Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Omaha

North Dakota (14-13-6, 6-10-4-2 NCHC) hosts #14 Omaha (11-6-3-2 NCHC) in the final weekend of the regular season. Exactly one year ago this weekend, UND secured the program’s third-consecutive Penrose Cup with a 5-4 overtime victory at Baxter Arena in Omaha.

It is worth noting that, despite being unranked at this point in the season, UND currently sits in 21st place in the all-important Pairwise Rankings, mostly due to the fact that ten of its thirteen losses are to teams in the top ten in the country (Minnesota, Quinnipiac, Denver four times, St. Cloud State twice, and Western Michigan twice). Omaha is 16th 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 Mavericks’ schedule weighs in as the sixteenth-most difficult.

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

(41st in PWR) Arizona State 3, North Dakota 2 (October 29th)

(43rd in PWR) Miami 4, North Dakota 3 (November 19th)

(26th in PWR) 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 sixth place in the league standings (one point behind fifth-place Duluth) with just two NCHC games remaining. As I wrote earlier this week, it is a mathematical certainty that UND will go on the road for the first round of the NCHC playoffs, with Western Michigan, St. Cloud State, or Omaha as its possible opponents.

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

Back in early November, the Fighting Hawks took four of six points with a 4-1 victory and 3-3 overtime tie (shootout loss) against the homestanding Mavericks. North Dakota outshot Omaha 81-47 on the weekend, scored a power play goal each night, held the Mavs scoreless on ten combined power play opportunities, and received three goals from junior forward Riese Gaber.

On March 4th, 2022, North Dakota built a 4-2 advantage over the first two periods but gave up the lead in the third period, allowing a power play goal at 8:49 and an extra-attacker goal at 19:04. Less than 90 seconds into overtime, UND’s Tyler Kleven scored a 3-on-3 goal to secure yet another league championship for the Fighting Hawks. There was certainly a letdown the following night, as Omaha dispatched the visitors by a final score of 4-1.

One month earlier (Friday, February 4th), UND broke a 1-1 tie with three goals in the second period, including a 5-on-3 tally by Ethan Frisch with seven seconds remaining. In Saturday’s rematch, North Dakota built a 2-0 lead through two periods but could not hold off the Mavs, allowing two third-period goals less than three minutes apart and surrendering a 3-on-3 goal midway through the five-minute overtime session.

Saturday’s rematch marked the first time in 19 games between the teams that the team scoring first did not prevail.

And two seasons ago, the two teams tangled six times over the course of 36 days in the second half of the season, and familiarity bred contempt. To that point, a line brawl erupted in the final minute of the fourth meeting between the squads, a 7-1 North Dakota home victory which secured the Fighting Hawks’ second consecutive league championship and saw Brad Berry’s squad hoist the #PenneRosa for the fourth time in the eight-year history of the NCHC.

The Saturday melee in Grand Forks started with Omaha sophomore forward Joey Abate slashing UND’s Louis Jamernik on the wrist instead of attempting to win the faceoff. Jamernik responded with a cross-check, and the royal rumble was on. Not surprisingly, Abate did the same thing late in Friday’s game with North Dakota leading 4-1 and less than two minutes on the clock.

Despite the aforementioned Maverick ruffians, Omaha was the biggest surprise in the NCHC two seasons ago. Of course, I expected them to have good results playing at home in the pod (and they did, posting a record of 6-3-1), but I also expected them to regress in the second half. On the contrary, the Mavs went a combined 7-3 against Colorado College (4-0), Denver (2-2), and North Dakota (1-1) over the first ten games of the “normal travel” portion of the schedule, finished with an overall record of 14-11-1, and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time since their Frozen Four appearance in 2015. UNO ended its season with two consecutive losses; a 5-4 defeat at the hands of Denver in the opening round of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and a 7-2 drubbing by #2 Minnesota in the NCAA West Regional (Loveland, CO). The Gophers would be blanked 4-0 in the regional final by #5 Minnesota State.

Omaha’s 2020-2021 campaign was buoyed by excellent results in close games, including four overtime victories, four wins by one goal in regulation, and a ninth in a shootout. The Mavericks’ two victories over UND last season were a 5-4 win on January 30th and a 3-2 overtime victory on March 5th. North Dakota defeated UNO by scores of 6-2, 4-1, 7-1, and 4-2 for a combined scoring margin of 27-14 over the six-game season series.

Omaha did not make the national tournament last season, finishing with a record of 21-17-0.

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 NCHC, Omaha has finished 3rd, 3rd, 6th, 6th, 5th, 7th, 6th, 4th, and 6th for an average finish of 5.11, sixth among the eight league teams. North Dakota leads the conference with an average finish of 2.33 (2nd, 1st, 1st, 4th, 4th, 5th, 1st, 1st, and 2nd). The Mavericks have never advanced past the first round of the league playoffs in nine seasons.

Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, a half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Mike Gabinet’s 2022-2023 squad has seven active players who meet that threshold, including six forwards: senior Jack Randl (18-14-32), graduate student Tyler Weiss (5-20-25), sophomore Ty Mueller (12-13-25), graduate student Jake Pivonka (9-7-16), sophomore Cameron Berg (9-12-21), and junior Matt Miller (11-11-22). On defense, the Mavericks are led by graduate student Jonny Tychonick (8-18-26).

Ty Mueller is not expected in the lineup this weekend in Grand Forks.

By that same measure, North Dakota boasts five skaters at a half point per game or better: junior forward Riese Gaber (19-14-33), freshman forward Jackson Blake (15-23-38), graduate defensemen Chris Jandric (3-28-31), senior defenseman Ethan Frisch (4-11-15), and junior defenseman Tyler Kleven (6-9-15).

UND is tenth in the nation in shooting percentage at an astounding 11.4% (109 goals on 955 shots). By comparison, Omaha is 26th in the country at 9.8% (99 goals on 1013 shots). The Mavericks average nearly three additional shots on goal per game than the FIghting Hawks (31.7 – 28.9), although North Dakota allows far fewer shots on goal per game (24.7 – 28.4). The two teams are nearly identical in puck possession statistics, with Omaha leading 53.6% to 53.4% in Corsi (percentage of shots taken vs. opponent) but UND leading 53.0% to 52.6% in Fenwick (percentage of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent).

One key area to watch this weekend is the face-off circle. The Fighting Hawks have fallen to 19th in the nation on draws (52.1%), while Omaha clocks in at 53.5% (7th).

For UND, sophomore Jake Schmaltz has been making a living on draws, winning 319 of 572 (55.8%). Junior Louis Jamernik V has been making strides (308 of 589, 52.3%), while freshman Owen McLaughlin has been a reliable third option (183 of 364, 50.3%). Fifth-year forward Mark Senden has chipped in with 79 wins in 153 opportunities (51.6%).

For Omaha, graduate student Jake Pivonka has taken the majority of important draws, going 285 of 509 (56.0%). Senior captain Nolan Sullivan has had the most success (307 of 519, 59.2%), while sophomore Ty Mueller (220 of 457, 48.1%) has been up and down.

To this point in the season, North Dakota has had far the better of the specialty teams play. UND has been a combined +18, with 41 power play goals scored (41 of 141, 29.1%, 1st in the country) 23 power play goals allowed (103 of 126, 81.7%, 22nd), two shorthanded goals scored, and two allowed.

Omaha has posted a +6, with 29 power play goals scored (29 of 122, 23.8%, 12th), 23 power play goals allowed (80 of 103, 77.7%, 49th), three shorthanded goal scored, and three allowed.

North Dakota has earned far more man advantage opportunities than shorthanded situations this season (141-126), while Omaha has fared even better (122-103).

North Dakota is 13th in the country in scoring offense (3.30 goals scored/game) but just 34th in the country in scoring defense (2.94 goals allowed/game). Omaha is 21st in the country in scoring offense (3.09 goals scored/game) but a more respectable 18th in scoring defense (2.53 goals allowed/game).

UND has definitely tightened things up in its own end over the second half of the season. Over the first seventeen games of the 2022-23 campaign, the Fighting Hawks allowed 58 goals (3.41 per game) and went 6-8-3 (.441).

In the sixteen games since, North Dakota has allowed just 39 goals (2.44 per game) while going 8-5-3 (.594).

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 18 goals and added 68 assists for 86 points in 161 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 Omaha have posted a line of 11-60-71 in 176 games (0.40).

Freshman netminder Simon Latkoczy has been a revelation for Omaha this season. The first-year goalie from Trencin, Slovakia has posted a record of 10-3-1 with a goals-against average of 2.06, a save percentage of .926, and two shutouts. Latkoczy took over the reigns from junior Jake Kucharski (8-8-2, 2.76 GAA, .902 SV%, 1SO) in late January and has given up more than two goals only once since October 15th. He played his junior hockey with the Madison Capitols and Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League.

Goaltending has been a struggle for most of this season for North Dakota, but graduate netminder Drew DeRidder appears to have righted the ship. The Michigan State transfer has started ten straight games for the Fighting Hawks, allowing a total of twenty goals in two games each against Duluth, Miami, Denver, St. Cloud State, and Colorado College. Over that stretch, DeRidder has posted a record of 5-3-2 with a goals-against average of 2.09, a save percentage of .914, and two shutouts. He has also locked it down in shootouts, stopping five of six shooters against SCSU and CC.

Back in November, DeRidder started both games at Omaha, stopping 43 of 47 shots and earning a win and a tie. In the two-game series, the fifth-year goaltender from Fenton, Michigan posted a goals-against average of 1.92 and a save percentage of .915.

Sadly, Omaha assistant coach Paul Jerrard died last month after a long-term battle with cancer. Jerrard made a positive impact on the game of hockey, and he will be greatly missed. To learn more about his work and legacy, please read this feature on Jerrard from the University of Nebraska Omaha.

Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (6th season at UNO, 93-97-14, .490)

National Rankings: #14/#14
Pairwise Ranking: 16th
KRACH Rating: 201.1 (15th)

This Season: 18-11-3 overall, 11-6-3-2 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 21-17-0 overall, 9-12-2-1 NCHC (6th)

Team Offense: 3.09 goals scored/game – 21st of 62 teams
Team Defense: 2.53 goals allowed/game – 18th of 62 teams

Power Play: 23.8% (29 of 122) – 12th of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 77.7% (80 of 103) – 49th of 62 teams

Key Players: Senior F Jack Randl (18-14-32), Graduate F Tyler Weiss (5-20-25), Sophomore F Ty Mueller (12-13-25), Graduate F Jake Pivonka (9-7-16), Sophomore F Cameron Berg (9-12-21), Junior FMatt Miller (11-11-22). Graduate D Jonny Tychonick (8-18-26), Freshman G Simon Latkoczy (10-3-1, 2.06 GAA, .926 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (8th season at UND, 176-90-31, .645)

National Rankings: NR/NR
Pairwise Ranking: 21st
KRACH Rating: 166.6 (18th)

This Season: 14-13-6 overall, 6-10-4-2 NCHC (6th)
Last Season: 24-14-1 overall (NCAA Regional Semifinalist), 17-6-1 NCHC (t-1st)

2022-2023 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.30 goals scored/game – 13th of 62 teams
Team Defense: 2.94 goals allowed/game – 34th of 62 teams

Power Play: 29.1% (41 of 141) – 1st of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 81.7% (103 of 126) – 22nd of 62 teams

Key Players: Junior F Riese Gaber (19-14-33), Freshman F Jackson Blake (15-23-38), Freshman F Owen McLaughlin (2-12-14), Graduate F Mark Senden (7-9-16), Senior F Gavin Hain (9-5-14), Senior F Judd Caulfield (9-7-16), Graduate D Chris Jandric (3-28-31), Junior D Tyler Kleven (6-9-15), Senior D Ethan Frisch (4-11-15), Junior D Cooper Moore (3-9-12), Graduate G Drew DeRidder (9-7-4, 2.64 GAA, .896 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: November 5, 2022 (Omaha, NE). The Fighting Hawks only led for 84 seconds in the third period before Omaha’s Ty Mueller and Jack Randl scored just 85 seconds apart to stake the homestanding Mavs to a 3-2 lead. UND’s Riese Gaber sent the game to overtime with his eighth goal of the season, but Omaha prevailed in the shootout after a scoreless five-minutes of 3-on-3 action. One night earlier, North Dakota throttled the Mavericks 4-1 behind two goals from Riese Gaber. UND outshot Omaha 81-47 on the weekend and blanked the Mavs on ten combined man-advantage opportunities.

Last meeting in Grand Forks: February 5, 2022. North Dakota built a two-goal lead through the first forty minutes of action but couldn’t make it hold up, surrendering two third-period goals less than three minutes apart to send the game to overtime. Omaha’s Brannon McManus ended the contest halfway through the five-minute 3-on-3 session. One night earlier, the teams were tied after one period, but UND erupted for three goals in the middle frame, including a 5-on-3 tally with just seven seconds remaining. The Mavericks outshot the Fighting Hawks 9-4 in the third period but could not put a second goal past Zach Driscoll, who finished with 26 saves.

Most memorable meeting: The game that UND fans will long remember is the outdoor game played at TD Ameritrade Park (Omaha, Nebraska) on February 9th, 2013. One day after winning a tight 2-1 contest indoors, North Dakota throttled UNO 5-2 on a sunny, melty afternoon. Mavericks netminder John Faulkner was pulled after allowing three goals on five shots in just ten minutes of game action. In my opinion, this hockey weekend solidified the notion that for UND hockey, it’s always a home game.

Last ten: North Dakota has won six of the last ten contests between the schools, going 6-3-1 and outscoring the Mavericks 36-23 over that stretch. Three of the last seven games have gone to overtime, with two of those going the way of Omaha by identical 3-2 scores.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 31-17-2 (.640), including a 15-9-1 (.620) record in games played in Grand Forks. North Dakota owns a record of 26-14-2 (.643) against the Mavericks since both teams joined the NCHC. The teams first met on November 19, 2010.

Game News and Notes

Fighting Hawks’ freshman forward Jackson Blake (10-17-27 in 22 league games) trails only Denver sophomore forward Massimo Rizzo (10-20-30) and St. Cloud State senior forward Jami Krannila (17-11-28) in the conference scoring race. Linemate Riese Gaber (13-9-22) is tied for sixth, while UND defenseman Chris Jandric (2-18-20) is tied for eleventh. In 2015, both North Dakota and Omaha advanced to the Frozen Four but neither team made the championship game. UND fell to Boston University 5-3, while the Mavericks were upended 4-1 by eventual national champion Providence. Since joining the WCHA in 2011 (and later the NCHC), the Mavs have never reached the Twin Cities for the second weekend of the conference tournament despite having home ice in three of those eight years. North Dakota’s Brad Berry is 22-11-1 (.662) in his head coaching career against Omaha. UND’s Riese Gaber and Mark Senden each have 11 points against Omaha in their collegiate careers. The Mavericks have gone 10-2-1 since New Year’s Eve. In 22 of the past 23 contests in this series, the winning team is the one which scores the first goal.

The Prediction

Both teams will be attempting to play to their identity this weekend in Grand Forks, and both teams are playing arguably their best hockey of the season. For North Dakota, two wins would be a huge boost in the Pairwise, but I have a feeling that Omaha is just too strong in net for that to happen unless UND gets four power plays each night. With the intensity of recent Fighting Hawks/Mavericks games, that’s not outside the realm of possibllity. North Dakota is in the process of building momentum for the playoffs, and the fans are definitely in for a treat this weekend in Grand Forks. UND 3-2, 3-3 tie.

Broadcast Information

Both games this weekend will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Two and also 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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