Weekend Preview: UND vs. Minnesota Duluth

North Dakota was down 2-0 to Minnesota Duluth with just 101 seconds remaining in the third period of the 2021 NCAA Midwest Regional final at Scheels Arena in Fargo, North Dakota. The Bulldogs had built their lead with two goals just 80 seconds apart early in the final frame on a pair of fluky plays. A partially blocked shot off the stick of Jackson Cates fluttered past Fighting Hawks’ netminder Adam Scheel, and a broken stick at the blue line sent Cole Koepke in alone on a breakaway.

Through the first 25 games of the season, UND had only won one game after allowing the first goal (1-5-1). But after coming back against both Denver and St. Cloud State to claim the program’s first NCHC Frozen Faceoff postseason title, Brad Berry’s squad had to feel like another comeback was possible.

And it was indeed possible. Collin Adams and Jordan Kawaguchi scored extra-attacker goals 44 seconds apart to send the partisan crowd into a frenzy and send the game to overtime. And overtime. And overtime. And overtime.

UMD’s Luke Mylymok scored the game-winner just over two minutes into the FIFTH overtime session; his second goal of the season ended the longest NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey tournament game in history.

One could argue that after over 140 minutes of game action, Duluth had a built-in advantage: the Bulldogs (14-10-2) were scheduled to face Michigan in the regional semifinal, but after the Wolverines withdrew due to a positive COVID-19 test in their hockey program, UMD advanced in a “no contest” and therefore had fresher legs than top overall seed North Dakota (22-5-1).

Adams and Kawaguchi were two of six North Dakota players to finish the season with double digit goal totals. Of those six, only Riese Gaber remains at North Dakota.

Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State both advanced to the 2021 NCAA Frozen Four in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which meant that the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) was represented on college hockey’s biggest stage for the seventh consecutive tourney (every season that the league has existed).

Here are the NCHC teams to appear in the Frozen Four since the NCHC began play in 2013-2014:

2014: North Dakota
2015: North Dakota, Omaha
2016: North Dakota (champion), Denver
2017: Denver (champion), Minnesota Duluth
2018: Minnesota Duluth (champion)
2019: Minnesota Duluth (champion), Denver
2020: No NCAA tournament (COVID-19)
2021: Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State

The Bulldogs played ten games at the Division I level in the early 1930s but didn’t really get started until after World War II. Its first 19 seasons after the war were played as an independent before joining the WCHA in 1965. It would take 18 seasons – and a head coach named Mike Sertich – before UMD would make the NCAA tournament, and Sertich would take them there in three consecutive seasons:

1982-1983: National Quarterfinalist
1983-1984: 2nd Place (National Runner-Up)
1984-1985: 3rd Place (Consolation Champion)

In 1984, Duluth was tantalizingly close to winning its first title. The Bulldogs defeated North Dakota 2-1 in overtime (behind a goal by Bill Watson) to advance to the championship game, where they would face Bowling Green in the longest NCAA final in Division I men’s hockey history. Gino Cavallini scored for the Falcons in the fourth overtime session, ending a game that took over 97 minutes of game action to complete.

And, perhaps, fittingly, UMD would find themselves locked in overtime contests in 1985 as well. The Bulldogs took RPI to three overtimes in the national semis before falling 6-5. Back in those days, there was still a third-place game, and so Duluth faced Boston College (which had also played three overtimes in its semifinal) for no reason at all. Of course, that game also went to overtime, with UMD defeating the Eagles 7-6.

After that three-year splash on the national scene, Mike Sertich would manage just one more tournament appearance (1993) over the final fifteen years of his head coaching career before giving way to Scott Sandelin, who has guided the Bulldogs to the NCAAs ten times in his 21 seasons behind the Bulldog bench.

Even though UMD has been a more frequent participant over the past two decades than at any other point in team history, Duluth and North Dakota have only met twice in the national tournament (1984 and 2021). UND had a chance to meet the Bulldogs in the 2011 title game but fell to the Wolverines in the semifinals 2-0 (with an empty-net goal) despite outshooting Michigan 40-20.

Before the Wolverines were forced to withdraw, UMD and Michigan were set to square off in the national tournament for the first time since that overtime thriller in St. Paul.

With three national titles in a nine-year stretch, the Bulldogs could certainly be considered the best team of the 2010s; North Dakota’s eight national titles have been spread out across the decades: 1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000, and 2016.

The Wolverines have won nine NCAA titles but only two since 1964, those coming in 1996 and 1998. For that reason, I consider North Dakota (eight titles) and Denver (eight titles) the two best programs in NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey history.

Turning the page to this season, #4 Duluth (7-2-1 overall, 2-1-1 NCHC) has 12 seniors and grad students on this year’s roster; North Dakota? Only five. And that’s all thanks to the transfer portal, which allowed Brad Berry to bring in senior forwards Ashton Calder and Connor Ford and senior netminder Zach Driscoll. Forwards Gavin Hain and Mark Senden are the only two current UND seniors who were on last year’s roster.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Scott Sandelin’s squad has eight regulars in the lineup who meet that threshold: sophomore forward Blake Biondi (4-4-8), senior forward Noah Cates (3-5-8), junior forward Quinn Olson (2-5-7), senior forward Tanner Laderoute (5-1-6), senior forward Casey Gilling (2-4-6), graduate forward Kobe Roth (1-5-6), senior forward Koby Bender (2-3-5), and sophomore defenseman Wyatt Kaiser (1-4-5).

By that same measure, #6 North Dakota (8-3-0 overall, 4-0-0 NCHC) has nine players at a half point or better per game and FOUR averaging a point per game or better: sophomore forward Riese Gaber (6-7-13), sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (6-9-15), senior forward Ashton Calder (7-6-13), and senior forward Connor Ford (1-9-10). Other offensive contributors include freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (4-5-9), junior forward Judd Caulfield (3-5-8), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (4-5-9), sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (3-3-6), and junior defenseman Ethan Frisch (2-4-6).

After sputtering to records of 17-13-10 (.550) and 18-17-2 (.514) and missing the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons, UND head coach Brad Berry got his team on the right track over the past two seasons, winning the program’s third and fourth Penrose Cup as NCHC champions and collecting an overall record of 48-11-5 (.789) during the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons.

Last year, North Dakota definitely benefitted from having a number of players stick around for a title run rather than turn pro. And UND’s roster is now feeling the effects of all of those departures happening at once, with fourteen new faces in Green and White this season. Despite bringing in five experienced transfers (forwards Ashton Calder and Connor Ford, defensemen Chris Jandric and Brady Ferner, and goaltender Zach Driscoll), the Fighting Hawks lost their top five scorers (and seven of their top eight) from a season ago: Jordan Kawaguchi, Collin Adams, Shane Pinto, Jasper Weatherby, Matt Kiersted, Grant Mismash, and Jacob Bernard-Docker combined for over 60% of UND’s offense last season (69 of 114 goals and 185 of 308 total points).

In addition to those seven skaters, Brad Berry also lost forwards Jackson Keane and Harrison Blaisdell, defensemen Gabe Bast and Josh Rieger, and goaltenders Adam Scheel and Peter Thome.

Despite losing all of that firepower and scoring depth, the offensive numbers appear to be fine on the surface. UND is averaging 3.82 goals per game through its first eleven contests; last year, North Dakota scored 3.93 goals/game. However, there are two key differences between this year’s team and last year’s to this point of the season:

North Dakota made a living with the puck last season (7th and 5th in two key puck possession statistics), and it started in the faceoff circle. In particular, Shane Pinto, Collin Adams, and Jasper Weatherby had UND at #1 in the nation in faceoff percentage (56.2%); this year, the Green and White clock in at #12 (53.2%).

The other glaring statistic surrounding this year’s squad is that opponents are averaging 2.56 goals per game; last season, UND held the opposition under two goals per contest (1.94).

After experiencing slow starts against Bemidji State, Quinnipiac, and Penn State, UND got back to its game over the past two weekends against Denver and Miami:

The Fighting Hawks scored twice early against DU in the second period to build a 2-0 lead on Friday night and held on to win 3-1, following up that effort with their most complete period of the season in Saturday’s opening frame. Brad Berry’s squad jumped out to a 2-0 lead after eleven minutes, survived a strong Denver second period, and completed the sweep with two goals in the third.

In the two-game series against the Pios, North Dakota led for nearly ninety minutes of game action and never trailed. And last weekend on the road at Miami, the Fighting Hawks scored the first goal of each game, extended leads, never trailed, and led on the scoreboard for 85 game minutes.

This is the recipe for success for this year’s squad – keep games close and settle in rather than having to chase the game.

In its three losses (vs. Bemidji State, at Quinnipiac, vs. Penn State), North Dakota trailed each opponent by multiple goals at various points in the contest. BSU scored two goals in the opening 90 seconds and led until UND tied it with 38 seconds remaining, QU scored four consecutive goals to build a 4-1 lead midway through the third period, and PSU built a 2-0 lead through the first thirteen minutes of the opening frame in Nashville. In those three losses, the Fighting Hawks led for a TOTAL of five minutes and seven seconds.

The Fighting Hawks will need to do a better job of keeping games close early if they expect to complete for a top-half finish in the NCHC. To be fair, UND has played better in second periods this season – outshooting opponents 114-76 while scoring fifteen goals and allowing just seven – but when they’ve struggled out of the gate, they have often been behind and chasing the scoreboard by that point.

Why is it important to bring all of this up as UND enters a three-week gauntlet against #4 Duluth, #2 St. Cloud State, and #7 Minnesota? Because the stronger competition will expose these areas even as Brad Berry’s team develops some chemistry. Splits are very possible on home ice, something that has been nearly unheard of over the past two seasons (North Dakota went 27-2-0 over the past two seasons at the Ralph). An overall record of 45-10-5 (.792) over the past two seasons has certainly raised the already-high bar for the UND faithful, but fans should temper expectations and expect close, frustrating contests until January and beyond. Even with North Dakota’s 4-0 start in league play (the first since 2015-2016), this team is still finding its identity and will be a much tougher opponent in the second half of the season.

On the plus side, UND is taking advantage of scoring opportunities when they present themselves, lighting the lamp on 13.9% of shots on goal (good for 2nd in the country). Minnesota Duluth is in 32nd place in that category at 9.7%.

Duluth’s only two losses this season were a 5-1 home shellacking at the hands of #1 Michigan and a 4-3 road loss at #13 Western Michigan. UMD rebounded the following night with a 3-0 victory, and outscored Colorado College 5-0 last weekend. The only trouble with the CC result was that all five goals were scored in Friday’s opener; the teams skated to a snoozefest of a 0-0 tie on Saturday. The Bulldogs also have a home-and-home sweep of Minnesota to their credit this year (5-3, 2-1).

Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (21st season at UMD, 413-334-92, .547)
National Rankings: #4/#4

This Season: 7-2-1 overall, 2-1-1 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 15-11-2 overall, 13-9-2-0 NCHC (3rd)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.80 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.80 goals allowed/game

Power Play: 17.1% (6 of 35
Penalty Kill: 86.5% (32 of 37)

Key players: Sophomore FBlake Biondi (4-4-8), enior F Noah Cates (3-5-8), Junior F Quinn Olson (2-5-7), enior F Tanner Laderoute (5-1-6), Senior F Casey Gilling (2-4-6), Graduate F Kobe Roth (1-5-6), Senior F Koby Bender (2-3-5), Sophomore D Wyatt Kaiser (1-4-5), Freshman D Owen Gallatin (2-2-4), Junior G Ryan Fanti (6-1-1, 1.36 GAA, .946 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND ; 146-66-24, .669)
National Ranking: #6/#6
This Season: 8-3-0 overall, 4-0-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCAA Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

Team Offense: 3.82 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.55 goals allowed/game

Power Play: 28.2% (11 of 39)
Penalty Kill: 80.0% (36 of 45)

Key Players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (6-7-13), Senior F Ashton Calder (7-6-13), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (4-5-9), Junior F Judd Caulfield (3-5-8), Senior F Connor Ford (1-9-10), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (3-3-6), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (4-5-9), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (6-9-15), Sophomore D Tyler Kleven (3-2-5), Junior D Ethan Frisch (2-4-6), Senior G Zach Driscoll (8-3-0, 2.38 GAA, .896 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 27, 2021 (Fargo, ND). Minnesota Duluth outlasted North Dakota 3-2 in five overtimes to advance to the NCAA Frozen Four. UND scored two extra-attacker goals in the final two minutes of regulation to send the game long into the night. The three goaltenders involved in the contest combined to make 114 saves.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: February 23, 2019. One night after a three-goal first period allowed North Dakota to cruise to a 4-1 victory, it was a two-goal second period that propelled the Bulldogs to a 3-2 win and a series split. The game-winning goal was scored on a 5×3 after UND’s Jackson Keane and Rhett Gardner took penalties 29 seconds apart. The teams combined for just 33 shots on goal in a tight-checking affair.

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 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, 149-87-11 (.626). 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 5-4-1 (.550) in the last ten games between the teams, although the Bulldogs have outscored the Hawks 26-25 over that stretch thanks to two five-goal performances in Duluth back in 2018 and a 7-4 home victory back in January of last year. Only two of the past ten UND-UMD games were played in Grand Forks.

Game News and Notes

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. No current UND player has more than one career goal against the Bulldogs. According to KRACH, Minnesota Duluth has played the toughest schedule in the country to this point in the season; North Dakota’s schedule ranks 10th. These two teams will also tangle on February 18th and 19th in Duluth.

The Prediction

Both teams are playing very well right now, although Duluth appears to have an edge in experience and in net. The Fighting Hawks have a few things going for them as well: a more talented group of defensemen, the home crowd, and last line change. Brad Berry will match up his shutdown line of Gavin Hain, Louis Jamernik, and Mark Senden against Scott Sandelin’s skilled forwards, and that should keep both games close. With all of the growing pains that this year’s version of the Green and White have gone through, a split would be an excellent result, and that’s what I’ve got: UMD 3-2, UND 3-1.

Broadcast Information

Both games this weekend will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and also available online at NCHC.tv. Friday’s opener can also be seen on TSN in Canada. All UND men’s hockey games can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network as well as through the iHeart Radio app.

Social Media

Keep up with the action live during all UND hockey games by following @UNDmhockey and @UNDInsider on Twitter. Fans can also read the action via Brad Schlossman’s live chat on the Grand Forks Herald website.

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

Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Miami

The Miami RedHawks only faced North Dakota three times last season, but that was more than enough for Chris Bergeron’s squad.

Way back on December 2nd, 2020, the two teams met in Omaha in the first pod game for either side. North Dakota blanked Miami 2-0 and put 39 shots on goal.

And in the rematch on December 20th – the final game of the Omaha pod – the RedHawks managed to score twice but allowed six North Dakota goals on 39 shots.

Miami put a total of 42 shots on frame over the course of those six periods of hockey.

After those two December tilts, the teams were not scheduled to face each other in the second half of the season. As fate would have it, however, top-seeded UND (18-5-1) drew last-place Miami (5-17-2) in the first round of the modified NCHC Frozen Faceoff. There was little drama in the contest, as the Fighting Hawks scored three goals in the first six minutes of the hockey game and cruised to a 6-2 victory, outshooting MU 46-28.

In the season series, North Dakota outscored Miami 14-4 while holding a 124-70 advantage in shots on goal.

Unfortunately for the RedHawks, that was the case all of last season, as Chris Bergeron’s squad only scored 48 goals all year (1.92 goals/game) while allowing 89 and were outshot 885-587. Goaltending kept things close, but Miami scored more than two goals in a game just seven times last year (in 25 games played).

Sophomore goaltender Ludvig Persson was a bright spot for Miami last season (5-11-2, 2.62, .925, 2 SO), but he has come down to earth in his first seven appearances this year, going just 2-4-1 with a goals-against average of 3.29 and a save percentage of .892.

Miami is scoring at a better pace this season (2.88 goals per game) and has scored more than two goals in four of eight games this year. The issue has been that MU is allowing 3.5 goals per contest and has not held an opponent under two goals all season.

Over the first eight seasons of the NCHC, Miami has averaged worse than a sixth-place finish (8th, 2nd, 5th, 7th, 8th, 8th, 7th, 8th), with a combined league record of 55-117-20 (.339).

By comparison, North Dakota has finished 2nd, 1st, 1st, 4th, 4th, 5th, 1st, and 1st for an average finish somewhere between 2nd and 3rd place and a combined league record of 116-61-15 (.643). No other league member has collected as many conference wins as UND.

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 (2nd) and 2010 (3rd). 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.

Long-tenured head coach Enrico Blasi was fired after posting a fourth consecutive losing season in 2018-2019. Over that stretch of time, the RedHawks were 47-81-19 (.384). There is reason for optimism in Oxford, however, with new bench boss Chris Bergeron taking over the program after leading Bowling Green to six consecutive winning seasons, five consecutive years with twenty or more victories, and an NCAA tournament appearance in 2018-2019.

Incidentally, Bergeron recruited current UND grad transfer Connor Ford to Bowling Green; Ford scored 53 goals and added 61 assists for 114 points in his four seasons (148 games) with the Falcons.

Eight full seasons have come and gone since the college hockey landscape changed forever. With Minnesota and Wisconsin departing the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for the Big Ten after the 2012-13 season, several other conference schools and two members of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association created the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and left Alaska Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, and Minnesota State behind in a watered-down WCHA. And now, the WCHA is no more, and the CCHA has re-formed for the 2021-2022 campaign.

The NCHC has been the premier hockey conference since its inception, and particularly over the past five seasons. The eight teams in the league have gone 385-199-80 (.640) in non-conference action since the start of the 2014-15 season and sent eleven teams to the Frozen Four (UND and Omaha in 2015, UND and Denver in 2016, Denver and Duluth in 2017, Duluth in 2018, Denver and Duluth in 2019, Duluth and St. Cloud State in 2021) over that seven-year stretch (there was no national tournament in 2020). Conference members North Dakota (2016), Denver (2017), and Minnesota Duluth (2018, 2019) have won four of the last five national titles.

After sputtering to records of 17-13-10 (.550) and 18-17-2 (.514) and missing the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons, UND head coach Brad Berry got his team on the right track over the past two seasons, winning the program’s third and fourth Penrose Cup as NCHC champions and collecting an overall record of 48-11-5 (.789) during the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons.

Last year, North Dakota definitely benefitted from having a number of players stick around for a title run rather than turn pro. And UND’s roster is now feeling the effects of all of those departures happening at once, with fourteen new faces in Green and White this season. Despite bringing in five experienced transfers (forwards Ashton Calder and Connor Ford, defensemen Chris Jandric and Brady Ferner, and goaltender Zach Driscoll), the Fighting Hawks lost their top five scorers (and seven of their top eight) from a season ago: Jordan Kawaguchi, Collin Adams, Shane Pinto, Jasper Weatherby, Matt Kiersted, Grant Mismash, and Jacob Bernard-Docker combined for over 60% of UND’s offense last season (69 of 114 goals and 185 of 308 total points).

In addition to those seven skaters, Brad Berry also lost forwards Jackson Keane and Harrison Blaisdell, defensemen Gabe Bast and Josh Rieger, and goaltenders Adam Scheel and Peter Thome.

Despite losing all of that firepower and scoring depth, the offensive numbers appear to be fine on the surface. UND is averaging 3.67 goals per game through its first nine contests; last year, North Dakota scored 3.93 goals/game. There is one concerning metric, however: in my opinion, the Fighting Hawks have been relying too heavily on the power play (10 of 33 goals this season, 30.3% of the team’s offensive production) and not generating enough chances at even strength. Last year, the power play units were effective but not essential, accounting for 29 of UND’s 114 goals scored (25.4%).

This is concerning for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Brad Berry’s squad will not have the puck enough this season to draw the number of power plays required to win in this fashion. Through nine games, UND has had 31 man advantage opportunities (3.4/game) while finding themselves shorthanded 37 times (4.1/game) and allowing six power play goals. Last year, the Green and White averaged 4.3 power plays per game while finding themselves shorthanded exactly four times per contest. Coupled with four shorthanded goals, this led to a +17 specialty teams margin last season. This year, North Dakota sits at +3 through nine games and now finds itself in the gauntlet of the NCHC schedule.

And to drill down on this point a bit further, why will UND not enjoy a power play quantity advantage over opponents this season? Quite simply, they will not possess the puck enough. The team chasing the puck will hook, hold, obstruct, interfere, and trip opponents in order to regain possession or prevent scoring chances. North Dakota made a living with the puck last season (7th and 5th in two key puck possession statistics), and it started in the faceoff circle. In particular, Shane Pinto, Collin Adams, and Jasper Weatherby had UND at #1 in the nation in faceoff percentage (56.2%); this year, the Green and White clock in at #19 (52.1%).

Having the puck most of the time also led to a 33-26 shot advantage last season; this year, it’s nearly dead even at 26-24. With top-end talent and puck possession, UND scored nearly four goals per game last year while allowing less than two (1.94); the most glaring statistic with this year’s squad is that opponents are averaging 2.56 goals per game.

After experiencing slow starts against Bemidji State, Quinnipiac, and Penn State, UND got back to its game against Denver last weekend. The Fighting Hawks scored twice early in the second period to build a 2-0 lead on Friday night and held on to win 3-1, following up that effort with their most complete period of the season in Saturday’s opening frame. Brad Berry’s squad jumped out to a 2-0 lead after eleven minutes, survived a strong DU second period, and completed the sweep with two goals in the third.

In the two-game series, North Dakota led for nearly ninety minutes of game action and never trailed. This is the recipe for success for this year’s squad – keep games close and settle in rather than having to chase the game.

In its three losses (vs. Bemidji State, at Quinnipiac, vs. Penn State), North Dakota trailed each opponent by multiple goals at various points in the contest. BSU scored two goals in the opening 90 seconds and led until UND tied it with 38 seconds remaining, QU scored four consecutive goals to build a 4-1 lead midway through the third period, and PSU built a 2-0 lead through the first thirteen minutes of the opening frame in Nashville. In those three losses, the Fighting Hawks led for a TOTAL of five minutes and seven seconds.

The Fighting Hawks will need to do a better job of keeping games close early if they expect to complete for a top-half finish in the NCHC. To be fair, UND has played better in second periods this season – outshooting opponents 92-61 while scoring thirteen goals and allowing just six – but when they’ve struggled out of the gate, they have often been behind and chasing the scoreboard by that point.

Why is it important to bring all of this up as UND enters league play? Because the stronger competition will expose these areas even as Brad Berry’s team develops some chemistry. Splits are very possible on home ice, something that has been nearly unheard of over the past two seasons (North Dakota went 27-2-0 over the past two seasons at the Ralph). An overall record of 45-10-5 (.792) over the past two seasons has certainly raised the already-high bar for the UND faithful, but fans should temper expectations and expect close, frustrating contests until January and beyond. Even with North Dakota’s home sweep of Denver last weekend, this team is still finding its identity and will be a much tougher opponent in the second half of the season.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Chris Bergeron’s squad has ten players who meet that threshold: junior forward Joe Cassetti (3-2-5), senior forward Matt Barry (2-3-5), freshman forward Chase Gresock (3-2-5), junior forward Ryan Savage (3-1-4), freshman forward Red Savage (0-4-4), sophomore forward Thomas Daskas (2-2-4), senior forward Michael Regush (1-3-4), senior defenseman Derek Daschke (2-3-5), junior defenseman Alec Capstick (1-2-3), and junior defenseman Jack Clement (1-3-4).

By that same measure, Brad Berry has nine players at a half point or better per game and three averaging a point per game or better: sophomore forward Riese Gaber (4-7-11), sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (3-6-9), and senior forward Ashton Calder (5-4-9). Other offensive contributors include freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (4-4-8), junior forward Judd Caulfield (3-5-8), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (3-4-7), senior forward Connor Ford (1-5-6), sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (3-3-6), and junior defenseman Ethan Frisch.

On the plus side, UND is taking advantage of scoring opportunities when they present themselves, lighting the lamp on 14.1% of shots on goal (good for 3rd in the country). Miami is in 12th place in that category at 11.9%.

Both teams have had goaltending struggles to this point in the season, with Miami (a team save percentage of .888) and North Dakota (.895) ranking in the bottom half of all men’s Division I hockey teams in that statistic. To be fair, Zach Driscoll (6-3-0, 2.35 GAA, .904 SV%, 1 SO), who has played every minute in net for UND, rebounded from a subpar performance in Nashville (five goals allowed on 22 shots) to make 43 of 45 saves last weekend against Denver (one goal allowed each night).

For Miami, sophomore Ludvig Persson (2-4-1, 3.29 GAA, .892 SV%) has played the majority of minutes between the pipes, with junior Logan Neaton (0-1-0, 2.99 GAA, .907%) appearing in two games. Persson is the reigning NCHC Rookie of the Year.

After this weekend, #7/#7 North Dakota (6-3-0) will face three consecutive ranked opponents, all from the state of Minnesota:

November 19th and 20th: vs. #4/#4 Minnesota Duluth (6-2-0)
November 26th and 27th: vs. #6/#8 Minnesota (6-4-0)
December 3rd and 4th: at #1/#1 St. Cloud State (8-2-0)

Miami RedHawks

Head Coach: Chris Bergeron (3rd season at Miami, 15-44-8, .284)
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 2-5-1 overall, 1-1-0 NCHC (t-3rd)
Last Season: 5-18-2 overall, 5-17-2 NCHC (8th)

Team Offense: 2.71 goals scored/game – 29th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 3.57 goals allowed/game – 50th of 59 teams
Power Play: 16.1% (5 of 31) – 33rd of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.3% (18 of 23) – 43rd of 59 teams

Key players: Junior F Joe Cassetti (3-2-5), Senior F Matt Barry (2-3-5), Freshman F Chase Gresock (3-2-5), Junior F Ryan Savage (3-1-4), Freshman F Red Savage (0-4-4), Sophomore F Thomas Daskas (2-2-4), Senior F Michael Regush (1-3-4), Senior D Derek Daschke (2-3-5), Junior D Alec Capstick (1-2-3), Junior D Jack Clement (1-3-4), Sophomore G Ludvig Persson (2-4-1, 3.29 GAA, .892 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND ; 144-66-24, .667)
National Ranking: #7/#7
This Season: 6-3-0 overall, 2-0-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCAA Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

Team Offense: 3.67 goals scored/game – 9th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.56 goals allowed/game – 27th of 59 teams
Power Play: 30.3% (10 of 33) – 6th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 84.6% (33 of 39) – 29th of 59 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (4-7-11), Senior F Ashton Calder (5-4-9), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (4-4-8), Junior F Judd Caulfield (3-5-8), Senior F Connor Ford (1-5-6), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (3-3-6), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (3-4-7), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (3-6-9), Sophomore D Tyler Kleven (2-1-3), Junior D Ethan Frisch (2-3-5), Senior G Zach Driscoll (6-3-0, 2.35 GAA, .904 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 12, 2021 (Grand Forks, ND). Top-seeded UND (18-5-1) drew last-place Miami (5-17-2) in the first round of the modified NCHC Frozen Faceoff. There was little drama in the contest, as the Fighting Hawks scored three goals in the first six minutes of the hockey game (including two by Collin Adams and cruised to a 6-2 victory, outshooting MU 46-28. Over the next four days, North Dakota would defeat Denver 2-1 (OT) and St. Cloud State 5-3 to claim the program’s first NCHC postseason tournament title.

Last Meeting in Miami: January 18, 2020. One night after the teams skated to a 4-4 tie, North Dakota exploded with three goals in the third period to escape with a 5-3 road victory. Miami had taken a 3-2 lead on a power play goal with just fifty seonds remaining in the middle frame. UND’s Cole Smith potted the game-winner with just 64 ticks on the clock, and Westin Michaud added an empty net goal 37 seconds later to ice the contest. The Fighting Hawks outshot the RedHawks 36-22 for the game and 73-38 in the series.

Most Important Meeting: March 6, 2015 (Oxford, OH). North Dakota claimed the Penrose Cup with a 2-1 road victory over Miami. UND fell flat the following night, losing 6-3 in the final game of the regular season.

Last Ten: UND has picked up seven wins and two ties (7-1-2, .800) in the past ten contests between the teams, outscoring Miami 42-22 over that stretch of games. The RedHawks have not beaten North Dakota since November 10, 2018, a 3-2 home victory.

All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 20-7-4 (.710), including a 6-4-2 (.583) record in games played in Oxford, Ohio. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).

Game News and Notes

In his three games against Miami last season, sophomore forward Riese Gaber scored four goals and added an assist. In this year’s unbalanced schedule, this will be the last time that the two teams tangle in the regular season. Friday’s opener will be MU’s second home game of the season. Green Hawks are preferable to RedHawks.

The Prediction

I don’t expect this to be easy for North Dakota, as Brad Berry will not have the benefit of last line change to contain Miami’s top two lines of Fletcher-Regush-Ryan Savage and Gresock-Red Savage-Barry. Those six players have accounted for 23 of MU’s 34 points from forwards this season. I expect some bumps in the road early in Friday’s contest, and I am also interested to see how Saturday’s afternoon start affects both teams. I think that the Fighting Hawks have grown over the past three weekends and will outscore the home team in this series; it’s really a matter of whether Miami can keep one close and win late. UND 3-2, 5-1.

Broadcast Information

Both games this weekend will be available online at NCHC.tv; puck drop is set for 6:05 Central Time on Friday and 4:05 Central Time on Saturday. All UND men’s hockey games can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network as well as through the iHeart Radio app.

Social Media

Keep up with the action live during all UND hockey games by following @UNDmhockey and @UNDInsider on Twitter. Fans can also read the action via Brad Schlossman’s live chat on the Grand Forks Herald website.

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

Weekend Preview: UND vs. Denver

In last season’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals (held at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks), North Dakota needed overtime to outlast a gutsy performance by a Pios squad that had been decimated by COVID-19. DU dressed only nine forwards for the contest but led 1-0 with under 90 seconds remaining. With the goalie pulled, the Fighting Hawks’ Shane Pinto blasted a shot on net that hit Jasper Weatherby on the way in to send the game to overtime. It took over eight minutes of extra time before Gavin Hain sent the home crowd into a frenzy with a blast of his own that sent the Green and White into the championship game; Denver had just killed Antti Tuomisto’s boarding minor but could not clear the zone. UND outshot the weary Pioneers 20-4 in the third period and overtime.

With the playoff victory, North Dakota moved to 20-5-1 on the season; David Carle’s squad saw its season end at 10-13-1, the first time DU failed to advance to the NCAA tournament since 2007. Last year was the first losing campaign for DU since the 1999-2000 team went 16-23-2. UND won five of the seven meetings between the teams last season, outscoring the Pios 22-14. North Dakota allowed ten goals in the first three meetings with a record of 1-2; since their loss in game one at Denver on January 17th, the Fighting Hawks notched four consecutive victories over DU (15 goals for, 4 goals against). That mid-January defeat was definitely a wakeup call for Brady Berry’s squad; from that point until the end of the season, the Green and White went 13-3 outscoring opponents 69-28.

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries. The teams have played 34 times during the first seven seasons of the new conference, 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 thirteen 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 earned six victories and a tie in the last ten 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, 2016’s thrilling Frozen Four semifinal (a 4-2 UND victory) in Tampa, Florida, and the 2017 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Denver turned the tables by dispatching North Dakota in the first round of the league playoffs at Magness Arena to end the Fighting Hawks’ 2018-2019 campaign.

(It is impossible to bring up the Paukovitch/Bina incident without also writing that Brad Malone‘s check on Denver’s Jesse Martin during an October 2010 contest at Ralph Engelstad Arena fractured three of Martin’s vertebrae and ended the hockey career of the Atlanta Thrashers’ draft pick.)

And last season was no different, with the teams combining for 187 penalty minutes in six regular season games (the NCHC semifinal game featured just four minor penalties). The last contest between the squads in Denver saw a DU goaltender run over with nine minutes remaining, which ignited tempers further. That spilled over to the series in Grand Forks in February, with the Pioneers “winning” the penalty minute battle 54-29. North Dakota won the specialty teams battle, scoring two goals on ten man advantage opportunities and blanking DU on its ten power play chances.

In Saturday’s series finale, North Dakota led on the scoreboard 5-2 thanks to two goals by Jasper Weatherby and 18 saves from Peter Thome, who started in place of injured netminder Adam Scheel. And how was Scheel injured, you might ask? Denver’s Kohen Olischefski ran Scheel from behind late in Friday’s 3-0 UND victory. Olischefski was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for goaltender interference and was issued an additional one-game suspension by the league office.

Eight full seasons have come and gone since the college hockey landscape changed forever. With Minnesota and Wisconsin departing the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for the Big Ten after the 2012-13 season, several other conference schools and two members of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association created the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and left Alaska Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, and Minnesota State behind in a watered-down WCHA. And now, the WCHA is no more, and the CCHA has re-formed for the 2021-2022 campaign.

The NCHC has been the premier hockey conference since its inception, and particularly over the past five seasons. The eight teams in the league have gone 385-199-80 (.640) in non-conference action since the start of the 2014-15 season and sent eleven teams to the Frozen Four (UND and Omaha in 2015, UND and Denver in 2016, Denver and Duluth in 2017, Duluth in 2018, Denver and Duluth in 2019, Duluth and St. Cloud State in 2021) over that seven-year stretch (there was no national tournament in 2020). Conference members North Dakota (2016), Denver (2017), and Minnesota Duluth (2018, 2019) have won four of the last five national titles.

After sputtering to records of 17-13-10 (.550) and 18-17-2 (.514) and missing the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons, UND head coach Brad Berry got his team on the right track over the past two seasons, winning the program’s third and fourth Penrose Cup as NCHC champions and collecting an overall record of 48-11-5 (.789) during the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons.

Last year, North Dakota definitely benefitted from having a number of players stick around for a title run rather than turn pro. And UND’s roster is now feeling the effects of all of those departures happening at once, with fourteen new faces in Green and White this season. Despite bringing in five experienced transfers (forwards Ashton Calder and Connor Ford, defensemen Chris Jandric and Brady Ferner, and goaltender Zach Driscoll), the Fighting Hawks lost their top five scorers (and seven of their top eight) from a season ago: Jordan Kawaguchi, Collin Adams, Shane Pinto, Jasper Weatherby, Matt Kiersted, Grant Mismash, and Jacob Bernard-Docker combined for over 60% of UND’s offense last season (69 of 114 goals and 185 of 308 total points).

In addition to those seven skaters, Brad Berry also lost forwards Jackson Keane and Harrison Blaisdell, defensemen Gabe Bast and Josh Rieger, and goaltenders Adam Scheel and Peter Thome.

Despite losing all of that firepower and scoring depth, the offensive numbers appear to be fine on the surface. UND is averaging 3.71 goals per game through its first seven contests; last year, North Dakota scored 3.93 goals/game. There is one concerning metric, however: in my opinion, the Fighting Hawks are relying too heavily on the power play (8 of 26 goals this season, 30.8% of the team’s offensive production) and not generating enough chances at even strength. Last year, the power play units were effective but not essential, accounting for 29 of UND’s 114 goals scored (25.4%).

This is concerning for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Brad Berry’s squad will not have the puck enough this season to draw the number of power plays required to win in this fashion. Through seven games, UND has had 26 man advantage opportunities (3.7/game) while finding themselves shorthanded 32 times (4.6/game) and allowing six power play goals. Last year, the Green and White averaged 4.3 power plays per game while finding themselves shorthanded exactly four times per contest. Coupled with four shorthanded goals, this led to a +17 specialty teams margin last season. This year, North Dakota sits at +2 through seven games and now enters league play against arguably stronger competition.

And to drill down on this point a bit further, why will UND not enjoy a power play quantity advantage over opponents this season? Quite simply, they will not possess the puck enough. The team chasing the puck will hook, hold, obstruct, interfere, and trip opponents in order to regain possession or prevent scoring chances. North Dakota made a living with the puck last season (7th and 5th in two key puck possession statistics), and it started in the faceoff circle. In particular, Shane Pinto, Collin Adams, and Jasper Weatherby had UND at #1 in the nation in faceoff percentage (56.2%); this year, the Green and White clock in at #12 (52.9%).

Having the puck most of the time also led to a 33-26 shot advantage last season; this year, it’s nearly dead even at 26-25. With top-end talent and puck possession, UND scored nearly four goals per game last year while allowing less than two (1.94); the most glaring statistic with this year’s squad is that opponents are averaging three goals per game.

This season, it’s Denver who has been dominating puck possession, sitting at #2 in the country in both Corsi and Fenwick (63.6% in each category), while North Dakota clocks in at 18th and 20th. UND fans who watched the series at Quinnipiac should expect something very similar against the Pioneers; QU played the same puck possession game to near perfection against the Fighting Hawks.

UND has been plagued by slow starts this season, allowing the first goal in four of seven contests. In two of those games, North Dakota found itself down 2-0 in short order. Brad Berry’s squad has experienced three distinct game types so far this season:

North Dakota won with relative ease against Niagara, scoring the first goal at 3:01 of the first period on Friday night and at the 1:09 mark of the opening frame on Saturday night. On the weekend, UND never trailed, was tied for just 4:10, and led for almost 116 of the 120 minutes of the series.

In two tightly contested victories (at Bemidji State, at Quinnipiac), the Fighting Hawks led for over 67 minutes, were tied for 33 minutes, and trailed just nineteen minutes combined over the two contests. More importantly, UND never trailed by more than a single goal in either game. This is the recipe for success for this year’s squad – keep games close and settle in rather than having to chase the game.

In its three losses (vs. Bemidji State, at Quinnipiac, vs. Penn State), North Dakota trailed each opponent by multiple goals at various points in the contest. BSU scored two goals in the opening 90 seconds and led until UND tied it with 38 seconds remaining, QU scored four consecutive goals to build a 4-1 lead midway through the third period, and PSU built a 2-0 lead through the first thirteen minutes of the opening frame in Nashville. In those three losses, the Fighting Hawks led for a TOTAL of five minutes and seven seconds.

The Fighting Hawks will need to do a better job of keeping games close early if they expect to complete for a top-half finish in the NCHC. To be fair, UND has played better in second periods this season – outshooting opponents 76-46 while scoring eleven goals and allowing just four – but they’ve far too often been behind and chasing the scoreboard by that point.

Why is it important to bring all of this up as UND enters league play? Because the stronger competition will expose these areas even as Brad Berry’s team develops some chemistry. Splits are very possible on home ice, something that has been nearly unheard of over the past two seasons (North Dakota went 27-2-0 over the past two seasons at the Ralph). An overall record of 45-10-5 (.792) over the past two seasons has certainly raised the already-high bar for the UND faithful, but fans should temper expectations and expect close, frustrating contests until January and beyond.

Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, a half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and David Carle’s squad has fourteen active players who meet that threshold and SEVEN averaging a point per game or better: sophomore forward Carter Savoie (6-6-12), junior forward Bobby Brink (3-6-9), senior forward Cole Guttman (3-6-9), freshman forward Massimo Rizzo (5-3-8), junior defenseman Justin Lee (1-3-4 in three games), freshman defenseman Sean Behrens (0-7-7), and senior forward Brett Stapley (1-5-6). Rizzo was a former North Dakota recruit.

By that same measure, Brad Berry has nine players at a half point or better per game and four averaging a point per game or better: sophomore forward Riese Gaber (3-6-9), sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (3-5-8), freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (4-4-8), and senior forward Ashton Calder (4-3-7).

On the plus side, UND is taking advantage of scoring opportunities when they present themselves, lighting the lamp on 14.2% of shots on goal. Denver sits a ways back at 11.8%. The issue for North Dakota is that they are not generating enough shot attempts. DU is putting over 42 shots on net per game, scoring an average of five goals per contest. Remarkably, the Pioneers are allowing less than 25 shots on goal per game.

Both teams have had goaltending struggles to this point in the season, with Denver (a team save percentage of .878) and North Dakota (.880) ranking in the bottom quarter of all men’s Division I hockey teams in that statistic.

Zach Driscoll (4-3-0, 2.74 GAA, .890 SV%, 1 SO) has played every minute in net for UND, while junior Magnus Chrona (3-1-0, 3.12 GAA, .868 SV%) and freshman Matt Davis (1-1-0, 2.36 GAA, .911 SV%, 1 SO) have split time for the Pios.

Denver Pioneers

Head Coach: David Carle (4th season at DU, 59-36-12, .607)
National Rankings: #11/#13

This Season: 4-2-0 overall, 0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 10-13-1 overall, 9-12-1 NCHC (5th)

Team Offense: 5.00 goals scored/game – 2nd of 59 teams
Team Defense: 3.00 goals allowed/game – 36th of 59 teams
Power Play: 27.6% (8 of 29) – 9th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 57.7% (15 of 26) – 57th of 59 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Carter Savoie (6-6-12), Junior F Bobby Brink (3-6-9), Senior F Cole Guttman (3-6-9), Freshman F Massimo Rizzo (5-3-8), Senior F Brett Stapley (1-5-6), Junior D Justin Lee (1-3-4 in three games), Freshman D Sean Behrens (0-7-7), Freshman G Matt Davis (1-1-0, 2.36 GAA, .911 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND ; 142-66-24, .664)
National Ranking: #8/#10
This Season: 4-3-0 overall, 0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCAA Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

Team Offense: 3.71 goals scored/game – 11th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 3.00 goals allowed/game – 26th of 59 teams
Power Play: 32.1% (9 of 28) – 5th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 82.4% (28 of 34) – 33rd of 59 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (3-6-9), Senior F Ashton Calder (4-3-7), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (4-4-8), Junior F Judd Caulfield (3-3-6), Senior F Connor Ford (1-5-6), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (1-3-4), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (3-5-8), Sophomore D Tyler Kleven (1-1-2), Junior D Ethan Frisch (2-2-4), Senior G Zach Driscoll (4-3-0, 2.74 GAA, .890 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 15, 2021 (Grand Forks, ND). A Denver Pioneers squad with just nine forwards due to COVID-19 protocols almost outlasted a deep and highly skilled North Dakota team in front of 2500 fans on a rare Monday showdown at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Carter Savoie scored a power play goal in the second period that nearly held up as the game-winner, but UND’s Shane Pinto had other plans: his rocket from the faceoff circle went past Magnus Chrona off of Jasper Weatherby and sent the game to overtime. Six seconds after a Fighting Hawks’ power play expired, Gavin Hain won it for North Dakota. UND outshot the Pios 32-18.

A Recent Memory: April 7, 2016 (Tampa, Florida). In the semifinals of the NCAA Frozen Four, the two league rivals squared off in a tightly-contested matchup. 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: North Dakota won the last three meetings of the 2019-2020 season, outscoring the Pios 13-3 in the process. Splits in the Omaha pod and in Denver plus a February home sweep and the aforementioned NCHC playoff semifinal give the Fighting Hawks an 8-2-0 (.800) advantage over the last ten games. UND has outscored DU 35-17 over that stretch, including a 19-5 scoreboard advantage in five home victories.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 154-130-16 (.540), with a considerable edge of 90-44-10 (.660) in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1950, with North Dakota prevailing 18-3 in Denver. The 300 games played between the schools is the most among all of UND’s opponents.

Game News and Notes

Through six games, Denver has allowed eleven power play goals to opponents. UND captain Mark Senden has faced Denver 17 times in his collegiate career, with one goal and six assists in those contests. Senden scored the first goal in North Dakota’s Saturday night victory over Quinnipiac two weeks ago; the Fighting Hawks are now 14-2-0 when Senden scores a goal. Nine of Denver head coach David Carle’s 36 head coaching losses have come against UND. Last season, the Fighting Hawks won the Penrose Cup as NCHC regular season champions for the fourth time in the eight-year history of the league; the Pioneers have captured the Penrose only once (2016-2017). Since seven of Michigan’s nine titles were earned by 1964, I consider Denver (eight titles) and North Dakota (eight titles) to be the top two men’s college hockey programs of all time.

The Prediction

For the first time in a long time, Denver appears to hold the roster advantage. It will be interesting to see how this next chapter in the rivalry plays out. I expect North Dakota to trail for large stretches of this series as they have against tough opponents to this point in the season. The difference may just come down to goaltending, but I have a feeling that there will be plenty of goals scored at the Ralph this weekend. DU 5-3, UND 4-3.

Broadcast Information

Both games this weekend will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and also available via high-definition webcast at NCHC.tv. All UND men’s hockey games can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network as well as through the iHeart Radio app.

Social Media

Keep up with the action live during all UND hockey games by following @UNDmhockey and @UNDInsider on Twitter. Fans can also read the action via Brad Schlossman’s live chat on the Grand Forks Herald website.

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

U.S. Hockey Hall Of Fame Game Preview: UND vs. Penn State

North Dakota’s first destination game took place nearly ten years ago, as UND hosted Clarkson at Bell MTS Place, home of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets. The four showcase events that have built up to this Saturday night have all gone the way of the Green and White:

2012: Bell MTS Place (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
North Dakota 3, Clarkson 1

2013: T.D. Ameritrade Park (Omaha, Nebraska)
North Dakota 5, Omaha 2

2016: Madison Square Garden (New York City)
North Dakota 4, Boston College 3

2018: Orleans Arena (Las Vegas, Nevada)
North Dakota 3, Minnesota 1

This writer was able to witness the last two performances firsthand, and while it is difficult to measure “which team wants it more”, it is clear that the UND hockey program does not take these opportunities for granted.

On Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena (Nashville, Tennessee), #6 North Dakota (4-2-0) will face off against unranked Penn State (5-1-0); the two teams have never met on the ice. The Nittany Lions have competed at the Division I level since the 2012-2013 season and are primarily responsible for the creation of the Big Ten Hockey Conference (six teams are required for the NCAA to award an autobid to the national tournament). Penn State has posted a winning record in six of its eight seasons in the Big Ten, with a regular season title in 2020, a playoff title in 2017, and two national tournament appearances. In 2017, Guy Gadowsky’s squad blitzed Union 10-3 before falling to Denver 6-3 in the Midwest Regional Final; one year later, PSU lost their opening game to those same Pioneers by a score of 5-1.

Because this year’s North Dakota – Penn State contest was pushed back one year due to COVID-19, UND fans will have the opportunity to travel to a destination game again next season. The Green and White will return to Las Vegas but will see an upgrade in facilities (and capacity) by hosting at T-Mobile Arena, home of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights. At Orleans Arena, the announced attendance was a sold-out 7412. T-Mobile has a capacity of 17,500 for ice hockey. The opponent has not been confirmed but is believed to be Arizona State, which would be another first-time opponent unless the two teams tangle in the NCAA tournament this season.

Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald reports that fans traveled to the 2018 Vegas game from 44 states; as of Friday afternoon, he had heard of travelers from 47 different states this time around (and yes, Alaska and Hawaii are represented!). The only states without a pin on the map this time around are Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia.

Penn State and UND have both faced Niagara in non-conference action this season, and each team dispatched the Purple Eagles by identical (though reversed) scores. North Dakota defeated NU 6-2 and 4-0 at Ralph Engelstad Arena, while the Nittany Lions completed a home sweep of Niagara with 4-0 and 6-2 wins last Thursday and Friday

Aside from their two victories over NU, here are the other non-conference results for tonight’s opponents:

Penn State:

October 3rd: 3-1 home win over Long Island
October 4th: 5-2 home win over Long Island
October 8th: 1-4 home loss to Canisius
October 9th: 5-2 home win over Canisius.

North Dakota:

October 15th: 4-3 road win over #20 Bemidji State
October 16th: 3-4 (OT) home loss to #20 Bemidji State
October 22nd: 2-5 road loss to #7 Quinnipiac
October 23rd: 3-1 road win over #7 Quinnipiac

After tonight’s “neutral site’” Hall Of Fame Game matchup against Penn State, UND’s other four non-conference games during the 2021-2022 campaign will be played at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks:

November 26th and 27th vs. #7 Minnesota
January 7th and 8th vs. #16 Cornell

By comparison, Penn State will travel to face St. Thomas in late November and host Maine over New Year’s weekend. Neither of those teams is ranked (or even receiving votes) in the latest USCHO poll.

It is fairly difficult to compare teams from different conferences, but there are some measurables. The NCHC has been the premier hockey conference since its inception, and particularly over the past five seasons. The eight teams in the league have gone 385-199-80 (.640) in non-conference action since the start of the 2014-15 season and sent eleven teams to the Frozen Four (UND and Omaha in 2015, UND and Denver in 2016, Denver and Duluth in 2017, Duluth in 2018, Denver and Duluth in 2019, Duluth and St. Cloud State in 2021) over that seven-year stretch (there was no national tournament in 2020). Conference members North Dakota (2016), Denver (2017), and Minnesota Duluth (2018, 2019) have won four of the last five national titles.

Since its inception, the Big Ten has sent just five teams to the NCAA Frozen Four, and three of those were in one season (Michigan, Notre Dame, and Ohio State in 2018). Notre Dame also made the Frozen Four in 2017, while Minnesota advanced to the 2014 national title game with a 2-1 victory over North Dakota.

The Big Ten Hockey Conference has never claimed a men’s Division I ice hockey national championship.

Since the start of the BTHC, the narrative has been that the stronger teams still reside in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. In the first year of competition between the two new leagues (2013-2014), that wasn’t exactly true, as the NCHC ended up with a mark of just 10-9-1 (.525) against Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin.

After that year, however, the Big Ten might as well have been the little ten, with a mark of just 16-60-8 (.190) against Colorado College, Denver, Miami, Minnesota Duluth, North Dakota, Omaha, St. Cloud State, and Western Michigan over the next five seasons.

The past three years have seen dead-even play between the fourteen teams that make up the two conferences (15-15-2).

This season, UND is still finding its identity, with fourteen new faces on the roster. One key area so far has been contributions from the blue line, with defensemen Jake Sanderson (3-4-7) leading the way and Tyler Kleven (1-1-2), Cooper Moore (0-2-2), Chris Jandric (0-2-2), and Ethan Frisch (1-1-2) chipping in two points apiece. Through six games, the Fighting Hawks’ d-corps has produced 5 of the team’s 22 goals and over 28% of North Dakota’s points. This trend will need to continue if UND aspires to make the NCAA tournament this season. Incidentally, last season’s total of 83 points (20 goals) from the blue was second only to national champion Massachusetts (26-63-89).

One of the fresh faces on Brad Berry’s bench is senior transfer Zach Driscoll, who played three seasons in goal for Bemidji State, appearing in 88 games and posting a sparkling record of 46-29-11 with a goals-against average of 2.05, a save percentage of .924, and nine shutouts.

Driscoll has played every minute in net for North Dakota this season, winning four of six games while posting a goals-against average of 2.35, a save percentage of .907, and one shutout. His play was particularly valuable on Saturday night against Quinnipiac, as he made 35 of 36 saves in a 3-1 UND victory. The Fighting Hawks only managed 19 shots on goal in the road win over the Bobcats.

After thoroughly dominating in the faceoff circle over the past two seasons, North Dakota has come back to earth, winning just 51.5% of draws. PSU clocks in at 53.5%. UND will count on Connor Ford (88 of 146, 60.3%) to take most of the important draws in the defensive end, as Jake Schmaltz (33 of 78, 42.3%) and Louis Jamernik (30 of 67, 44.8%) still need to improve in that area. Freshman center Matteo Costantini has performed well in more limited action (26 of 47, 55.3%).

Penn State has had the puck a lot this season, checking in with a Corsi of 62.3% (3rd in the country) and a Fenwick of 62.4% (5th). Conversely, North Dakota is squarely in the middle of the pack in both categories (51.0%, 49.3%). Corsi measures shot attempts vs. opponents; Fenwick measures unblocked shot attempts vs. opponents.

Last season’s skilled centermen (Shane Pinto, Jasper Weatherby, and Collin Adams) drove a North Dakota offense that outshot and frustrated opponents. That UND squad was 6th in the country in both puck possession statistics (56.0%, 57.1%).

Penn State Team Profile

Head Coach: Guy Gadowsky (10th season at PSU, 333-331-60, .501)
National Ranking: NR/NR
This Season: 5-1-0 overall, 0-0-0 Big Ten
Last Season: 10-12-0 overall, 7-11-0 Big Ten (5th of 7 teams)

Team Offense: 4.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.83 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.2% (4 of 22)
Penalty Kill: 96.4% (27 of 28)

Key Players: Junior F Kevin Wall (6-1-7), Freshman F Danny Dzhaniyev (2-3-5), Junior F Connor MacEachern (2-3-5), Freshman F Ryan Kirwan (2-2-4), Sophomore D Christian Berger (2-4-6), Senior D Clayton Phillips (1-2-3), Senior G Oskar Autio (3-1-0, 1.50 GAA, .938 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND ; 142-65-24, .667)
National Ranking: #6/#6
This Season: 4-2-0 overall, 0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCAA Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

Team Offense: 3.67 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 25.0% (5 of 20)
Penalty Kill: 88.9% (24 of 27)

Key Players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (2-4-6), Senior F Ashton Calder (4-3-7), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (3-3-6), Junior F Judd Caulfield (2-3-5), Senior F Connor Ford (1-5-6), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (1-2-3), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (3-4-7), Sophomore D Tyler Kleven (1-1-2), Junior D Ethan Frisch (1-1-2), Senior G Zach Driscoll (4-2-0, 2.35 GAA, .907 SV%, 1 SO)

Game News and Notes

Although Penn State and North Dakota have never faced off on the ice, UND has faced a Guy Gadowsky-led team before, battling to a 5-1 victory over Princeton in the 2008 NCAA tournament. In that game, Ryan Duncan had a hat trick for the Green and White. Penn State is 5-0-0 when a freshman scores a goal; first-year players have produced 17 of the Nittany Lions 61 points this season (27.9%). Only two players on UND’s roster played in the 2018 Vegas game: Gavin Hain and Mark Senden. The Fighting Hawks went 2 of 6 on the power play last weekend. North Dakota has outscored opponents 9-2 in the second period this season.

Media Coverage

Tonight’s game can be seen live on Midco Sports or online at NCHC.tv. All UND men’s hockey games, home and away, can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network as well as through the iHeart Radio app.

Social Media

Keep up with the action live during all UND hockey games by following @UNDmhockey and @UNDInsider on Twitter. Fans can also read the action via Brad Schlossman’s live chat on the Grand Forks Herald website.

The Prediction

Any time two teams meet for the first time, there is a feeling-out process. Expect some tentative play in the first ten minutes or so, with ebbs and flows of momentum throughout the game. As always, goaltending and specialty teams will both play a huge factor in this one, with the “neutral” crowd at Bridgestone Arena providing an edge for the Green and White. North Dakota has never lost a destination game, and I don’t see that changing tonight. UND 4, PSU 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: UND at Quinnipiac

In 22 years at the Division I level, Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold has only had ONE losing season (16-18-4 in 2017-2018). The Bobcats have made the last two national tournaments and six of the past eight, appearing in the championship game in 2013 (losing 4-0 to Yale) and again against UND in 2016. That 5-1 title game loss against North Dakota was just the fourth loss of the season for QU (32-4-7).

UND and QU met one other time in the national tournament (at the 2015 West Regional in Fargo, ND). North Dakota downed the Bobcats 4-1 in that tilt, and the two teams have only faced each other on one other occasion: an October 2006 series in Grand Forks that went in the books as a UND sweep. Sioux forwards Ryan Duncan, T.J. Oshie and Jonathan Toews figured heavily in those results.

At last season’s NCAA West Regional in Loveland, Colorado, QU held a 3-1 lead over Minnesota State with just over five minutes remaining in regulation before the Mavericks brought the game to within one. An extra-attacker goal with 62 seconds remaining sent the game to an extra frame, and Ryan Sandelin won the game for the Mavs just over halfway through the first overtime session.

Before this recent stretch of tournament appearance, the only Quinnipiac showing on the national scene came in 2001-02, when the team (competing in the MAAC and known for the last time as the ‘Braves’) suffered a 6-1 loss to Cornell in the regional semifinal.

It is fairly difficult to compare teams from different conferences, but there are some measurables. The NCHC has been the premier hockey conference since its inception, and particularly over the past five seasons. The eight teams in the league have gone 385-199-80 (.640) in non-conference action since the start of the 2014-15 season and sent eleven teams to the Frozen Four (UND and Omaha in 2015, UND and Denver in 2016, Denver and Duluth in 2017, Duluth in 2018, Denver and Duluth in 2019, Duluth and St. Cloud State in 2021) over that seven-year stretch (there was no national tournament in 2020). Conference members North Dakota (2016), Denver (2017), and Minnesota Duluth (2018, 2019) have won four of the last five national titles.

Despite all of those accomplishments, the NCHC has not dominated the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference in recent history. Since the 2016 title game, UND and its seven league mates are just 23-18-10 (.549) against the likes of Quinnipiac, Clarkson, St. Lawrence, Union, Colgate, Rensselaer, and the six Ivy League colleges (Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale).

Incidentally, only four ECAC teams – Quinnipiac, Clarkson, St. Lawrence, and Colgate – played games last season.

And this year, Colorado College is responsible for the NCHC’s 0-2-2 mark against the ECAC, with eerily similar results over two weekends of non-conference play:

Friday, October 8th vs. St. Lawrence: 2-1 loss
Saturday, October 9th vs. St. Lawrence: 1-1 (OT)

Friday October 15th at Union: 2-1 loss
Saturday, October 16th at Union: 3-3 (OT)

Two weekends ago, North Dakota (3-1-0) hosted Niagara for a pair at Ralph Engelstad Arena, dispatching the Purple Eagles by final scores of 6-2 and 4-0. Last weekend, UND traveled to Bemidji and held on for a 4-3 Friday victory before falling in overtime at home the following night by an identical score.

After this weekend’s road series at Quinnipiac (Hamden, Connecticut), UND’s other non-conference opponents during the 2021-2022 campaign will be Penn State (Hall Of Fame Game, “neutral”), Minnesota (home), and Cornell (home).

On its opening weekend, Quinnipiac (2-0-1) tied Boston College 2-2 before shutting out Northeastern by a final score of 3-0. Last Saturday night, the Bobcats blanked Vermont 2-0. QU’s out-of-conference games also include Holy Cross, American International, Arizona State, Long Island, and Sacred Heart.

UND is still finding its identity, with fourteen new faces on the roster. One key area so far has been contributions from the blue line, with defensemen Jake Sanderson (2-2-4) leading the way and Tyler Kleven (1-1-2), Cooper Moore (0-2-2), Chris Jandric (0-2-2), and Ethan Frisch (1-1-2) chipping in two points apiece. Through four games, the Fighting Hawks’ d-corps has produced over 28% of North Dakota’s points. This trend will need to continue if UND aspires to make the NCAA tournament this season. Incidentally, last season’s total of 83 points (20 goals) from the blue was second only to national champion Massachusetts (26-63-89).

One of the fresh faces on Brad Berry’s bench is senior transfer Zach Driscoll, who played three seasons in goal for Bemidji State, appearing in 88 games and posting a sparkling record of 46-29-11 with a goals-against average of 2.05, a save percentage of .924, and nine shutouts.

Driscoll made 18 saves each night against Niagara, allowing two goals on the same shorthanded sequence in Friday’s opener before posting a shutout in Saturday’s rematch. Last Friday, Driscoll again played every minute, helping North Dakota hold on by making 30 of 33 saves. Saturday’s first period was a different story, with Bemidji State scoring three times on seven shots against their former teammate. Of the ten shots that followed over the final 41 minutes, Driscoll only allowed the 3×3 overtime winner to BSU’s Ross Armour.

Rand Pecknold’s squad also has a transfer in net. Dylan St. Cyr joined the Bobcats through the transfer portal after spending four seasons at Notre Dame. St. Cyr saw limited action in his first three campaigns before posting a record of 11-9-1, a goals-against average of 2.44, a save percentage of .921, and three shutouts with the Fighting Irish last year. The senior from Northville, Michigan is the son of Manon Rheaume, a retired Canadian goaltender who became the first woman to play in any of the major North American pro sports leagues when she signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992. She appeared in preseason games in both 1992 and 1993. Rheaume also played on Canada’s national team, winning IIHF gold in 1992 and 1994.

Aside from St. Cyr, Pecknold also added four other graduate transfers: forward Oliver Chau from national champion UMass and three defensemen: Brendan Less from Dartmouth, Tony Stillwell from Brown, and Griffin Mendel from Denver.

It will be difficult for QU to replace the production and playmaking ability of Odeen Tufto, who departed for the Tampa Bay Lightning organization after putting up a line of 8-39-47 in 29 games for the Bobcats last year. In his four-year collegiate career, Tufto scored 39 goals and notched 129 assists for 168 points in 139 games played.

Left to shoulder the scoring load up front are senior Michael Lombardi (2-2-4), junior Skyler Brind’Amour (1-2-3), sophomore Ty Smilanic (1-1-2), and Ethan de Jong (0-2-2). Defenseman TJ Friedmann has scored twice and fellow senior blueliner Zach Metsa has chipped in an assist for the only three points from the Bobcats back end.

Brind’Amour, the son of Carolina Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour, was taken by the Oilers in the sixth round (177th pick) in the 2017 NHL draft. Before his head coaching career began in 2011, father Rod played 1484 NHL games, amassing 452 goals and adding 732 assists to go along with 1100 penalty minutes. Rod Brind’Amour’s crowning achievement as a player was captaining the Hurricanes to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship in 2006 (former UND defenseman Mike Commodore was also a member of that title team).

Senior defenseman Marcus Chorney has played all three games so far this season for QU. His father Mark (1977-81) and older brother Taylor (2005-08) both played for North Dakota.

After thoroughly dominating in the faceoff circle over the past two seasons, North Dakota has come back to earth, winning just 53.2% of draws. QU clocks in at 54.0%. UND will count on Connor Ford (61.5%) to take most of the important draws in the defensive end, as Jake Schmaltz (43.1%) and Louis Jamernik (44.2%) still need improvement in that area.

In a sentence I never thought I would write, Quinnipiac has not scored a power play goal (0 of 11) or allowed a power play goal (10 of 10) this season. North Dakota has scored three goals with the man advantage (3 of 14, 21.4%) and allowed one power play goal to opponents (14 of 15, 93.3%) through its first four games.

Quinnipiac Team Profile

Head Coach: Rand Pecknold (28th season at QU, 551-326-98, .615)
National Ranking: #7/#7

This Season: 2-0-1 overall, 0-0-0 ECAC
Last Season: 17-8-4 overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 9-3-4-2 ECAC (1st of 4 teams)

Team Offense: 2.33 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 0.67 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 0.0% (0 of 11)
Penalty Kill: 100.0% (10 of 10)

Key Players: Senior F Michael Lombardi (2-2-4), junior F Skyler Brind’Amour (1-2-3), Sophomore F Ty Smilanic (1-1-2), Senior F Ethan de Jong (0-2-2), Senior F Desi Burgart (0-1-1), Senior D TJ Friedmann (2-0-2), Senior D Zach Metsa (0-1-1), Sophomore G Yaniv Perets (1-0-1, 0.96 GAA, .947 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND ; 141-64-24, .668)
National Ranking: #6/#6

This Season: 3-1-0 overall, 0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCAA Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

Team Offense: 4.25 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.25 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.4% (3 of 14)
Penalty Kill: 93.3% (14 of 15)

Key Players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (2-4-6), Senior F Ashton Calder (4-2-6), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (3-2-5), Junior F Judd Caulfield (1-3-4), Senior F Connor Ford (0-4-4), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (1-2-3), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (2-2-4), Sophomore D Tyler Kleven (1-1-2), Senior G Zach Driscoll (3-1-0, 2.26 GAA, .898 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: April 9, 2016 (Tampa, FL). Two nights after UND’s late-game heroics against Denver, the Fighting Hawks outlasted the Bobcats 5-1 to claim the program’s eighth national championship. Shane Gersich and Brock Boeser scored first-period goals for North Dakota before Quinnipiac got on the board with a 5-on-3 tally late in the opening frame. After a tight, scoreless second period, Drake Caggiula scored twice in the first four minutes of the third to open up the contest. Autin Poganski potted his tenth of the year midway through the final frame, and the last nine minutes felt like one long, slow coronation for the Green and White.

Six Years Ago: March 27, 2015 (Fargo, ND). North Dakota blocked 28 shots in front of a partisan crowd at Scheels Arena and downed the Bobcats 4-1 to advance to the NCAA West Regional Final, where they would play St. Cloud State. Tucker Poolman, Bryn Chyzyk, Drake Caggiula, and Luke Johnson all scored for UND, who received 29 saves from 2015 Mike Richter Award winner Zane McIntyre. Quinnipiac went 1-for-8 with the man advantage, scoring only an extra-attacker power play goal with less than two minutes remaining.

Fifteen Years Ago: October 7, 2006 (Grand Forks, ND). A late Quinnipiac power play goal got the Bobcats within a goal, but the damage had been done by then. T.J. Oshie assisted on all three Jonathan Toews goals (remarkably, the only hat trick of his Fighting Sioux career) and Ryan Duncan had a three point night (1 g, 2 a) in a 4-2 North Dakota victory. UND blew out the Bobcats 6-1 in Friday’s opener despite only one goal from the Oshie-Toews-Duncan (D.O.T.) line.

All-time Series: The two teams have only played four games (the aforementioned October 2006 series in Grand Forks, the 2015 West Regional semifinal, and the 2016 national championship game), with UND sweeping the Bobcats by a combined score of 19-5. Three of the four contests were played in the state of North Dakota.

Game News and Notes

Quinnipiac has competed at the Division I level since the 1999-2000 season; that was the year UND won its seventh national championship. UND’s Connor Ford (1-3-4 in two games) and Brady Ferner (1-0-1 in four games) have faced the Bobcats before with their previous teams. Friday’s game will be QU’s first home game of the season; over the past two seasons, Rand Pecknold’s squad went 24-9-0 at Frank Perrotti, Jr. Arena (3,386). The Bobcats have outshot their three opponents 100-52. North Dakota netminder Zach Driscoll has eleven career shutouts.

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend will be available on ESPN+ (a subscription is required). All UND men’s hockey games, home and away, can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network as well as through the iHeart Radio app.

Social Media

Keep up with the action live during all UND hockey games by following @UNDmhockey and @UNDInsider on Twitter. Fans can also read the action via Brad Schlossman’s live chat on the Grand Forks Herald website.

The Prediction

North Dakota fans should keep one thing in mind headed into this weekend: “Past performance is not an indication of future results.” That is to say, this year’s version of the Green and White is still experiencing some growing pains as line combinations get sorted out and defensive zone coverage improves. I see this as a split, with Brad Berry making some critical adjustments before Saturday’s rematch. QU 3-2, UND 4-1.

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!

Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Niagara

It has been seven seasons since North Dakota tangled with Niagara, and the Green and White handled the Purple Eagles 7-1 and 5-0 in a home sweep.

The teams had tangled two seasons earlier in a 2013 national tournament game featuring three of that season’s ten Hobey Baker finalists: Niagara junior goaltender Carsen Chubak (who led the nation with six shutouts) and North Dakota senior forwards Danny Kristo and Corban Knight faced off in the 2013 NCAA Midwest Regional. UND prevailed 2-1 behind a pair of third period goals, but would fall 4-1 to eventual champion Yale in the regional final.

Incidentally, the 2012-2013 version of the Purple Eagles went 23-10-5, the last time NU finished a season above .500. Since that time, the squad from Niagara Falls, New York has gone 80-175-33 (.335) and replaced head coach Dave Burkholder with Jason Lammers after the 2016-2017 campaign.

One would expect North Dakota in particular and the NCHC in general to have success against Atlantic Hockey. In addition to this weekend’s series at Ralph Engelstad Arena, the other scheduled games between the two conferences will be Air Force vs. Denver, Air Force vs. Colorado College, and Mercyhurst vs. Miami. Atlantic Hockey league member AIC is the highest ranked member of Atlantic Hockey, clocking in at #21. The NCHC boasts four of the top twelve teams in the country (#2 St. Cloud State, #5 Minnesota Duluth, #8 North Dakota, and #12 Denver) and two other ranked teams (#17 Omaha and #22 Western Michigan).

After this weekend, North Dakota will play a home-and-home series against Bemidji State, while Niagara will have an off week before traveling to Hockey Valley to face Penn State on Thursday, October 21st and Friday, October 22nd. Coincidentally, the Penn State Nittany Lions will face UND in the Hall Of Fame Game on Saturday, October 30th at Bridgestone Arena (Nashville, Tennessee).

UND led the nation in scoring last season (3.93 goals/game) but lost seven of their top eight scorers to the pro ranks. To fill the void, UND has brought in five transfers and nine freshmen.

By contrast, Niagara returns eighteen players from last year’s squad. The biggest loss for NU was defenseman Croix Evingson, who would have been a senior but gave up his final year of eligibility to ink a deal with the Jacksonville Icemen of the ECHL. The 6-foot-5, 230 pounder from Anchorage, Alaska put up a line of 1-11-12 in 21 games last season after transferring from UMass-Lowell. Evingson was a seventh-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

Niagara also lost forward Ludwig Stenlund, who scored 35 goals and added 31 assists in his three seasons at NU (74 games). Stenlund opted to join Vita Hasten HC in his native Sweden rather than return for his senior campaign.

Niagara Team Profile

Head Coach: Jason Lammers (5th season at NU, 47-71-15, .410)

National Rankings: NR
Last Season: 7-12-3, overall, 3-9-3 Atlantic Hockey (9th of 11 teams)

Last Season’s Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.55 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.18 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.6% (13 of 74)
Penalty Kill: 85.0% (68 of 80)

Key Players (last season’s statistics): Senior F Walker Sommer (8-7-15), Senior F Jack Billings (7-6-13), Junior F Ryan Naumovski (3-10-13), Senior F Ryan Cox (7-4-11), D Josef Mysak (2-3-5), Junior G Chad Veltri (5-7-2, 2.61 GAA, .914 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND, 138-63-24, .667)

National Rankings: #8/#7
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCAA Regional FInalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

Last Season’s Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.93 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.97 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 23.2% (29 of 125)
Penalty Kill: 86.2% (100 of 116)

Key Players (last season’s statistics): Sophomore F Riese Gaber (11-10-21), Senior F Mark Senden (3-11-14), Junior F Judd Caulfield (4-7-11), Senior F Connor Ford (16-12-28 at Bowling Green), Senior F Ashton Calder (16-13-29 at Lake Superior State), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (2-13-15), Junior D Ethan Frisch (3-7-10), Junior D Chris Jandric (5-17-22 at Alaska), Senior G Zach Driscoll (15-10-3, 2.32 GAA, .922 SV%, 2 SO at Bemidji State)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 17, 2015 (Grand Forks, ND). Zane McIntyre posted a 15-save shutout as the home team rolled by a final score of 5-0. One night earlier, Austin Poganski (two goals) and Brendan O’Donnell (one goal) each tallied three points in a 7-1 North Dakota victory. Niagara’s Albin Karlsson spoiled the shutout bid with just under six minutes remaining in the hockey game. UND outshot the Purple Eagles 85-43 on in the weekend sweep.

Most Important Meeting: March 29, 2013 (Grand Rapids, MI). In the semifinals of the NCAA Midwest Regional, Niagara scored first but couldn’t make it hold up. UND outshot the Purple Eagles 20-7 in the third period, making two of them count and escaping with a 2-1 victory. Zane McIntyre was the goaltender of record, making stopping 28 of 29 shots and earning his first tournament victory.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series 7-0 and has outscored the Purple Eagles 32-11. The teams first met on March 25, 2000 (NCAA West Regional). Jeff Panzer tallied three assists to lead North Dakota to a 4-1 victory over the Purple Eagles at Mariucci Arena. UND forward Lee Goren scored early in the third period after NU cut the lead to 2-1 in the middle frame. Andy Kollar made 26 saves for the Fighting Sioux, who outshot Niagara 43-27.

Game News and Notes

The Purple Eagles play their home games at Dwyer Arena (capacity 2100). Former North Dakota recruit Carter Randklev (2-3-5 in 17 games last season) returns to the Purple Eagles as a sophomore. The 14 newcomers on the UND roster are the most for the program since the 1973-1974 Fighting Sioux had 15 new players.

The Prediction

In the twenty years that Ralph Engelstad Arena has been open, we’ve seen many examples of North Dakota taking opponents too lightly as well as opposing teams bringing their best effort to the Ralph. This year’s version of the Green and White does not have a wide margin for error, particularly early in the season when lines and systems are just coming together. I expect a tight contest in Game One, with depth and talent shining through in the rematch. UND 3-2, 4-1.

Broadcast Information

Both games will be broadcast live on Midco Sports and also available via webcast at NCHC.tv. All UND men’s hockey games can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network as well as through the iHeart Radio app.

Social Media

Keep up with the action live during all UND hockey games by following @UNDmhockey and @UNDInsider on Twitter. Fans can also read the action via Brad Schlossman’s live chat on the Grand Forks Herald website.

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

NCAA Midwest Regional Final Preview: UND vs. Minnesota Duluth

In tonight’s 2021 NCAA Midwest Region final (Fargo, ND), top overall seed North Dakota (22-5-1) will square off against #3 seed Minnesota Duluth (14-10-2), which advanced over Michigan in a “no contest” due to a positive COVID-19 test in the Wolverines’ hockey program.

Earlier this week, Notre Dame withdrew from the NCAAs, advancing Boston College to its regional final.

Duluth has won the past two national titles (2018, 2019) and three in the past ten seasons. UMD claimed the 2011 championship with an overtime victory over those same Michigan Wolverines.

One of these two longtime rivals will advance to the 2021 NCAA Frozen Four in Pittsburgh, PA. This means that the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) will be represented on college hockey’s biggest stage for the seventh consecutive tourney (every season that the league has existed).

Here are the NCHC teams to appear in the Frozen Four since the NCHC began play in 2013-2014:

2014: North Dakota
2015: North Dakota, Omaha
2016: North Dakota (champion), Denver
2017: Denver (champion), Minnesota Duluth
2018: Minnesota Duluth (champion)
2019: Minnesota Duluth (champion), Denver

Omaha and St. Cloud State also have a chance to make it through to Pittsburgh; the Mavericks will face the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the first round of the West Regional (Loveland, CO) later tonight, while the SCSU Huskies and Boston University Terriers will square off in the opening game of the Northeast Regional (Albany, NY).

Another possibility is that four teams from Minnesota advance to the Frozen Four; all five current Division 1 men’s programs from the state of hockey are among the eleven teams still alive for the national title:

Northeast Regional semifinal:
St. Cloud State vs. Boston University (winner plays BC)

West Regional semifinals:
Minnesota vs. Omaha
Minnesota State vs. Quinnipiac

East Regional final:
Bemidji State vs. UMass

Midwest Regional final:
Minnesota Duluth vs. North Dakota

Minnesota will add a sixth team to that mix next season: St. John’s University (Collegeville, MN, about 20 miles west of St. Cloud) has competed at the Division III level (Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) since 1920. There is no Division II in the men’s college hockey landscape.

It has not been a great week for the Big Ten, and I’m not even talking about basketball. Notre Dame and Michigan had to exit the tournament due to COVID-19, and #1-seed Wisconsin dropped its first game of the tournament to Bemidji State (WCHA) by a final score of 6-3. Minnesota is the only team remaining in the NCAA tournament from the conference that ruined college hockey as we knew it.

With a 5-1 victory over Lake Superior State, UMass now owns the best winning percentage in Division I men’s college hockey tournament history at .714. That stat is a bit misleading, though, as the Minutemen have only played seven NCAA tourney games and have gone 5-2.

Incidentally, Duluth defeated UMass 3-0 for the 2018 NCAA title.

Among teams with more than three appearances in the NCAAs, Minnesota Duluth holds the best winning percentage (27-12, .692), with North Dakota right behind at .671 (53-26). Amazingly, the team that had to vacate the tournament – Michigan – is in third place at .639 (53-30).

The only team with more NCAA tournament victories than UND is Minnesota (55-38, .591).

The Bulldogs played ten games at the Division I level in the early 1930s but didn’t really get started until after World War II. Its first 19 seasons after the war were played as an independent before joining the WCHA in 1965. It would take 18 seasons – and a head coach named Mike Sertich – before UMD would make the NCAA tournament, and Sertich would take them there in three consecutive seasons:

1982-1983: National Quarterfinalist
1983-1984: 2nd Place (National Runner-Up)
1984-1985: 3rd Place (Consolation Champion)

In 1984, Duluth was tantalizingly close to winning its first title. The Bulldogs defeated North Dakota 2-1 in overtime (behind a goal by Bill Watson) to advance to the championship game, where they would face Bowling Green in the longest NCAA final in Division I men’s hockey history. Gino Cavallini scored for the Falcons in the fourth overtime session, ending a game that took over 97 minutes of game action to complete.

And, perhaps, fittingly, UMD would find themselves locked in overtime contests in 1985 as well. The Bulldogs took RPI to three overtimes in the national semis before falling 6-5. Back in those days, there was still a third-place game, and so Duluth faced Boston College (which had also played three overtimes in its semifinal) for no reason at all. Of course, that game also went to overtime, with UMD defeating the Eagles 7-6.

After that three-year splash on the national scene, Mike Sertich would manage just one more tournament appearance (1993) over the final fifteen years of his head coaching career before giving way to Scott Sandelin, who has guided the Bulldogs to the NCAAs ten times in his 21 seasons behind the Bulldog bench.

Even though UMD has been a more frequent participant over the past two decades than at any other point in team history, Duluth and North Dakota have not met in the national tournament since 1984. UND had a chance to meet the Bulldogs in the 2011 title game but fell to the Wolverines in the semifinals 2-0 (with an empty-net goal) despite outshooting Michigan 40-20.

Before the Wolverines were forced to withdraw, UMD and Michigan were set to square off in the national tournament for the first time since that overtime thriller in St. Paul.

With three national titles in a nine-year stretch, the Bulldogs could certainly be considered the best team of the 2010s; North Dakota’s eight national titles have been spread out across the decades: 1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000, and 2016.

The Wolverines have won nine NCAA titles but only two since 1964, those coming in 1996 and 1998. For that reason, I consider North Dakota (eight titles) and Denver (eight titles) the two best programs in NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey history.

With Michigan out of the tournament and Denver not in it to begin with, North Dakota has a chance to become the best college hockey program of all time with three more victories in the NCAAs.

Of the teams remaining in the tournament, Boston College (5 titles), Boston University (5), and Minnesota (5) can add to their impressive resumes. The other six teams in the field – Bemidji State, Massachusetts, Minnesota State, Omaha, Quinnipiac, and St. Cloud State – are all seeking their first national championship.

It is an interesting question whether UND benefits from getting a tournament game under its belt or whether Minnesota Duluth benefits from the rest. Given the fact that the Fighting Hawks were able to stay healthy and roll four lines, one could make the argument either way.

For me, it’s about more than just yesterday. Let’s take a closer look at the last seven weeks of the season….

Both teams played a full weekend of hockey back on February 12th and 13th. UND completed a home sweep of Denver that weekend (3-0, 5-2). The Bulldogs traveled to Kalamazoo, Michigan to take on WMU and lost both games (0-4, 1-4).

Since then, North Dakota has played eight games, going 7-1-0. Duluth has only played five games over that stretch, going 2-3-0.

The Fighting Hawks’ only loss in its last ten games was a 3-2 overtime defeat at the hands of the Omaha Mavericks.

One of UND’s “extra” games was due to some shuffling at the end of the regular season. Another was the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game against St. Cloud State, who had defeated Minnesota Duluth in the league playoff semifinals (there was no consolation game). And the third was last night’s 5-1 victory over American International.

Playing yesterday was also an advantage for the Fighting Hawks because no one on the current roster had ever appeared in an NCAA tournament game. The team must feel more comfortable heading into a rivalry game against a conference opponent with the “first one” out of the way.

Prior to the 2017-2018 campaign, North Dakota had made the national tournament in fifteen straight seasons (2003-2017).

After sputtering to records of 17-13-10 (.550) and 18-17-2 (.514) and missing the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons, UND head coach Brad Berry got his team on the right track last year, winning the program’s third Penrose Cup as NCHC champions and collecting an overall record of 26-5-4 (.800).

As another sign that Berry has righted the ship, UND is now 48-10-5 (.802) over the past two seasons.

North Dakota brought the top scoring offense in the country (3.96 goals scored/game) into yesterday’s contest and bettered that mark in the first period, potting four goals in under eight minutes in the opening frame. UND would add a late goal to bring its offensive production up to an even 4.00 goals scored per game this season (112 goals in 28 games).

Duluth checks in at a shade over three goals per game, good for 21st in the country overall and better than only Bemidji State among the eleven teams still alive in the tournament:

1. North Dakota (4.00)
2. Boston College (3.91)
3. Minnesota (3.79)
4. Minnesota State (3.52)
5. Massachusetts (3.50)
6. Quinnipiac (3.46)
7. Boston University (3.33)
8. Omaha (3.32)
9. St. Cloud State (3.19)
10. Minnesota Duluth (3.04)
11. Bemidji State (2.93)

UMD finds themselves in a bit better shape on the defensive side of things, landing squarely in the middle of the tournament field; North Dakota lowered its average goals allowed by giving up just a single goal last night:

1. Minnesota State (1.52)
2. Massachusetts (1.77)
3. North Dakota (1.93)
4. Quinnipiac (1.96)
5. Minnesota (2.00)
6. Boston College (2.35)
6. Minnesota Duluth (2.35)
8. Bemidji State (2.36)
9. Boston University (2.60)
10. St. Cloud State (2.67)
11. Omaha (2.96)

Including yesterday’s opening round win, North Dakota has a record of 8-3-1 against this season’s tournament field (AIC, Minnesota Duluth, Omaha, and St. Cloud State) and also went 5-2 against Denver, a team squarely on the bubble for the NCAAs before the field was announced on Sunday evening.

UMD sports an overall record of 3-6-2 against North Dakota, Omaha, and St. Cloud State but did defeat Denver twice in the Omaha pod back in December. Five of the Bulldogs’ six losses to tournament teams came at the hands of the Huskies (2-5-0).

Duluth and UND played to a 2-2 tie back on December 10th, with the Fighting Hawks claiming a 2-1 victory in the rematch nine days later. UMD had tied the game at one less than eight minutes into the third period before Grant Mismash buried his fourth goal of the pod for the game-winner with 48 seconds remaining in regulation.

The Bulldogs outshot North Dakota in both contests (32-28 and 24-19), although UND had the edge on specialty teams, with a power play goal in each game and seven successful penalty kills. It is worth noting that the Fighting Hawks were without the services of freshman defensemen Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven in both matchups against UMD, as the pair were competing for – and winning – gold at the 2021 World Junior Championships.

Scheels Arena can be considered familiar territory for North Dakota, as this is the third time that UND has played in the regional just 70 miles south of Grand Forks. The Fighting Hawks rolled through Quinnipiac (4-1) and St. Cloud State (4-1) in 2015 but fell to Boston University 4-3 in double overtime in 2017.

15 years ago this week, Holy Cross defeated Minnesota at Ralph Engelstad Arena, marking the first time a four-seed defeated a one-seed since the tournament expanded to 16 teams.

It has happened every year since then. Lots of #4-overall seeds have fallen: New Hampshire (2007 and 2008), Michigan (2009), Miami (2011 and 2015), Notre Dame (2013), Wisconsin (2014, 2021), Providence (2016) and Minnesota (2017) all lost as the “last #1 seed”.

Wisconsin’s 2014 defeat came at the hands of North Dakota, just days after UW’s victory over Ohio State in the Big Ten playoff title game got UND into the tournament.

#3-overall seeds have fared better, but Clarkson (2007), Denver (2009), Cornell (2018), and Minnesota State (2019) all lost their opening round game from that position.

Most people mistakenly believe that Minnesota was the top team in the country before falling to Holy Cross in 2006; the Golden Gophers were actually the #2-overall seed in that tourney (the top spot belonged to Wisconsin, and the Badgers rode their seeding all the way to a national title). Other #2-overall seeds to fall in their first game include Notre Dame (2009), Denver (2010), Michigan (2012), Minnesota (2013), and St. Cloud State (2016).

And, in the ultimate of disappointments, THREE of the past six top overall seeds in the NCAA tourney have gone down to 16-seeds:

RIT defeated top-seeded Minnesota State 2-1 in 2015.
Air Force dismantled top-seeded St. Cloud State 4-1 in 2018.

And the Huskies suffered the same fate AGAIN in 2019, losing to AIC by a final score of 2-1 despite outshooting the Yellow Jackets 34-13.

North Dakota has never lost in the first round as a #1 seed since the tournament expanded to 16 teams.

Former UND head coach Dean Blais famously said, “In the playoffs, you shouldn’t even call it ‘hockey’. Just call it ‘goalie’.” With that in mind, let’s take a look at the two players expected to be guarding the crease in today’s contest…

For UMD, Ryan Fanti (10-7-2, 2.40 goals-against average, and a save percentage of .905) should get the nod from Scott Sandelin after starting both of Duluth’s NCHC tournament games. Fanti was the netminder of record in both contests against North Dakota in the pod, making 43 of 47 saves in a tie and a loss. The sophomore from Thunder Bay, Ontario has lost three of his last four starts, allowing 12 goals on 106 shots on goal over that stretch.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (20-3-1, 1.78 GAA, .929 SV%, 4 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (2-2-0, 2.83 GAA, .872 SV%) appearing in five games. In addition to his four shutouts, Scheel has allowed just a single goal in seven other victories this season (including the Frozen Faceoff semifinal against Denver and yesterday’s tourney opener vs. AIC). In February and March of this season, Scheel is 8-0 while allowing a total of 11 goals, giving him a goals-against average of 1.36 and a save percentage of .946 over the past two months.

The junior from Lakewood, Ohio was recently named NCHC Goaltender of the Year and a 2021 Mike Richter Award finalist (along with eight other goaltenders; Scheel was the only finalist from the NCHC). However, Scheel was not named to the “Hat Trick”; those honors went to Spencer Knight (Boston College), Jack Lafontaine (Minnesota), and Dryden McKay (Minnesota State). The winner of this year’s Richter will be announced in April during the NCAA Frozen Four.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Scott Sandelin’s squad has just six regulars in the lineup who meet that threshold: senior forward Nick Swaney (13-14-27), junior forward Jackson Cates (10-16-26), senior forward Kobe Roth (13-10-23), junior forward Cole Koepke (13-8-21), senior forward Kobe Bender (7-12-19), and junior forward Noah Cates (5-13-18).

By that same measure, Brad Berry has ten players at a half point or better per game: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (15-15-30), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (9-26-35), senior forward Collin Adams (13-20-33), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (3-18-21), senior forward Grant Mismash (10-9-19 in 19 games), freshman forward Riese Gaber (11-10-21), junior forward Jasper Weatherby (14-9-23), junior forward Mark Senden (3-11-14), junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker (3-15-18), and freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (2-13-15 in 21 games). Pinto, Kawaguchi, Adams, and Mismash are all averaging a full point or better per contest.

Mismash had missed seven consecutive games before returning to the lineup yesterday and scoring a goal on three shots (six shot attempts). Bernard Docker also returned to the lineup, notched an assist, and anchored the top defensive pair along with Matt Kiersted. Mark Senden (upper body injury) did not suit up last night.

Riese Gaber was driven hard into the boards during last night’s game but did return to the ice; his eight shot attempts co-led the team (along with Shane Pinto).

Puck possession will be a key factor in tonight’s contest, and North Dakota should have an advantage in that area. UND clocks in as the third-best team remaining in the tournament in Corsi (55.5%); Duluth is 7th at 53.3%. Fenwick looks even better for the Fighting Hawks (56.7%, 2nd), while UMD is 6th in that area (53.6%).

Corsi measures the percentage of shots taken vs. opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shots taken vs. opponents.

North Dakota is averaging 31.8 shots on goal per game and allowing 24.9 shots on goal per game to opponents. Minnesota Duluth is averaging 31.6 shots on goal per game and allowing 25.7.

The Bulldogs have outscored opponents 79-61 this season. North Dakota’s eye-popping scoring margin is 112-54. Here’s how that compares to the tournament field:

1. North Dakota +58 (112-54 in 28 games)
2. Minnesota +52 (110-58 in 29 games)
3. Minnesota State +50 (88-38 in 25 games)
4. Massachusetts +45 (91-46 in 26 games)
5. Quinnipiac +42 (97-55 in 28 games)
6. Boston College +36 (90-54 in 23 games)
7. Minnesota Duluth +18 (79-61 in 26 games)
8. Bemidji State +16 (82-66 in 28 games)
9. St. Cloud State +14 (86-72 in 27 games)
10. Boston University +11 (50-39 in 15 games)
11. Omaha +9 (83-74 in 25 games)

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot. The Fighting Hawks are tops in the nation in faceoff win percentage at 56.2 percent, while Minnesota Duluth is 39th (47.0%) among the 51 men’s college hockey teams to have played at least one game this season.

Leading the way in the faceoff circle for North Dakota have been Shane Pinto (61.7%), Jasper Weatherby (56.4%), and Collin Adams (54.6%). UMD will counter with Noah Cates (48.5%), Jackson Cates (49.2%), and Jesse Jacques (46.6%).

The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.6 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 2nd in the country. UMD is way down in the middle of the pack, lighting the lamp on just 9.6 percent of their shots on goal (27th).

Through 26 games, the Bulldogs have blocked 277 shots as a team, led by blueliners Wyatt Kaiser (36), Matt Anderson (32), and Matt Cairns (26).

North Dakota has blocked 359 shots in its 28 games, with defensemen Matt Kiersted (49), Jacob Bernard-Docker (33), Ethan Frisch (26), and Gabe Bast (22) and forward Mark Senden (24!) leading the way.

When North Dakota is at full strength on the back end, they enjoy a roster advantage against nearly every opponent, and that will be the case again tonight. UMD’s six most likely starters on defense have combined for just 4 goals and 30 assists in 153 combined games this season (0.22 points/game), while the six UND defenders expected in the lineup tonight have put together a line of 17 goals and 58 assists in 139 combined games (0.54 points/game). Matt Kiersted, Jacob Bernard Docker, Jake Sanderson, Ethan Frisch, Tyler Kleven, and Gabe Bast can all defend, move the puck, and score, and Brad Berry has the luxury of trusting all of his defensemen in all situations, much like he had during North Dakota’s run to the national title in 2016 (with Gage Ausmus, Paul LaDue, Tucker Poolman, Hayden Shaw, Troy Stecher, Keaton Thompson, and Christian Wolanin manning the back end).

To this point in the season, here is the specialty teams ledger:

Minnesota Duluth power play: 19 of 93, 20.4 percent (19th)
Minnesota Duluth penalty kill: 72 of 96, 75.0 percent (44th)

North Dakota power play: 29 of 122, 23.8 percent (8th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 97 of 113, 85.8 percent (8th)

North Dakota has scored four shorthanded goals this season without allowing one to opponents, while the Bulldogs have scored two and allowed two this season. That leaves UMD’s net specialty teams at a minus-5, while UND weighs in at plus-17.

UND doesn’t necessarily need to score first (although the team is 19-0-0 when they do), but I do think it’s important that they don’t fall behind by more than two if they hope to advance to the Frozen Four. In general, Duluth’s recipe for success in the past two national tournaments has been to get a lead and lock it down OR have the ability to come back late; here are the scores from its two most recent title runs:

2018:
3-2 (OT) vs. Minnesota State (came back with a goal in the 2nd and a goal in the 3rd)
2-1 vs. Air Force (scored twice in the first period)
2-1 vs. Ohio State (scored twice in the first three minutes of the game)
2-1 vs. Notre Dame (scored twice in the first period)

2019:
2-1 (OT) vs. Bowling Green (scored late in regulation to tie)
3-1 vs. Quinnipiac (built a 2-0 lead)
4-1 vs. Providence (grabbed a 1-0 lead in the 2nd and a 2-1 lead in the 3rd before two empty-netters)
3-0 vs. Massachusetts (scored less than four minutes into the hockey game)

Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (21st season at UMD, 405-331-91, .545)
National Rankings: #9/#9

This Season: 14-10-2 overall, 13-9-2 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 22-10-2 overall, 17-5-2-0 NCHC (2nd)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.04 goals scored/game – 21st of 51 teams
Team Defense: 2.35 goals allowed/game – 12th of 51 teams

Power Play: 20.4% (19 of 93) – 19th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 75.0% (72 of 96) – 44th of 51 teams

Key players: Senior F Nick Swaney (13-14-27), Junior F Jackson Cates (10-16-26), Senior F Kobe Roth (13-10-23), Junior F Cole Koepke (13-8-21), Senior F Kobe Bender (7-12-19), Junior F Noah Cates (5-13-18), Freshman D Wyatt Kaiser (0-10-10), Senior D Matt Anderson (0-7-7), Senior D Matt Cairns (0-6-6), Sophomore G Ryan Fanti (10-7-2, 2.40 GAA, .905 SV%)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 138-62-24, .670)
National Rankings: #1/#1

This Season: 22-5-1 overall, 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 4.00 goals scored/game – 1st of 51 teams
Team Defense: 1.93 goals allowed/game – 3rd of 51 teams

Power Play: 23.8% (29 of 122) – 8th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 85.8% (97 of 113) – 8th of 51 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Shane Pinto (15-15-30), Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (9-26-35), Freshman F Riese Gaber (11-10-21), Senior F Collin Adams (13-20-33), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (14-9-23), Senior F Grant Mismash (10-9-19), Senior D Matt Kiersted (3-18-21), Junior D Jacob Bernard Docker (3-15-18), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (2-13-15 in 21 games), Junior G Adam Scheel (20-3-1. 1.78 GAA, .929 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 19, 2020 (Omaha, NE). It appeared to be yet another overtime tilt between these two teams, but North Dakota’s Grant Mismash had other ideas. The senior forward potted the game-winner with just 48 seconds remaining in regulation to break the 1-1 tie. Collin Adams scored the Fighting Hawks’ first goal at 13:15 of the second period, while UMD’s Noah Cate lit the lamp just over seven minutes into the third. The two teams skated to a 2-2 tie nine days earlier on the same sheet of ice.

Last Meeting in the NCAA tournament: 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 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, 149-86-11 (.628). 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 5-4-1 (.550) in the last ten games between the teams, although the Bulldogs have outscored the Hawks 28-25 over that stretch thanks to two five-goal performances in Duluth back in 2018 and a 7-4 home victory back in January of last year. Only two of the past ten UND-UMD games were played in Grand Forks.

Game News and Notes

UND is 19-0-0 when it scores the first goal and just 3-5-1 when its opponent lights the lamp first, although two of those comeback victories came in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. The Fighting Hawks have outscored opponents 41-17 in third periods and overtime this season, while the Bulldogs have scored 32 and allowed 23 in the same frames. UND is 3-1-1 in overtime this season; Duluth is 2-2-2. North Dakota head coach Brad Berry is now 5-1 in the NCAA tournament.

The Prediction

If my Twitter poll is any indication, North Dakota has an 82% chance of advancing to the NCAA Frozen Four. On ice, however, it’s a different story. For the second consecutive game, UND is facing a team with more NCAA tournament experience, although the Fighting Hawks got the first game under their collective belts yesterday and are playing perhaps their best hockey of the season. I firmly believe that it is harder to stay on top of the mountain than it is to get there, and part of it comes down to motivation – this current North Dakota roster is highly motivated after how last season ended and will do whatever it takes to survive and advance. Brad Berry’s squad does have last line change and that counts for something. If the Bulldogs have a weakness, it’s on the penalty kill, and although the Fighting Hawks don’t rely on the power play as much as some teams, it would help matters if they could get one to go. I’m expecting North Dakota to have their foot on the gas from the drop of the puck as Duluth adjusts to the ice surface, the officiating, the crowd, and a different Fighting Hawks team than they faced in the pod. I almost went with an overtime thriller and a Kawaguchi game-winner, but this Green and White squad has the depth and top-end talent to get it done in regulation. UND 4, Minnesota Duluth 2.

Broadcast Information

Tonight’s NCAA Midwest Regional Semifinal will be televised live on ESPNU and available on several streaming services, including YoutubeTV (a free trial is available); puck drop is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Central Time. Leah Hextall (play-by-play) and Dave Starman (color commentary) will handle the call from Fargo; Hextall’s uncle Dennis played at North Dakota for two seasons (31-56-87) and was the program’s first NHL player in 1968 (New York Rangers, and later with the Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Detroit Red Wings, and Washington Capitals). Furthermore, Leah Hextall’s second-cousin Brett played three years at UND (39-42-81 in 115 games) and helped the team make it all the way to the NCAA Frozen Four in 2011.

All UND men’s hockey games can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network as well as through the iHeart Radio app.

Social Media

Keep up with the action live during all UND hockey games by following @UNDmhockey and @UNDInsider on Twitter. Fans can also read the action via Brad Schlossman’s live chat on the Grand Forks Herald website.

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

NCAA Midwest Regional Semifinal Preview: UND vs. American International

In tonight’s 2021 NCAA Midwest Region semifinal (Fargo, ND), top overall seed North Dakota (21-5-1) will square off against #4 seed American International (15-3-0).

#3 seed Minnesota Duluth (14-10-2) was set to square off against #2 seed Michigan (15-10-1) in Friday’s first regional semifinal in what was widely considered the most intriguing matchup across all four regional sites, but COVID intervened and the Michigan Wolverines became the second team to vacate their position in the tournament due to a positive case.

Earlier this week, Notre Dame withdrew from the NCAAs, advancing Boston College to its regional final.

The two-time defending national champion Bulldogs will await tonight’s AIC-UND winner with a trip to the 2021 Frozen Four (Pittsburgh, PA) on the line.

The Midwest Regional game that will actually be played today features two of the top five offenses in the country:

1st. North Dakota 3.96 goals scored per game
5th. American International 3.67

Duluth can be found in 21st place on the list (3.04).

Those same two high-scoring teams are impressive defensively as well, allowing less than two goals per contest:

3rd. American International 1.94 goals allowed per game
4th. North Dakota 1.96

Duluth is 13th on this list, allowing 2.35 goals per game.

The top three seeds in the Midwest Regional have combined to win twenty national championships; here’s how the other three regionals stack up:

Northeast Regional (Albany, NY): 10 (Boston College 5, Boston University 5)
East Regional (Bridgeport, CT): 9 (Wisconsin 6, Lake Superior State 3)
West Regional (Loveland, CO): 5 (Minnesota 5)

The Bulldogs have won the last two NCAA titles (2018, 2019) to go along with their first national championship back in 2011, a 3-2 victory over Michigan at Xcel Energy Center. North Dakota also appeared in that Frozen Four but fell to the Wolverines in the semifinals 2-0 (with an empty-net goal) despite outshooting Michigan 40-20.

Before the Wolverines were forced to withdraw, UMD and Michigan were set to square off in the national tournament for the first time since that overtime thriller in St. Paul.

The Wolverines have won nine NCAA titles but only two since 1964, those coming in 1996 and 1998.

North Dakota’s eight national titles have been spread out across the decades: 1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000, and 2016.

Scheels Arena can be considered familiar territory for North Dakota, as this is the third time that UND has played in the regional just 70 miles south of Grand Forks. The Fighting Hawks rolled through Quinnipiac (4-1) and St. Cloud State (4-1) in 2015 but fell to Boston University 4-3 in double overtime in 2017.

UND did not earn a bid to the national tournament in 2019. Had they made it as one of the last teams in, it would have forced AIC to a different regional. As it turned out though, the Yellow Jackets can also consider Scheels Arena friendly, as they defeated top overall seed St. Cloud State 2-1 in the regional semis despite being outshot 34-13. The game-winning goal was scored by defenseman Brennan Kapcheck, who is now a senior captain for the Yellow Jackets and was named the Atlantic Hockey East Pod Player Of The Year. Kapcheck notched three assists in the AHA title game and now has 18 helpers on the season to lead his team.

Forward Tobias Fladeby assisted on the game winner against SCSU; the now-senior from Asker, Norway is also still on the roster.

Denver would go on to spoil AIC’s 2019 Cinderella run with a 3-0 victory, although that game was still in doubt with four minutes remaining in regulation and the Pios clinging to a 1-0 lead. American International outshot DU 10-2 in the third period of that contest (and 26-24 for the game) but could not put a puck passed Pioneers’ netminder Filip Larsson. With the victory, Denver advanced to their third Frozen Four in four seasons, but the Pios would eventually fall to #4 Massachusetts in overtime in the national semifinal.

15 years ago this week, Holy Cross defeated Minnesota at Ralph Engelstad Arena, marking the first time a four-seed defeated a one-seed since the tournament expanded to 16 teams.

It has happened every year since then. Lots of #4-overall seeds have fallen: New Hampshire (2007 and 2008), Michigan (2009), Miami (2011 and 2015), Notre Dame (2013), Wisconsin (2014), Providence (2016) and Minnesota (2017) all lost as the “last #1 seed”.

Wisconsin’s 2014 defeat came at the hands of North Dakota, just days after UW’s victory over Ohio State in the Big Ten playoff title game got UND into the tournament.

#3-overall seeds have fared better, but Clarkson (2007), Denver (2009), Cornell (2018), and Minnesota State (2019) all lost their opening round game from that position.

Most people mistakenly believe that Minnesota was the top team in the country before falling to Holy Cross in 2006; the Golden Gophers were actually the #2-overall seed in that tourney (the top spot belonged to Wisconsin, and the Badgers rode their seeding all the way to a national title). Other #2-overall seeds to fall in their first game include Notre Dame (2009), Denver (2010), Michigan (2012), Minnesota (2013), and St. Cloud State (2016).

And, in the ultimate of disappointments, THREE of the past five top overall seeds in the NCAA tourney have gone down to 16-seeds:

RIT defeated top-seeded Minnesota State 2-1 in 2015.
Air Force dismantled top-seeded St. Cloud State 4-1 in 2018.

And, as mentioned above, the Huskies suffered the same fate AGAIN in 2019.

North Dakota has never lost as a #1 seed since the tournament expanded to 16 teams.

Amazingly, no current UND player has appeared in an NCAA tournament game. Prior to the 2017-2018 campaign, North Dakota had made the national tournament in fifteen straight seasons (2003-2017).

Aside from two games in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs (victories over Niagara and Canisius), AIC hasn’t played since January 30th. Twelve Yellow Jackets games were canceled for COVID-19 related reasons since the start of the new year, which meant that Eric Lang’s squad had six consecutive weekends off before the Atlantic Hockey playoffs last weekend. Much like UND, the Yellow Jackets trailed in the semifinals and in the championship game before prevailing in both contests thanks to big third periods each night. AIC outscored its two playoff opponents 5-0 over the final twenty minutes of play, outshooting the Purple Eagles 12-5 and the Golden Griffins 20-4.

American International’s sixteen-game regular season schedule consisted of Air Force (a record of 2-0), Army (3-1), Bentley (2-0), Quinnipiac (0-2), Long Island (2-0), Holy Cross (3-0), and Sacred Heart (1-0).

While there was not much interleague play this year to adequately compare teams from different conferences, it is fair to say that UND – with a full slate of 27 NCHC games – has played a far tougher schedule than AIC. North Dakota posted a record of 7-3-1 against this season’s tournament teams (Minnesota Duluth, Omaha, and St. Cloud State) and also went 5-2 against Denver, a team squarely on the bubble for the NCAAs before the field was announced on Sunday evening.

The NCHC has been the premier hockey conference since its inception, and particularly over the past six seasons. The eight teams in the league have gone 326-158-63 (.654) in non-conference action since the start of the 2014-15 season and sent nine teams to the Frozen Four (UND and Omaha in 2015, UND and Denver in 2016, Denver and Duluth in 2017, Duluth in 2018, and Denver and Duluth in 2019) over that five-year stretch (there was no national tournament last season). Conference members North Dakota (2016), Denver (2017), and Minnesota Duluth (2018, 2019) have won the last four national titles.

AIC and North Dakota are the only two teams this season to win both their regular season and postseason titles. The two squads also won regular season titles a year ago before COVID shut down the hockey world. For the Fighting Hawks, the 2021 NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship was their first postseason title in the eight-year history of the league.

After sputtering to records of 17-13-10 (.550) and 18-17-2 (.514) and missing the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons, UND head coach Brad Berry got his team on the right track last year, winning the program’s third Penrose Cup as NCHC champions and collecting an overall record of 26-5-4 (.800).

As another sign that Berry has righted the ship, UND is now 47-10-5 (.798) over the past two seasons.

Former UND head coach Dean Blais famously said, “In the playoffs, you shouldn’t even call it ‘hockey’. Just call it ‘goalie’.” With that in mind, let’s take a look at the two players expected to be guarding the crease in this contest…

For AIC, senior Stefano Durante (9-3-0, 2.17 goals-against average, and a save percentage of .907) started both conference playoff games for the Yellow Jackets after returning from a knee injury. Prior to the AHA tournament, Durante had not played since January 13th.

In the 2019 regionals, Durante was backing up Zackarias Skog, who was a junior at the time.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (19-3-1, 1.81 GAA, .928 SV%, 4 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (2-2-0, 2.83 GAA, .872 SV%) appearing in five games. In addition to his four shutouts, Scheel has allowed just a single goal in seven other victories this season (including the Frozen Faceoff semifinal against Denver). The junior from Lakewood, Ohio was recently named NCHC Goaltender of the Year and a 2021 Mike Richter Award finalist (along with eight other goaltenders; Scheel was the only finalist from the NCHC). However, Scheel was not named to the “Hat Trick”; those honors went to Spencer Knight (Boston College), Jack Lafontaine (Minnesota), and Dryden McKay (Minnesota State). The winner of this year’s Richter will be announced in April during the NCAA Frozen Four.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Eric Lang’s squad has nine regulars in the lineup who meet that threshold: senior forward Tobias Fladeby (9-8-17), junior forward Chris Theodore (4-14-18), senior forward Chris Dodero (7-11-18), junior forward Justin Cole (9-7-16), junior forward Elijiah Barriga (7-6-13), freshman forward Julius Janhonen (3-5-8), sophomore forward Eric Otto (2-5-7), senior defenseman Brennan Kapcheck (0-18-18), and sophomore defenseman Zak Galambos (4-6-10).

By that same measure, Brad Berry has ten players at a half point or better per game: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (15-15-30), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (9-25-34), senior forward Collin Adams (11-20-31), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (3-18-21), senior forward Grant Mismash (9-9-18 in 18 games), freshman forward Riese Gaber (11-9-20), junior forward Jasper Weatherby (12-9-21), junior forward Mark Senden (3-11-14), junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker (3-14-17), and freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (2-12-14 in 20 games). Pinto, Kawaguchi, Adams, and Mismash are all averaging a full point or better per contest, although Mismash (upper body injury) has missed seven consecutive games. It also remains to be seen whether Jacob Bernard-Docker (upper body injury) and Mark Senden (upper body injury) suit up for tonight’s contest.

Puck possession will be a key factor in tonight’s contest, and both teams are used to dominating in that area. For the first time in a long time, North Dakota will be facing an opponent with better overall advanced metrics, as the Yellow Jackets are 2nd in the country in shots on goal allowed/per game (22.2) and third in both Corsi (57.6%) and Fenwick (59.3%). By comparison, UND is 4th in the country in shots on goal allowed (24.9), 9th in Corsi (55.4%), and 6th in Fenwick (56.7%).

Corsi measures the percentage of shots taken vs. opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shots taken vs. opponents.

American International has outscored opponents 66-35 (an average of 3.67-1.94) in its eighteen games, outshooting the opposition 583-399 (32.4-22.2). North Dakota has outscored opponents 107-53 (3.96-1.96) and outshot opponents 858-672 (31.8-24.9) in its 27 games.

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot. The Fighting Hawks are tops in the nation in faceoff win percentage at 56.1 percent, while American International is 15th (51.8%) among the 51 men’s college hockey teams to have played at least one game this season.

Leading the way in the faceoff circle for North Dakota have been Shane Pinto (61.8%), Jasper Weatherby (56.2%), and Collin Adams (54.3%). AIC will counter with Elijiah Barriga (55.0%), Eric Otto (52.2%), Jake Stella (48.3%), and Julius Janhonen (49.6%).

The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.5 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 2nd in the country. AIC is not far behind in 9th place, lighting the lamp on 11.3 percent of their shots on goal.

North Dakota’s puck possession game and sharpshooting have led to 107 goals scored by twenty different players in 27 games (3.96 goals scored/game); AIC has managed to score 66 goals in 18 games (3.67 goals scored/game). Twenty different Yellow Jackets have lit the lamp this season.

UND’s offensive prowess is matched by their stingy defense, as the Fighting Hawks have only allowed 53 goals in 27 games (1.96 goals allowed/game). By comparison, American International has allowed 1.94 goals per contest (35 goals allowed in 18 games).

Through 18 games, the Yellow Jackets have blocked 226 shots as a team, led by blueliners Parker Revering (28), Nico Somerville (21), and Brennan Kapcheck (17).

North Dakota has blocked 349 shots in its 27 games, with defensemen Matt Kiersted (48), Jacob Bernard-Docker (32), Ethan Frisch (24), and Gabe Bast (22) and forward Mark Senden (24!) leading the way.

When North Dakota is at full strength on the back end, they enjoy a roster advantage against nearly every opponent, and that will be the case again tonight. AIC’s six most likely starters on defense have combined for 7 goals and 42 assists in 95 combined games this season (0.52 points/game), while the six UND defenders expected in the lineup tonight have put together a line of 17 goals and 54 assists in 133 combined games (0.53 points/game) against superior competition. Matt Kiersted, Jacob Bernard Docker, Jake Sanderson, Ethan Frisch, Tyler Kleven, and Gabe Bast can all defend, move the puck, and score, and Brad Berry has the luxury of trusting all of his defensemen in all situations, much like he had during North Dakota’s run to the national title in 2016 (with Gage Ausmus, Paul LaDue, Tucker Poolman, Hayden Shaw, Troy Stecher, Keaton Thompson, and Christian Wolanin manning the back end).

It is also worth noting that if Bernard Docker is unable to suit up tonight, Brad Berry has the luxury of inserting freshman blueliner Cooper Moore into the lineup on the third pairing; Moore has scored two goals and added three assists in 18 games this season.

To this point in the season, here is the specialty teams ledger:

American International power play: 20 of 84, 23.8 percent (9th)
American International penalty kill: 55 of 71, 77.5 percent (36th)

North Dakota power play: 29 of 118, 24.6 percent (8th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 93 of 108, 86.1 percent (6th)

North Dakota has scored four shorthanded goals this season without allowing one to opponents, while the Yellow Jackets have scored one and allowed one this season. That leaves AIC’s net specialty teams at a +4, while UND weighs in at +18.

American International has scored 20 of their 66 goals this season with the man advantage (30.3%), while the Fighting Hawks have scored 29 of their 105 goals this season on the power play (27.6%).

In the NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal, Denver employed its game plan to near-perfection and came up 87 seconds short. UND was constantly frustrated breaking pucks out of their own end, limited in the neutral zone, and stymied by excellent goaltending. North Dakota finally wore down the Pioneers as the game went on thanks to a 28-13 differential in hits – an unheard-of disparity given the fact that the Fighting Hawks also led in shot attempts 63-39 and in shots on goal 32-18 (typically, the team without the puck has more opportunities to deliver hits and finish checks throughout the game).

In the championship game, the Fighting Hawks built momentum late in the second period and finally broke through in the third, erupting for three goals in a span of 122 seconds. UND dominated in the faceoff circle all night long (50-25) and iced the game with a empty-net goal at the 19:51 mark of the final frame.

In both contests, North Dakota played with an edge and brought a heavy game, staying right on the line between finishing checks and ending up in the penalty box. UND ended up with a combined six power plays (2-for-6) and was shorthanded only four times, with three successful penalty kills.

It will be interesting to see whether the Yellow Jackets can handle North Dakota’s physical play throughout the game, as the Fighting Hawks are one of the heaviest teams in the country, averaging over 190 pounds per player. AIC weighs in at 185.7, right between St. Cloud State (186.6) and Denver (184.3).

UND doesn’t necessarily need to score first (although the team is 18-0-0 when they do), but I do think it’s important that they don’t fall behind by more than two if they hope to advance to tomorrow night’s regional final.

This is the first-ever meeting between the two teams. American International began play at the Division I level in 1998, although the team has been competing since the 1948-49 season.

American International Yellow Jackets

Head Coach: Eric Lang (5th season at AIC, 82-72-14, .530)
National Rankings: #15/#14

This Season: 15-3-0 overall, 11-1-0 AHA (1st)
Last Season: 21-12-1 overall, 21-6-1 AHA (1st)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.67 goals scored/game – 5th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 1.94 goals allowed/game – 3rd of 51 teams

Power Play: 23.8% (20 of 84) – 9th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 77.5% (55 of 71) – 36th of 51 teams

Key players: Senior F Tobias Fladeby (9-8-17), Junior F Chris Theodore (4-14-18), Senior F Chris Dodero (7-11-18), Junior F Justin Cole (9-7-16), Junior F Elijiah Barriga (7-6-13), Freshman F Julius Janhonen (3-5-8), Sophomore F Eric Otto (2-5-7), Senior D Brennan Kapcheck (0-18-18), Sophomore D Zak Galambos (4-6-10), Senior G Stefano Durante (9-3-0, 2.17 GAA, .907 SV%)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 137-62-24, .668)
National Rankings: #1/#1

This Season: 21-5-1 overall, 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.96 goals scored/game – 1st of 51 teams
Team Defense: 1.96 goals allowed/game – 4th of 51 teams

Power Play: 24.6% (29 of 118) – 8th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 86.1% (93 of 108) – 6th of 51 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Shane Pinto (15-15-30), Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (9-25-34), Freshman F Riese Gaber (11-9-20), Senior F Collin Adams (11-20-31), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (12-9-21), Junior F Mark Senden (3-11-14), Senior D Matt Kiersted (3-18-21), Sophomore D Ethan Frisch (3-7-10), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (2-12-14 in twenty games), Junior G Adam Scheel (19-3-1. 1.81 GAA, .928 SV%, 4 SO)

Game News and Notes

UND is 18-0-0 when it scores the first goal and just 3-5-1 when its opponent lights the lamp first, although two of those comeback victories came in its past two games. The Fighting Hawks have outscored opponents 40-16 in third periods and overtime this season, while the Yellow Jacket have scored 23 and allowed 10 in the same frames. UND is 3-1-1 in overtime this season; American International won its only overtime game of the year. This is North Dakota’s 33rd appearance in the NCAA tournament, while AIC is making its second consecutive appearance and second overall.

The Prediction

If my Twitter poll is any indication, North Dakota has an 85% chance of advancing through to face Duluth in the regional final. On the ice, however, it’s a different story. It is hard to believe, but AIC has more tournament experience than the Fighting Hawks, and – more importantly – belief that they can win this game. As is so often the case, this game will come down to which team wins the specialty teams battle, gets better goaltending, can better handle the momentum swings, and has an advantage in the faceoff circle and in 50/50 battles all over the ice. Brad Berry’s squad does have last line change and that counts for something. If the Yellow Jackets have a weakness, it’s on the penalty kill, and although the Fighting Hawks don’t rely on the power play as much as some teams, it would help matters if they could get one to go. Expect a ten-minute “feeling out” period to open the contest, with UND’s depth and top-end talent making the difference in the end. UND 3, American International 2.

Broadcast Information

Tonight’s NCAA Midwest Regional Semifinal will be televised live on ESPN3 and available on several streaming services, including YoutubeTV (a free trial is available); puck drop has been moved up to 7:30 p.m. Central Time. Leah Hextall (play-by-play) and Dave Starman (color commentary) will handle the call from Fargo; Hextall’s uncle Dennis played at North Dakota for two seasons (31-56-87) and was the program’s first NHL player in 1968 (New York Rangers, and later with the Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Detroit Red Wings, and Washington Capitals). Furthermore, Leah Hextall’s second-cousin Brett played three years at UND (39-42-81 in 115 games) and helped the team make it all the way to the NCAA Frozen Four in 2011.

All UND men’s hockey games can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network as well as through the iHeart Radio app.

Social Media

Keep up with the action live during all UND hockey games by following @UNDmhockey and @UNDInsider on Twitter. Fans can also read the action via Brad Schlossman’s live chat on the Grand Forks Herald website.

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

NCHC Playoff Preview: UND vs. St. Cloud State

In the 2021 NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game, top-seeded North Dakota (20-5-1) will square off against #2 seed St. Cloud State (17-9-0).

UND has never won the postseason title in the eight-year history of the league; North Dakota’s last conference playoff championship was a WCHA Final Five title in 2012. In a nod to the Miracle On Ice, fans may well remember the 6-3 victory over Minnesota in the “Timeout Game” that year but forget that there was another game to play in the tournament. One night later, the green and white was out in full force on St. Patrick’s Day, and the Green and White dispatched Denver 4-0 to hoist the Broadmoor Trophy for the third consecutive season.

Tonight will mark St. Cloud State’s fifth appearance in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game; the Huskies won the playoff title in 2016 and were runners-up in 2015, 2018, and 2019. SCSU’s 2016 championship (over Minnesota Duluth) was its first league playoff win since 2001, when they defeated North Dakota 6-5 in overtime after the Fighting Sioux mounted a furious third period comeback to send the game to an extra frame.

UND and SCSU only met twice this season, and both of those games took place in the Omaha pod back in December. North Dakota did not come out with enough effort in its first pod matchup with St. Cloud State, took too long to establish a forecheck, gave up two power play goals, and fell 5-3 to the Huskies. In the rematch four days later, Jordan Kawaguchi scored just eight seconds into the 3-on-3 overtime session to knot the season series at one win apiece. SCSU outshot the Fighting Hawks 27-21 in game two but were held scoreless on three man advantage opportunities while allowing a power play goal to North Dakota, and that proved to be the difference in the game.

By the way, here’s what I predicted would happen in the pod rematch:

The Prediction

It will take a stronger start for North Dakota to come out on top in this one. Both teams should be rested and ready, with a slight depth edge to St. Cloud State unless Ethan Frisch can return to the lineup for the Fighting Hawks. Five of the last ten tilts between these two squads have gone to overtime, and I feel like we’re in for another one tonight. I don’t like shootouts, but I think that the Green and White will end it before we get there. UND 4, SCSU 3 (OT).

The final score on Wednesday, December 16th? UND 4, SCSU 3 (OT).

North Dakota advanced to today’s championship game with a 2-1 overtime victory over Denver, a result that goes into the books as UND’s fifth win over the Pioneers this season (5-2-0) and eighth victory over the past two seasons (8-2-1). The Fighting Hawks outscored DU 22-14 in the 2020-2021 season series. UND allowed ten goals in the first three meetings with a record of 1-2; since their loss in game one at Denver on January 17th, the Fighting Hawks have notched four consecutive victories over DU (15 goals for, 4 goals against). That mid-January defeat was definitely a wakeup call for Brady Berry’s squad; since that time, the Green and White are 11-2-0 overall, outscoring opponents 57-21.

An NCAA tourney berth is locked up for both of the teams in tonight’s championship tilt, as the Fighting Hawks and Huskies finished 1-2 in the best conference in all of college hockey. North Dakota should be a #1 seed in the Midwest Regional (Fargo, ND) next weekend but could secure the top overall seed in the national tournament with a victory, while a St. Cloud State win could earn them a #1 seed in one of the other three regionals. Even with an SCSU victory, however, the other three top regional seeds could go to Boston College, Minnesota State, and whoever claims tonight’s Big Ten playoff championship (Minnesota or Wisconsin).

Seven full seasons have come and gone since the college hockey landscape changed forever. With Minnesota and Wisconsin departing the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for the Big Ten after the 2012-13 season, several other conference schools and two members of the now-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association created the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and left Alaska Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, and Minnesota State behind in a watered-down WCHA.

It is abundantly clear that the NCHC has been the premier hockey conference since its inception, and particularly over the past six seasons. The eight teams in the league have gone 326-158-63 (.654) in non-conference action since the start of the 2014-15 season and sent nine teams to the Frozen Four (UND and Omaha in 2015, UND and Denver in 2016, Denver and Duluth in 2017, Duluth in 2018, and Denver and Duluth in 2019) over that five-year stretch (there was no national tournament last season). Conference members North Dakota (2016), Denver (2017), and Minnesota Duluth (2018, 2019) have won the last four national titles.

In the 2019 NCAA tournament, league members Denver and St. Cloud State (30-5-3) were both placed in the West Regional (Fargo, North Dakota) and were on track to face off in the regional final. The Pioneers (#6 in the country) held up their end of the bargain with a 2-0 victory over #9 Ohio State, but #19 American International shocked the college hockey world and dispatched the #1-ranked Huskies by a final score of 2-1. One night later, Denver blanked AIC 3-0 to advance to their third Frozen Four in four seasons. The Pios would eventually fall to #4 Massachusetts in overtime in the national semifinal.

After winning its second consecutive national title (and third in team history) in 2019, the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs were picked to finish first in the NCHC and capture the program’s first-ever Penrose Cup last season. Things looked to be on schedule for UMD, as they took a 7-1-2 record into St. Cloud, where the Huskies sat with a conference record of 3-7-0. The Huskies earned a home sweep over Duluth (2-1, 2-0) to send the Bulldogs home reeling. North Dakota, which held a three-point lead over Scott Sandelin’s crew before those games, took five of six points at Miami to extend its lead to eight points over Duluth and nine points over Denver. UND never looked back, securing the program’s third Penrose Cup (2015, 2016) with a conference record of 17-4-3-2. St. Cloud State was sitting with an overall record of 13-15-6 and were scheduled to travel to Lawson Ice Arena to take on the Western Michigan Broncos in the first round of the NCHC playoffs when the whole world changed.

After sputtering to records of 17-13-10 (.550) and 18-17-2 (.514) and missing the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons, UND head coach Brad Berry got his team on the right track last year, winning the program’s third Penrose Cup as NCHC champions and collecting an overall record of 26-5-4 (.800).

As another sign that Berry has righted the ship, UND is now 46-10-5 (.795) over the past two seasons.

Turning our attention to tonight’s matchup, St. Cloud State senior goaltender David Hrenak has been everything that head coach Brett Larson has needed him to be. Hrenak has appeared in 22 games this season, going 14-8-0 with a goals-against average of 2.53, a save percentage of .907, and two shutouts.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (18-3-1, 1.76 GAA, .929 SV%, 4 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (2-2-0, 2.83 GAA, .872 SV%) appearing in five games. In addition to his four shutouts, Scheel has allowed just a single goal in seven other victories this season (including last night’s semifinal). The junior from Lakewood, Ohio was recently named NCHC Goaltender of the Year and a 2021 Mike Richter Award finalist (along with eight other goaltenders; Scheel is the only finalist from the NCHC). The winner of this year’s Richter will be announced in April during the NCAA Frozen Four.

North Dakota went 7-2-1 in the pod, while St. Cloud State managed a record of 6-3-0 (SCSU’s first scheduled game against Colorado College was rescheduled and played in St. Cloud on February 20th). If one considers that 4-0 victory over the Tigers as an extension of the Omaha experience, then Brett Larson’s squad put together a record of 7-3-0.

A big reason for the gap between #1 UND (54 conference points) and #2 SCSU (45) is that the Huskies went just 2-4-0 against Western Michigan this season and dropped a game at Miami in mid-February, whereas North Dakota took care of business against Miami (2-0-0), Colorado College (4-0-0), and Western Michigan (2-0-0). Given that the final margin in the race for the Penrose Cup equated to three wins in league play, St. Cloud State could have used a few more victories (and/or a North Dakota loss or two) against the bottom three teams in the NCHC.

Freshman forward Veeti Miettinen has been the brightest spot for SCSU this season, tallying ten goals and adding thirteen assists to lead the team in points through his first 26 collegiate games. Miettinen – a 5-foot-9 right winger – is a threat to score from anywhere on the ice with an effortless wrist shot. The 19-year-old from Espoo, Finland was a 6th-round pick (168th overall) of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2020 NHL entry draft.

North Dakota also has a rookie forward who has splashed in his first college season. Riese Gaber (9-8-17 in 26 games) is an undrafted right winger from Gilbert Plains, Manitoba (a six-hour drive from Grand Forks, ND) who spent his past two seasons in the USHL, scoring 56 goals and adding 49 assists in 108 games with the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

Miettinen and Gaber were named to the NCHC All-Rookie Team along with Denver forward Carter Savoie, North Dakota defenseman Jake Sanderson, Minnesota Duluth defenseman Wyatt Kaiser, and Miami goaltender Ludvig Persson.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Brett Larson’s squad has eight active players who meet that threshold: freshman forward Vieeti Mieetinen (10-13-23), junior defenseman Nick Perbix (6-14-20), sophomore forward Zach Okabe (5-14-19), sophomore forward Jami Krannila (10-9-19), junior forward Nolan Walker (8-10-18), senior forward Easton Brodzinski (11-5-16), senior forward Kevin Fitzgerald (9-7-16), and junior forward Sam Hentges (7-8-15).

By that same measure, Brad Berry has ten players at a half point or better per game: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (15-14-29), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (7-24-31), senior forward Collin Adams (11-18-29), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (3-17-20), senior forward Grant Mismash (9-9-18 in 18 games), freshman forward Riese Gaber (9-8-17), junior forward Jasper Weatherby (12-9-21), junior forward Mark Senden (3-11-14), junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker (3-14-17), and freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (2-11-13 in 19 games). Pinto, Kawaguchi, Adams, and Mismash are all averaging a full point or better per contest, although Mismash (upper body injury) is expected to miss his seventh consecutive game. It also remains to be seen whether Jacob Bernard-Docker (upper body injury) and Mark Senden (upper body injury) suit up for tonight’s contest or if Brad Berry elects to hold them out of the lineup until the NCAA regionals ten days from now.

Jordan Kawaguchi was the only NCHC player to notch at least one point in each of his team’s games in the Omaha pod. Shane Pinto has already generated 161 shot attempts this season and won the league scoring title over Kawaguchi and Duluth’s Nick Swaney (13-14-27). Pinto was recently named the NCHC Player of the Year, Forward of the Year, and Defensive Forward of the Year.

Both Kawaguchi (7th in the nation in scoring) and Pinto (10th) should be considered candidates for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award along with teammate Matt Kiersted, whose 20 points rank fourth among defensemen.

Of UND’s four national award hopefuls, only Shane Pinto (Ottawa, #32 overall in 2019) has been drafted. Kiersted, Kawaguchi, and Scheel should all expect plenty of offers once they have used up their college eligibility. Including Pinto, the Fighting Hawks have twelve NHL draft picks on their roster, the most in the NCHC. UND is expected to bring in four more drafted players next season – Ethan Bowen, Matteo Costantini, Jackson Kunz, and Jake Schmaltz.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot during the postseason, and the numbers bear that out. After 26 games, the Fighting Hawks are 4th in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (24.6) and are in the top ten in the country in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 55.4% (9th)
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 56.7% (6th)

By comparison, the Huskies are 18th in Corsi (52.7%) and 17th in Fenwick (53.1%), averaging 29.8 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 31.7/game) while allowing 26.2 shots on goal against/contest.

Over the course of the season, St. Cloud State is leading the shot count over its adversaries by a margin of 774-681; North Dakota is outshooting opponents 823-639.

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot. The Fighting Hawks are 2nd in the nation in faceoff win percentage at 55.5 percent, while St. Cloud State is 15th (52.1%) among the 51 men’s college hockey teams to have played at least one game this season.

Leading the way in the faceoff circle for North Dakota have been Shane Pinto (61.8%), Jasper Weatherby (55.1%), and Collin Adams (54.4%). St. Cloud State will counter with Will Hammer (55.6%), Nolan Walker (50.0%), Sam Hentges (56.7%), and Kevin Fitzgerald (60.3%).

In their first meeting in the pod, North Dakota won 36 of 62 faceoffs (58.1%), including an incredible 10-2 performance by Collin Adams. In the pod rematch, the faceoff battle was a bit closer, with UND winning 31 of 57 draws (54.5%). Shane Pinto led the way in game two by winning 19 of 27 (70.4%).

The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.4 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 2nd in the country. The Huskies find themselves in 15th place, lighting the lamp on 10.7 percent of their shots on goal.

North Dakota’s puck possession game and sharpshooting have led to 102 goals scored by twenty different players in 26 games (3.92 goals scored/game); St. Cloud State has managed to score 83 goals over the same number of games (3.19 goals scored/game). SCSU’s 78 goals in conference play were one behind Omaha’s 79 in the race for second place (UND scored 94 goals in its 24 league games).

UND’s offensive prowess is matched by their stingy defense, as the Fighting Hawks have only allowed 50 goals in 26 games (1.92 goals allowed/game). By comparison, St. Cloud State has allowed 2.58 goals per contest (67 goals allowed in 26 games).

Through 26 games, St. Cloud State has blocked 282 shots as a team, led by blueliners Seamus Donohue (37), Nick Perbix (34), Luke Jaycox (29), and Brendan Bushy (26).

North Dakota has blocked 335 shots in its 26 games, with defensemen Matt Kiersted (45), Jacob Bernard-Docker (32), Ethan Frisch (23), and Gabe Bast (21) and forward Mark Senden (24!) leading the way.

When North Dakota is at full strength on the back end, they enjoy a roster advantage against nearly every opponent, and that will be the case again tonight. St. Cloud State’s six most likely starters on defense have combined for 11 goals and 48 assists in 154 combined games this season (0.38 points/game), while the six UND defenders expected in the lineup tonight have put together a line of 16 goals and 40 assists in 120 combined games (0.47 points/game). Matt Kiersted, Jake Sanderson, Ethan Frisch, Tyler Kleven, Gabe Bast, and Cooper Moore can all defend, move the puck, and score, and Brad Berry has the luxury of trusting all of his defensemen in all situations, much like he had during North Dakota’s run to the national title in 2016 (with Gage Ausmus, Paul LaDue, Tucker Poolman, Hayden Shaw, Troy Stecher, Keaton Thompson, and Christian Wolanin manning the back end).

It is also worth noting that I have left Jacob Bernard-Docker (3-14-17 in 25 games) out of the comparison above; North Dakota’s advantage would be even greater if he is able to suit up tonight.

Remarkably, the Fighting Hawks’ d-corps has put up those offensive numbers while also allowing less than two goals per contest (1.92, good for 3rd in the country). By comparison, St. Cloud State is allowing 2.58 goals per game (18th).

To this point in the season, here is the specialty teams ledger:

St. Cloud State power play: 20 of 87, 23.0 percent (13th)
St. Cloud State penalty kill: 82 of 95, 86.3 percent (6th)

North Dakota power play: 27 of 114, 23.7 percent (8th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 91 of 106, 85.9 percent (8th)

North Dakota has scored four shorthanded goals this season, while the Huskies have two to their credit, including an odd one late in period two yesterday against Duluth that stood as the game winner. Neither side has allowed a shorthanded tally this year. That leaves St. Cloud State’s net specialty teams at a +9, while UND weighs in at +16.

The Huskies have scored 20 of their 83 goals this season with the man advantage, while the Fighting Hawks have scored 27 of their 102 goals this season on the power play.

In yesterday’s late semifinal, Denver employed its game plan to near-perfection and came up 87 seconds short. UND was constantly frustrated breaking pucks out of their own end, limited in the neutral zone, and stymied by excellent goaltending. North Dakota finally wore down the Pioneers as the game went on thanks to a 28-13 differential in hits – an unheard-of disparity given the fact that the Fighting Hawks also led in shot attempts 63-39 and in shots on goal 32-18 (typically, the team without the puck has more opportunities to deliver hits and finish checks throughout the game).

It will be interesting to see whether the Huskies can handle North Dakota’s physical play throughout the game, as the Fighting Hawks are one of the heaviest teams in the country and they bring a heavy game every night. St. Cloud State certainly has the same ability as Denver to frustrate and smother teams defensively, with an even greater measure of skill and goal-scoring ability.

UND doesn’t necessarily need to score first (although the team is 18-0-0 when they do), but I do think it’s important that they don’t fall behind by more than two if they hope to claim the program’s first NCHC postseason title.

The Fighting Hawks are hosting an NCAA Regional 70 miles south in Fargo, North Dakota on March 26 and 27 and, as a lock to make the national tournament, will be automatically placed in that regional as the host school.

Of course, being the home team means familiar surroundings and last line change, and that has certainly paid off for the Green and White this season. After going 18-1-0 at REA last season, North Dakota has gone 8-1-0 at home this season, outscoring opponents 38-11 while going 8-for-41 (19.5%) on the power play and killing 28 of 31 opponent man-advantage situations (90.3%). Even though Denver won last night’s specialty teams battle on paper, it is nothing to worry about for Brad Berry’s squad, as the lone Pios goal (a power play marker by Carter Savoie) was deflected in off of a North Dakota stick, and the game winner in overtime came just seconds after the UND power play expired and while DU freshman defenseman Antti Tuomisto was still trying to get back in his defensive zone.

UND netminder Adam Scheel has been at his best at the Ralph, winning all seven of his starts with a goals-against average of 0.84, a save percentage of .959, and two shutouts.

UND’s next potential road game is on Thursday, April 8th in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the site of this season’s NCAA Frozen Four.

St. Cloud State Huskies

Head Coach: Brett Larson (3rd season at SCSU, 60-30-9, .652)
National Rankings: #8/#8

This Season: 17-9-0 overall, 15-9-0 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 13-15-6 overall, 10-12-2 NCHC (5th)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.19 goals scored/game – 18th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 2.58 goals allowed/game – 18th of 51 teams

Power Play: 23.0% (20 of 87) – 13th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 86.3% (82 of 95) – 6th of 51 teams

Key players: Freshman F Veeti Miettinen (10-13-23), Sophomore F Zach Okabe (5-14-19), Sophomore F Jami Krannila (10-9-19), Junior F Nolan Walker (8-10-18), Senior F Easton Brodzinski (11-5-16), Senior F Kevin Fitzgerald (9-7-16), Junior F Sam Hentges (7-8-15), Junior D Nick Perbix (6-14-20), Sophomore D Chase Brand (4-4-8), Senior D Seamus Donohue (0-7-7), Senior G David Hrenak (14-8-0, 2.53 GAA, .907 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 136-62-24, .667)
National Rankings: #2/#2

This Season: 20-5-1 overall, 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.92 goals scored/game – 1st of 51 teams
Team Defense: 1.92 goals allowed/game – 3rd of 51 teams

Power Play: 23.7% (27 of 114) – 8th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 85.9% (91 of 106) – 8th of 51 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Shane Pinto (15-14-29), Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (7-24-31), Freshman F Riese Gaber (9-8-17), Senior F Collin Adams (11-18-29), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (12-9-21), Junior F Mark Senden (3-11-14), Senior D Matt Kiersted (3-17-20), Sophomore D Ethan Frisch (3-6-9), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (2-11-13 in nineteen games), Junior G Adam Scheel (18-3-1. 1.76 GAA, .929 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 16, 2020 (Omaha, NE). St. Cloud State rallied from a two-goal deficit to force an extra session only to see their dreams dashed after only eight seconds of 3-on-3. Jordan Kawaguchi was the overtime hero for North Dakota, which went 1-for-4 with the man advantage and held the Huskies scoreless on three power plays. SCSU outshot the Fighting Hawks 27-21.

Last Meeting Outside Of The Pod: February 22nd, 2020 (St. Cloud, MN). St. Cloud’s Jack Poehling broke a 1-1 tie six minutes into the third period and the Huskies made it hold up despite being outshot 13-5 in the final frame and 30-19 for the game. One night earlier, the teams skated to a 3-3 tie before St. Cloud State notched the extra league point with a shootout win.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: November 23, 2019. Kawaguchi was the overtime hero AGAIN as North Dakota dispatched the visiting Huskies 2-1. One night earlier, Shane Pinto potted two goals as UND doubled St. Cloud State (4-2).

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, 75-46-15 (.607), including a record of 38-19-7 (.648) in games played in Grand Forks. Aside from their 2015 and 2018 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal victories, the Huskies also defeated North Dakota in the 2001 WCHA Final Five championship game. The teams have been squaring off regularly since the 1989-90 season but have only met once in the NCAA tournament (2015).

Last Ten: The teams are dead even over the last ten games, with each squad claiming four victories and two others ending in ties. North Dakota has outscored St. Cloud State 27-25 over that stretch. Five of the last ten meetings have gone to overtime.

Game News and Notes

UND is 18-0-0 when it scores the first goal and just 2-5-1 when its opponent lights the lamp first, although one of those two comeback victories came last night. St. Cloud State has won the regular season league title four times over the past nine seasons (WCHA 2012-13; NCHC 2013-14, 2017-18, and 2018-19). SCSU has made the national tournament 13 times in the past twenty seasons, with one Frozen Four appearance (2013). North Dakota has outscored opponents 36-15 in third periods and overtime this season, while the Huskies have scored 32 and allowed 19 in the same frames. The Fighting Hawks have not allowed a third period goal at home this season (eleven goals for).

The Prediction

St. Cloud State is healthier and has had a few more hours to recover after yesterday’s games, but it will come down to which team wins the specialty teams battle, gets better goaltending, can better handle the momentum swings, and has an advantage in the faceoff circle and in 50/50 battles all over the ice. Brad Berry’s squad does have last line change and that counts for something, but each side wants to roll four lines as much as possible until it’s crunch time. North Dakota must avoid turning the puck over in their own end and through the neutral zone if they hope to contain the speed and skill of St. Cloud State. For once in this year’s NCHC playoffs, both teams are confidently in the tournament and we can all just sit back and enjoy the play on the ice and the atmosphere in the building. I’m torn between a one-goal regulation victory, a two-goal victory with an empty-netter, and yet another overtime between these two squads. In any event, it will be a nailbiter, with both teams in it until the very end. UND 4, St. Cloud State 3.

Broadcast Information

Tonight’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game will be televised live on CBS Sports Network. All UND men’s hockey games can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network as well as through the iHeart Radio app.

Social Media

Keep up with the action live during all UND hockey games by following @UNDmhockey and @UNDInsider on Twitter. Fans can also read the action via Brad Schlossman’s live chat on the Grand Forks Herald website.

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

NCHC Playoff Preview: UND vs. Denver

In the 2021 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals, both matchups will feature the seventh meeting of the season between conference rivals. In the afternoon game, #2-seed St. Cloud State (16-9-0) will square off against #3-seed Minnesota Duluth (14-9-2), and top-seeded North Dakota (19-5-1) will face off against 5th-seeded Denver (10-12-1) in the nightcap.

During the regular season, SCSU had the better of it against the UMD Bulldogs, with four wins and two losses. Each team has scored sixteen goals in the season series.

North Dakota holds a season record of 4-2 against Denver, outscoring the Pioneers 20-13 in those six contests. UND allowed ten goals in the first three meetings with a record of 1-2; since their loss in game one at Denver on January 17th, the Fighting Hawks have notched three consecutive victories over DU (13 goals for, 3 goals against). That mid-January defeat was definitely a wakeup call for Brady Berry’s squad; since that time, the Green and White are 10-2 overall, outscoring opponents 55-20.

An NCAA tourney berth should be locked up for the top three seeds in the nation’s best conference. There is still a question whether Denver (and, for that matter, Omaha) has done enough to earn an at-large bid to the national tournament.

The Pioneers were able to defeat Omaha 5-4 on Saturday afternoon despite missing eight players due to the league’s COVID-19 protocol. Freshman forward McKade Webster (3-6-9), senior forward Steven Jandric (1-5-6), sophomore forward Brett Edwards (2-2-4), senior forward Jake Durflinger (2-2-4), freshman forward Carter King (0-1-1), freshman forward Jack Works (0-1-1), freshman defenseman Reid Irwin (3-0-3), and sophomore defenseman Lane Krenzen (0-1-1) appeared in a combined 107 games this season but did not make the trip to Grand Forks; the first four listed above were fixtures in the Pios lineup all year long.

Head coach David Carle made it clear yesterday that none of the players in protocol would be flown in and available for tonight’s semifinal matchup with North Dakota.

A ninth player – junior forward Brett Stapley (4-3-7 in thirteen games) – underwent season-ending surgery last month, which meant that Denver brought only nine healthy forwards to Grand Forks. Senior defenseman Bo Hanson (0-3-3 in ten games headed into the tournament) moved up to play forward against the Mavericks and scored the game-winning goal with just over five minutes remaining in regulation, part of a three-goal third period for the Pioneers. The other two DU markers in the final frame came off the stick of freshman defenseman Mike Benning, his second and third goals of the season.

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries. The teams have played 33 times during the first seven seasons of the new conference, 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 twelve 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 earned six victories and a tie in the last ten 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, 2016’s thrilling Frozen Four semifinal (a 4-2 UND victory) in Tampa, Florida, and the 2017 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Denver turned the tables by dispatching North Dakota in the first round of the league playoffs at Magness Arena to end the Fighting Hawks’ 2018-2019 campaign.

(It is impossible to bring up the Paukovitch/Bina incident without also writing that Brad Malone‘s check on Denver’s Jesse Martin during an October 2010 contest at Ralph Engelstad Arena fractured three of Martin’s vertebrae and ended the hockey career of the Atlanta Thrashers’ draft pick.)

And this season has been no different, with the teams combining for 187 penalty minutes in six games. The last contest between the squads in Denver saw a DU goaltender run over with nine minutes remaining, which ignited tempers further. That spilled over to the series in Grand Forks last month, with the Pioneers “winning” the penalty minute battle 54-29. North Dakota won the specialty teams battle, scoring two goals on ten man advantage opportunities and blanking DU on its ten power play chances.

In Saturday’s series finale, North Dakota led on the scoreboard 5-2 thanks to two goals by Jasper Weatherby and 18 saves from Peter Thome, who started in place of injured netminder Adam Scheel. And how was Scheel injured, you might ask? Denver’s Kohen Olischefski ran Scheel from behind late in Friday’s 3-0 UND victory. Olischefski was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for goaltender interference and was issued an additional one-game suspension by the league office.

Seven full seasons have come and gone since the college hockey landscape changed forever. With Minnesota and Wisconsin departing the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for the Big Ten after the 2012-13 season, several other conference schools and two members of the now-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association created the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and left Alaska Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, and Minnesota State behind in a watered-down WCHA.

It is abundantly clear that the NCHC has been the premier hockey conference since its inception, and particularly over the past six seasons. The eight teams in the league have gone 326-158-63 (.654) in non-conference action since the start of the 2014-15 season and sent nine teams to the Frozen Four (UND and Omaha in 2015, UND and Denver in 2016, Denver and Duluth in 2017, Duluth in 2018, and Denver and Duluth in 2019) over that five-year stretch (there was no national tournament last season). Conference members North Dakota (2016), Denver (2017), and Minnesota Duluth (2018, 2019) have won the last four national titles.

In the 2019 NCAA tournament, league members Denver and St. Cloud State were both placed in the West Regional (Fargo, North Dakota) and were on track to face off in the regional final. The Pioneers (#6 in the country) held up their end of the bargain with a 2-0 victory over #9 Ohio State, but #19 American International shocked the college hockey world and dispatched the #1-ranked Huskies by a final score of 2-1. One night later, Denver blanked AIC 3-0 to advance to their third Frozen Four in four seasons. The Pios would eventually fall to #4 Massachusetts in overtime in the national semifinal.

In 2019-20, North Dakota’s Shane Pinto and Denver’s Bobby Brink were the two frontrunners for Rookie of the Year in the NCHC, with Pinto earning the honor at the end of the season and Brink nabbing a unanimous NCHC All-Rookie Team selection. Here’s how the two stat lines compared:

Bobby Brink (right wing): 11 goals and 13 assists in 24 games played (0.86 points/game)

Shane Pinto (center): 16 goals and 12 assists in 33 games played (0.85 points/game)

In the November 2019 series at altitude in Denver (1-1 tie, 4-1 UND victory), neither freshman figured in on the scoresheet. When the teams took the ice in Grand Forks for a pair of NCHC games in February 2020 (a North Dakota sweep), Shane Pinto scored the first goal of the weekend and Bobby Brink notched a “natural answer” by potting the very next goal by either team. Pinto broke the head-to-head tie with an assist on Matt Kiersted’s opening-period goal in Saturday’s rematch.

Brink has collected three assists in his five games against UND this season. Overall, he has appeared in just fourteen games this year, with two goals and eight assists.

Pinto has three goals and two assists in his games against Denver this year, and his overall play has him in the mix for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award. The sophomore from Franklin Square, New York has an overall line of 15-13-28 in 24 games played, a faceoff win percentage of 62.1% (tops in the league), and a plus-minus rating of plus-14. Pinto was recently named the NCHC Player Of The Year, NCHC Forward Of The Year, and NCHC Defensive Forward Of The Year. Brink’s name did not appear on any of the league’s All-NCHC teams (First Team, Second Team, Honorable Mention).

Denver netminder Magnus Chrona (16-6-4, 2.15 goals-against average, a save percentage of .920, and two shutouts last season) was also named to last season’s All-Rookie team and was a finalist for the league’s Goalie of the Year award (which was won by Duluth senior Hunter Shepard). This season, it has been more of a struggle for Chrona, as he has seen all of his numbers dip (7-10-0, 2.52 GAA, .905 SV%, 1 SO) as the team in front of him has struggled.

After winning its second consecutive national title (and third in team history) in 2019, the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs were picked to finish first in the NCHC and capture the program’s first-ever Penrose Cup last season. Things looked to be on schedule for UMD, as they took a 7-1-2 record into St. Cloud. The Huskies earned a home sweep over Duluth (2-1, 2-0) to send the Bulldogs home reeling. North Dakota, which held a three-point lead over Scott Sandelin’s crew before those games, took five of six points at Miami to extend its lead to eight points over Duluth and nine points over Denver. UND never looked back, securing the program’s third Penrose Cup (2015, 2016) with a conference record of 17-4-3-2.

After sputtering to records of 17-13-10 (.550) and 18-17-2 (.514) and missing the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons, UND head coach Brad Berry got his team on the right track last year, winning the program’s third Penrose Cup as NCHC champions and collecting an overall record of 26-5-4 (.800).

As another sign that Berry has righted the ship, UND is now 45-10-5 (.792) over the past two seasons.

Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, Denver sophomore goaltender Magnus Chrona started out the season playing every minute in net, but his aforementioned struggles opened the door somewhat for graduate transfer Corbin Kaczperski (3-2-1, 2.60 GAA, .868 SV%), who has been up and down in his nine games played; here are Kaczperski’s career numbers from his three seasons at Yale:

29-22-4, 2.53 GAA, .911 SV%, and three shutouts.

In North Dakota’s second game at Denver back in January, UND’s Grant Mismash was issued a major penalty, a game misconduct, and an additional one-game suspension for running into DU goaltender Magnus Chrona with just over nine minutes remaining in the hockey game. Chrona, a 6’-6”, 216 lb. sophomore from Skelleftea, Sweden, missed a few games but has recovered and started the last five for David Carle’s squad.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (17-3-1. 1.81 GAA, .929 SV%, 4 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (2-2-0, 2.83 GAA, .872 SV%) appearing in five games. In addition to his four shutouts, Scheel has allowed just a single goal in six other victories this season. The junior from Lakewood, Ohio was recently named NCHC Goaltender of the Year and a 2021 Mike Richter Award finalist (along with eight other goaltenders; Scheel is the only finalist from the NCHC). The winner of this year’s Richter will be announced in April during the NCAA Frozen Four.

A key issue that separated the two teams in the first half of the season is that North Dakota mostly avoided the early departure bug while Denver lost forward Emilio Pettersen (13-22-35, left two years early), defenseman Ian Mitchell (10-22-32, left one year early), and goaltender Devin Cooley (4-3-2, 2.08 GAA, .908 SV%, left one year early). Of particular concern for the Pios is that Mitchell’s absence means that they returned only seven goals and 24 total points on their blue line.

By comparison, North Dakota’s five returning defensemen (Gabe Bast, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Ethan Frisch, Matt Kiersted, and Josh Rieger scored 17 goals and added 48 assists for a total of 65 points last season.

To be fair, Denver’s freshman blueliners have stepped up, with Mike Benning (3-7-10), Antti Tuomisto (2-9-11), and Reid Irwin (3-0-3) ranking 1st, 2nd, and 6th in scoring among Pioneer defensemen.

North Dakota also brought in three freshmen on the back end, and Jake Sanderson (2-10-12), Tyler Kleven (5-1-6), and Cooper Moore (2-3-5 in sixteen games) have UND boasting its finest defensive depth since the 2015-2016 championship season.

North Dakota went 7-2-1 in the pod, while Denver managed just three victories (3-6-1). In the pod, there was simply not as much time for practice, video work, and system adjustment, which meant that the teams with veteran leadership, depth, and good-to-excellent goaltending were in the best position to succeed.

Freshman forward Carter Savoie has been the brightest spot for Denver this season, tallying a team-leading twelve goals and adding seven assists through his first 23 collegiate games. Savoie, a 5-foot-9 left winger who notched 84 goals and 88 assists over two seasons (112 games) with the Sherwood Park Crusaders (AJHL), is a threat to score from anywhere on the ice. The 18-year-old from St. Albert, Alberta was a 4th-round pick (100th overall) of the Edmonton Oilers in the 2020 NHL entry draft.

North Dakota also has a rookie forward who has splashed in his first college season. Riese Gaber (9-8-17 in 25 games) is an undrafted right winger from Gilbert Plains, Manitoba (a six-hour drive from Grand Forks, ND) who spent his past two seasons in the USHL, scoring 56 goals and adding 49 assists in 108 games with the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

Savoie and Gaber were named to the NCHC All-Rookie Team along with St. Cloud State forward Veeti Miettinen, North Dakota defenseman Jake Sanderson, Minnesota Duluth defenseman Wyatt Kaiser, and Miami goaltender Ludvig Persson.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and David Carle’s squad has six active players who meet that threshold: freshman forward Carter Savoie (12-7-19), junior forward Cole Guttman (8-14-22), senior forward Kohen Olischefski (4-9-13), sophomore forward Bobby Brink (2-8-10 in fourteen games), freshman defenseman Mike Benning (3-7-10 in twenty games), and junior forward Hank Crone (5-4-9 in twelve games).

By that same measure, Brad Berry has ten players at a half point or better per game: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (15-13-28), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (7-24-31), senior forward Collin Adams (11-18-29), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (3-16-19), senior forward Grant Mismash (9-9-18 in 18 games), freshman forward Riese Gaber (9-8-17), junior forward Jasper Weatherby (11-8-19), junior forward Mark Senden (3-11-14), junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker (3-14-17), and freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (2-10-12 in 18 games). Pinto, Kawaguchi, Adams, and Mismash are all averaging a full point or better per contest, although Mismash (upper body injury) is expected to miss his seventh consecutive game. It also remains to be seen whether Jacob Bernard-Docker (upper body injury) suits up for tonight’s contest or if Brad Berry elects to hold JBD out of the lineup until the NCAA regionals eleven days from now.

Jordan Kawaguchi was the only NCHC player to notch at least one point in each of his team’s games in the Omaha pod. Shane Pinto has already generated 147 shot attempts this season and won the league scoring title over Kawaguchi and Duluth’s Nick Swaney (13-14-27). Pinto was recently named the NCHC Player of the Year, Forward of the Year, and Defensive Forward of the Year.

Both Kawaguchi (7th in the nation in scoring) and Pinto (13th) should be considered candidates for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award along with teammate Matt Kiersted, whose 19 points rank fourth among defensemen.

Of UND’s four national award hopefuls, only Shane Pinto (Ottawa, #32 overall in 2019) has been drafted. Kiersted, Kawaguchi, and Scheel should all expect plenty of offers once they have used up their college eligibility. Including Pinto, the Fighting Hawks have twelve NHL draft picks on their roster, the most in the NCHC. UND is expected to bring in four more drafted players next season – Ethan Bowen, Matteo Costantini, Jackson Kunz, and Jake Schmaltz.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot during the postseason, and the numbers bear that out. After 25 games, the Fighting Hawks are 6th in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (24.8) and are in the top ten in the country in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 55.2% (9th)
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 56.4% (8th)

By comparison, the Pioneers are 13th in both Corsi (54.0%) and Fenwick (54.1%), averaging 30.7 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 31.6/game) while allowing 24.7 shots on goal against/contest.

Over the course of the season, Denver is leading the shot count 706-568. North Dakota is outshooting opponents 791-621

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot. The Fighting Hawks are best in the nation in faceoff win percentage at 55.7 percent, while Denver is 45th (45.6%) among the 51 men’s college hockey teams to have played at least one game this season.

Leading the way in the faceoff circle for North Dakota have been Shane Pinto (62.1%), Jasper Weatherby (54.7%), and Collin Adams (55.0%). Denver will counter with Cole Guttman (54.6%), Jaakko Heikkinen (40.1%), and Connor Caponi (41.9%).

In their first meeting in the pod, North Dakota won 37 of 48 faceoffs (77.1%), including an incredible 18-0 performance by Shane Pinto. In the pod rematch, the faceoff battle was a bit closer, with UND winning 37 of 61 draws (60.7%). Pinto also came back to earth, going 17-9 (65.4%). In the series at altitude last month, the Fighting Hawks won the faceoff battle 68-57 (54.4%). North Dakota won 63 of 118 draws (53.4%) in the February sweep in Grand Forks. Competing in the dot has definitely been a point of emphasis for the Pios after being embarrassed in the Omaha pod.

The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.6 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 2nd in the country. The Pioneers are in the middle of the pack, lighting the lamp on just 9.3 percent of their shots on goal (29th).

North Dakota’s puck possession game and sharpshooting have led to 100 goals scored by twenty different players in 25 games (4.00 goals scored/game); Denver has managed just 66 goals in its 23 games (2.87 goals scored/game).

UND’s offensive prowess is matched by their stingy defense, as the Fighting Hawks have only allowed 49 goals in 25 games (1.96 goals allowed/game). By comparison, Denver has allowed 2.78 goals per contest (64 goals allowed in 23 games).

Through 23 games, Denver has blocked 257 shots as a team, led by blueliners Justin Lee (29), Griffin Mendel (28), Antti Tuomisto (25), and forward Kohen Olischefski (21).

North Dakota has blocked 323 shots in its 25 games, with defensemen Matt Kiersted (45), Jacob Bernard-Docker (32), Gabe Bast (21), and forward Mark Senden (24!) leading the way.

When North Dakota is at full strength on the back end, they enjoy a roster advantage against nearly every opponent, and that will be the case again tonight. Denver’s six most likely starters on defense have combined for 13 goals and 28 assists in 120 combined games this season (0.34 points/game), while the six UND defenders expected in the lineup tonight have put together a line of 16 goals and 38 assists in 114 combined games (0.47 points/game). Matt Kiersted, Jake Sanderson, Ethan Frisch, Tyler Kleven, Gabe Bast, and Cooper Moore can all defend, move the puck, and score, and Brad Berry has the luxury of trusting all of his defensemen in all situations, much like he had during North Dakota’s run to the national title in 2016 (with Gage Ausmus, Paul LaDue, Tucker Poolman, Hayden Shaw, Troy Stecher, Keaton Thompson, and Christian Wolanin manning the back end).

It is also worth noting that I have left Jacob Bernard-Docker (3-14-17 in 25 games) out of the comparison above; North Dakota’s advantage would be even greater if he is able to suit up tonight.

Remarkably, the Fighting Hawks’ d-corps has put up those offensive numbers while also allowing less than two goals per contest (1.96, good for 6th in the country). By comparison, Denver is allowing 2.78 goals per game (23rd).

To this point in the season, here is the specialty teams ledger:

Denver power play: 18 of 96, 18.8 percent (28th)
Denver penalty kill: 77 of 92, 83.7 percent (16th)

North Dakota power play: 27 of 112, 24.1 percent (8th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 90 of 104, 86.5 percent (7th)

North Dakota has scored four shorthanded goals this season, while the Pios have one to their credit. The Fighting Hawks have not allowed a shorthanded tally this year; DU has given up one. That leaves Denver’s net specialty teams at a +3, while UND weighs in at +17.

The Pioneers have scored 18 of their 66 goals this season with the man advantage, while the Fighting Hawks have scored 27 of their 100 goals this season on the power play.

Two factors are working against the Pioneers tonight:

North Dakota has held DU scoreless on nineteen power plays over the past four meetings between the teams.

The Pioneers are just 6 for their last 49 with the man advantage (12.2%).

It has been better lately for David Carle’s power play units, with four goals on nine chances over the past two games. That being said, Denver must generate more five-on-five chances if the Pios hope to advance to tomorrow night’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game.

The Fighting Hawks are hosting an NCAA Regional 70 miles south in Fargo, North Dakota on March 26 and 27 and would be automatically placed in that regional if they are selected for the national tournament, which seems to be a lock at this point.

Of course, being the home team means familiar surroundings and last line change, and that has certainly paid off for the Green and White this season. After going 18-1-0 at REA last season, North Dakota has gone 7-1-0 at home this season, outscoring opponents 36-10 while going 8-for-39 (20.5%) on the power play and killing 27 of 29 opponent man-advantage situations (93.1%). UND netminder Adam Scheel has been at his best at the Ralph, winning all six of his starts with a goals-against average of 0.84, a save percentage of .961, and two shutouts.

UND’s next potential road game is on Thursday, April 8th in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the site of this season’s NCAA Frozen Four.

Denver Pioneers

Head Coach: David Carle (3rd season at DU, 55-33-12, .610)
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 10-12-1 overall, 9-12-1 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 21-9-6 overall, 11-8-5-4 NCHC (3rd)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.87 goals scored/game – 29th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 2.78 goals allowed/game – 23rd of 51 teams

Power Play: 18.8% (18 of 96) – 28th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 83.7% (77 of 92) – 16th of 51 teams

Key players: Freshman F Carter Savoie (12-7-19), Junior F Cole Guttman (8-14-22), Senior F Kohen Olischefski (4-9-13), Sophomore F Bobby Brink (2-8-10 in 14 games), Freshman D Mike Benning (3-7-10), Freshman D Antti Tuomisto (2-9-11), Junior D Slava Demin (3-5-8), Sophomore G Magnus Chrona (7-10-0, 2.52 GAA, .905 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 135-62-24, .664)
National Rankings: #2/#2

This Season: 19-5-1 overall, 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 4.00 goals scored/game – 1st of 51 teams
Team Defense: 1.96 goals allowed/game – 6th of 51 teams

Power Play: 24.1% (27 of 112) – 8th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 86.5% (90 of 104) – 7th of 51 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Shane Pinto (15-13-28), Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (7-24-31), Freshman F Riese Gaber (9-8-17), Senior F Collin Adams (11-18-29), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (11-8-19), Junior F Mark Senden (3-11-14), Senior D Matt Kiersted (3-16-19), Sophomore D Ethan Frisch (3-6-9), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (2-10-12 in eighteen games), Junior G Adam Scheel (17-3-1. 1.81 GAA, .929 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: February 13, 2021 (Grand Forks, ND). Shots were limited but goals came in bunches, as the two teams combined for seven goals on just 41 shots. At the end of it all, North Dakota led on the scoreboard 5-2 thanks to two goals by Jasper Weatherby and 18 saves from Peter Thome, who started in place of injured netminder Adam Scheel. And how was Scheel injured, you might ask? Denver’s Kohen Olischefski ran Scheel from behind late in Friday’s 3-0 UND victory. Olischefski was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for goaltender interference and was issued an additional one-game suspension by the league office.

A Recent Memory: April 7, 2016 (Tampa, Florida). In the semifinals of the NCAA Frozen Four, the two league rivals squared off in a tightly-contested matchup. 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: North Dakota went 3-0-1 against the Pioneers last year, outscoring the Pios 12-4 in the process. Splits in the Omaha pod and in Denver plus a home sweep last month give the Fighting Hawks a 7-2-1 (.750) advantage over the last ten games. UND has outscored DU 32-17 over that stretch, including a 20-13 scoreboard advantage this season.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 153-130-16 (.538), with a considerable edge of 89-44-10 (.657) in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1950, with North Dakota prevailing 18-3 in Denver.

Game News and Notes

UND is 18-0-0 when it scores the first goal and 1-5-1 when its opponent lights the lamp first. Denver has been outscored 29-21 in third periods and overtime this season, while UND is outscoring opponents 34-15 in the same frames. The Fighting Hawks have not allowed a third period goal at home this season (ten goals for). North Dakota and DU were tabbed to finish one-two in the league in the 2020-2021 NCHC Preseason Media Poll; the Pioneers did not hold up their end of the bargain. UND is 2-0-0 on Mondays this season, with wins at Colorado College and at Denver. Since seven of Michigan’s nine titles were earned by 1964, I consider Denver (eight titles) and North Dakota (eight titles) to be the top two men’s college hockey programs of all time.

The Prediction

It’s playoff time, and it’s no surprise that Denver is in the mix. North Dakota has all of the advantages – home ice, last line change, an extra day of rest, better goaltending, and the ability to field a full lineup. It won’t be easy, but if the Fighting Hawks can roll four lines and avoid getting drawn into a sloggy, whistle-filled penalty fest, they should survive, advance, and head into Tuesday with an opportunity to check another box. UND 4, Denver 2 (EN).

Broadcast Information

Monday and Tuesday’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff games will be televised live on CBS Sports Network. All UND men’s hockey games can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network as well as through the iHeart Radio app.

Social Media

Keep up with the action live during all UND hockey games by following @UNDmhockey and @UNDInsider on Twitter. Fans can also read the action via Brad Schlossman’s live chat on the Grand Forks Herald website.

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