2023 NCHC Frozen Faceoff Preview: North Dakota vs. St. Cloud State

For the fifth time this season, #17 North Dakota (18-14-6) squares off against #7 St. Cloud State (22-12-3).

This time, the game will take place at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, and the season is on the line for UND.

The Fighting Hawks must win two games at the 2023 NCHC Frozen Faceoff this weekend to make the national tournament. It’s doubly important this year, as North Dakota would automatically be placed at Scheels Arena (Fargo, North Dakota) as hosts of the NCAA West Regional. Two victories in Fargo would send UND to the Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida.

With a win on Friday night in St. Paul, UND would face either Denver or Colorado College in the league playoff championship game.

But first things first: the Fighting Hawks must find a way to defeat the Huskies, a team they beat just once in four opportunities during the regular season…

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.

Exactly one month ago, the Hawks hosted the Huskies and fared much better, with both tilts going to overtime. North Dakota won Friday’s contest on Riese Gaber‘s overtime winner; Gaber also scored the extra-attacker goal with 87 seconds remaining in regulation. On Saturday night in Grand Forks, UND outshot the visitors 30-13 but dropped the extra league point in the shootout.

And last year’s results were quite similar…

Almost exactly one year before the most recent series at the Herb (on 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.

So why should things be different on St. Patrick’s Day in St. Paul? In addition to the obvious home ice advantage that UND will enjoy this weekend (after all, they are the team in green), there are three key aspects that make this matchup nearly a toss-up: the Fighting Hawks are playing their best hockey of the season, North Dakota has more to play for, and the game will be played on an NHL sheet of ice.

Let’s go into more depth on each of those three points…

SCSU has been brilliant at home this year on the wide Olympic ice (200×100), going 14-4-2. On the road, however, Brett Larson’s squad has gone just 8-8-1 with only one win in the past eight road games (1-6-1 since December 9th). Two of St. Cloud State’s eight road victories this season came at Wisconsin’s Kohl Center, which features a 200×97 sheet of ice.

Not only are the Huskies guaranteed to make the national tournament, but their overall position is completely locked in. SCSU will find itself as the #7 overall seed in the NCAAs regardless of this weekend’s results.

UND has definitely tightened things up in its own end throughout 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 21 games since, North Dakota has allowed just 49 goals (2.33 per game) while going 12-6-3 (.643).

That remarkable defensive turnaround did not cause the Hawks’ offense to suffer dramatically, either, as the Green and White have scored 65 goals in the second half (3.10 goals per game).

Back in December, UND fifth-year goaltender Drew DeRidder appeared in both games against the Huskies, going 0-1-0 with a goals-against average of 5.32 and a save percentage of .741.

Last month in Grand Forks, DeRidder went 1-0-1 against SCSU with far better individual numbers: a goals-against average of 2.40 and a save percentage of .868.

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 (21-11-32), senior forward Jami Krannila (19-18-37), senior forward Zack Okabe (16-16-32), senior forward Kyler Kupka (9-15-24 in 31 games), junior forward Veeti Miettinen (10-21-31), freshman forward Adam Ingram (7-14-121), senior defenseman Dylan Anhorn (5-20-25 in 23 games), and sophomore defenseman Jack Peart (2-21-23).

Unfortunately, Dylan Anhorn suffered a season-ending injury in late January.

By that same measure, North Dakota boasts just four skaters with that level of offensive production: junior forward Riese Gaber (20-17-37), freshman forward Jackson Blake (16-25-41), graduate defenseman Chris Jandric (4-29-33), and junior defenseman Tyler Kleven (8-10-18).

UND is twelfth in the nation in shooting percentage at an astounding 11.2% (125 goals on 1116 shots). By comparison, St. Cloud State is tenth in the country at 11.5% (122 goals on 1057 shots). The Fighting Hawks average almost one more shot on goal per game than the Huskies (29.4 – 28.6), and allow nearly two fewer (24.8-26.4). North Dakota also leads 53.6% to 51.6% in Corsi (percentage of shots taken vs. opponent) and 53.4% to 51.6% 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 20th in the nation on draws (51.9%), while SCSU clocks in at 53.9% (6th).

For UND, sophomore Jake Schmaltz has been making a living on draws, winning 379 of 680 (55.7%). Junior Louis Jamernik V has been making strides (351 of 675, 52.0%), while freshman Owen McLaughlin has been nearly dead even (194 of 387, 50.1%). Fifth-year forward Mark Senden has chipped in with 107 wins in 210 opportunities (51.0%).

SCSU will counter with graduate student Grant Cruikshank (430 of 758, 56.7%), senior Jami Krannila (253 of 513, 49.3%), sophomore Mason Salquist (281 of 502, 56.0%), and graduate student Aidan Spellacy (169 of 296, 57.1%). 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 +21, with 44 power play goals scored (44 of 162, 27.2%, 2nd in the country) 24 power play goals allowed (125 of 149, 83.9%, 13th), three shorthanded goals scored, and two allowed.

St. Cloud State has posted a plus-11, with 37 power play goals scored (37 of 145, 25.5%, 5th), 33 power play goals allowed (105 of 138, 76.1%, 56th), a remarkable EIGHT shorthanded goals scored, and one allowed.

North Dakota has earned far more man advantage opportunities than shorthanded situations this season (162-149), while St. Cloud State is nearly even (145-138).

In the four-game head-to-head series this season, North Dakota went 5-for-15 (33.3%) with the man advantage but allowed nine power play goals on eighteen penalty kill situations.

UND has been successful on 30 of its past 31 penalty kill situations (96.8%).

North Dakota and St. Cloud State are both in the top twelve in the country in scoring offense (UND 3.29, SCSU 3.30), although SCSU has the advantage in goals allowed/game (2.41 to 2.82). That defensive mark places the Huskies 13th in the country, while the Hawks check in as 30th-best.

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 22 goals and added 79 assists for 101 points in 208 combined games this season (0.49 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 12-57-69 in 188 games (0.37).

SCSU has had a nearly even split between the pipes, with senior Jaxon Castor (11-7-1, 2.19 GAA, .918 SV%, 2 SO) and junior Dominic Basse (11-5-2, 2.30 GAA, .911 SV%, 3 SO) each appearing in last weekend’s home playoff series against Minnesota Duluth.

My guess would be that Castor would start against North Dakota tonight; not only did he win the decisive third game against the Bulldogs, but he fared better against the Fighting Hawks this season:

Castor: 1-0-1, 1.93 goals-against average, .935 save percentage

Basse: 0-1-1, 3.47 goals-against average, .860 save percentage

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 fifteen straight games for the Fighting Hawks, allowing a total of 30 goals in two games each against Duluth, Miami, Denver, St. Cloud State, and Colorado College along with the last five tilts against Omaha. Over that stretch, DeRidder has posted a record of 9-4-2 with a goals-against average of 2.06, a save percentage of .916, and two shutouts.

Most importantly, UND has only given up 22 five-on-five goals in the past fifteen games (1.47/game).

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 ten 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.

St. Cloud State Team Profile

Head Coach: Brett Larson (5th season at SCSU, 103-59-16, .624)

National Rankings: #7/#7
Pairwise Ranking: 7th
KRACH Rating: 297.1 (6th)

This Season: 22-12-3 overall, 10-8-5-1 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 18-15-4 overall (NCAA Midwest Regional Semifinalist), 9-8-2-5 NCHC (5th)

2022-2023 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.30 goals scored/game – 11th of 62 teams
Team Defense: 2.41 goals allowed/game – 13th of 62 teams

Power Play: 25.5% (37 of 145) – 5th of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 76.1% (105 of 138) – 56th of 62 teams

Key players: Graduate F Grant Cruikshank (21-11-32), Senior F Jami Krannila (19-18-37), Senior F Zack Okabe (16-16-32), Senior F Kyler Kupka (9-15-24 in 31 games), Junior F Veeti Miettinen (10-21-31), Freshman F Adam Ingram (7-14-21), Sophomore D Jack Peart (2-21-23), Graduate D Brendan Bushy (3-8-11), Senior G Jaxon Castor (11-7-1, 2.19 GAA, .918 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (8th season at UND, 180-91-31, .647)

National Rankings: #17/#16
Pairwise Ranking: 18th
KRACH Rating: 191.6 (16th)

This Season: 18-14-6 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: 3.29 goals scored/game – 12th of 62 teams
Team Defense: 2.82 goals allowed/game – 30th of 62 teams

Power Play: 27.2% (44 of 162) – 2nd of 62 teams
Penalty Kill: 83.9% (125 of 149) – 13th of 62 teams

Key Players: Junior F Riese Gaber (20-17-37), Freshman F Jackson Blake (16-25-41), Freshman F Owen McLaughlin (2-13-15), Graduate F Mark Senden (7-9-16), Senior F Gavin Hain (11-6-17), Senior F Judd Caulfield (9-9-18), Graduate D Chris Jandric (4-29-33), Junior D Tyler Kleven (8-10-18), Senior D Ethan Frisch (6-11-17), Junior D Cooper Moore (3-10-13), Graduate G Drew DeRidder (13-8-4, 2.52 GAA, .901 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: February 18, 2023 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota outshot the Huskies 30-13 but could only manage a 2-2 tie through sixty minutes of regulation. After a scoreless five minutes of 3-on-3, the contest went to a shootout, with SCSU prevailing on Grant Cruikshank‘s tally, the only goal scored in three rounds. One night earlier, UND won on Riese Gaber‘s overtime winner; Gaber also scored the extra-attacker goal with 87 seconds remaining in regulation.

Last Meeting in St. Paul: March 16, 2018. SCSU outshot North Dakota 33-23 in regulation, but the game was still knotted at 2-2 after sixty minutes. Nick Poehling mustered the first and only shot of the overtime session to give the Huskies the victory. UND freshman forward Jordan Kawaguchi scored a power play goal midway through the third period to force overtime.

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, 80-48-17 (.610), including a sparkling record of 8-4-0 (.667) in neutral site games. 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: UND holds a slight lead of 5-3-2 (.600) in the last ten tilts between the teams, although the Huskies have outscored the Fighting Hawks 39-36 over that stretch of games.

Game News and Notes

UND’s Riese Gaber has nine goals and fourteen points in eleven career games 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 8-9-3 (.475) since that time, scoring 56 goals but also allowing 57. North Dakota is 2nd in the country with 44 power play goals, an average of 1.16 man-advantage markers per game. UND head coach Brad Berry is 14-11-5 (.550) in his head coaching career against the Huskies. North Dakota is 8-3-0 (.727) all-time on St. Patrick’s Day.

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. Tonight’s game will much more resemble last month’s series in Grand Forks, and UND – with its back against the wall – will put forth its best effort of the season. There’s no way I’m picking against the green team on St. Patrick’s Day. UND 4-2.

Bonus Prediction

Colorado College will stun the top-seeded Pioneers, setting up a true Cinderella matchup tomorrow night. CC 3, DU 2.

Broadcast Information

Friday’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal will be broadcast exclusively on CBS Sports Network, with puck drop scheduled for 7:37 p.m. Central Time. 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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