NCAA Midwest Regional Preview: UND vs. Michigan

#5 North Dakota (26-11-2) is set to battle #10 Michigan (21-14-3) in the opening round of the NCAA tournament at Centene Community Ice Center in Maryland Heights, Missouri on Friday night.

UND has to be relieved to be playing someone from a different conference after they ended NCHC play with five losses in their last eleven league games (two at #15 Colorado College, two at #11 Omaha, and last Friday’s loss to Omaha in the league semifinals at Xcel Energy Center).

On the season, the Green and White went a combined 1-8-0 against the Tigers and Mavericks and 25-3-2 against everyone else.

Those other three losses were to #2 Boston University, #3 Denver, and #7 Minnesota.

UND avenged their only two non-conference losses of the season by defeating the Golden Gophers 2-1 on a Saturday night in Grand Forks and the BU Terriers 5-4 in overtime on a Saturday night at Agganis Arena.

North Dakota fared even better against the Denver Pioneers. After splitting the series at altitude back in December (7-5, 2-3 OT), UND swept the Pios on home ice in January (5-2, 4-2).

All this to say that Brad Berry’s squad has put together quite an impressive resume coming into the national tourney. And, as luck would have it, Colorado College did not make the NCAA tournament (the Tigers were the first team out according to the Pairwise), and Omaha is on the other side of the bracket, meaning that the two teams could not tangle until the national championship game.

There is some goaltending intrigue heading into Friday’s matchup for the Green and White. Two weekends ago, North Dakota swept last-place Miami at home (5-1, 7-1) in the league quarterfinals, but graduate netminder Ludvig Persson (21-10-2, 2.47 GAA, .906 SV%, 5 SO) 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.

Coming into Friday’s NCHC semifinal in St. Paul, both goalies had practiced, but Hedquist got the nod. And there was reason for optimism. After all, when Persson was out of the lineup, the freshman had 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.

It was a different story in the league playoffs.

Hedquist made just 29 of 34 saves and could not seem to make the timely stop, allowing two goals in the third period while UND was attempting to mount a comeback. The backbreaker came with just over nine minutes remaning in the hockey game, as Omaha’s Zach Urdahl scored his second of the night just 68 seconds after North Dakota had cut the deficit to 4-3. Urdahl would add an empty-netter for his hat trick at the 15:16 mark of the final frame to make the scoreboard read 6-3 at the final buzzer.

Turning our attention to this weekend’s NCAA regional action, UND finds itself in the Midwest Regional along with three teams from the state of Michigan: #4 Michigan State, #10 Michigan, and #14 Western Michigan. The winners of Michigan State/Western Michigan (4:00 p.m. Central Time on ESPNU) and North Dakota/Michigan (7:30 p.m. Central Time on ESPNU) will play on Sunday (5:30 p.m. Central Time on ESPN2) with a trip to the 2024 Frozen Four in St. Paul on the line.

The Midwest bracket lines up with the Providence regional, which contains top overall seed Boston College as well as #9 Wisconsin, #8 Quinnipiac, and #20 Michigan Tech.

Of course, UND fans are hoping that their favorite team can advance to the Frozen Four for the 23rd time in program history, but it won’t be an easy task. First up on the docket is a Michigan team that finished fourth in the B1G this season but proved they could score with anybody. The Wolverines went just 4-9-1 against the big three in their conference (#4 Michigan State, #7 Minnesota, and #9 Wisconsin) but scored 49 goals in those fourteen games (3.50 goals scored/game). The problem was that they gave up 53 goals in those same games (3.79 goals allowed/game).

The only other team in the NCAA tournament field that Michigan faced this season was Massachusetts (the last team in the tournament according to the Pairwise). The Wolverines squared off against UMass in Amherst back in October, winning the opener 7-2 before dropping the rematch 3-6.

In terms of common opponents, this year’s Michigan squad traveled to St. Cloud in November and managed a 2-0 Friday night victory and a tie on Saturday (3-3). Those results are very similar to what North Dakota did to the Huskies in January (a 5-3 win and a 3-3 tie).

Michigan’s 160 goals this season trail only Denver (194) and Boston College (168) as the top offensive team in the country. North Dakota ranks 7th with 148 goals scored.

The Wolverines are even more lethal with the man advantage. No team in college hockey is even close to the 35.3% success rate of the Michigan power play. UND clocks in 9th at 25.7 percent.

But that potent power play can be concerning for head coach Brandon Naurato, now in his second season behind the Michigan bench. The Wolverines have scored 49 power play goals this season, over 30 percent of their offensive production. What will happen in the playoffs, when fewer penalties are called?

That almost came back to bite the Maize and Blue in the B1G semifinals against Minnesota. Each team was only awarded one power play, and neither capitalized. Michigan escaped with a 2-1 victory.

In the B1G championship game, the Wolverines went 1-for-3 with the man advantage but fell in overtime.

Over the two postseason games, less than 17 percent of Michigan’s offensive output came on the power play. And this weekend’s games figure to offer a similarly low number of man advantage situations, which would favor North Dakota, a team with a more-than-capable power play but with better scoring depth than most teams in the country.

On the defensive side of the ledger, the Wolverines have struggled at times this season. Their 116 goals allowed this season (3.05 allowed per game) is second-worst among NCAA tournament teams (Denver is worst at 117 goals allowed, but they have scored 194 goals this season).

North Dakota has done a much better job keeping the puck out of their net, with only 101 goals allowed (2.59 allowed/game) compared to 148 goals scored (3.79).

This will be Michigan’s fifth straight tournament appearance, and the Wolverines have made the last two Frozen Fours, losing to eventual champion Denver 3-2 in overtime in 2022 and eventual champion Quinnipiac 5-2 last season. Michigan has nine national titles (seven by 1964); they last hoisted the ultimate trophy in 1998, a title drought stretching 25 seasons and counting.

More to the point, in the past 63 years, the Wolverines have three championships. During that same span (1957-2023), UND has won eight national titles, most recently in 2016. During that 2016 title run, North Dakota dispatched Michigan 5-2 to advance to the Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida.

Despite their combined 76 tournament appearances (Michigan 41, North Dakota 35), the two teams have only met five times in the NCAA playoffs. In 1998 and 2011, Michigan ended two of the most promising seasons in North Dakota men’s hockey history. The Wolverines hosted UND at the NCAA Midwest Regional at Yost Ice Arena (their home rink) on March 28, 1998 and took down a 30-7-1 Fighting Sioux team by the score of 4-3, ending North Dakota’s promising season one game short of the Frozen Four. The 2011 Matt Frattin-led UND squad outshot Michigan 40-20 but couldn’t light the lamp and fell 2-0 in front of a lively partisan crowd in St. Paul.

In addition to the above-mentioned 2016 regional final, UND also bested the Wolverines 8-5 in a 2007 opening-round matchup at Pepsi Center in Denver. One night later, North Dakota beat Minnesota 3-2 in overtime on Chris Porter‘s wraparound to advance to the Frozen Four, evening the score after Blake Wheeler scored in overtime in the WCHA Final Five Championship one week earlier in front of the largest crowd in league playoff history (19,463).

In 2006, UND also ended Michigan’s season, this time on home ice. Minutes after Holy Cross shocked the college world with an overtime victory over the Golden Gophers at Ralph Engelstad Arena, the North Dakota fans were ready to cheer for the Green and White, and the home team did not disappoint. That Dave Hakstol squad throttled Michigan 5-1 to advance to the second of four consecutive Frozen Fours in Hakstol’s first four years behind the North Dakota bench.

Fast forward to 2024, and UND returns to the national tournament after a one-year absence. The Fighting Hawks went just 18-15-6 last season after a remarkable three-year run that saw Brad Berry’s squad win a combined 72 games.

How has North Dakota gone from missing the tournament to title contender in just one season?

After 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 39 games of the 2023-2024 season, UND forwards have scored 132 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 (11 in 30 games). Those first five forwards have combined for 44 goals over the past ten weekends of game action.

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).

Just over a month ago at CC, freshman defenseman Abram Wiebe notched his first career collegiate goal, while fellow blueliners Garrett Pyke and Jake Livanavage added assists. Then, 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.

Three weekends ago in Omaha, Livanavage picked up two assists while Britt added a goal with an assist from d-partner Wiebe. In an opening round shellacking of Miami, UND defensemen notched two goals and added six assists. And last Friday night at the X, Livanavage picked up his fifth goal of the season, while Logan Britt added yet another assist.

The six regular blueliners for North Dakota (Pyke, Livanavage, Britt, Wiebe, Zmolek, and Pehrson) have now collected a total of 91 points (16 goals and 75 assists) in 222 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 (four goals and 22 assists in his last 27 games).

By comparison, the six Michigan defensemen expected in the lineup this weekend have scored 15 goals and added 88 assists for 103 points in 219 games played for an average of 0.47 points/game).

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Brandon Naurato’s squad has eight players who meet that threshold, including six averaging a point per game or better: sophomore forward Rutger McGroarty (16-36-52), sophomore forward Gavin Brindley (24-27-51), junior forward Dylan Duke (22-22-44), sophomore forward T.J. Hughes (18-26-44), sophomore forward Frank Nazar III (16-23-39), and sophomore defenseman Seamus Casey (7-38-45). Other offensive contributors include freshman forward Garrett Schifsky (16-14-30) and freshman forward Nick Moldenhauer (8-13-21).

By that same measure, North Dakota has eight players at a half point or better, including two – sophomore forward Jackson Blake (21-38-59) and sophomore forward Owen McLaughlin (13-25-38) – averaging a point per game or better. Other offensive contributors include Cameron Berg (20-17-37), senior forward Riese Gaber (18-16-34), graduate forward Hunter Johannes (11-7-18 in 30 games), junior forward Jackson Kunz (8-10-18), senior defenseman Garrett Pyke (3-22-25), and freshman defenseman Jake Livanavage (5-24-29).

Jackson Blake is making a strong push for college hockey’s Hobey Baker Memorial Award. Blake has collected 37 points (ten goals and 27 assists) since the calendar year turned to 2024 (21 games).

Here is a quick peek at how North Dakota and Michigan stack up:

Goals per game: Michigan 4.21 (3rd of 64 teams); UND 3.79 (8th)

Goals allowed per game: Michigan 3.05 (38th); UND 2.59 (18th)

Shooting percentage: Michigan 12.0% (6th); UND 12.3% (3rd)

Save percentage: Michigan .899 (33rd); UND .902 (26th)

Shots on goal/game: Michigan 35.0 (6th); UND 30.9 (19th)

Shots on goal allowed/game: Michigan 30.3 (38th); UND 26.4 (11th)

Power play efficiency: Michigan 35.3% (1st); UND 25.7% (9th)

Penalty kill efficiency: Michigan 78.5% (40th); UND 81.6% (22nd)

Faceoff win percentage: Michigan 52.6% (13th); UND 51.1% (28th)

Corsi: Michigan 53.8% (14th); UND 52.5% (18th)

Fenwick: Michigan 54.5% (11th); UND 54.2% (12th)

It bears mentioning that Michigan’s strength of schedule ranks fifth in all of college hockey this season, while North Dakota’sd ranks eighth.

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.

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 (.906) to that shot total, the Fighting Hawks would have allowed a total of only 91 goals, a difference of 91 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.

Michigan’s top netminder – Jake Barczewski – boasts similar numbers to Persson. The graduate student has a record of 18-13-3, a goals-against average of 2.83, a save percentage of .907, and two shutouts.

Barczewski – who grew up in O’Fallon, less than 20 miles from Friday’s regional site – spent his first four collegiate seasons at Canisius and is having the second-worst statistical season of his career. Only his freshman campaign – 8-10-6 with a 2.92 GAA and a .905 SV% – was worse.

Michigan Team Profile

Head Coach: Brandon Naurato (2nd season at Michigan, 47-26-6, .633)

National Rankings: #10/#10
Pairwise Ranking: 10th
KRACH Rating: 322.4 (10th)

This Season: 21-14-3 overall, 10-10-2-2 B1G (4th)
Last Season: 26-12-3 overall, 9-7-3-5 B1G (2nd)

Team Offense: 4.21 goals scored/game – 3rd of 64 teams
Team Defense: 3.05 goals allowed/game – 38th of 64 teams

Power Play: 35.3% (49 of 139) – 1st of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.5% (102 of 130) – 40th of 64 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Rutger McGroarty (16-36-52), Sophomore F Gavin Brindley (24-27-51), Junior F Dylan Duke (22-22-44), Sophomore F T.J. Hughes (18-26-44), Sophomore F Frank Nazar III (16-23-39), Sophomore D Seamus Casey (7-38-45), Graduate D Marshall Warren (3-14-17), Graduate G Jake Barczewski (18-13-3, 2.83 GAA, .907 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (9th season at UND, 206-103-33, .651)

National Rankings: #5/#5
Pairwise Ranking: 6th
KRACH Rating: 483.9 (5th)

This Season: 26-11-2 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: 3.79 goals scored/game – 8th of 64 teams
Team Defense: 2.59 goals allowed/game – 18th of 64 teams

Power Play: 25.7% (35 of 136) – 9th of 64 teams
Penalty Kill: 81.6% (84 of 103) – 22nd of 64 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Jackson Blake (21-38-59), Senior F Riese Gaber (18-16-34), Sophomore F Owen McLaughlin (13-25-38), Junior F Cameron Berg (20-17-37), 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 (5-24-29), Senior G Ludvig Persson (21-10-2, 2.47 GAA, .906 SV%, 5 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 26, 2016 (Cincinnati, Ohio). UND blitzed Michigan with 24 first period shots on goal, but the score was tied at 0-0 until late in the first frame, when Drake Caggiula got North Dakota started. The teams would trade goals from there, and the game was knotted at two goals apiece midway through the third period. In under 75 seconds, however, the Green and White would score twice, and when Paul LaDue added an empty-netter, the Fighting Hawks were on to Tampa.

Last Ten Games: North Dakota holds a record of 6-3-1 (.650) in the last ten meetings between the schools. The teams have not been a part of the same conference since Michigan left for the CCHA in 1981.

All-time Series: Michigan leads the series 46-41-4 (.527). UND has won three of the five NCAA tournament games between the schools. The teams first met on January 9, 1948, a 6-5 UND victory that put North Dakota hockey on the map. The Wolverines would win the next ten meetings between the schools by a combined score of 89-32.

Game News and Notes

This season, North Dakota is 22-6-1 (.776) when scoring first; Michigan, 17-10-2 (.621). UND has outscored opponents 50-28 in the first period of play this season, while the Wolverines have a 56-27 conbined scoring advantage over the opening twenty minutes of game action. As a team, North Dakota has blocked 541 shots this season (blocks/game), led by Bennett Zmolek (89), Garrett Pyke (56), and Logan Britt (54). Michigan is the country’s 13th-most penalized team (12.8 penalty minutes/game); UND is 7th-best at just 7.7 penalty minutes per game.

The Prediction

North Dakota is just itching to play someone outside the NCHC, and unfortunately for the Wolverines, they are the target. In most years, I’m worried about how officials from a different league will officiate the game, as past versions of the Green and White have often relied on their physicality and have been – literally – penalized for it. Not so with this group, who can defend, skate, and score with skill. Brad Berry’s crew is also older, taller, and heavier, and those traits – along with last line change – will make the difference in a game in which both sides are hoping to survive the first ten minutes. Goaltending will be a factor in this one, and I’m giving the slight edge to the Fighting Hawks if Persson gets the start. If it’s the freshman, all bets are off. UND 4-3.

Bonus Prediction

In the first game, I expect a good showing from Western Michigan, but I’m not sure it’s enough to solve Trey Augustine, who has allowed two goals or fewer in six of his last nine starts while making a total of 350 saves (over 38 saves per game). I think that the Spartans have just enough to get past the Broncos, who have won just seven of their past eighteen games. MSU 4, WMU 2.

Broadcast Information

Both regional semifinals will be broadcast live on ESPNU, with the Michigan State/Western Michigan game scheduled for 4:00 p.m. Central Time and the North Dakota/Michigan nightcap set for 7:30 p.m. Central Time. 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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