Before we dig into this weekend’s matchup, let’s take a trip down memory lane and hear from fans on both sides of the rivalry.
#5 North Dakota (2-0-0) is seven years removed from its eighth national championship but has made the national tournament in three of the past four seasons and has gone a remarkable 90-40-12 (.676) over that stretch.
#1 Minnesota (2-0-0) has only advanced to the NCAAs three times in the last six seasons (and only eight of the past fifteen) and is stuck on five national titles, the most recent in 2002 and 2003.
More to the point…
The Golden Gophers played from 1947-1973 without a title (26 seasons).
Head coach Herb Brooks led Minnesota to three NCAA championships in a six year stretch (1974, 1976, and 1979).
The Golden Gophers then played from 1979-2001 without a title (22 seasons).
Head coach Don Lucia won back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003.
This year will mark the 21st anniversary of Minnesota’s most recent NCAA crown.
North Dakota has been relevant in every decade, with head coaches Bob May, Barry Thorndycraft, John “Gino” Gasparini, Dean Blais, and Brad Berry all lifting college hockey’s most coveted trophy.
Here is a closer look at the thirteen combined national titles won by these two storied programs.
Despite only nine tournament victories since Minnesota’s last title (UND has 22 in that same span), Gophers’ head coach Don Lucia was inexplicably given a two-year extension that was supposed to keep him behind the bench through the 2018-19 campaign. After the Gophers sputtered to a 19-17-2 record six seasons ago. Lucia was replaced by former St. Cloud State bench boss Bob Motzko.
Motzko, who guided St. Cloud State to the national tournament eight times in his thirteen seasons behind the SCSU bench, only managed an overall NCAA tourney record of 5-8 and one Frozen Four appearance with the Huskies. With the Gophers, his tournament results have been better but ultimately just as disappointing, with a record of 6-3, two Frozen Fours, and an overtime loss to Quinnipiac in last season’s national title game.
After this season, the teams are not scheduled to play again. There is hope, however, that the rivalry will continue in future seasons, with a possible four-year schedule agreement on the horizon.
Minnesota can no longer lay claim to having a roster made up exclusively of the State of Hockey’s “Pride On Ice”, with players hailing from Cochrane (Alberta) and Kindersley (Saskatchewan). Future recruits in the pipeline hail from Morristown (New Jersey), Locust Valley (New York), Bethel Park (Pennsylvania), West Mifflin (Pennsylvania), and Orono (Ontario).
UND boasts six North Dakotans on its roster along with five players from Minnesota.
So far this season, North Dakota has defeated Army (7-2) and Wisconsin (2-0). Minnesota swept third-year program St. Thomas (6-5 [OT] and 3-0). The Tommies are coached by former Miami bench boss Rico Blasi.
It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. Through two games, the Fighting Hawks are tied for fifth in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (21.0) and are among the country’s leaders in two key puck possession statistics:
Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 55.7% (15th)
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 56.9% (15th)
By comparison, Minnesota sits in 32nd place in both Corsi (48.8%) and Fenwick (49.0%) and is averaging 31.0 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 30.0/game) while allowing 30.0 shots on goal per game (26th).
Both teams have scored nine goals on the young season, although UND has only allowed two while Minnesota has given up five. The two squads are both among the country’s leaders in shot percentage, with North Dakota scoring on 15.0% of shots on goal (5th) and Minnesota right behind at 14.5% (6th).
One key area to watch this weekend is the face-off circle. The Fighting Hawks are the nation’s fifth-best team on draws (57.7%), while Minnesota clocks in at just 53.5% (18th).
For UND, sophomore Owen McLaughlin has been making a living on draws, winning 18 of 25 (72.0%). Junior Cameron Berg is not far behind, having won 17 of 24 (70.8%). Senior Louis Jamernik V has been steady at 57.7% (15 of 26). Junior Jake Schmaltz has struggled in the early going (3 of 12, 25%), but I expect those numbers to climb as the season progresses and his wings start winning the secondary battles required at this level.
For the Gophers, gradute student Jaxon Nelson has taken the most draws, winning 30 of 54 (55.6%), while freshman Jimmy Clark has had the most success (17 of 25, 68.0%). After that, however, it’s been a challenge, with freshman Oliver Moore (15 of 29, 51.7%) and junior Aaron Huglen (13 of 32, 40.6%) struggling to keep their heads above water.
To this point in the season, Minnesota has had the better of the specialty teams play. The Maroon and Gold have been a combined +2, with three power play goals scored (3 for 6, 50.0%, 2nd in the country), no power play goals allowed (6 of 6, 100.0%, 1st), and one shorthanded goal allowed (none scored). North Dakota has posted a +1, with one power play goal scored (1 of 8, 12.5%, 36th), two power play goals allowed (7 of 9, 77.8%, 37th), and two shorthanded goals scored (none allowed).
In this rivalry, both teams have historically had plenty of firepower up front, with scoring from the back end often proving to be the difference. This weekend, the two groups of defensemen have each scored a total of four points (all assists) through two games played. UND is led offensively on the blue line by senior Garrett Pyke and graduate student Logan Britt, with junior Bennett Zmolek and graduate student Keaton Pehrson chipping in as well. Each of those four tallied an assist last weekend. North Dakota head coach Brad Berry is certainly also hoping for offensive contributions from freshmen Jake Livanavage (9-72-81 over his last two seasons with the Chicago Steel of the USHL) and Abram Wiebe (14-70-84 in two seasons with the Chilliwack Chiefs of the BCHL).
On the back end, Minnesota has seen contributions from sophomore blueliner Luke Mittelstadt and freshman Sam Rinzel, both of whom tallied two assists last weekend. Senior defenseman Mike Koster is out for this weekend’s games due to an injury; Koster notched 29 points last year. Ryan Chesley is questionable for this series; the sophomore logged nearly 28 minutes last Saturday night against St. Thomas.
After last season’s Frozen Four run, the Gophers lost Jackson LaCombe (35 points), Brock Faber (27), and Ryan Johnson (18). If both Koster and Chesley are out of the lineup this weekend, Bob Motzko‘s defensive corps will include only one player (Mittelstadt) who scored more than six points a year ago.
Times have changed in Grand Forks as well. After missing the national tournament last year, head coach Brad Berry and his staff brought in fourteen fresh faces, 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.
Back on October 7th, North Dakota throttled Manitoba in a 10-0 exhibition win. Last weekend, UND dispatched the Army West Point Golden Nights 7-2 behind a dominant second period before posting a 2-0 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers. Over the first two weeks of the season, the Green and White have showcased team speed, offensive skill, and a commitment to retrieving loose pucks.
North Dakota and Minnesota are both tied for 11th in the country in scoring offense (4.50 goals scored/game), although UND has only allowed two goals this season (1.00 goals allowed/game, tied for first) while the Gophers have allowed five (2.50 goals allowed/game, 19th).
In order to contain Minnesota’s high-flying forward group, I expect Brad Berry to play the Jackson Kunz – Ben Strinden – Carson Albrecht line against Garrett Pinoniemi – Jaxon Nelson – Bryce Brodzinski and the “3J’s” (Dylan James, Louis Jamernik V, and Hunter Johannes) against Brody Lamb, Oliver Moore, and Jimmy Snuggerud as much as possible. This should allow UND’s top six more time and space to focus on the offensive end of the ice.
After this weekend, UND will play one more non-conference series at home (hosting #19/#20 Minnesota State) before traveling to face #6/#6 Boston University on November 3rd and 4th.
Home series against unranked Bemidji State (November 24th and 25th) and #31/#33 Alaska (January 5th and 6th) will round out the non-conference schedule. North Dakota’s results in their twelve games outside the NCHC will play a large role in the final PairWise rankings and seeding for the NCAA tournament.
Over the next three weekends, the Gophers are running through the rivalry gauntlet, with upcoming games against Wisconsin (home, October 26 and 27), Minnesota Duluth (home-and-home, November 3 and 4), and Michigan (road, November 10 and 11) on the docket.
Minnesota Team Profile
Head Coach: Bob Motzko (6th season at Minnesota, 115-60-12, .647)
National Rankings: #1/#1
This Season: 2-0-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten
Last Season: 29-10-1 (NCAA Runner-Up), 17-3-2-2 Big Ten (1st of 7 teams)
2023-24 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 4.50 goals scored/game – 11th of 58 teams
Team Defense: 2.50 goals allowed/game – 19th of 58 teams
Power Play: 50.0% (3 of 6) – 2nd of 58 teams
Penalty Kill: 100.0% (6 of 6) – 1st of 58 teams
Key Players: Sophomore F Jimmy Snuggerud (4-1-5), Graduate F Jaxon Nelson (1-1-2), Freshman F Oliver Moore (0-4-4), Sophomore F Brody Lamb (3-1-4), Sophomore D Luke Middelstadt (0-2-2), Freshman D Sam Rinzel (0-2-2), Graduate G Justen Close (2-0-0, 2.47 GAA, .917 SV%, 1 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Brad Berry (9th season at UND, 182-92-31, .648)
National Rankings: #5/#5
This Season: 2-0-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 18-15-5 overall, 7-10-5-2 NCHC (t-5th of 8 teams)
2023-2024 Season Statistics
Team Offense: 4.50 goals scored/game – 11th of 58 teams
Team Defense: 1.00 goals allowed/game – 1st of 58 teams
Power Play: 12.5% (1 of 8) – 36th of 58 teams
Penalty Kill: 77.8% (7 of 9) – 37th of 58 teams
Key Players: Sophomore F Jackson Blake (2-1-3), Senior F Riese Gaber (2-1-3), Graduate F Hunter Johannes (3-0-3), Junior F Jake Schmaltz (0-2-2), Senior F Louis Jamernik V (0-1-1), Junior F Cameron Berg (1-1-2), Senior D Garrett Pyke (0-1-1), Graduate D Keaton Pehrson (0-1-1), Graduate D Logan Britt (0-1-1), Senior G Ludvig Persson (2-0-0, 1.00 GAA, .952 SV%, 1 SO)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: October 22, 2022 (Minneapolis, MN). Near the end of a furious first period that saw the home team put fifteen pucks on net, the scoreboard still showed two zeroes. North Dakota defenseman Tyler Kleven crushed a Gopher, resulting in a five-minute major for contact to the head and a game misconduct. Minnesota’s Matthew Knies scored a power play goal just 48 seconds into the second period, and when Rhett pitlick doubled the lead just eight minutes later, it appeared that the rout was on. Except… Pitlick decided to launch his stick into the crowd. And was assessed a ten-minute misconduct. Between that moment and the end of the second period, the Gophers took 21 more minutes in penalties (to North Dakota’s two), and UND scored three power play goals (along with an even-strength tally by captain Mark Senden). Connor Kurth would get the home team back within one with just 34 seconds remanining in the middle frame. Minnesota freshman forward Jimmy Snuggerud brought his team even early in the third, but Senden capped the night with a game-winning goal just under halfway through the 3-on-3 overtime session. One night earlier, the Gophers came back to win on a late extra-attacker goal at 18:36 of the third period and an overtime winner just 21 seconds into the fourth frame.
Last Meeting in Grand Forks: November 27, 2021. One night after falling 5-1 to the visiting Gophers, the homestanding Hawks scored a goal in each period to build a 3-0 lead. Minnesota goals at 7:35 (power play) and 16:30 (extra attacker) of the final frame left the outcome in doubt, but the Maroon and Gold could not find the equalizer in the closing minutes and had to settle for a road split. UND outshot Minnesota 26-13 for the contest and were led offensively by Mark Senden, who assisted on the first North Dakota goal and scored twice to lead the Green and White to victory.
What Happens In Vegas: October 27, 2018 (Las Vegas, NV). The “Duel in the Desert” left #5 Minnesota feeling high and dry as #17 North Dakota played the Gophers even through a scoreless opening period before outshooting their guests 25-12 over the final forty minutes of play. UND’s Colton Poolman scored two goals for the Fighting Hawks, while fellow blueliner Hayden Shaw assisted on all three goals in a 3-1 North Dakota victory. Attendance was recorded as 412 Gopher fans and 7000 fans of the Green and White.
Most important meeting: March 24, 1979 (Detroit, MI). North Dakota and Minnesota met to decide the national championship, and the Gophers prevailed, 4-3. Neal Broten scored the game-winning goal for the U of M, and Steve Janaszak was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
All-time: Minnesota leads the all-time series by a seven-game margin, 142-135-16 (.512), although North Dakota holds a 72-57-8 (.555) advantage in games played in Grand Forks. Brad Berry is 6-4-1 against Minnesota in his head coaching career. The teams first met in 1948.
Last ten: North Dakota has gone 6-4-0 in the last ten meetings between the schools, outscoring Minnesota 31-24 in those games.
Game News and Notes
North Dakota defenseman Keaton Pehrson has played sixteen games against the Gophers in his collegiate career. Pehrson was a four-year starter at Michigan. UND senior forward Riese Gaber has three goals and one assist in his four games against Minnesota. Gaber, the captain of the 2023-2024 Fighting Hawks, has a career line of 48-50-98 in 104 collegiate games and needs just two points to become the 93rd member of UND’s Century Club. Since the B1G Hockey Conference was formed following the 2012-2013 season, teams in the NCHC have combined for five national titles (UND 2016, DU 2017, UMD 2018 and 2019, DU 2022). The B1G? Zero. North Dakota’s 2019 Thanksgiving visit to Minneapolis ended in a sweep for the Fighting Hawks (9-3, 3-2), the first since January 2007. In an effort to alleviate parking concerns, Minnesota fans are asked to park at 3M Arena At Mariucci and walk to the games. 8 > 5.
One More Shift
On Saturday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena, UND Hobey Baker Award winner (1987) and national champion (1987) Tony Hrkac will skate one more shift. Hrkac, who still holds the NCAA Division I men’s college hockey record for points in a season with 116, will be introduced alongside the team and skate a couple of laps before the opening faceoff.
Hrkac will become the sixth former UND hockey player to skate “one more shift”, joining Jim Archibald, Ed Belfour, Brandon Bochenski, Dave Christian, and Matt Greene.
Both games will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and also available via webcast at NCHC.tv. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports 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.
Both teams are still finding their identity and building toward league play, the second half of the season, and the playoffs. The biggest question mark for Minnesota is their defense. Without Koster and (possibly) Chesley, the Gophers are thin and inexperienced on the back end. North Dakota will want to roll four lines and dictate matchups, because a penalty fest favors the road team in this one. I’m looking at a few key factors: faceoffs, goaltending, and the ability to score in bunches. Either one of these teams could ride the wave of momentum to victory, and in a rivalry matchup, whichever team keeps unnecessary penalties to a minimum has the advantage. I know it feels like a cop-out to call a split, but it’s too early in the season for one team to have that much of an edge. UND 4-3, Minnesota 5-3.
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!