#4 North Dakota heads to Amsoil Arena this weekend to take on #18 Minnesota Duluth in the NCHC opener for both teams. The Fighting Hawks and Bulldogs are the last two teams to begin league play.
UND will wear helmet stickers for this series honoring former Duluth forward Adam Johnson, who died two weeks ago when a skate blade cut his neck during a pro hockey game. The stickers will feature the initials ‘AJ’ along with the number 47, which he was wearing for the Nottingham Panthers. Former UND forward Westin Michaud was Johnson’s teammate with the Panthers.
Last season, the teams only met two times, a January series in Grand Forks that ended in a split. North Dakota took the opener 4-2 before falling 2-1 in the rematch. In Saturday’s finale, senior Luke Loheit broke a 1-1 tie with just over two minutes remaining in regulation. The goal came just 33 seconds after freshman Ben Steeves departed from the penalty box; Steeves assisted on the game-winning goal. Fast forward one year, and Steeves leads his team in goals (7) and points (11).
Two seasons ago, the two rivals split a November series at Ralph Engelstad Arena, with the Bulldogs winning by a 4-1 margin on Friday night. UND came from behind in Saturday’s rematch, knotting the score at 1-1 with five seconds remaining in the second period before scoring the game-winner five minutes into the third. When the two teams tangled in Duluth in February 2022, the visitors managed a pair of one-goal victories (4-3, 3-2).
And turning back the clock to March 27th, 2021, North Dakota was down 2-0 to Minnesota Duluth with just 101 seconds remaining in the third period of the 2021 NCAA Midwest Regional final at Scheels Arena in Fargo, North Dakota. The Bulldogs had built their lead with two goals just 80 seconds apart early in the final frame on a pair of fluky plays. A partially blocked shot off the stick of Jackson Cates fluttered past Fighting Hawks’ netminder Adam Scheel, and a broken stick at the blue line sent Cole Koepke in alone on a breakaway.
Through the first 25 games of the season, UND had only won one game after allowing the first goal (1-5-1). But after coming back against both Denver and St. Cloud State to claim the program’s first NCHC Frozen Faceoff postseason title, Brad Berry’s squad had to feel like another comeback was possible.
And it was indeed possible. Collin Adams and Jordan Kawaguchi scored extra-attacker goals 44 seconds apart to send the partisan crowd into a frenzy and send the game to overtime. And overtime. And overtime. And overtime.
UMD’s Luke Mylymok scored the game-winner just over two minutes into the FIFTH overtime session; his second goal of the season ended the longest NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey tournament game in history.
One could argue that after over 140 minutes of game action, Duluth had a built-in advantage: the Bulldogs (14-10-2) were scheduled to face Michigan in the regional semifinal, but after the Wolverines withdrew due to a positive COVID-19 test in their hockey program, UMD advanced in a “no contest” and therefore had fresher legs than top overall seed North Dakota (22-5-1).
Adams and Kawaguchi were two of six North Dakota players to finish the season with double digit goal totals. Of those six, only Riese Gaber remains at North Dakota.
The NCHC has been the premier hockey conference since its inception, and particularly over the past nine 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 seven national titles.
The Bulldogs played ten games at the Division I level in the early 1930s but didn’t really get started until after World War II. Its first 19 seasons after the war were played as an independent before joining the WCHA in 1965. It would take 18 seasons – and a head coach named Mike Sertich – before UMD would make the NCAA tournament, and Sertich would take them there in three consecutive seasons:
1982-1983: National Quarterfinalist
1983-1984: 2nd Place (National Runner-Up)
1984-1985: 3rd Place (Consolation Champion)
In 1984, Duluth was tantalizingly close to winning its first title. The Bulldogs defeated North Dakota 2-1 in overtime (behind a goal by Bill Watson) to advance to the championship game, where they would face Bowling Green in the longest NCAA final in Division I men’s hockey history. Gino Cavallini scored for the Falcons in the fourth overtime session, ending a game that took over 97 minutes of game action to complete.
And, perhaps, fittingly, UMD would find themselves locked in overtime contests in 1985 as well. The Bulldogs took RPI to three overtimes in the national semis before falling 6-5. Back in those days, there was still a third-place game, and so Duluth faced Boston College (which had also played three overtimes in its semifinal) for no reason at all. Of course, that game also went to overtime, with UMD defeating the Eagles 7-6.
After that three-year splash on the national scene, Mike Sertich would manage just one more tournament appearance (1993) over the final fifteen years of his head coaching career before giving way to Scott Sandelin, who has guided the Bulldogs to the NCAAs eleven times in his 22 seasons behind the Bulldog bench.
Even though UMD has been a more frequent participant over the past two decades than at any other point in team history, Duluth and North Dakota have only met twice in the national tournament (1984 and 2021). UND had a chance to meet the Bulldogs in the 2011 title game but fell to the Wolverines in the semifinals 2-0 (with an empty-net goal) despite outshooting Michigan 40-20.
Before the Wolverines were forced to withdraw from the 2021 tournament, UMD and Michigan were set to square off in the national tournament for the first time since that overtime thriller in St. Paul.
With three national titles in a nine-year stretch, the Bulldogs could certainly be considered the best team of the 2010s; North Dakota’s eight national titles have been spread out across the decades: 1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000, and 2016.
The Wolverines have won nine NCAA titles but only two since 1964, those coming in 1996 and 1998. For that reason, I consider North Dakota (eight titles) and Denver (nine titles) the two best programs in NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey history.
And turning our attention to this season…
North Dakota has gone 5-2-1 against Army, #3 Wisconsin, #6 Minnesota, Minnesota State, and #9 Boston University, outscoring opponents 26-18 while playing all but the last two games at home.
Minnesota Duluth got off to a strong start this season, going 3-0-2 against Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan, and Bemidji State while outscoring those teams 24-16. The wheels have fallen off over the past two weekends, however, as the Bulldogs suffered a road sweep at the hands of #7 Cornell (1-4, 0-3) and a road loss (1-5) and home tie (3-3) against #6 Minnesota. Those disappointing results have UMD at 3-3-3 on the year.
Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, the Bulldogs will be without two familiar faces this weekend:
The top center for Duluth -junior Dominic James – suffered a shoulder injury on October 13th vs. Northern Michigan and is not expected to return this season. James had a line of 16-30-46 in his first two seasons (74 games) at UMD. Grand Forks native Cole Spicer has taken his spot in the lineup and has scored four goals and notched three assists through the first nine games of the season.
Bulldog junior defenseman Will Francis is taking this semester off to undergo cancer treatments. All of us at SiouxSports.com wish Will all the best in his journey to recovery. No one fights alone.
After a down season (16-20-1) a year ago, Scott Sandelin dipped his toe into the transfer portal, bringing in forward Connor McMenamin from Penn State (24-42-66 in 129 games over four seasons with the Nittany Lions) and defenseman Luke Bast from North Dakota (3-6-9 in 39 games over two seasons with the Fighting Hawks). Sandelin’s freshman class numbers just four players, although only three of those – defenseman Aaron Pionk and forwards Anthony Menghini and Matthew Perkins have seen game action.
Pionk, whose older brother Neal played for UMD from 2015-2017, is a fifth-round pick of the Minnesota Wild. Perkins is a fourth-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks.
The names 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.
Over the first eight games of the 2023-2024 season, UND forwards have scored 24 goals and are on pace for 108 goals in the regular season alone. It is also encouraging that six North Dakota forwards already have multiple goals this season, led by Blake (6), Johannes (5), Gaber (4), and Perron (4).
A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Scott Sandelin’s squad has just six players who meet that threshold: sophomore forward Ben Steeves (7-4-11), graduate forward Quinn Olson (1-8-9), sophomore forward Cole Spicer (4-3-7), senior forward Blake Biondi (1-4-5), junior defenseman Owen Gallatin (1-7-8), and freshman defenseman Aaron Pionk (1-5-6).
By that same measure, North Dakota has eight players at a half point or better: senior forward Riese Gaber (4-3-7), sophomore forward Jackson Blake (6-4-10), sophomore forward Owen McLaughlin (2-5-7), graduate forward Hunter Johannes (5-0-5), junior forward Cameron Berg (1-4-5), junior forward Jake Schmaltz (0-4-4), freshman forward Jayden Perron (4-0-4), and senior defenseman Garrett Pyke (0-8-8).
UND is 22nd in the nation in shooting percentage at 10.4% (26 goals on 250 shots); by comparison, Minnesota Duluth sits in 26th place at 10.3% (29 goals on 282 shots). UMD and North Dakota both average 31.3 shots on goal per game, although UND only allows 25.5 shots on goal per contest (12th in the country), while the Bulldogs lag far behind in that category (31.6, 42nd).
UND (20th in Corsi, 16th in Fenwick) also leads Duluth (40th, 41st) by a wide margin in both puck possession statistics.
As always, a key area to watch this weekend is the face-off circle. The Fighting Hawks are the nation’s 10th-best team on draws (54.2%), while the Bulldogs clock in at just 51.2% (23rd).
For UND, junior Cameron Berg has been making a living on draws, winning 90 of 140 (64.3%). Sophomore Owen McLaughlin is not far behind, having won 55 of 98 (56.1). Senior Louis Jamernik V has been steady at 52.0% (51 of 98).
For Minnesota Duluth, sophomore Cole Spicer has been the only bright spot in the circle, going 95 of 175 (54.3%). Sophomore Jack Smith (58 of 114, 50.9%) and junior Carter Loney (57 of 116, 49.1%) have been basically even, while freshman Matthew Perkins (48 of 113, 42.5%) has struggled to adjust to the college game.
To this point in the season, North Dakota has had slightly the better of the specialty teams play. UND has been a combined plus-4, with five power play goals scored (5 of 33, 15.2%, 44th in the country) and only four power play goals allowed (24 of 28, 85.7%, 18th), with three shorthanded goals scored and none allowed.
Minnesota Duluth has posted a plus-3, with fourteen power play goals scored (14 of 38, 36.8%, 3rd), twelve power play goals allowed (39 of 51, 76.5%, 49th), one shorthanded goal scored, and none allowed.
It is also worth noting that UND has earned five more power plays than penalty kill situations (33-28), while UMD has been shorthanded far more often (38-51).
North Dakota is 21st in the country in scoring offense (3.25 goals scored/game) but 10th in the country in scoring defense (2.25 goals allowed/game). Minnesota Duluth is 25th in the country in scoring offense (3.22 goals scored/game) but much worse on the defensive side, allowing 3.44 goals/game (48th).
A huge key to UND’s defensive turnaround this season has been the play of senior netminder Ludvig Persson. The transfer from Miami has played every minute between the pipes for the Fighting Hawks, posting a record of 5-2-1 with a goals-against average of 2.12, a save percentage of .916, and one shutout.
Last year, UND’s team save percentage was .886, the fifth-worst mark among 62 teams.
Duluth’s defensive woes this season echo North Dakota’s from a year ago. UMD has tried both senior Zach Stejskal (six games, .896 SV%) and graduate student Matthew Thiessen (four games, .891 SV%) between the pipes. As a team, the Bulldogs’ save percentage of .891 ranks 46th in the country.
North Dakota currently finds itself in 9th place in the all-important Pairwise rankings, with victories over Wisconsin (PWR 6), Boston University (PWR 14), and Minnesota (PWR 19) certainly helping the cause. With good results in home non-conference series against Bemidji State (PWR 42) on November 24th and 25th and Alaska (PWR 13) on January 5th and 6th, UND should be in good shape for the national tournament.
At #28 in the Pairwise, Minnesota Duluth has quite a bit of work to do during the conference portion of the schedule.
According to KRACH, North Dakota has played the 11th-toughest schedule in the country, while Minnesota Duluth’s slate of games ranks as the 22nd-most difficult.
The two teams will tangle in Grand Forks on February 23rd and 24th, 2024.
Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs
Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (23rd season at UMD, 447-371-98, .541)
National Ranking: #18
Pairwise Ranking: 28th
KRACH Rating: 138.1 (25th)
This Season: 3-3-3 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 16-20-1 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 9-10-1-4 NCHC (t-5th of 8 teams)
2023-2024 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.22 goals scored/game – 25th of 64 teams
Team Defense: 3.44 goals allowed/game – 48th of 64 teams
Power Play: 36.8% (14 of 38) – 3rd of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 76.5% (39 of 51) – 49th of 64 teams
Key players: Sophomore F Ben Steeves (7-4-11), Sophomore F Cole Spicer (4-3-7), Graduate F Quinn Olson (1-8-9), Senior F Blake Biondi (1-4-5), Junior D Owen Gallatin (1-7-8), Freshman D Aaron Pionk (1-5-6), Senior G Zach Stejskal (2-2-2, 3.17 GAA, .896 SV%, 1 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Brad Berry (9th season at UND, 185-94-32, .646)
National Ranking: #4
Pairwise Ranking: 9th
KRACH Rating: 605.7 (9th)
This Season: 5-2-1 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 18-15-5 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 7-10-5-2 NCHC (t-5th of 8 teams)
2023-2024 Season Statistics
Team Offense: 3.25 goals scored/game – 21st of 64 teams
Team Defense: 2.25 goals allowed/game – 10th of 64 teams
Power Play: 15.2% (5 of 33) – 44th of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 85.7% (24 of 28) – 18th of 64 teams
Key Players: Sophomore F Jackson Blake (6-4-10), Senior F Riese Gaber (4-3-7), Graduate F Hunter Johannes (5-0-5), Freshman F Jayden Perron (4-0-4), Senior F Louis Jamernik V (0-3-2), Junior F Cameron Berg (1-4-5), Senior D Garrett Pyke (0-8-8), Freshman D Jake Livanavage (1-2-3), Graduate D Logan Britt (1-2-3), Senior G Ludvig Persson (5-2-1, 2.12 GAA, .916 SV%, 1 SO)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: January 21, 2023 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after a 4-2 home victory, North Dakota saw a 1-1 tie turn into a regulation defeat. In Saturday’s finale, UMD senior Luke Loheit broke the 1-1 tie with just over two minutes left on the clock. The goal came just 33 seconds after freshman Ben Steeves departed from the penalty box;
Last Meeting in Duluth: February 19, 2022. Louis Jamernik V scored a shorthanded goal late in the second period that stood as the game-winner in a 3-2 UND victory. The Bulldogs outshot the visitors 35-29, including a 19-10 advantage in the final frame. In Friday’s opener, North Dakota went 3-for-5 on the power play and outlasted UMD 4-3 despite being outshot 39-27.
Most Important Meeting: March 27, 2021 (Fargo, ND). Minnesota Duluth outlasted North Dakota 3-2 in five overtimes to advance to the NCAA Frozen Four. UND scored two extra-attacker goals in the final two minutes of regulation to send the game long into the night. The three goaltenders involved in the contest combined to make 114 saves.
The Meeting That Never Was: Both teams advanced to the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four at Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minnesota). UND could not get past Michigan, falling 2-0 despite outshooting the Wolverines 40-20. In the other national semifinal, Minnesota-Duluth defeated Notre Dame 4-3 and rode that momentum to the title game. The Bulldogs took the Wolverines to overtime before senior forward Kyle Schmidt scored the game winner and earned UMD their first national championship. North Dakota won two of the three games against Duluth that season, outscoring Scott Sandelin’s team 11-5.
All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 153-89-11 (.626), including a 65-46-6 (.581) advantage in games played in Duluth. The teams first met in 1954, with North Dakota winning the first ten games between the schools by a combined score of 72-16. UMD’s first win over the Fighting Sioux (a 3-2 road victory on December 18th, 1959) did not sit well with the defending national champions. UND defeated Duluth 13-2 the following night.
Last Ten: North Dakota is 6-3-1 (.650) in the last ten games between the teams, outscoring the Bulldogs 24-22 over that stretch. Only three of the past ten UND-UMD games were played in Duluth (two were played in the Omaha pod, one in Fargo, and four in Grand Forks).
Game News and Notes
UND has outscored opponents 19-12 through two periods of play this season. Nearly half of Duluth’s goals this season (14 of 29) have come with the man advantage. As a team, North Dakota has blocked 125 shots this season, led by Abram Wiebe (18) and Garrett Pyke (15). Both head coaches this weekend are alumni of the University of North Dakota; Brad Berry (1983-86) and Scott Sandelin (1982-86) both played for UND under John “Gino” Gasparini.
The Fighting Hawks should have the puck the majority of the time, and that may lead to an extra power play or two. If UND can find success with the man advantage AND stay out of the penalty box, a sweep is possible. A road split is probably a more realistic goal to open conference play, but I have a feeling that North Dakota will do better than that. UND 4-2, 3-3 tie.
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!