Weekend Preview: UND vs. Wisconsin

A quick rewind to March 2014:

Plenty was written about the roller coaster ride of emotions that North Dakota faced after defeating Western Michigan 5-0 in the 3rd place game of the NCHC tournament (Target Center, Minneapolis, MN). The team had done its part, but needed some help to make the NCAAs.

That help came in the form of the Wisconsin Badgers, former WCHA foe and long-time rival. On Saturday night, across the river at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Bucky was facing Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament championship. Down 4-2 with seven minutes remaining, UW scored twice in twenty seconds and rang a shot off the post in overtime before Mark Zengerle notched the game-winner at 7:48 of the first extra session.

To be fair, North Dakota’s 23-13-3 record and second-place finish in the NCHC would have been good enough for an at-large bid in most seasons. But the new league did not fare well out of conference (37-31-16, .536), including an abysmal 9-17-8 (.382) mark against Hockey East and the ECAC.

Thanks to Wisconsin, UND had new life and nothing to lose. #4 North Dakota managed to defeat the top-seeded Badgers (UW had gone 20-5-1 since November 30th, 2013) and outlasted #2 seed Ferris State for a trip to the Frozen Four (Philadelphia, PA).

Since that regional semifinal eight months ago, the Badgers have become virtually unrecognizable. Head coach Mike Eaves graduated ten seniors (including forwards Mark Zengerle, Michael Mersch, Tyler Barnes, and Jefferson Dahl along with blueliners Frankie Simonelli and Joe Faust) and watched two underclassmen (forward Nic Kerdiles, 26-45-71 in 60 games played, and defenseman Jake McCabe, 14-44-58 in 100 gp) leave early. Overall, those twelve players scored 90 of Wisconsin’s 120 goals. In other words, the Badgers only return 30 total goals from last season (by comparison, UND’s returning players notched 97 goals a year ago).

So it’s no surprise that Wisconsin is winless, scoring less than one goal per hockey game. The Badgers are also scoreless on 18 power play opportunities this season and are giving up almost three goals per contest.

If there’s any reason for optimism in Madison, it’s that things can only get better for Bucky. This weekend’s non-conference series against North Dakota will mark the first home games of the year for UW, and the Badgers have yet to open their conference schedule, so there’s no league hole out of which to climb. Two of Wisconsin’s four losses came at the hands of unbeaten Northern Michigan, while UW also went winless at the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage, Alaska.

North Dakota fans were able to experience some late-game heroics last Saturday night against Air Force. Junior forward Drake Caggiula tied the game with under 30 seconds remaining in regulation, and fellow junior Bryn Chyzyk netted the game-winner with seven ticks left on the overtime clock. Chyzyk notched his overtime tally off a brilliant play and feed from Michael Parks, who created the shorthanded two-on-one situation with a strong individual effort in the neutral zone.

Prior to that, the last time UND tied a game with an extra attacker goal in the final minute of regulation and completed the comeback with an overtime victory was on March 16, 2003. That date happened to be Game 3 of the WCHA playoffs against Denver. On that night, Mike Prpich tied the game at 19:19, and Nick Fuher won it with 64 seconds remaining in the first overtime session. That Sunday victory also started North Dakota’s streak of twelve consecutive league playoff (WCHA Final Five, NCHC Frozen Faceoff) appearances.

On the injury front, UND senior forward Mark MacMillan (five goals and two assists in five games) is expected to be out until after Christmas after suffering a wrist injury against Providence. North Dakota will miss his scoring touch over the next two months, as the Green and White face tough league opponents Miami, St. Cloud State, Nebraska-Omaha, and Denver (along with non-conference foe Lake Superior) over the next five weeks.

After leading the nation in scoring by defensemen last year, UND is second in the country on the young season. Through seven games, North Dakota blueliners have scored seven goals and added fifteen assists for 22 points, or 3.14 points per game. Only Massachusetts-Lowell has scored at a higher rate (6-19-25 in seven games, 3.57/game).

Another key to North Dakota’s early success has been special teams play. With an equal number of power play and shorthanded situations (40 each), UND has scored nine power play goals while only allowing five. Furthermore, Dave Hakstol’s crew has scored five shorthanded goals in the first seven games of the season, tied for most in the country (Minnesota-Duluth).

Wisconsin Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Eaves (13th season at UW, 255-184-53, .572)

National Ranking: NR
This Season: 0-4-0 overall, 0-0-0 Big Ten
Last Season: 24-11-2 overall (NCAA Midwest Regional semifinalist), 15-6-1 Big Ten (2nd)

Team Offense: 0.75 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.75 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 0.0% (0 of 18)
Penalty Kill: 72.7% (8 of 11)

Key Players: Freshman F Ryan Wagner (0-2-2), Senior F Brad Navin (1-0-1), Senior F Joseph LaBate (0-0-0), Junior D Kevin Schulze (0-0-0), Senior D Chase Drake (0-1-1), Senior G Joel Rumpel (0-3-0, 2.72 GAA, .884 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (11th season at UND, 265-134-41, .649)
National Ranking: #2/#2
This Season: 5-1-1 overall, 2-0-0-0 NCHC (t-1st)
Last Season: 25-14-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 15-9-0-0 NCHC (2nd)

Team Offense: 3.43 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.00 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 22.5% (9 of 40)
Penalty Kill: 87.5% (35 of 40)

Key Players: Senior F Michael Parks (1-6-7), Junior F Drake Caggiula (2-6-8), Freshman F Nick Schmaltz (1-6-7), Junior F Bryn Chyzyk (2-2-4), Junior D Jordan Schmaltz (1-3-4), Sophomore D Paul LaDue (3-4-7), Junior G Zane McIntyre (5-1-1, 1.92 GAA, .931 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 28, 2014 (Cincinnati, OH). UND junior forward Mark MacMillan broke a 2-2 tie with under two minutes remaining in the game as North Dakota advanced to the Midwest Regional final with a 5-2 victory. After a lengthy review to determine whether there was goaltender interference or if MacMillan had played the puck with a high stick, the goal stood. Rocco Grimaldi added two empty-net goals for the Green and White, which gave him a hat trick in the contest (the first of his collegiate career). Joel Rumpel made thirty saves for the Badgers, who lost for just the sixth time since November 30th.

Last Meeting in Madison: October 22, 2011. UND forward Danny Kristo potted two goals to bring North Dakota back from a 3-1 deficit, but it wasn’t enough, as the home squad answered with two third period tallies to put the game out of reach. Brock Nelson added an extra-attacker goal with 40 seconds to play, but UW prevailed 5-4, completing the home sweep. The Green and White outshot Bucky 42-15, but Joel Rumpel made 38 saves to Aaron Dell’s 10, and that told the story. The Badgers won Friday’s opener 5-3. It was the first time that North Dakota lost their opening two WCHA games since 1994-95.

Most Important Meeting: March 27, 1982 (Providence, RI). A 2-2 tie after two periods turned into a 5-2 Sioux victory, as Phil Sykes netted a hat trick and led UND to its fourth National Championship. Glen White scored the first goal of the game for North Dakota and assisted on two of Sykes’ goals. Darren Jensen backstopped the Green and White and was named to the all-tournament team along with Sykes, defenseman James Patrick, and forward Cary Eades. This title would be the second of three North Dakota titles won at the Providence Civic Center (1980, 2000).

All-time Series: Wisconsin leads the all-time series, 86-66-12 (.561), including a 46-27-3 (.625) record in Madison.

Last Ten: The Green and White have had Bucky’s number lately, going 6-3-1 (.650) in the last ten tilts. UND is unbeaten in the last five (4-0-1), outscoring UW 19-9.

Game News and Notes

Despite coaching for two fewer seasons than his counterpart on the UW bench, North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol has collected ten more victories than Mike Eaves. Hakstol recently passed coaching legend Dean Blais (262-115-33) for second-most wins all time at North Dakota. After this weekend against UND, Wisconsin will face Colorado College and Denver on November 21st and 22nd. The Badgers don’t open up Big Ten league play until December 5th against Penn State and won’t play their second conference series until January 16th at Minnesota. North Dakota senior forward Michael Parks has scored five goals in seven career games against UW.

The Prediction

If these games were played in Grand Forks, I’d say that North Dakota would win a couple of 3-1, 4-1 games. But they’re not, and there’s something about the Kohl Center crowd. Yes, the Badgers are winless on the young season, but they’re playing in front of the Kohl Center crowd for the first time this year. That counts for something, and sweeps are hard to come by in Mad-town. I’m going with Rumpel returning to last season’s form and stealing one for Bucky. UND 4-1, UW 2-1.

U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game Preview: UND vs. Air Force

Since moving to Atlantic Hockey in 2006, Frank Serratore has brought the Air Force Falcons to the NCAA tournament five times in eight seasons.

Air Force pushed Minnesota to the limit in the 2007 West Regional, leading the Gophers 3-1 with under nine minutes remaining before surrendering three goals in a span of four minutes. The Falcons lost an overtime heartbreaker to Miami in 2008, but finally broke through against Michigan in the 2009 tourney, defeating the Wolverines 2-0 before falling to Vermont 3-2 in double overtime, one game short of the Frozen Four.

Air Force would drop another overtime contest against Yale in the 2011 East Regional, and ran up against Boston College in 2012, losing 2-0 to Jerry York’s Eagles.

Despite a twenty win season a year ago, the Falcons did not make the NCAA tournament.

A national tournament bid is the expectation in Grand Forks, as North Dakota has an active streak of twelve consecutive NCAA bids (best in the nation). UND has also made the tourney in 17 of 18 seasons overall dating back to 1996-97. With a current non-conference record of 2-1-1, Dave Hakstol’s squad has seven games remaining against non-NCHC opponents. After Saturday’s game against Air Force, UND will travel to Wisconsin for two games at the Kohl Center next weekend. North Dakota’s final four non-conference games will be at home: two each against Lake Superior (December 5-6, 2014) and Niagara (January 16-17, 2015).

Saturday’s contest will mark the eighth time that North Dakota will take part in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game. UND is 3-3-1 all-time in the annual event, and first hosted the Hall of Fame Game on October 5, 2001, the grand opening of the new Ralph Engelstad Arena. The Green and White have fared better in more recent Hall of Fame Games, defeating Minnesota-Duluth 3-2 and Michigan State 6-0 in Grand Forks (2003 and 2007, respectively) and blitzing the Bulldogs 5-0 in Duluth during the grand opening of Amsoil Arena (December 30, 2010).

On the injury front, UND senior forward Mark MacMillan (five goals and two assists in five games) is expected to be out until after Christmas after suffering a wrist injury against Providence. North Dakota will miss his scoring touch over the next two months, as the Green and White face tough league opponents Miami, St. Cloud State, Nebraska-Omaha, and Denver over the next six weeks.

After leading the nation in scoring by defensemen last year, UND is at the top of the charts once again. Through six games, North Dakota blueliners have scored six goals and added fifteen assists for 21 points, one better than Union and four points ahead of Massachusetts-Lowell and St. Lawrence.

Air Force Team Profile

Head Coach: Frank Serratore (18th season at AFA, 295-281-62, .511)
National Ranking: NR
This Season: 2-4-0 overall, 2-2-0 Atlantic Hockey (t-5th)
Last Season: 21-14-4 overall, 15-9-3 Atlantic Hockey (t-3rd)

Team Offense: 2.67 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.7% (6 of 29)
Penalty Kill: 87.0% (20 of 23)

Key players: Senior F Cole Gunner (2-5-7), Senior F Chad Demers (3-2-5), Senior F Scott Holm (2-3-5), Sophomore F A.J.Reid (3-1-4), Sophomore D Johnny Hrabovsky (0-6-6), Freshman D Phil Boje (2-1-3), Sophomore G Chris Truehl (2-4-0, 3.36 GAA, .861 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (11th season at UND, 264-134-41, .648)
National Ranking: #3/#2
This Season: 4-1-1 overall, 2-0-0-0 NCHC (t-1st)
Last Season: 25-14-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 15-9-0-0 NCHC (2nd)

Team Offense: 3.50 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.00 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 25.0% (9 of 36)
Penalty Kill: 86.5% (32 of 37)

Key Players: Senior F Michael Parks (1-4-5), Junior F Drake Caggiula (1-6-7), Freshman F Nick Schmaltz (1-5-6), Junior F Bryn Chyzyk (1-2-3), Junior D Jordan Schmaltz (1-3-4), Sophomore D Paul LaDue (3-4-7), Junior G Zane McIntyre (4-1-1, 1.93 GAA, .935 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: October 7, 2011 (Grand Forks, ND). Sophomore forward Brock Nelson tallied two third period goals as North Dakota staged a comeback over the visiting Falcons in the semifinals of the IceBreaker Tournament. In the second period, Cole Gunner assisted on both Air Force goals as the Falcons built a 3-2 lead. Nelson also notched an assist on UND’s first goal, giving him three of his 47 points on the season.

All-time Series: UND has won all four games against Air Force, outscoring the Falcons 27-6. North Dakota hosted a November 1980 series as well as a single game in 1988.

Game News and Notes

Air Force head coach Frank Serratore has been a collegiate head coach for 22 seasons. He was an assistant coach at North Dakota from 1987-1989. UND has already scored four shorthanded goals in six games this season, equaling last season’s total (four in 42 games). Two of this season’s four shorties came off the stick of injured forward Mark MacMillan. The school record for shorthanded goals in a season is 18, set in 1986-87 (48 games). On the national college hockey scene, #1 Minnesota and #2 Union have already lost this weekend.

The Prediction

In his final game at Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grafton native (and current Air Force senior) Chad Demers will make an impact. Aside from that, I just don’t think that Frank Serratore’s squad has the depth to match up with North Dakota and roll four lines for sixty minutes. If the Falcons can notch a couple of power play goals, however, this game might get interesting. UND 4, AFA 2.

Weekend Preview: UND at Colorado College

It was time for a change in Colorado Springs.

That much was apparent after last season, when Scott Owen’s squad found lots of different ways to lose. The primary culprit was that Colorado College was not able to finish games. The Tigers scored first in 17 of 37 games last year and played opponents even in the first period (28 goals scored, 28 goals allowed). But CC was just 2-12-3 when taking the early lead and were outscored 93-46 in the final two periods and overtime a year ago.

The past two seasons were the most difficult of Owens’ coaching career. After 13 winning campaigns behind the bench (299-185-43, .608), his teams went just 25-43-11 (.386) from 2012-14.

The Tiger faithful are hopeful for a couple of reasons. The first is that CC should be strong defensively, with key returning blueliners Jacob Slavin and Peter Stoykewych leading the way. And the second is the feeling that new blood behind the bench will translate into new life on the ice. First-year head coach Mike Haviland is new to Division I hockey, but he was named the AHL coach of the year in 2006-07 (Norfolk Admirals) and served as an assistant coach with the Chicago Blackhawks for four seasons (2008-12), winning a Stanley Cup in 2010. He was most recently head coach for the AHL’s Hershey Bears.

For North Dakota, the time is now. Head coach Dave Hakstol returns almost every piece from last season’s Frozen Four squad (only forward Rocco Grimaldi and defenseman Dillon Simpson could be considered huge losses), and the addition of new talent has the fans talking titles in Grand Forks. But the weight of those expectations could prove too much to bear, as evidenced by the 5-1 drubbing that Bemidji State laid on the Green and White in the season opener for both schools.

UND and Colorado College met five times last season (all in Grand Forks), with North Dakota winning four of the five contests. The teams are scheduled to play four regular season league games against each other this season, with the Tigers returning to Grand Forks on January 23rd and 24th for a weekend series.

Incidentally, 11 of the 22 players on North Dakota’s travel roster for this weekend have never played in Colorado Springs. Junior forward Coltyn Sanderson, sophomore forward Wade Murphy, senior defenseman Andrew Panzerella, and sophomore goaltender Matt Hrnkiw did not make the trip. The Tigers tend to play better at home, collecting five of their seven victories a year ago on the wider Olympic ice surface at World Arena.

Colorado College Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Haviland (1st season at CC)
National Ranking: NR
This Season: 2-0-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 7-24-6 overall, 6-13-5-1 NCHC (7th)

2013-14 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.27 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 12.2% (17 of 139)
Penalty Kill: 78.6% (110 of 140)

Key returning players (2013-14 statistics): Junior F Cody Bradley (6-10-16), Junior F Peter Maric (1-1-2 in 12 games), Junior F Alex Roos (10-7-17), Sophomore F Sam Rothstein (6-14-20), Sophomore D Jaccob Slavin (5-20-25), Senior D Peter Stoykewych (1-8-9), G Tyler Marble (no official statistics)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (11th season at UND, 261-134-40, .646)
National Ranking: #3
This Season: 1-1-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 25-14-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 15-9-0-0 NCHC (2nd)

2013-14 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.02 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.43 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.2% (32 of 186)
Penalty Kill: 83.4% (146 of 175)

Key Returning Players (2013-14 statistics): Senior F Michael Parks (12-18-30), Senior F Mark MacMillan (10-16-26), Junior F Drake Caggiula (11-13-24), Junior D Jordan Schmaltz (6-18-24), Senior D Nick Mattson (4-9-23), Junior G Zane McIntyre (20-10-3, 1.99 GAA, .926 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 16, 2014 (Grand Forks, ND). In the third and decisive game of their first round playoff series, Colorado College gave the Green and White all they could handle, scoring an extra attacker goal with 90 seconds remaining to pull within one. UND netminder Zane McIntyre (nee Gothberg) stood strong at the end, however, making 27 saves in the contest and preserving a 4-3 North Dakota victory. CC played perhaps its best, most complete hockey of the season in the three-game series.

Last Meeting in Colorado Springs: December 1, 2012. One night after dropping a 5-3 decision to the homestanding Tigers, North Dakota took the hosts to overtime before downing CC 3-2. Defenseman Dillon Simpson scored an extra attacker goal with 13 seconds remaining to force the extra session, and then-freshman Drake Caggiula potted the game-winner less than one minute into added time.

Most Important Meeting: March 27, 1997. UND defeated Colorado College, 6-2, in the Frozen Four Semifinals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Two nights later, North Dakota downed Boston University, 6-4, to claim its sixth NCAA Championship. North Dakota and Colorado College also met in the 2001 East Regional (Worcester, Mass.), with UND prevailing, 4-1.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 143-80-10 (.635), although Colorado College holds a 57-48-4 (.541) edge in games played in Colorado Springs. The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: North Dakota has won six of the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring CC 35-31 over that span. Three of the past ten contests have gone to overtime, and six of ten have been decided by a single goal.

Game News and Notes

CC opened the regular season with two victories over Alabama-Huntsville last weekend, marking the Tigers’ first home sweep since November 2012 (Bemidji State). UND head coach Dave Hakstol has a record of 20-13-1 (.603) against Colorado College. North Dakota forward Drake Caggiula has scored seven goals in his ten career games against the Tigers. For the second time in two seasons, a college hockey team in Colorado has a new coach (Jim Montgomery took over for George Gwozdecky at DU last year).

The Prediction

UND should fare well in this matchup, as they have the ability to move the puck through all three zones and the forward depth required to play a weekend series at altitude. Furthermore, the boys from Grand Forks can expect a predominantly green and white crowd at World Arena, proving yet again that for North Dakota hockey, it’s always a home game. UND 3-2, 4-2.

NCHC 2014-15 Season Preview and Predictions

There’s plenty of intrigue headed into NCHC 2.0, the second season of the nation’s newest college hockey conference.

And there’s a recurring theme: the teams with an established goaltender feel like they can contend for the league title and beyond, and the teams with question marks between the pipes will be searching for answers.

Miami (junior Ryan McKay, 23 career victories), Nebraska-Omaha (senior Ryan Massa, 18), and North Dakota (junior Zane McIntyre, 29) appear to have their goalie situations solidified, with Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, and St. Cloud State dealing with the losses of Josh Thorimbert, Sam Brittain, Aaron Crandall, and Ryan Faragher, respectively.

And at Western Michigan, there’s a race developing between Junior Lukas Hafner and senior Frank Slubowski, but will it really matter if the Broncos can’t score?

There are two main reasons why goaltending is more important now than ever. The first is that games are more tightly contested than ever before, with most league games decided by one or two goals. And the second is that teams will rely on their netminders (especially early in the season) as new and returning players adjust to new roles and new linemates.

Here’s how the teams ended up last season, the inaugural campaign for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference:

1. St. Cloud State
2. North Dakota
3. Nebraska-Omaha
4. Minnesota-Duluth
4. Western Michigan
6. Denver
7. Colorado College
8. Miami

What follows is my prediction for the league standings, from #8 all the way up to #1. (Media prediction in parenthesis)

#8 Western Michigan Broncos (#7 in the media poll)

Head Coach: Andy Murray (4th season at WMU, 60-42-19, .574)

2013-14 Season: 19-16-5 overall, 11-11-2-2 NCHC (t-4th)
Team Offense: 2.58 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.65 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 13.3% (24 of 181)
Penalty Kill: 84.8% (178 of 210)

Key losses: F Chase Balisy (13-24-37), F Shane Berschbach (16-22-38), D Dennis Brown (2-11-13), D Jordan Oesterle (2-15-17)

Key returning players: Junior F Colton Hargrove (11-13-24), Senior F Justin Kovacs (13-20-33), Junior F Josh Pitt (9-9-18), Senior F Will Kessel (6-6-12), Junior F Nolan LaPorte (11-13-24), Sophomore D Chris Dienes (2-3-5), Junior D Kenny Morrison (4-15-19), Junior G Lukas Hafner (9-6-2, .2.06 GAA, .925 SV%, 2 SO) Senior G Frank Slubowski (10-10-3, 2.86 GAA, .905 SV%)

Potential impact freshmen: F Aidan Muir, D Scott Moldenhauer

2014-15 season outlook: Question marks abound with this team. There’s uncertainty in net (Hafner appears to have overtaken Slubowski as the team’s #1), and the Broncos lost their top two scorers from last season. Western Michigan is perhaps the most physically intimidating team in the league, but can they score enough and kill enough penalties to be relevant in the NCHC? Andy Murray’s club will be miserable to play against, but three goals will be enough to top WMU on most nights.

#7 Colorado College (#8 in the media poll)

Head Coach: Mike Haviland (1st season at CC)

2013-14 Season: 7-24-6 overall, 6-13-5-1 NCHC (7th)
Team Offense: 2.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.27 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 12.2% (17 of 139)
Penalty Kill: 78.6% (110 of 140)

Key losses: F Alexander Krushelnyski (11-13-24), F Archie Skalbeck (6-9-15), F Jeff Collett, (3-7-10), D Eamonn McDermott (0-5-5), G Josh Thorimbert (7-23-6, 3.17 GAA, .895 SV%, 1 SO)

Key returning players: Junior F Cody Bradley (6-10-16), Junior F Peter Maric (1-1-2 in 12 games), Junior F Alex Roos (10-7-17), Sophomore F Sam Rothstein (6-14-20), Sophomore D Jacob Slavin (5-20-25), Senior D Peter Stoykewych (1-8-9), G Tyler Marble (no official statistics)

Potential impact freshmen: D Garrett Cecere, D Duggie Lagrone, D Teemu Kivhalme, G Chase Perry

2014-15 season outlook: Will a coaching change lead to improvement all over the ice? Because that’s what the Tigers need. A shaky goaltending situation and lack of proven scoring has many doubting the Tigers’ chances at an upper-division finish. But Mike Haviland has had success in the coaching ranks and could be just what the doctor ordered in Colorado Springs.

#6 Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (#6 in the media poll)

Head Coach: Dean Blais (6th season at UNO, 92-87-18, .513)

2013-14 Season: 17-8-2 overall, 13-9-2-1 NCHC (3rd)
Team Offense: 3.16 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.24 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.4% (37 of 181)
Penalty Kill: 80.8% (147 of 182)

Key losses: F Josh Archibald (29-14-43), F Ryan Walters (7-27-34), F Zahn Raubenheimer (6-5-11), F Johnnie Searfoss (4-8-12), F Brock Montpetit (14-19-33), D Nick Seeler (4-6-10), D Michael Young (3-19-22)

Key returning players: Senior F Dominic Zombo (17-17-34), Sophomore F Austin Ortega (9-10-19), Sophomore F Jake Guentzel (7-27-34), Sophomore D Ian Brady (4-17-21), Junior D Brian Cooper (2-7-9), Senior G Ryan Massa (11-9-1, 2.74 GAA, .899 SV%, 1 SO)

Potential impact freshmen: F Jake Montgomery, F Avery Peterson, F Jake Randolph, F Tyler Vesel, D Luc Snuggerud

2014-15 season outlook: UNO needs to replace the most talented group in program history, and they just might have the new recruits to do it. Ryan Massa will need to play well enough in net to keep Dean Blais’ squad competitive over the first half of the season until the pieces start to come together for the Mavs. Otherwise, the hole might be too deep to crawl out of.

#5 Denver Pioneers (#4 in the media poll)

Head Coach: Jim Montgomery (2nd season at DU, 20-16-6, .548)

2013-14 Season: 20-16-6 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional semifinalist), 10-11-3-2 NCHC (6th)
Team Offense: 2.67 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.33 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.8% (34 of 172)
Penalty Kill: 86.6% (149 of 172)

Key losses: D David Makowski (10-14-24), G Sam Brittain (19-14-6, 2.22 GAA, .929 SV%, 5 SO)

Key returning players: Sophomore F Trevor Moore (14-18-32), Senior F Ty Loney (11-15-26),Junior F Quentin Shore (7-18-25), Senior F Daniel Doremus (9-15-24), Senior F Zac Larraza (10-10-20 in 34 games), Senior D Joey LaLeggia (12-13-25), Junior D Nolan Zajac (5-18-23)

Potential impact freshmen: F Tanner Jaillet, F Danton Heinen, D Tariq Hammond

2014-15 season outlook: Denver has all of the ingredients to have a successful season: veteran leadership, a strong set of blueliners, and top-end talent. All of the ingredients, that is, except a proven netminder. Sam Brittain was everything for the Pios, and his absence leaves a huge void. Will Evan Cowley or Greg Ogard take the reins and lead this team to the NCAA tournament? If so, the sky’s the limit for DU.

#4 Minnesota-Duluth (#5 in the media poll)

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (15th season at UMD, 248-246-67, .502)

2013-14 Season: 16-16-4 overall, 11-11-2-2 NCHC (t-4th)
Team Offense: 2.89 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.89 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 15.8% (26 of 165)
Penalty Kill: 81.7% (147 of 180)

Key losses: F Caleb Herbert (12-19-31), F Joe Basaraba (8-10-18),F Max Tardy (1-1-2), G Aaron Crandall (14-12-3, 2.76 GAA, .900 SV%, 1 SO)

Key returning players: Junior F Tony Cameranesi (7-14-21), Senior F Justin Crandall (14-13-27), Sophomore F Alex Iafallo (11-11-22), Sophomore F Kyle Osterberg (14-13-27), Sophomore F Dominic Toninato (7-8-15), Junior D Andy Welinski (5-14-19), G Matt McNeely (2-4-1, 2.82 GAA, .894 SV%)

Potential impact freshmen: F Brett Boehm, F Karson Kuhlman, F Jared Thomas, G Kasimir Kaskisuo

2014-15 season outlook: There’s a lot to be hopeful for in Duluth. Scott Sandelin has a stable of forwards who are poised to make a jump in scoring this season. The Bulldogs will need to solidify their goaltending situation if they hope to secure home ice for the playoffs, and I think they’ll get just enough out of McNeely and Kaskisuo to do just that.

#3 St. Cloud State Huskies (#3 in the media poll)

Head Coach: Bob Motzko (10th season at SCSU, 185-137-40, .566)

2013-14 Season: 22-11-5 overall (NCAA West Regional finalist), 15-6-3-0 NCHC (1st)
Team Offense: 3.58 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.82 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 25.3% (37 of 146)
Penalty Kill: 76.9% (93 of 121)

Key losses: F Nic Dowd (21-20-41), F Cory Thorson (9-11-20), D Kevin Gravel (10-13-23), G Ryan Faragher (20-9-4, 2.79 GAA, .905 SV%, 1 SO)

Key returning players: Junior F Jonny Brodzinski (21-20-41), Junior F Kalle Kossila (13-27-40), Senior F David Morley (9-23-32), Junior F Joey Benik (12-15-27), Junior F Kimmy Murray (13-12-25), Sophomore F Ryan Papa (6-16-22), Senior D Andrew Prochno (3-16-19), Sophomore D Niklas Nevalainen (2-6-8), G Charlie Lindgren (2-2-1, 2.42 GAA, .905 SV%, 1 SO)

Potential impact freshmen: F Judd Peterson, F Patrick Russell, F Blake Winiecki, D Mika Ilvonen, D Nathan Widman

2014-15 season outlook: Bob Motzko has strung together back-to-back conference titles on the back of Ryan Faragher, but now the job is left to Charlie Lindgren and Rasmus Reijola. The Huskies will once again have a world-class power play, but will there be enough 5 on 5 scoring and depth at the center position to win the close games?

#2 North Dakota (#1 in the media poll)

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (11th season at UND, 261-134-40, .646)

2013-14 Season: 25-14-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four semifinalist), 15-9-0-0 NCHC (2nd)
Team Offense: 3.02 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.43 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.2% (32 of 186)
Penalty Kill: 83.4% (146 of 175)

Key losses: F Rocco Grimaldi (17-22-39), F Derek Rodwell (5-5-10), D Dillon Simpson (7-16-23),

Key returning players: Junior F Drake Caggiula (11-13-24), Sophomore F Luke Johnson (8-13-21), Senior F Michael Parks (12-18-30), Senior F Mark MacMillan (10-16-26), Senior F Brendan O’Donnell (7-11-18), Junior D Jordan Schmaltz (6-18-24), Senior D Nick Mattson (4-19-23), Sophomore D Paul LaDue (6-15-21), Junior G Zane McIntyre (20-10-3, 1.99 GAA, .926 SV%, 3 SO)

Potential impact freshmen: F Nick Schmaltz, D Tucker Poolman

2014-15 season outlook: North Dakota is built to win this year. Dave Hakstol has all of the tools at his disposal: scoring depth, leadership, a wealth of talent and playmaking ability, outstanding goaltending, the best defensive corps in the country, and motivation after last season’s abrupt ending. But will the weight of pre-season expectations prove to be too much for the boys from Grand Forks?

#1 Miami RedHawks (#2 in the media poll)

Head Coach: Enrico Blasi (16th season at Miami, 313-196-53, .592)

2013-14 Season: 15-20-3 overall, 6-17-1-1 NCHC (8th)
Team Offense: 2.92 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.03 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.6% (35 of 162)
Penalty Kill: 80.5% (136 of 169)

Key losses: F Max Cook (1-8-9), F Byron Paulazzo (3-2-5 in 22 games)

Key returning players: Senior F Austin Czarnik (13-34-47), Junior F Riley Barber (19-25-44), Senior F Blake Coleman (19-9-28 in 27 games), Junior F Sean Kuraly (12-17-29), Sophomore F Anthony Louis (12-13-25), Senior F Alex Wideman (7-9-16), Junior D Matthew Caito (3-13-16), Sophomore D Matt Joyaux (1-4-5), G Ryan McKay (10-13-3, 2.70 GAA, .913 SV%, 4 SO)

Potential impact freshman: D Louie Belpedio

2014-15 season outlook: Miami struggled for much of last season, with injuries playing a factor. The RedHawks also lost 12 one-goal games a year ago, and in order to reverse that trend, the defensemen will need to add scoring (only nine goals and 45 total points in 2013-14). Coach Blasi has virtually his entire team back, but can they go from worst to first? If there’s a roster that can do it, this is it.

So there you have it. Do you agree? Disagree? Who do you have coming out on top? Feel free to post your predictions below, and check back in December for a midseason report.

Weekend Preview: UND at Minnesota-Duluth

51-20-12. That’s the record that Minnesota-Duluth compiled from 2010-2012. In 2010-11, the Bulldogs won the national title, and they followed that up with a berth in the Northeast Regional final at the end of the 2012 campaign (falling to Boston College).

But last season was a different story. UMD won only 14 games (14-19-5) and finished ninth in the last season of the WCHA as it used to be. Despite a national championship to his credit, head coach Scott Sandelin is only four games over .500 (244-240-67, .504) during his tenure at Duluth. Now in his 14th season behind the bench, Sandelin has notched 20 or more victories six times, claimed one WCHA playoff championship, led Duluth to the national tournament four times, and brought his teams to two Frozen Fours.

By contrast, UND head coach Dave Hakstol, now in his tenth season coaching at his alma mater, already has over 250 wins to his credit (251-128-40, .647). In each of his nine previous campaigns, Hakstol has won at least 20 games and brought UND to the NCAA tournament. He boasts two MacNaughton Cups (WCHA regular season title), four Broadmoor trophies (WCHA playoff title), and five Frozen Four appearances.

At the end of the 2010-11 season, many expected these two squads to go to battle for the national title. Duluth held up their end of the bargain, dispatching Notre Dame in their semifinal. UND fell short, however, falling to Michigan 2-0 in heartbreaking fashion.

The Bulldogs were riding a seven game unbeaten streak (4-0-3) before they suffered a sweep at St. Cloud State last weekend. UND has won eight of its last ten conference games and now sits alone in second place in the NCHC, one game behind league-leading St. Cloud State.

UMD is just 7-6-3 (.531) since December 1st, while North Dakota sports a sparkling 11-2-1 record (.821) over that same span.

Minnesota-Duluth Team Profile

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (14th season at UMD, 244-240-67,.504)

Pairwise Ranking: t-16th
National Ranking: #20
This Season: 13-11-4 overall, 8-8-2-2 NCHC (t-5th)
Last Season: 14-19-5 overall, 10-13-5 WCHA (9th)

Team Offense: 2.93 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.79 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.4% (23 of 132)
Penalty Kill: 85.6% (125 of 146)

Key Players: Junior F Caleb Herbert (8-17-25), Freshman F Alex Iafallo (11-10-21), Junior F Justin Crandall (10-7-17), Senior F Joe Basaraba (7-8-15), Sophomore D Andy Welinski (5-11-16), Freshman D Willie Raskob (0-11-11), Senior G Aaron Crandall (11-8-3, 2.74 GAA, .906 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (10th season at UND, 251-128-40, .647)

Pairwise Ranking: t-11th
National Ranking: #11
This Season: 16-9-3 overall, 11-7-0-0 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 22-13-7 overall (NCAA West Regional finalist), 14-7-7 WCHA (3rd)

Team Offense: 3.07 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.75 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.7% (23 of 130)
Penalty Kill: 81.1% (107 of 132)

Key Players: Sophomore F Rocco Grimaldi (11-15-26), Sophomore F Michael Parks (9-16-25), Junior F Mark MacMillan (8-10-18), Sophomore F Drake Caggiula (8-9-17), Senior D Dillon Simpson (6-12-18), Sophomore D Jordan Schmaltz (4-13-17), Sophomore G Zane Gothberg (11-5-3, 2.25 GAA, .915 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: November 16, 2013 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after dropping a 4-2 contest to homestanding North Dakota, the Duluth Bulldogs doubled up UND 6-3 behind two goals from Adam Krause. Zane Gothberg took the loss in net for North Dakota after relieving Clarke Saunders, who allowed three goals on 13 shots in the first period.

Last Meeting in Duluth: February 11, 2012. UMD raced out to a 5-2 lead behind two goals and three assists from Jack Connolly and then withstood a furious North Dakota comeback to win 5-4 and earn a split of the weekend series. UND won Friday’s opener 3-1 and outshot the Bulldogs 36-31 in the rematch, including a 16-5 shot advantage in the third period.

Most Important Meeting: March 22, 1984 (Lake Placid, NY) Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota met in the national semifinal game, with the Bulldogs defeating the Fighting Sioux 2-1 in overtime to advance to the championship. UND went on to defeat Michigan State 6-5 (OT) for third place, while Duluth fell to Bowling Green 5-4 in four overtimes, the longest championship game ever played.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 137-76-9 (.637), including a 55-39-5 (.581) record in games played in Duluth.

Last Ten: North Dakota is 6-3-1 (.650) in the last ten games between the teams. UND has outscored Duluth 35-26 in the past ten contests. Two of the three losses were by a single goal.

Game News and Notes

North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol is 19-7-3 (.707) against Minnesota-Duluth in his head coaching career. UND is 7-2 in games in which the opponent scores first. Both head coaches this weekend are alumni of the University of North Dakota: Dave Hakstol (’92) and Scott Sandelin (’86) both played for UND.

Media Coverage

Friday’s game will be telecast live on FOX Sports North PLUS, while Saturday’s game can be seen on Midco Sports Network, which is picking up the My9 broadcast of the game.

The Prediction

UMD is a dismal 4-5-3 at home, while North Dakota is just 5-4-2 on the road. With that in mind, I can’t see this weekend as anything other than a split. The question is which game will go to which team? The first period on Friday night will tell the tale. If UND can come out of the first twenty ahead or tied, it bodes well for the weekend. I’ll take the Green and White on Friday night, with Duluth rebounding for the split in Saturday’s rematch. UND 3-2, UMD 4-3.

Weekend Preview: UND vs. St. Cloud State

A quick flashback to November 13th, 2009: UND entered the weekend series with St. Cloud State at 6-1-1, was ranked #2 in the country, and was scoring 3.62 goals per game and allowing 1.50. On the special teams side, North Dakota was scoring on 26% of their power play opportunities and had allowed only three power play goals in 41 chances (92.7%).

On a very unlucky Friday the 13th for the Fighting Sioux, St. Cloud junior forward Aaron Marvin met North Dakota senior defenseman Chay Genoway with a high elbow, sending Genoway into the glass and to the ice. UND’s captain and preseason All-American has not returned to game action (post-concussion syndrome) and the Green and White have struggled in his absence.

Since that game, North Dakota is 6-9-4 and is scoring 2.47 goals per contest while allowing 2.53. After converting on 13 of 50 man advantage opportunities with Genoway in the lineup, the Fighting Sioux have potted only 16 goals on 103 power plays (15.5%) in his absence.

There has been much debate this week regarding whether one of Genoway’s teammates will attempt to exact retribution against Marvin for his illegal hit; it is my opinion that the best way to do that would be on the scoreboard rather than attempting to injure an opponent.

For St. Cloud, the opening of the year 2010 was stellar. The Huskies won their first nine games after the calendar turned, but have just one victory in the past three games. During the current twelve game stretch (10-1-1), St. Cloud has converted better than 28 percent of their power play opportunities.

After this weekend’s series, SCSU will travel to Wisconsin for a pair before playing a home and home with Minnesota State Mankato to close out the regular season.

SCSU head coach Bob Motzko has been rotating netminders, playing junior Dan Dunn on Fridays and freshman Mike Lee on Saturdays. That cycle will continue in the series against the Fighting Sioux.

This weekend, the teams will be earning points for the UND/SCSU Challenge Cup, a traveling fan trophy awarded to the team which wins the four-game season series. The teams split the series in Grand Forks, so the Cup is on the line this weekend and will be awarded in St. Cloud on February 13, 2010. North Dakota has won at least a share of the Challenge Cup each of the past three seasons.

St. Cloud State Team Profile

Head Coach: (Bob Motzko, 5th season at SCSU, 99-68-23, .582)
National Ranking: #4/#4
PairWise Ranking: 4th
This Season: 18-8-4, 13-6-3 WCHA (t-1st)
Last Season: 18-17-3 overall, 13-13-2 WCHA (6th)
Team Offense: 3.27 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.6% (33 of 160)
Penalty Kill: 85.7% (108 of 126)
Key Players: Junior F Garrett Roe (11-22-33), Junior F Tony Mosey (10-16-26), Senior F Ryan Lasch (15-18-33), Senior D Garrett Raboin (5-13-18), Freshman G Mike Lee (8-6-3, 2.39 GAA, .923 SV%, 1 SO), Junior G Dan Dunn (10-2-1, 2.55 GAA, .914 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (6th season at UND, 143-81-24, .625)
National Ranking: #11/#11
PairWise Ranking: t-11th
This Season: 13-10-5, 8-9-3 WCHA (6th)
Last Season: 24-15-4 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional semifinalist), 17-7-4 WCHA (1st)
Team Offense: 2.86 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.21 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.0% (29 of 153)
Penalty Kill: 86.6% (123 of 142)
Key Players: Sophomore F Jason Gregoire (13-10-23), Senior F Chris VandeVelde (9-12-21), Freshman F Danny Kristo (8-12-20), Junior F Evan Trupp (5-16-21), Junior D Derrick LaPoint (1-11-12), Sophomore G Brad Eidsness (12-7-4, 2.26 GAA, .906 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: November 14, 2009 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after defeating St. Cloud but losing Chay Genoway, the Huskies scored the first three goals of the game and downed the Fighting Sioux 3-2 to earn a split of the weekend series.

Last Meeting in St. Cloud: January 31, 2009. North Dakota rebounds to defeat St. Cloud State 4-2 after suffering their first shutout loss of the season in Friday’s opener (3-0). Senior captain Ryan Duncan scored the game-winner for the Fighting Sioux.

Most Important Meeting: March 17, 2001 (St. Paul, MN). St. Cloud State defeated North Dakota 6-5 to claim the 2001 WCHA Final Five Championship. Derek Eastman scored the game-winner in overtime after UND scored three goals in the final ten minutes of regulation to force the extra session.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 51-28-10 (.629), and holds a record of 20-15-5 (.563) in games played in St. Cloud.

Game News and Notes

St, Cloud has not won a game this season when trailing after one period of play (0-3-3), but the Huskies are doubling up opponents (38 goals scored, 19 allowed) in the opening frame. UND sophomore goaltender Brad Eidsness is 4-1 in his career against St. Cloud. SCSU head coach Bob Motzko will be looking to pick up his 100th win this weekend. Under the new 12-team schedule rotation beginning next season, the Fighting Sioux and Huskies will continue to play four regular season games each year.

The Prediction

The last two times North Dakota has traveled to St. Cloud, the Fighting Sioux have lost on Friday and won on Saturday. I think UND will reverse the trend this weekend with a strong first period on Friday night. In Saturday’s rematch, tempers will flare and the Huskies power play will be the difference. UND 3-2, SCSU 4-1.

If this prediction holds, North Dakota and St. Cloud State will share the Challenge Cup for the first time since the 2007-08 season.

On a Personal Note

I look forward to this series every year because of the unique relationship we have with the Center Ice Club, the official hockey booster organization for the St. Cloud State University Huskies. On behalf of the Center Ice Club, I would like to invite you to the UND/SCSU pre-game social on Saturday afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. at Legends Grill and Bar in the Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites in St. Cloud. This is a great opportunity to meet fans on both sides of the rivalry, share in some complimentary food and door prizes, and view the Challenge Cup. This event is free and open to all fans 21 and older.