Weekend Preview: UND vs. Western Michigan

#3 North Dakota (22-8-2 overall, 12-2-1-5 NCHC) hosts #12 Western Michigan (18-11-1 overall, 8-6-1-5 NCHC) in the first meeting between the two teams this season. Last year, UND managed to take five of six league points on the road (2-2 tie/shootout win; 3-0 win), but the Broncos swept the Fighting Hawks at Ralph Engelstad Arena (4-0, 7-6) to take the season series.

UND finds itself near the top of the national rankings (USCHO #3, USA Hockey #3) and in the all-important Pairwise rankings (3rd) this season thanks in large part to its impressive non-conference 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. #8 Minnesota, at #2 Boston University) with wins the following night.

Last season, UND and WMU tangled at Lawson Ice Arena in December 2022 with the Fighting Hawks securing five of six possible league points with a 2-2 overtime tie (shootout win) and a 3-0 victory.

UND found success at Lawson Arena by limiting high-quality chances, winning the special teams battle (2 for 7 on the power play and a perfect eight-for-eight on the penalty kill), and getting excellent goaltending from Drew DeRidder, who made 51 of 53 saves (.962) and added three stops in the five-round shootout.

WMU’s Jamie Rome (from Aiden Fulp and Tim Washe) and Jack Perbix (from Dylan Wendt) were the only two goal scorers that weekend, which means that the Broncos’ Big Three of Jason Polin, Max Sasson, and Ryan McAllister – who combined for 58 goals and 138 points in 116 games played last season – were held off the scoresheet for the entire weekend. The frustration mounted for WMU’s top line, as Sasson and McAllister combined for eight minutes in penalties in the series.

In the rematch series in Grand Forks (January 2023), Western Michigan’s top line picked up six points in Friday’s opener, a 4-0 Broncos victory. In Saturday’s rematch, the same three potent forwards were held off the scoresheet, yet, somehow, WMU still won 7-6.

Thankfully for fans of the Green and White, Pollin, Sasson, and McAllister are not on Western’s roster this season.

Even without those three forwards driving the offense, third-year Broncos head coach Pat Ferschweiler (WMU ’93) has his team playing at an extremely high level, with Western Michigan exhibiting the nation’s 8th-best offense (3.70 goals scored/game) as well as the 7th-best defense (2.33 goals allowed/game).

UND is slightly better on the offensive side of the ledger (3.81 goals scored/game; 7th) but has allowed a few more goals against (2.59, 16th).

Ferschweiler, who had previously been the WMU associate head coach under Andy Murray, also spent four seasons as an assistant coach for the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings.

In his rookie campaign two seasons ago, Ferschweiler went 26-12-1 and brought his team within one game of the Frozen Four, falling to Minnesota in the regional final. In September of 2022, the Western Michigan bench boss was extended through the 2025-26 season. Last season, he led the Broncos to a 2nd-place finish in the NCHC, an overall record of 23-15-1, and another NCAA tournament appearance.

Coming into its series against Colorado College two weekends ago, the Fighting Hawks had taken care of business in NCHC action, earning points in its first sixteen league games (10-0-1-5). That streak came to an end in the Springs, as UND dropped two games to the Tigers, bringing their season mark against CC to 0-2-0-2 (two regulation losses; two 3-on-3 overtime losses). Last weekend, North Dakota completed a home sweep against Minnesota Duluth to stay on top of the league standings.

UND has earned the majority of points against every team in the conference not named Colorado College:

vs. Denver: 7-5 win, 2-3 OT loss, 5-2 win, 4-2 win (10 of 12 league points)
vs. Miami: 6-4 win, 5-1 win, 5-4 OT win, 4-1 win (11 of 12 league points)
vs. Minnesota Duluth: 4-2 win, 2-0 win, 6-0 win, 4-2 win (12 of 12 league points)
vs. Omaha: 4-5 OT loss, 3-1 win (4 of 6 league points)
vs. St. Cloud State: 5-3 win, 3-3 tie/shootout loss (4 of 6 league points)

UND leads St. Cloud State by three conference points, Denver by seven points, and Colorado College by nine points with four games remaining for each team. Every regulation victory counts as three points.

Here are the matchups over the final two weekends of the regular season for the top four teams in the conference:

UND: vs. Western Michigan, at Omaha
St. Cloud State: vs. Denver, at Minnesota Duluth
Denver: at St. Cloud State, at/vs. Colorado College
Colorado College: vs. Minnesota Duluth, vs./at Denver

There is an outside chance that North Dakota could clinch the Penrose Cup (NCHC regular season championship) this weekend in Grand Forks.

In the ten completed seasons of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, only UND, Denver, and St. Cloud State have won the Penrose Cup.

According to KRACH, North Dakota has faced the nation’s sixth-toughest schedule to this point of the season, while the Broncos’ schedule weighs in as the 24th-most difficult. Despite its tough slate of games, the Green and White have the third-best winning percentage in the country (.729).

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.

And turning our attention to this season…

#3-ranked North Dakota has gone 22-8-2 against Army (one game), #4 Wisconsin (one game), #8 Minnesota, Minnesota State, #2 Boston University, Minnesota Duluth (four games), Miami (four games), Bemidji State, #5 Denver (four games), #11 Colorado College (four games), Alaska, #18 Omaha, and #15 St. Cloud State, with a record of 15-4-1 at home and 7-4-1 on the road. Prior to two weeks ago in Colorado Springs (February 16th and 17th), UND had not lost in regulation since November 3rd.

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 Perron (24 with the Chicago Steel of the USHL), North Dakota has already surpassed the 102 goals scored all of last season by its forward group.

Over the first 32 games of the 2023-2024 season, UND forwards have scored 110 goals and are on pace for 124 goals in the regular season alone. It is also encouraging that eleven North Dakota forwards already have multiple goals this season, led by Blake (18), Berg (18), Gaber (16), McLaughlin (10), Perron (10), and Johannes (9 in 23 games). Those first five forwards have combined for 35 goals over the past seven weekends of game action.

Hunter Johannes has been out of the lineup for the past nine games (lower-body injury); he is expected to be in the lineup this weekend against the Broncos.

Prior to UND’s series three weekends ago against Miami, Fighting Hawks defensemen had only scored seven goals all season. And then, Logan Britt happened.

The grad transfer from Sacred Heart scored three goals on the weekend and was named the NCHC Defenseman of the Week. Freshman Jake Livanavage added his third goal of the season to bring the d-corps total to eleven. Livanavage was recently named the NCHC Defenseman of the Week (January 29th), the NCHC Rookie of the Month (January), and a candidate for the Tim Taylor Award (National Rookie of the Year).

Two weekends ago at CC, freshman defenseman Abram Wiebe notched his first career collegiate goal, while fellow blueliners Garrett Pyke and Jake Livanavage added assists. And last weekend, North Dakota’s d-corps chipped in with seven assists in a weekend sweep of Duluth.

The six regular blueliners for North Dakota (Pyke, Livanavage, Britt, Wiebe, Zmolek, and Pehrson) have now collected a total of 73 points (12 goals and 61 assists) in 183 games played (0.40 points/game). As mentioned above, the offensive output from the blue line has been increasing lately, with Livanavage in particular chipping in more regularly (two goals and seventeen assists in his last twenty games).

By comparison, the six Broncos defensemen expected in the lineup this weekend have scored twelve goals and added 46 assists for 58 points in 157 games played for an average of 0.37 points/game).

Senior blueliner Jacob Bauer (0-4-4 in 21 games played) will be out of the lineup this weekend with an injury. Fellow senior Daniel Hilsendanger (0-4-4 in 25 games played) – who hasn’t played in a month – will be inserted into the lineup in his place.

In the Division I era (since 1975), the Broncos have had fifteen twenty-win seasons, with nine of those coming between 1984 and 1996 under head coach Bill Wilkinson. WMU has made the national tournament five times since 1996.

Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, a half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Pat Ferschweiler’s squad has NINE lineup regulars who meet that threshold, including three players averaging over a point per game: senior forward Luke Grainger (12-30-42), junior forward Dylan Wendt (21-16-37), and graduate forward Sam Colangelo (19-17-36). Other solid offensive contributors include freshman forward Alex Bump (11-16-27), graduate forward Ethan Phillips (9-14-23), senior forward Matteo Costantini (7-17-24), senior forward Chad Hillebrand (5-18-23), graduate defenseman Zak Galambos (7-10-17), and graduate defenseman Carter Berger (3-13-16, no relation).

Matteo Costantini spent his first two seasons at North Dakota (10-14-24 in 60 games played) before transferring to Western Michigan. After amassing 21 points in a brilliant freshman campaign, the fifth-round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres only managed three points in a disappointing sophomore season. Costantini was not in the UND lineup for the final six games of 2022-2023.

By that same measure, North Dakota has seven players at a half point or better, including three – sophomore forward Jackson Blake (18-29-47), sophomore forward Owen McLaughlin (10-21-31), and Cameron Berg (18-15-33) – averaging a point per game or better. Other offensive contributors include senior forward Riese Gaber (16-14-30), graduate forward Hunter Johannes (9-6-15 in 23 games), senior defenseman Garrett Pyke (3-21-24), and freshman defenseman Jake Livanavage (3-19-22).

Jackson Blake is making a strong push for college hockey’s Hobey Baker Memorial Award. Blake picked up seven points last weekend against Minnesota Duluth and has collected 25 points (seven goals and eighteen assists) since the calendar year turned to 2024 (fourteen games).

As mentioned above, these two teams are very similar on the offensive side. UND scores 3.81 goals per game (7th in the country), while Western Michigan scores 3.70 (8th).

If there is one difference, however, it is the fact that North Dakota has scored its 122 goals on only 986 shots on goal (a shooting percentage of 12.4%, 3rd in the country), while the Broncos have scored 111 goals on 1099 shots on goal (10.1%, 26th).

Clearly, WMU is getting pucks to the net (36.6 shots on goal per game; 2nd in the country) more than North Dakota (30.8; 20th) but isn’t burying as many of its chances.

On the defensive side, UND has only allowed 823 shots on goal this season in 32 games (25.7/game, 9th), while Western Michigan has allowed 777 in 30 games (25.9, 10th).

The Broncos are also superior in two key puck possession statistics:

North Dakota: 16th in Corsi (53.3%) and 9th in Fenwick (54.7%)
Western Michigan: 2nd in Corsi (60.6%) and Fenwick (60.4%)

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 (52.2%), while the Broncos clock in as the 10th-best face-off team in the country (53.6%).

For UND, junior Cameron Berg has been making a living on draws, winning 320 of 554 (57.8%). Senior Louis Jamernik V (192 of 336, 57.1%) has more than held his own, while sophomore Owen McLaughlin (169 of 364, 46.4%) has struggled of late.

For Western Michigan, senior Tim Washe (347 of 542, 64.0%) has had the most success, using his large frame (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) to dominate smaller centers. Senior Luke Grainger has taken the most draws (293 of 592, 49.5%), with classmate Matteo Costantini (169 of 375, 49.1%) chipping in as well.

To this point in the season, North Dakota has had the better of the specialty teams play. UND has been a combined plus-15, with 30 power play goals scored (30 of 115, 26.1%, 7th in the country) and seventeen power play goals allowed (71 of 88, 80.7%, 28th), with three shorthanded goals scored and one allowed.

WMU has posted a plus-7, with 24 power play goals scored (24 of 106, 22.6%, 19th), seventeen power play goals allowed (87 of 104, 83.7%, 15th), no shorthanded goals scored, and none allowed.

UND has a better specialty teams scoring margin due to the fact that North Dakota has earned 27 more power plays than penalty kill situations (115-88), while the Broncos have only had two “extra” power plays this season (106-104).

North Dakota is 7th in the country in scoring offense (3.81 goals scored/game) and a solid 16th in the country in scoring defense (2.59 goals allowed/game).

Western Michigan is 8th in the country in scoring offense (3.70 goals scored/game) and even better on the defensive side, allowing just 2.33 goals per game (7th).

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 19-8-2 with a goals-against average of 2.50, a save percentage of .903, and four shutouts.

Persson was ill two months 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).

Persson returned to practice on a 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 last month and he shined, stopping 66 of 72 shots which came his way for a combined save percentage of .917. Persson wasn’t tested much 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. In a road sweep at Miami, Persson stopped 60 of 65 shots (.923).

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 94 goals, a difference of sixteen 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.

Senior netminder Cameron Rowe has played every minute between the pipes for the Broncos, posting a record of 18-11-1 with a goals-against average of 2.26, a save percentage of .912, and two shutouts. Rowe played his first two seasons at Wisconsin before transferring to WMU in the fall of 2022.

North Dakota currently finds itself in 3rd place in the all-important Pairwise rankings, with victories over Boston University (PWR 2), Wisconsin (PWR 4), Denver (PWR 6), Minnesota (PWR 8), and St. Cloud State (PWR 11) certainly helping the cause. With four games remaining in the regular season, UND is a virtual lock for the national tournament and will likely be a #1-seed at one of the four regional sites. North Dakota fans hoping for UND tournament games in Sioux Falls, South Dakota should be actively rooting against Omaha; if the Mavericks somehow make the tournament, they would automatically be placed in Sioux Falls, and, as the likely #4-seed at that regional, that placement would bounce UND to a different regional site (the committee avoids first-round matchups between teams from the same conference).

Western Michigan Broncos

Head Coach: Pat Ferschweiler (3rd season at WMU, 67-38-3, .634)

National Rankings: #12/#11
Pairwise Ranking: 12th
KRACH Ranking: 272.4 (14th)

This Season: 18-11-1 overall, 8-6-1-5 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 23-15-1 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional Semifinalist), 13-8-2-1 NCHC (2nd)

2023-2024 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.70 goals scored/game – 8th of 64 teams
Team Defense: 2.33 goals allowed/game – 7th of 64 teams

Power Play: 22.6% (24 of 106) – 19th of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 83.7% (87 of 104) – 15th of 64 teams

Key Players: Senior F Luke Grainger (12-30-42), Junior F Dylan Wendt (21-16-37), Graduate F Sam Colangelo (19-17-36). Freshman F Alex Bump (11-16-27), Graduate F Ethan Phillips (9-14-23), Senior F Matteo Costantini (7-17-24), Senior F Chad Hillebrand (5-18-23), Graduate D Zak Galambos (7-10-17), Graduate D Carter Berger (3-13-16), Senior G Cameron Rowe (18-11-1, 2.26 GAA, .912 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (9th season at UND, 202-100-33, .652)

National Rankings: #3/#3
Pairwise Ranking: 3rd
KRACH Rating: 541.3 (3rd)

This Season: 22-8-2 overall, 12-2-1-5 NCHC (1st 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: 3.81 goals scored/game – 7th of 64 teams
Team Defense: 2.59 goals allowed/game – 16th of 64 teams

Power Play: 26.1% (30 of 115) – 7th of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 80.7% (71 of 88) – 28th of 64 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Jackson Blake (18-29-47), Senior F Riese Gaber (16-14-30), Sophomore F Owen McLaughlin (10-21-31), Junior F Cameron Berg (18-15-33), Senior F Louis Jamernik V (6-9-15), Senior D Garrett Pyke (3-21-24), Freshman D Jake Livanavage (3-19-22), Senior G Ludvig Persson (19-8-2, 2.50 GAA, .903 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 14, 2023 (Grand Forks, ND). In a wild back-and-forth game that saw thirteen goals and six lead changes, the visitors prevailed 7-6 by outscoring UND 5-1 over the last 25 minutes of the hockey game. Four of North Dakota’s six goals were scored with the man advantage. One night earlier, WMU blanked the homestanding Hawks 4-0 as UND’s Tyler Kleven was issued a five-minute major for contact to the head and a game misconduct.

Most Important Meeting: March 24, 2012 (St. Paul, MN). North Dakota upended Western Michigan 3-1 in the NCAA West Regional semifinal. Brock Nelson had two points, including an empty net goal with 25 seconds remaining that sent UND to the regional finals against Minnesota. Aaron Dell made 24 saves for the Green and White. The Broncos, who have played at the Division I level since 1975-76, have seven NCAA tournament appearances.

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Saturday, March 22, 2014 (Minneapolis, MN). North Dakota faced a must-win situation in the 3rd place game at the inaugural NCHC Frozen Faceoff, and did not disappoint the partisan crowd. The Green and White rolled to a 5-0 victory behind two first-period goals from Conner Gaarder. UND netminder Zane Gothberg made 25 saves for the shutout, and Dave Hakstol’s crew played the waiting game for several more hours before discovering that they had indeed made the NCAA tournament for the twelfth consecutive season.

All-Time Series: In the short history between the schools, UND has won 28 of the 41 games (28-12-1, .695), including twelve of the eighteen games played in Grand Forks. Before the 2016-17 season in which Western Michigan won three of the four meetings, WMU’s lone victory over North Dakota was a 2-1 road win on March 8th, 2014. The teams first met in 1997.

Last Ten: North Dakota has only won four of the last ten meetings between the two teams (4-5-1, .450), and the Broncos hold a 29-27 edge on the scoreboard in those games. Before the Broncos’ home sweep of North Dakota in January 2022, UND had swept the previous six with a scoring margin of 28-10.

Game News and Notes

Western Michigan moved up to the Division I ranks beginning with the 1975-76 season and has advanced to the NCAA tournament seven times. The Broncos have made the NCAA tourney twice (2017, 2022) in their first nine seasons in the NCHC after advancing to the national tournament twice (2011, 2012) in the last three seasons in the now-defunct CCHA. UND has outscored opponents 43-23 in the first period of play this season. WMU has outscored opponents 47-21 in third periods but has been outscored 5-1 in overtime sessions. As a team, North Dakota has blocked 424 shots this season (13.3 blocks/game), led by Bennett Zmolek (78), Garrett Pyke (46), and Abram Wiebe (43).

The Prediction

It’s always tough to make a prediction when two teams meet each other for the first time in March. Western Michigan has dropped seven of its last eleven games after starting the season 14-4-1, and that in and of itself can be taken one of two ways. Are the Broncos hitting a wall in NCHC action, or will they be scratching and clawing for home ice? I expect two exciting games, with Saturday’s finale a bit tighter checking than the opener. I’ve got the visitors in the opener, with the Fighting Hawks rebounding for a series split. WMU 6-4, UND 4-3.

Broadcast Information

Game times are set for 7:06 p.m. Central Time on Friday and 6:07 p.m. Central Time on Saturday. Friday’s opener will be available exclusively on CBS Sports Network, with Saturday’s game broadcast live on Midco Sports Network 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.

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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