#2 North Dakota (7-2-1, 2-0-0 NCHC)) hosts Miami (4-5-1, 0-4-0 NCHC) for a pair of NCHC games this weekend at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks.
Remarkably, when UND traveled to face to RedHawks back in January of 2023, the two teams were both at the bottom of the league standings. This time around, the Fighting Hawks have their sights set squarely on another Penrose Cup.
Back in November of 2022, the Fighting Hawks won Friday’s home opener vs. Miami in runaway fashion, boatracing the RedHawks by building a 5-0 lead over the first 31 minutes of the hockey game. In Saturdays’ rematch, UND spotted the visitors a 3-0 lead before making a late push, outshooting MU 27-6 over the final two periods but falling just short in a 4-3 loss. That RedHawks victory was the only blemish in North Dakota’s 9-1 head-to-head mark over the past ten games.
The Fighting Hawks traveled to Oxford, Ohio in November 2021 and earned a road sweep with 4-1 and 5-4 victories. UND outshot Miami 68-31 in the two-game series.
Almost one year earlier (December 2nd, 2020), the two teams met in Omaha in the first pod game for either side. North Dakota blanked Miami 2-0 and put 39 shots on goal.
And in the rematch on December 20th – the final game of the Omaha pod – the RedHawks managed to score twice but allowed six North Dakota goals on 39 shots.
Miami put a total of 42 shots on frame over the course of those six periods of hockey.
After those two December tilts, the teams were not scheduled to face each other in the second half of the 2021-2022 season. As fate would have it, however, top-seeded UND (18-5-1) drew last-place Miami (5-17-2) in the first round of the modified NCHC Frozen Faceoff. There was little drama in the contest, as the Fighting Hawks scored three goals in the first six minutes of the hockey game and cruised to a 6-2 victory, outshooting MU 46-28.
In the past nine games, North Dakota has outscored Miami 45-15 while holding a 321-187 advantage in shots on goal.
Over the past three seasons, the RedHawks relied on goaltender Ludvig Persson to keep games close, as Miami only averaged 2.22 goals per game. Unfortunately, MU allowed 3.91 goals per game over those three campaigns and only won twenty total games (20-69-8, .247).
And now Ludvig Persson is wearing the green and white of North Dakota (more on that below).
Ten full seasons have come and gone since the college hockey landscape changed forever. With Minnesota and Wisconsin departing the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for the Big Ten after the 2012-13 season, several other conference schools and two members of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (Miami and Western Michigan) created the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and left Alaska Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, and Minnesota State behind in a watered-down WCHA. And now, the WCHA is no more, and the CCHA reformed beginning with the 2021-2022 campaign.
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.
Over the first ten seasons of the NCHC, Miami has averaged slightly better than a seventh-place finish among the eight conference teams (8th, 2nd, 5th, 7th, 8th, 8th, 7th, 8th, 8th, and 8th), with a combined league record of 62-149-29 (.319).
By comparison, North Dakota has finished 2nd, 1st, 1st, 4th, 4th, 5th, 1st, 1st, 1st, and 5th for an average finish just under second place and a combined league record of 140-77-23 (.631). No other league member has collected as many conference wins as UND.
When the National Collegiate Hockey Conference was formed, Miami appeared positioned to be a dominant program. Prior to the 2013-14 season (their inaugural campaign in the NCHC), the RedHawks had made eight consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, with consecutive Frozen Four bids in 2009 (2nd) and 2010 (3rd). Since joining the NCHC, Miami has just one NCAA tournament appearance (2015), and that ended quickly with a first-round loss to eventual national champion Providence.
Long-tenured head coach Enrico Blasi was fired after posting a fourth consecutive losing season in 2018-2019. Over that stretch of time, the RedHawks were 47-81-19 (.384). There is reason for optimism in Oxford, however, with new bench boss Chris Bergeron taking over the program after leading Bowling Green to six consecutive winning seasons, five consecutive years with twenty or more victories, and an NCAA tournament appearance in 2018-2019.
And turning our attention to this season…
#2 North Dakota has gone 7-2-1 against Army, #1 Wisconsin, #6 Minnesota, #26 Minnesota State, #8 Boston University, and #25 Minnesota Duluth, outscoring opponents 32-20 while playing all but the last four games at home.
How has North Dakota made such a dramatic turnaround in just one season?
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 ten games of the 2023-2024 season, UND forwards have scored 29 goals and are on pace for 104 goals in the regular season alone. It is also encouraging that eight North Dakota forwards already have multiple goals this season, led by Blake (6), Gaber (5), Johannes (5), and Perron (5).
A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Chris Bergeron’s squad has eight players who meet that threshold: senior forward Matthew Barbolini (4-8-12), sophomore forward John Waldron (3-6-9), senior forward PJ Fletcher (3-4-7), sophomore forward William Hallen (2-4-6), junior forward Raimonds Vitolins (3-3-6 in seven games), sophomore forward Artur Turansky (2-3-5), sophomore forward Frankie Carogioiello (2-0-2 in four games), and sophomore defenseman Axel Kumlin (1-4-5).
Carogioello will not play this weekend in Grand Forks, while Vitolins’ return to the lineup is questionable. Head coach Chris Bergeron will also be without the services of graduate forwaard Ryan Sullivan (1-2-3 in seven games).
By that same measure, North Dakota has nine players at a half point or better: senior forward Riese Gaber (5-4-9), sophomore forward Jackson Blake (6-5-11), sophomore forward Owen McLaughlin (2-5-7), graduate forward Hunter Johannes (5-1-6), junior forward Cameron Berg (2-5-7), freshman forward Jayden Perron (5-0-5), senior forward Louis Jamernik V (2-3-5), senior defenseman Garrett Pyke (0-8-8), and graduate defenseman Logan Britt (2-3-5).
On the injury front, UND will have to do without junior forward Jake Schmaltz, who suffered an upper body injury late in Saturday’s 2-0 road victory over Minnesota Duluth. Schmaltz has notched four assists in the first ten games of the season and has been the team’s fourth option on draws, going 40-39 (50.6 percent). Senior Griffin Ness and sophomore Ben Strinden will likely see additional opportunities in the faceoff circle this weekend.
UND is 32nd in the nation in shooting percentage at 9.8% (32 goals on 326 shots); by comparison, Miami sits in 36th place at 9.5% (27 goals on 283 shots). Through ten games, UND clearly has an advantage in shots on goal (32.6 to 28.3), and the Fighting Hawks only allow 25.6 shots on goal per game (MU allows 31.6).
UND also leads Miami in two key puck possession statistics:
North Dakota: 19th in both Corsi (53.8%) and Fenwick (56.0%)
Miami: 41st in both Corsi (48.4%) and Fenwick (46.7%)
Corsi measures the share of shot attempts for each team at even strength, while Fenwick measure the share of unblocked shot attempts for each team at even strength.
As always, a key area to watch this weekend is the face-off circle. The Fighting Hawks are the nation’s eighth-best team on draws (54.2%), while the RedHawks clock in at just 43.4% (61st).
For UND, junior Cameron Berg has been making a living on draws, winning 107 of 171 (62.6%). Sophomore Owen McLaughlin is not far behind, having won 68 of 122 (55.7%). Senior Louis Jamernik V has been steady at 52.7% (59 of 12).
For Miami, there hasn’t really been a good option, although sophomore Blake Mesenburg has taken the most draws, winning just 48.6% (69 of 142). Junior Raimonds Vitolins (59 of 121, 48.8%) and sophomore William Hallen (59 of 138, 42.8%) have done their best.
To be fair, Miami lost their projected top center, Albin Nilsson, to a longterm injury before the season even started. Nilsson scored 18 goals and added 27 assists over the past two seasons (72 games) with Niagara.
Vitolins, who had slotted in on the top line, has also missed games due to injury this season; he is expected to travel with the team to Grand Forks.
To this point in the season, North Dakota has had the better of the specialty teams play. UND has been a combined plus-5, with seven power play goals scored (7 of 42, 16.7%, 42nd in the country) and only five power play goals allowed (27 of 32, 84.4%, 18th), with three shorthanded goals scored and none allowed.
Miami has posted a minus-3, with six power play goals scored (6 of 38, 15.8%, 45th), seven power play goals allowed (32 of 39, 82.1%, 26th), zero shorthanded goals scored, and two allowed.
It is also worth noting that UND has earned ten more power plays than penalty kill situations (42-32), while Miami has been shorthanded more often than on the power play (39-38).
North Dakota is 20th in the country in scoring offense (3.20 goals scored/game) but a stellar fifth in the country in scoring defense (2.00 goals allowed/game). Miami is 39th in the country in scoring offense (2.70 goals scored/game) and even worse on the defensive side, allowing 3.30 goals/game (42nd).
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 7-2-1 with a goals-against average of 1.90, a save percentage of .925, and two shutouts.
Last year, UND’s team save percentage was .886, the fifth-worst mark among 62 teams. To put the difference in perspective, North Dakota allowed 110 goals on 962 shots last season. If we apply Persson’s save percentage from this year to that shot total, the Fighting Hawks would have allowed a total of only 72 goals, a difference of 38 goals over the 39-game season.
And what difference does one goal make? UND found itself in a Pairwise predicament last season due to three tough losses:
Arizona State 3, North Dakota 2 (October 29th, 2022)
Miami 4, North Dakota 3 (November 19th, 2022)
Minnesota Duluth 2, North Dakota 1 (January 21st, 2023)
All three of those games were tied in the third period.
Miami’s overall goaltending numbers (.896 SV%, 39th in the country) are skewed a bit by freshman netminder Bruno Bruveris who has played in one game this season (at St. Cloud State) and allowed six goals on 33 shots for a save percentage of just .818. Graduate student Logan Neaton has been better, stopping 256 of 282 in his nine games. Neaton transferred from UMass-Lowell in the fall of 2021 and appeared in sixteen games over the past two seasons with Miami.
North Dakota currently finds itself in 7th place in the all-important Pairwise rankings, with victories over Wisconsin (PWR 3), Boston University (PWR 9), and Minnesota (PWR 12) certainly helping the cause. With a current non-conference mark of 5-2-1 and good results in home non-conference series against Bemidji State (PWR 43) on November 24th and 25th and Alaska (PWR 10) on January 5th and 6th, UND should be in good shape for the national tournament.
At #37 in the Pairwise, Miami has quite a bit of work to do during the conference portion of the schedule, and they are off to a dreadful start, dropping their first four league games (at St. Cloud State, vs. Colorado College) by a combined score of 18-4.
According to KRACH, North Dakota has played the 8th-toughest schedule in the country, while Miami’s slate of games ranks as the 37th-most difficult.
The two teams will tangle in Oxford, Ohio on February 2nd and 3rd, 2024.
Miami Team Profile
Head Coach: Chris Bergeron (5th season at Miami, 32-95-14, .277)
National Rankings: NR/NR
Pairwise Ranking: 37th
KRACH Rating: 67.0 (38th)
This Season: 4-5-1 overall, 0-4-0-0 NCHC (8th)
Last Season: 8-24-4 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 3-16-0-5 NCHC (8th)
2023-2024 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.70 goals scored/game – 39th of 64 teams
Team Defense: 3.30 goals allowed/game – 42nd of 64 teams
Power Play: 15.8% (6 of 38) – 45th of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 82.1% (32 of 39) – 26th of 64 teams
Key players: Senior F Matthew Barbolini (4-8-12), Sophomore F Max Dukovac (2-2-4), Sophomore F John Waldron (3-6-9), Senior F PJ Fletcher (3-4-7), Sophomore F William Hallen (2-4-6), Junior F Raimonds Vitolins (3-3-6 in 7 games), Sophomore D Axel Kumlin (1-4-5), Sophomore D Michael Feenstra (0-4-4), Senior D Hampus Rydqvist (0-3-3), Graduate G Logan Neaton (4-4-1, 2.86 GAA, .908 SV%)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Brad Berry (9th season at UND, 187-94-32, .649)
National Rankings: #2/#4
Pairwise Ranking: 7th
KRACH Rating: 856.7 (8th)
This Season: 7-2-1 overall, 2-0-0-0 NCHC (t-2nd)
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: 3.20 goals scored/game – 20th of 64 teams
Team Defense: 2.00 goals allowed/game – 5th of 64 teams
Power Play: 16.7% (7 of 42) – 42nd of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 84.4% (27 of 32) – 18th of 64 teams
Key Players: Sophomore F Jackson Blake (6-5-11), Senior F Riese Gaber (5-4-9), Graduate F Hunter Johannes (5-1-6), Freshman F Jayden Perron (5-0-5), Senior F Louis Jamernik V (2-3-5), Junior F Cameron Berg (2-5-7), Senior D Garrett Pyke (0-8-8), Freshman D Jake Livanavage (1-2-3), Graduate D Logan Britt (2-3-5), Senior G Ludvig Persson (7-2-1, 1.90 GAA, .925 SV%, 2 SO)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: January 28, 2023 (Oxford, Ohio). One night after notching four goals in a 4-1 road victory, UND doubled down, blanking the homestanding RedHawks 8-0 behind a hat trick from Riese Gaber, who also had two assists in the series. North Dakota netminder Drew DeRidder had his finest weekend of the season, stopping 50 of 51 shots in the two-game sweep.
Last Meeting in Grand Forks: November 19, 2022. North Dakota spotted the visitors a 3-0 lead before making a late push, outshooting MU 27-6 over the final two periods. UND’s furious rally would come up just a bit short, with Miami’s Jack Clement breaking the third-period tie with just 5:26 remaining in the hockey game. The Fighting Hawks won Friday’s home opener vs. Miami in runaway fashion, boatracing the RedHawks by building a 5-0 lead over the first 31 minutes of the hockey game.
Most Important Meeting: March 6, 2015 (Oxford, OH). North Dakota claimed the Penrose Cup with a 2-1 road victory over Miami. UND fell flat the following night, losing 6-3 in the final game of the regular season.
Last Ten: UND has picked up nine wins (9-1–0, .900) in the past ten contests between the teams, outscoring Miami 50-18 over that stretch of games. Before MU’s November 2022 victory at the Ralph, the RedHawks had not beaten North Dakota since November 10, 2018, a 3-2 home victory.
All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 25-8-4 (.730), including a sparkling 11-3-2 (.750) record in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).
Game News and Notes
In nine career games against Miami, junior forward Riese Gaber has scored ten goals and added six assists. MU has not made the national tournament since 2015, their second season in the NCHC. As a team, North Dakota has blocked 150 shots this season, led by Abram Wiebe and Garrett Pyke (18 each). Miami head coach Chris Bergeron has lost more games in his five seasons at Miami (32-95-14, .277) than North Dakota bench boss Brad Berry has in his nine seasons at UND (187-94-32, .649). MU has been outscored 13-5 in second periods this season. Green Hawks are preferable to RedHawks.
The Fighting Hawks are deeper, more talented, and have better goaltending. The only worry is a letdown after so many high-intensity games in a row (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Minnesota State, Boston University, and Minnesota Duluth). If North Dakota can play to its identity from the drop of the puck each night, it won’t be pretty for the RedHawks. I expect a closer contest on Saturday night, but this one is a sweep. UND 6-2, 4-1.
Both games will be broadcast on Midco Sports Network and also available online at NCHC.tv. Puck drop is set for 7:07 p.m. Central Time on Friday and 6:07 p.m. Central Time on Saturday. 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.
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!