Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Denver

North Dakota (12-11-4) travels to face #4 Denver (21-7-0) for a pair of NCHC games this weekend in a matchup of two perennial powerhouses. It is worth noting that, despite being unranked, UND currently sits in 21st place in the all-important Pairwise Rankings, mostly due to the fact that eight of its eleven losses are to teams in the top nine in the country (Minnesota, Quinnipiac, Denver twice, St. Cloud State twice, and Western Michigan twice). Denver is 6th in the Pairwise coming into this weekend.

According to KRACH, North Dakota has faced the nation’s tenth-toughest schedule to this point of the season, while the Pioneers’ schedule weighs in as the fifteenth-most difficult.

In addition to the eight losses mentioned above, the three defeats that are looming large in UND’s current Pairwise predicament are:

Arizona State 3, North Dakota 2 (October 29th)

Miami 4, North Dakota 3 (November 19th)

Minnesota Duluth 2, North Dakota 1 (January 21st)

All three of those games were tied in the third period.

Before we dig into this weekend’s matchup, let’s take a quick look back at the past few games between the two teams…

UND looked overmatched against the visiting Pios back in November, as David Carle’s squad managed a 3-2, 6-3 road sweep over a Fighing Hawks squad that had taken five of six points at Omaha the week before. Friday’s opener ended up as a one-goal DU victory, but that was only because North Dakota held the Pioneers scoreless on six man advantage opportunities.

In the 2021 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals (held at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks), North Dakota needed overtime to outlast a gutsy performance by a Pios squad that had been decimated by COVID-19. DU dressed only nine forwards for the contest but led 1-0 with under 90 seconds remaining. With the goalie pulled, the Fighting Hawks’ Shane Pinto blasted a shot on net that hit Jasper Weatherby on the way in to send the game to overtime. It took over eight minutes of extra time before Gavin Hain sent the home crowd into a frenzy with a blast of his own that advanced the Green and White into the championship game; Denver had just killed Antti Tuomisto’s boarding minor but could not clear the zone. UND outshot the weary Pioneers 20-4 in the third period and overtime.

With the playoff victory, North Dakota moved to 20-5-1 on the season; David Carle’s squad saw its season end at 10-13-1, the first time DU failed to advance to the NCAA tournament since 2007. The 2020-2021 season was the first losing campaign for DU since the 1999-2000 team went 16-23-2. UND won five of the seven meetings between the teams two years ago, outscoring the Pios 22-14. North Dakota allowed ten goals in the first three meetings with a record of 1-2; since their loss in game one at Denver on January 17th, the Fighting Hawks notched four consecutive victories over DU (15 goals for, 4 goals against). That mid-January defeat was definitely a wakeup call for Brady Berry’s squad; from that point until the end of the season, the Green and White went 13-3, outscoring opponents 69-28.

Denver definitely rebounded last year, going 31-9-1 and defeating Minnesota State 5-1 for the program’s ninth national title. That championship game was tied 1-1 until the 7:33 mark of the third period. The Pios would add two empty-net goals for the misleading final score.

Since Denver ended North Dakota’s season in 2019, UND has gone 10-4-1 against the Pios.

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries, with the two programs combining for seven NCHC regular season titles and averaging a top-three finish in the league standings each year (UND 2.2, DU 3.1).

The teams have played 43 times during the first nine seasons of the new conference (with UND going 19-17-7), but the feud goes all the way back to Geoff Paukovitch’ illegal check on Sioux forward Robbie Bina during the 2005 WCHA Final Five.

Since that 2005 Final Five contest (a Denver victory), the two teams have met thirteen times in tournament play. Denver won the 2005 NCAA title with a victory over North Dakota and claimed a 2008 WCHA Final Five win as well. UND has earned six victories and a tie in the last ten playoff games between the schools, including three consecutive victories in the WCHA Final Five (2010-2012), the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional final which sent the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four, 2016’s thrilling Frozen Four semifinal (a 4-2 UND victory) in Tampa, Florida, and the 2017 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Denver turned the tables by dispatching North Dakota in the first round of the league playoffs at Magness Arena to end the Fighting Hawks’ 2018-2019 campaign.

(It is impossible to bring up the Paukovitch/Bina incident without also writing that Brad Malone‘s check on Denver’s Jesse Martin during an October 2010 contest at Ralph Engelstad Arena fractured three of Martin’s vertebrae and ended the hockey career of the Atlanta Thrashers’ draft pick.)

The rivalry intensified two seasons ago, with the teams combining for 187 penalty minutes in six regular season games (the NCHC semifinal game featured just four minor penalties). The last contest between the squads in Denver saw a DU goaltender run over with nine minutes remaining, which ignited tempers further. That spilled over to the series in Grand Forks in February, with the Pioneers “winning” the penalty minute battle 54-29. North Dakota won the specialty teams battle, scoring two goals on ten man-advantage opportunities and blanking DU on its ten power play chances.

In Saturday’s series finale, North Dakota led on the scoreboard 5-2 thanks to two goals by Jasper Weatherby and 18 saves from Peter Thome, who started in place of injured netminder Adam Scheel. And how was Scheel injured, you might ask? Denver’s Kohen Olischefski ran Scheel from behind late in Friday’s 3-0 UND victory. Olischefski was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for goaltender interference and was issued an additional one-game suspension by the league office.

And in the only series played between the teams last year, the two sides combined for 78 penalty minutes and ten power play opportunities. UND swept the series 3-1 and 4-1, thanks in no small part to a 1-for-5 effort on the power play and a perfect penalty kill.

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 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.

Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, a half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and David Carle’s squad has ten active players who meet that threshold, including two averaging a point per game or better: sophomore forward Massimo Rizzo (10-23-33) and senior forward Casey Dornbach (12-16-28). Others contributing offensively include freshman forward Aidan Thompson (5-14-19), sophomore forward Carter Mazur (17-6-23), sophomore forward Tristan Broz (9-12-21), sophomore forward Carter King (10-7-17), sophomore forward Jack Devine (5-10-15), junior defenseman Mike Benning (2-5-7), sophomore defenseman Sean Behrens (2-13-15), and sophomore defenseman Shai Buium (1-13-14). Rizzo was a former North Dakota recruit.

It is worth noting that DU lost its top four point-getters and six of the top ten from last year’s title team: forwards Bobby Brink (14-43-57), Cole Guttman (19-26-45), Carter Savoie (23-22-45), Brett Stapley (18-25-43), Cameron Wright (23-11-34), and Ryan Barrow (8-13-21) combined to score 105 of Denver’s 175 goals (60.0%) and 245 of the team’s 493 points (49.7%) a season ago.

By that same measure, North Dakota boasts nearly identical numbers, with ten skaters at a half point per game or better (and two over a point per game): junior forward Riese Gaber (16-12-28) and freshman forward Jackson Blake (12-18-30) are leading the way, with contributions from senior forward Gavin Hain (9-3-12 in 24 games), graduate forward Mark Senden (6-9-15), senior forward Judd Caulfield (8-7-15), freshman forward Owen McLaughlin (1-12-13), freshman forward Ben Strinden (3-6-9 in 18 games), graduate defensemen Chris Jandric (3-23-26), senior defenseman Ethan Frisch (3-10-13), and junior defenseman Tyler Kleven (6-7-13).

UND is second in the nation in shooting percentage at an astounding 12.3% (96 goals on 781 shots). By comparison, Denver is 12th in the country at 11.0% (102 goals on 924 shots). The Pioneers average more than four additional shots on goal per game than the Fighting Hawks (33.0 – 28.9) and lead UND in both puck possession statistics (Corsi and Fenwick).

One key area to watch this weekend is the face-off circle. The Fighting Hawks are the nation’s sixteenth-best team on draws (52.7%), while Denver clocks in at 49.0% (37th).

For UND, sophomore Jake Schmaltz has been making a living on draws, winning 272 of 484 (56.2%). Junior Louis Jamernik V has been nearly even (257 of 499, 51.5%), while freshman Owen McLaughlin has shown improvement (146 of 285, 51.2%). Freshman Ben Strinden has chipped in with 50 wins in 102 opportunities (49.0%).

Unfortunately for North Dakota, Jake Schmaltz remains out of the lineup with an upper-body injury.

For Denver, sophomore Massimo Rizzo has taken the majority of important draws, going 240 of 476 (50.4%). Sophomore Carter King has had the most success (219 of 409, 53.5%), while junior Carter Caponi (186 of 381, 48.8%) and sclass Aidan Thompson (118 of 261, 45.2%) 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-20, with 36 power play goals scored (36 of 113, 31.9%, 2nd in the country) and only sixteen power play goals allowed (81 of 97, 83.5%, 14th), with two shorthanded goals scored and two allowed.

Denver has posted a plus-9, with 31 power play goals scored (31 of 129, 24.0%, 11th), 21 power play goals allowed (73 of 94, 77.7%, 46th), and two shorthanded goals allowed.

Both teams have earned far more man advantage opportunities than shorthanded situations this season, with UND clocking in at plus-sixteen (113-97) and Denver even better at plus-35 (129-94).

North Dakota is 8th in the country in scoring offense (3.56 goals scored/game) but just 36th in the country in scoring defense (3.00 goals allowed/game). Denver is 7th in the country in scoring offense (3.64 goals scored/game) and a stellar 3rd in scoring defense (2.10 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 six blueliners regularly in the lineup for the Green and White have scored 16 goals and added 62 assists for 78 points in 147 combined games this season (0.53 points/game). By comparison, the six regular defensemen for Denver have posted a line of 17-55-72 in 149 games (0.48).

Three weeks ago, goaltending and team defense were the two weakest links for this year’s North Dakota squad. Attempting to change that narrative, graduate transfer Drew DeRidder turned in two strong performances against the Bulldogs, allowing just two goals each night and stopping 47 of 51 (a save percentage of .922). DeRidder followed that up with an even better weekend against the Miami RedHawks, stopping 50 of 51 (.980) in the two-game road sweep. Over the last eight games of the regular season and into the playoffs, the Fighting Hawks will need consistently excellent play between the pipes and in their own end if they hope to make a push for home ice. Thankfully for fans of the Green and White, DeRidder now has seven straight starts allowing three goals or fewer (4-1-1, with ten total goals allowed, a goals-against average of 1.63, a save percentage of .938, and two shutouts).

Last season, Denver went 31-9-1 on the way to the program’s ninth national title. North Dakota (2-0 vs. the Pios) and Minnesota Duluth (3-2) were the only teams to beat DU more than once during the 2021-2022 campaign.

Denver Team Profile

Head Coach: David Carle (5th season at DU, 107-50-13, .668)

National Rankings: #4/#4
Pairwise Ranking: 6th
KRACH Ranking: 5th

This Season: 21-7-0 overall, 10-3-2-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 31-9-1 overall (National Champions), 17-6-1-0 NCHC (1st)

2022-2023 Team Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.64 goals scored/game – 7th of 62 teams
Team Defense: 2.10 goals allowed/game – 3rd of 62 teams

Power Play: 24.0% (31 of 129) – 11th of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 77.7% (73 of 94) – 46th of 62 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Massimo Rizzo (10-23-33), Senior F Casey Dornbach (12-16-28), Freshman F Aidan Thompson (5-14-19), Sophomore F Carter Mazur (17-6-23), Sophomore F Tristan Broz (9-12-21), Sophomore F Carter King (10-7-17), Sophomore F Jack Devine (5-10-15), Junior D Mike Benning (2-5-7), Sophomore D Sean Behrens (2-13-15), Sophomore D Shai Buium (1-13-14), Senior G Magnus Chrona (17-7-0, 2.11 GAA, .916 SV%, 4 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (8th season at UND, 174-88-29, .648)

National Rankings: NR/NR
Pairwise Ranking: 21st
KRACH Ranking: 18th

This Season: 12-11-4 overall, 6-8-1-1 NCHC (6th)
Last Season: 24-14-1 overall (NCAA Regional Semifinalist), 17-6-1 NCHC (t-1st)

2022-2023 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.56 goals scored/game – 8th of 62 teams
Team Defense: 3.00 goals allowed/game – 36th of 62 teams

Power Play: 31.9% (36 of 113) – 2nd of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 83.5% (81 of 97) – 14th of 62 teams

Key Players: Junior F Riese Gaber (16-12-28), Freshman F Jackson Blake (12-18-30), Freshman F Owen McLaughlin (1-12-13), Graduate F Mark Senden (6-9-15), Senior F Gavin Hain (9-3-12), Freshman F Dylan James (4-7-11) Graduate D Chris Jandric (3-23-26), Junior D Tyler Kleven (6-7-13), Senior D Ethan Frisch (3-10-13), Junior D Cooper Moore (3-8-11), Graduate G Drew DeRidder (7-5-2, 2.62 GAA, .900 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: November 12, 2022 (Grand Forks, ND). Denver scored three goals in the second period and added three more in the final frame to dispatch the homestanding Hawks 6-3. UND scored once in each period of play, including a 5-on-3 goal late in the second period. In Friday’s opener, North Dakota won the specialty teams battle (1-5 on the power play, 6-6 on the penalty kill) but lost the game 3-2. DU’s Jared Wright had three goals and an assist in the weekend sweep.

Last Meeting in Denver: January 18, 2021. North Dakota’s Matt Kiersted opened the scoring just eighteen seconds into the contest, and it was off to the races after that. The score was 4-1 late in the third period when Josh Rieger – who hadn’t expected to be in the lineup and was eating chicken wings when his number was called – potted his first goal of the season. The Fighting Hawks would follow up that impressive performance with a home sweep of the Pios (3-0, 5-2) four weeks later.

A Recent Memory: April 7, 2016 (Tampa, Florida). In the semifinals of the NCAA Frozen Four, the two league rivals squared off in a tightly-contested matchup. Senior forward Drake Caggiula scored twice early in the middle frame to stake UND to a 2-0 lead, but the Pioneers battled back with a pair of third period goals. The CBS line came through when it mattered most, with Nick Schmaltz scoring the game winner off of a faceoff win with 57 seconds remaining in the hockey game. North Dakota blocked 27 Denver shot attempts and goaltender Cam Johnson made 21 saves for the Fighting Hawks, who won the program’s eighth national title on the same sheet of ice two nights later.

Most Important Meeting: It’s hard to pick just one game, as the two teams have played four times for the national title. Denver defeated UND for the national championship in 1958, 1968, and 2005, while the Sioux downed the Pioneers in 1963. But the game that stands out in recent memory as “the one that got away” was DU’s 1-0 victory over the Fighting Sioux in the 2004 NCAA West Regional final (Colorado Springs, CO). That North Dakota team went 30-8-4 on the season (Dean Blais’ last behind the UND bench) and featured one of the deepest rosters in the past twenty years: Brandon Bochenski, Zach Parise, Brady Murray, Colby Genoway, Drew Stafford and David Lundbohm up front; Nick Fuher, Matt Jones, Matt Greene, and Ryan Hale on defense; and a couple of goaltending stalwarts in Jordan Parise and Jake Brandt.

Last Ten Games: The Fighting Hawks have a 6-4-0 (.600) advantage over the last ten games, outscoring DU 30-22 over that stretch of games. The last seven tilts between these rivals have been played in Grand Forks.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 156-132-16 (.539), although the Pios hold a 77-56-5 (.576) advantage in games played in Denver. The teams first met in 1950, with North Dakota prevailing 18-3 in Denver. The 304 games played between the schools is the most among all of UND’s opponents.

Game News and Notes

Since Denver ended North Dakota’s season in 2019, UND has gone 10-4-1 against the Pios. DU is 5-1 at home this season but just 2-2 on the road. Fighting Hawks’ captain Mark Senden has faced Denver 21 times in his collegiate career, with one goal and seven assists in those contests. Eleven of Denver head coach David Carle’s 50 head coaching losses have come against UND. Last season, the Fighting Hawks won the Penrose Cup as NCHC regular season champions for the fifth time in the nine-year history of the league; the Pioneers have captured the Penrose only twice (2016-2017 and 2021-2022). Since seven of Michigan’s nine titles were earned by 1964, I consider Denver (nine titles) and North Dakota (eight titles) to be the top two men’s college hockey programs of all time.

The Prediction

The playoffs start now for North Dakota. Over the next two weekends, UND faces Denver (PWR 6) and St. Cloud State (PWR 7). If the Fighting Hawks can somehow do better than a split against each opponent, the Pairwise predicament becomes a bit less problematic. So what is the recipe this weekend against the Pios? Win the specialty teams battle and get excellent goaltending. The loss of Jake Schmaltz certainly makes things more difficult for the Green and White, so I’m expecting a split this weekend. UND 3-2, DU 5-3.

Broadcast Information

Friday’s opener will be available exclusively on CBS Sports Network. Saturday’s rematch will be available via webcast 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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