NCAA Tournament Preview: UND vs. Notre Dame

It’s a battle of the Crossed ND’s in a rare Thursday tilt in the national tournament. #2-seed North Dakota (24-13-1) is matched up with #3-seed Notre Dame (27-11-0) at the NCAA Regional in Albany, New York, with the winner facing either #1-seed Minnesota State (35-5-0) or #4-seed Harvard (21-10-3) with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line.

The two fighting squads (Hawks and Irish) have never faced one another in the NCAA tourney, and it has been more than ten years since the teams squared off on the ice. Further back in history, Notre Dame was a member of the WCHA from 1971-1981, posting three winning seasons in ten campaigns. The Fighting Irish have had more success lately, winning the CCHA league title twice in their last seven seasons in that conference before spending four seasons in Hockey East. During that stretch (2013-2017), the Golden Domers made the national tournament three times, with a Frozen Four appearance in 2017.

Notre Dame moved to the Big Ten beginning in 2017-18 and immediately found success, winning the regular season title and playoff championship. That team went 28-9-2 on its way to the national title game, eventually falling 2-1 to Minnesota Duluth at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. That 2018 playoff run was Notre Dame’s last appearance in the Frozen Four.

The Fighting Irish have played ten games against this year’s NCAA tournament field, going 6-4-0 (.600). North Dakota has played nineteen games against the other fifteen teams in the tourney, with a record of 11-7-1 (.605). UND boasts the best record against the field of any team in the NCHC and trails only Minnesota State (9-2-0) and UMass (7-4-1) overall.

Notre Dame went just 3-3 in October (including back-to-back losses at Minnesota) but followed that up with a flawless November, going 6-0 and punctuating that record with consecutive overtime victories at Michigan. Since a 3-1 home defeat at the hands of Niagara on New Year’s Day, the Fighting Irish have gone 15-5 while allowing more than two goals just five times, an average of just 2.20 goals allowed/game.

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 finished up the regular season by facing 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 24-13-1 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 tonight’s matchup, I would expect senior goaltender Matthew Galajda (17-7-0, 1.98 GAA, .930 SV%, 2 SO) to get the start in net for the Fighting Irish. The transfer from Cornell split time early in the season with junior Ryan Bischel, but Galajda has gotten the nod in nine straight games after relieving Bischel after one period of play (three goals allowed, two saves) at Wisconsin on February 12th.

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 10-2-1 with a goals-against average of 1.80, a save percentage of .936 (336 saves, 23 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 Jeff Jackson’s squad has eleven players who meet that threshold: junior forward Max Ellis (16-12-28), sophomore forward Ryder Rolston (10-17-27), junior forward Trevor Janicke (15-9-24), sophomore forward Landon Slaggert (11-13-24), senior forward Graham Slaggert (11-12-23), sophomore forward Grant Silianoff (5-13-18), junior forward Jesse Lansdell (8-11-19), senior forward Cam Burke (8-11-19), junior forward Solag Bakich (5-12-17), senior defenseman Nick Leivermann (6-20-26), and senior defenseman Spencer Stastney (7-20-27).

Max Ellis was named to the All-Big Ten second team, while Landon Slaggert, Spencer Stastney, and Matthew Galajda were honorable mentions.

By that same offensive measuring stick, North Dakota has ten players at a half point or better, although two of those – senior forward Gavin Hain (6-3-9 in 18 games) and sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (8-18-26 in 23 games) – will not be in the lineup this weekend due to injury.

On the plus side, UND got forward Mark Senden (5-12-17) back in the lineup just under a month ago after the senior captain had missed two consecutive series.

Brad Berry can also count on the offensive production of sophomore forward Riese Gaber (15-22-37), senior forward Connor Ford (4-24-28), senior forward Ashton Calder (11-10-21), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (8-13-21), freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (8-16-24), junior forward Judd Caulfield (11-9-20), 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, 119 total shot attempts), graduate student Chris Jandric (1-14-15, 97), and sophomore Tyler Kleven (7-3-10, 165) – 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 twelve games and has already surpassed his goal-scoring total from his first two seasons at North Dakota (four goals in 55 games).

Riese Gaber was named to the All-NCHC first team, with Jake Sanderson and Zach Driscoll appearing on the second team. Connor Ford was an honorable mention selection. The National Collegiate Hockey Conference also names an All-Rookie Team; Matteo Costantini and Jakob Hellsten were both selected for that honor.

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 3.11 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 2.61 per game this season.

UND is scoring on 11.4 percent of its shots on goal, a mark good for 9th in the country. Notre Dame clocks in at 10.2 percent (22nd).

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. The Fighting Irish sit at 53.8 percent (6th).

For UND, Connor Ford (62.4% of faceoffs won) takes nearly every important draw, while Jake Schmaltz (51.8%) has improved over the course of his first college season. Louis Jamernik (56.0has been a steady third option for Brad Berry. Ford’s 572 faceoff wins this season are the most in the country by a wide margin.

Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson has three solid experienced options in the faceoff dot: senior Graham Slaggert (52.0%), senior Cam Burke (58.4%), and senior Jake Pivonka (59.9%) have each won over 230 faceoffs this season.

With both teams faring extremely well on draws this season, one would expect the puck possession statistics to be comparable as well, and that’s the case here:

Corsi: North Dakota 51.2% (21st), Notre Dame 51.1% (23rd)
Fenwick: North Dakota 51.7% (21st), Notre Dame 52.5% (18th)

Corsi measures the percentage of shots taken vs. opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shots taken vs. opponents.

North Dakota’s penalty disparity has been a problem all season, as UND averaged nearly a full minor penalty more per game (12.29 – 10.67) in conference play. The Fighting Hawks have had 141 man-advantage situations this season but have been shorthanded 151 times. With 33 power play goals scored, 32 power play goals allowed, four shorthanded goals scored, and three allowed, UND’s specialty teams net is a +2.

Notre Dame is in much better shape in the penalty department, averaging just 9.17 penalty minutes per conference game while seeing their opponents whistled for 11.42. Overall, however, the Fighting Irish have enjoyed just 125 man-advantage situations on the season against 136 shorthanded situations. With 24 power play goals, 13 power play goals against, seven shorthanded goals scored, and zero allowed, Notre Dame sits at a plus-18.

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

Notre Dame power play: 24 of 125, 19.2 percent (31st)
Notre Dame penalty kill: 123 of 136, 90.4 percent (2nd)

North Dakota power play: 33 of 141, 23.4 percent (13th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 119 of 151, 78.8 percent (43rd)

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; Notre Dame’s slate of games currently ranks as the 10th-toughest in all of college hockey.

Notre Dame Team Profile

Head Coach: Jeff Jackson (17th season at Notre Dame, 375-230-66, .608)

National Rankings: #9/#10
Pairwise Ranking: 9th
KRACH Rating: 328.0 (8th)

This Season: 27-11-0 overall, 12-6-5-1 Big Ten (3rd)
Last Season: 14-13-2 overall (NCAA tournament bid), 11-8-3-2 Big Ten (3rd)

Team Offense: 3.32 goals scored/game – 11th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.11 goals allowed/game – 6th of 59 teams

Power Play: 19.2% (24 of 125) – 31st of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 90.4 % (123 of 136) – 2nd of 59 teams

Key Players: Junior F Max Ellis (16-12-28), Sophomore F Ryder Rolston (10-17-27), Junior F Trevor Janicke (15-9-24), Sophomore F Landon Slaggert (11-13-24), Senior F Graham Slaggert (11-12-23), Sophomore F Grant Silianoff (5-13-18), Junior F Jesse Lansdell (8-11-19), Senior F Cam Burke (8-11-19), Junior F Solag Bakich (5-12-17), Senior D Nick Leivermann (6-20-26), Senior D Spencer Stastney (7-20-27), Senior Goaltender Matthew Galajda (17-7-0, 1.98 GAA, .930 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND, 162-76-25, .663)

National Rankings: #7/#8
Pairwise Ranking: 7th
KRACH Rating: 402.1 (6th)

This Season: 24-13-1 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: 3.11 goals scored/game – 19th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.61 goals allowed/game – 21st of 59 teams

Power Play: 23.4% (33 of 141) – 13th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.8% (119 of 151) – 43rd of 59 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (15-22-37), Senior F Connor Ford (4-24-28), Senior F Ashton Calder (11-10-21), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (8-16-24), Junior F Judd Caulfield (11-9-20), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (8-13-21), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (9-10-19), Junior D Ethan Frisch (9-6-15), Senior Chris Jandric (1-14-15), Sophomore D Tyler Kleven (7-3-10), Senior G Zach Driscoll (22-10-1, 2.36 GAA, .907 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: November 24, 2012 (South Bend, IN). One night after the visitors eeked out a 2-1 road victory, it was the homestanding Irish who held serve with a 5-2 win. A shorthanded goal in the middle frame broke a 1-1 tie and gave the Fighting Irish a lead they would never relinquish. There were three goals scored in the final 90 seconds of the hockey game; a North Dakota tally by Rocco Grimaldi was sandwiched between two Jeff Costello markers, including an empty-netter with just 19 seconds remaining.

Most Important Meeting: March 15, 1980. In WCHA playoff action, the Fighting Sioux dispatched with Notre Dame with a 7-4 victory after winning the opener 10-4. UND would go on to win its third national championship two weeks later.

Last Ten: North Dakota has a 5-2-3 (.650) record over the past ten games, outscoring the Fighting Irish 37-24 over that stretch.

All-time Series: The series is tied 17-17-3. The Fighting Irish won 15 of the first 20 meetings between the two teams, but UND has evened the ledger with a mark of 12-2-3 over the past seventeen games.

Game News and Notes

The Fighting Irish appeared in the national championship game in 2008 (falling 4-1 to Boston College) and in 2018 (losing 2-1 to Minnesota Duluth). Three current North Dakota players – forwards Ashton Calder and Connor Ford and defenseman Brady Ferner – have played two games each against Notre Dame in their collegiate careers. Calder and Ford each picked up an assist. Tonight’s game will mark UND’s 34th appearance in the national tournament. Notre Dame is 14-0-0 when leading after one period of play and 21-0-0 when leading after two.

The Prediction

UND survived the gauntlet of conference play and the NCHC playoffs while dealing with injuries and absences up and down the lineup. The second half of the season has forced players into increased roles, and that will bode well for Brad Berry’s squad throughout the tournament. Notre Dame doesn’t give up much defensively, and that might frustrate the Fighting Hawks. I am concerned about specialty teams, particularly the Fighting Irish penalty kill. Both teams would love to play with a lead, and that makes the first period that much more important. Last year’s five-overtime NCAA tourney defeat and last weekend’s less-than-stellar performance at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff are both fresh in the minds of the North Dakota players, and that will be all the motivation the Fighting Hawks need to find a way to advance to tomorrow’s regional final. UND 3-2.

Broadcast Information

Tonight’s regional semifinal can be seen on ESPNU or via webcast by using the Watch ESPN platform. 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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