Weekend Preview: UND at Western Michigan

North Dakota (6-8-3, 2-5-1 NCHC) travels to face #17 Western Michigan (10-8-0, 4-4-0 NCHC) at Lawson Ice Arena in Kalamazoo, Michigan this weekend. It is worth noting that, despite being unranked, UND currently sits in 22nd place in the all-important Pairwise Rankings, mostly due to the fact that six of its eight losses are to the top four teams in the country (Minnesota, Quinnipiac, Denver twice, and St. Cloud twice).

Second-year head coach Pat Ferschweiler (WMU ’93) has his team playing at an extremely high level, with the Broncos exhibiting the nation’s top-scoring offense. Ferschweiler, who had previously been the WMU associate head coach under Andy Murray, also spent four seasons as an assistant coach for the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings.

In his rookie campaign, Ferschweiler went 26-12-1 and brought his team within one game of the Frozen Four, falling to Minnesota in the regional final. In September, the Western Michigan bench boss was extended through the 2025-26 season.

Despite this year’s high-powered offense, Western Michigan’s only truly impressive win on the season is a 4-2 victory at St. Cloud State nearly a month ago. WMU also split with Notre Dame in a home-and-home series back in October.

According to KRACH, North Dakota has faced the nation’s fourth-toughest schedule to this point of the season, while the Broncos schedule weighs in as the 17th-most difficult.

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.

In the Division I era (since 1975), the Broncos have had sixteen twenty-win seasons, with nine of those coming between 1984 and 1996 under head coach Bill Wilkinson. WMU has made the national tournament four times since 1996.

Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, a half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Pat Ferschweiler’s squad has nine players who meet that threshold: freshman forward Ryan McAllister (10-23-33), junior forward Jason Polin (13-11-24), sophomore forward Max Sasson (7-16-23), junior forward Luke Grainger (6-10-16), graduate student Jaime Rome (8-4-12), freshman forward Ethan Wolthers (2-3-5 in nine games), senior forward Jack Perbix (2-7-9), junior defenseman Zak Galambos (9-7-16), and senior defenseman Carter Berger (3-12-15, no relation).

By that same measure, North Dakota has just six players at a half point or better: junior forward Riese Gaber (11-8-19), freshman forward Jackson Blake (9-10-19), freshman forward Dylan James (2-7-9), senior forward Gavin Hain (8-2-10), graduate defensemen Chris Jandric (2-16-18), and junior defenseman Cooper Moore (2-6-8).

UND is fourth in the nation in shooting percentage at an astounding 12.2% (60 goals on 490 shots). By comparison, Western Michigan is 2nd in the country at 12.8% (75 goals on 585 shots). WMU puts an average of 32.5 shots/game on frame, while North Dakota manages 28.8 The two teams are nearly identical in shots allowed (Broncos 24.4, Fighting Hawks 24.6). The Broncos (10th in Corsi, 10th in Fenwick) also lead North Dakota (22nd, 21st) 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 (53.8%), while SCSU clocks in at 50.7% (27th).

For UND, sophomore Jake Schmaltz has been making a living on draws, winning 205 of 361 (56.8%). Junior Louis Jamernik V has more than held his own (165 of 310, 53.2), while freshman Owen McLaughlin has shown improvement (95 of 185, 51.4%). Junior Griffin Ness has been nearly dead even, with 43 wins in 89 opportunities (48.3%).

For Western Michigan, sophomore Max Sasson has taken the majority of important draws, going 200 of 393 (50.9%). Junior Tim Washe has fared the best (153 of 254, 60.2%), while junior Luke Grainger (112 of 254, 44.1%) and sophomore Jack Perbix (96 of 203, 47.3%) have been up and down.

To this point in the season, North Dakota has had the better of the specialty teams play. UND has been a combined plus-9, with 21 power play goals scored (21 of 75, 28.0%, 4th in the country) and only eleven power play goals allowed (54 of 65, 83.1%, 22nd), with one shorthanded goal scored and two allowed.

Western Michigan has posted a plus-4, with 22 power play goals scored (22 of 79, 27.8%, 5th), a whopping 19 power play goals allowed (55 of 74, 74.3%,54th), one shorthanded goal scored, and one allowed.

It is also worth noting that UND has earned ten more power plays than penalty kill situations (75-65), while WMU has been closer to even (79-74).

North Dakota is 10th in the country in scoring offense (3.53 goals scored/game) but just 48th in the country in scoring defense (3.41 goals allowed/game) after allowing thirteen goals last weekend against St. Cloud State. Western Michigan leads the nation in scoring offense (4.17 goals scored/game) but is allowing 3.06 goals/game (42nd).

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 return to the lineup this weekend after suffering a lower-body injury two weeks ago in Bemidji, while Luke Bast has been in the lineup for three of the past four games, his first appearances of the season.

The Broncos and Fighting Hawks will also tangle on January 13th and 14th, 2023 at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks.

Western Michigan Broncos

Head Coach: Pat Ferschweiler (2nd season at WMU, 36-20-1, .640)

National Rankings: #17/#17
Pairwise Ranking: 18th
KRACH Ranking: 17th

This Season: 10-8-0 overall, 4-4-0-0 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 26-12-1 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional Finalist), 13-9-2-0 NCHC (3rd)

2022-2023 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 4.17 goals scored/game – 1st of 62 teams
Team Defense: 3.06 goals allowed/game – 42nd of 62 teams

Power Play: 27.8% (22 of 79) – 5th of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 74.3% (55 of 74) – 54th of 62 teams

Key Players: Freshman F Ryan McAllister (10-23-33), Junior F Jason Polin (13-11-24), Sophomore F Max Sasson (7-16-23), Junior F Luke Grainger (6-10-16), Graduate F Jaime Rome (8-4-12), Freshman F Ethan Wolthers (2-3-5 in nine games), Senior F Jack Perbix (2-7-9), Junior D Zak Galambos (9-7-16), Senior D Carter Berger (3-12-15), Junior G Cameron Rowe (9-7-0, 3.03 GAA, .881 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (8th season at UND, 168-85-28, .648)

National Rankings: NR/NR
Pairwise Ranking: 22nd
KRACH Ranking: 20th

This Season: 6-8-3 overall, 2-5-0-1 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 24-14-1 overall (NCAA Regional Semifinalist), 17-6-1 NCHC (t-1st)

2022-2023 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.53 goals scored/game – 10th of 62 teams
Team Defense: 3.41 goals allowed/game – 48th of 62 teams

Power Play: 28.0% (21 of 75) – 4th of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 83.1% (54 of 65) – 22nd of 62 teams

Key Players: Junior F Riese Gaber (11-8-19), Sophomore F Jake Schmaltz (3-5-8), Junior F Louie Jamernik V (1-7-8), Graduate Student Mark Senden (4-4-8), Freshman F Jackson Blake (9-10-19), Senior F Gavin Hain (8-2-10 in fifteen games), Freshman F Dylan James (2-7-9 in fifteen games) Graduate Student D Chris Jandric (2-16-18), Junior D Tyler Kleven (1-4-5), Senior D Ethan Frisch (2-3-5), Junior D Cooper Moore (2-6-8), Sophomore G Jakob Hellsten (3-4-2, 3.13 GAA, .859 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 18, 2022 (St. Paul, MN). North Dakota’s early 1-0 lead would last less than two minutes, and two second-period goals had the Fighting Hawks staring down a 3-1 deficit in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals. Enter Nick Portz, whose second goal of the season at 19:53 drew UND within one with twenty minutes to play. The Broncos controlled much of the play in the final frame and added an empty-net tally with 93 seconds remaining to put the game on ice.

Last Meeting in Kalamazoo: January 22, 2022. WMU’s Max Sasson scored on a shorthanded breakway at the 19:14 mark of the first period, and the Broncos would make that hold up for a 2-0 (EN) victory. One night earlier, North Dakota outshot Western Michigan 35-23 but were undone by three power play goals and an ineffective power play of their own (0-for-3).

Most Important Meeting: March 24, 2012 (St. Paul, MN). North Dakota upended Western Michigan 3-1 in the NCAA West Regional semifinal. Brock Nelson had two points, including an empty net goal with 25 seconds remaining that sent UND to the regional finals against Minnesota. Aaron Dell made 24 saves for the Green and White. The Broncos, who have played at the Division I level since 1975-76, have seven NCAA tournament appearances.

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Saturday, March 22, 2014 (Minneapolis, MN). North Dakota faced a must-win situation in the 3rd place game at the inaugural NCHC Frozen Faceoff, and did not disappoint the partisan crowd. The Green and White rolled to a 5-0 victory behind two first-period goals from Conner Gaarder. UND netminder Zane Gothberg made 25 saves for the shutout, and Dave Hakstol’s crew played the waiting game for several more hours before discovering that they had indeed made the NCAA tournament for the twelfth consecutive season.

All-Time Series: In the short history between the schools, UND has won 27 of the 37 games (27-10-0, .730), including eleven of the sixteen games played in Kalamazoo. Before the 2016-17 season in which Western Michigan won three of the four meetings, WMU’s lone victory over North Dakota was a 2-1 road win on March 8th, 2014. The teams first met in 1997.

Last Ten: North Dakota has won seven of the last ten meetings between the two teams, outscoring the Broncos 37-22 over that stretch of games. Before the Broncos’ home sweep of North Dakota in January 2022, UND had swept the previous six with a scoring margin of 28-10.

Game News and Notes

Western Michigan moved up to the Division I ranks beginning with the 1975-76 season and has advanced to the NCAA tournament seven times. The Broncos have made the NCAA tourney twice (2017, 2022) in their first nine seasons in the NCHC after advancing to the national tournament twice (2011, 2012) in the last three seasons in the now-defunct CCHA. The Broncos are 7-0-0 when leading after two periods of play but just 3-8-0 when trailing or tied. UND’s Judd Caulfield has seven goals and two assists in ten career games against WMU. Western Michigan has outscored opponents 32-10 in third periods this season.

The Prediction

This is the most important series of the season, as 8-8-3 headed into the Christmas break would feel a whole lot better than 6-10-3. North Dakota is as healthy as it has been all season on the back end, and that should help limit the number of Grade-A chances given up this weekend. The Green and White should be able to score at least one power play goal each night, and that will help tremendously. I can almost guarantee a Fighting Hawks’ victory on Friday night, with Saturday’s rematch up for grabs. UND 5-3, 4-4 tie.

Broadcast Information

Both games will be 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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