), Senior F Chase Primeau (7-12-19), Freshman F Cameron Berg (7-13-20), Freshman F Ty Mueller (8-4-12 in 20 games), Senior F Kevin Conley (8-10-18), Junior F Jack Randl (7-10-17), Junior D Brandon Scanlin (6-25-31), Junior G Isaiah Saville (15-12-0, 2.47 GAA, .908 SV%, 4 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND, 159-74-25, .665)

National Rankings: #4
Pairwise Ranking: 5th
KRACH Rating: 448.0 (5th)

This Season: 21-11-1 overall, 16-5-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCHC Midwest Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.21goals scored/game – 19th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.58 goals allowed/game – 21st of 59 teams

Power Play: 24.4% (29 of 119) – 11th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.9% (105 of 133) – 43rd of 59 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (14-21-35), Senior F Connor Ford (4-20-24), Senior F Ashton Calder (11-8-19), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (6-13-19), Junior F Judd Caulfield (9-7-16), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (7-12-19), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (9-10-19), Junior D Ethan Frisch (9-6-15), Senior Chris Jandric (1-12-13), Sophomore D Tyler Kleven (5-3-8), Senior G Zach Driscoll (19-9-1, 2.37 GAA, .907 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: February 5, 2022 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota built a two-goal lead through the first forty minutes of action but couldn’t make it hold up, surrendering two third-period goals less than three minutes apart to send the game to overtime. Omaha’s Brannon McManus ended the contest halfway through the five-minute 3-on-3 session. One night earlier, the teams were tied after one period, but UND erupted for three goals in the middle frame, including a 5-on-3 tally with just seven seconds remaining. The Mavericks outshot the Fighting Hawks 9-4 in the third period but could not put a second goal past Zach Driscoll, who finished with 26 saves.

Last meeting in Omaha: February 26, 2021. The two teams met in Omaha just six days after UND’s 7-1 drubbing in Grand Forks, and the Fighting Hawks picked up right where they left off, dispatching the homestanding Mavericks 4-2. North Dakota led 2-1 with three minutes remaining before UNO’s Jack Randl evened the score. Jasper Weatherby scored on the power play with less than eighty seconds left to give the visitors the lead, and a shorthanded empty-netter from Judd Caulfield iced the game. North Dakota was assessed just ten minutes in penalties, while Omaha was whistled for twenty, including fourteen minutes in the third period alone. The Fighting Hawks scored three power play goals and held the Mavs scoreless on four man-advantage opportunities.

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 39-22 over that stretch. Two of the last ten games have gone to overtime, and both went the way of Omaha by identical 3-2 scores.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 29-16-1 (.641), including a 14-7-0 (.667) record in games played in Grand Forks. North Dakota owns a record of 24-13-1 (.645) 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 20-10-0 (.667) in his head coaching career against Omaha. In 18 of the past 19 contests in this series, the winning team is the one which scores the first goal.

The Prediction

North Dakota is on a mission to claim the program’s third-consecutive Penrose Cup, and I don’t see anything standing in their way. UND has battled through illness, injuries, and depleted lineups and has emerged on the other side unfazed and battle-tested. If anything can derail the Fighting Hawks, it would be a specialty teams battle, as Brad Berry would prefer to see his squad play the majority of the contest at even strength. Omaha’s Isaiah Saville is definitely capable of stealing a game between the pipes, but I don’t see that happening until Saturday night – after North Dakota hoists the #PennaRosa on Friday. UND 4-1, UNO 4-2.

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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