For the first time in over 55 years, North Dakota will face off against the Army West Point Black Knights.
Three days after Christmas in 1966, UND downed Army 7-3 in St. Paul to secure third place in the St. Paul Classic Tournament.
Despite the unfamiliarity with its opponent, two current Fighting Hawks graduate students have faced off against Army six times each:
Forward Hunter Johannes (four goals and two assists while playing for AIC and Lindenwood)
Defenseman Logan Britt (one goal and three assists while playing for Sacred Heart)
Johannes and Britt are two of fourteen fresh faces on North Dakota’s roster this season, tied for the second-most in team history. More strikingly, all eight defensemen are new to the UND men’s hockey program, including four freshmen.
Coincidentally, the breakdown of first-year players and transfers into the North Dakota system is identical:
Four defensemen (Nate Benoit, Tanner Komzak, Jake Livanavage, Abram Wiebe)
Two forwards (Michael Emerson, Jayden Perron)
One goaltender (Hobie Hedquist)
Four defensemen (Logan Britt, Keaton Pehrson, Garrett Pyke, Bennett Zmolek)
Two forwards (Cameron Berg, Hunter Johannes)
One goaltender (Ludvig Perrson)
These fourteen newcomers join eleven returning forwards and second-year netminder Kaleb Johnson to form UND’s 26-player roster. The Fighting Hawks return 70 goals up front, led by senior Riese Gaber (20 goals last season) and sophomore Jackson Blake (16). With the addition of Berg (10 goals last season at Omaha), Johannes (13 at Lindenwood), and Chicago Steel (USHL) teammates Emerson (30) and Perron (24), North Dakota should easily surpass the 102 goals scored all of last season by its forward group.
Last weekend, North Dakota throttled Manitoba in a 10-0 exhibition win. The Green and White showcased team speed, offensive skill, and a commitment to retrieving loose pucks in the opener.
Army, on the other hand, struggled against Union on Sunday night, falling behind 3-0 in period one and losing 6-0. Starting goaltender Gavin Albric was pulled after two periods after allowing five goals on 32 shots. Junior goaltender Evan Szary stopped 13 of 14 shots in relief.
This weekend will mark the fifth time that UND has participated in the annual Ice Breaker tournament, tied for the second-most appearances in men’s Division I college hockey. In Portland, Maine in 2015, the Green and White won the tournament with a 5-2 victory over Lake Superior State and a 1-1 tie (shootout victory) against Maine. North Dakota hosted the event in 2011 and also appeared in the event in 2000 (Ann Arbor, MI) and 2008 (Boston, MA).
Last season, the Black Knights finished 5th in the AHA with a league mark of 12-12-2 and an overall record of 14-19-4. UND (18-15-6 overall, 7-10-5-2 NCHC) found itself in the botton half of the NCHC standings and failed to make the national tournament for just the fourth time since 1996.
By comparison, Army, which changed its team names from the Cadets to the Black Knights in 2000, has never appeared in the NCAA tournament.
The other Ice Breaker Tournament matchup on Friday features #21/#22 Wisconsin at Bemidji State. Regardless of the outcome of the opening round of the tournament, North Dakota will host Wisconsin on Saturday night while Army will travel to Bemidji to face the Beavers.
After this weekend’s Ice Breaker games, UND will play four more non-conference games at home (two games each against #2/#1 Minnesota and #28/#26 Minnesota State) before traveling to face #1/#2 Boston University on November 3rd and 4th. Home series against Bemidji State (November 24th and 25th) and #29/NR Alaska (January 5th and 6th) will round out the non-conference schedule. North Dakota’s results in these twelve games outside the NCHC will play a large role in the final PairWise rankings and seeding for the NCAA tournament.
Brian Riley has been the bench boss at Army West Point for two decades and is only the third coach in the last 74 years. The other two head coaches? His father Jack Riley (1950-1986) and his brother Rob Riley (1986-2004).
Grand Forks native Lucas Kanta is a sophomore forward with the Black Knights. Kanta played three seasons with the Grand Forks Central Knights, going 76-1-2 in his prep career (with three state championships) and finishing on a 42-game winning streak. Kanta’s former Knights teammate – Kaleb Johnson – is a sophomore netminder for North Dakota.
Army also boasts a number of other players with connections to the upper Midwest:
Freshman defenseman Jon Bell (St. Cloud)
Sophomore forward Joey Dosan (Bloomington)
Freshman forward Nik Hong (Minneapolis)
Senior forward Ricky Lyle (Duluth)
Freshman defenseman Easton Zueger (Sioux Falls)
Junior forward Josh Bohlin (Wausau)
Freshman forward Dayne Hoyord (Scandanavia)
Senior goaltender Gavin Abric (Hayward)
Army Team Profile
Head Coach: Brian Riley (21st season at Army, 232-337-90, .420)
National Rankings: NR/NR
Last Season: 14-19-4 overall, 12-12-2 Atlantic Hockey (5th of 10 teams)
Last Season’s Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.65 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.22 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.9% (33 of 158)
Penalty Kill: 81.8% (108 of 132)
Key Players (last season’s statistics): Sophomore F Max Itagaki (4-29-33), Junior F Joey Baez (21-7-28), Senior F Ricky Lyle (13-11-24), Junior F Michael Sacco (8-8-16), Sophomore D John Driscoll (2-10-12), Senior G Gavin Abric (7-14-3, 3.23 GAA, .901 SV%, 2 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Brad Berry (9th season at UND, 180-92-31, .645)
National Rankings: #7/#7
Last Season: 18-15-5 overall, 7-10-5-2 NCHC (t-5th of 8 teams)
Last Season’s Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.26 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.82 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 27.3% (45 of 165)
Penalty Kill: 83.7% (128 of 153)
Key Players (last season’s statistics): Sophomore F Jackson Blake (16-26-42), Senior F Riese Gaber (20-17-37), Junior F Jake Schmaltz (5-7-12), Senior F Louis Jamernik V (3-11-14), Sophomore F Owen McLaughlin (2-13-15), Junior F Cameron Berg (10-14-24 at Omaha), Graduate F Hunter Johannes (13-16-29 at Lindenwood), Senior D Garrett Pyke (4-15-19 at Alaska), Graduate D Keaton Pehrson (0-11-11 at Michigan), Graduate D Logan Britt (2-10-12 at Sacred Heart), Senior G Ludvig Persson (8-19-4, 3.67 GAA, .891 SV%, 2 SO at Miami)
By The Numbers
Only Meeting: December 28, 1966 (St. Paul, MN). Three days after Christmas, UND downed Army 7-3 in St. Paul to secure third place in the St. Paul Classic Tournament. One night earlier, North Dakota lost 4-2 to Michigan State, the defending national champions. To put that era of UND hockey in context, Gino Gasparini was a player on the team.
Game News and Notes
The Crusaders play their home games at Tate Rink (capacity 2648); the arena was built in 1985 and features a 200×90 ice surface (five feet wider than standard NHL ice). Last season, Army was 13-7-2 when leading or tied after one period of play but just 1-12-2 when trailing after the opening twenty minutes. The Black Knights have not faced an NCHC opponent since they played Omaha on October 12, 2012 (a 5-1 loss). UND sophomore forward Jackson Blake was named to the 2023-2024 Preseason All-CHN First Team, the only NCHC player to make the first team. Four other league players were named to the Second Team.
In the more than twenty years that Ralph Engelstad Arena has been open, we’ve seen many examples of North Dakota taking opponents too lightly as well as opposing teams bringing their best effort to the Ralph. This year’s version of the Green and White should be able to score with anyone, with team defense the only question mark. I expect a tight contest over the first ten minutes, with depth and talent shining through as the game progresses. UND 5-2.
Both games will be broadcast live on Midco Sports 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.
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.