Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Minnesota

It’s a tale of two programs as we enter the 2017-18 season…

North Dakota is one year removed from its eighth national championship and boasts a string of fifteen consecutive tournament appearances, the longest active streak in college hockey.

Minnesota has only advanced to the NCAAs five times in the last nine seasons and is stuck on five national titles, the most recent in 2002 and 2003.

More to the point…

The Golden Gophers played from 1947-1973 without a title (26 seasons).

Head coach Herb Brooks led Minnesota to three NCAA championships in a six year stretch (1974, 1976, and 1979).

The Golden Gophers then played from 1979-2001 without a title (22 seasons).

Head coach Don Lucia won back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003.

This year will mark the fifteenth anniversary of Minnesota’s most recent NCAA crown.

Despite only nine tournament victories since Minnesota’s last title (UND has 22 in that same span), Gophers’ head coach Don Lucia was given a two-year extension last year that will keep him behind the bench through the 2018-19 campaign.

North Dakota has been relevant in every decade, with head coaches Bob May, Barry Thorndycraft, John “Gino” Gasparini, Dean Blais, and Brad Berry all lifting college hockey’s most coveted trophy.

Thankfully for fans of college hockey’s greatest matchup, this weekend’s games mark the second of seven consecutive seasons in which the teams are guaranteed to meet:

October 20 and 21, 2017: Ralph Engelstad Arena (Grand Forks, North Dakota)
October 27, 2018: Orleans Arena (Las Vegas, Nevada) *Hall Of Fame Game*
2019-20: 3M Arena at Mariucci (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
2020-21: Ralph Engelstad Arena (Grand Forks, North Dakota)
2011-22: 3M Arena at Mariucci (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
2022-23: Ralph Engelstad Arena (Grand Forks, North Dakota)

The two teams have met 286 times and were members of the same conference for over sixty years. Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald has an excellent article about some key moments in the series.

On the injury front, Minnesota will most likely be without the services of freshman forward Scott Reedy (one goal in three games) and junior captain Tyler Sheehy (one assist in two games this season; 32-52-84 in his 77-game Gopher career). UND freshman defenseman Gabe Bast (9-31-40 in 49 games with the Penticton Vees in 2014-15) has been cleared to play and may see game action this weekend. Bast had each of his past two junior seasons cut short by injury and will turn 21 this December.

Including two East Grand Forks products (sophomore forward Dixon Bowen and sophomore defenseman Colton Poolman), UND has twelve Minnesotans on its roster. Four of the other ten were plucked from the Twin Cities (Shane Gersich/Chaska, Grant Mismash/Edina, Hayden Shaw/Woodbury, and Peter Thome/Minneapolis), while the others hail from Brainerd, Duluth, Elk River, Roseau (two), and St. Cloud. Sophomore defenseman Casey Johnson and senior forward Johnny Simonson are from Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Minnesota can no longer lay claim to having a roster made up exclusively of the State of Hockey’s “Pride On Ice”, with players hailing from Anchorage (Alaska), Commerce Township and Grand Rapids (Michigan), Mississauga (Ontario), Newport Beach (California), River Falls (Wisconsin), and Stockholm (Sweden).

These out-of-conference games are critical for North Dakota’s postseason aspirations. Last season, Brad Berry’s squad went 7-2-2 in regular season non-conference action (after going 9-1-2 in 2015-16) and made its fifteenth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance (the longest active streak in the country). UND’s other non-conference opponents during the 2017-18 campaign will be Wisconsin, Union, and Bemidji State. Teams who travel to Alaska (as North Dakota did last month) receive an exemption for those games, and therefore can play two extra non-conference games during the season.

Minnesota Team Profile

Head Coach: Don Lucia (19th season at Minnesota, 440-233-71, .639)

National Rankings: #8/#7
This Season: 2-2-0 overall, 1-1-0-0 Big Ten (t-1st)
Last Season: 23-12-3 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional Semifinalist), 14-5-1-0 Big Ten (1st)

Team Offense: 3.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 15.0% (3 of 20)
Penalty Kill: 66.7% (12 of 18)

Key Players: Junior F Tommy Novak (1-3-4), Sophomore F Rem Pitlick (1-3-4), Freshman F Brannon McManus (3-0-3), Freshman F Casey Mittelstadt (2-1-3, zero pullups), Senior F Mike Szmatula (0-1-1), Sophomore D Ryan Zuhlsdorf (0-3-3), Sophomore D Ryan Lindgren (0-1-1), Junior G Eric Schierhorn (2-2-0, 2.50 GAA, .918 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 58-22-8, .705)
National Ranking: #4/#4
This Season: 3-0-1 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 21-16-3 overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2017-18 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.25 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.0% (4 of 21)
Penalty Kill: 93.8% (15 of 16)

Key Players: Junior F Shane Gersich (1-1-2), Junior F Rhett Gardner (1-2-3), Junior F Joel Janatuinen (0-3-3), Sophomore F Ludvig Hoff (1-1-2), Junior D Christian Wolanin (1-2-3), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (0-3-3), Senior G Cam Johnson (3-0-1, 1.23 GAA, .938 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last meeting:November 5, 2016 (Minneapolis, MN). The Fighting Hawks outshot the homestanding Gophers 33-20 but could not solve netminder Eric Schierhorn and fell by a final of 2-0. Friday’s opener featured ten goals, with Minnesota rallying four times to tie the score.

Last meeting in Grand Forks: January 14, 2012. Minnesota’s Nick Bjugstad and Nate Condon each scored twice as the Gophers routed North Dakota 6-2. Condon’s second, a shorthanded marker early in the third period, essentially put the game out of reach. In Friday’s opener, Brock Nelson scored with under four minutes remaining in regulation to break a 1-1 tie and give UND the victory.

Most important meeting: March 24, 1979 (Detroit, MI). North Dakota and Minnesota met to decide the national championship, and the Gophers prevailed, 4-3. Neal Broten scored the game-winning goal for the U of M, and Steve Janaszak was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.

All-time: Minnesota leads the all-time series by a ten-game margin, 140-130-16 (.517), although North Dakota has a 70-55-8 (.556) edge in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1948.

Last ten: The Gophers have gone 7-1-2 in the last ten meetings between the schools, outscoring UND 37-23 in those games.

Game News and Notes

Gophers’ head coach Don Lucia (Notre Dame ’81) is the only member of his coaching staff without a degree from the University of Minnesota. Associate head coach Mike Guentzel, assistant head coach Scott Bell, and goaltending coach Justin Johnson all attended the U of M. The number eight is greater than the number five. In an effort to alleviate parking concerns, Minnesota fans are asked to park in Duluth and walk to Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend can be seen on Midco Sports Network as well as on Mediacom cable outlets in Minnesota and Iowa. Friday’s game begins at 7:37 p.m. Central Time with Saturday’s opening faceoff set for 7:07 p.m. CT. The games will also be streamed live in high definition via NCHC.tv. 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

There will certainly be a buzz at Ralph Engelstad Arena this weekend. This rivalry has shown that whichever side handles the pressure and energy better will emerge victorious. I see UND coming out a bit too amped up for this one with the Gophers taking advantage. The Fighting Hawks will tighten things up in the rematch to earn a split. Minnesota 3-2, North Dakota 3-2.

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

NCAA West Regional Preview: North Dakota vs. Boston University

Two seasons ago, UND cruised through the NCAA West Regional at Scheels Arena (Fargo, North Dakota) with a pair of 4-1 victories (vs. Quinnipiac and St. Cloud State). The reward for that accomplishment? A Frozen Four semifinal matchup against Boston University at TD Garden (Boston, Massachusetts). Dave Hakstol, coaching his last college game, saw his team fall behind 2-0 and 4-1 before mounting a late third-period comeback that fell just short (BU’s Jack Eichel potted an empty-net goal with just under twenty seconds remaining to make the final score 5-3).

It was that unfinished business, coupled with a heartbreaking last-second loss to Minnesota in the 2014 national semifinals, that fueled last season’s title run, the eighth in team history.

This time around, it’s the boys in green and white who have the benefit of playing a virtual home game. Boston University has not played well away from Agannis Arena this season, going just 10-8-1 on the road (compared to 13-3-2 at home). Furthermore, since the start of the 16-team format (2003), this is the fourth time that BU has had to fly to a regional. The previous three resulted in first-round losses. Here are the final scores for those three games:

Michigan State 5, Boston University 1 (2007 – Grand Rapids, Michigan)

Minnesota 7, Boston University 3 (2012 – St. Paul, Minnesota)

Denver 7, Boston University 2 (2016 – St. Paul, Minnesota)

In short, things do not look good for the Terriers.

For both schools, the underclassmen have been leading the charge, and that’s no surprise, given the fact that there are 21 combined NHL draft picks on the two rosters (BU 11, UND 10), and those players tend not to make it to their junior or senior seasons in college.

The Terriers’ freshman class, led by forwards Clayton Keller (20-22-42) and Patrick Harper (12-22-34) and defenseman Dante Fabbro (6-11-17), has scored 56 goals and notched 135 points this season. First-year goaltender Jake Oettinger (20-10-3, 2.09 goals-against average .927 save percentage) has carried the load between the pipes for fourth-year head coach David Quinn (82 career head coaching victories at BU).

Clayton Keller’s 42 points are good for ninth place on the all-time BU rookie scoring list, far short of Jack Eichel’s 71 points (2014-15) but the second-highest freshman total at BU since Tony Amonte scored 58 points as a Terrier in 1989-90.

Here’s the Boston University scoring breakdown by class:

Freshmen (six forwards, two defensemen):
56-79-135 in 253 games played (0.53 points/game)

Sophomores (five forwards, two defensemen):
43-87-130 in 200 games played (0.65 points/game)

Juniors (two forwards, three defensemen):
12-24-36 in 114 games played (0.32 points/game)

Seniors (two forwards, one defenseman):
6-11-17 in 98 games played (0.17 points/game)

Here’s the North Dakota scoring breakdown by class:

Freshmen (five forwards, three defensemen):
33-57-90 in 262 games played (0.34 points/game)

Sophomores (six forwards, two defensemen):
62-88-150 in 251 games played (0.60 points/game)

Juniors (three forwards, one defenseman):
27-50-77 in 152 games played (0.51 points/game)

Seniors (one defenseman):
2-7-9 in 37 games played (0.24 points/game)

For Boston University, first- and second-year players have scored 99 of the team’s 117 goals this season. For North Dakota, first- and second-year players have scored 95 of the team’s 124 goals this season.

In terms of overall point production, BU’s freshmen and sophomores have accounted for 265 of 318 points scored (83.3%), while UND’s freshmen and sophomores have accounted for 240 of 326 points scored (73.6%).

A fast start will be key for both squads in today’s NCAA West Regional semifinal. Boston University will want to get an early lead and attempt to quiet the partisan crowd at Scheels Arena, while Brad Berry’s squad will surely want just the opposite – to keep the fans in the game with some early success. To that point, the Terriers have allowed the first goal in their last nine games, with a record of 4-4-1 in those contests.

Boston University seems to have an edge in the special teams battle, boasting the fourth-best penalty kill in the country (87.0 percent) and a power play that clips along at 19.9 percent (21st). North Dakota’s penalty kill checks in at 83.6 percent (19th), and the team has scored on 19.2 percent of power play opportunities (24th).

More specifically, BU has outscored opponents 33-24 in power play/penalty kill situations and added nine shorthanded goals. In the same situations, UND holds a 32-27 advantage with six shorthanded goals.

According to KRACH, North Dakota has played the fourth-toughest schedule in the country, while Boston University’s slate of games ranks as the ninth most difficult.

UND’s all-time tournament winning percentage of .657 (52-25) is the best in Division I men’s hockey history. Since 2004-05, North Dakota has gone 18-4 (.818) in NCAA regional games and qualified for the NCAA Frozen Four in eight of those twelve seasons.

Boston University Team Profile

Head Coach: David Quinn (4th season at BU, 82-53-17, .595)

National Rankings: #6/#6
This Season: 23-11-3 overall, 13-6-3 Hockey East (t-1st)
Last Ten Games: 5-4-1 (including one overtime win)
Last Season: 21-13-5 overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 12-6-4 Hockey East (t-4th)

2016-17 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.16 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.27 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.9% (33 of 166)
Penalty Kill: 87.0% (161 of 185)

Key Players: Freshman F Clayton Keller (20-22-42), Freshman F Patrick Harper (12-22-34), Sophomore F Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (13-19-32), Sophomore F Bobo Carpenter (13-18-31), Sophomore F Jordan Greenway (10-20-30), Sophomore D Charlie McAvoy (4-20-24), Freshman D Dante Fabbro (6-11-17), Freshman G Jake Oettinger (20-13-3, .927 SV%, 2.09 GAA, 4 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (2nd season at UND, 55-21-7, .705)

National Rankings: #10/#10
This Season: 21-15-3 overall, 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th)
Last Ten Games: 6-4-0 (including one overtime win)
Last Season: 34-6-4 overall (NCAA champions), 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st)

2016-17 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.18 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.56 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.2% (32 of 167)
Penalty Kill: 83.6% (138 of 165)

Key Players: Sophomore F Shane Gersich (21-16-37), Freshman F Tyson Jost (16-19-35), Sophomore F Brock Boeser (16-17-33), Junior F Austin Poganski (12-13-25), Sophomore F Rhett Gardner (7-13-20) Junior D Tucker Poolman (7-23-30), Sophomore D Christian Wolanin (5-16-21), Junior G Cam Johnson (20-12-3, 2.38 GAA, .904 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: April 9, 2015 (Boston, MA). In a battle of heavyweights, UND outshot the Terriers 39-28 but trailed for 55 minutes of the Frozen Four semifinal. North Dakota made it interesting with two late third-period goals but came up just short. Jack Eichel notched three points for BU, including an empty-net goal with under twenty seconds remaining that made the final score 5-3.

Last meeting in the NCAA Regionals: March 25, 2005 (Worcester, MA). North Dakota’s Colby Genoway (2 goals, 2 assists) led the way as UND blanked the Terriers 4-0 at the NCAA East Regional. BU went 0-for-9 on the power play, and UND’s Jordan Parise turned aside 29 shots for the shutout. The Fighting Sioux would go on to defeat Boston College 6-3 in the regional final and advance to the Frozen Four, best known for featuring four WCHA teams and UND’s 4-2 semifinal victory over Minnesota.

Most important meeting: March 29, 1997 (Milwaukee, WI). North Dakota scored five goals in the second period and went on to defeat Boston University 6-4 for the 1997 NCAA championship (the program’s 6th). David Hoogsteen scored two goals for the Fighting Sioux, including a back-breaking tally with six seconds remaining in the middle frame.

All-time record: North Dakota leads the all-time series, 12-10-2 (.542), helped by a stellar 6-1-1 (.813) record in games played in Grand Forks. When the newly-formed Hockey East began play in 1984-1985, it created a five-year interlocking schedule with the WCHA. During that time, Boston University and North Dakota met 7 times, with John “Gino” Gasparini’s Fighting Sioux squad going 6-1-0 against Jack Parker’s Terriers. The teams first met in 1981.

Last Ten: Boston University has had the better of it lately, going 5-3-2 (.600) over the last ten games between the teams and outscoring UND 32-29 over that stretch.

Game News and Notes

Boston University has outscored opponents 53-28 in third periods and overtime sessions (combined) this season. In second periods this season, UND has outscored opponents 42-27. The Terriers play on a hybrid sheet of ice at Agannis Arena; the playing surface is 90 feet wide, five feet wider than NHL rinks but not as wide as the Olympic ice sheets (100 feet wide). This season, BU is 10-0-1 when leading after one period of play but just 13-11-2 when trailing or tied. No current Boston University forward has ever scored a goal in the NCAA tournament. Before the 2015 West Regional, North Dakota had played exactly one game in Fargo, a 5-1 victory over the Fargo Flyers on January 18th, 1947. That contest was UND’s second-ever game as a Division I hockey program.

Media Coverage

Friday afternoon’s game will be telecast live on ESPN2 and can also be seen on DirecTV (209) and DISH Network (144). A live stream of the game will also be available via WatchESPN. 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

Boston University will give UND fits with its overall team speed and talent, and North Dakota netminder Cam Johnson will need to be up to the challenge, as I expect the Terriers to generate several odd-man rushes in this game. UND’s roster is littered with players who took part in the 2015 West Regional and last season’s title run, and that experience matters. The partisan green and white crowd at Scheels Arena should give North Dakota the push it needs to advance to the regional final. UND 4, BU 3.

Bonus Prediction

In Friday’s second regional semifinal, Minnesota-Duluth will struggle to contain Ohio State’s power play, and the game will hinge on how many penalties are called. If UND is still alive in the tournament, the Scheels Arena crowd might cheer for the underdog Buckeyes. If North Dakota is eliminated in the first game, conference pride among the fans in attendance should turn the tide in the Bulldogs’ favor. As I see it, Scott Sandelin’s crew will find a way to win, setting up an all-NCHC regional final. UMD 4, OSU 2.

Pregame Events (from undsports.com)

The North Dakota Champions Club is hosting an official UND pregame party at Fargo Billiards and Gastro Pub. The pregame party starts three hours prior to any game in which UND is participating.

Parking at SCHEELS Arena is limited and fans are encouraged to consider alternate parking options. A shuttle service will run between Fargo Billiards and Gastro Pub and Scheels Arena as well as other establishments (check social media accounts for the most current information).

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

NCHC Frozen Faceoff Preview: North Dakota vs. Denver

Last season, North Dakota came into the NCHC Frozen Faceoff ranked #1 in the country but lost to #16 Minnesota-Duluth and tied #6 Denver before winning four straight NCAA tournament games and the program’s eighth national title.

UND’s 2016 title run was fueled in part by the notion that there was “unfinished business” from tournaments past. In fact, in the eleven seasons prior to last year, North Dakota had made seven Frozen Four appearances but had just one win and seven losses to put an end to all of those playoff runs.

This time around, Denver’s fire is being fueled by “the one that got away”, as North Dakota downed the Pioneers in the 2016 NCAA Frozen Four on a late goal by sophomore Nick Schmaltz.

The Pioneers boast a deep, experienced, and talented roster which is allowing under two goals per game for the season. In short, DU (28-6-4) is doing to most teams what North Dakota was able to accomplish in 2015-16.

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries. The teams have played fifteen times 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 nine 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 five of the past seven playoff games between the schools, including three consecutive victories in the WCHA Final Five (2010-2012), the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional final which sent the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four, and last season’s thrilling Frozen Four semifinal (a 4-2 UND victory) in Tampa, Florida.

Two nights after dispatching their league rival, North Dakota defeated Quinnipiac in the championship game and moved ahead of DU on the list of teams with the most NCAA titles in program history (8-7). It is worth noting that Denver collected five national championships by 1969. In the past 47 seasons, the Pioneers have won two. During that same span (1970-2016), the Fighting Sioux/Hawks won six titles and are the defending national champions.

Both rosters have changed quite a bit since that April meeting in the Sunshine State…

Denver lost three forwards (Grant Arnold, Gabe Levin, and Quentin Shore) and defenseman Nolan Zajac to graduation after last season. Those four scored 26 goals and added 50 assists for 76 points in 158 games played in 2015-16.

The Pios could have kept the Pacific Rim line intact, as Dylan Gambrell, Danton Heinen, and Trevor Moore all had college eligibility remaining. The trio went an incredible 48-91-139 for Denver last season. Unfortunately for the DU faithful, Heinen (a sophomore) and Moore (a junior) left for the pros, leaving Gambrell (17-30-47 as a freshman) searching for new linemates.

All told, Denver lost 57 of 133 goals scored from last year (43 percent of goal production).

UND lost nine players from the 2015-16 championship squad. Last season’s senior class (forwards Drake Caggiula, Bryn Chyzyk, Coltyn Sanderson, and Colten St. Clair) would have been enough of a loss, as the quartet accounted for 44 goals and 41 assists in 116 combined games.

But the worst was yet to come as the early departure bug hit the program particularly hard. Five players gave up college eligibility to sign pro contracts, including forward Nick Schmaltz (11-35-46), who left after his sophomore season. The other four skaters would have been seniors this year:

Forward Luke Johnson (11-10-21)
Defenseman Troy Stecher (8-21-29)
Defenseman Paul LaDue (5-14-19)
Defenseman Keaton Thompson (2-15-17)

All told, the nine players accounted for exactly half of North Dakota’s goal scoring last season (81 of 162). Stecher, LaDue, and Thompson helped anchor a defensive unit that allowed only 1.84 goals/game and gave up zero or one goal 24 times in 2015-16.

Much like Denver’s Pacific Rim line, North Dakota’s CBS line (Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser, Nick Schmaltz) was everything for UND last season, as the three scored 63 goals and added 94 assists for 157 points in 118 games. Only Boeser (27-33-60 as a freshman last year) remains on the Fighting Hawks roster.

Since 1987 (a national championship season), North Dakota has made the NCAA tournament twenty times, with 31 tourney wins, eleven Frozen Four appearances, and three national titles (1997, 2000, 2016) to bring the program’s total to eight. The team’s tournament record over that stretch of years is 31-18-0 (.633), and UND’s active streak of fourteen consecutive NCAA tourney bids is the longest in the nation among all Division I men’s college hockey programs. According to College Hockey Ranked, North Dakota would earn a 15th straight invitation to the NCAA tournament with at least one victory this weekend.

Denver Team Profile

Head Coach: Jim Montgomery (4th season at DU, 97-46-18, .658)

Pairwise Ranking: 1st of 60 teams
National Rankings: #1/#1
This Season: 28-6-4 overall, 18-3-3-2 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 25-10-6 overall (NCAA Frozen Four semifinalist), 17-6-1-1 NCHC (t-2nd)

Team Offense: 3.39 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.84 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.3% (36 of 169)
Penalty Kill: 83.9% (120 of 143)

Key Players: Freshman F Henrik Borgstrom (21-17-38), Sophomore F Troy Terry (19-17-36), Sophomore F Jarid Lukosevicius (11-15-26), Sophomore F Dylan Gambrell (11-26-37), Senior D Will Butcher (6-29-35), Junior D Adam Plant (2-8-10), Junior G Tanner Jaillet (24-4-4, 1.84 GAA, .929 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (2nd season at UND, 54-20-7, .710)

Pairwise Ranking: 11th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #11/#11
This Season: 20-14-3 overall, 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 34-6-4 overall (NCAA champions), 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.24 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.59 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.0% (29 of 153)
Penalty Kill: 84.0% (131 of 156)

Key Players: Sophomore F Shane Gersich (21-16-37), Freshman F Tyson Jost (15-16-31), Sophomore F Brock Boeser (15-16-31), Junior F Austin Poganski (11-13-24), Sophomore F Joel Janatuinen (8-10-18), Junior D Tucker Poolman (7-23-30), Sophomore D Christian Wolanin (5-14-19), Junior G Cam Johnson (19-11-3, 2.40 GAA, .904 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: Saturday, November 12th (Grand Forks, North Dakota). Rookie Henrik Borgstrom’s even-strength marker broke a 2-2 tie less than seven minutes into the second period and held up as the game-winner in a 3-2 Denver victory. Borgstrom’s goal came less than a minute after Shane Gersich scored his second of the game to bring UND even with the Pioneers. In Friday’s opener, the two teams skated to a 1-1 tie, with Borgstrom potting the equalizer with just over five minutes remaining in regulation. North Dakota’s Shane Gersich scored a highlight reel goal during the 3-on-3 overtime session to earn an extra league point for the Fighting Hawks.

One Year Ago: April 7, 2016 (Tampa, Florida). In the semifinals of the NCAA Frozen Four, the two league rivals squared off in a tightly-contested contest. Senior forward Drake Caggiula scored twice early in the middle frame to stake UND to a 2-0 lead, but the Pioneers battled back with a pair of third period goals. The CBS line came through when it mattered most, with Nick Schmaltz scoring the game winner off of a faceoff win with 57 seconds remaining in the hockey game. North Dakota blocked 27 Denver shot attempts and goaltender Cam Johnson made 21 saves for the Fighting Hawks, who won the program’s eighth national title on the same sheet of ice two nights later.

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: Denver has a 4-3-3 (.550) advantage in the last ten games between the schools, although North Dakota has outscored DU 27-25 over that stretch. Six of those ten games occurred a season ago, with both teams sweeping on home ice before tying 1-1 in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff third-place game. North Dakota broke the tie in the season series with a dramatic 4-2 victory in the NCAA Frozen Four.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 143-123-12 (.536), although the Pioneers hold a 8-5-1 (.607) advantage in games played on neutral ice. The teams first met in 1950, with North Dakota prevailing 18-3 in Denver.

Game News and Notes

UND sophomore forward Brock Boeser has eight points (four goals, four assists) in eight career games against the Pioneers. Denver (16) and North Dakota (15) have more consecutive seasons with twenty or more victories than any other Division I men’s hockey team in the country (Boston College is third with eight straight twenty-win seasons; Quinnipiac has accomplished the feat six consecutive times). Over the past six games, DU has only allowed one power play goal in sixteen penalty kill situations.

Media Coverage

Friday night’s game will be telecast live by CBS Sports Network and can also be seen on DirecTV (221) and DISH Network (158). There will be no live stream for Friday’s semifinals. 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

All signs point in Denver’s favor, although UND is playing its best hockey of the season right now. The first period will be key: if North Dakota can score early and get the partisan crowd at Target Center into the game, it might make things difficult for the Pioneers. With thoughts of securing an NCAA tournament bid, the Fighting Hawks also have more to play for than their rivals. I feel like this one goes to overtime, with an advantage to the green on St. Patrick’s Day. UND 3, DU 2 (OT).

Bonus Prediction

In Friday’s first semifinal, Minnesota-Duluth will upend the Western Michigan Broncos by a score of 4-3.

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

NCHC Playoff Preview: North Dakota vs. St. Cloud State

The end of last season could not have gone any differently for the two conference rivals. St. Cloud State, the top seed in the NCAA West Regional (Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, MN), rallied to tie #18 Ferris State in the third period, but the Bulldogs scored just 18 seconds into the extra session to knock off the Huskies (who were ranked #2 in the country heading into the NCAAs) by a final of 5-4.

The newly-minted Fighting Hawks from the University of North Dakota fared much better in the postseason, defeating Northeastern (the nation’s hottest team), Michigan (featuring the nation’s best line), Denver (a bitter conference rival), and Quinnipiac (the nation’s best team) to hoist the program’s eighth national title. In the four games of the NCAA tournament, UND downed their opponents by a combined score of 18-7.

Things look a bit different this time around…

The two teams collected just 21 victories between them in 48 conference games this season (UND 11-12-1-1, SCSU 10-13-1-0), and both squads have a vastly different identity (or are still searching for same) than they had a year ago.

Gone from the North Dakota roster are nine players from the 2015-16 championship squad. Last season’s senior class (forwards Drake Caggiula, Bryn Chyzyk, Coltyn Sanderson, and Colten St. Clair) would have been enough of a loss, as the quartet accounted for 44 goals and 41 assists in 116 combined games.

But the worst was yet to come as the early departure bug hit the program particularly hard. Five players gave up college eligibility to sign pro contracts, including forward Nick Schmaltz (11-35-46), who left after his sophomore season. The other four skaters would have been seniors this year:

Forward Luke Johnson (11-10-21)
Defenseman Troy Stecher (8-21-29)
Defenseman Paul LaDue (5-14-19)
Defenseman Keaton Thompson (2-15-17)

All told, the nine players accounted for exactly half of North Dakota’s goal scoring last season (81 of 162). Stecher, LaDue, and Thompson helped anchor a defensive unit that allowed only 1.84 goals/game and gave up zero or one goal 24 times in 2015-16.

The picture at St. Cloud State is very similar. The Huskies are learning to live without a quartet of senior forwards who contributed all over the ice last season: Kalle Kossila (14-40-54 in 2015-16), Joey Benik (23-25-48), Jimmy Murray (13-26-39), and David Morley (14-23-37). To further complicate matters, sophomore Patrick Russell (20-21-41) gave up his final two seasons of eligibility to sign with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers.

On the defensive side of things, SCSU lost only one defenseman from last season’s roster: senior captain Ethan Prow, who tallied 8-30-38 a year ago and finished his career one point shy of the century mark (19-80-99). The biggest loss in their own end occurred when netminder Charlie Lindgren (30-9-1, 2.13 GAA, .925 SV%, 5 SO) gave up his senior season to join the Montreal Canadiens organization. That decision left the Huskies without any experience in net, and the job has been left to freshmen Zach Driscoll and Jeff Smith. Driscoll had the job early on but was pulled from a game against Omaha on December 9th, and Smith has taken the reigns, going 9-9-0 with a 2.40 goals-against average and a save percentage of .918. Since the switch, Driscoll has only appeared in two games, and it appears to be Jeff Smith’s job moving forward.

The top returning scorer for the Huskies is sophomore Mikey Eyssimont, who tallied 14 goals and 19 assists for 33 points as a freshman last season (40 games) and has a line of 14-15-29 in 34 games this year.

His counterpart at UND, sophomore Brock Boeser, led the Fighting Hawks with sixty points (27 goals, 33 assists) during his rookie campaign (42 games) but has managed just 13 goals and 15 assists (28 points) in 27 games this time around without linemates Drake Caggiula and Nick Schmaltz, both of whom are playing the NHL this season.

Despite all of the changes, this weekend will feel strangely familiar:

Two teams in the mix for yet another NCAA tournament appearance. A lethal St. Cloud State power play that gives North Dakota fits every single year. An arena that will feel like Christmas in March, with plenty of green and red to go around.

St. Cloud State made the move to Division I hockey beginning with the 1987-88 season (just months after UND’s Hrkac Circus took the college hockey world by storm) and joined the WCHA three seasons later. The Huskies have appeared in twelve NCAA Division I tournaments over the past 29 seasons but have just five tournament victories (5-12-0, .294) and one Frozen Four appearance. On the plus side, the five tourney wins have all come in the past seven years, so things are definitely looking up in St. Cloud.

Since 1987 (a national championship season), North Dakota has made the NCAA tournament twenty times, with 31 tourney wins, eleven Frozen Four appearances, and three national titles (1997, 2000, 2016) to bring the program’s total to eight. The team’s tournament record over that stretch of years is 31-18-0 (.633), and UND’s active streak of fourteen consecutive NCAA tourney bids is the longest in the nation among all Division I men’s college hockey programs.

North Dakota is hosting the first round of the conference playoffs for the 15th consecutive season, extending the longest active streak in Division I men’s hockey. UND is 28-6 (.824) in the opening round of the playoffs and has won all fourteen of its series.

With two victories this weekend, North Dakota would also reach the 20-win plateau for the fifteenth consecutive season and likely solidify a berth in the NCAA tournament field.

On the injury front, two UND sophomores are questionable this weekend: forward Brock Boeser and defenseman Hayden Shaw. Boeser has been slotted at right wing on the team’s fourth line for Friday’s opener; I would expect him to see plenty of ice time with the man advantage. Shaw has been ruled out for the first game of the weekend series.

North Dakota junior Austin Poganski (St. Cloud, Minnesota) left last Saturday’s road game against Miami (undisclosed injury) and did not return, but Poganski (five points in twelve career games against SCSU) is expected to suit up against his hometown team.

St. Cloud State senior defenseman Niklas Nevalainen suffered a leg injury on Saturday, March 4th against Colorado College and is questionable for this weekend’s action. Nevalainen (135 games played in his SCSU career) skated for the first time on Thursday and made the trip to Grand Forks with the team. I expect the Pori, Finland native to skate on the third defensive pair, logging fewer minutes than normal but still seeing significant power play time.

The Huskies will also be without the services of sophomore blueliner Will Borgen for the first two games of the series. Borgen, who leads SCSU with sixty penalty minutes this season, was suspended by the NCHC for physically abusing an official during that same game against Colorado College.

There are two competing trends to watch this weekend:

1. Over the past fourteen games this season, St. Cloud State is 6-1-0 on Fridays (22 goals for, 13 goals against) and 1-6-0 on Saturdays (12 goals for, 21 goals against).

2. Over the past fourteen first-round playoff series, North Dakota is 12-2 on Fridays (70 goals for, 22 goals against) and 10-4 on Saturdays (45 goals for, 30 goals against).

UND is 28-6 (.824) in the opening round of the conference playoffs over the past fourteen years and has won all fourteen of its series (including all six that went to a decisive Game Three).

For more on why fans should expect at least one close game this weekend at Ralph Engelstad Arena, please follow this link: The First-Round League Playoff Series: Why Is It So Difficult To Sweep?

St. Cloud State Team Profile

Head Coach: Bob Motzko (12th season at SCSU, 251-181-43, .574)

Pairwise Ranking: t-18th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #20/NR
This Season: 16-17-1 overall, 10-13-1-0 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 31-9-1 overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 17-6-1-1 NCHC (t-2nd)

Team Offense: 2.88 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.88 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.7% (25 of 127)
Penalty Kill: 83.9% (94 of 112)

Key Players: Sophomore F Mikey Eyssimont (14-15-29), Junior F Blake Winiecki (12-11-23), Sophomore F Patrick Newell (3-20-23), Sophomore F Jacob Benson (10-10-20), Junior F Judd Peterson (11-6-17), Freshman D Jack Ahcan (5-16-21), Sophomore D Jimmy Schuldt (7-10-17), Freshman G Jeff Smith (10-11-0, 2.58 GAA, .910 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (2nd season at UND, 52-20-7, .703)

Pairwise Ranking: t-11th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #14/#13
This Season: 18-14-3 overall, 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 34-6-4 overall (NCAA champions), 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.11 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.54 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.2% (27 of 148)
Penalty Kill: 84.6% (126 of 149)

Key Players: Sophomore F Shane Gersich (19-15-34), Freshman F Tyson Jost (14-15-29), Sophomore F Brock Boeser (13-15-28), Junior F Austin Poganski (9-12-21), Sophomore F Joel Janatuinen (7-10-17), Junior D Tucker Poolman (7-21-28), Sophomore D Christian Wolanin (4-13-17), Junior G Cam Johnson (17-11-3, 2.34 GAA, .905 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers

Meetings during the 2016-17 season…

November 18-19, 2016 (St. Cloud, MN): UND’s Shane Gersich netted a hat trick in Friday’s 4-0 victory, and in Saturday’s rematch, North Dakota got a goal in each period and held the Huskies scoreless on four power plays to defeat SCSU 3-0 and complete the rare road shutout sweep., Cam Johnson stopped all 62 shots he faced on the weekend, helping North Dakota sweep the Huskies in St. Cloud for the first time since November 1998.

February 3-4, 2017 (Grand Forks, ND): On Friday night, St. Cloud State got a goal in each period (on 19 total shots) on netminder Matt Hrynkiw and answered UND’s only tally with one of their own 28 seconds later to secure a 3-1 road victory. Unlikely hero Mike Gornall scored both of North Dakota’s goals on Saturday night (including the game winner less than a minute into overtime) in a 2-1 triumph that also secured sole possession of the Challenge Cup.

Most Important Meeting: NCAA West Regional Final in Fargo, ND (March 28, 2015). North Dakota scored three unassisted goals over the final two periods of the hockey game to defeat St. Cloud State 4-1 in the West Regional Final and advance to the NCAA Frozen Four. Jimmy Murray got the Huskies on the board less than 90 seconds in to the hockey game, but that did nothing to quiet the partisan crowd of 5,307 at SCHEELS Arena. Four different players scored for UND, while Zane McIntyre made 19 stops to earn his 29th and final victory of the season.

All-Time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series, 69-40-12 (.619), including a 33-17-6 (.643) record in Grand Forks. Aside from their 2015 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal victory, the Huskies also defeated North Dakota in the 2001 WCHA Final Five championship game. UND is 10-3-0 (.769) against St. Cloud State in the conference playoffs, with their most recent triumph coming in the 2012 WCHA Final Five quarterfinals. The teams have been squaring off regularly since the 1989-90 season, but have only met once in the NCAA tournament (2015).

Last Ten: UND holds a 7-3-0 (.700) edge in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring the Huskies 26-20 over that stretch of games.

Game News and Notes

Eight players from the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks area are expected to suit up for this weekend’s series. The Huskies have been outscored 5-2 in overtime this season (2-5-1). North Dakota has dominated the middle frame, outshooting opponents 446-321 while scoring 38 goals and allowing only 22. St. Cloud State blocked forty shots during the February series in Grand Forks. UND head coach Brad Berry is 8-1-1 (.850) in the month of March. North Dakota won three of the four regular season meetings between the teams, outscoring the Huskies 10-4. Tickets (packages and single game seats) are still available for all three games of the series.

Media Coverage

The entire playoff series will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and streamed in high definition on NCHC.tv. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports Radio 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

I don’t see any possibility of either one of these teams sweeping this series. Each side is filled with talent and question marks, with UND having almost no advantage on home ice. St. Cloud State has the advantage on special teams and could burn the home team in those situations this weekend if it becomes a penalty fest. As I see it, the Fighting Hawks will perform well in Friday’s opener, with Bob Motzko’s squad righting the ship to take the series to a decisive tilt on Sunday. At least one of these games will go to overtime, with North Dakota’s top-end talent proving to be the difference. UND 3-1, SCSU 4-3 (OT), UND 3-2.

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Miami

Over the first three seasons of the NCHC, Miami has averaged a 5th-place finish (8th, 2nd, 5th), with a combined league record of 29-39-4-4 (.440).

This season is looking even worse for the RedHawks. With one weekend remaining in the league schedule, Enrico Blasi’s squad sports a record of 5-12-5-3 (.348), good for seventh place in the eight-team NCHC.

When the National Collegiate Hockey Conference was formed, Miami appeared positioned to be a dominant program. Prior to the 2013-14 season (their inaugural campaign in the NCHC), the RedHawks had made eight consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, with consecutive Frozen Four bids in 2009 and 2010. Since joining the NCHC, Miami has just one NCAA tournament appearance (2015), and that ended quickly with a first-round loss to eventual national champion Providence.

For comparison, North Dakota has finished 2nd, 1st, and 1st in the first three seasons of the new league and currently sits in fourth place (9-12-1-1, 29 points) with only this weekend’s games remaining in the regular season. It should be noted that UND is assured of its first losing record in conference play since going 11-15-2 in the WCHA back in 2001-02.

Denver, Duluth, and Western Michigan have locked up the three spots in the league standings (although the order has yet to be determined) and will certainly host the first round of the NCHC playoffs next weekend (March 10-12). That leaves just one home ice spot up for grabs heading into this weekend’s slate of games…

North Dakota is currently tied with Omaha for fourth place in the league standings (29 points each). with St. Cloud State in sixth place with 28. Miami sits six points back of North Dakota and Omaha. Needless to say, points are critical for the Fighting Hawks this weekend, both for playoff seeding and in the Pairwise Rankings (UND is currently 16th). UND holds the head-to-head tiebreakers with both Omaha and St. Cloud State.

Here are the NCHC games being played over the final weekend of the regular season:

Colorado College at St. Cloud State
Denver at Omaha
Minnesota-Duluth at Western Michigan
North Dakota at Miami

Since the teams met in Grand Forks on January 13th and 14th (a split), Miami has scored 21 goals and allowed 34 in ten NCHC contests. Over that same stretch of time (and the same number of league games), North Dakota has scored 21 goals and allowed 32 while suffering three shutouts. The RedHawks have scored more than two goals only four times in the past ten games; the Fighting Hawks, three times. North Dakota is 11-0-1 when scoring four or more goals this season but just 5-14-2 when held under four goals.

Last year, Miami lost to Minnesota-Duluth four straight times to end their season. The Bulldogs hosted the RedHawks on the final weekend of the regular season, sweeping Miami 5-0 and 3-1. In the first weekend of the league playoffs, Enrico Blasi’s squad performed admirably but UMD swept again (5-4, 3-1) to end Miami’s season.

Miami Team Profile

Head Coach: Enrico Blasi (18th season at Miami, 375-264-67, .579)

Pairwise Ranking: 29th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 9-16-7 overall, 5-12-5-3 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 15-18-3 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 9-13-2-2 NCHC (5th)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.50 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.97 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.4% (27 of 155)
Penalty Kill: 82.6% (128 of 155)

Key Players: Senior F Anthony Louis (13-23-36), Sophomore F Kiefer Sherwood (11-21-32), Sophomore F Josh Melnick (9-18-27), Freshman F Carson Meyer (9-16-25), Junior D Louie Belpedio (6-11-17), Sophomore D Grant Hutton (9-5-14), Freshman G Ryan Larkin (8-14-7, 2.72 GAA, .911 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (2nd season at UND, 50-20-7, .695)

Pairwise Ranking: 16th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #15/#15
This Season: 16-14-3 overall, 9-12-1-1 NCHC (t-4th)
Last Season: 34-6-4 overall (NCAA champions), 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st of 8 teams)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.06 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.58 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.6% (26 of 140)
Penalty Kill: 84.6% (121 of 143)

Key Players: Sophomore F Shane Gersich (19-15-34), Sophomore F Brock Boeser (13-15-28), Freshman F Tyson Jost (13-15-28), Junior F Austin Poganski (9-12-21), Junior D Tucker Poolman (5-18-23), Sophomore D Christian Wolanin (4-12-16), Junior G Cam Johnson (15-11-3, 2.36 GAA, .907 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: January 14, 2017 (Grand Forks, North Dakota). UND outshot Miami 34-15 and got points from seven different players (including a second-period shorthanded goal from Rhett Gardner) to defeat the RedHawks 3-1 and salvage a split of the weekend series. In Friday’s opener, MU used five third-period goals from five different goal scorers to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 6-3 victory, chasing Fighting Hawks netminder Cam Johnson in the process. Incidentally, Miami’s comeback was the first time North Dakota had lost when leading after two periods of play since November 1st, 2013.

Last meeting in Oxford, Ohio: March 7, 2015. Miami defeated #1 UND 6-3 behind a four-point night from senior captain Austin Czarnik and 31 saves from Ryan McKay. North Dakota secured the Penrose Cup one night earlier with a hard-fought 2-1 victory. Miami finished 2nd in the league in 2014-15 (six points behind North Dakota), their best finish by far over the first three seasons of the NCHC.

Last Ten: UND has picked up six wins in the past ten contests, outscoring Miami 36-28 over that stretch of games. The RedHawks have only hosted two of the past ten meetings between the schools.

All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 10-5-1 (.656), but the teams have split the four games that Miami has hosted (two victories each). The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).

Game News and Notes

North Dakota and Miami have two of the four largest groups of underclassmen in the country. UND’s 19 freshmen and sophomores have scored 200 of the team’s 266 points this season (81 goals, 119 assists), while Miami’s 20 underclassmen have collected 56 goals and 95 assists (151 of the team’s 224 total points). The RedHawks have been outscored 95-77 in regulation this season but have three wins and seven ties in ten overtime games. The Fighting Hawks lead the nation in average attendance (11,627 per home game), while the RedHawks are 34th (2,528 per home game).

Media Coverage

Friday’s opener will not be televised, but Saturday’s rematch will be broadcast live on FOX College Sports Atlantic. A high definition webcast of both games will be 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’s two conference sweeps this season have come on the road (at St. Cloud State; at Omaha), and I’m calling for a third this weekend in Oxford. It won’t be easy or pretty, but the Fighting Hawks will get the job done. UND 3-2, 3-2.

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Omaha

January 7th, 2017. Omaha, Nebraska. UND had just completed a sweep of the homestanding Mavericks. And the word “sweep” does not do justice to North Dakota’s dominance over Omaha that weekend. Brad Berry’s club scored sixteen goals on the weekend and allowed only four. Coupled with a split against Western Michigan and road wins over Boston College and Union, things were looking up for the Green and White…

At the time, North Dakota boasted an overall record of 12-6-3. A winning record in the NCHC (5-4-1-1). A Pairwise ranking of 7th and a national ranking to match. A second-half schedule that appeared favorable: road series at Colorado College, Western Michigan, and Miami and home series vs. Miami, Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State, and Omaha.

Since that offensive outburst in Omaha, UND is averaging just 2.1 goals per contest, and their highest goal output in a weekend series has been six (3-6, 3-1 vs. Miami). North Dakota is just 3-7-0 in the last ten games and could very well find themselves on the road in the first round of the league playoffs for the first time in fifteen seasons.

Omaha, on the other hand, is 4-4-2 in the past ten games and scored twelve goals in their last series, a split against Western Michigan two weekends ago. By comparison, UND could muster only a pair of goals each night in a pair of losses against WMU last weekend.

North Dakota is currently tied with Omaha for fifth place in the league standings (26 points each), with the top four teams hosting in the first round of the NCHC tournament (March 10-12). St. Cloud State is in fourth place with 28, two points clear of UND and UNO. Miami sits five points back of North Dakota and Omaha and has played one more game than those two teams. Needless to say, points are critical for the Fighting Hawks this weekend. Here are the games being played over the final two weekends of the regular season:

February 23-25:
Miami at Minnesota-Duluth (Duluth defeated Miami 4-3 on Thursday, February 23rd. The rematch is set for Friday, February 24th)
Omaha at North Dakota
St. Cloud State at Denver
Western Michigan at Colorado College

March 3-4:
Colorado College at St. Cloud State
Denver at Omaha
Minnesota-Duluth at Western Michigan
North Dakota at Miami

In 2015, both North Dakota and Omaha advanced to the Frozen Four but neither team made the championship game. UND fell to Boston University 5-3, while the Mavericks were upended 4-1 by eventual national champion Providence.

Today’s Trivia Question: Since the NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey tournament expanded to 16 teams for the 2002-03 season, very few teams have missed the tourney one year after making a Frozen Four appearance. Omaha accomplished that feat in 2015-16, losing eight straight games to end their season. Who are the other teams who belong in this less-than-elite company?

Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Dean Blais (8th season at UNO, 144-128-30, .526)

Pairwise Ranking: 18th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 15-12-5 overall, 8-10-2-0 NCHC (t-5th)
Last Season: 18-17-1 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-15-1-0 NCHC (6th)

Team Offense: 3.38 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.34 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 25.3% (41 of 162)
Penalty Kill: 76.5% (114 of 149)

Key Players: Senior F Austin Ortega (17-22-39), Junior F Tyler Vesel (12-21-33), Junior F David Pope (11-15-26), Junior F Jake Randolph (5-17-22), Junior D Luc Snuggerud (11-18-29), Senior D Ian Brady (3-18-21), Sophomore G Evan Weninger (9-7-4, 3.11 GAA, .904 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (2nd season at UND, 49-19-7, .700)

Pairwise Ranking: 14th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #16/#15
This Season: 15-13-3 overall, 8-11-1-1 NCHC (t-5th)
Last Season: 34-6-4 overall (NCAA champions), 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st of 8 teams)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.06 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.52 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.9% (25 of 132)
Penalty Kill: 84.3% (113 of 134)

Key Players: Sophomore F Shane Gersich (19-15-34), Sophomore F Brock Boeser (11-15-26), Freshman F Tyson Jost (11-14-25), Junior F Austin Poganski (9-11-20), Junior D Tucker Poolman (5-18-23), Sophomore D Christian Wolanin (3-12-15), Junior G Cam Johnson (14-10-3, 2.32 GAA, .907 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: January 7, 2017 (Omaha, Nebraska). North Dakota got to UNO netminder Evan Weninger early and often in cruising to a 7-3 victory and the weekend sweep (UND crushed the Mavericks 9-1 in Friday’s opener). Tyson Jost collected four points on the weekend after his emotional return from the World Juniors. Specialty teams were huge for the visitors, as the Fighting Hawks scored six power play goals and a shorthanded goal on the weekend while allowing Omaha just one goal with the man advantage in the two-game series.

Last meeting in Grand Forks: January 16, 2016. North Dakota spotted UNO the a 1-0 lead in the first period, but it wouldn’t last long. Drake Caggiula potted a power play goal with seven seconds remaining in the opening frame and UND added two goals in each of the next two periods to defeat the visiting Mavericks 5-1. Omaha won Friday’s opener 4-3 in overtime, helped along by Jake Randolph’s tally with one tick left on the second period clock.

Most memorable meeting: The game that UND fans will long remember is the outdoor game played at TD Ameritrade Park (Omaha, Nebraska) on February 9th, 2013. One day after winning a tight 2-1 contest indoors, North Dakota throttled UNO 5-2 on a sunny, melty afternoon. Mavericks netminder John Faulkner was pulled after allowing three goals on five shots in just ten minutes of game action. In my opinion, this hockey weekend solidified the notion that for UND hockey, it’s always a home game.

Last ten: North Dakota has seven wins and a tie in the last ten contests between the schools, outscoring the Mavericks 43-22 over that stretch. Four of the last ten games have gone to overtime.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 14-7-1 (.659) and has a slight edge (5-4-1, .550) in games played in Grand Forks.

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. The next victory for current UND bench boss Brad Berry will be the 50th of his coaching career. Omaha has scored 41 goals on the power play and allowed 38; UND has scored 25 and allowed 21.

Media Coverage

This weekend’s series will be telecast live by Midco Sports Network. Saturday’s game will also be carried live on FOX College Sports Pacific. A high definition webcast of both games will be 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

I expect two tight contests, with Saturday’s rematch the closer affair. If the Fighting Hawks can stay out of the penalty box, they’ve got a shot at more than a split, but I don’t see it playing out that way. UND 4-3, UNO 4-3.

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Colorado College

Colorado College has just eight league victories in the past three seasons (8-48-6-2), but head coach Mike Haviland has already equaled the win total from each of his first two seasons:

2016-17: 6-16-2 (.292)
2015-16: 6-29-1 (.181)
2014-15: 6-26-3 (.214)

The feeling among the Tiger faithful is that new blood behind the bench will eventually translate into new life on the ice, and CC fans have seen flashes of that over his first three seasons. 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 have met six times in each of the past two seasons, with North Dakota going 11-0-1 in those meetings (and winning the shootout after the tie to earn an extra league point), outscoring the Tigers 54-20 in the process.

The two teams have made a habit of meeting in the first round of the NCHC tournament, with North Dakota dispatching Colorado College each of the past three years. That scenario looks less likely this season, with UND hovering in the middle of the pack in the league standings (currently fifth) and the Tigers once again dwelling in the basement. If the season ended today, Colorado College would head to Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota would travel to Omaha for its first road playoff series since 2002.

Interestingly, the Fighting Hawks have played better on the road (5-3-1) than at home (7-6-2) this season, including wins in six straight road games (sweeps at St. Cloud State and Omaha and road victories against Boston College and Union). North Dakota has won just two of its past ten games (2-6-2) at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

As I have suspected for some time, UND senior defenseman Gage Ausmus (2-6-8) has been dealing with some sort of injury. Ausmus, who left last Saturday’s contest against Duluth and did not return, has not been the same player he was last season and is not expected to play this weekend in Colorado Springs. North Dakota will also be without the services of freshman forward Tyson Jost (11-13-24), and thus will need to rely on a more balanced scoring attack to defeat the Tigers. I expect contributions from junior forward Austin Poganski (2-7-9 in eleven career games against CC) and sophomore forward Chris Wilkie (2-1-3 in four games against CC).

Colorado College Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Haviland (3rd season at CC, 18-71-6, .221)

Pairwise Ranking: 34th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 6-16-2 overall, 2-10-2-0 NCHC (8th)
Last Season: 6-29-1 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 4-19-1-0 NCHC (8th)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.13 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.42 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 10.8% (14 of 130)
Penalty Kill: 79.3% (96 of 121)

Key players: Sophomore F Mason Bergh (12-5-17), Senior F Luc Gerdes (4-9-13), Freshman F Nick Halloran (5-4-9), Senior F Sam Rothstein (5-3-8), Junior D Teemu Kivihalme (2-6-8), Sophomore D Cole McCaskill (1-4-5), Freshman G Alex Laclerc (4-13-2, 3.28 GAA, .891 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (2nd season at UND, 47-15-7, .732)

Pairwise Ranking: 11th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #12/#12
This Season: 13-9-3 overall, 6-7-1-1 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 34-6-4 overall (NCAA champions), 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.32 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.48 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.4% (23 of 113)
Penalty Kill: 82.5% (94 of 114)

Key Players: Sophomore F Shane Gersich (17-14-31), Sophomore F Brock Boeser (11-11-22), Junior F Austin Poganski (8-11-19), Sophomore F Joel Janatuinen (6-8-14), Junior D Tucker Poolman (4-15-19), Sophomore D Christian Wolanin (3-11-14), Junior G Cam Johnson (13-8-3, 2.31 GAA, .907 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 12, 2016 (Grand Forks, ND). Mike Haviland chose to start a clearly-injured Jacob Nehama in net, and it did not go well for the Tigers. Nehama allowed four goals on fourteen shots in the first period before giving way to Derek Shatzer. Nick Schmaltz had three goals and three assists in the weekend sweep for UND, which won the first playoff game by a final score of 7-1. The Fighting Hawks went 5-0-1 against Colorado College during their most recent national championship season, outscoring the Tigers 29-10 in the six meetings.

Last Meeting in Colorado Springs: October 31, 2015. Matt Hrynkiw earned a shutout with a 29 save performance, and North Dakota received goals from Christian Wolanin and Shane Gersich in a 2-0 road victory. Tyler Marble made 40 saves in a losing effort. UND won Friday’s opener 5-2 behind two goals by Chris Wilkie.

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, 154-80-11 (.651), although Colorado College holds a 57-52-4 (.522) advantage in Colorado Springs. North Dakota has 100 victories over the Tigers in Grand Forks (100-21-7, .809). The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: North Dakota has nine wins and a tie in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring CC 44-17 over that span. The last Tigers victory over UND was a 3-2 overtime win in the 2014 NCHC quarterfinals. 19 of the last 25 games have been decided by two goals or less.

Game News and Notes

In second periods this season, North Dakota has outscored opponents 30-13 while Colorado College has been outscored 31-13. UND is 9-0-1 when leading after twenty minutes of play but a dismal 4-9-2 when trailing or tied. These two coaching staffs coached against each other at the AHL and NHL levels prior to the NCHC. The Tigers have appeared in the NCAA tournament twice in the past ten seasons (2008, 2011).

Media Coverage

Saturday’s game will be telecast live on American Sports Network and carried by several ASN affiliates across the country, including WDAY’Z Xtra 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

If North Dakota hopes to secure home ice for the playoffs and a 15th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, victories this weekend are critical. There is enough leadership and talent in the UND locker room for a sweep; it’s just a matter of getting it done on the ice. It won’t be easy, but mark the road warriors down for another sweep away from the Ralph. UND 4-1, 4-2.

Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Minnesota-Duluth

In late October 2016, the Bulldogs (3-1-2 at the time and ranked #2 in the country) and the Fighting Hawks (5-0-0; then #1) squared off in Duluth. UMD hadn’t won a series against North Dakota since November 2008, but used timely special teams play and excellent goaltending to sweep UND by scores of 5-2 and 3-0.

After that weekend, North Dakota went two more weekends without a victory (0-2-2 against Minnesota and Denver). UND righted the ship with a sweep at St. Cloud State in mid-November and boasts a mark of 8-3-1 beginning with that weekend. Even with this recent run, UND (now ranked #8 in the country) finds themselves in third place in the league standings with twelve conference games remaining. The #4 Bulldogs are on top of the NCHC with a record of 9-4-1-1 (three points ahead of Denver and nine clear of UND) but have played two more league games than the other contenders. Even so, Brad Berry’s squad will need more than a split this weekend if it hopes to gain ground in the race for the Penrose Cup.

Duluth has stayed at or near the top of the Pairwise and national rankings due to their steady play in non-conference games (4-1-3, .688), and the fact that they have only suffered consecutive losses once this season (January 7th vs. Colorado College and January 13th vs. St. Cloud State). The Bulldogs have two non-conference games remaining, as they will take part in the North Star College Cup next weekend. The Bulldogs will square off against #7 Minnesota in the opener and face either Bemidji State or St. Cloud State next Saturday.

Two seasons ago, 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.

Scott Sandelin has brought his team within one game of the Frozen Four in each of the last two seasons but has yet to regain the national championship form his squad experienced in 2011. North Dakota has made the NCAA tournament in each of the past 14 seasons (the longest active streak in men’s Division I college hockey) and finally made it to the mountaintop in Tampa, claiming the program’s eighth national title.

Coming into this season, goaltending was a question mark for the Bulldogs. Kasimir Kaskisuo (19-15-5, 1.92 goals-against average, .923 save percentage, and five shutouts in 39 appearances last season) gave up his final two seasons of eligibility to sign with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Kaskisuo won 37 games for UMD in his brief college career. Freshman Hunter Miska has been everything Scott Sandelin could have asked for and then some, taking control of the crease in his nineteen games played (12-4-2, 2.20 GAA, .918 SV%, 3 SO).

According to KRACH, Minnesota-Duluth has played the toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks 3rd (with Denver 2nd). In fact, seven NCHC schools boast the seven toughest schedules across college hockey, with Omaha’s ranked 15th.

Minnesota-Duluth Team Profile

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (17th season at UMD, 300-282-79, .514)

Pairwise Ranking: 3rd of 60 teams
National Rankings: #4/#3
This Season: 13-5-4 overall, 9-4-1-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 19-16-5 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional finalist), 11-10-3-1 NCHC (4th)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.14 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.18 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.0% (18 of 100)
Penalty Kill: 80.4% (86 of 107)

Key Players: Senior F Alex Iafallo (10-14-24), Sophomore F Adam Johnson (8-10-18), Freshman F Joey Anderson (6-12-18), Senior F Kyle Osterberg (10-7-17), Sophomore D Neal Pionk (5-13-18), Senior D Carson Soucy (3-10-13), Freshman G Hunter Miska (12-4-2, 2.20 GAA, .918 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (2nd season at UND, 47-13-7, .754)

Pairwise Ranking: 7th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #8/#8
This Season: 13-7-3 overall, 6-5-1-1 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 34-6-4 overall (NCAA champions), 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st of 8 teams)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.48 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.30 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.0% (21 of 105)
Penalty Kill: 82.7% (86 of 104)

Key Players: Sophomore F Shane Gersich (16-14-30), Freshman F Tyson Jost (10-13-23), Sophomore F Brock Boeser (11-11-22), Junior F Austin Poganski (8-11-19), Junior D Tucker Poolman (4-14-18), Sophomore D Christian Wolanin (3-11-14), Junior G Cam Johnson (13-7-3, 2.14 GAA, .913 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: October 29, 2016 (Duluth, MN). The Bulldogs scored three times in the second period – once on the power play and twice while shorthanded – and got a thirty save shutout from Hunter Miska in a 3-0 victory over #1 North Dakota. Duluth, which defeated the Fighting Hawks 5-2 in the opener, secured the home sweep by killing all seven UND power plays.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: February 20, 2016. After sweeping the Bulldogs in Duluth by identical 3-0 scores in December, the games were much closer at Ralph Engelstad Arena. One night after Austin Poganski sent the home crowd into a frenzy with a penalty shot goal in overtime, Brock Boeser scored with 5:21 remaining in the third period to secure the 2-1 victory for UND. Cam Johnson made 59 saves in the weekend sweep.

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.

The Meeting That Never Was: Both teams advanced to the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four at Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minnesota). UND could not get past Michigan, falling 2-0 despite outshooting the Wolverines 40-20. In the other national semifinal, Minnesota-Duluth defeated Notre Dame 4-3 and rode that momentum to the title game. The Bulldogs took the Wolverines to overtime before senior forward Kyle Schmidt scored the game winner and earned UMD their first and only national championship. North Dakota won two of the three games against Duluth that season, outscoring Scott Sandelin’s team 11-5.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 144-80-9 (.637), including an 80-33-3 (.703) mark in games played in Grand Forks. 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 6-4-0 (.600) in the last ten games between the teams, outscoring the Bulldogs 26-22 over that stretch. Duluth has won the last three meetings between these two storied programs.

Game News and Notes

UND sophomore Brock Boeser has three goals and three assists in seven career games against the Bulldogs. Minnesota-Duluth has only lost one game on the road this season (6-1-2). 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. Sandelin picked up career win #300 last Saturday night in a 4-3 overtime victory over St. Cloud State.

Media Coverage

Friday’s opener will be shown live on CBS Sports Network, with Saturday’s rematch available on FOX College Sports and Midco Sports Network. Saturday’s game will also be streamed live in high definition via NCHC.tv. 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

This weekend hinges on the play of UMD freshman netminder Hunter Miska. I see this playing out much the same way as it did for the Bulldogs in Denver last month: Miska was average on Friday night (four goals allowed on 31 shots in a 4-3 loss) and outstanding on Saturday (one goal allowed on 39 shots in a 3-1 victory). North Dakota just might have enough to earn a tie in the second game, but I don’t see it. UND 4-2, Duluth 3-2.

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Miami

Over the first three seasons of the NCHC, Miami has averaged a 5th-place finish (8th, 2nd, 5th), with a combined league record of 29-39-4-4 (.440).

This season is looking like more of the same for the RedHawks. Through ten games, Enrico Blasi’s squad sports a record of 3-4-3-1 (.433), good for fifth place in the eight-team league.

When the National Collegiate Hockey Conference was formed, Miami appeared positioned to be a dominant player. Prior to the 2013-14 season (their inaugural campaign in the NCHC), the RedHawks had made eight consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, with consecutive Frozen Four bids in 2009 and 2010. Since joining the NCHC, Miami has just one NCAA tournament appearance (2015), and that ended quickly with a first-round loss to eventual national champion Providence.

For comparison, North Dakota has finished 2nd, 1st, and 1st in the first three seasons of the new league and currently sits in third place (5-4-1-1, 17 points) with 14 league games remaining.

Last weekend marked the tenth weekend out of eleven that North Dakota faced off against a ranked opponent; UND went 14-5-1 (.725) against top-twenty teams a year ago but is just 9-5-2 (.625) in those situations so far this season. Here’s a closer look at the grind that the Fighting Hawks had to endure in the first half of the 2016-17 season:

vs. #18 Bemidji State (W 3-2, W 5-4)
at #2 Minnesota Duluth (L 2-5, L 0-3)
at #13 Minnesota (T 5-5, L 0-2)
vs. #2 Denver (T 1-1, L 2-3)
at #12 St. Cloud State (W 4-0, W 3-0)
vs. #3 Boston College (W 4-3)
vs. #18 Western Michigan (W 5-1, L 1-3)
at #10 Union (W 3-1)
at #20 Omaha (W 9-1, W 7-3)

Other ranked teams remaining on the second-half schedule include home series vs. #3 Minnesota-Duluth and a road series at #14 Western Michigan.

According to KRACH, North Dakota has played the third-toughest schedule in the country to date; Miami’s ranks 7th of 60 teams.

Last season, Miami lost to Minnesota-Duluth four straight times to end their season. The Bulldogs hosted the RedHawks on the final weekend of the regular season, sweeping Miami 5-0 and 3-1. In the first weekend of the league playoffs, Enrico Blasi’s squad performed admirably but UMD swept again (5-4, 3-1) to end Miami’s season.

The RedHawks come into this weekend as winners of four straight games after suffering a ten game winless streak (0-7-3) that stretched from October 29th through December 9th.

Miami Team Profile

Head Coach: Enrico Blasi (18th season at Miami, 373-256-65, .584)

Pairwise Ranking: 28th of 60 teams
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 7-8-5 overall, 3-4-3-1 NCHC (t-5th)
Last Season: 15-18-3 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 9-13-2-2 NCHC (5th)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.60 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.75 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.8% (19 of 107)
Penalty Kill: 85.3% (87 of 102)

Key Players: Senior F Anthony Louis (11-14-25), Sophomore F Kiefer Sherwood (10-13-23), Sophomore F Josh Melnick (6-11-17), Freshman F Carson Meyer (5-12-17), Junior D Louie Belpedio (3-6-9), Sophomore D Grant Hutton (5-2-7), Freshman G Ryan Larkin (6-6-5, 2.48 GAA, .914 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (2nd season at UND, 46-12-7, .762)

Pairwise Ranking: 7th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #7/#7
This Season: 12-6-3 overall, 5-4-1-1 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 34-6-4 overall (NCAA champions), 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st of 8 teams)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.52 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.19 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.3% (20 of 94)
Penalty Kill: 81.9% (77 of 94)

Key Players: Sophomore F Shane Gersich (15-13-28), Freshman F Tyson Jost (10-12-22), Sophomore F Brock Boeser (10-11-21), Junior F Austin Poganski (7-10-17), Junior D Tucker Poolman (4-14-18), Sophomore D Christian Wolanin (2-10-12), Junior G Cam Johnson (12-6-3, 2.09 GAA, .916 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: November 14, 2015 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota used some late-game heroics from Nick Schmaltz (an extra-attacker goal with 94 seconds remaining) to send the game to overtime, and Luke Johnson made the final 4-3 with his tally from a strange angle 83 seconds into the extra session. Matt Hrynkiw started both games of the series in net for UND, who won Friday’s opener 6-2. North Dakota outshot their fellow Hawks 68-35 on the weekend.

Most memorable meeting: March 6, 2015 (Oxford, OH). North Dakota went on the road and took care of business, securing a hard-fought 2-1 victory over the RedHawks and earning the Penrose Cup, UND’s 16th regular season conference title. UND scored early in each of the first two periods (Keaton Thompson at 2:43 of the first; Conner Gaarder at 1:56 of the second) and survived a furious Miami rally. Zane McIntyre made 43 of 44 saves, including 38 stops in the final two periods. Miami finished 2nd in the league in 2014-15 (six points behind North Dakota), their best finish by far over the first three seasons of the NCHC.

Last Ten: UND has picked up six wins in the past ten contests, outscoring Miami 35-29 over that stretch of games.

All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 9-4-1 (.679), including a 5-1-1 (.786) mark in games played in Grand Forks. Five of the fourteen all-time meetings between the schools came during the 2013-14 season, with UND picking up wins in three of those five games. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).

Game News and Notes

North Dakota and Miami have two of the four largest groups of underclassmen in the country. UND’s 19 freshmen and sophomores have scored 147 points this season (59 goals, 88 assists), while Miami’s 20 underclassmen have a line of 33-62-95. With four more consecutive starts between the pipes, UND junior goaltender Cam Johnson would equal a record set by Jean-Phillippe Lamoureux, who started 55 straight games in net for North Dakota from 2006-08.

Media Coverage

Both games will be televised live on Midco Sports Network. A high definition webcast of both games will be 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 relatively healthy and really rolling right now. Miami could steal a game if goaltender Ryan Larkin can shut down UND’s offense, but I think the home side prevails both nights. UND 4-2, 4-3.

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Omaha

North Dakota finds itself looking up at Omaha in the NCHC standings as we begin league play in 2017, but only three points separate 3rd place from 6th place in the conference standings. With Minnesota-Duluth and Denver firmly entrenched as the top two teams over the first half of the season, UND and UNO will be battling St. Cloud State and Western Michigan for the final two home ice positions as we look ahead to the league playoffs.

This weekend will mark the ninth weekend out of ten that North Dakota will face off against a ranked opponent; UND went 14-5-1 (.725) against top-twenty teams a year ago but is just 7-5-2 (.556) in those situations so far this season. Here’s a closer look at the grind that the Fighting Hawks had to endure in the first half of the 2016-17 season:

vs. #18 Bemidji State (W 3-2, W 5-4)
at #2 Minnesota Duluth (L 2-5, L 0-3)
at #13 Minnesota (T 5-5, L 0-2)
vs. #2 Denver (T 1-1, L 2-3)
at #12 St. Cloud State (W 4-0, W 3-0)
vs. #3 Boston College (W 4-3)
vs. #18 Western Michigan (W 5-1, L 1-3)
at #10 Union (W 3-1)

Other ranked teams remaining on the second-half schedule include home series vs. #1 Minnesota-Duluth, #18 St. Cloud State and #20 Omaha and a road series at #16 Western Michigan.

According to KRACH, North Dakota has played the third-toughest schedule in the country to date; Omaha’s ranks 20th of 60 teams.

The Mavericks have played only six games against ranked opponents this season, going a combined 2-4 in series against Massachusetts-Lowell, Minnesota-Duluth, and St. Cloud State.

In 2015, both North Dakota and Omaha advanced to the Frozen Four but neither team made the championship game. UND fell to Boston University 5-3, while the Mavericks were upended 4-1 by eventual national champion Providence.

Today’s Trivia Question: Since the NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey tournament expanded to 16 teams for the 2002-03 season, very few teams have missed the tourney one year after making a Frozen Four appearance. Omaha accomplished that feat in 2015-16, losing eight straight games to end their season. Who are the other teams who belong in this less-than-elite company?

Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Dean Blais (8th season at UNO, 140-122-28, .531)

Pairwise Ranking: 14th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #18/#17
This Season: 11-6-3 overall, 4-4-0-0 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 18-17-1 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-15-1-0 NCHC (6th)

Team Offense: 3.65 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.85 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 26.7% (28 of 105)
Penalty Kill: 81.2% (78 of 96)

Key Players: Senior F Austin Ortega (14-13-27), Junior F Tyler Vesel (9-14-23), Junior F David Pope (6-13-19), Junior F Jake Randolph (4-13-17), Junior D Luc Snuggerud (6-12-18), Senior D Ian Brady (2-15-17), Sophomore G Evan Weninger (7-3-2, 2.52 GAA, .919 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (2nd season at UND, 44-12-7, .754)

Pairwise Ranking: 8th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #7/#7
This Season: 10-6-3 overall, 3-4-1-1 NCHC (6th)
Last Season: 34-6-4 overall (NCAA champions), 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st of 8 teams)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.05 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.21 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.1% (14 of 82)
Penalty Kill: 81.2% (69 of 85)

Key Players: Sophomore F Shane Gersich (14-11-25), Junior F Austin Poganski (7-9-16), Sophomore F Rhett Gardner (4-6-10), Junior D Tucker Poolman (4-11-15), Sophomore D Christian Wolanin (0-8-8), Junior G Cam Johnson (10-6-3, 2.10 GAA, .915 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: February 27, 2016 (Omaha, Nebraska). North Dakota rode a strong second period to a 4-1 victory over the homestanding Mavericks, clinching at least a share of the NCHC regular season championship in the process. UND won Friday night’s opener by a score of 4-2 after the teams split a January series at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks.

Most memorable meeting: The game that UND fans will long remember is the outdoor game played at TD Ameritrade Park (Omaha, Nebraska) on February 9th, 2013. One day after winning a tight 2-1 contest indoors, North Dakota throttled UNO 5-2 on a sunny, melty afternoon. Mavericks netminder John Faulkner was pulled after allowing three goals on five shots in just ten minutes of game action. In my opinion, this hockey weekend solidified the notion that for UND hockey, it’s always a home game.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 12-7-1 (.625), including a 7-3-0 (.700) record in games played in Omaha. Four of the last eight 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. Omaha has scored 28 goals on the power play and allowed 18; UND has scored 14 and allowed 16.

Media Coverage

Friday’s game will not be televised, but Saturday’s rematch will be televised nationally by American Sports Network and available locally in the Grand Forks viewing area on WDAY’Z Xtra. A high definition webcast of both games will be 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 will surely miss the presence of forwards Brock Boeser (7-9-16 in 13 games) and Tyson Jost (7-11-18 in 17 games), particularly late in both games. I expect two tight contests, with Saturday’s rematch the tighter affair. If the Fighting Hawks can stay out of the penalty box, they’ve got a shot at more than a split, but I don’t see it playing out that way. UNO 4-3, UND 3-1.

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!