NCHC Playoff Preview: UND vs. Colorado College

Author’s note: Today marks my 500th article for When I started this adventure back in September of 2007, I had no idea that I would write for so many years – fifteen seasons and counting! And while I have no intention of stopping or even slowing down, it is important to mark milestones and reflect on the passage of time. And so I say to all of you: thank you for reading!

#5 North Dakota (22-12-1) hosts unranked Colorado College (9-22-3) for an NCHC best-of-three quarterfinal series this weekend (Friday and Saturday; Sunday if necessary) at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks. The winner of this series will advance to next weekend’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota along with the winners of the other three series this weekend (Miami at Denver, Omaha at Western Michigan, and Minnesota Duluth at St. Cloud State).

Colorado College also traveled to Grand Forks to face UND in the first round of the playoffs in 2014, 2015, and 2016. As I’ve written about before, it is difficult to end a team’s season, and tight Saturday night elimination games are to be expected, even after relatively comfortable Friday night victories. In fact, UND’s 2016 sweep (7-1, 5-1) is one of only two playoff series in recent memory that did not feature at least one close contest.

Here are the results from the past three first-round series between North Dakota and Colorado College:

2014: UND 4-2, CC 3-2 (OT), UND 4-3
2015: UND 5-1, UND 3-2
2016: UND 7-1, UND 5-1

CC was also scheduled to face the Fighting Hawks in 2020 before the college hockey season was canceled due to COVID-19. And last season, the Tigers dressed just eleven forwards, five defensemen, and one goalie for their opening-round game against St. Cloud State at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Despite losing a blueliner to a major penalty in the second period, Colorado College took SCSU to the wire, surrendering the game-winning goal with less than four minutes remaining in the contest.

By virtue of its Pairwise Ranking, North Dakota (6th) will make the NCAA tourney regardless of its results in the NCHC playoffs; Colorado College (42nd) would need to win this weekend’s series and win the NCHC playoff championship next weekend to secure a berth in the national tournament.

When the teams squared off at brand-new Robson Arena for a mid-December series in Colorado Springs, the Fighting Hawks secured the road sweep with 5-2 and 4-1 victories. Those games dropped the Tigers to 3-10-3 on the season.

UND held the advantage in all phases, outshooting the Tigers 62-54 and winning 72 of 119 faceoffs (60.5%). North Dakota scored three power play goals on nine attempts and held Colorado College to just a single power play goal in ten man-advantage opportunities.

After that weekend, the Tigers went 4-4-0 against Arizona State, Miami, Denver, and Omaha to close out January, much more respectable results for first-year head coach Kris Mayotte. Mayotte replaced Mike Haviland, who went just 74-177-28 (.315) in his seven seasons behind the Tiger bench, with no regular season or postseason titles and zero NCAA tournament appearances. Haviland had something brewing from 2017-2019, with his teams going 32-37-9 (.468). Things fell off over the past two seasons, however (15-37-5, .307), and it was time for a change.

February and March have not been kind to Mayotte’s squad, however, as the Tigers have just two wins in the past ten games. Both of those victories came in overtime against Miami (4-3, 3-2). In the other eight, CC was outscored 30-11.

Two of those losses came on February 11th and 12th at UND. Colorado College put up a good showing in Friday night’s 3-2 defeat, nearly overcoming a 3-0 first-period deficit and outshooting North Dakota 26-21 for the game. The Fighting Hawks turned the tables in Saturday’s 4-0 triumph, sweeping the regular season series between the two teams by a combined score of 16-5.

When North Dakota traveled to Kalamazoo to face Western Michigan in late January, the Fighting Hawks hadn’t won a game since defeating Colorado College on 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, Western Michigan, and Omaha, collecting 29 of 36 league points to tie Denver for 1st place in the league standings and secure the program’s third-consecutive Penrose Cup.

North Dakota’s impressive second half moved them to 22-11-1 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 the matchup this weekend, it’s been a jumble in net for the Tigers. Sophomore Dominic Basse (6-15-2, 3.23 GAA, .888 SV%, 1 SO) has played nearly two-thirds of the minutes between the pipes, but he’s been outplayed recently by junior Matt Vernon (3-7-1, 2.92 GAA, .908 SV%, 1 SO). Vernon only started four games during the first half of the season, but he came on in relief both nights of a January home-and-home series against Denver (stopping 36 of 38), and he’s earned seven of the last twelve starts for the Tigers. Basse started both games in Grand Forks last month (allowing seven goals on 48 shots). Vernon started the next four, but it was Basse in net for last weekend’s home-and-home series with Denver (ten goals allowed on 71 shots).

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 8-1-1 with a goals-against average of 1.84, a save percentage of .938 (270 saves, 18 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 Kris Mayotte’s squad has just four players who meet that threshold: sophomore forward Logan Will (6-12-18), sophomore forward Matthew Gleason (6-9-15), sophomore forward Hunter McKown (13-7-20), and sophomore forward Tyler Coffey (10-4-14).

McKown, who played on the U.S. National Under-17 and Under-18 Teams before coming to Colorado Springs, has come on strong since being held scoreless against North Dakota in December; the 19-year-old from San Jose, California has ten goals and five assists for fifteen points in his last eighteen games, although UND held him off of the scoresheet in February’s series as well. He scored a total of three goals in 43 games with the USNTDP.

By that same measure, North Dakota has nine players at a half point or better, although at least one of those – 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 sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (7-17-24 in 21 games) are dealing with injuries and will be game-time decisions.

On the plus side, UND got forward Mark Senden (5-11-16) back in the lineup two weekends ago after the senior captain had missed two consecutive series.

Brad Berry can also count on the offensive production of senior forward Connor Ford (4-23-27), senior forward Ashton Calder (11-10-21), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (7-13-20), freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (8-14-22), and sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (9-10-19).

With Sanderson out of the lineup since January 29th, Brad Berry has been relying on a trio of blueliners – junior Ethan Frisch (9-16-15, 107 total shot attempts), graduate student Chris Jandric (1-13-14, 94), and sophomore Tyler Kleven (6-3-9, 155) – 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 3.20 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 11.6 percent of its shots on goal, a mark good for 8th in the country. Colorado College clocks in at 8.3 percent (46th).

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 55.5%, good for 3rd in the nation. Colorado College sits at 46.5 percent (54th).

For UND, Connor Ford (62.6% of faceoffs won) takes nearly every important draw, while Jake Schmaltz (51.4%) has improved over the course of his first college season. Louis Jamernik (55.1%) has been a steady third option for Brad Berry. Ford’s 538 faceoff wins this season are the most in the country by a wide margin.

For Colorado College, sophomore Logan Will (50.6%) has spent the most time in the faceoff circle and has had the most success, although freshman Stanley Cooley (45.0%) is not far behind. Junior Noah Prokop (44.1%) and sophomore Jackson Jutting (47.4%) contribute as well.

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 50.9% (24th), CC 46.8% (45th)
Fenwick: UND 51.8% (21st), CC 47.2% (43rd)

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 (12.29 – 10.67) in conference play. The Fighting Hawks have had 131 man-advantage situations this season but have been shorthanded 144 times. With 32 power play goals scored, 30 power play goals allowed, four shorthanded goals scored, and three allowed, UND’s specialty teams net is a +3.

CC is in slightly better shape in the penalty department, averaging 12.63 penalty minutes per conference game while seeing their opponents whistled for just 11.58. Overall, however, the Tigers have enjoyed 139 man-advantage situations on the season against 132 shorthanded situations. With 23 power play goals, 37 power play goals against, and five shorthanded goals allowed, Colorado College sits at minus-19.

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

Colorado College power play: 23 of 139, 16.5 percent (40th)
Colorado College penalty kill: 95 of 132, 72.0 percent (56th)

North Dakota power play: 32 of 131, 24.4 percent (11th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 114 of 144, 79.2 percent (42nd)

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 fourth-toughest schedule according to KRACH; CC’s slate of games currently ranks as the 14th-toughest in all of college hockey.

Colorado College Tigers

Head Coach: Kris Mayotte (1st season at CC, 9-22-3, .309)

National Rankings: NR/NR
Pairwise Ranking: 42nd
KRACH Rating: 66.8 (37th)

This Season: 9-22-3 overall, 6-17-1 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 4-17-2 overall, 4-16-2 NCHC (t-7th)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.26 goals scored/game – 47th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 3.29 goals allowed/game – 45th of 59 teams

Power Play: 16.5% (23 of 139) – 40th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 72.0% (95 of 132) – 56th of 59 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Logan Will (6-12-18), Sophomore F Hunter McKown (13-7-20), Sophomore F Matthew Gleason (6-9-15), Sophomore F Jordan Biro (5-7-12), Freshman F Stanley Cooley (5-11-16), Sophomore F Danny Weight (1-11-12), Sophomore D Nicklas Andrews (4-10-14), Senior D Bryan Yoon (1-11-12), Junior G Matt Vernon (3-7-1, 2.92 GAA, .908 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND, 160-75-25, .663)

National Rankings: #5/#5
Pairwise Ranking: 6th
KRACH Rating: 406.9 (6th)

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

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.20 goals scored/game – 18th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.66 goals allowed/game – 23rd of 59 teams

Power Play: 24.4% (32 of 131) – 11th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 79.2% (114 of 144) – 42nd of 59 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (14-21-35), Senior F Connor Ford (4-23-27), Senior F Ashton Calder (11-10-21), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (8-14-22), Junior F Judd Caulfield (10-7-17), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (7-13-20), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (9-10-19), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (7-17-24 in 21 games), Junior D Ethan Frisch (9-6-15), Senior Chris Jandric (1-13-14), Sophomore D Tyler Kleven (6-3-9), Senior G Zach Driscoll (20-9-1, 2.43 GAA, .905 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: February 12, 2022 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after North Dakota withstood a furious CC comeback to gain a 3-2 home victory, it was smooth sailing for the Fighting Hawks. Four different UND players scored (including Brent Johnson with his first of the season), Riese Gaber collected two assists, and Zach Driscoll made 23 saves for the shutout.

Most Important Meeting: March 27, 1997. UND defeated Colorado College, 6-2, in the Frozen Four Semifinals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Two nights later, North Dakota downed Boston University, 6-4, to claim its sixth NCAA Championship. North Dakota and Colorado College also met in the 2001 East Regional (Worcester, Mass.), with UND prevailing, 4-1.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 170-84-11 (.662), including a massive advantage of 109-22-7 (.815) in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1948; North Dakota’s 170 wins over the Tigers are the most against any single opponent in program history.

Last Ten: North Dakota has swept the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring CC 39-8 over that span. The Fighting Hawks’ last loss to Colorado College was at CC on March 1, 2019 (1-3).

Game News and Notes

North Dakota head coach Brad Berry is 21-4-1 (.827) in his head coaching career against Colorado College. CC has won two national titles (1950, 1957). Since 1957, the Tigers have appeared in the NCAA tournament thirteen times (most recently in 2011) and advanced to three Frozen Fours (1996, 1997, 2005). Head coaches Scott Owens (1999-2014) and Don Lucia (1993-1999) combined to lead CC to six regular-season titles, twelve NCAA tournament appearances, three Frozen Fours, and one national championship game appearance (1996). Twelve UND players expected to be in the lineup this weekend have scored goals in their careers against Colorado College, and netminder Zach Driscoll is 5-0-0 with a goals against average of 1.75 and a save percentage of .950 in his five career starts against CC. The Tigers are 8-6-2 when leading or tied after one period of play but 1-16-1 when trailing.

The Prediction

UND survived the gauntlet of conference play while dealing with injuries up and down the lineup. This weekend will feature the most complete Fighting Hawks’ squad since before the Christmas break, and that leads to advantages all over the ice for the Green and White. The only question mark is whether Brad Berry’s crew will overlook their opponent after winning ten straight against the Tigers. There’s something about this team, however, and North Dakota will find a way to advance to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff next weekend in St. Paul. I wouldn’t be surprised if these two long-time opponents need a Sunday game to decide the series, but I’ve got the Fighting Hawks in two straight. UND 5-1, 4-2.

Broadcast Information

This weekend’s games will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and will also be available via webcast at 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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