NCHC Playoff Preview: North Dakota at Omaha

For the second consecutive weekend, North Dakota (16-13-6) squares off against #17 Omaha (18-13-3).

This time, the games are at Baxter Arena, and the season is on the line.

For just the second time since 2002, UND will be away from Ralph Engelstad Arena for the first round of the league playoffs. The Fighting Hawks also found themselves on the road back in 2019, dropping two straight at Denver (0-2, 2-4) despite outshooting the Pios 32-17 in game one and 42-18 in the rematch.

2002 and 2019 are also – not coincidentally – the only two times that North Dakota failed to make it to the WCHA Final Five/NCHC Frozen Faceoff since 1996. UND hosted the first round of the league playoffs 22 times between 1997 and 2022 and advanced all 22 times (there was no NCHC tournament in 2020, and the format was modified for the 2020-2021 season).

Coming into this weekend, Omaha is 18th in the all-important Pairwise rankings, while North Dakota is 22nd. College Hockey News gives the Mavericks a 6% chance of making the national tournament without winning the Frozen Faceoff; UND’s chances of advancing to the NCAAs without securing the league’s autobid as NCHC tourney champs sit at a miniscule 0.2%.

And so it comes down to this: what are the chances that North Dakota can survive and advance by winning a best-of-three series on the road against Omaha? Recent history suggests that it’s better than a coin flip.

Last weekend in Grand Forks, the Fighting Hawks swept Omaha (5-4 OT, 2-1) and never trailed in the two-game series. UND outshot Omaha both nights and led for over 44 minutes of game action, a key stat for this year’s version of the Green and White, which is sometimes prone to panic when games are tied or the Hawks are trailing.

In the early November series at Omaha, UND won 4-1 on Friday night and settled for a 3-3 overtime tie in the rematch. In the game one victory, North Dakota outshot the home squad 38-22 and led for over 38 minutes. In Saturday’s overtime affair, the teams were tied for over 46 minutes of the game. In the two-game series, the Fighting Hawks outshot the Mavs 80-47.

Despite those stellar results against Omaha, UND struggled against the other top teams in the NCHC, going 0-4 against Denver, 1-2-1 against Western Michigan, and 1-2-1 against St. Cloud State. Those results – along with disappointing home losses to Miami and Duluth – pushed North Dakota into sixth place in the league standings. The Fighting Hawks also took seven games to overtime in league play, which cost the team valuable conference points against several teams this season.

Omaha, on the other hand, finished in the top half of the NCHC standings for just the fourth time.

In the ten-year history of the league, Omaha has finished 3rd, 3rd, 6th, 6th, 5th, 7th, 6th, 4th, 6th, and 3rd for an average finish of 4.90, sixth among the eight league teams. North Dakota leads the conference with an average finish of 2.70 (2nd, 1st, 1st, 4th, 4th, 5th, 1st, 1st, 2nd, and 6th). 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 (18-16-34), graduate student Tyler Weiss (6-21-27), sophomore Ty Mueller (12-13-25), graduate student Jake Pivonka (10-8-18), sophomore Cameron Berg (9-13-22), and junior Matt Miller (13-12-25). On defense, the Mavericks are led by graduate student Jonny Tychonick (8-18-26).

Matt Miller led the way for the Mavs last weekend with two goals and one assist.

By that same measure, North Dakota boasts just four skaters at a half point per game or better: junior forward Riese Gaber (19-15-34), freshman forward Jackson Blake (15-25-40), graduate defenseman Chris Jandric (4-28-32), and senior defenseman Ethan Frisch (6-11-17).

UND is tenth in the nation in shooting percentage at an astounding 11.4% (116 goals on 1017 shots). By comparison, Omaha is 28th in the country at 9.7% (104 goals on 1071 shots). The Mavericks average more than two additional shots on goal per game than the FIghting Hawks (31.5 – 29.1), although North Dakota allows far fewer shots on goal per game (25.0 – 28.5). The two teams are nearly identical in puck possession statistics, with UND leading 53.5% to 52.9% in Corsi (percentage of shots taken vs. opponent) and 52.9% to 52.3% 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 (52.2%), while Omaha clocks in at 53.0% (12th).

For UND, sophomore Jake Schmaltz has been making a living on draws, winning 342 of 610 (56.1%). Junior Louis Jamernik V has been making strides (329 of 633, 52.0%), while freshman Owen McLaughlin has been a reliable third option (193 of 382, 50.5%). Fifth-year forward Mark Senden has chipped in with 89 wins in 169 opportunities (52.7%).

For Omaha, graduate student Jake Pivonka has taken the majority of important draws, going 304 of 549 (55.4%). Senior captain Nolan Sullivan has had the most success (321 of 553, 58.0%), while sophomore Ty Mueller (220 of 457, 48.1%) has been up and down.

Nolan Sullivan is not expected in the lineup this weekend.

To this point in the season, North Dakota has had far the better of the specialty teams play. UND has been a combined +19, with 42 power play goals scored (42 of 148, 28.4%, 1st in the country) 23 power play goals allowed (110 of 133, 82.7%, 16th), two shorthanded goals scored, and two allowed.

Omaha has posted a +5, with 29 power play goals scored (29 of 129, 22.5%, 17th), 24 power play goals allowed (86 of 110, 78.2%, 45th), three shorthanded goals scored, and three allowed.

North Dakota has earned far more man advantage opportunities than shorthanded situations this season (148-133), while Omaha has fared even better (129-110).

In the four game head-to-head series this season, North Dakota went 3-for-16 (18.8%) with the man advantage and held Omaha scoreless on 17 power play opportunities.

North Dakota is 12th in the country in scoring offense (3.31 goals scored/game) but just 33rd in the country in scoring defense (2.91 goals allowed/game). Omaha is 22nd in the country in scoring offense (3.06 goals scored/game) but a more respectable 19th in scoring defense (2.59 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 eighteen games since, North Dakota has allowed just 44 goals (2.44 per game) while going 10-5-3 (.639).

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 21 goals and added 70 assists for 91 points in 171 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 11-62-73 in 188 games (0.39).

Freshman netminder Simon Latkoczy has been a revelation for Omaha this season. The first-year goalie from Trencin, Slovakia has posted a record of 10-4-1 with a goals-against average of 2.25, a save percentage of .920, and two shutouts. Latkoczy took over the reigns from junior Jake Kucharski (8-9-2, 2.72 GAA, .904 SV%, 1SO) in late January and has given up more than two goals only twice since October 15th. He played his junior hockey with the Madison Capitols and Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League.

Last Friday in Grand Forks, the Fighting Hawks lit up Latkoczy to the tune of five goals on thirty shots.

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 twelve straight games for the Fighting Hawks, allowing a total of 25 goals in two games each against Duluth, Miami, Denver, St. Cloud State, Colorado College, and Omaha. Over that stretch, DeRidder has posted a record of 7-3-2 with a goals-against average of 2.16, 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. And last weekend in Grand Forks, DeRidder earned two victories while stopping 53 of 58 shots.

In the four-game series, the fifth-year goaltender from Fenton, Michigan earned three victories and a tie, posting a goals-against average of 2.20 and a save percentage of .914.

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, 93-99-14, .485)

National Rankings: #17/#18
Pairwise Ranking: 18th
KRACH Rating: 184.6 (16th)

This Season: 18-13-3 overall, 11-7-3-3 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 21-17-0 overall, 9-12-2-1 NCHC (6th)

Team Offense: 3.06 goals scored/game – 22nd of 62 teams
Team Defense: 2.59 goals allowed/game – 19th of 62 teams

Power Play: 22.5% (29 of 129) – 17th of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.2% (86 of 110) – 45th of 62 teams

Key Players: Senior F Jack Randl (18-16-34), Graduate F Tyler Weiss (6-21-27), Sophomore F Ty Mueller (12-13-25), Graduate F Jake Pivonka (10-8-18), Sophomore F Cameron Berg (9-13-22), Junior FMatt Miller (13-12-25). Graduate D Jonny Tychonick (8-18-26), Freshman G Simon Latkoczy (10-4-1, 2.25 GAA, .920 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (8th season at UND, 178-90-31, .647)

National Rankings: NR/NR
Pairwise Ranking: 22nd
KRACH Rating: 182.0 (17th)

This Season: 16-13-6 overall, 7-10-5-2 NCHC (6th)
Last Season: 24-14-1 overall (NCAA Regional Semifinalist), 17-6-1 NCHC (t-1st)

2022-2023 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.31 goals scored/game – 12th of 62 teams
Team Defense: 2.91 goals allowed/game – 33rd of 62 teams

Power Play: 28.4% (42 of 148) – 1st of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 82.7% (110 of 133) – 16th of 62 teams

Key Players: Junior F Riese Gaber (19-15-34), Freshman F Jackson Blake (15-25-40), Freshman F Owen McLaughlin (2-13-15), Graduate F Mark Senden (7-9-16), Senior F Gavin Hain (10-5-15), Senior F Judd Caulfield (9-7-16), Graduate D Chris Jandric (4-28-32), Junior D Tyler Kleven (6-9-15), Senior D Ethan Frisch (6-11-17), Junior D Cooper Moore (3-10-13), Graduate G Drew DeRidder (11-7-4, 2.62 GAA, .898 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: March 4, 2023 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota defenseman Ethan Frissch broke a scoreless tie early in the third period, and fellow blueliner Chris Jandric scored with three minutes remaining to give UND a 2-1 lead that they would not relinquish. In Friday’s opener, UND saw a 3-1 lead evaporate in the final frame, with four total goals scored in the third period. The teams went to overtime tied at 4-4, and Ethan Frisch sent the fans home happy with his fifth goal of the season just 66 seconds into the extra session. For his efforts, Frisch was named the NCHC defenseman of the week, while freshman Dylan James scored his fifth and sixth goals of the season to be named the NCHC rookie of the week.

Last meeting in Omaha: 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.

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 (.650) and outscoring the Mavericks 32-26 over that stretch. Five of the last nine games have gone to overtime, with UND garnering two OT victories and a tie in the last three games knotted after regulation.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 33-17-2 (.654), including a 16-8-1 (.660) record in games played in Omaha. North Dakota owns a record of 28-14-2 (.659) against the Mavericks since both teams joined the NCHC. The teams first met on November 19, 2010.

Game News and Notes

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 24-11-1 (.681) in his head coaching career against Omaha. UND’s Riese Gaber has 12 points against Omaha in his collegiate career, while teammate Mark Senden has 11. The Mavericks have gone 10-4-1 since New Year’s Eve. In 23 of the past 25 contests in this series, the winning team is the one which scores the first goal. Mavericks’ bench boss Mike Gabinet has 93 wins and 99 losses in his head coaching career.

The Prediction

This North Dakota team has been building toward this moment for the better part of two months. UND has shored things up defensively and is finally getting consistent goaltending, something it was lacking in the first half. Whichever team can better handle the playoff pressure, limit mistakes, and capitalize on turnovers will advance to St. Paul. It won’t be easy, but the Green and White will get it done. Just don’t make any other plans for Sunday night. UND 3-2, Omaha 4-3, UND 4-2.

Bonus Predictions

Denver over Miami in two games.
Western Michigan over Colorado College in three games.
Minnesota Duluth over St. Cloud State in three games.

Broadcast Information

Friday and Saturday’s games will start at 7:07 p.m. Central Time, with Sunday’s puck drop slated for 6:07 p.m. (if necessary). All games this weekend will be broadcast live on Midco Sports and also available via webcast at 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