Weekend Preview: UND vs. Bemidji State

#1 North Dakota (9-2-1, 4-0-0 NCHC) hosts Bemidi State (5-7-0, 4-4-0 CCHA) for a pair of non-conference games this weekend at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks.

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 former Central Collegiate Hockey Association 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 Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, and Minnesota State find themselves as three of nine programs in the latest version of the CCHA along with Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Northern Michigan, St. Thomas (third season at the Division I level), and Augustana (first season at the Division I level).

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 465-237-80 (.646) 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 eight-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.

Bemidji State had a very successful 2020-2021 season, going 16-5-3 overall, making the NCAA tourney, and shocking #4-overall Wisconsin 6-3 before being blanked 4-0 by eventual national champion Massachusetts. UMass also shut out St. Cloud State 5-0 in the title game and outscored their opponents 17-3 in their four tournament games.

The Beavers went 22-10-5 in 2020 and would have made the NCAA tournament. Tom Serratore’s head coaching mark of 38-20-8 (.636) from 2019-2021 was by far the best two-year for BSU since they made the jump from the CHA in 2010.

Since then, however, it has not been smooth sailing. The Beavers have gone just 38-44-5 (.466) since their most recent tournament run, with a third-place league finish in 2022 and a fifth-place finish last year. Through eight conference games this year, BSU sits in fourth place in the CCHA.

Top-ranked North Dakota has gone 9-2-1 against Army, #6 Wisconsin, #8 Minnesota, #26 Minnesota State, #5 Boston University, Minnesota Duluth, and Miami, with a record of 6-1-1 at home and 3-1-0 on the road.

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 twelve games of the 2023-2024 season, UND forwards have scored 40 goals and are on pace for 120 goals in the regular season alone. It is also encouraging that eight North Dakota forwards already have multiple goals this season, led by Blake (8), Gaber (7), Perron (7), and Johannes (6).

Perhaps alarmingly, Fighting Hawks defensemen have only scored three goals this season (Britt 2, Livanavage 1) to go along with their twenty combined assists in 73 games played. By comparison, Beaver blueliners have a combined line of 9-21-30 in 80 games played.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Tom Serratore’s squad has six players who meet that threshold: graduate defenseman Kyle Looft (5-10-15), sophomore forward Lleyton Roed (8-3-11), senior forward Jackson Jutting (5-4-9), freshman defenseman Eric Pohlkamp (4-4-8), graduate forward Carter Jones (0-8-8), and senior forward Eric Martin (0-7-7).

By that same measure, North Dakota has eight lineup regulars at a half point or better: senior forward Riese Gaber (7-5-12), sophomore forward Jackson Blake (8-7-15), sophomore forward Owen McLaughlin (3-8-11), graduate forward Hunter Johannes (6-3-9), junior forward Cameron Berg (2-7-9), freshman forward Jayden Perron (7-0-7), senior forward Louis Jamernik V (2-4-6), and senior defenseman Garrett Pyke (0-9-9).

On the injury front, UND will have to go through another weekend without junior forward Jake Schmaltz, who suffered an upper body injury late in a 2-0 road victory over Minnesota Duluth on November 11th. Schmaltz 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.

North Dakota has also been battling illness in the locker room over the past ten days or so. UND center Owen McLaughlin, who had been centering Riese Gaber and Jackson Blake, missed last Saturday’s finale against Miami. McLaughlin has been a full participant in practice this week and is expected to suit up on Friday night.

UND and Bemidji State are tied for 18th in the nation in shooting percentage at 11.0%; the difference is that BSU has managed 318 shots on goal through the first twelve games of the season (26.5 shots on goal/game, 49th in the country), while North Dakota has peppered goaltenders 390 times over their first twelve games (32.5, 16th). That has translated to eight more goals this season for Brad Berry’s squad (43-35).

On the defensive side, UND has only allowed 291 shots on goal this season (24.3/game, 5th), while Bemidji State has allowed 339 (28.3, 23rd).

And more to the point, North Dakota has enjoyed a shots-on-goal advantage of +99 (390-291), while the Beavers are sitting at a -21 (318-339). Much of that negative margin is due to the fact that BSU allowed 61 shots on goal to Wisconsin back in October, managing only 19 on their side of the column.

It is not surprising that UND also leads Bemidji State in two key puck possession statistics:

North Dakota: 13th in Corsi (54.2%) and 6th in Fenwick (56.4%)
Bemidji State: 36th in both Corsi (49.6%) and Fenwick (50.2%)

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 second-best team on draws (55.3%), while the Beavers clock in at just 46.8% (53rd).

For UND, junior Cameron Berg has been making a living on draws, winning 125 of 200 (62.5%). Sophomore Owen McLaughlin is not far behind, having won 79 of 139 (56.8%). Senior Louis Jamernik V has been steady at 55.1% (76 of 138).

For Bemidji State, it’s been senior Jackson Jutting (110 of 208, 52.9%) and not much else to speak of. Serratore has most frequently called upon senior Eric Martin (94 of 213, 44.1%) and junior Jere Vaisanen (78 of 186, 41.9%) without much success.

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 eight power play goals scored (8 of 46, 17.4%, 39th in the country) and only six power play goals allowed (32 of 38, 84.2%, 20th), with three shorthanded goals scored and none allowed.

The Beavers have posted a minus-5, with nine power play goals scored (9 of 55, 16.4%, 43rd), THIRTEEN power play goals allowed (25 of 38, 65.8, 64th), zero shorthanded goals scored, and one allowed.

It is also worth noting that UND has earned eight more power plays than penalty kill situations (46-38), while Bemidji State has had the advantage 17 more times (55-38) and is still in the minus column. The Beavers have been awarded the majority of power plays in ten of twelve games this season.

North Dakota is 7th in the country in scoring offense (3.58 goals scored/game) and an even more impressive 2nd in the country in scoring defense (2.08 goals allowed/game). Bemidji State is 34th in the country in scoring offense (2.92 goals scored/game) and even worse on the defensive side, allowing 3.75 goals/game (59th).

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 9-2-1 with a goals-against average of 2.00, a save percentage of .917, 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 80 goals, a difference of 30 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.

Bemidji State’s team save percentage of .867 is the worst in the country among all 64 men’s Division I hockey programs. There is more to the story, though. Junior netminder Matthias Sholl, the starter, was injured on October 27th against St. Thomas and has not returned to the lineup. Sholl went 1-2-0 to start the year with a save percentage of .910 and a goals-against average of 3.30; the team expects him back December 8th and 9th against Lake Superior State.

Freshman Raythan Robbins is dragging the numbers down somewhat, with six goals allowed on 27 shots in his two games (56 minutes) for a save percentage of .778 and a goals-against average of 6.48.

Over the last month and change, the crease has belonged to senior Gavin Enright, and he has been steady but not spectacular (4-5-0, 3.22 GAA, .871 SV%, 1 shutout).

North Dakota currently finds itself in 3rd place in the all-important Pairwise rankings, with victories over Wisconsin (PWR 6), Boston University (PWR 1), and Minnesota (PWR 13) certainly helping the cause. With a current non-conference mark of 5-2-1 and good results at home this weekend and against Alaska (PWR 25) on January 5th and 6th, UND should be in good shape for the national tournament. It is also important to point out that the Fighting Hawks currently have a winning record against the B1G Ten (2-1-0), the CCHA (1-0-1), and the AHA (1-0-0), with a .500 mark against Hockey East (1-1-0). If UND can manage at least a split this weekend, the interconference Pairwise comparisons will all be favorable ones.

At #35 in the Pairwise and at 1-3-0 outside of the CCHA, Bemidji State has quite a bit of work to do to make the national tournament. After this weekend, the Beavers will play a home-and-home with St. Cloud State and host Augustana for a pair to round out their non-conference schedule.

According to KRACH, North Dakota has played the 7th-toughest schedule in the country, while Miami’s slate of games ranks as the 40th-most difficult.

Even though Bemidji State and North Dakota did not play head-to-head, both teams hosted and participated in the Ice Breaker Tournament back in October. The Beavers played two overtime games in that tourney, falling to Wisconsin 4-3 before besting Army 3-2. UND defeated Army 7-2 and Wisconsin 2-0.

Since that time, BSU and North Dakota have both played series against Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State. In those games, the Beavers went 1-3-0 and were outscored 12-20. UND went 3-0-1 against those two teams, with a combined score of 14-6.

Bemidji State Team Profile

Head Coach: Tom Serratore (23rd season at BSU, 373-351-97, .513)

National Rankings: NR/NR
Pairwise Ranking: 35th
KRACH Rating: 72.4 (37th)

This Season: 5-7-0 overall, 4-4-0 CCHA (4th)
Last Season: 14-17-5 overall, 9-10-5-2 CCHA (5th of 8 teams)

Team Offense: 2.92 goals scored/game – 34th of 63 teams
Team Defense: 3.75 goals allowed/game – 59th of 64 teams

Power Play: 16.4% (9 of 55) – 43rd of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 65.8% (25 of 38) – 64th of 64 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Lleyton Roed (8-3-11), Senior F Jackson Jutting (5-4-9), Graduate F Carter Jones (0-8-8), Senior F Eric Martin (0-7-7), Graduate D Kyle Looft (5-10-15), Freshman D Eric Pohlkamp (4-4-8), Senior G Gavin Enright (4-5-0, 3.22 GAA, .871 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (9th season at UND, 189-94-32, .651)

National Rankings: #1/#1
Pairwise Ranking: 3rd
KRACH Rating: 859.0 (4th)

This Season: 9-2-1 overall, 4-0-0-0 NCHC (2nd of 8 teams)
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: 3.58 goals scored/game – 7th of 64 teams
Team Defense: 2.08 goals allowed/game – 2nd of 64 teams

Power Play: 17.4% (8 of 46) – 39th of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 84.2% (32 of 38) – 20th of 64 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Jackson Blake (8-7-15), Senior F Riese Gaber (7-5-12), Graduate F Hunter Johannes (6-3-9), Freshman F Jayden Perron (7-0-7), Sophomore F Owen McLaughlin (3-8-11), Senior F Louis Jamernik V (2-4-6), Junior F Cameron Berg (2-7-9), Senior D Garrett Pyke (0-9-9), Freshman D Jake Livanavage (1-2-3), Graduate D Logan Britt (2-3-5), Senior G Ludvig Persson (9-2-1, 2.00 GAA, .917 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: November 26, 2023 (Grand Forks, North Dakota). One night after the teams skated to a 3-3 tie in Bemidji, the homestanding Fighting Hawks dispatched the Beavers 4-2. On Friday night, UND outshot the home team 31-21 but needed a Judd Caulfield tally with 83 seconds remaining in the hockey game to salvage a road tie. In the rematch at Ralph Engelstad Arena, the home team build a 3-0 lead through the first half of the game only to see the Beavers battle back and get it within one. It was Judd Caulfield providing the heroics on back-to-back nights with an empty-netter with 29 seconds remaining.

Most Important Meeting: October 15, 2010 (Bemidji, MN). In the first game played at the BREC, North Dakota spotted BSU the opening goal less than two minutes into the contest and then steamrolled the Beavers 5-2. The Fighting Sioux outshot their fellow Green-and-Whiters 38-14.

Last Ten: North Dakota is 5-2-3 (.650) in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring the Beavers 29-20 over that stretch of games. Seven of the last ten tilts have been decided by a goal or less, with the two teams playing the tight games exactly even (two wins for each side and three ties).

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 35-5-7 (.819), including a record of 24-3-4 (.839) in games played in Grand Forks. Three of BSU’s five wins over North Dakota have come in the past ten seasons (October 2014, October 2018, and October 2021). Bemidji’s other victories over UND came in 1970 and 2011.

Game News and Notes

UND head coach Brad Berry is 7-2-3 (.708) in his career against Bemidji State. BSU has competed at the Division I level since the 1999-00 season and has made the NCAA tournament five times (2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, and 2021), with a Frozen Four appearance in 2009. North Dakota men’s hockey teams are a combined 284-99-46 (.716) at Ralph Engelstad Arena since the building opened in 2001. As a team, North Dakota has blocked 171 shots this season, led by Bennett Zmolek (27), Abram Wiebe (21), and Garrett Pyke (19). Zmolek has fourteen blocks in the last five games, all UND victories.

Broadcast Information

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.

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.

Ticket Information

Information about tickets can be found at the UND Box Office inside Ralph Engelstad Arena or online at FightingHawks.com/tickets.

The Prediction

For the second weekend in a row, the Fighting Hawks are deeper, more talented, and have better goaltending than the visitors. BSU’s active defensemen (Looft and Pohlkamp) may cause UND trouble, although facing Minnesota Duluth (Owen Gallatin and Aaron Pionk) and Boston University (Lane Hutson) in recent weeks should help out North Dakota’s cause. Bemidji State always seems to bring their best effort against UND, and this weekend will be no exception. I expect UND’s power play to get right this weekend, with multiple man-advantage goals possible each night. In the last six series against the Beavers, North Dakota has only truly been held in check offensively over one weekend (two total goals scored in October 2018). In the other five series, the Fighting Hawks have managed 10, 7, 7, 6, and 7 total goals. A hiccup is possible, but I’m calling another sweep.

UND 5-2, 4-2.

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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