Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Miami

#2 North Dakota (18-6-2, 9-0-0-5 NCHC) travels to Oxford, Ohio this weekend to face Miami (7-15-2, 1-11-0-2 NCHC) in league action at Goggin Ice Center.

Several impressive non-conference victories and last weekend’s home sweep over #5 Denver (5-2, 4-2) have vaulted UND near the top of the national rankings…

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. #9 Minnesota, at #3 Boston University) with wins the following night.

Remarkably, when North Dakota 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. UND leads St. Cloud State by four points and Denver by nine points with ten league games remaining. After this weekend, Brad Berry’s squad will play the following schedule down the stretch:

February 9th and 10th: No games scheduled
February 16th and 17th: at #14 Colorado College
February 23rd and 24th: vs. Minnesota Duluth
March 1st and 2nd: vs. #15 Western Michigan
March 8th and 9th: at #20 Omaha

According to KRACH, North Dakota has faced the nation’s fifth-toughest schedule to this point of the season, while the RedHawks’ schedule weighs in as the 29th-most difficult.

Before we dig into this weekend’s matchup, let’s take a quick look back at the past few games between the two teams…

Back in November, UND hosted Miami and throttled the visitors by scores of 6-4 and 5-1. On Friday night, the Fighting Hawks outshot their red counterparts 42-13 and allowed two late goals to make the final result appear closer than it actually was. MU played a better overall game on Saturday and matched North Dakota in the shot department (22 apiece), but four first-period goals were too much for Miami to overcome.

Last season’s trip to Oxford (January 2023) saw North Dakota blitz the homestanding RedHawks 4-1 and 8-0. UND went 4-for-8 with the man advantage on Saturday night and also scored a shorthanded goal.

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 eleven games, North Dakota has outscored Miami 56-20 (5.1 – 1.8 per contest) while holding a 385-222 advantage in shots on goal (35.0 – 20.2).

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-ranked North Dakota has gone 18-6-2 against Army (one game), #4 Wisconsin (one game), #9 Minnesota, Minnesota State, #3 Boston University, Minnesota Duluth, Miami, Bemidji State, #5 Denver (four games), #14 Colorado College, Alaska, Omaha, and #16 St. Cloud State, with a record of 13-4-1 at home and 5-2-1 on the road. UND has not lost in regulation since November 3rd and has not lost a conference game in regulation all season.

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)

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 returned 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 26 games of the 2023-2024 season, UND forwards have scored 93 goals and are on pace for 129 goals in the regular season alone. It is also encouraging that eleven North Dakota forwards already have multiple goals this season, led by Blake (16), Berg (14), Gaber (13), McLaughlin (9), Johannes (9), and Perron (8). Those six forwards combined for 25 goals over the past four weekends of game action.

Hunter Johannes has been out of the lineup for the past three games (lower-body injury) and will also miss this weekend’s action.

Perhaps alarmingly, Fighting Hawks defensemen have only scored seven goals this season (Pyke 3, Britt 2, Livanavage 2) to go along with their 51 combined assists in 161 games played (0.36 points/game). The offensive output from the blue line has been increasing lately, with Livanavage in particular chipping in more regularly (one goal and thirteen assists in his last fourteen games). Livanavage was recently named the NCHC Defenseman of the Week, the NCHC Rookie of the Month, and a candidate for the Tim Taylor Award (National Rookie of the Year).

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Chris Bergeron’s squad has just four lineup regulars who meet that threshold: senior forward Matthew Barbolini (9-12-21), sophomore forward John Waldron (6-9-15), senior forward PJ Fletcher (11-10-21), and junior forward Raimonds Vitolins (4-8-12 in 18 games).

Barbolini is expected to be out of the lineup on Friday night, while Vitolins is questionable.

By that same measure, North Dakota has eight players at a half point or better, including three – sophomore forward Jackson Blake (16-18-34), sophomore forward Owen McLaughlin (9-19-28), and Cameron Berg (14-12-26) – averaging a point per game or better. Other offensive contributors include senior forward Riese Gaber (13-10-23), graduate forward Hunter Johannes (9-6-15), senior forward Louis Jamernik V (6-8-14), senior defenseman Garrett Pyke (3-19-22), and freshman defenseman Jake Livanavage (2-15-17).

On the injury front, North Dakota graduate forwards Hunter Johannes and Carson Albrecht will miss this weekend’s series.

UND is 4th in the nation in shooting percentage at 12.5% (100 goals on 801 shots); by comparison, Miami sits in 52nd place at 8.5% (57 goals on 668 shots). To this point in the season, UND clearly has an advantage in shots on goal (30.8 to 27.8), and the Fighting Hawks only allow 25.0 shots on goal per game (MU allows 30.7).

UND also leads Miami in two key puck possession statistics:

North Dakota: 14th in Corsi (53.4%) and 9th in Fenwick (55.0%)
Miami: 42nd in Corsi (48.7%) and 46th in Fenwick (48.0%)

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 15th-best team on draws (52.7%), while the RedHawks clock in at just 46.0% (55th).

For UND, junior Cameron Berg has been making a living on draws, winning 264 of 449 (58.8%). Senior Louis Jamernik V (165 of 289, 57.1%) has been improving, while sophomore Owen McLaughlin (143 of 295, 48.5) has struggled of late.

For Miami, there hasn’t really been a good option, although sophomore Blake Mesenburg has stepped in admirably, winning 50.0% (146 of 292). Junior Raimonds Vitolins (149 of 318, 46.9%) has done a fair job when he’s been in the lineup, and sophomore William Hallen (142 of 306, 46.4%) has been coming on lately.

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 questionable for Friday’s opener.

To this point in the season, North Dakota has had far the better of the specialty teams play. UND has been a combined plus-15, with 24 power play goals scored (24 of 89, 27.0%, 5th in the country) and only twelve power play goals allowed (57 of 69, 82.6%, 22nd), with three shorthanded goals scored and none allowed.

Miami has posted a minus-6, with only ELEVEN power play goals scored (11 of 88, 12.5%, 60th), sixteen power play goals allowed (67 of 83, 80.7%, 34th), one shorthanded goals scored, and two allowed.

It is also worth noting that UND has earned twenty more power plays than penalty kill situations (89-69), while Miami has had five extra power plays this season (88-83).

North Dakota’s power play has been on fire since Christmas, scoring eleven times on 23 man-advantage opportunities (47.8%).

North Dakota is 6th in the country in scoring offense (3.85 goals scored/game) and 10th in the country in scoring defense (2.42 goals allowed/game). Miami is 55th in the country in scoring offense (2.38 goals scored/game) and slightly better on the defensive side, allowing 3.33 goals/game (49th).

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 all but three games between the pipes for the Fighting Hawks, posting a record of 15-6-2 with a goals-against average of 2.37, a save percentage of .905, and three shutouts.

Persson was ill a month 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).

Three weeks ago, 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. Persson started both games in St. Cloud two weeks, and he shined, stopping 66 of 72 shots which came his way for a combined save percentage of .917. Persson wasn’t tested much last weekend in UND’s home sweep of Denver; he allowed two goals each night while making 17 saves on Friday night and 22 saves in the rematch.

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 91 goals, a difference of 19 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 had been relying on graduate goaltender Logan Neaton (6-10-2, 3.06 GAA, .901 SV%, 1 SO) this season, but he has been out of the lineup since January 13th due to injury and isn’t expected to start this weekend. Neaton is the lone NHL draft pick on the RedHawks roster (Winnipeg Jets Round 5 #144 overall in 2019). Neaton transferred from UMass-Lowell in the fall of 2021 and appeared in sixteen games over the past two seasons with Miami.

In his place, Chris Bergeron will turn to freshman netminder Bruno Bruveris (stats), who has started the last four games in net, going 0-4-0 at Colorado College and Minnesota Duluth while allowing 15 goals (3.86 GAA) and stopping 97 of 112 shots (.866 SV%).

North Dakota currently finds itself in 2nd place in the all-important Pairwise rankings, with victories over Boston University (PWR 3), Wisconsin (PWR 4), Denver (PWR 6), and Minnesota (PWR 9) certainly helping the cause. After this weekend, UND will face Minnesota Duluth (PWR 26) and Western Michigan (PWR 14) at home and travel to Colorado College (PWR 18) and Omaha (PWR 19) to close out the regular season. With a top-four finish in the NCHC, UND should be a lock for the national tournament.

At #43 in the Pairwise, Miami will need to get on a run quickly or win the 2024 NCHC Frozen Faceoff to earn the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2015.

Miami Team Profile

Head Coach: Chris Bergeron (5th season at Miami, 35-105-15, .274)

National Rankings: NR/NR
Pairwise Ranking: 43rd
KRACH Rating: 61.1 (42nd)

This Season: 7-15-2 overall, 1-11-0-2 NCHC (8th)
Last Season: 8-24-4 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 3-16-0-5 NCHC (8th)

2023-2024 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.38 goals scored/game – 55th of 64 teams
Team Defense: 3.33 goals allowed/game – 49th of 64 teams

Power Play: 12.5% (11 of 88) – 60th of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 80.7% (67 of 83) – 34th of 64 teams

Key players: Senior F PJ Fletcher (11-10-21), Sophomore F John Waldron (6-9-15), F William Hallen (3-7-10), Junior F Raimonds Vitolins (3-3-6 in 7 games), Graduate D Jack Clement (1-7-8), Senior D Hampus Rydqvist (1-7-8), Freshman G Bruno Bruveris (1-5-0, 3.48 GAA, .877 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (9th season at UND, 198-98-33, .652)

National Rankings: #2/#2
Pairwise Ranking: 2nd
KRACH Rating: 679.1 (2nd)

This Season: 18-6-2 overall, 9-0-0-5 NCHC (1st)
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: 3.85 goals scored/game – 6th of 64 teams
Team Defense: 2.42 goals allowed/game – 10th of 64 teams

Power Play: 27.0% (24 of 89) – 5th of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 82.6% (57 of 69) – 22nd of 64 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Jackson Blake (16-18-34), Senior F Riese Gaber (13-10-23), Sophomore F Owen McLaughlin (9-19-28), Junior F Cameron Berg (14-12-26), Senior F Louis Jamernik V (6-8-14), Senior D Garrett Pyke (3-19-22), Freshman D Jake Livanavage (2-15-17), Senior G Ludvig Persson (15-6-2, 2.37 GAA, .905 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: November 18, 2023 (Grand Forks, ND). Miami matched North Dakota in the shot department (22 apiece), but four first-period goals were too much for Miami to overcome in a 5-1 victory for UND. One night earlier, the Fighting Hawks outshot their red counterparts 42-13 in a 6-4 win. Two late MU goals made the final result appear closer than it actually was.

Last Meeting in Oxford: January 28, 2023. 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.

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 54-20 over that stretch of games.

All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 27-8-4 (.744), including a sparkling 10-4-2 (.688) record in games played in Oxford. Brad Berry is 20-4-3 (.796) in his coaching career against Miami. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).

Game News and Notes

In eleven career games against Miami, junior forward Riese Gaber has scored twelve goals and added seven assists. MU has not made the national tournament since 2015, their second season in the NCHC. As a team, North Dakota has blocked 344 shots this season, led by Bennett Zmolek (55), Garrett Pyke (38), and Abram Wiebe (37). Miami head coach Chris Bergeron has lost more games in his five seasons at Miami (35-105-15, .274) than North Dakota bench boss Brad Berry has in his nine seasons at UND (198-98-33, .652). With two more victories, Berry would reach the 200-win plateau, a mark achieved by fewer than 100 coaches in NCAA Division I men’s college hockey history. North Dakota boasts three Hobey Baker nominees – Jackson Blake, Riese Gaber, and Ludvig Persson; Miami has one – Matthew Barbolini. MU has been outscored 29-12 in second periods this season. Green Hawks are preferable to RedHawks.

The Prediction

Miami is playing at home (and that will help somewhat), but 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 (Omaha, St. Cloud State, and Denver). 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 4-2, 5-1.

Broadcast Information

Both games will be available via webcastat NCHC.tv. Puck drop is set for 6:07 p.m. Central Time each 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.

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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