Weekend Preview: UND vs. St. Cloud State

North Dakota (12-13-4, 6-10-2 NCHC) hosts #6 St. Cloud State (18-8-2, 10-6-2 NCHC) at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks this weekend in a matchup of two perennial powerhouses. 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 ten of its thirteen losses are to teams in the top eight in the country (Minnesota, Quinnipiac, Denver four times, St. Cloud State twice, and Western Michigan twice). St. Cloud State is 7th in the Pairwise coming into this weekend.

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

In addition to the ten 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.

With ten conference losses against just six victories, the Fighting Hawks are currently in seventh place in the league standings with just six NCHC games remaining. As I wrote earlier this week, it is almost a mathematical certainty that UND will go on the road for the first round of the NCHC playoffs, with its most likely opponents Omaha, Western Michigan, or St. Cloud State.

On December 2nd and 3rd, 2022, SCSU swept North Dakota on home ice (7-2, 6-3), scoring six straight goals in each contest. On Friday night, a disastrous second period saw the Huskies score every which way: at even strength, shorthanded, with the extra attacker on a delayed penalty, and on the ensuing power play. In Saturday’s rematch, the Fighting Hawks built a 3-0 lead early in the second period, but SCSU scored just 23 seconds after UND’s third goal and never looked back, potting four goals in the final frame.

Almost exactly one year before that series (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 #7 in the Pairwise and with an overall record of 18-8-2, St. Cloud State is in line to make the NCAA tourney for the sixth consecutive season. (It is worth noting that in 2019-2020 – when there was no national tournament – SCSU went just 13-15-6.) The Huskies’ eight losses this season have come at Bemidji State (PWR 30), at Denver (PWR 4), vs. Western Michigan (PWR 8), at Miami (PWR 45), at Minnesota (PWR 1), vs. Colorado College (PWR 31), and at Minnesota Duluth twice (PWR 25).

Over the last two weekends of action, the Huskies were swept at UMD and managed two ties at home against Miami. Idle last weekend, St. Cloud State has not won a game since January 21st. SCSU has been brilliant at home on the wide Olympic ice (200×100), going 11-2-2. On the road, however, Brett Larson’s squad has gone just 7-6-0. With Colorado College building a new rink with NHL ice and Minnesota planning to narrow its ice sheet this offseason, St. Cloud State will be one of just six Division I men’s programs playing on a sheet wider than 85 feet; the others are Alaska (200×100), Massachusetts (200×95), New Hampshire (200×100), Northern Michigan (200×100), and Wisconsin (200×97).

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.

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 (17-10-27), senior forward Jami Krannila (16-17-33), senior forward Zack Okabe (15-12-27), senior forward Kyler Kupka (7-10-17 in 22 games), junior forward Veeti Miettinen (7-15-22), freshman forward Adam Ingram (4-10-14), senior defenseman Dylan Anhorn (5-20-25 in 23 games), and sophomore defenseman Jack Peart (2-19-21).

Unfortunately, Dylan Anhorn suffered a season-ending injury last month.

By that same measure, North Dakota boasts nearly identical numbers, with eight skaters at a half point per game or better: junior forward Riese Gaber (16-12-28), freshman forward Jackson Blake (13-20-33), graduate forward Mark Senden (7-9-16), senior forward Judd Caulfield (9-7-16), graduate defensemen Chris Jandric (3-23-26), senior defenseman Ethan Frisch (3-10-13), junior defenseman Tyler Kleven (6-7-13), and junior defenseman Cooper Moore (3-9-12 in 24 games).

Tyler Kleven is suspended for Friday’s opener after taking his fourth major penalty of the season last Saturday night in Denver.

UND is fourth in the nation in shooting percentage at an astounding 12.0% (101 goals on 841 shots). By comparison, St. Cloud State is eighth in the country at 11.8% (95 goals on 802 shots). The two teams are nearly identical in shots on goal per game (UND 29.0, SCSU 28.6) and shots on goal allowed per game (UND 25.3, SCSU 26.2). North Dakota leads the Huskies in both puck possession statistics (UND is 18th in Corsi and 22nd in Fenwick; SCSU is 26th and 28th, respectively).

One key area to watch this weekend is the face-off circle. The Fighting Hawks are the nation’s 20th-best team on draws (51.9%), while St. Cloud State clocks in at 52.8% (15th).

UND had been one of the country’s best faceoff teams before Jake Schmaltz suffered an upper-body injury against Miami. In the last three games without Schmaltz in the lineup, North Dakota has won just 45.4 percent of faceoffs (95 of 209). The sophomore from McFarland, Wisconsin, who has won 272 of his 484 draws this season (56.2%), is expected back on the ice this weekend.

Among other UND centermen, junior Louis Jamernik V has been solid (283 of 545, 51.9%), while freshman Owen McLaughlin has shown improvement (154 of 307, 50.2%). Freshman Ben Strinden has chipped in with 53 wins in 111 opportunities (47.7%).

SCSU will counter with graduate student Grant Cruikshank (314 of 567, 55.4%), senior Jami Krannila (200 of 405, 49.4%), sophomore Mason Salquist (193 of 357, 54.1%), and graduate student Aidan Spellacy (121 of 206, 58.7%). Salquist is Grand Forks native.

To this point in the season, North Dakota has had far the better of the specialty teams play. UND has been a combined plus-19, with 38 power play goals scored (38 of 126, 30.2%, best in the country) and only nineteen power play goals allowed (91 of 110, 82.7%, 19th), with two shorthanded goals scored and two allowed.

St. Cloud State has posted a plus-7, with 27 power play goals scored (27 of 113, 23.9%, 10th), 26 power play goals allowed (87 of 113, 77.0%, 50th), a remarkable SEVEN shorthanded goals scored, and one allowed.

North Dakota has earned far more man advantage opportunities than shorthanded situations this season (126-110), while St. Cloud State is dead even (113-113).

North Dakota is 10th in the country in scoring offense (3.48 goals scored/game) but just 40th in the country in scoring defense (3.14 goals allowed/game). St. Cloud State is 12th in the country in scoring offense (3.39 goals scored/game) and a stellar 5th in scoring defense (2.18 goals allowed/game).

North Dakota is strong offensively 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 junior Cooper Moore to form a puck-moving defensive corps not unlike the one that took UND all the way to the national title seven years ago.

The six blueliners expected in the lineup for the Green and White this weekend have scored 17 goals and added 66 assists for 83 points in 158 combined games this season (0.53 points/game). Back in 2015-16, Troy Stecher, Tucker Poolman, Paul LaDue, Keaton Thompson, Christian Wolanin, and Gage Ausmus combined for 24-91-115 in 241 games played (0.48 points/game).

By comparison, the six available defensemen for St. Cloud State have posted a line of 7-43-50 in 140 games (0.36).

St. Cloud State Team Profile

Head Coach: Brett Larson (5th season at SCSU, 99-55-15, .630)

National Rankings: #6/#6
Pairwise Ranking: 7th
KRACH Ranking: 6th

This Season: 18-8-2 overall, 9-6-3-0 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 18-15-4 overall (NCAA Midwest Regional Semifinalist), 9-8-2-5 NCHC (5th)

2022-2023 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.39 goals scored/game – 12th of 62 teams
Team Defense: 2.18 goals allowed/game – 5th of 62 teams

Power Play: 23.9% (27 of 113) – 10th of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 77.0 (87 of 113) – 50th of 62 teams

Key players: Graduate F Grant Cruikshank (17-10-27), Senior F Jami Krannila (16-17-33), Senior F Zack Okabe (15-12-27), Senior F Kyler Kupka (7-10-17 in 22 games), Junior F Veeti Miettinen (7-15-22), Freshman F Adam Ingram (4-10-14), Sophomore D Jack Peart (2-19-21), Graduate D Brendan Bushy (2-6-8), Junior G Dominic Basse (9-3-2, 1.99 GAA, .925 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (8th season at UND, 174-90-29, .643)

National Rankings: NR/NR
Pairwise Ranking: 22nd
KRACH Ranking: 17th

This Season: 12-13-4 overall, 6-10-1-1 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: 3.14 goals allowed/game – 40th of 62 teams

Power Play: 30.2% (38 of 126) – 1st of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 82.7% (91 of 110) – 19th of 62 teams

Key Players: Junior F Riese Gaber (16-12-28), Freshman F Jackson Blake (13-20-33), Freshman F Owen McLaughlin (1-12-13), Graduate F Mark Senden (7-9-16), Senior F Gavin Hain (9-3-12), Senior D Judd Caulfield (9-7-16), Graduate D Chris Jandric (3-24-27), Junior D Tyler Kleven (6-8-14), Senior D Ethan Frisch (4-10-14), Junior D Cooper Moore (3-9-12), Graduate G Drew DeRidder (7-7-2, 2.94 GAA, .890 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 3, 2022 (St. Cloud, Minnesota). The Fighting Hawks built a 3-0 lead early in the second period, but SCSU scored just 23 seconds after UND’s third goal and never looked back, potting four goals in the final frame for a 6-3 victory. In Friday’s opener, the Huskies also scored six consecutive goals, with four of those – at even strength, shorthanded, with the extra attacker on a delayed penalty, and on the ensuing power play – coming in the second period. St. Cloud State outscored UND 13-5 in the weekend sweep.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: January 29, 2022: 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.

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, 79-48-16 (.608), including a sparkling record of 40-19-8 (.657) in games played in Grand Forks. 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: SCSU holds a slight lead of 5-4-1 (.550) in the last ten tilts between the teams, outscoring the Fighting Hawks 41-35 over that stretch of games. Only three of the last ten UND-SCSU contests have taken place in Grand Forks.

Game News and Notes

UND’s Riese Gaber has eleven career points against the Huskies. SCSU was 14-3-0 (.824) after a 7-3 victory at Miami on December 9th, but the Huskies have gone just 4-5-2 (.455) since that time, scoring 29 goals but also allowing 29. North Dakota leads the nation with 38 power play goals, an average of 1.31 man-advantage markers per game. St. Cloud State bench boss Brett Larson is sitting on 99 career coaching victories. UND freshman forward Jackson Blake (eight goals and fourteen assists for 22 points in 18 NCHC games) trails only SCSU senior Jami Krannila (14-11-25 in 18) in the league scoring race.

The Prediction

In the December series, St. Cloud State used their speed advantage and experience on the wide sheet of ice to throttle North Dakota in back-to-back games. It will be a different story this time around, as UND – with its back against the wall – will put forth its best effort of the season. As it so often does, both games will come down to specialty teams and goaltending. Each team holds an advantage in one of those areas, so the number of penalties called this weekend will go a long way toward determining the outcome of each contest. I can’t see the Fighting Hawks doing better than a split, although stranger things have happened. UND 4-2, SCSU 4-3.

Broadcast Information

Friday’s opener will be broadcast exclusively on CBS Sports Network, with Saturday’s rematch available on Midco Sports and also 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!

Leave a Reply