Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Denver

#12/#13 North Dakota (4-3-2) will host #2/#2 Denver (7-3-0) at Ralph Engelstad Arena this weekend in a matchup of two perennial powerhouses.

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

In the 2021 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals (held at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks), North Dakota needed overtime to outlast a gutsy performance by a Pios squad that had been decimated by COVID-19. DU dressed only nine forwards for the contest but led 1-0 with under 90 seconds remaining. With the goalie pulled, the Fighting Hawks’ Shane Pinto blasted a shot on net that hit Jasper Weatherby on the way in to send the game to overtime. It took over eight minutes of extra time before Gavin Hain sent the home crowd into a frenzy with a blast of his own that advanced the Green and White into the championship game; Denver had just killed Antti Tuomisto’s boarding minor but could not clear the zone. UND outshot the weary Pioneers 20-4 in the third period and overtime.

With the playoff victory, North Dakota moved to 20-5-1 on the season; David Carle’s squad saw its season end at 10-13-1, the first time DU failed to advance to the NCAA tournament since 2007. The 2020-2021 season was the first losing campaign for DU since the 1999-2000 team went 16-23-2. UND won five of the seven meetings between the teams two years ago, outscoring the Pios 22-14. North Dakota allowed ten goals in the first three meetings with a record of 1-2; since their loss in game one at Denver on January 17th, the Fighting Hawks notched four consecutive victories over DU (15 goals for, 4 goals against). That mid-January defeat was definitely a wakeup call for Brady Berry’s squad; from that point until the end of the season, the Green and White went 13-3, outscoring opponents 69-28.

Denver definitely rebounded last year, going 31-9-1 and defeating Minnesota State 5-1 for the program’s ninth national title. That championship game was tied 1-1 until the 7:33 mark of the third period. The Pios would add two empty-net goals for the misleading final score.

Since Denver ended North Dakota’s season in 2019, UND has gone 10-2-1 against the Pios.

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries, with the two programs combining for seven NCHC regular season titles and averaging a top-three finish in the league standings each year (UND 2.2, DU 3.1).

The teams have played 39 times during the first nine seasons of the new conference (with UND going 19-13-7), but the feud goes all the way back to Geoff Paukovitch’ illegal check on Sioux forward Robbie Bina during the 2005 WCHA Final Five.

Since that 2005 Final Five contest (a Denver victory), the two teams have met thirteen times in tournament play. Denver won the 2005 NCAA title with a victory over North Dakota and claimed a 2008 WCHA Final Five win as well. UND has earned six victories and a tie in the last ten playoff games between the schools, including three consecutive victories in the WCHA Final Five (2010-2012), the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional final which sent the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four, 2016’s thrilling Frozen Four semifinal (a 4-2 UND victory) in Tampa, Florida, and the 2017 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Denver turned the tables by dispatching North Dakota in the first round of the league playoffs at Magness Arena to end the Fighting Hawks’ 2018-2019 campaign.

(It is impossible to bring up the Paukovitch/Bina incident without also writing that Brad Malone‘s check on Denver’s Jesse Martin during an October 2010 contest at Ralph Engelstad Arena fractured three of Martin’s vertebrae and ended the hockey career of the Atlanta Thrashers’ draft pick.)

The rivalry intensified two seasons ago, with the teams combining for 187 penalty minutes in six regular season games (the NCHC semifinal game featured just four minor penalties). The last contest between the squads in Denver saw a DU goaltender run over with nine minutes remaining, which ignited tempers further. That spilled over to the series in Grand Forks in February, with the Pioneers “winning” the penalty minute battle 54-29. North Dakota won the specialty teams battle, scoring two goals on ten man-advantage opportunities and blanking DU on its ten power play chances.

In Saturday’s series finale, North Dakota led on the scoreboard 5-2 thanks to two goals by Jasper Weatherby and 18 saves from Peter Thome, who started in place of injured netminder Adam Scheel. And how was Scheel injured, you might ask? Denver’s Kohen Olischefski ran Scheel from behind late in Friday’s 3-0 UND victory. Olischefski was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for goaltender interference and was issued an additional one-game suspension by the league office.

And in the only series played between the teams last year, the two sides combined for 78 penalty minutes and ten power play opportunities. UND swept the series 3-1 and 4-1, thanks in no small part to a 1-for-5 effort on the power play and a perfect penalty kill.

Nine full seasons have come and gone since the college hockey landscape changed forever. With Minnesota and Wisconsin departing the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for the Big Ten after the 2012-13 season, several other conference schools and two members of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association created the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and left Alaska Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, and Minnesota State behind in a watered-down WCHA. And now, the WCHA is no more, and the CCHA reformed beginning with the 2021-2022 campaign.

The NCHC has been the premier hockey conference since its inception, and particularly over the past eight seasons. The eight teams in the league have gone 420-216-70 (.644) in non-conference action since the start of the 2014-15 season and sent twelve teams to the Frozen Four (UND and Omaha in 2015, UND and Denver in 2016, Denver and Duluth in 2017, Duluth in 2018, Denver and Duluth in 2019, Duluth and St. Cloud State in 2021, and Denver in 2022) over that seven-year stretch (there was no national tournament in 2020). Conference members North Dakota (2016), Denver (2017, 2022), and Minnesota Duluth (2018, 2019) have won five of the last six national titles.

Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, a half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and David Carle’s squad has eight active players who meet that threshold and THREE averaging a point per game or better: sophomore forward Massimo Rizzo (4-13-17), senior forward Casey Dornbach (5-9-14), sophomore forward Carter Mazur (10-3-13), sophomore forward Jack Devine (3-2-5), junior forward McKade Webster (1-1-2 in three games), freshman forward Aidan Thompson (0-1-1 in two games), junior defenseman Mike Benning (2-5-7), and sophomore defenseman Shai Buium (1-5-6). Rizzo was a former North Dakota recruit.

It is worth noting that DU lost its top four point-getters and six of the top ten from last year’s title team: forwards Bobby Brink (14-43-57), Cole Guttman (19-26-45), Carter Savoie (23-22-45), Brett Stapley (18-25-43), Cameron Wright (23-11-34), and Ryan Barrow (8-13-21) combined to score 105 of Denver’s 175 goals (60.0%) and 245 of the team’s 493 points (49.7%) a season ago.

By that same measure, North Dakota has twelve players at a half point or better, although two of those – senior forwards Gavin Hain (5-1-6 in seven games) and Carson Albrecht (1-0-1 in two games) – are injured and questionable to return to the lineup. Leading the way for UND are junior forward Riese Gaber (8-3-11), freshman forward Jackson Blake (4-5-9), graduate forward Mark Senden (3-3-6), sophomore forward Nick Portz (0-4-4), freshman forward Owen McLaughlin (0-5-5), sophomore forward Jake Schmaltz (3-2-5), junior forward Louis Jamernik V (0-5-5), graduate defensemen Chris Jandric (1-11-12), junior defenseman Cooper Moore (1-5-6), and senior defenseman Ethan Frisch (2-3-5).

UND is fifth in the nation in shooting percentage at an astounding 13.0% (33 goals on 253 shots). By comparison, Denver is 37th in the country at 9.3% (31 goals on 334 shots). The Pioneers average more than five additional shots on goal per game than the Fighting Hawks (33.4 – 28.1) and lead UND in both puck possession statistics (Corsi and Fenwick).

One key area to watch this weekend is the face-off circle. The Fighting Hawks are the nation’s tenth-best team on draws (53.9%), while Denver clocks in at 48.5% (40th).

For UND, sophomore Jake Schmaltz has been making a living on draws, winning 117 of 201 (58.2%). Junior Louis Jamernik V has been nearly even (81 of 164, 49.4), while freshman Owen McLaughlin has shown improvement (60 of 119, 50.4%). Sophomore Matteo Costantini has chipped in with 12 wins in 16 opportunities (75.0%).

For Denver, sophomore Massimo Rizzo has taken the majority of important draws, going 73 of 151 (48.3%). Sophomore Carter King has had the most success (55 of 107, 51.4%), while junior Carter Caponi (71 of 144, 49.3%) and sophomore Tristan Broz (40 of 84, 47.6%) have been steady but not spectacular.

To this point in the season, North Dakota has had far the better of the specialty teams play. UND has been a combined +10, with fourteen power play goals scored (14 for 44, 31.8%, 3rd in the country) and only four power play goals allowed (29 of 33, 87.9%, 8th). Denver has posted a +1, with eleven power play goals scored (11 of 47, 23.4%, 19th), eight power play goals allowed (26 of 34, 76.5%, 40th), and two shorthanded goals allowed.

North Dakota is 9th in the country in scoring offense (3.67 goals scored/game) but just 33rd in the country in scoring defense (2.89 goals allowed/game). Denver is 25th in the country in scoring offense (3.10 goals scored/game) but a more respectable 8th in scoring defense (2.10 goals allowed/game).

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.

Last season, Denver went 31-9-1 on the way to the program’s ninth national title. North Dakota (2-0 vs. the Pios) and Minnesota Duluth (3-2) were the only teams to beat DU more than once during the 2021-2022 campaign.

The Pioneers and Fighting Hawks will also tangle on February 10th and 11th at Magness Arena in Denver, Colorado.

Denver Team Profile

Head Coach: David Carle (5th season at DU, 93-46-13, .655)
National Rankings: #2/#2

This Season: 7-3-0 overall, 3-0-0-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 31-9-1 overall (National Champions), 17-6-1-0 NCHC (1st)

2022-2023 Team Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.10 goals scored/game – 25th of 62 teams
Team Defense: 2.10 goals allowed/game – 8th of 62 teams

Power Play: 23.4% (11 of 47) – 19th of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 76.5% (26 of 34) – 40th of 62 teams

Key players: Sophomore FMassimo Rizzo (4-13-17), Senior F Casey Dornbach (5-9-14), Sophomore F Carter Mazur (10-3-13), Sophomore F Jack Devine (3-2-5), Junior D Mike Benning (2-5-7), Sophomore D Shai Buium (1-5-6), Senior D Justin Lee (1-2-3), Senior G Magnus Chrona (6-3-0, 2.14 GAA, .911 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (8th season at UND, 166-80-27, .658)
National Rankings: #10/#11

This Season: 4-3-2 overall, 1-0-0-1 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 24-14-1 overall (NCAA Regional Semifinalist), 17-6-1 NCHC (t-1st)

2022-2023 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.67 goals scored/game – 9th of 62 teams
Team Defense: 2.89 goals allowed/game – 33rd of 62 teams

Power Play: 31.8% (14 of 44) – 3rd of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 87.9% (29 of 33) – 8th of 62 teams

Key Players: Junior F Riese Gaber (8-3-11), Sophomore F Jake Schmaltz (3-2-5), Junior F Louie Jamernik V (0-5-5), Graduate Student Mark Senden (3-3-6), Freshman F Jackson Blake (4-5-9), Senior F Gavin Hain (5-1-6 in seven games), Graduate Student D Chris Jandric (1-11-12), Senior D Ethan Frisch (2-3-5), Junior D Cooper Moore (1-5-6), Graduate Student G Drew DeRidder (3-2-1, 2.65 GAA, .906 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: November 6, 2021 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota built a two-goal lead after twenty minutes of play on goals by Matteo Costantini and Tyler Kleven and withstood a furious middle frame by the Pios, surrendering just a single goal on eight shots. In the third period, UND scored twice at 4-on-4 to win by a final margin of 4-1. In Friday’s opener, North Dakota’s Louis Jamernik scored twice, and the Fighting Hawks held Denver scoreless on five power play opportunities. The teams combined for 78 penalty minutes in the weekend series.

A Recent Memory: April 7, 2016 (Tampa, Florida). In the semifinals of the NCAA Frozen Four, the two league rivals squared off in a tightly-contested matchup. Senior forward Drake Caggiula scored twice early in the middle frame to stake UND to a 2-0 lead, but the Pioneers battled back with a pair of third period goals. The CBS line came through when it mattered most, with Nick Schmaltz scoring the game winner off of a faceoff win with 57 seconds remaining in the hockey game. North Dakota blocked 27 Denver shot attempts and goaltender Cam Johnson made 21 saves for the Fighting Hawks, who won the program’s eighth national title on the same sheet of ice two nights later.

Most Important Meeting: It’s hard to pick just one game, as the two teams have played four times for the national title. Denver defeated UND for the national championship in 1958, 1968, and 2005, while the Sioux downed the Pioneers in 1963. But the game that stands out in recent memory as “the one that got away” was DU’s 1-0 victory over the Fighting Sioux in the 2004 NCAA West Regional final (Colorado Springs, CO). That North Dakota team went 30-8-4 on the season (Dean Blais’ last behind the UND bench) and featured one of the deepest rosters in the past twenty years: Brandon Bochenski, Zach Parise, Brady Murray, Colby Genoway, Drew Stafford and David Lundbohm up front; Nick Fuher, Matt Jones, Matt Greene, and Ryan Hale on defense; and a couple of goaltending stalwarts in Jordan Parise and Jake Brandt.

Last Ten Games: The Fighting Hawks have an 8-2-0 (.800) advantage over the last ten games. UND has outscored DU 34-17 over that stretch, including a 22-6 scoreboard advantage in six home victories.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 156-130-16 (.543), including a massive 92-44-10 (.658) advantage in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1950, with North Dakota prevailing 18-3 in Denver. The 302 games played between the schools is the most among all of UND’s opponents.

Game News and Notes

Since Denver ended North Dakota’s season in 2019, UND has gone 10-2-1 against the Pios. DU is 5-1 at home this season but just 2-2 on the road. Fighting Hawks’ captain Mark Senden has faced Denver 19 times in his collegiate career, with one goal and seven assists in those contests. Eleven of Denver head coach David Carle’s 46 head coaching losses have come against UND. Last season, the Fighting Hawks won the Penrose Cup as NCHC regular season champions for the fifth time in the nine-year history of the league; the Pioneers have captured the Penrose only twice (2016-2017 and 2021-2022). Since seven of Michigan’s nine titles were earned by 1964, I consider Denver (nine titles) and North Dakota (eight titles) to be the top two men’s college hockey programs of all time.

On A Personal Note

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The Prediction

Denver’s roundabout travel plan will definitely have an effect on Friday’s opener. It will be interesting to see how this next chapter in the rivalry plays out. I expect North Dakota to trail for large stretches of this series as they have against tough opponents to this point in the season. Special teams seem to favor North Dakota, but the Fighting Hawks also have more scoring depth and might prefer to play long stretches at even strength. The difference may just come down to goaltending, but I have a feeling that there will be plenty of goals scored at the Ralph this weekend. UND 4-2, DU 4-3.

Broadcast Information

Both games this weekend will be broadcast live on Midco Sports and also 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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