Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Omaha

#3 North Dakota (24-8-2 overall, 14-2-1-5 NCHC) travels to face #16 Omaha (18-10-4 overall, 6-8-8-0 NCHC) on the last weekend of the regular season.

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 #5 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.

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.

Coming into its series against Colorado College three 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). Over the past two weekeneds, North Dakota completed home sweeps over Minnesota Duluth (6-0, 4-2) and Western Michigan (5-3, 3-0), to earn the program’s fourth Penrose Cup (NCHC regular season championship trophy) in the past five seasons.

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)
vs. Western Michigan: 5-3 win, 3-0 win (6 of 6 league points)

In the eleven 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 Mavericks’ schedule weighs in as the 20th-most difficult. Despite its tough slate of games, the Green and White have the third-best winning percentage in the country (.745).

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.

And turning our attention to this season…

Back in January, UND took four of six league points in a home series against Omaha, falling 5-4 in overtime on Friday night before rebounding for a 3-1 regulation win in Saturday’s rematch. The disappointing thing about the series opener is that North Dakota led 3-1 after the first period. The Mavericks won the middle frame decisively, however, outscoring the homestanding Hawks 3-1. Both teams scored twice with the man advantage. Omaha scored just 34 seconds into the 3-on-3 overtime session to grab the extra league point.

Saturday’s finale was a bit more of a defensive struggle, with Omaha tying the game at one goal apiece just 49 seconds into the third period. UND’s Dylan James scored the game-winner three minutes later, and former Maverick Cameron Berg iced the game with an empty-net goal in the final thirty seconds. North Dakota outshot Omaha 30-23 on Saturday night and 69-47 on the weekend.

Overall, #3-ranked North Dakota has gone 24-8-2 against Army (one game), #5 Wisconsin (one game), #8 Minnesota, Minnesota State, #2 Boston University, Minnesota Duluth (four games), Miami (four games), Bemidji State, #4 Denver (four games), #10 Colorado College (four games), Alaska, #16 Omaha, and #17 St. Cloud State, with a record of 17-4-1 at home and 7-4-1 on the road. Prior to three 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 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 34 games of the 2023-2024 season, UND forwards have scored 118 goals and are on pace for 125 goals in the regular season alone. It is also encouraging that twelve North Dakota forwards have multiple goals this season, led by Blake (19), Berg (19), Gaber (16), McLaughlin (12), Perron (10), and Johannes (9 in 25 games). Those first five forwards have combined for 39 goals over the past eight weekends of game action.

Hunter Johannes had been out of the lineup for nine games (lower-body injury) prior to his return last weekend against Western Michigan.

This weekend, Cameron Berg will square off against his old teammates.

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 19 goals and 15 assists in 34 games, including 29 points in his last 26 games. Berg scored a goal against his former team back on January 13th.

Prior to UND’s series four 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).

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

And in last weekend’s sweep of the Western Michigan Broncos, UND defensemen notched four more assists, including three from Wiebe.

The six regular blueliners for North Dakota (Pyke, Livanavage, Britt, Wiebe, Zmolek, and Pehrson) have now collected a total of 77 points (12 goals and 65 assists) in 194 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 eighteen assists in his last 22 games).

Bennett Zmolek was held out of the series finale last Saturday night with a lower body injury; he was seen on the ice for the post-game celebration using crutches. Zmolek leads the team with 83 blocked shots (2.86 blocks per game).

By comparison, the six Omaha defensemen expected in the lineup this weekend have scored 21 goals and added 47 assists for 68 points in 189 games played for an average of 0.36 points/game).

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 (9-15-24), junior forward Zach Urdahl (9-8-17 in 26 games), graduate forward Jack Randl (12-10-22), freshman forward Tanner Ludtke (9-15-24), senior forward Matt Miller (5-10-15), and sophomore defenseman Griffin Ludtke (4-15-19).

By that same measure, North Dakota has nine players at a half point or better, including three – sophomore forward Jackson Blake (19-31-50), sophomore forward Owen McLaughlin (12-22-34), and Cameron Berg (19-15-34) – averaging a point per game or better. Other offensive contributors include senior forward Riese Gaber (16-14-30), graduate forward Hunter Johannes (9-7-16 in 25 games), senior forward Louis Jamernik V (8-9-17), sophomore forward Dylan James (8-9-17), senior defenseman Garrett Pyke (3-21-24), and freshman defenseman Jake Livanavage (3-20-23).

Jackson Blake is making a strong push for college hockey’s Hobey Baker Memorial Award. Blake picked up seven points two weekends ago against Minnesota Duluth and added three points last weekend (including a highlight-reel goal) to reach the 50-point plateau in just 34 games. Blake has collected 28 points (eight goals and twenty assists) since the calendar year turned to 2024 (sixteen games).

Offensively, UND outpaces Omaha by a large margin. To this point of the season, North Dakota has scored 130 goals in 34 games (3.82 goals per game, 7th in the country), while Omaha has managed just 93 in 32 games (2.91, 33rd).

The Fighting Hawks are third in the nation in shooting percentage at 12.6%. Omaha clocks in at 10.1%, good for 27th in the country. UND also gets the puck to the net, averaging 30.3 shots on goal per game (25th). The Mavericks aren’t far behind, with 28.9 shots on goal per contest (38th).

On the defensive side, UND has only allowed 895 shots on goal this season in 34 games (26.3/game, 11th), while Omaha has allowed 938 in 32 games (29.3, 31st).

These two teams nearly identical in Corsi, but that is only one of two key puck possession statistics. Fenwick tells the rest of the story:

North Dakota: 21st in Corsi (52.1%) and 15th in Fenwick (53.7%)
Omaha: 23rd in Corsi (51.6%) and 31st in Fenwick (50.5%)

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.

In other words, UND is far better at capitalizing on opportunities and getting puck to the net (and on net).

As always, a key area to watch this weekend is the face-off circle. The Fighting Hawks are the nation’s 19th-best team on draws (51.7%), while the Mavericks clock in at 54.5% (8th).

For UND, junior Cameron Berg has been making a living on draws, winning 336 of 593 (56.7%). Senior Louis Jamernik V (203 of 354, 57.3%) has more than held his own, while sophomore Owen McLaughlin (174 of 380, 45.8%) has struggled of late.

For the Mavericks, graduate student Nolan Sullivan has been the best option (346 of 571, 60.6%). Head coach Mike Gabinet has also called on junior Ty Mueller (343 of 626, 54.8%) and senior Jimmy Glynn (170 of 327, 52.0%).

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 119, 25.2%, 10th in the country) and seventeen power play goals allowed (76 of 93, 81.7%, 24th), with three shorthanded goals scored and one allowed.

The Mavericks have posted a net-ZERO, with 21 power play goals scored (21 of 127, 16.5%, 48th), 21 power play goals allowed (81 of 102, 79.4%, 36th), two shorthanded goals scored, and two allowed.

It is also worth noting that UND has earned 26 more power plays than penalty kill situations (119-93), while Omaha has posted anemic specialty teams numbers despite an almost identical margin (127-102).

Omaha is 33rd in the country in scoring offense (2.91 goals scored/game) and 29th in the country in scoring defense (2.91 goals allowed/game), with an identical number of goals for (93) and against (93).

North Dakota is 7th in the country in scoring offense (3.82 goals scored/game) and a very impressive 14th in the country in scoring defense (2.35 goals allowed/game), with a 130-86 season-long scoring advantage.

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 21-8-2 with a goals-against average of 2.44, a save percentage of .908, and five 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 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). Over the last two weekends, Perrson is 4-0 with a save percentage of .957 and two 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 89 goals, a difference of 21 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 15-9-3, a goals-against average of 2.73, a save percentage of .906, and two shutouts.

With dismal specialty teams play and average defensive numbers, how has Omaha managed an overall record of 18-10-4? 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 14-1 in one-goal games (for comparison, UND is 4-5). Omaha has only three comfortable wins all season: an 8-1 shellacking of Niagara to open the season, a 5-2 victory at Augustana on November 25th, and a 5-1 win over Duluth on February 2nd. The Mavs also blanked CC 3-0 on February 23rd, but that was a one-goal game with fourteen minutes remaining.

In its ten losses, the Mavs have been outscored 48-17.

North Dakota currently finds itself in third place in the all-important Pairwise rankings, with victories over Boston University (PWR 2), Denver (PWR 4), Wisconsin (PWR 6), Minnesota (PWR 7), St. Cloud State (PWR 14), Western Michigan (PWR 15), and Omaha (PWR 16) certainly helping the cause. According to the CHN Pairwise Probability Matrix, UND is guaranteed a spot in the national tournament and will almost certainly be a #1 seed in one of the four regionals. The most likely final Pairwise results are #2-overall (47%) or #3-overall (35%). UND fans should be cheering for Boston University to lose to Vermont on Saturday night.

North Dakota fans hoping for UND tournament games in Sioux Falls, South Dakota should be actively rooting against Omaha (even beyond this weekend); 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).

At #16 in the Pairwise, Omaha has some work to do to earn the program’s first NCAA tourney berth since 2021. The same Pairwise Probability Matrix gives the Mavericks a 22% chance of making the tournament. 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.

After suffering three straight losses in mid-January, Omaha is 7-1-2 in its last ten games, including sweeps of Duluth and Miami, a 3-0 victory over Colorado College, and two overtime wins.

Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (7th season at UNO, 112-111-18, .502)

National Rankings: #16/#17
Pairwise Ranking: 16th
KRACH Rating: 216.8 (16th)

This Season: 18-10-4 overall, 6-8-8-0 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 19-15-3 overall, 11-7-3-3 NCHC (3rd)

Team Offense: 2.91 goals scored/game – 33rd of 64 teams
Team Defense: 2.91 goals allowed/game – 29th of 64 teams

Power Play: 16.5% (21 of 127) – 48th of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 79.4% (81 of 102) – 36th of 64 teams

Key Players: Junior F Tyler Mueller (9-15-24), Junior F Zach Urdahl (9-8-17 in 26 games), Graduate F Jack Randl (12-10-22), Freshman F Tanner Ludtke (9-15-24), Senior F Matt Miller (5-10-15), Sophomore D Joaquim Lemay (4-9-13), Sophomore D Griffin Ludtke (4-15-19), Sophomore G Simon Latkoczy (15-9-3, 2.73 GAA, .906 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (9th season at UND, 204-100-33, .654)

National Rankings: #3/#3
Pairwise Ranking: 3rd
KRACH Rating: 615.7 (3rd)

This Season: 24-8-2 overall, 14-2-1-5 NCHC (1st of 8 teams, Penrose Cup Champions)
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: 3.82 goals scored/game – 7th of 64 teams
Team Defense: 2.35 goals allowed/game – 14th of 64 teams

Power Play: 25.2% (30 of 119) – 10th of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 81.7% (76 of 93) – 24th of 64 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Jackson Blake (19-31-50), Senior F Riese Gaber (16-14-30), Sophomore F Owen McLaughlin (12-22-34), Junior F Cameron Berg (19-15-34), Senior F Louis Jamernik V (8-9-17), sophomore F Dylan James (8-9-17), Senior D Garrett Pyke (3-21-24), Freshman D Jake Livanavage (3-20-23), Senior G Ludvig Persson (21-8-2, 2.44 GAA, .908 SV%, 5 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last Meeting: January 13, 2024 (Grand Forks, ND). In a tight defensive game, Omaha tied things at one goal apiece just 49 seconds into the third period. UND’s Dylan James scored the game-winner three minutes later, and former Maverick Cameron Berg iced the game with an empty-net goal in the final thirty seconds. One night earlier, North Dakota fans saw a 3-1 first period lead evaporate in a disastrous middle frame that saw the Mavericks outscore the homestanding Hawks 3-1. Omaha scored just 34 seconds into the 3-on-3 overtime session to grab the extra league point. North Dakota outshot Omaha 69-47 on the weekend.

Last Meeting in Omaha: March 12, 2023. 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.

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 31-24 over that stretch. Six of the last ten games in this series were played in Omaha.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 36-19-2 (.649), including an 18-9-1 (.661) record in games played in Omaha. North Dakota owns a record of 31-16-2 (.653) 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 27-13-1 (.671) in his head coaching career against Omaha. UND’s Riese Gaber has 17 points against Omaha in his collegiate career (7-10-17 in seventeen games, perfectly matching his jersey number), while netminder Ludvig Persson has squared off against the Mavs nine times, posting a record of 4-5-0, a goals-against average of 2.94, and a save percentage of .911. In 26 of the past 30 contests in this series, the winning team is the one which scores the first goal. This season, North Dakota is 20-5-1 (.788) when scoring first; Omaha, 13-7-0 (.650). UND has outscored opponents 46-24 in the first period of play this season. As a team, North Dakota has blocked 476 shots this season (14.0 blocks/game), led by Bennett Zmolek (83), Garrett Pyke (49), and Abram Wiebe (49).

The Prediction

If Ludvig Persson continues the roll that he has been on, 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 5-3, 3-2.

Broadcast Information

Both games this weekend will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Two and also available via webcast at NCHC.tv. The games will start at 7:07 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.

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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