Weekend Preview: UND at St. Cloud State

#23 North Dakota (6-6-3, 2-3-1 NCHC) travels to face #3 St. Cloud State (11-3-0, 3-2-1 NCHC) at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, Minnesota this weekend. Despite scoring 29 goals over the past four weekends of play (3.63 goals scored/game), UND may struggle to score against the homestanding Huskies, who have only allowed sixteen goals over that same stretch of games (2.0 goals allowed/game). On the season, SCSU has been the nation’s best defensive team, allowing just 1.71 goals per game.

Almost exactly one year ago today (Friday, December 3rd, 2021), the homestanding Huskies embarrassed the Fighting Hawks by a final score of 8-1. SCSU went 3-for-7 on the power play and held UND scoreless on two man-advantage opportunities. In Saturday’s rematch, North Dakota turned the specialty teams tables, going 1-for-7 on the power play and killing all four Husky power plays en route to a 5-3 road victory and a split of the weekend series.

The Fighting Hawks had better success in Grand Forks last season, earning a 7-1 victory to go along with a 3-3 tie (and shootout victory) in late January.

At 4th in the Pairwise and with an overall record of 11-3-0, St. Cloud State is in line to make the NCAA tourney for the fifth consecutive season. (It is worth noting that in 2019-2020 – when there was no national tournament – SCSU went just 13-15-6.) The Huskies’ three losses this season have come at Bemidji State (PWR 31), at Denver (PWR 5), and vs. Western Michigan (PWR 13).

On the other side of the ledger, North Dakota sits at 24th in the Pairwise, with six losses already this season. Thankfully for fans of the Green and White, four of UND’s losses are to teams currently in the top five in the Pairwise (Minnesota 2nd, Quinnipiac 3rd, and Denver 5th). The Fighting Hawks’ Las Vegas loss at the hands of Arizona State (PWR 25) and a home loss to Miami (PWR 38) are currently weighing the team down, as is the team’s strength of schedule (15th). Playing St. Cloud State and Western Michigan on the road over the next two weekends – and getting good results – would go a long way toward a top-15 Pairwise position.

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 422-218-71 (.617) 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.

North Dakota (2015, 2016, 2020, 2021, and 2022) and St. Cloud State (2014, 2018, and 2019) have combined to win the regular season title in eight of the nine seasons of the NCHC. The Huskies also won the last WCHA conference title in 2013.

Given that these two squads have been at the top of the league standings since its inception, it was only fitting that they would meet in the 2021 NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game, played in Grand Forks. Top-seeded North Dakota (20-5-1) squared off against #2 seed St. Cloud State (17-9-0). UND trailed 2-1 after two periods but strung together three goals just 122 seconds apart to take a lead they would never relinquish. The victory secured North Dakota’s first NCHC postseason title in the eight-year history of the league and its first conference playoff championship since the 2012 WCHA Final Five. In a nod to the Miracle On Ice, fans may well remember the 6-3 victory over Minnesota in the “Timeout Game” that year but forget that there was another game to play in the tournament. One night later, the green and white was out in full force on St. Patrick’s Day, and the Green and White dispatched Denver 4-0 to hoist the Broadmoor Trophy for the third consecutive season.

Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, a half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Brett Larson’s squad has eight players who meet that threshold: graduate forward Grant Cruikshank (11-6-17), senior forward Jami Krannila (6-10-16), senior forward Zack Okabe (8-7-15), senior forward Kyler Kupka (2-6-8 in eight games), junior forward Veeti Miettinen (3-9-12), graduate forward Micah Miller (2-6-8), senior defenseman Dylan Anhorn (3-12-15), and sophomore defenseman Jack Peart (0-9-9).

Kyler Kupka has returned to practice this week and may return to the SCSU lineup this weekend.

By that same measure, North Dakota has ten players at a half point or better: junior forward Riese Gaber (10-8-18), freshman forward Jackson Blake (8-9-17), freshman forward Dylan James (2-7-9), senior forward Gavin Hain (7-1-8), junior forward Louis Jamernik V (1-7-8), graduate forward Mark Senden (4-4-8), graduate defensemen Chris Jandric (2-14-16), junior defenseman Cooper Moore (2-5-7), sophomore defenseman Brent Johnson (1-5-6), and sophomore defenseman Luke Bast (0-1-1 in two games).

Luke Bast appeared in his first two games of the season last weekend.

UND is third in the nation in shooting percentage at an astounding 12.7% (55 goals on 432 shots). By comparison, St. Cloud State is 6th in the country at 11.9% (46 goals on 386 shots). The two teams create almost an identical number of shots on goal per game (UND 28.8, SCSU 27.6), although North Dakota only allows 24.4 shots on goal per game (7th) while the Huskies surrender an average of 25.5 (11th). The Fighting Hawks (22nd in Corsi, 23rd in Fenwick) also lead SCSU (30th, 27th) in both puck possession statistics.

One key area to watch this weekend is the face-off circle. The Fighting Hawks are the nation’s seventh-best team on draws (54.7%), while SCSU clocks in at 51.6% (21st).

For UND, sophomore Jake Schmaltz has been making a living on draws, winning 187 of 321 (58.3%). Junior Louis Jamernik V has more than held his own (147 of 272, 54.0), while freshman Owen McLaughlin has shown improvement (83 of 162, 51.2%). Junior Griffin Ness has been nearly dead even, with 36 wins in 73 opportunities (49.3%).

For St. Cloud State, grad transfer Grant Cruikshank has taken the majority of important draws, going 166 of 292 (56.8%). Senior Jami Krannila has been up and down (114 of 230, 49.6%), while sophomore Mason Salquist has performed admirably (86 of 162, 53.1%). Salquist hails from Grand Forks, North Dakota.

To this point in the season, North Dakota has had slightly the better of the specialty teams play. UND has been a combined plus-11, with nineteen power play goals scored (19 for 67, 28.4%, 3rd in the country) and only eight power play goals allowed (49 of 57, 86.0%, 9th), with one shorthanded goal scored and one allowed.

St. Cloud State has posted a plus-10, with thirteen power play goals scored (13 of 58, 22.4%, 20th), an identical penalty kill (49 of 57, 86.0%, 9th), and an astounding five shorthanded goals scored (2nd in the country).

It is also worth noting that UND has earned ten more power plays than penalty kill situations (67-47), while St. Cloud State has been nearly even (58-57).

North Dakota is 7th in the country in scoring offense (3.67 goals scored/game) but just 37th in the country in scoring defense (3.00 goals allowed/game). St. Cloud State is 14th in the country in scoring offense (3.29 goals scored/game) but best in the country in scoring defense (1.71 goals allowed/game).

When healthy, 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 sophomores Brent Johnson and Luke Bast 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.

Ethan Frisch is expected to remain out of the lineup this weekend after suffering a lower-body injury last Friday night in Bemidji.

The Huskies and Fighting Hawks will also tangle on February 17th and 18th at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks.

St. Cloud State Team Profile

Head Coach: Brett Larson (5th season at SCSU, 92-50-13, .635)
National Rankings: #3/#3
Pairwise Ranking: 4th

This Season: 11-3-0 overall, 3-2-1-0 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 18-15-4 overall (NCAA Midwest Regional Semifinalist), 9-8-2-5 NCHC (5th)

2022-2023 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.29 goals scored/game – 14th of 62 teams
Team Defense: 1.71 goals allowed/game – 1st of 62 teams

Power Play: 22.4% (13 of 58) – 20th of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 86.0% (49 of 57) – 9th of 62 teams

Key players: Graduate F Grant Cruikshank (11-6-17), Senior F Jami Krannila (6-10-16), Senior F Zack Okabe (8-7-15), Senior F Kyler Kupka (2-6-8 in eight games), Junior F Veeti Miettinen (3-9-12), Graduate F Micah Miller (2-6-8), Senior D Dylan Anhorn (3-12-15), Sophomore D Jack Peart (0-9-9), Junior G Dominic Basse (6-1-0, 1.29 GAA, .948 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (8th season at UND, 166-82-27, .653)
National Rankings: #23/#24
Pairwise Ranking: 24th

This Season: 6-6-3 overall, 2-3-0-1 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 24-14-1 overall (NCAA Regional Semifinalist), 17-6-1 NCHC (t-1st)

2022-2023 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.67 goals scored/game – 7th of 62 teams
Team Defense: 3.00 goals allowed/game – 37th of 62 teams

Power Play: 28.4% (19 of 67) – 3rd of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 86.0% (49 of 57) – 9th of 62 teams

Key Players: Junior F Riese Gaber (10-8-18), Sophomore F Jake Schmaltz (3-4-7), Junior F Louie Jamernik V (1-7-8), Graduate Student Mark Senden (4-4-8), Freshman F Jackson Blake (8-9-17), Senior F Gavin Hain (7-1-8 in thirteen games), Freshman F Dylan James (2-7-9 in thirteen games) Graduate Student D Chris Jandric (2-14-16), Junior D Tyler Kleven (1-4-5), Junior D Cooper Moore (2-5-7), Sophomore G Jakob Hellsten (3-3-2, 2.73 GAA, .869 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 29, 2021 (Grand Forks, ND). After drubbing the visitors 7-1 in Friday’s opener, UND came back from an early 3-1 deficit to send the game to overtime knotted at three apiece. After a scoreless 3-on-3 session, North Dakota’s Ashton Calder scored the only goal in the eight-player shootout for the extra league point.

Last Meeting in St. Cloud: December 4, 2021 (St. Cloud, MN). North Dakota rebounded from an 8-1 shellacking at the hands of the homestanding Huskies by scoring two goals in the middle frame to break a 2-2 tie. Each team scored once in the third period to bring the final score to 5-3 in favor of the Fighting Hawks. St. Cloud State outshot UND 33-29 for the game and 65-57 over the course of the weekend series.

A Recent Memory: March 16, 2021 (Grand Forks, ND). One night before St. Patrick’s Day, North Dakota enjoyed playing for the NCHC playoff title in front of a whole bunch of green. St. Cloud State led 2-1 after two periods, but the Fighting Hawks stormed back with four third-period goals – including three in the span of 122 seconds early in the final frame and an empty-netter to seal the 5-3 victory and the program’s first Frozen Faceoff championship. UND senior Jordan Kawaguchi and freshman Riese Gaber each had two goals and an assist.

Most Important Meeting: NCAA West Regional Final in Fargo, ND (March 28, 2015). North Dakota scored three unassisted goals over the final two periods of the hockey game to defeat St. Cloud State 4-1 in the West Regional Final and advance to the NCAA Frozen Four. Jimmy Murray got the Huskies on the board less than 90 seconds in to the hockey game, but that did nothing to quiet the partisan crowd of 5,307 at SCHEELS Arena. Four different players scored for UND, while Zane McIntyre made 19 stops to earn his 29th and final victory of the season.

All-Time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series, 79-46-16 (.617), including a record of 30-24-0 (.556) in games played in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Aside from their 2015 and 2018 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal victories, the Huskies also defeated North Dakota in the 2001 WCHA Final Five championship game. The teams have been squaring off regularly since the 1989-90 season but have only met once in the NCAA tournament (2015).

Last Ten: UND holds a slight lead of 5-3-2 (.600) in the last ten tilts between the teams, outscoring the Huskies 34-32 over that stretch of games. Two of the last ten meetings have gone to overtime, with North Dakota’s Jordan Kawaguchi scoring the game winner in both contests.

Game News and Notes

UND’s Riese Gaber has ten career points against the Huskies. SCSU opened the season with six consecutive victories (sweeps over St. Thomas, Wisconsin, and Minnesota State) before earning splits against Bemidji State, Denver, and Western Michigan. North Dakota head coach Brad Berry is 13-9-4 (.577) in his career against St. Cloud.

The Prediction

North Dakota was mostly a mess on the wider sheet of ice against Minnesota at 3M Arena at Mariucci back in October and yet somehow managed a split despite being outshot 79-38 in the series. UND cannot afford to get hemmed into its own end for long stretches, as the Huskies often build momentum with possession in front of their home crowd. The best offensive players for the Fighting Hawks – Riese Gaber, Jackson Blake, and Gavin Hain – will need to find their way onto the scoresheet in order to earn victories this weekend, but goals will be hard to come by. There is no doubt that the Huskies are the better, faster team, and things could snowball quickly in St. Cloud. SCSU 4-2, 4-3.

Broadcast Information

Both games will be broadcast live on Fox9+ (Midco Sports Network will be carrying this local broadcast) and also available via livestream 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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