Weekend Preview: UND vs. Western Michigan

Freshmen are leading the way for the Western Michigan Broncos, as 18 of the team’s first 58 goals (31 percent) have been scored by first-year players. Forward Griffen Molino is tied for third in the league scoring race with 18 points (7g, 11a), while classmate Colt Conrad (5-8-13) is tied for ninth. First-year blueliner Oliver Kaski has also chipped in with 11 points. Among other accolades, Molino was named the NCHC Rookie of the Month for December.

The Broncos are coming off of a home shellacking at the hands of SCSU, losing 8-2 and 7-3 to the first-place Huskies. St. Cloud State scored on six of ten power play opportunities, dropping WMU’s penalty kill rate to under 70 percent, easily the worst unit in the country.

The boys from Kalamazoo, Michigan like to play a tight, physical brand of hockey, but that has meant quite a bit of time in the penalty box. WMU has been in 109 shorthanded situations already this season (compared to 79 power play opportunities). The Broncos’ power play has scored 16 goals this year (converting at 20.3%), but their penalty killers have allowed 34 goals to the opposition. By comparison, North Dakota has scored twenty power play goals and allowed fifteen in an equal number of man-advantage and shorthanded situations (101 each).

This season, the race for the Penrose is down to North Dakota and St. Cloud State. The Huskies (12-3-1-1, 38 points) are idle this weekend and have eight league games remaining, while the Fighting Hawks (11-2-1-1, 35 points) have ten. SCSU and UND, winners of the first two NCHC regular season league titles, will not meet again in the regular season.

If North Dakota is to put two more victories in the books and pass the Huskies, they will need to do it with secondary scoring. Two Hobey Baker candidates, senior forward Drake Caggiula (15-15-30) and sophomore forward Nick Schmaltz (3-24-27), are expected to miss a second consecutive weekend of action. In their absence last weekend against Colorado College, the top five forwards in the lineup for North Dakota (Brock Boeser, Bryn Chyzyk, Rhett Gardner, Luke Johnson, and Austin Poganski) accounted for eight goals and eight assists. Boeser also scored the only goal in Friday’s shootout victory over the Tigers, UND’s first shootout win in the history of the NCHC.

WMU’s Lukas Hafner, a senior goaltender who played his junior hockey with the Cornwall Colts (CCHL), has the worst numbers of his four-year career (3.49 goals-against average and a save percentage of .901), but that has as much to do with the team in front of him as it does his own play. Hafner has the ability to steal games and was a force two seasons ago, posting a 2.06 GAA and a save percentage of .925. The Toledo, Ohio native also has six assists in his career.

His counterpart in the UND net, sophomore Cam Johnson, has had two rough outings in his last four starts after going nearly 300 consecutive minutes without allowing a goal (a UND record and the second-longest in the history of NCAA Division I men’s hockey) . The Hockey Commissioners’ Association and NCHC Player of the Month for the month of December allowed four goals on 23 shots against Omaha and three goals on 11 shots against Colorado College in two consecutive Friday home starts this month. Johnson was able to bounce back from both of those outings (making 46 of 48 stops in the two Saturday rematches) and is currently first in the nation in goals-against average (1.42) and tied for second in save percentage (.942).

During the 2015-16 campaign, Brad Berry’s squad is unbeaten (17-0-2) when leading after the first forty minutes of play. In fact, North Dakota has gone 65 straight games without a loss when leading after the first two periods. Amazingly, UND is 8th nationally in scoring offense and 3rd in scoring defense, notching 93 goals and allowing only 46 in 26 games this season. Nationally, only St. Cloud State (113 goals for/52 goals against in 26 games), Boston College (100 goals for/45 goals against in 24 games), and Quinnipiac (92 goals for/40 goals against in 25 games) boast a better scoring margin than North Dakota.

Berry has his team in very good position for a 14th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. UND went 9-1-2 in non-conference games this season, with a home split with Wisconsin accounting for the only loss in twelve games. The Fighting Hawks are currently 3rd in the Pairwise rankings, one of four NCHC teams (along with St. Cloud State, Omaha, and Denver) who would make the NCAAs if the season ended today. Minnesota-Duluth (19th) and Miami (t-20th) are close, with Western Michigan and Colorado College outside the top 25.

Western Michigan Team Profile

Head Coach: Andy Murray (5th season at WMU, 80-73-27, .519)

Pairwise Ranking: t-30th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 7-14-3 overall, 4-9-1-1 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 14-18-5 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 6-13-5-4 NCHC (7th)

Team Offense: 2.42 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.96 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.3% (16 of 79)
Penalty Kill: 68.8% (75 of 109)

Key Players: Freshman F Griffen Molino (7-11-18), Junior F Sheldon Dries (10-4-14), Freshman F Colt Conrad (5-8-13), Senior F Nolan LaPorte (5-6-11), Freshman D Oliver Kaski (4-7-11), Junior D Chris Dienes (2-8-10), Senior G Lukas Hafner (5-9-3, 3.49 GAA, .901 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 20-3-3, .827)

Pairwise Ranking: 3rd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #2/#2
This Season: 20-3-3 overall, 11-2-1-1 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.58 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.77 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.8% (20 of 101)
Penalty Kill: 85.1% (86 of 101)

Key Players: Freshman F Brock Boeser (15-12-27), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (9-7-16), Junior forward Luke Johnson (7-7-14), Sophomore F Austin Poganski (6-9-15), Sophomore D Tucker Poolman (3-11-14), Junior D Troy Stecher (5-14-19), Junior D Paul LaDue (2-8-10), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (11-1-1, 1.42 GAA, .942 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: February 21, 2015 (Kalamazoo, MI). Western Michigan scored two extra-attacker goals in the last four minutes of the third period to knot the game at two, but Drake Caggiula sent the home fans home unhappy with a goal at 3:31 of overtime. Zane McIntyre made 34 of 36 saves for the Green and White, who also won Friday’s contest by a score of 3-1. The Broncos’ lone goal in the opener came with 33 seconds remaining in the game, also with the goalie pulled. Yes, that’s right, all three of WMU’s goals on the weekend came with an extra attacker on the ice.

Most Important Meeting: March 24, 2012 (St. Paul, MN). North Dakota upended Western Michigan 3-1 in the NCAA West Regional semifinal. Brock Nelson had two points, including an empty net goal with 25 seconds remaining that sent UND to the regional finals against Minnesota. Aaron Dell made 24 saves for the Green and White. The Broncos, who have played at the Division I level since 1975-76, have five NCAA tournament appearances but have not been in the national tournament since 2012.

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Saturday, March 22nd (Minneapolis, MN). North Dakota faced a must-win situation in the 3rd place game at the inaugural NCHC Frozen Faceoff, and did not disappoint the partisan crowd. The Green and White rolled to a 5-0 victory behind two first period goals from Conner Gaarder. UND netminder Zane Gothberg made 25 saves for the shutout, and Dave Hakstol’s crew played the waiting game for several more hours before discovering that they had indeed made the NCAA tournament for the 13th consecutive season.

All-time Series: In the short history between the schools, UND has won eleven of the twelve games, outscoring the Broncos 51-22. WMU’s lone victory over North Dakota was a 2-1 road win on March 8th, 2014. The teams first met in 1997.

Game News and Notes

UND forward Luke Johnson has collected three goals and four assists in seven career games against Western Michigan but was held off the scoresheet in last February’s road sweep. North Dakota is 9-1-1 on the road this season, while the Broncos are 6-2-1 at Lawson Ice Arena, suffering their first two home defeats of the year at the hands of St. Cloud State last weekend. UND has never lost in Kalamazoo (6-0-0). The Fighting Hawks and Broncos will also meet at Ralph Engelstad Arena on March 4th and 5th, the last two games of the regular season.

Media Coverage

Friday’s opener will not be televised, but Saturday’s contest will be shown live on American Sports Network, MidcoSN2, TSN2 (Canada), and WDAY’Z Extra. A high definition webcast of the games is also available to NCHC.tv subscribers. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

The Prediction

North Dakota can take a huge step forward in the league race with two NCHC victories this weekend. It won’t be easy, but UND showed last weekend that they can score without Caggiula and Schmaltz in the lineup. UND 4-1, 3-2.

Weekend Preview: UND vs. Colorado College

Mike Haviland’s second year behind the Colorado College bench has already produced better results than year one. Last season, the Tigers were historically bad, winning just twice (2-19-3-1) in 24 league games. This year, CC already has three conference victories (a December home sweep against Miami and a road split at St. Cloud State two weekends ago), and Haviland’s squad has posted a 5-4-0 overall record in the past nine games after opening the season with thirteen consecutive losses.

The feeling among the Tiger faithful is that new blood behind the bench will eventually translate into new life on the ice, and that has certainly been true since the end of November. 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.

UND and Colorado College met six times last season (twice in Colorado Springs), with North Dakota winning all six games and outscoring the Tigers 25-10. Without those six victories, UND’s record last year would have looked far less impressive at 23-10-3 (.681). This season, Brad Berry’s first trip to Colorado Springs as head coach resulted in a pair of victories (5-2, 2-0).

This weekend’s games are critical for UND’s Penrose Cup hopes. Last year, North Dakota went 10-2-0 against the bottom four teams in the league (Colorado College, Western Michigan, St. Cloud State, and Minnesota-Duluth) en route to a 16-6-2 conference mark and the NCHC regular season title. A second reward for the Green and White was a first-round playoff series against Colorado College, the 13th time in a row that UND hosted the opening round of the conference tournament. The Green and White dispatched the Tigers in two games (5-1, 3-2) and advanced to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff.

This season, the race for the Penrose is down to North Dakota and St. Cloud State. The Huskies (10-3-1-1) have ten league games remaining, while the Fighting Hawks (10-2-0-0) have twelve. SCSU and UND, winners of the first two NCHC regular season league titles, will not meet again in the regular season.

If North Dakota is to put victories in the books and keep pace with the Huskies, they will need to do it with secondary scoring. Two Hobey Baker candidates, senior forward Drake Caggiula (15-15-30) and sophomore forward Nick Schmaltz (3-24-27), are expected to miss this weekend’s action. Freshman Brock Boeser (15-10-25) will be paired with new linemates but will need to finish his chances, as will senior forward Bryn Chyzyk (8-5-13). Other likely contributors among the forward group include junior Luke Johnson, sophomore Austin Poganski, and freshmen Shane Gersich and Rhett Gardner, all of whom have already netted five goals.

Colorado College has seen a resurgence in their offensive numbers since assembling a forward line of Hunter Fejes, Sam Rothstein, and Luc Gerdes eight games ago. The three upperclassmen (Fejes is a senior; the other two are juniors) have combined for 11 goals and 15 assists over the past four weekends, and the Tigers have averaged 2.88 goals per game over that same stretch, a far cry from the 1.57 goals/game over the first 14 games of the season.

Another storyline for the boys from Colorado Springs has been the play of freshman netminder Jacob Nehama. The Allen, Texas native has all five of the Tigers’ victories this season (junior Tyler Marble is 0-7-0), and those five wins have all come in his last eight starts.

His counterpart in the UND net, sophomore Cam Johnson, has been absolutely incredible since returning from injury in late November. Johnson leads the nation in both goals-against average (1.28) and save percentage (.949). The Flint, Michigan native went nearly 300 consecutive minutes without allowing a goal (a UND record and the second-longest in the history of NCAA Division I men’s hockey) and was named both the Hockey Commissioners’ Association and NCHC Player of the Month for the month of December.

Johnson’s play, equal parts steady and spectacular, has meant that North Dakota has been able to hold leads. During the 2015-16 campaign, Brad Berry’s squad is unbeaten (16-0-1) when leading after the first forty minutes of play. In fact, North Dakota has gone 63 straight games without a loss when leading after the first two periods. Amazingly, UND is 11th nationally in scoring offense and 3rd in scoring defense, notching 83 goals and allowing only 40 in 24 games this season. Nationally, only Quinnipiac (92 goals for/40 goals against in 25 games) boasts a better scoring margin than North Dakota.

Berry has his team in very good position for a 14th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. UND went 9-1-2 in non-conference games this season, with a home split with Wisconsin accounting for the only loss in twelve games. The Fighting Hawks are currently 3rd in the Pairwise rankings, one of four NCHC teams (along with St. Cloud State, Omaha, and Denver) who would make the NCAAs if the season ended today. Minnesota-Duluth sits squarely on the bubble (tied with Minnesota at 17), with Western Michigan, Miami, and Colorado College outside the top 25.

Colorado College Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Haviland (2nd season at CC, 11-43-3, .219)

Pairwise Ranking: t-52nd of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 5-17-0 overall, 3-9-0-0 NCHC (8th)
Last Season: 6-26-3 overall, 2-19-3-1 NCHC (8th)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.05 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.59 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 15.4% (14 of 91)
Penalty Kill: 81.1% (73 of 90)

Key players: Senior F Hunter Fejes (9-5-14), Junior F Luc Gerdes (4-9-13), Junior F Sam Rothstein (5-7-12), Senior F Cody Bradley (5-4-9), Sophomore D Teemu Kivihalme (3-9-12), Freshman D Andrew Farny (2-7-9), Freshman G Jacob Nehama (5-10-0, 3.37 GAA, .905 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 19-3-2, .833)

Pairwise Ranking: 3rd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #2/#2
This Season: 19-3-2 overall, 10-2-0-0 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.46 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.67 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.7% (19 of 92)
Penalty Kill: 85.1% (80 of 94)

Key Players: Freshman F Brock Boeser (15-10-25), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (8-5-13), Junior forward Luke Johnson (5-6-11), Sophomore F Austin Poganski (5-6-11), Sophomore D Tucker Poolman (3-11-14), Junior D Troy Stecher (5-14-19), Junior D Paul LaDue (2-6-8), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (10-1-1, 1.28 GAA, .949 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: October 31, 2015 (Colorado Springs, CO). The Tigers could not solve UND’s Matt Krynkiw, as the junior netminder stopped all 29 shots he faced (earning his second shutout) and propelled North Dakota to a 2-0 victory (goals by Christian Wolanin and Shane Gersich). On the weekend, the Green and White put 79 shots on goal and scored seven times (UND won 5-2 in Friday’s opener).

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: March 14, 2015. Senior forward Connor Gaarder potted the game-winner with under 90 seconds remaining in the hockey game to propel UND to a 3-2 victory over the visiting Tigers. Colorado College forward Luc Gerdes scored a wraparound goal at 6:10 of the third period to knot the game at 2. CC outshot the Green and White 33-31, but Zane McIntyre was up to the challenge, making 31 saves in the victory. North Dakota won Friday’s opener by a much more comfortable 5-1 margin.

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, 151-80-10 (.647), including a blistering 97-21-6 (.806) mark in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: North Dakota has won nine of the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring CC 38-18 over that span. The only Tigers victory was an overtime win in the 2014 NCHC quarterfinals.18 of the last 21 games have been decided by two goals or less.

Game News and Notes

In first periods this season, North Dakota has outscored opponents 27¬-13 while Colorado College has been outscored 22-8. These two coaching staffs coached against each other at the AHL and NHL levels prior to the NCHC. Only six teams in UND men’s hockey history have won 20 games before the calendar turned to February. With four January games remaining on the schedule, Brad Berry currently has his team’s record at 19-3-2.

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend will be televised on Midco Sports Network. Saturday’s contest will also be featured on FOX College Sports Central. A high definition webcast of the games is also available to NCHC.tv subscribers. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

The Prediction

If UND was healthy, I would have the home team winning by three goals each night, but that’s obviously not the case. Question marks abound: How will Brad Berry shuffle the lines to get the most out of his forwards? Will North Dakota’s top four defensemen be able to handle the Rothstein line? How will freshman goaltender Jacob Nahama respond in his first Ralph Engelstad Arena appearance? I’m giving the Fighting Hawks the edge in both contests, but these games will be much closer than most people expect. UND 3-2, 3-1.

Weekend Preview: UND vs. Omaha

Nebraska-Omaha has finally figured out who will replace Ryan Massa in net (the four-year starter logged over 4000 career minutes between the pipes for the Mavs and was a key component in their Frozen Four run a year ago). In twelve starts, freshman netminder Evan Weninger ranks second in the league in save percentage (.942) and third in goals-against average, allowing less than two goals per game.

Fortunately for North Dakota, Weninger will not be in uniform this weekend due to an injury. Surprisingly, Mavericks’ head coach Dean Blais has elected to give freshman Alex Blankenburg his first career start in Friday’s opener rather than tab junior Kirk Thompson, who has performed capably in eight starts this season. Thompson has amassed a record of 4-3-1 with a 2.75 goals-against average and an .889 save percentage. Blankenburg has no official NCAA statistics (of course) and is listed at 5-8 and 162 pounds.

His counterpart in the UND net, sophomore Cam Johnson, has been absolutely incredible since returning from injury in late November. Johnson has won eight consecutive games (four by shutout) and allowed a total of four goals over that stretch (one each in the other four victories). The Flint, Michigan native went nearly 300 consecutive minutes without allowing a goal (a UND record and the second-longest in the history of NCAA Division I men’s hockey) and was named both the Hockey Commissioners’ Association and NCHC Player of the Month for the month of December.

Johnson’s play, equal parts steady and spectacular, has meant that North Dakota has been able to hold leads. During the 2015-16 campaign, Brad Berry’s squad is unbeaten (11-0-1) when leading after the first forty minutes of play. In fact, North Dakota has gone 62 straight games without a loss when leading after the first two periods. Amazingly, UND is 11th nationally in scoring offense 2nd in scoring defense, notching 75 goals and allowing only 35 in 22 games this season. By comparison, UNO has outscored opponents 66-47 over their first 20 games. Nationally, only Quinnipiac (87 goals for/35 goals against in 23 games) boasts a better scoring margin than North Dakota.

Omaha was swept by visiting Denver last weekend, the second sweep the Mavericks have suffered this season (UNO also lost a pair of games at Western Michigan in late October). Omaha’s first period on Friday night will set the tone for the entire weekend, as head coach Dean Blais will have his squad prepared to rebound from their first two home losses of the season.

Berry has his team in very good position for a 14th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. UND went 9-1-2 in non-conference games this season, with a home split with Wisconsin accounting for the only loss in twelve games. The Fighting Hawks are currently 2nd in the Pairwise rankings, one of four NCHC teams (along with Omaha, St. Cloud State, and Denver) who would make the NCAA’s if the season ended today. Minnesota-Duluth sits squarely on the bubble at 16, with Western Michigan, Miami, and Colorado College outside the top 25.

Omaha will host North Dakota in late February for UND’s first games in the newly-opened Baxter Arena (capacity 7,898). With hockey back on the UNO campus, North Dakota can expect a raucous, rowdy atmosphere next month. Brad Berry has his squad playing well on the road, going 10-1-2 in the first half of the season. No team in the country has more road wins than North Dakota.

UND’s next home victory will mark 200 home wins since the current Ralph Engelstad Arena opened prior to the 2001-2002 season. North Dakota is 199-73-34 (.706) all-time at the Palace on the Prairie, including an 8-1-1 record this season. The team will be wearing green jerseys at home for the first time in the Ralph, and a Green Out is planned for Friday’s opener. Fans are encouraged to wear green to match and support the home squad. NCHC teams will wear dark jerseys at home and white jerseys on the road for the second half of the season (conference games only).

Nebraska-Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Dean Blais (7th season at UNO, 125-104-25, .541)

Pairwise Ranking: 7th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #9/#9
This Season: 14-5-1 overall, 4-5-1-0 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 20-13-6 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 12-8-4-3 NCHC (3rd)

Team Offense: 3.30 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.35 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.9% (14 of 78)
Penalty Kill: 87.5% (70 of 80)

Key Players: Junior forward Jake Guentzel (10-17-27), Junior F Austin Ortega (16-8-24), Junior F Justin Parizek (6-15-21), Sophomore F Jake Randolph (8-9-17), Sophomore D Luc Snuggerud (2-6-8), Junior D Ian Brady (1-5-6), Freshman G Evan Weninger (10-2-0, 1.99 GAA, .942 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 18-2-2, .864)

Pairwise Ranking: 2nd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #1/#2
This Season: 18-2-2 overall, 9-1-0-0 NCHC (t-1st)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.41 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.59 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.9% (15 of 84)
Penalty Kill: 84.7% (72 of 85)

Key Players: Senior F Drake Caggiula (14-15-29), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (3-23-26), Freshman F Brock Boeser (13-8-21), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (8-3-11), Sophomore D Tucker Poolman (3-11-14), Junior D Troy Stecher (3-12-15), Freshman D Christian Wolanin (3-6-9), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (9-0-1, 1.07 GAA, .957 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: January 31, 2015 (Omaha, NE). UND flipped the script from Friday’s opener as Brendan O’Donnell potted the game-winner two minutes into overtime to give North Dakota a 4-3 victory. One night earlier, Omaha forward Austin Ortega’s goal with 33 ticks remaining in the extra frame spoiled UND’s third period comeback. Five of the twelve goals in the series were scored on the power play.

Last meeting in Grand Forks: November 29, 2014. Zane McIntyre made 32 saves as the Green and White built a 3-1 lead and held on for a 3-2 home victory. North Dakota senior forward Mark McMillan scored a second period goal that withstood a lengthy review, and senior captain Stephane Pattyn potted a shorthanded tally late in the middle frame for the game winning goal. UND and UNO skated to a 2-2 tie in Friday’s opener, but Nebraska-Omaha won the shootout for the extra league point.

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.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 9-6-1 (.594), including a 4-3-1 (.563) record in games played in Grand Forks. North Dakota has picked up six wins and a tie in the last ten games between the schools, outscoring the Mavs 30-27 over that stretch. Three of the last four games have gone to overtime.

Game News and Notes

Dean Blais, who was the head coach at UND from 1994-2004, collected 262 victories at North Dakota and led the school to national titles in 1997 and 2000. Senior forward Drake Caggiula has appeared in 144 games in his North Dakota career, tied with Minnesota State’s Bryce Gervais for the most among all active NCAA Division I men’s hockey players. Prior to last weekend’s sweep at the hands of Denver, UNO had gone 8-1-1 in its previous ten games. Both UND and Omaha are tied for second in the nation with six shorthanded goals, one behind first-place Penn State. North Dakota has not lost since November 21st, a string of eight consecutive victories.

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend will be televised on Midco Sports Network. Saturday’s contest will also be featured on FOX College Sports Central. A high definition webcast of the games is also available to NCHC.tv subscribers. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

The Prediction

Here are the key questions for this series: Which defensive pairing will Brad Berry match up against Jake Guentzel’s line (with RW Austin Ortega and whoever plays left wing), and will those blueliners be effective? How will the CBS line (Caggiula, Brock Boesser, and Nick Schmaltz) fare against a rookie netminder making his first start in a hostile environment? And how will the officials call a game that is certain to be hard-nosed, gritty, and physical? The fans are in for a treat this weekend, and both teams will leave with points. 2-2 tie (North Dakota wins the shootout), UND 4-1.

Weekend Preview: UND vs. Minnesota-Duluth

Minnesota-Duluth just might be the biggest fan of 3-on-3 overtime in the entire league.

The Bulldogs took the extra point at home against #8 Denver on November 14th to break a four-game losing streak. During those four losses, UMD was outscored 17-7. Since that night, the first instance of 3-on-3 in the NCHC, Scott Sandelin’s club has won four straight, outscoring Colorado College and Western Michigan by a combined margin of 24-2.

North Dakota has also put together an impressive stretch of hockey over the past two weekends. UND has back-to-back sweeps of Michigan State and Denver, scoring 16 goals and allowing three in those four games combined.

UND’s situation between the pipes has solidified after a rocky beginning. In 2015-16, head coach Brad Berry expected his goaltenders to be sophomore Cam Johnson and freshman Matej Tomek, but both of them went down with injuries. The job was left to junior walk-on (and practice goalie) Matt Hrnkiw, and he responded by keeping North Dakota in games and racking up wins until UND could get healthy again. Johnson has since reclaimed the crease and played very well over the past two weekends against Michigan State and Denver, stopping 97 of 100 shots and allowing only a single goal in three straight games before posting his first career shutout last Saturday night against the Pioneers. For his efforts, Johnson was named NCHC Goaltender of the Week for the second consecutive week and for the third time this season.

Minnesota-Duluth was tabbed to win the NCHC this season after finishing fifth a year ago. The Bulldogs returned goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo (18-14-3, 2.30 goals-against average, .917 save percentage, one shutout) and 94 of their 115 goals (81.7%) from last season. Here’s what I wrote about UMD in my NCHC Season Preview and Predictions:

Duluth is a legitimate title contender this year, with almost all of the key pieces returning. The Bulldogs tightened up defensively last season and could be even better this time around. If UMD stays healthy, they will have their most successful season since 2011, when Scott Sandelin hung a national championship banner inside the DECC.

With those lofty expectations, Duluth’s start has to be seen as a disappointment. While it is true that UMD picked up four big league wins over the past two weekends, those victories were against Western Michigan and Colorado College. The Bulldogs were swept at Omaha and managed to pick up just two of six conference points at home while hosting Denver. If Scott Sandelin’s club expects to make a push for the NCHC title, they’ll need to do better on home ice, and it starts this weekend against North Dakota.

Junior forwards Dominic Toninato and Alex Iafallo have not been a huge factor for the Bulldogs lately but could heat up in the second half. The pair combined for 51 points in 68 combined games last season but are stuck on 15 combined points through the team’s first fifteen contests this year. Toninato had a nice October, with two game-winning goals (vs. Minnesota in the second game of a home-and-home and at Massachusetts-Lowell), and his third period goal at Minnesota in the series opener effectively iced the game just 32 seconds after the Gophers cut the lead to one. Unfortunately, Toninato, who scored 16 goals in 2014-15, has lit the lamp just three times in the past nine games dating back to Halloween night.

Toninato’s line (he has been skating with Iafallo and freshman Adam Johnson) did put together a nice weekend against Western Michigan, posting four goals and an assist. All three scored in Friday’s 7-0 win, and Johnson added a goal on Saturday for the first two goals of his NCAA career.

North Dakota forwards Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser, and Nick Schmaltz have been everything for the Green and White over the past eight games, notching 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists) and posting a combined plus-48 rating. During that stretch, the ‘CBS’ line has accounted for over 60 percent of UND’s goals. Sophomore forward Austin Poganski (5-4-9) did score three goals last weekend against Denver, but Duluth is deeper at forward than UND right now. Secondary scoring will need to come from senior Bryn Chyzyk (6-3-9), junior Luke Johnson (3-4-7), and sophomore Johnny Simonson (2-6-8) if North Dakota is to stay on top of the league race.

Another big reason for UND’s success this season has been North Dakota’s ability to hold a lead. During the 2015-16 campaign, Brad Berry’s squad is unbeaten (7-0-1) when leading after the first forty minutes of play. In fact, over the past eight years, North Dakota is converting almost 90 percent of second intermission leads into victories and has just seven losses in the last 163 such situations (145-7-11).

North Dakota head coach Brad Berry has his team in very good position for a 14th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. UND’s record outside the NCHC now sits at 7-1-2, with only a January home series against Alabama-Huntsville (3-9-2, 2-8-2 WCHA) remaining on the non-conference schedule. The Fighting Hawks are currently 5th in the Pairwise rankings, one of four NCHC teams (along with Omaha, St. Cloud State, and Denver) who would make the NCAA’s if the season ended today. Brad Berry’s .833 winning percentage (14-2-2) is tied with Bob Peters (15-3-0) for the best 18-game start in program history.

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference as a whole has a solid record against other leagues once again this season, particularly against the Big Ten. North Dakota’s split against Wisconsin is currently the only league loss against the six teams in the conference that destroyed college hockey as we knew it.

NCHC overall record vs. other conferences: 34-21-7 (.605, second best in the country)

NCHC record vs. Atlantic Hockey: 4-2-0 (.667)
NCHC record vs. Big Ten: 14-1-1 (.906)
NCHC record vs. ECAC: 1-6-0 (.143)
NCHC record vs. Hockey East: 5-11-4 (.350)
NCHC record vs. WCHA: 10-1-2 (.846)

The six teams in the Big Ten (Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin) are a combined 29-32-11 (.479) in non-league play, the second-worst winning percentage in college hockey (Atlantic Hockey, 10-40-3, .217). Not including a 12-2-1 mark against Atlantic Hockey and a 2-0-0 record against D-I independents, the Big Ten sports a dismal 15-30-10 (.364) record against the other four major hockey conferences.

Last season, Boston University defeated both Minnesota-Duluth (3-2) and North Dakota (5-3) in the NCAA tournament on their way to the championship game. The Terriers fell 4-3 to the Providence Friars, one win short of a national title.

Minnesota-Duluth Team Profile

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (15th season at UMD, 275-266-73, .507)
National Rankings: #17/NR
This Season: 7-5-3 overall, 4-3-1-1 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 21-16-3 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional finalist, 12-9-3-0 NCHC (5th)

Team Offense: 3.20 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.07 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.7% (15 of 69)
Penalty Kill: 85.5% (47 of 55)

Key Players: Senior F Austin Farley (10-9-19), Senior F Tony Cameranesi (5-12-17), Junior F Alex Iafallo (2-6-8), Junior F Dominic Toninato (6-1-7), Senior D Andy Welinski (2-8-10), Freshman D Neal Pionk (1-7-8), Sophomore G Kasimir Kaskisuo (7-5-3, 1.82 GAA, .928 SV%, 4 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 14-2-2, .833)
National Rankings: #4/#4
This Season: 14-2-2 overall, 7-1-0-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.56 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.89 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.9% (12 of 67)
Penalty Kill: 81.9% (59 of 72)

Key Players: Senior F Drake Caggiula (13-12-25), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (3-21-24), Freshman F Brock Boeser (11-8-19), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (6-3-9), Sophomore D Tucker Poolman (1-10-11), Junior D Troy Stecher (3-10-13), Freshman D Christian Wolanin (3-5-8), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (5-0-1, 1.53 GAA, .934 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 10, 2015 (Grand Forks, ND). #1 North Dakota rallied from a 4-1 defeat to earn a home split with a 5-2 win over the visiting Bulldogs. Senior Brendan O’Donnell led the way for the Green and White with a hat trick, while teammate Zane McIntyre made 41 of 43 saves and picked up an assist on Mark McMillan’s second period goal. UND would not lose again in regulation until March 7th at #5 Miami.

Last Meeting in Duluth: February 22, 2014. North Dakota blitzed the Bulldogs 6-2 to complete the road sweep (UND won 3-0 in Friday’s opener). Freshman defenseman Paul LaDue scored two power play goals while Rocco Grimaldi, Mitch MacMillan, Dillon Simpson, and Jordan Schmaltz all registered two-point nights. The Green and White went 3-for-4 with the man advantage and held Duluth scoreless on five power play opportunities.

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, 140-77-9 (.639), including a 57-39-5 (.589) record in games played in Duluth. The teams first met in 1954, with North Dakota winning the first ten games between the schools by a combined score of 72-16. UMD’s first win over the Fighting Sioux (a 3-2 road victory on December 18th, 1959) did not sit well with the defending national champions. UND defeated Duluth 13-2 the following night.

Last Ten: North Dakota is 6-3-1 (.650) in the last ten games between the teams, outscoring Duluth 37-29 over that stretch.

Game News and Notes

The Bulldogs are 1-4-1 against teams in the top 15 of the Pairwise rankings. The two schools did not play in Duluth last season. Senior forward Drake Caggiula became the 85th member of UND’s Century Club (100 or more career points) last weekend. Caggiula has appeared in 140 games in his North Dakota career, tied with Minnesota State’s Bryce Gervais for the most among all active NCAA Division I men’s hockey players. Both head coaches this weekend are alumni of the University of North Dakota; Brad Berry (1983-86) and Scott Sandelin (1982-86) both played for UND under John “Gino” Gasparini.

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend will be televised on Midco Sports Network (channel 322 in Grand Forks). A high definition webcast of the games is also available to NCHC.tv subscribers. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

The Prediction

North Dakota is playing better hockey than anyone else in the country right now and could very well sweep this weekend at the DECC. However, the Bulldogs have an edge in combined specialty teams and a proven netminder in sophomore Kasimir Kaskisuo (25 career victories). I’ve got a feeling UMD will rally on Saturday night to earn a hard-fought split. UND 4-1, UMD 3-2.

Weekend Preview: UND vs. Denver

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries. The teams have played nine games over the past three seasons, but the feud goes all the way back to Geoff Paukovitch’ illegal check on Sioux forward Robbie Bina during the 2005 WCHA Final Five.

Since that 2005 Final Five contest (a Denver victory), the two teams have met seven times in tournament play. Denver won the 2005 NCAA title with a victory over North Dakota and claimed a 2008 WCHA Final Five win as well. UND has won the four of the past five playoff games between the schools, including three consecutive victories in the WCHA Final Five (2010-2012) and the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional final which sent the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four. The Pioneers throttled North Dakota 5-1 back in March when the two teams met in the third-place game at the 2015 NCHC Frozen Faceoff.

This season, the Pioneers went just 3-3 in October, including two overtime losses. Denver flipped the script last month, going 4-0-2 despite playing five of six games on the road. Each DU loss this season has been by a single goal, including back-to-back heartbreakers at Boston College (4-3) and Boston University (5-4) over Halloween weekend.

This weekend’s action will feature two of the top rookies in the NCHC. North Dakota’s Brock Boeser currently leads the conference with 16 points, while Denver’s Dylan Gambrell is tied for third with 11 points. UND’s Christian Wolanin also finds himself in the top six of the freshman scoring race with eight points.

Denver goaltenders Tanner Jaillet (3-1-2, 2.11 GAA, .929 SV%) and Evan Cowley (4-2-0, 2.33 GAA, .915 SV%) have each started six games for the Pioneers, with each netminder also coming on once in relief for the other this year. Expect Jaillet and Cowley to each play one game at Ralph Engelstad Arena this weekend.

UND’s situation between the pipes has solidified somewhat after a rocky beginning. In 2015-16, head coach Brad Berry expected his goaltenders to be sophomore Cam Johnson and freshman Matej Tomek, but both of them went down with injuries. The job was left to junior walk-on (and practice goalie) Matt Hrnkiw, and he responded by keeping North Dakota in games and racking up wins until UND could get healthy again. Johnson has since reclaimed the crease and played very well last weekend against Michigan State, stopping 57 of 59 shots on the weekend and allowing only a single goal each night.

North Dakota forwards Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser, and Nick Schmaltz have been everything for UND over the past six games, notching 33 points (13 goals, 20 assists) and posting a combined plus-33 rating. During that stretch, the ‘CBS’ line has accounted for nearly 60 percent of UND’s goals.

Another big reason for UND’s success this season has been North Dakota’s ability to hold a lead. During the 2015-16 campaign, Brad Berry’s squad is unbeaten (5-0-1) when leading after the first forty minutes of play. In fact, over the past eight years, North Dakota is converting almost 90 percent of second intermission leads into victories and has just seven losses in the last 161 such situations (143-7-11).

After last weekend’s sweep at Michigan State, Brad Berry has his team in very good position for a 14th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. UND’s record outside the NCHC now sits at 7-1-2, with only a January home series against Alabama-Huntsville (3-8-1, 2-7-1 WCHA) remaining on the non-conference schedule. The Fighting Hawks are currently 7th in the Pairwise rankings, one of four NCHC teams (along with St. Cloud State, Omaha, and Denver) who would make the NCAA’s if the season ended today.

Denver Team Profile

Head Coach: Jim Montgomery (3rd season at DU, 51-33-10, .596)
National Ranking: #9/#9
This Season: 7-3-2 overall, 3-0-1-0 NCHC (t-3rd)
Last Season: 24-14-2 overall (NCAA East Regional finalist), 13-10-1-1 NCHC (4th)

Team Offense: 3.50 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.25 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.4% (8 of 46)
Penalty Kill: 89.7% (35 of 39)

Key Players: Sophomore F Danton Heinen (5-5-10), Freshman F Dylan Gambrell (2-9-11), Junior F Trevor Moore (2-6-8), Senior F Gabe Levin (2-5-7), Senior F Quentin Shore (4-2-6), Junior D Will Butcher (3-9-12), Senior D Nolan Zajac (1-9-10), Sophomore G Tanner Jaillet (3-1-2, 2.11 GAA, .929 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 12-2-2, .813)
National Ranking: #4/#4
This Season: 12-2-2 overall, 5-1-0-0 NCHC (t-1st)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.44 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.06 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 16.7% (10 of 60)
Penalty Kill: 79.0% (49 of 62)

Key Players: Senior F Drake Caggiula (11-10-21), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (2-19-21), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (6-3-9), Freshman F Brock Boeser (8-8-16), Junior D Paul LaDue (1-2-3), Junior D Troy Stecher (3-10-13), Freshman D Christian Wolanin (3-5-8), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (3-0-1, 1.92 GAA, .921 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 21, 2015 (Minneapolis, MN). Denver knocked off top-seed North Dakota 5-1 in the third place game of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff behind goals from five different scorers. Nolan Zajac and Matt Tabrum led the way for the Pioneers with two points each, and netminder Tanner Jaillet made 25 of 26 saves in the victory. Conner Gaarder scored the lone goal for UND at the 14:34 mark of period one, but DU answered with two of their own before the first frame ended. Zane McIntyre stopped 30 shots in defeat.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: February 14, 2015. One night after defeating the Pioneers 4-2 on home ice, North Dakota let a two goal lead evaporate in the third period and had to settle for a 3-3 tie (Denver won the shootout for the extra NCHC point). UND built the lead thanks to two first-period power play goals just 27 seconds apart while Trevor Moore served a five minute major for clipping. Moore remained in the game and scored two of Denver’s three regulation goals.

Most Important Meeting: It’s hard to pick just one game, as the two teams have played four times for the national title. Denver defeated UND for the national championship in 1958, 1968, and 2005, while the Sioux downed the Pioneers in 1963. But the game that stands out in recent memory as “the one that got away” was DU’s 1-0 victory over the Fighting Sioux in the 2004 NCAA West Regional final (Colorado Springs, CO). That North Dakota team went 30-8-4 on the season (Dean Blais’ last behind the UND bench) and featured one of the deepest rosters in the past twenty years: Brandon Bochenski, Zach Parise, Brady Murray, Colby Genoway, Drew Stafford and David Lundbohm up front; Nick Fuher, Matt Jones, Matt Greene, and Ryan Hale on defense; and a couple of goaltending stalwarts in Jordan Parise and Jake Brandt.

Last Ten Games: North Dakota has had slightly the better of it lately, going 5-4-1 (.550) in the last ten meetings between the schools and outscoring Denver 32-29 over that span.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 140-120-9 (.537), including an 82-42-7 (.653) advantage on home ice. North Dakota last home sweep of the Pioneers came on February 15th and 16th, 2008. The teams first met in 1950.

Game News and Notes

The teams were dead even in five contests last season, with each team winning two games and the fifth ending in a tie. Denver sophomore forward Danton Heinen, last year’s NCHC Rookie of the Year and the reigning league overall scoring champion (16-29-45 in 40 games), is expected to sign with the NHL’s Boston Bruins after this season. UND senior forward Drake Caggiula needs three more points to become the 85th member of North Dakota’s Century Club (100 or more career points). Caggiula, who has collected nine points in 11 career games against the Pioneers, has appeared in 138 games in his UND career, tied with Minnesota State’s Bryce Gervais for the most among all active NCAA Division I men’s hockey players.

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend will be televised on Midco Sports Network, with Saturday’s game also carried live on FOX College Sports. A high definition webcast of the games is also available to NCHC.tv subscribers. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

The Prediction

Both teams can score and defend, but North Dakota’s penalty kill is vulnerable if the teams trade power plays. I’ve got a feeling that at least one of these games will go to overtime, with the teams shaking hands on Saturday night after a hard-earned split and the fans looking forward to the February rematch in Denver. DU 3-2 (OT), UND 4-2.

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.