2024 NCHC Frozen Faceoff Preview: UND vs. Omaha

#4 North Dakota (26-10-2) is set to battle #11 Omaha (22-11-4) in the semifinals of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center this afternoon.

Two weeks ago, UND traveled down I-29 to face the Mavericks on the last weekend of the regular season. The homestanding Mavs were clearly the hungrier team in Friday’s opener, as North Dakota was fresh off a Penrose Cup-clinching performance at home just six days earlier. The Fighting Hawks trailed 3-2 headed into the final twenty minutes of game one, and, despite a 14-4 advantage in shots on goal in the third period, could not find the equalizer.

In the rematch, little-used netminder Seth Eisele made 38 saves for Omaha in a 4-1 victory. Ludvig Perrsson was good but not great for UND (21 saves, three goals allowed).

There is some goaltending intrigue heading into today’s matchup for the Green and White. Last weekend, North Dakota swept last-place Miami at home (5-1, 7-1) in the league quarterfinals, but Persson was not between the pipes. That distinction belonged to freshman Hobie Hedquist, who secured both playoff victories with 23 saves on Friday and 28 saves on Saturday.

Both goalies have practiced this week, but UND head coach Brad Berry is keeping his cards close to the vest, refusing to disclose his netminder until he is obligated to turn in his lineup 90 minutes before puck drop.

Which team has more to play for at the X? If North Dakota advances to Saturday’s championship game (to face either Denver or St. Cloud State), it would almost assuredly earn one of the NCAA tournament’s four #1-seeds. Omaha seems locked in as a #3-seed (Pairwise 9-12) regardless of today’s result and will be placed in the Sioux Falls Regional as that venue’s host school.

A North Dakota win today would all but guarantee UND a spot in Sioux Falls as well. A loss would find the Fighting Hawks flying to one of the other three regional sites (Maryland Heights, MO; Providence, RI; Springfield, MA).

Omaha advanced to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff for the first time in program history by virtue of a quarterfinal series victory at Colorado College last weekend (3-4 OT, 3-1, 2-1).

It is worth noting that next season (2024-25) will be the last season of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. Back in December, the league announced plans to move the entire conference post-season tournament back to campus sites beginning in 2025-26. The 2026 NCHC Tournament (and beyond) will be played over three weeks and feature the addition of a 9th league foe, the Arizona State Sun Devils.

Here is the future format:

A play-in game (#8 vs. #9) will be held on the Wednesday following the conclusion of the regular season at the site of the #1-seed. The winner of that single-elimination game will move on to face the Penrose Cup champions in a best-of-three quarterfinal beginning two days later, one of four such series across the league. The two semifinal matchups will be played on the following Saturday in the home arenas of the two highest-remaining seeds, with the 2026 NCHC Playoff Championship decided one week later on the campus of the higher seed.

UND finds itself near the top of the national rankings (USCHO #4, USA Hockey #4) and in the all-important Pairwise rankings (3rd) this season thanks in large part to its impressive non-conference victories…

North Dakota blanked #9 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 eleven-year history of the league, Omaha has finished 3rd, 3rd, 6th, 6th, 5th, 7th, 6th, 4th, 6th, 3rd, and 5th for an average finish of 4.91, sixth among the eight league teams. North Dakota leads the conference with an average finish of 2.55 (2nd, 1st, 1st, 4th, 4th, 5th, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 6th, and 1st).

Coming into its series against Colorado College a month 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 next two weekends, 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.

The other NCHC team that UND struggled with this season? Omaha…

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, 2-3 loss, 1-4 loss (4 of 12 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 eighth-toughest schedule to this point of the season, while the Mavericks’ schedule weighs in as the 14th-most difficult. Despite its tough slate of games, the Green and White have the fourth-best winning percentage in the country (.719).

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, #4-ranked North Dakota has gone 26-10-2 against Army (one game), #9 Wisconsin (one game), #8 Minnesota, Minnesota State, #2 Boston University, Minnesota Duluth (four games), Miami (six games), Bemidji State, #3 Denver (four games), #12 Colorado College (four games), Alaska, #11 Omaha (four games), and #17 St. Cloud State, with a record of 19-4-1 at home and 7-6-1 on the road. Prior to last month in Colorado Springs (February 16th and 17th), UND had not lost in regulation since November 3rd.

As the #1 seed in the conference tournament, North Dakota will be designated the home team at the X this weekend and will enjoy last line change. This has proven beneficial to Brad Berry’s squad time and time again this year.

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 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 easily surpassed the 102 goals scored all of last season by its forward group.

Over the first 38 games of the 2023-2024 season, UND forwards have scored 130 goals. It is also encouraging that twelve North Dakota forwards have multiple goals this season, led by Blake (21), Berg (20), Gaber (18), McLaughlin (13), Perron (11), and Johannes (10 in 29 games). Those first five forwards have combined for 44 goals over the past nine weekends of game action.

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 20 goals and 16 assists in 38 games, including 29 points in his last 28 games. Berg scored a goal against his former team back on January 13th and again on March 8th.

Prior to UND’s early February series at 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), a finalist for the NCHC Rookie of the Year, and a candidate for the Tim Taylor Award (National Rookie of the Year).

One month ago at CC, freshman defenseman Abram Wiebe notched his first career collegiate goal, while fellow blueliners Garrett Pyke and Jake Livanavage added assists. Four weeks ago, North Dakota’s d-corps chipped in with seven assists in a weekend sweep of Duluth. One week later, UND defensemen notched four more assists (including three from Wiebe) in a home sweep of the Western Michigan Broncos.

Two weekends ago in Omaha, Livanavage picked up two assists while Britt added a goal with an assist from d-partner Wiebe.

And in last weekend’s shellacking of Miami, UND defensemen notched two goals and added six assists.

The six regular blueliners for North Dakota (Pyke, Livanavage, Britt, Wiebe, Zmolek, and Pehrson) have now collected a total of 89 points (15 goals and 74 assists) in 216 games played (0.41 points/game). As mentioned above, the offensive output from the blue line has been increasing lately, with Livanavage in particular chipping in more regularly (three goals and 22 assists in his last 26 games).

By comparison, the six Omaha defensemen expected in the lineup this weekend have scored 24 goals and added 60 assists for 84 points in 219 games played for an average of 0.38 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 (10-15-25), junior forward Zach Urdahl (10-11-21 in 31 games), graduate forward Jack Randl (13-12-25), freshman forward Tanner Ludtke (11-17-28), senior forward Matt Miller (6-12-18), and sophomore defenseman Griffin Ludtke (4-20-24).

By that same measure, North Dakota has eight players at a half point or better, including two – sophomore forward Jackson Blake (21-36-57) and sophomore forward Owen McLaughlin (13-24-37) – averaging a point per game or better. Other offensive contributors include Cameron Berg (20-16-36), senior forward Riese Gaber (18-16-34), graduate forward Hunter Johannes (10-7-17 in 29 games), sophomore forward Dylan James (9-10-19), senior defenseman Garrett Pyke (3-22-25), and freshman defenseman Jake Livanavage (4-24-28).

Jackson Blake is making a strong push for college hockey’s Hobey Baker Memorial Award. Blake has collected 35 points (ten goals and 25 assists) since the calendar year turned to 2024 (twenty games).

Here is a quick peek at home North Dakota and Omaha stack up:

Goals per game: Omaha 2.92 (31st of 64 teams); UND 3.82 (8th)

Goals allowed per game: Omaha 2.76 (25th); UND 2.50 (10th)

Shooting percentage: Omaha 10.5% (18th); UND 12.4% (3rd)

Save percentage: Omaha .910 (15th); UND .905 (22nd)

Shots on goal/game: Omaha 27.9 (47th); UND 30.7 (22nd)

Shots on goal allowed/game: Omaha 30.6 (42nd); UND 26.2 (11th)

Power play efficiency: Omaha 17.8% (44th); UND 25.8% (8th)

Penalty kill efficiency: Omaha 77.8% (44th); UND 82.4% (19th)

Faceoff win percentage: Omaha 53.7% (9th); UND 51.3% (24th)

Corsi: Omaha 49.9% (35th); UND 52.3% (20th)

Fenwick: Omaha 48.5% (42nd); UND 54.1% (14th)

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 five games between the pipes for the Fighting Hawks, posting a record of 21-10-2 with a goals-against average of 2.47, a save percentage of .906, and five shutouts.

When Persson has been out of the lineup, freshman Hobie Hedquist has stepped in and performed admirably, winning all five of his starts while posting a goals-against average of 2.05 and a save percentage of .919.

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 Perrson’s and Hedquist’s combined save percentage from this year (.907) 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 18-10-3, a goals-against average of 2.62, a save percentage of .913, and two shutouts.

With dismal specialty teams play and average defensive numbers, how has Omaha managed an overall record of 22-11-4? 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 16-2 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 eleven losses, the Mavs have been outscored 52-20.

After suffering three straight losses in mid-January, Omaha is 11-2-2 in its last fifteen games.

In the span of two weekends, Omaha has gone from a 22% chance of making the NCAA tournament to a stone cold lock. The Mavericks helped their cause by sweeping North Dakota and taking two of three games at Colorado College.

In team history, the Mavericks have made the national tournament four times (2006, 2011, 2015, 2021), with a Frozen Four appearance under head coach Dean Blais in 2015.

Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (7th season at UNO, 116-112-18, .508)

National Rankings: #11/#11
Pairwise Ranking: 11th
KRACH Rating: 280.7 (12th)

This Season: 22-11-4 overall, 8-8-8-0 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 19-15-3 overall, 11-7-3-3 NCHC (3rd)

Team Offense: 2.92 goals scored/game – 31st of 64 teams
Team Defense: 2.76 goals allowed/game – 25th of 64 teams

Power Play: 17.8% (24 of 135) – 44th of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 77.8% (91 of 117) – 34th of 64 teams

Key Players: Junior F Tyler Mueller (10-15-25), Junior F Zach Urdahl (10-11-21 in 31 games), Graduate F Jack Randl (13-12-25), Freshman F Tanner Ludtke (11-17-28), Senior F Matt Miller (6-12-18), Sophomore D Joaquim Lemay (4-12-16), Sophomore D Griffin Ludtke (4-20-24), Sophomore G Simon Latkoczy (18-10-3, 2.62 GAA, .913 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (9th season at UND, 206-102-33, .652)

National Rankings: #4/#4
Pairwise Ranking: 3rd
KRACH Rating: 520.5 (3rd)

This Season: 26-10-2 overall, 14-4-1-5 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 – 8th of 64 teams
Team Defense: 2.50 goals allowed/game – 10th of 64 teams

Power Play: 25.8% (34 of 132) – 8th of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 82.4% (84 of 102) – 19th of 64 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Jackson Blake (21-36-57), Senior F Riese Gaber (18-16-34), Sophomore F Owen McLaughlin (13-24-37), Junior F Cameron Berg (20-16-36), Senior F Louis Jamernik V (8-9-17), sophomore F Dylan James (9-10-19), Senior D Garrett Pyke (3-22-25), Freshman D Jake Livanavage (4-24-28), Senior G Ludvig Persson (21-10-2, 2.47 GAA, .906 SV%, 5 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last Meeting: March 9, 2024 (Omaha, NE). Two weeks ago, UND traveled down I-29 to face the Mavericks on the last weekend of the regular season. Little-used netminder Seth Eisele made 38 saves for Omaha in a 4-1 Saturday night victory, while Ludvig Perrsson was good but not great for UND (21 saves, three goals allowed). The homestanding Mavs were clearly the hungrier team in Friday’s opener, as North Dakota was fresh off a Penrose Cup-clinching performance at home just six days earlier. The Fighting Hawks trailed 3-2 headed into the final twenty minutes of game one, and, despite a 14-4 advantage in shots on goal in the third period, could not find the equalizer.

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 five of the last ten contests between the schools, going 5-4-1 (.550) and outscoring the Mavericks 29-26 over that stretch. Six of the last ten games in this series were played in Omaha.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 36-21-2 (.627), including a record of 31-18-2 (.627) against the Mavericks since both teams joined the NCHC. The teams first met on November 19, 2010 but have never played a game at a neutral site (until today).

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. North Dakota’s Brad Berry is 27-15-1 (.640) in his head coaching career against Omaha. UND’s Riese Gaber has 18 points against Omaha in his collegiate career (7-11-18 in nineteen games), while netminder Ludvig Persson has squared off against the Mavs eleven times, posting a record of 4-7-0, a goals-against average of 2.99, and a save percentage of .902. In 28 of the past 32 contests in this series, the winning team is the one which scores the first goal. This season, North Dakota is 22-5-1 (.804) when scoring first; Omaha, 16-8-0 (.667). UND has outscored opponents 49-27 in the first period of play this season. As a team, North Dakota has blocked 533 shots this season (14.0 blocks/game), led by Bennett Zmolek (89), Garrett Pyke (55), and Abram Wiebe (52).

The Prediction

North Dakota is playing to avoid a flight next weekend, while Omaha is playing to… play at Xcel Energy Center for the first time? UND has so many advantages in this one – a virtual home crowd, last line change, the experience of playing in this tournament before, and more game-changing talent. Like so many games in this league, it’s a race to three goals, and I like North Dakota’s chances. UND 3-2.

Bonus Prediction

In the nightcap, I expect a good showing from St. Cloud State. The Huskies must win the 2024 NCHC Frozen Faceoff to secure a bid to the national tournament, and that will provide the extra motivation. Denver is missing some key players up front and does not have the goaltending that the Pios faithful are used to. SCSU 4, DU 2.

Broadcast Information

All three games this weekend will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network, with UND’s game set foir 4:07 p.m. CT and the second game scheduled for 7:07 p.m. 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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