Weekend Preview: UND at St. Cloud State

#6 North Dakota (15-6-1 overall, 6-0-0-4 NCHC) travels to St. Cloud this weekend to face the #13 Huskies (11-6-3 overall, 7-1-1-1 NCHC) in a battle for first place in the NCHC.

UND trails SCSU by just two points in the league standings, with six conference points up for grabs in this series, the only two games scheduled between the programs this season.

Last year, St. Cloud State got the better of the Fighting Hawks, winning four of five games and ending UND’s season in the semifinals of the 2023 NCHC Frozen Faceoff in St. Paul.

During the 2022-23 regular season, SCSU embarrassed North Dakota in St. Cloud, winning both games on the wide sheet by comfortable margins (7-2, 6-3). On Friday night, a disastrous second period saw the Huskies score every which way: at even strength, shorthanded, with the extra attacker on a delayed penalty, and on the ensuing power play. Saturday’s game at the Herb Brooks Center was a different kind of disturbing for fans of the Green and White, as the visitors led 3-0 early in the second period. The Huskies would get on the board just 23 seconds after UND’s third tally, and then it was the Zach Okabe show, as the senior forward scored a natural hat trick in under nine minutes of game action (from the 18:12 mark of the middle frame through the 7:05 mark of the third period). SCSU would add two late goals – including an empty-netter – to make the score look lopsided.

In the rematch in Grand Forks, both games went to overtime, with UND scoring during 3-on-3 play on Friday night before losing in a shootout in Saturday’s finale.

The Fighting Hawks have clearly struggled lately against the Huskies, winning just once in the past six games.

This season, both teams are in great shape for home ice in the first round of the playoffs, although St. Cloud State – currently sitting in 12th place in the Pairwise rankings – is in a much more precarious position in the national picture.

North Dakota is currently 7th in the Pairwise, finding itself in such good shape after compiling a record of 9-2-1 in non-conference play, including some impressive victories…

North Dakota blanked #4 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 #1 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 fifteen games and well over two months.

According to KRACH, North Dakota has faced the nation’s seventh-toughest schedule to this point of the season, while the Huskies’ 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 (.735).

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.

#6-ranked North Dakota has gone 15-6-1 against Army, #4 Wisconsin, #10 Minnesota, Minnesota State, #1 Boston University, Minnesota Duluth, Miami, Bemidji State, #5 Denver, #18 Colorado College, Alaska, and #19 Omaha, with a record of 11-4-1 at home and 4-2-0 on the road. Four of UND’s six 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 22 games of the 2023-2024 season, UND forwards have scored 78 goals and are on pace for 128 goals in the regular season alone. It is also encouraging that eleven North Dakota forwards already have multiple goals this season, led by Blake (12), Gaber (12), Berg (10), Johannes (9), McLaughlin (9), and Perron (8). Those six forwards combined for fifteen goals over the past two weekends of game action.

Perhaps alarmingly, Fighting Hawks defensemen have only scored five goals this season (Britt 2, Pyke 2, Livanavage 1) to go along with their 40 combined assists in 136 games played (0.29 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 ten games).

By comparison, SCSU’s top six defensemen (Dylan Anhorn, Jack Peart, Cooper Wylie, Josh Luedtke, Warren Clark, and Karl Falk) have combined for eight goals and 30 assists in 115 games played (0.33 points/game).

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Brett Larson’s squad has just six lineup regulars who meet that threshold: graduate forward Kyler Kupka (8-10-18), senior forward Veeti Miettinen (11-5-16), sophomore forward Adam Ingram (5-11-16), graduate forward Zach Okabe, senior forward Joe Molenaar (7-3-10), and graduate defenseman Dylan Anhorn (3-15-18).

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 (12-14-26), senior forward Riese Gaber (12-10-22), and sophomore forward Owen McLaughlin (8-15-23). Other offensive contributors include junior forward Cameron Berg (10-10-20), graduate forward Hunter Johannes (9-6-15), sophomore forward Dylan James (4-7-11), senior forward Louis Jamernik V (5-6-11), senior defenseman Garrett Pyke (2-17-19), and freshman defenseman Jake Livanavage (1-10-11).

Offensively, UND outpaces SCSU by a large margin. To this point of the season, North Dakota has scored 83 goals in 22 games (3.80 goals per game, 8th in the country), while St. Cloud State has managed just 63 in twenty games (3.15, 21st).

The Fighting Hawks are fifth in the nation in shooting percentage at 12.0%. SCSU clocks in at 10.3%, good for 26th in the country. UND also gets the puck to the net, averaging 31.4 shots on goal per game (27th). The Huskies aren’t far behind, with 30.7 shots on goal per contest (24th).

On the defensive side, UND has only allowed 535 shots on goal this season in 22 games (24.3/game, 6th), while St. Cloud State has allowed 540 in 20 games (27.0, 13th).

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

North Dakota: 11th in Corsi (54.5%) and 8th in Fenwick (56.1%)
St. Cloud State: 19th in Corsi (52.8%); 16th in Fenwick (53.0%)

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 17th-best team on draws (52.2%), while the Huskies clock in at 51.7% (20th).

For UND, junior Cameron Berg has been making a living on draws, winning 224 of 379 (59.1%). Senior Louis Jamernik V (142 of 252, 56.3%) has been improving, while sophomore Owen McLaughlin (121 of 253, 47.8) has struggled of late.

For SCSU, junior Mason Salquist has been the best option (200 of 343, 58.3%); Salquist is a native of Grand Forks. Head coach Brett Larson has also called on two freshmen to do some heavy lifting in the dot: Verner Miettinen (137 of 262, 52.3%) and Tyson Gross (133 of 261, 51.0%); they have both performed admirably.

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 eighteen power play goals scored (18 of 80, 22.5%, 15th in the country) and eleven power play goals allowed (50 of 61, 82.0%, 27th), with three shorthanded goals scored and none allowed.

The Huskies have posted a meager plus-1, with fifteen power play goals scored (15 of 80, 18.8%, 34th), thirteen power play goals allowed (63 of 76, 82.9%, 22nd), one shorthanded goal scored, and two allowed.

It is also worth noting that UND has earned nineteen more power plays than penalty kill situations (80-61), while St. Cloud State has only earned four more man-advantage situations than shorthanded situations (80-76).

North Dakota is 8th in the country in scoring offense (3.80 goals scored/game) and an equally impressive 10th in the country in scoring defense (2.41 goals allowed/game).

St. Cloud State is 21st in the country in scoring offense (3.15 goals scored/game) and 8th in the country in scoring defense (2.40 goals allowed/game).

A huge key to UND’s defensive turnaround this season has been the play of senior netminder Ludvig Persson. Up until two weeks ago, 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 two weekends ago, 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).

Last week, Persson returned to practice on Wednesday and got the start on Friday, but he struggled, allowing five goals on 24 shots. Hedquist stepped in on Saturday, making 22 of 23 saves and earning his third victory of the season. The team has not announced a starter for Friday night’s opener in St. Cloud.

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 93 goals, a difference of 17 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.

St. Cloud State’s top netminder – senior Dominic Basse – is also a transfer. Basse spent his first two seasons at Colorado College before switching jerseys prior to last season, and the change of scenery has done him well:

2020-2021 (CC): 4-11-1, 3.18 goals-against average, .895 save percentage
2021-2022 (CC): 6-15-2, 3.23 goals-against average, .888 save percentage, one shutout

2022-2023 (SCSU): 11-5-2, 2.30 goals-against average, .911 save percentage, three shutouts
2023-2024 (SCSU): 10-6-1, 2.31 goals-against average, .911 save percentage, three shutouts

The two most glaring differences between this year’s version of the Cardinal and Black and the teams UND fans might be used to facing are SCSU’s power play and the Huskies’ home record.

St. Cloud State is notorious for being tough to play against on home ice, as the Huskies are one of just two teams remaining in all of Division I college hockey to play on a full 100-foot-wide sheet of ice (Alaska being the other). In 2021-22 and 2022-23, SCSU went a combined 25-9-5 (.705) at the Herb Brooks Center.

This year, St. Cloud is just 6-3-1 (.650) at home, with losses to Michigan (understandable), Alaska (puzzling), and St. Thomas (baffling).

SCSU finished up the 2021-22 campaign with the nation’s best power play (45 of 145, 31.0%) and followed that up with the fifth-best clip in the country last season (40 of 157, 25.5%).

This year, as mentioned above, the Huskies have gone just 15 of 80 (18.8%), a mark that has St. Cloud State in the bottom half nationally in that category (34th).

In a strange way, those two stuggles may benefit SCSU in the long run. In the past, the Huskies have performed extremely well on the wide sheet of ice and gotten by during the regular season by dominating teams with their power play. That has not translated into much postseason success, however, as all games in the national tournament must be played on NHL ice surfaces (85 feet wide) and power play opportunities are harder to come by in the playoffs.

Perhaps this year’s version of the Cardinal and Red has a formula that will lead to a deep NCAA tourney run.

North Dakota currently finds itself in seventh place in the all-important Pairwise rankings, with victories over Boston University (PWR 1), Wisconsin (PWR 5), Denver (PWR 8), and Minnesota (PWR 11) 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.

After this weekend, UND’s other conference series in the second half are 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 19).

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 #12 in the Pairwise, St. Cloud State has some work to do to solidify a sixth-straight NCAA tourney bid (with a record of 13-15-6 in 2019-2020, SCSU would have missed the field of sixteen, but there was no national tournament).

North Dakota (2015, 2016, 2020, 2021, and 2022) and St. Cloud State (2014, 2018, and 2019) have combined to win the regular season title in eight of the ten seasons of the NCHC. The Huskies also won the last WCHA conference title in 2013.

St. Cloud State Team Profile

Head Coach: Brett Larson (6th season at SCSU, 117-66-19, .626)

National Rankings: #13/#12
Pairwise Ranking: 12th
KRACH Rating: 281.0 (13th)

This Season: 11-6-3 overall, 7-1-1-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 25-13-3 overall (NCAA West Regional Finalist), 10-8-5-1 NCHC (4th)

2023-24 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.15 goals scored/game – 21st of 64 teams
Team Defense: 2.40 goals allowed/game – 8th of 64 teams

Power Play: 18.8% (15 of 80) – 34th of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 82.9% (63 of 76) – 22nd of 64 teams

Key players: Graduate F Kyler Kupka (8-10-18), Senior F Veeti Miettinen (11-5-16), Sophomore F Adam Ingram (5-11-16), Graduate F Zach Okabe, Senior F Joe Molenaar (7-3-10), Graduate D Dylan Anhorn (3-15-18), Junior D Jack Peart (2-5-7), Senior G Dominic Basse (10-6-1, 2.31 GAA, .911 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (9th season at UND, 195-98-32, .649)

National Rankings: #6/#7
Pairwise Ranking: 7th
KRACH Rating: 534.0 (7th)

This Season: 15-6-1 overall, 6-0-0-4 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 – 8th of 64 teams
Team Defense: 2.41 goals allowed/game – 10th of 64 teams

Power Play: 22.5% (18 of 80) – 15th of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 82.0% (50 of 61) – 27th of 64 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Jackson Blake (12-14-26), Senior F Riese Gaber (12-10-22), Sophomore F Owen McLaughlin (8-15-23), Junior F Cameron Berg (10-10-20), Graduate F Hunter Johannes (9-6-15), Freshman F Jayden Perron (8-2-10), Senior D Garrett Pyke (2-17-19), Freshman D Jake Livanavage (1-10-11), Graduate D Logan Britt (2-4-6), Senior G Ludvig Persson (12-6-1, 2.35 GAA, .903 SV%, 3 SO), Freshman G Hobie Hedquist (3-0-0, 2.34 GAA, .899 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 17, 2023 (St. Paul, MN). With its season on the line, North Dakota could not find the luck of the Irish, falling 3-2 in overtime in the semifinal of the 2023 NCHC Frozen Faceoff. UND built one-goal leads in each of the first two periods, only to find the Huskies pull even each time. Not quite six minutes into the extra session, St. Cloud State’s Zach Okabe ended the Fighting Hawks’ season. SCSU would go on to win the league’s playoff championship with a 3-0 victory over Colorado College, denying the Tigers a tourney bid as well.

Last Meeting in St. Cloud: December 3, 2022. Saturday’s series finale at the Herb Brooks Center was disappointing for fans of the Green and White, as the visitors let a 3-0 second-period lead dissolve into thin air on the wide sheet. The Huskies would get on the board just 23 seconds after UND’s third tally, and then it was the Zach Okabe show, as the senior forward scored a natural hat trick in under nine minutes of game action (from the 18:12 mark of the middle frame through the 7:05 mark of the third period). SCSU would add two late goals – including an empty-netter – for the 6-3 final score. In Friday’s opener, a disastrous second period saw the Huskies score every which way – at even strength, shorthanded, with the extra attacker on a delayed penalty, and on the ensuing power play – on their way to a 7-2 victory.

A Recent Memory: March 16, 2021 (Grand Forks, ND). One night before St. Patrick’s Day, North Dakota enjoyed playing for the NCHC playoff title in front of a whole bunch of green. St. Cloud State led 2-1 after two periods, but the Fighting Hawks stormed back with four third-period goals – including three in the span of 122 seconds early in the final frame and an empty-netter to seal the 5-3 victory and the program’s first Frozen Faceoff championship. UND senior Jordan Kawaguchi and freshman Riese Gaber each had two goals and an assist.

Most Important Meeting: NCAA West Regional Final in Fargo, ND (March 28, 2015). North Dakota scored three unassisted goals over the final two periods of the hockey game to defeat St. Cloud State 4-1 in the West Regional Final and advance to the NCAA Frozen Four. Jimmy Murray got the Huskies on the board less than 90 seconds in to the hockey game, but that did nothing to quiet the partisan crowd of 5,307 at SCHEELS Arena. Four different players scored for UND, while Zane McIntyre made 19 stops to earn his 29th and final victory of the season.

All-Time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series, 80-49-17 (.606), including a record of 30-26-0 (.536) in games played in St. Cloud. The teams have been squaring off regularly since the 1989-90 season but have only met once in the NCAA tournament (2015).

Last Ten: In the last ten tilts between the teams, each team has won four times, with the other two games ending in a tie. St. Cloud State has lit the lamp 39 times over that stretch; UND, just 34. SCSU has definitely had the better of it in the past six games, with a 3-1-2 record and a scoring margin of 24-16.

Game News and Notes

UND’s Riese Gaber has nine goals and fourteen points in twelve career games against the Huskies; Gaber was held off of the scoresheet at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. Since SCSU began competing in the WCHA in 1990, the Huskies have made the national tournament sixteen times, with Frozen Four appearances in 2013 and 2021 (zero titles). Over that same stretch, North Dakota has appeared in the NCAA tourney 23 times, with eleven Frozen Fours and three national championships (1997, 2000, 2016). UND head coach Brad Berry is 14-12-5 (.532) in his head coaching career against the Huskies. Fighting Hawks’ senior netminder Ludvig Persson has faced the Huskies nine times in his collegiate career (all with Miami), with a record of 2-5-2, a goals-against average of 4.62, and a save percentage of .872. St. Cloud State has not won an overtime game this season (0-2-3). By announcing plans for a “Whiteout” on Friday night, the SCSU Athletic Department has unwittingly helped turn the Herb Brooks Center into a wonderful combination of Green and White.

The Prediction

North Dakota has a chance to do some damage this weekend, although strange things always seem to happen on the wide sheet in St. Cloud. The first ten minutes on Friday night are the most important stretch of the season to this point, and if UND can come out of that without trailing by more than a goal, I like this team’s chances to have some success. The Fighting Hawks could earn more than a split this weekend if everything breaks their way, but the more likely result is a split. UND 4-2., SCSU 4-3

Broadcast Information

Both games this weekend will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and also available via webcast at NCHC.tv. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:37 p.m. Central Time on Friday, with a 6:07 p.m. start time on Saturday night. 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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