North Dakota (9-8-4, 3-5-2 NCHC) hosts #12 Western Michigan (12-9-1, 4-5-1 NCHC) at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks this weekend. It is worth noting that, despite being unranked, UND currently sits in 16th 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, St. Cloud State twice, and Denver twice). WMU is 12th in the Pairwise coming into the weekend series.
The two teams tangled at Lawson Ice Arena back on December 9th and 10th, with the Fighting Hawks securing five of six possible league points with a 2-2 overtime tie (shootout win) and a 3-0 victory.
UND found success at Lawson Arena by limiting high-quality chances, winning the special teams battle (2 for 7 on the power play and a perfect eight-for-eight on the penalty kill), and getting excellent goaltending from Drew DeRidder, who made 51 of 53 saves (.962) and added three stops in the five-round shootout.
WMU’s Jamie Rome (from Aiden Fulp and Tim Washe) and Jack Perbix (from Dylan Wendt) were the only two goal scorers that weekend, which means that the Broncos’ Big Three of Jason Polin, Max Sasson, and Ryan McAllister – who have combined for 37 goals and 96 points in 66 games played this season – were held off the scoresheet for the entire weekend. The frustration mounted for WMU’s top line, as Sasson and McAllister combined for eight minutes in penalties in the series.
UND followed up those impressive results with a home sweep of Lindenwood University (4-3, 4-2) last weekend but will need better starts in both games if they hope to hang with the high-flying Broncos. On Friday, North Dakota gave up the first two goals of the game within three minutes of the opening faceoff and trailed 3-1 just 3:49 into the contest. Saturday was not much better, as Lindenwood built a 2-0 lead after twenty minutes of play.
Second-year Broncos head coach Pat Ferschweiler (WMU ’93) has his team playing at an extremely high level, with Western Michigan exhibiting the nation’s top-scoring offense (4.23 goals scored/game). 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 back on November 11th. 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 sixth-toughest schedule to this point of the season, while the Broncos schedule weighs in as the twelfth-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 434-223-72 (.645) 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 TEN players who meet that threshold, including three players averaging over a point per game: freshman forward Ryan McAllister (10-28-38), junior forward Jason Polin (19-11-30), and sophomore forward Max Sasson (8-20-28). Other solid offensive contributors include junior forward Luke Grainger (7-13-20), graduate forward Jaime Rome (9-6-15), freshman forward Ethan Wolthers (2-3-5 in nine games), senior forward Jack Perbix (3-8-11), graduate forward Cole Gallant (3-9-12), junior defenseman Zak Galambos (9-7-16), and senior defenseman Carter Berger (3-14-17, no relation).
By that same measure, North Dakota has nine players at a half point or better: junior forward Riese Gaber (11-9-20), freshman forward Jackson Blake (9-13-22), freshman forward Dylan James (3-7-10), senior forward Gavin Hain (8-3-11), sophomore forward Nick Portz (2-5-7), freshman forward Ben Strinden (2-4-6), graduate defensemen Chris Jandric (2-18-20), junior defenseman Tyler Kleven (5-6-11), and senior defenseman Ethan Frisch (2-7-9).
UND is seventh in the nation in shooting percentage at 11.6% (73 goals on 630 shots); by comparison, Western Michigan leads the nation at 13.0% (93 goals on 714 shots). WMU puts an average of 32.5 shots/game on frame, while North Dakota manages 30.0. The two teams are nearly identical in shots allowed (Broncos 25.0, Fighting Hawks 24.3). The Broncos (11th in Corsi, 11th in Fenwick) also lead North Dakota (15th, 16th) in both puck possession statistics.
One key area to watch this weekend is the face-off circle. The Fighting Hawks are the nation’s twelfth-best team on draws (53.2%), while the Broncos clock in at 50.9% (27th).
For UND, sophomore Jake Schmaltz has been making a living on draws, winning 241 of 425 (56.7%). Junior Louis Jamernik V has more than held his own (203 of 382, 53.1), while freshman Owen McLaughlin has shown improvement (118 of 233, 50.6%). Junior Griffin Ness has fallen off lately, with 47 wins in 104 opportunities (45.2%).
For Western Michigan, sophomore Max Sasson has taken the majority of important draws, going 235 of 480 (49.0%). Junior Tim Washe has fared the best (182 of 302, 60.3%), while junior Luke Grainger (135 of 300, 45.0%) and sophomore Jack Perbix (127 of 252, 50.4%) 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-13, with 26 power play goals scored (26 of 89, 29.2%, 2nd in the country) and only twelve power play goals allowed (65 of 77, 84.4%, 13th), with one shorthanded goal scored and two allowed.
Western Michigan has posted a plus-3, with 23 power play goals scored (23 of 95, 24.2%, 13th), a whopping 21 power play goals allowed (67 of 88, 76.1%, 49th), two shorthanded goals scored, and one allowed.
It is also worth noting that UND has earned twelve more power plays than penalty kill situations (89-77), while WMU has been closer to even (95-88).
North Dakota is 10th in the country in scoring offense (3.48 goals scored/game) but just 40th in the country in scoring defense (3.10 goals allowed/game). Western Michigan leads the nation in scoring offense (4.23 goals scored/game) but is allowing 2.86 goals/game (33rd).
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 in the final seconds of last Saturday’s contest against Lindenwood. Frisch, last season’s NCHC Defensive Defenseman of the Year, plays heavy minutes next to Tyler Kleven on UND’s top defensive pair.
The Broncos have not played since winning the Great Lakes Invitational (December 27th and 28th). Western Michigan and North Dakota will both be in the mix for home ice in the first round of the league playoffs, and points this weekend would go a long way toward that goal.
Western Michigan Broncos
Head Coach: Pat Ferschweiler (2nd season at WMU, 38-21-2, .639)
National Rankings: #12/#12
Pairwise Ranking: 12th
KRACH Ranking: 12th
This Season: 12-9-1 overall, 4-5-0-1 NCHC (t-5th)
Last Season: 26-12-1 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional Finalist), 13-9-2-0 NCHC (3rd)
2022-2023 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 4.23 goals scored/game – 1st of 62 teams
Team Defense: 2.86 goals allowed/game – 33rd of 62 teams
Power Play: 24.2% (23 of 95) – 13th of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 76.1% (67 of 88) – 49th of 62 teams
Key Players: Freshman F Ryan McAllister (10-28-38), Junior F Jason Polin (19-11-30), Sophomore F Max Sasson (8-20-28), Junior F Luke Grainger (7-13-20), Graduate F Jaime Rome (9-6-15), Senior F Jack Perbix (3-8-11), Graduate F Cole Gallant (3-9-12), Junior D Zak Galambos (9-7-16), Senior D Carter Berger (3-14-17), Junior G Cameron Rowe (11-8-1, 2.77 GAA, .893 SV%, 1 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Brad Berry (8th season at UND, 171-85-29, .651)
National Rankings: NR/NR
Pairwise Ranking: 16th
KRACH Ranking: 14th
This Season: 9-8-4 overall, 3-5-1-1 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 24-14-1 overall (NCAA Regional Semifinalist), 17-6-1 NCHC (t-1st)
2022-2023 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.48 goals scored/game – 10th of 62 teams
Team Defense: 3.10 goals allowed/game – 40th of 62 teams
Power Play: 29.2% (26 of 89) – 2nd of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 84.4% (65 of 77) – 13th of 62 teams
Key Players: Junior F Riese Gaber (11-9-20), Sophomore F Jake Schmaltz (3-5-8), Junior F Louie Jamernik V (2-7-9), Graduate F Mark Senden (5-5-10), Freshman F Jackson Blake (9-13-22), Senior F Gavin Hain (8-3-11 in nineteen games), Freshman F Dylan James (3-7-10 in nineteen games) Graduate D Chris Jandric (2-18-20), Junior D Tyler Kleven (5-6-11), Senior D Ethan Frisch (2-7-9), Junior D Cooper Moore (2-6-8), Sophomore G Jakob Hellsten (5-4-2, 2.73 GAA, .871 SV%)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: December 10, 2022 (Kalamazoo, MI). North Dakota opened the scoring with a first-period Judd Caulfield power play goal, withstood a furious Western Michigan second period, and then turned the tables with a two-goal third period to blank the homestanding Broncos. UND netminder Drew DeRidder turned aside all 25 WMU shots, including six off the stick of Jason Pollin. In Friday’s opener, the two teams tied at two goals apiece before freshman Owen McLaughlin scored in the fifth round of the shootout to earn an extra point for the Green and White.
Last Meeting in Grand Forks: February 26, 2022. UND built a three-goal lead after just twelve minutes of play and boatraced the Broncos 5-2 at Ralph Engelstad Arena for their sixth consecutive regulation victory. Judd Caulfield scored twice for North Dakota, who won Friday’s opener 2-1. Fighting Hawks’ netminder Zach Driscoll made 55 saves in the weekend sweep.
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 28 of the 39 games (28-10-1, .731), including twelve of the sixteen games played in Grand Forks. 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 six of the last ten meetings between the two teams (6-3-1, .650), outscoring the Broncos 31-21 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 9-0-0 when leading after two periods of play but just 3-9-1 when trailing or tied. UND’s Judd Caulfield has nine goals and two assists in twelve career games against WMU. Western Michigan has outscored opponents 36-13 in third periods this season. In the December series in Kalamazoo, UND killed off all eight Bronco power plays; in its last eighteen man-advantage opportunities, Western Michigan has scored just one power play goal (5.6%).
Including this weekend’s series, North Dakota has fourteen conference games remaining, and the time is now to start stacking wins. The biggest question mark is how Western Michigan will come out in its first game action since December 28th. Having last line change should allow UND head coach Brad Berry to send Hain, Jamernik, Senden, Kleven, and Frisch out against Polin, Sasson, and McAllister throughout the contest. The Green and White should be able to score at least one power play goal each night, and that will help tremendously. With this year’s North Dakota squad, it’s often been one step forward and at least one step back, so I’m calling a split. UND 4-2, WMU 5-3.
Friday’s game will be broadcast live on Midco Sports, with Saturday’s rematch available on Midco Sports Two. 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.
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!