Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Minnesota

Quite simply, North Dakota vs. Minnesota is a hockey rivalry unlike any other.

#7 North Dakota (2-1-1) is six years removed from its eighth national championship but has made the national tournament in each of the past three seasons and has gone a remarkable 72-25-6 (.728) over that stretch.

#1 Minnesota (3-1-0) has only advanced to the NCAAs twice in the last five seasons (and only seven of the past fourteen) and is stuck on five national titles, the most recent in 2002 and 2003.

More to the point…

The Golden Gophers played from 1947-1973 without a title (26 seasons).

Head coach Herb Brooks led Minnesota to three NCAA championships in a six year stretch (1974, 1976, and 1979).

The Golden Gophers then played from 1979-2001 without a title (22 seasons).

Head coach Don Lucia won back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003.

This year will mark the twentieth anniversary of Minnesota’s most recent NCAA crown.

North Dakota has been relevant in every decade, with head coaches Bob May, Barry Thorndycraft, John “Gino” Gasparini, Dean Blais, and Brad Berry all lifting college hockey’s most coveted trophy.

Here is a closer look at the thirteen combined national titles won by these two storied programs.

Despite only nine tournament victories since Minnesota’s last title (UND has 22 in that same span), Gophers’ head coach Don Lucia was inexplicably given a two-year extension that was supposed to keep him behind the bench through the 2018-19 campaign. After the Gophers sputtered to a 19-17-2 record five seasons ago. Lucia was replaced by former St. Cloud State bench boss Bob Motzko.

Motzko, who guided St. Cloud State to the national tournament eight times in his thirteen seasons behind the SCSU bench, only managed an overall NCAA tourney record of 5-8 and one Frozen Four appearance with the Huskies.

After this season, there is one series remaining in the current contract between the teams, to be played at Ralph Engelstad Arena (Grand Forks, North Dakota) during the 2023-24 campaign.

The two teams will not play during the 2024-25 regular season, but there is hope that the rivalry will continue in future seasons.

Minnesota can no longer lay claim to having a roster made up exclusively of the State of Hockey’s “Pride On Ice”, with players hailing from Phoenix (Arizona), Irvine (California), Fenton (Michigan), Northville (Michigan), Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania), and Kindersley (Saskatchewan). Future recruits in the pipeline hail from Bethel Park (Pennsylvania), Newburyport (Massachusetts), and Morristown (New Jersey).

So far this season, North Dakota has swept Holy Cross and battled #3 Quinnipiac to a tie and a loss. Minnesota swept Lindenwood and split a home-and-home series with #2 Minnesota State.

After this weekend’s road series at Minnesota, UND’s other non-conference opponents during the 2022-2023 campaign will be Arizona State (Hall Of Fame Game in Las Vegas, “neutral”), Bemidji State (home and home), and Lindenwood (home).

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. Through four games, the Fighting Hawks are fourth in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (22.8) and are among the country’s leaders in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 56.1%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 55.1%

By comparison, Minnesota is just a shade above the Fighting Hawks in Corsi (57.1%) and Fenwick (55.7%) and is averaging 32.8 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 29.8/game).

Despite the Golden Gophers’ shot advantage through four games, UND has scored 17 goals to Minnesota’s 16. The difference? More North Dakota shots are going in the net. The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 14.3% of their chances (more than one goal on every seven shots), good for 2nd in the nation. Minnesota has scored on 12.2% of its shots on goal (13th).

One key area to watch this weekend is the face-off circle. The Fighting Hawks are the nation’s third-best team on draws (59.0%), while Minnesota clocks in at just 51.3% (28th).

For UND, sophomore Jake Schmaltz has been making a living on draws, winning 60 of 89 (67.4%). Junior Louis Jamernik V has won 38 of 70 (54.3%), while freshman Owen McLaughlin has been dead even (28 of 56). Sophomore Matteo Costantini has chippied in with 12 wins in 16 opportunities (75.0%).

For the Gophers, senior Jaxon Nelson has had the most success on faceoffs, winning 37 of 65 (56.9%). After that, however, it’s been a challenge, with sophomore Aaron Huglen (29 of 59, 49.2%) and freshmen Logan Cooley (19 of 49, 38.8%) and Garrett Pinoniemi (21 of 41, 51.2%) struggling to keep their heads above water.

To this point in the season, North Dakota has had the better of the specialty teams play. UND has been a combined +6, with seven power play goals scored (7 for 24, 29.2%, 14th in the country) and only one power play goal allowed (13 of 14, 92.9%, 5th). Minnesota has posted a +3, with five power play goals scored (5 of 19, 26.3%, 21st) and two allowed (11 of 13, 84.6%, 19th).

In this rivalry, scoring from the back end has often proved to be the difference. This weekend, the two groups of defensemen have each scored a total of 16 points through four games played. UND is led by graduate student Chris Jandric (1-6-7), sophomore Brent Johnson (0-3-3), and junior Cooper Moore (1-2-3), with senior Ethan Frisch (1-1-2) and graduate student Ty Farmer (0-1-1) also chipping in. Minnesota counters with seniors Jackson LaCombe (0-4-4) and Ryan Johnson (0-4-4), juniors Brock Fabe (1-2-3) and Mike Koster (1-1-2), and freshmen Ryan Chesley (0-2-2) and Luke Middelstadt 0-1-1).

Up front, the Fighting Hawks are led by junior Riese Gaber (3-1-4), senior Gavin Hain (4-0-4), freshman Jackson Blake (3-3-6), junior Louis Jamernik V (0-4-4), and graduate student Mark Senden (1-2-3). The Golden Gophers’ forward leaders include sophomore Rhett Pitlick (0-5-5), freshman Logan Cooley (2-3-5), freshman Jimmy Snuggerud (4-0-4), senior Jaxon Nelson (1-2-3), sophomore Matthew Knies (2-1-3), and freshman Connor Kurth (2-0-2).

North Dakota is 5th in the country in scoring offense (4.25 goals scored/game) but just 28th in the country in scoring defense (3.00 goals allowed/game) after allowing eleven goals last weekend against Quinnipiac. Minnesota is 7th in the country in scoring offense (4.00 goals scored/game) and a more respectable 9th in scoring defense (2.00 goals allowed/game).

I expect Brad Berry to reunite the Mark SendenLouis Jamernik VGavin Hain line for this road series and attempt to play them against the Jaxon Nelson line or the Logan Cooley line as much as possible. The question will be whether that allows Minnesota’s all-freshman line of Connor Kurth, Garrett Pinoniemi, and Brody Lamb more time and space to light the lamp.

UND will also need to watch out for Matthew Knies, Jimmy Snuggerud, Bryce Brodzinski, and Mason Nevers if they hope to find success this weekend.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes the UND coaching staff to try Jackson Blake and Riese Gaber on a line together, perhaps with #1 center Jake Schmaltz. If this is not the case this weekend, we could see Blake skating with Owen McLaughlin and Dylan James while Gaber skates with Schmaltz and Matteo Costantini. That leaves Judd Caulfield on a line with some combination of Ben Strinden, Griffin Ness, or Carson Albrecht.

North Dakota is strong on the back end this season, with junior Tyler Kleven and senior Ethan Frisch leading the way. A trio of graduate students (Chris Jandric, Ty Farmer, and Ryan Sidorski) match up well with sophomore Brent Johnson and junior Cooper Moore to form a defensive corps not unlike the one that took UND all the way to the national title seven years ago.

Minnesota Team Profile

Head Coach: Bob Motzko (5th season at Minnesota, 87-51-11, .590)
National Rankings: #1/#1

This Season: 3-1-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten
Last Season: 26-13-0 (NCAA Frozen Four participant), 17-4-1-2 Big Ten (1st of 7 teams)

2022-23 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 4.00 goals scored/game – 7th of 56 teams
Team Defense: 2.00 goals allowed/game – 9th of 56 teams

Power Play: 26.3% (5 of 19) – 21st of 56 teams
Penalty Kill: 84.6% (11 of 13) – 19th of 56 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Rhett Pitlick (0-5-5), Freshman F Logan Cooley (2-3-5), Freshman F Jimmy Snuggerud (4-0-4), Senior F Jaxon Nelson (1-2-3), Sophomore F Matthew Knies (2-1-3), Senior D Jackson LaCombe (0-4-4), Senior D Ryan Johnson (0-4-4), Junior D Brock Faber (1-2-3), Senior G Justen Close (2-1-0, 1.34 GAA, .941 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (8th season at UND, 164-78-26, .660)
National Rankings: #7/#7

This Season: 2-1-1 overall, 0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 24-14-1 overall (NCAA Regional Semifinalist), 17-6-1 NCHC (t-1st)

2022-23 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 4.25 goals scored/game – 5th of 56 teams
Team Defense: 3.00 goals allowed/game – 28th of 56 teams

Power Play: 29.2% (7 of 24) – 14th of 56 teams
Penalty Kill: 92.9% (13 of 14) – 5th of 56 teams

Key Players: Junior F Riese Gaber (3-1-4), Sophomore F Jake Schmaltz (1-1-2), Junior F Louie Jamernik V (0-4-4), Senior F Gavin Hain (4-0-4), Graduate Student Mark Senden (1-2-3), Freshman F Jackson Blake (3-3-6), Senior D Ethan Frisch (1-1-2), Sophomore D Brent Johnson (0-3-3), Graduate Student D Chris Jandric (1-6-7), Junior D Cooper Moore (1-2-3), Graduate Student G Drew DeRidder (1-0-0, 2.26 GAA, .912 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: November 27, 2021 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after falling 5-1 to the visiting Gophers, the homestanding Hawks scored a goal in each period to build a 3-0 lead. Minnesota goals at 7:35 (power play) and 16:30 (extra attacker) of the final frame left the outcome in doubt, but the Maroon and Gold could not find the equalizer in the closing minutes and had to settle for a road split. UND outshot Minnesota 26-13 for the contest and were led offensively by Mark Senden, who assisted on the first North Dakota goal and scored twice to lead the Green and White to victory.

Last meeting in Minneapolis: November 29, 2019. UND built a 3-1 lead through two periods of play and made that lead hold up in a 3-2 victory which secured a rare road sweep of the Gophers for the Fighting Hawks. Eight different players found their way on the scoresheet for the Green and White. North Dakota won Friday’s opener by an eye-popping final score of 9-3.

What Happens In Vegas: October 27, 2018 (Las Vegas, NV). The “Duel in the Desert” left #5 Minnesota feeling high and dry as #17 North Dakota played the Gophers even through a scoreless opening period before outshooting their guests 25-12 over the final forty minutes of play. UND’s Colton Poolman scored two goals for the Fighting Hawks, while fellow blueliner Hayden Shaw assisted on all three goals in a 3-1 North Dakota victory. Attendance was recorded as 412 Gopher fans and 7000 fans of the Green and White.

Most important meeting: March 24, 1979 (Detroit, MI). North Dakota and Minnesota met to decide the national championship, and the Gophers prevailed, 4-3. Neal Broten scored the game-winning goal for the U of M, and Steve Janaszak was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.

All-time: Minnesota leads the all-time series by a seven-game margin, 141-134-15 (.512), including a 75-53-8 (.581) advantage in games played in Minneapolis. The teams first met in 1948.

Last ten: North Dakota has gone 5-4-1 in the last ten meetings between the schools, outscoring Minnesota 30-24 in those games.

Game News and Notes

North Dakota first-year forward Jackson Blake has six points in his first four collegiate games, the first UND freshman to record six points in his first four games since T.J. Oshie (2005-06). The Golden Gophers made the 2022 NCAA Frozen Four, but were trounced by Minnesota State by a final score of 5-1 in the national semifinal. In 2019, UND’s last visit to Minneapolis ended in a sweep for the Fighting Hawks, the first since January 2007. In an effort to alleviate parking concerns, Minnesota fans are asked to park in St. Paul and walk to 3M Arena at Mariucci.

Broadcast Information

Friday’s contest will be broadcast live on Bally Sports North Extra, while Saturday’s rematch will be shown live on Bally Sports North. Both games are also available via webcast at B1G+. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports 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.

The Prediction

Let’s get this out of the way first: Minnesota is ranked higher than North Dakota and is playing at home, but I think both of these games will be close. UND is deep enough up front that having last line change may not matter for Bob Motzko. However, Minnesota still has two advantages: experience on the wider sheet of ice and a raucous home crowd. Well, make that one advantage. The last time these two teams tangled in Minneapolis, the crowd was heavily tilted toward the Green and White. It should be 60-40 either way this weekend, with many fans traveling down I-94 and a large North Dakota alumni base in the Twin Cities. I’m looking at a few key factors: faceoffs, goaltending, and the ability to score in bunches. Either one of these teams could ride the wave of momentum to victory, and in a rivalry matchup, whichever team keeps unnecessary penalties to a minimum has the advantage.
I know it feels like a cop-out to call a split, but it’s too early in the season for one team to have that much of an advantage. UND 4-3, Minnesota 4-2.

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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