Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Miami

#19/#19 North Dakota hosts unranked Miami for a pair of NCHC games this weekend, and facing the RedHawks may be just what UND needs to right the ship after being swept at home last weekend at the hands of the Denver Pioneers.

The Miami RedHawks have only faced North Dakota five times over the past two seasons, but that has been more than enough for Chris Bergeron’s squad.

The Fighting Hawks traveled to Oxford, Ohio last November and earned a road sweep with 4-1 and 5-4 victories. UND outshot Miami 68-31 in the two-game series.

Almost one year earlier (December 2nd, 2020), the two teams met in Omaha in the first pod game for either side. North Dakota blanked Miami 2-0 and put 39 shots on goal.

And in the rematch on December 20th – the final game of the Omaha pod – the RedHawks managed to score twice but allowed six North Dakota goals on 39 shots.

Miami put a total of 42 shots on frame over the course of those six periods of hockey.

After those two December tilts, the teams were not scheduled to face each other in the second half of the 2021-2022 season. As fate would have it, however, top-seeded UND (18-5-1) drew last-place Miami (5-17-2) in the first round of the modified NCHC Frozen Faceoff. There was little drama in the contest, as the Fighting Hawks scored three goals in the first six minutes of the hockey game and cruised to a 6-2 victory, outshooting MU 46-28.

In the past five games, North Dakota has outscored Miami 23-14 while holding a 192-101 advantage in shots on goal.

Over the past two seasons, the RedHawks had to rely on junior goaltender Ludvig Persson to keep games close, as Miami only averaged 2.33 goals per game. Unfortunately, MU allowed 3.97 goals per game over those two campaigns and only won twelve total games (12-45-4, .230).

The scoring margin has gotten better for Chris Bergeron and company this year, with 25 goals scored (2.08/game) and 34 allowed (2.83) through the first twelve games of the season (4-6-2).

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 (Miami and Western Michigan) 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.

Over the first nine seasons of the NCHC, Miami has averaged slightly better than a seventh-place finish among the eight conference teams (8th, 2nd, 5th, 7th, 8th, 8th, 7th, 8th, and 8th), with a combined league record of 59-133-24 (.329).

By comparison, North Dakota has finished 2nd, 1st, 1st, 4th, 4th, 5th, 1st, 1st, and 1st for an average finish just under second place and a combined league record of 133-67-16 (.653). No other league member has collected as many conference wins as UND.

When the National Collegiate Hockey Conference was formed, Miami appeared positioned to be a dominant program. Prior to the 2013-14 season (their inaugural campaign in the NCHC), the RedHawks had made eight consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, with consecutive Frozen Four bids in 2009 (2nd) and 2010 (3rd). Since joining the NCHC, Miami has just one NCAA tournament appearance (2015), and that ended quickly with a first-round loss to eventual national champion Providence.

Long-tenured head coach Enrico Blasi was fired after posting a fourth consecutive losing season in 2018-2019. Over that stretch of time, the RedHawks were 47-81-19 (.384). There is reason for optimism in Oxford, however, with new bench boss Chris Bergeron taking over the program after leading Bowling Green to six consecutive winning seasons, five consecutive years with twenty or more victories, and an NCAA tournament appearance in 2018-2019.

Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, a half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Chris Bergeron’s squad has six players who meet that threshold: junior forward Matthew Barbolini (4-6-10), senior forward Joe Cassetti (5-3-8), sophomore forward Red Savage (4-4-8), freshman forward Max Dukovac (1-6-7), junior forward PJ Fletcher (2-4-6), and junior defenseman Hampus Rydqvist (1-5-6).

Red Savage and Max Dukovac, two stalwarts on the Miami power play, did not make the trip to Grand Forks this weekend.

By that same measure, North Dakota has ten players at a half point or better: junior forward Riese Gaber (8-4-12), freshman forward Jackson Blake (4-7-11), freshman forward Dylan James (1-5-6), senior forward Gavin Hain (5-1-6), graduate forward Mark Senden (3-3-6), sophomore forward Nick Portz (0-4-4), sophomore forward Jake Schmaltz (3-3-6), senior forward Carson Albrecht (1-0-1 in two games), graduate defensemen Chris Jandric (2-12-14), and junior defenseman Cooper Moore (2-5-7).

Cooper Moore is questionable for this weekend’s games with an undisclosed illness/injury, while fellow blueliner Tyler Kleven is probable with a lower body injury.

UND is second in the nation in shooting percentage at an astounding 12.7% (38 goals on 300 shots). By comparison, Miami is 47th in the country at 7.7% (25 goals on 325 shots). The two teams created almost an identical number of shots on goal per game (UND 27.3, Miami 27.1), although North Dakota only allows 26.4 shots on goal per game (15th) while the RedHawks surrender an average of 31.8 (46th). The Fighting Hawks (34th in Corsi, 32nd in Fenwick) also lead MU (40th, 44th) in both puck possession statistics.

One key area to watch this weekend is the face-off circle. The Fighting Hawks are the nation’s eighth-best team on draws (55.0%), while MU clocks in at 45.1% (56th).

For UND, sophomore Jake Schmaltz has been making a living on draws, winning 150 of 254 (59.1%). Junior Louis Jamernik V has been a bit better than even (109 of 210, 51.9), while freshman Owen McLaughlin has shown improvement (70 of 138, 50.7%). Sophomore Matteo Costantini has chipped in with 12 wins in 16 opportunities (75.0%).

For Miami, sophomore Red Savage has taken the majority of important draws, going 126 of 265 (47.5%). Senior Joe Cassetti has had the most success (101 of 211, 47.9%), while two freshmen – William Hallen (36 of 80, 45.0%) and Blake Mesenburg (41 of 91, 45.1%) – 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 plus-10, with sixteen power play goals scored (16 for 53, 30.2%, 4th in the country) and only six power play goals allowed (36 of 42, 85.7%, 9th). Miami has posted a minus-2, with nine power play goals scored (9 of 49, 18.4%, 36th), thirteen power play goals allowed (47 of 60, 78.3%, 42ns), three shorthanded goals scored, and one shorthanded goal allowed.

It is also worth noting that UND has earned eleven more power plays than penalty kill situations (53-42), while Miami has earned eleven more penalty kill situations than power plays (60-49).

North Dakota is 10th in the country in scoring offense (3.45 goals scored/game) but just 44th in the country in scoring defense (3.18 goals allowed/game). Miami is 48th in the country in scoring offense (2.08 goals scored/game) but a more respectable 31st in scoring defense (2.83 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.

The RedHawks and Fighting Hawks will also tangle on January 27th and 28th at Goggin Ice Center in Oxford, Ohio.

Miami RedHawks

Head Coach: Chris Bergeron (4th season at Miami, 24-72-11, .276)
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 4-6-2 overall, 0-5-1 NCHC (8th)
Last Season: 7-27-2 overall, 4-16-1-3 NCHC (8th)

2022-2023 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.08 goals scored/game – 48th of 62 teams
Team Defense: 2.83 goals allowed/game – 31st of 62 teams

Power Play: 18.4% (9 of 49) – 36th of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.3% (47 of 60) – 42nd of 62 teams

Key players: Junior F Matthew Barbolini (4-6-10), Senior F Joe Cassetti (5-3-8), Sophomore F Red Savage (4-4-8), Freshman F Max Dukovac (1-6-7), Junior F PJ Fletcher (2-4-6), Junior D Hampus Rydqvist (1-5-6), Senior D Jack Clement (0-2-2), Junior G Ludvig Persson (4-6-2, 2.55 GAA, .918 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (8th season at UND, 166-82-27, .653)
National Rankings: #19/#19

This Season: 4-5-2 overall, 1-2-0-1 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 24-14-1 overall (NCAA Regional Semifinalist), 17-6-1 NCHC (t-1st)

2022-2023 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.45 goals scored/game – 10th of 62 teams
Team Defense: 3.18 goals allowed/game – 44th of 62 teams

Power Play: 30.2% (16 of 53) – 4th of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 85.7% (36 of 42) – 9th of 62 teams

Key Players: Junior F Riese Gaber (8-4-12), Sophomore F Jake Schmaltz (3-3-6), Junior F Louie Jamernik V (0-5-5), Graduate Student Mark Senden (3-3-6), Freshman F Jackson Blake (4-7-11), Senior F Gavin Hain (5-1-6 in nine games), Freshman F Dylan James (1-5-6 in nine games) Graduate Student D Chris Jandric (2-12-14), Senior D Ethan Frisch (2-3-5), Junior D Cooper Moore (2-5-7), Graduate Student G Drew DeRidder (3-3-1, 2.72 GAA, .900 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: November 13, 2021 (Oxford, OH). After a furious opening frame that ended with North Dakota holding a 3-2 advantage on the scoreboard, the two teams traded goals in each of the next two periods, leaving the homestanding RedHawks one goal short. That 5-4 UND win, coupled with Friday night’s 4-1 victory, earned the Green and White a rare road sweep in the NCHC. The Fighting Hawks outshot their flying foes 68-31 in the series.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: March 12, 2021. Top-seeded UND (18-5-1) drew last-place Miami (5-17-2) in the first round of the modified NCHC Frozen Faceoff. There was little drama in the contest, as the Fighting Hawks scored three goals in the first six minutes of the hockey game (including two by Collin Adams) and cruised to a 6-2 victory, outshooting MU 46-28. Over the next four days, North Dakota would defeat Denver 2-1 (OT) and St. Cloud State 5-3 to claim the program’s first NCHC postseason tournament title.

Most Important Meeting: March 6, 2015 (Oxford, OH). North Dakota claimed the Penrose Cup with a 2-1 road victory over Miami. UND fell flat the following night, losing 6-3 in the final game of the regular season.

Last Ten: UND has picked up eight wins and a tie (8-1-1, .850) in the past ten contests between the teams, outscoring Miami 46-24 over that stretch of games. The RedHawks have not beaten North Dakota since November 10, 2018, a 3-2 home victory.

All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 22-7-4 (.727), including a sparkling 10-2-2 (.786) record in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).

Game News and Notes

In five career games against Miami, junior forward Riese Gaber has scored six goals and added an assist. The RedHawks have not beaten UND in over four years. North Dakota goaltender Drew DeRidder has faced MU once in his collegiate career, earning a 2-1 Michigan State comeback victory over Miami with 35 saves on Saturday, October 26th, 2021. Green Hawks are preferable to RedHawks.

On A Personal Note

I have participated in Movember for the past ten years and have proudly raised over $20,000 to help change the face of men’s health. Will you join me and support the cause? Please visit my Movember fundraising page to learn more and to donate. Thank you!

The Prediction

If ever there was a “get right” series for North Dakota hockey, this is it. UND is deeper, more talented, and has dug itself a hole in the league standings, and that last point might be the most important of them all. The Fighting Hawks will be a motivated group from the drop of the puck on Friday night, and that will make for a long weekend for the visiting RedHawks. UND 4-1, 4-2.

Broadcast Information

Both games this weekend will be broadcast live on Midco Sports and also available online at NCHC.tv; puck drop is set for 7:07 p.m. Central Time on Friday and 6:07 p.m. Central Time on Saturday. 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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