North Dakota (7-8-4, 3-5-2 NCHC) hosts Lindenwood University (5-13-0) this weekend at Ralph Engelstad Arena in the first-ever meeting between the two programs.
The Lindenwood Lions are a first-year Division I independent men’s ice hockey program based in St. Louis, Missouri under the direction of former North Dakota defenseman Rick Zombo. Zombo is in his 13th season as the Lindenwood head coach, leading his team to two ACHA Division I titles and overseeing the transition to the NCAA this year.
The Lions have played sixteen of their first eighteen games away from home this season, with road victories over Bentley, Army (twice), and Vermont to go along with a 7-6 home win over Air Force.
Despite playing road series at Minnesota, Michigan, and Denver this season, Lindenwood’s overall strength of schedule is rated 53rd among the 62 men’s college hockey programs competing this season. According to KRACH, North Dakota’s schedule has been the second-toughest in all of college hockey, trailing only Notre Dame.
Despite being swept at the Gophers, Wolverines, and Pioneers, the Lindenwood Lions put together several strong performances:
October 2, 2022 at Minnesota: leading 3-2 in the 2nd period and tied 4-4 in the 3rd period (lost 6-4)
October 7, 2022 at Michigan: leading 2-1 in the 2nd period (lost 7-4)
December 17, 2022 at Denver: tied 4-4 with three minutes remaining in the game (lost 5-4)
It is worth noting that, despite being unranked, UND currently sits in 17th place in the all-important Pairwise Rankings, mostly due to the fact that six of its eight losses are to the top five teams in the country (Minnesota, Quinnipiac, Denver twice, and St. Cloud twice).
Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, a half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Rick Zombo’s squad has seven players who meet that threshold, all of whom are forwards: sophomore David Gagnon (7-11-18), senior Hunter Johannes (8-7-15), senior Andy Willis (5-8-13), sophomore Kyle Jeffers (3-8-11), graduate student Ryan Finnegan (5-6-11), freshman Cade DeStefani (5-5-10), and senior Adam Conquest (3-3-6 in twelve games).
Hunter Johannes is a native of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, one of three Minnesotans on the Lions roster (freshman defenseman Joe Prouty is from Apple Valley and freshman forward Shane Lavelle is from Chaska.)
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 (9-12-21), freshman forward Dylan James (3-7-10), senior forward Gavin Hain (8-2-10), graduate defensemen Chris Jandric (2-18-20), and junior defenseman Cooper Moore (2-6-8).
Jackson Blake, who also hails from Eden Prairie, recently won a bronze medal at the 2023 World Junior Championship in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Blake finished the tournament with one goal and five assists in seven games, and became the 24th UND player (and the 17th in the past twenty years) to win a medal at the World Juniors. His return to the lineup this weekend is questionable.
Gavin Hain was held out of the lineup last Saturday against the U.S. Under-18 Team as a precaution, but he is expected back in the mix this weekend.
Junior center Griffin Ness (4-0-4) will miss Friday’s opener after receiving a one-game suspension from the NCHC for his contact-to-the-head major on Saturday.
As a unit, Lindenwood’s blueliners have scored seven goals and added 25 assists for 32 points in 116 combined games (0.28 points/game). By comparison, UND’s defensemen have put up a combined line of 8-49-57 in 120 games played (0.48 points/game).
UND is fifth in the nation in shooting percentage at an astounding 11.9% (65 goals on 546 shots). By comparison, Lindenwood is 9th in the country at 11.4% (50 goals on 439 shots). Lindenwood puts an average of 24.4 shots/game on frame, while North Dakota manages 28.7. The differences are found in the defensive zone: the Fighting Hawks have allowed 60 goals in 19 games and an average of 24.8 shots on goal against; the Lions have allowed 76 goals in 18 games and an average of 42.8 shots on goal against, easily the worst mark in men’s Division I college ice hockey.
One key area to watch this weekend is the face-off circle. The Fighting Hawks are the nation’s twelfth-best team on draws (53.1%), while Lindenwood clocks in at 42.3% (61st).
For UND, sophomore Jake Schmaltz has been making a living on draws, winning 222 of 393 (56.5%). Junior Louis Jamernik V has more than held his own (187 of 351, 53.3), while freshman Owen McLaughlin has shown improvement (106 of 212, 50.0%). Junior Griffin Ness has been fading in the faceoff circle, with 47 wins in 102 opportunities (46.1%).
For Lindenwood, freshman Drew Kuzma has taken the majority of important draws, going 162 of 331 (48.9%). To be honest, everyone else has struggled, with sophomore Mitch Allard (117 of 294, 39.8%), junior Zachary Aughe (65 of 168, 38.7%), and freshman Cade DeStefani (48 of 110, 43.6%) taking turns in the dot.
Given the numbers above, it is not surprising that North Dakota leads Lindenwood in both puck possession statistics:
Corsi: UND 52.3% (22nd), LU 35.6% (61st)
Fenwick: UND 52.3% (23rd), LU 35.4% (62nd)
To this point in the season, North Dakota has had the better of the specialty teams play. UND has been a combined plus-11, with 23 power play goals scored (23 of 82, 28.0%, 3rd in the country) and only eleven power play goals allowed (62 of 73, 84.9%, 13th), with one shorthanded goal scored and two allowed.
Lindenwood has posted a minus-13, with 14 power play goals scored (14 of 67, 20.9%, 24th), a whopping 29 power play goals allowed (78 of 107, 72.9%,58th), three shorthanded goals scored, and one allowed.
It is also worth noting that UND has earned nine more power plays than penalty kill situations (82-73), while the Lions have been shorthanded 40 more times than they have had the power play (107-67).
North Dakota is 12th in the country in scoring offense (3.42 goals scored/game) but just 41st in the country in scoring defense (3.16 goals allowed/game). Lindenwood is 32nd in the nation in scoring offense (2.78 goals scored/game) but is allowing 4.22 goals/game (61st).
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.
Head Coach: Rick Zombo (1st season at LU, 5-13-0, .278)
National Rankings: NR/NR
Pairwise Ranking: 55th
KRACH Ranking: 58th
This Season: 5-13-0 overall
Last Season: NA
2022-2023 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.78 goals scored/game – 32nd of 62 teams
Team Defense: 4.22 goals allowed/game – 61st of 62 teams
Power Play: 20.9% (14 of 67) – 24th of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 72.9% (78 of 107) – 58th of 62 teams
Key Players: Sophomore F David Gagnon (7-11-18), Senior F Hunter Johannes (8-7-15), Senior F Andy Willis (5-8-13), Sophomore F Kyle Jeffers (3-8-11), Graduate F Ryan Finnegan (5-6-11), Freshman F Cade DeStefani (5-5-10), Sophomore D Caleb Price (3-5-8), Freshman D Joe Prouty (1-6-7), Sophomore G Trent Burnham (4-5-0, 3.91 GAA, .912 SV%)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Brad Berry (8th season at UND, 169-85-29, .648)
National Rankings: NR/NR
Pairwise Ranking: 17th
KRACH Ranking: 17th
This Season: 7-8-4 overall, 3-5-2-1 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 24-14-1 overall (NCAA Regional Semifinalist), 17-6-1 NCHC (t-1st)
2022-2023 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.42 goals scored/game – 12th of 62 teams
Team Defense: 3.16 goals allowed/game – 41st of 62 teams
Power Play: 28.0% (23 of 82) – 3rd of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 84.9% (62 of 73) – 13th of 62 teams
Key Players: Junior F Riese Gaber (11-8-19), Sophomore F Jake Schmaltz (3-5-8), Junior F Louie Jamernik V (2-7-9), Graduate Student Mark Senden (4-4-8), Freshman F Jackson Blake (9-12-21), Senior F Gavin Hain (8-2-10 in seventeen games), Freshman F Dylan James (3-7-10 in seventeen games) Graduate Student D Chris Jandric (2-18-20), Junior D Tyler Kleven (1-6-7), Senior D Ethan Frisch (2-3-5), Junior D Cooper Moore (2-6-8), Graduete G Drew DeRidder (4-4-2, 2.86 GAA, .890 SV%, 2 SO)
By The Numbers
Common Opponents This Season: Lindenwood was swept at Minnesota (0-4, 4-6) and at Denver (0-5, 4-5). North Dakota split at Minnesota (2-3 overtime loss, 5-4 overtime win) and was swept at home by Denver (2-3, 3-6).
Game News and Notes
Lindenwood is 3-2 in one-goal games this season and has played strong third periods throughout its inaugural campaign. UND has outscored opponents 21-12 in first periods this season. Lions head coach Rick Zombo played at North Dakota for three seasons (1981-1984), collecting 13 goals, 50 assists, and 112 penalty minutes in 112 games and winning the national championship as a freshman. Zombo went on to have a twelve-year NHL career mostly with the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins, with a line of 24-130-154 and 728 PIM in 652 National Hockey League contests.
With its current precarious Pairwise position, North Dakota cannot afford a loss this weekend. UND will build upon the momentum from last weekend’s exhibition win (in overtime) and boatrace the Lions in back-to-back games. The Green and White should be able to score at least one power play goal each night, and that will help tremendously. The only thing in doubt is the final score, and I see goals aplenty. UND 5-2, 4-2.
Both games will be broadcast live on Midco Sports 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.
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!