Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Omaha

#4 North Dakota (14-5-1 overall, 5-0-0-3) hosts the unranked Omaha Mavericks (10-6-2 overall, 1-4-3-0 NCHC) this weekend at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks.

UND hosted the Mavs for the last two games of the 2022-2023 regular season, sweeping the series 5-4 and 2-1. The following weekend, the Fighting Hawks traveled down I-29 for a first-round playoff series against Mike Gabinet’s crew. North Dakota lost the opener 2-1 before storming back and taking the best-of-three series with 3-1 and 5-2 victories.

That road series was just the second time that UND was on the road for the league quarterfinals since 2002. The Fighting Hawks also found themselves away from home back in 2019, dropping two straight at Denver (0-2, 2-4) despite outshooting the Pios 32-17 in game one and 42-18 in the rematch.

2002 and 2019 are also – not coincidentally – the only two times that North Dakota failed to make it to the WCHA Final Five/NCHC Frozen Faceoff since 1996. UND hosted the first round of the league playoffs 22 times between 1997 and 2022 and advanced all 22 times (there was no NCHC tournament in 2020, and the format was modified for the 2020-2021 season).

In the ten-year history of the league, Omaha has finished 3rd, 3rd, 6th, 6th, 5th, 7th, 6th, 4th, 6th, and 3rd for an average finish of 4.90, sixth among the eight league teams. North Dakota leads the conference with an average finish of 2.70 (2nd, 1st, 1st, 4th, 4th, 5th, 1st, 1st, 2nd, and 6th). The Mavericks have never advanced past the first round of the league playoffs.

This season, the Fighting Hawks are in great shape for home ice in the first round of the playoffs, trailing only St. Cloud State in the league standings. UND and SCSU will square off next weekend in St. Cloud in the only scheduled meeting between the squads this season.

Coming into this weekend, Omaha is 21st in the all-important Pairwise rankings, while North Dakota is 6th. UND finds itself in such good shape after compiling a record of 9-2-1 in non-conference play, including some impressive victories…

North Dakota blanked #3 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. #12 Minnesota, at #2 Boston University) with wins the following night. That Friday night loss at BU on November 3rd was the last game the Fighting Hawks lost in regulation, a span of thirteen games and over two months.

According to KRACH, North Dakota has faced the nation’s eighth-toughest schedule to this point of the season, while the Mavericks’ schedule weighs in as the 19th-most difficult. Despite its tough slate of games, the Green and White claim the sixth-best best winning percentage in college hockey (.742).

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 483-242-82 (.649) 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 14-5-1 against Army, #3 Wisconsin, #12 Minnesota, Minnesota State, #2 Boston University, Minnesota Duluth, Miami, Bemidji State, #6 Denver, #17 Colorado College, and Alaska, with a record of 10-3-1 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 was 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)

Update: freshman forward Michael Emerson left the UND program at semester break; Emerson appeared in six games during the first half of the season.

These thirteen newcomers join eleven returning forwards and second-year netminder Kaleb Johnson to form UND’s 25-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 twenty games of the 2023-2024 season, UND forwards have scored 71 goals and are on pace for 128 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 (11), Berg (9), Johannes (9), and Perron (8). Those five forwards were held without a goal in the home series against Colorado College roughly a month ago but combined for eight goals last weekend against Alaska.

Perhaps alarmingly, Fighting Hawks defensemen have only scored five goals this season (Britt 2, Pyke 2, Livanavage 1) to go along with their 36 combined assists in 123 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 (eight assists in his last eight games).

Garett Pyke delivered three assists last weekend against his former team, and this weekend, <strong<cameron berg will square off against his old teammates.</strong

Berg spent two seasons at Omaha, appearing in 74 games and collecting 18 goals and 29 assists. This year at UND, the center who grew up in West Fargo has nine goals and ten assists in twenty games, including fourteen points in his last twelve.

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.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Mike Gabinet’s squad has just six players who meet that threshold: junior forward Tyler Mueller (6-7-13), junior forward Zach Urdahl (3-4-7 in 12 games), graduate forward Jack Randl (5-4-9), freshman forward Tanner Ludtke (4-5-9), sophomore defenseman Joaquim Lemay (4-6-10), and sophomore defenseman Griffin Ludtke (3-7-10).

Before last weekend, Zach Urdahl had not played since November 19th.

By that same measure, North Dakota has nine players at a half point or better, including THREE averaging over a point per game: sophomore forward Jackson Blake (11-13-24), senior forward Riese Gaber (11-9-20), and sophomore forward Owen McLaughlin (7-13-20). Other offensive contributors include junior forward Cameron Berg (9-10-19), graduate forward Hunter Johannes (9-6-15), freshman forward Jayden Perron (8-2-10), sophomore forward Dylan James (3-7-10), senior defenseman Garrett Pyke (2-15-17), and freshman defenseman Jake Livanavage (1-10-11).

Offensively, UND outpaces Omaha by a large margin. To this point of the season, North Dakota has scored 76 goals in twenty games (3.80 goals per game, 9th in the country), while Omaha has managed just 51 in eighteen games (2.83, 34th).

The Fighting Hawks are third in the nation in shooting percentage at 12.2%. Omaha clocks in at 9.2%, good for 43rd in the country. UND also gets the puck to the net, averaging 31.1 shots on goal per game (21st). The Mavericks aren’t far behind, with 30.7 shots on goal per contest (23rd).

On the defensive side, UND has only allowed 488 shots on goal this season in 20 games (24.4/game, 6th), while Omaha has allowed 495 in 18 games (27.5, 16th).

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

North Dakota: 13th in Corsi (54.1%) and 6th in Fenwick (55.8%)
Omaha: 11th in Corsi (54.5%); 15th in Fenwick (53.5%)

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 16th-best team on draws (52.6%), while the Mavericks clock in at 54.4% (3rd).

For UND, junior Cameron Berg has been making a living on draws, winning 207 of 347 (59.7%). Senior Louis Jamernik V (126 of 229, 55.0%) has been improving, while sophomore Owen McLaughlin (113 of 228, 49.6) has struggled of late.

For the Mavericks, graduate student Nolan Sullivan has been the best option (206 of 346, 59.5%). Head coach Mike Gabinet has also called on junior Ty Mueller (180 of 338, 53.3%) and senior Jimmy Glynn (81 of 159, 50.9%).

To this point in the season, North Dakota has had the better of the specialty teams play. UND has been a combined plus-10, with sixteen power play goals scored (16 of 76, 21.1%, 22nd in the country) and nine power play goals allowed (48 of 57, 84.2%, 16th), with three shorthanded goals scored and none allowed.

The Mavericks have posted a minus-3, with only NINE power play goals scored (9 of 80, 11.3%, 59th), eleven power play goals allowed (49 of 60, 81.7%, 29th), one shorthanded goal scored, and two allowed.

It is also worth noting that UND has earned nineteen more power plays than penalty kill situations (76-57), while Omaha has posted anemic specialty teams numbers despite sporting an even greater margin (80-60).

North Dakota is 9th in the country in scoring offense (3.80 goals scored/game) and an equally impressive 11th in the country in scoring defense (2.35 goals allowed/game).

Omaha is 34th in the country in scoring offense (2.83 goals scored/game) and 24th in the country in scoring defense (2.78 goals allowed/game).

A huge key to UND’s defensive turnaround this season has been the play of senior netminder Ludvig Persson. Up until last weekend, the transfer from Miami had 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. (Persson was ill last weekend, and freshman Hobie Hedquist stepped in for him, winning both games while posting a goals-against average of 3.01 and a save percentage of .870).

Persson, who returned to practice on Wednesday of this week, has not yet been named the starter for this weekend.

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.

Omaha’s top netminder – sophomore Simon Latkoczy boasts similar numbers to Persson. Latkoczy has a record of 7-5-2, a goals-against average of 2.244, a save percentage of .911, and one shutout.

With dismal specialty teams play and average defensive numbers, how has Omaha managed an overall record of 10-6-2? It boils down to two things:

1. Omaha has had the puck the majority of the time in most games. With stellar faceoff numbers and puck possession stats, the Mavs have been able to overcome their other deficiencies.

2. The Mavericks have won the close games. UNO is 8-1 in one-goal games (for comparison, UND is 3-4). Omaha has only two comfortable wins all season: an 8-1 shellacking of Niagara to open the season, and a 5-2 victory at Augustana on November 25th. In its six losses, the Mavs have been outscored 27-10.

North Dakota currently finds itself in sixth place in the all-important Pairwise rankings, with victories over Boston University (PWR 1), Wisconsin (PWR 2), Denver (PWR 8), and Minnesota (PWR 12) certainly helping the cause. With a non-conference mark of 9-2-1, a top-four finish in the NCHC should lock up a spot in the national tournament for UND.

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

After this weekend, UND’s other conference series in the second half are at SCSU (PWR 12), vs. Denver (PWR 8), at Miami (PWR 41), at Colorado College (PWR 18), vs. Minnesota Duluth (PWR 32), vs. Western Michigan (PWR 10), and at Omaha (PWR 21).

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).

At #21 in the Pairwise, Omaha has some work to do to earn the program’s first NCAA tourney berth since 2021. In team history, the Mavericks have made the national tournament four times (2006, 2011, 2015), with a Frozen Four appearance under head coach Dean Blais in 2015.

Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (7th season at UNO, 104-107-16, .493)

National Rankings: NR/NR
Pairwise Ranking: 21st
KRACH Rating: 162.0 (21st)

This Season: 10-6-2 overall, 1-4-3-0 NCHC (6th)
Last Season: 19-15-3 overall, 11-7-3-3 NCHC (3rd)

Team Offense: 2.83 goals scored/game – 34th of 64 teams
Team Defense: 2.78 goals allowed/game – 24th of 64 teams

Power Play: 11.3% (9 of 80) – 59th of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 81.7% (49 of 60) – 29th of 64 teams

Key Players: Junior Forward Tyler Mueller (6-7-13), Junior F Zach Urdahl (3-4-7 in 12 games), Graduate F Jack Randl (5-4-9), Freshman Forward Tanner Ludtke (4-5-9), Sophomore Defenseman Joaquim Lemay (4-6-10), Sophomore D Griffin Ludtke (3-7-10), Sophomore G Simon Latkoczy (7-5-2, 2.4 GAA, .911 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (9th season at UND, 194-97-32, .650)

National Rankings: #4/#4
Pairwise Ranking: 6th
KRACH Rating: 563.0 (6th)

This Season: 14-5-1 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: 3.80 goals scored/game – 9th of 64 teams
Team Defense: 2.35 goals allowed/game – 11th of 64 teams

Power Play: 21.1% (16 of 76) – 22nd of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 84.2% (48 of 57) – 16th of 64 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Jackson Blake (11-13-24), Senior F Riese Gaber (11-9-20), Graduate F Hunter Johannes (9-6-15), Freshman F Jayden Perron (8-2-10), Sophomore F Owen McLaughlin (7-13-20), Junior F Cameron Berg (9-10-19), Senior D Garrett Pyke (2-15-17), Freshman D Jake Livanavage (1-10-11), 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: March 12, 2023 (Omaha, NE). UND erupted for three goals in 102 seconds late in the third period to win the deciding game of the best-of-three playoff series by a score of 5-2. North Dakota freshman Dylan James scored a shorthanded goal with 29 seconds remaining in the middle frame to knot the game at 2-2. The Fighting Hawks held the Mavericks scoreless on six power play opportunities and went 1-for-8 with the man advantage. One night earlier, with their backs against the wall, UND scored once in each period – including an empty-net goal by James – to win 3-1 and even the series at one game apiece.

Last meeting in Grand Forks: March 4, 2023 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota defenseman Ethan Frissch broke a scoreless tie early in the third period, and fellow blueliner Chris Jandric scored with three minutes remaining to give UND a 2-1 lead that they would not relinquish. In Friday’s opener, UND saw a 3-1 lead evaporate in the final frame, with four total goals scored in the third period. The teams went to overtime tied at 4-4, and Ethan Frisch sent the fans home happy with his fifth goal of the season just 66 seconds into the extra session. For his efforts, Frisch was named the NCHC defenseman of the week, while freshman Dylan James scored his fifth and sixth goals of the season to be named the NCHC rookie of the week.

Most memorable meeting: The game that UND fans will long remember is the outdoor game played at TD Ameritrade Park (Omaha, Nebraska) on February 9th, 2013. One day after winning a tight 2-1 contest indoors, North Dakota throttled UNO 5-2 on a sunny, melty afternoon. Mavericks netminder John Faulkner was pulled after allowing three goals on five shots in just ten minutes of game action. In my opinion, this hockey weekend solidified the notion that for UND hockey, it’s always a home game.

Last ten: North Dakota has won six of the last ten contests between the schools, going 6-3-1 (.650) and outscoring the Mavericks 31-25 over that stretch. Seven of the last ten games in this series were played in Omaha.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 35-18-2 (.655), including a 17-9-1 (.648) record in games played in Grand Forks. North Dakota owns a record of 30-15-2 (.660) against the Mavericks since both teams joined the NCHC. The teams first met on November 19, 2010.

Game News and Notes

In 2015, both North Dakota and Omaha advanced to the Frozen Four but neither team made the championship game. UND fell to Boston University 5-3, while the Mavericks were upended 4-1 by eventual national champion Providence. Since joining the WCHA in 2011 (and later the NCHC), the Mavs have never reached the Twin Cities for the second weekend of the conference tournament despite having home ice in four of those nine years. North Dakota’s Brad Berry is 26-12-1 (.679) in his head coaching career against Omaha. UND’s Riese Gaber has 15 points against Omaha in his collegiate career (6-9-15 in fifteen games), while netminder Ludvig Persson has squared off against the Mavs eight times, with a record of 4-4-0, a goals-against average of 2.88, and a save percentage of .919. In 25 of the past 28 contests in this series, the winning team is the one which scores the first goal. This season, North Dakota is 12-3-1 (.781) when scoring first; Omaha, 9-5-0 (.643).

The Prediction

If Ludvig Persson can suit up this weekend, I like North Dakota’s chances. I think that Omaha will keep one game close, but if the Fighting Hawks can roll four lines, they’ve got the scoring depth to outlast the Mavericks. UND 3-2, 5-2.

Broadcast Information

Friday’s opener will start at 7:07 p.m. Central Time, with Saturday’s rematch beginning at 6:07 p.m. Both games this weekend will be broadcast live on Midco Sports and also 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 Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

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