Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Alaska

#4 North Dakota (12-5-1, 5-0-0-3 NCHC) hosts unranked Alaska (10-7-1 overall, no conference affiliation) at Ralph Engelstad Arena this weekend.

UND went into the break on a bit of a skid, losing three straight overtime games (at Denver, vs. Colorado College twice) by identical 3-2 scores.

Alaska played in the Great Lakes Invitational last weekend in Grand Rapids, Michigan, losing to Michigan Tech 3-2 in overtime before rebounding to secure a 3-2 victory over Ferris State.

Alaska’s most impressive victory this season is a 5-2 win at St. Cloud State on October 21st, avenging a 4-1 defeat the previous night. Two weeks earlier, the Nanooks hosted the Denver Pioneers, who earned a road sweep with 7-3 and 5-2 victories.

This weekend marks the first meeting between UND and Alaska since October 20, 2012, when the Nanooks defeated North Dakota 2-1 in the Alaska Gold Rush.

The two teams have not met in Grand Forks in over thirty years (January 2nd and 3rd, 1994), a series that went into the books as a Nanook sweep (6-5 OT, 5-3). That UND squad went just 11-23-4 overall, the lowest win total of Gino Gasparini’s head coaching career in what would be his final season behind the bench.

UND’s last win over Alaska was a 3-1 victory on October 9, 2010. That UND squad went 32-9-3 overall and lost in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinal in heartbreaking fashion.

UND finds itself in 6th place in the all-important Pairwise rankings thanks in large part to its impressive non-conference victories…

North Dakota blanked #6 Wisconsin 2-0 at Ralph Engelstad Arena back on October 14th.

UND was also able to avenge its only two non-conference losses of the season (vs. #10 Minnesota, at #2 Boston University) with wins the following night.

According to KRACH, North Dakota has faced the nation’s tenth-toughest schedule to this point of the season, while the Nanooks’ schedule weighs in as the 44th-most difficult. Despite its tough slate of games, the Green and White claim the eight-best best winning percentage in college hockey (.713).

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 475-240-82 (.647) 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.

#4-ranked North Dakota has gone 12-5-1 against Army, #5 Wisconsin, #10 Minnesota, Minnesota State, #2 Boston University, Minnesota Duluth, Miami, Bemidji State, #6 Denver, and #20 Colorado College, with a record of 8-3-1 at home and 4-2-0 on the road. Three of UND’s five losses this season have come in overtime.

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 eighteen games of the 2023-2024 season, UND forwards have scored 59 goals and are on pace for 118 goals in the regular season alone. It is also encouraging that ten North Dakota forwards already have multiple goals this season, led by Blake (11), Gaber (8), Berg (7), Johannes (7), and Perron (7). Surprisingly, all five of those forwards were held without a goal in the home series against Colorado College four weeks ago.

Perhaps alarmingly, Fighting Hawks defensemen have only scored five goals this season (Britt 2, Pyke 2, Livanavage 1) to go along with their 31 combined assists in 110 games played (0.33 points/game). The offensive output from the blue line has been increasing lately, with Livanavage in particular chipping in more regularly (six assists in his last six games).

Garett Pyke notched a goal and an assist against CC and now faces his former team this weekend. Pyke spent four years at Alaska, appearing sparingly (fifteen games) as a freshman before missing his entire sophomore campaign due to injury. The 6-0, 190-pound defenseman from Mississauga, Ontario shined as an upperclassman, playing in 34 games in each of his last two seasons in Fairbanks with identical 4-15-19 scoring totals in both campaigns.

Pyke already has two goals and twelve assists in his first eighteen games as a Fighting Hawk.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Erik Largen’s Nanooks squad has eight players who meet that threshold: junior forward Brady Risk (9-13-22), junior forward Anton Rubtsov (6-12-18), junior forward Harrison Israels (12-5-17), sophomore forward Cade Neilson (3-7-10), junior forward Payton Matsui (2-7-9), sophomore forward Braden Birnie (2-7-9), junior defenseman Arvils Bergmanis (1-12-13), and graduate defenseman T.J. Lloyd (2-9-11).

By that same measure, North Dakota has seven players at a half point or better: sophomore forward Jackson Blake (11-11-22), junior forward Cameron Berg (7-10-17), sophomore forward Owen McLaughlin (4-11-15), senior forward Riese Gaber (8-6-14), graduate forward Hunter Johannes (7-5-12), senior defenseman Garrett Pyke (2-12-14), and freshman defenseman Jake Livanavage (1-8-9).

Offensively, UND outpaces Alaska by a narrow margin. To this point of the season, North Dakota has scored 64 goals (3.56 goals per game, 11th in the country), while Alaska has managed 61 (3.39, 16th).

The Fighting Hawks are 13th in the nation in shooting percentage at 11.2%. Alaska clocks in at 11.3%, good for 10th in the country. UND also gets the puck to the net, averaging 31.6 shots on goal per game. The Nanooks aren’t far behind, with 30.0 shots on goal per contest.

On the defensive side, UND has only allowed 442 shots on goal this season in 18 games (24.6/game, 6th), while Alaska has allowed 462 in the same number of games (25.7).

These two teams are both in the top quarter of all teams in the nation in two key puck possession statistics:

North Dakota: 16th in Corsi (53.5%) and 9th in Fenwick (55.4%)
Alaska: 9th in Corsi (54.8%); 12th in Fenwick (54.5%)

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 14th-best team on draws (53.3%), while the Nanooks clock in at 54.1% (10th).

For UND, junior Cameron Berg has been making a living on draws, winning 186 of 308 (60.4%). Senior Louis Jamernik V (115 of 211, 54.5%) and sophomore Owen McLaughlin (107 of 208, 51.4%) have more than held their own.

For the Nanooks, junior Harrison Israels has been the best option (203 of 345, 58.8%). Head coach Erik Largen has also called on junior Payton Matsui (135 of 252, 53.6%), sophomore Cade Nielson (91 of 167, 54.5%), and junior Chase Dafoe (98 of 188, 52.1%).

To this point in the season, North Dakota has had the better of the specialty teams play. UND has been a combined plus-9, with thirteen power play goals scored (13 of 66, 19.7%, 27th in the country) and seven power play goals allowed (43 of 50, 86.0%, 10th), with three shorthanded goals scored and none allowed.

The Nanooks have posted a plus-2, with seventeen power play goals scored (17 of 83, 20.5%, 23rd), SEVENTEEN power play goals allowed (71 of 88, 80.7%, 33rd), three shorthanded goals scored, and one allowed.

It is also worth noting that UND has earned sixteen more power plays than penalty kill situations (66-50), while Alaska has been shorthanded five more times than they have been on the power play (83-88).

North Dakota is 11th in the country in scoring offense (3.56 goals scored/game) and an equally impressive 9th in the country in scoring defense (2.28 goals allowed/game).

Alaska is 16th in the country in scoring offense (3.39 goals scored/game) and 16th in the country in scoring defense (2.50 goals allowed/game).

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 12-5-1 with a goals-against average of 2.21, a save percentage of .909, and three 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 87 goals, a difference of 23 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.

Alaska’s top netminder – senior Pierce Charleson boasts similar numbers to Persson. Charleson has a record of 10-6-1, a goals-against average of 2.20, a save percentage of .915, and one shutout.

North Dakota currently finds itself in sixth place in the all-important Pairwise rankings, with victories over Boston University (PWR 2), Wisconsin (PWR 5), Denver (PWR 8), and Minnesota (PWR 12) certainly helping the cause. With a current non-conference mark of 7-2-1, good results at home against Alaska (PWR 20) this weekend, and a top-four finish in the NCHC, UND should be a lock for the national tournament.

At 5-0-0-3 in league play, North Dakota sits in second place in the league standings behind only St. Cloud State (7-0-0-1).

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 (3-0-1), and the AHA (1-0-0), with a .500 mark against Hockey East (1-1-0). Since Alaska is playing this season as an independent and thus will not impact conference comparisons, UND has itself in fine shape for the NCAAs.

At #20 in the Pairwise, Alaska has some work to do to earn the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2010 (the only tourney appearance in program history). The Nanooks were one game away from reaching the NCAAs last season (Colgate knocked off higher-seed Harvard in the ECAC championship game, stealing a spot from Alaska).

North Dakota has eight games remaining on the schedule against the top twenty teams in the Pairwise (vs. PWR 20 Alaska, at PWR 14 St. Cloud State, vs. PWR 8 Denver, and vs. PWR 10 Western Michigan). After this weekend, UND’s other ten games are vs. PWR 23 Omaha, at PWR 45 Miami, at PWR 24 Colorado College, vs. PWR 33 Minnesota Duluth, and at PWR 23 Omaha.

After this weekend, Alaska only plays one other team in the top thirty in the Pairwise; the Nanooks will travel to face PWR 16 Arizona State on February 9th and 10th.

Alaska Nanooks

Head Coach: Erik Largen (5th season at CC, 74-71-13, .509)

National Rankings: NR/NR
Pairwise Ranking: 20th
KRACH Rating: 119.3 (25th)

This Season: 10-7-1 overall
Last Season: 22-10-2 overall (missed NCAA tournament)

2023-2024 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.39 goals scored/game – 16th of 64 teams
Team Defense: 2.50 goals allowed/game – 16th of 64 teams

Power Play: 20.5% (17 of 83) – 23rd of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 80.7% (17 of 88) – 33rd of 64 teams

Key players: Junior Forward Brady Risk (9-13-22), Junior F Anton Rubtsov (6-12-18), Junior F Harrison Israels (12-5-17), Sophomore F Cade Neilson (3-7-10), Junior F Payton Matsui (2-7-9), Sophomore F Braden Birnie (2-7-9), Junior D Arvils Bergmanis (1-12-13), Graduate D T.J. Lloyd (2-9-11), Senior G Pierce Charleson (10-6-1, 2.20 GAA, .915 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (9th season at UND, 192-97-32, .648)

National Rankings: #4/#4
Pairwise Ranking: 6th
KRACH Rating: 492.5 (7th)

This Season: 12-5-1 overall, 5-0-0-3 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 18-15-5 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 7-10-5-2 NCHC (t-5th)

2023-2024 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.56 goals scored/game – 11th of 64 teams
Team Defense: 2.28 goals allowed/game – 9th of 64 teams

Power Play: 19.7% (13 of 66) – 27th of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 86.0% (43 of 50) – 10th of 64 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Jackson Blake (11-11-22), Senior F Riese Gaber (8-6-14), Graduate F Hunter Johannes (7-5-12), Freshman F Jayden Perron (7-1-8), Sophomore F Owen McLaughlin (4-11-15), Junior F Cameron Berg (7-10-17), Senior D Garrett Pyke (2-12-14), Freshman D Jake Livanavage (1-8-9), Graduate D Logan Britt (2-4-6), Senior G Ludvig Persson (12-5-1, 2.21 GAA, .909 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: October 20, 2012 (Fairbanks, Alaska). UND’s Colton St. Clair would get the visitors on the board first, but Alaska would answer with one goal each in the 2nd and 3rd period for a 2-1 victory. The Nanooks held North Dakota scoreless on six power play opportunities and went 1-for-3 with the man advantage.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: January 3, 1994. Alaska (then competing as Alaska-Fairbanks) won 5-3, capping off a road sweep of the Fighting Sioux. One night earlier, it was a 6-5 overtime victory for the Nanooks. UND would travel to Anchorage two weeks later and drop a pair of games to the homestanding Seawolves, results that certainly played a part in the departure of head coach Gino Gasparini. The Green and White were 8-12-2 coming into the four-game stretch against the Alaska teams and went just 3-11-2 down the stretch.

Most Important Meeting: Since this series has major Pairwise implications for both squads, I will call the games at the Ralph this weekend the most important meeting between the two teams.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series 5-3-0 (.625), although the series is tied 2-2 in games played in Grand Forks. North Dakota won the first four meetings between the teams by a combined score of 25-10 but has won only once in the last four games, topping Alaska 3-1 in Anchorage on October 9th, 2010.

Game News and Notes

Alaska is one of only two teams remaining in men’s Division I college hockey to play on a full Olympic-sized sheet of ice (100×200); the other is St. Cloud State. North Dakota’s Cameron Berg has faced Alaska five times in his collegiate career (all as an Omaha Maverick), collecting three goals and adding two assists. Over the first eighteen games of the season, Alaska has blocked 194 shots as a team (10.8/game); UND has blocked 243 (13.5/game). Grand Forks native and Central High School product William Lawson-Body is a freshman for the Nanooks; he has appeared in one game this season (against Denver), registering two shots on goal. It is unclear whether Lawson-Body, who went 71-6-2 in his last three seasons at Central with two state championships, will crack the lineup this weekend.

The Prediction

North Dakota has a few edges in this game – the home crowd, the narrower sheet of ice, a longer period of rest, and the matchup of its power play against a dreadful Alaska penalty kill that has allowed at least one power play goal in fourteen of its eighteen games this season. UND will need to play both fast and physical against the Nanooks, getting the puck to the net with regularity. Goaltending will be key in this series, and I give the edge to the home team. North Dakota hasn’t lost in regulation in over two months, and that trend will continue this weekend. UND 4-2, 3-2 (OT).

Broadcast Information

Both games will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and will also be 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.

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.

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on X-Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

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