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!

NCHC Playoff Preview: UND vs. Miami

After a full year of waiting, the postseason is finally here. Top seed North Dakota (18-5-1) will face eighth-seeded Miami (5-17-2) in the first matchup between the two teams in nearly three months. UND’s NCAA tournament bid is locked up – the Fighting Hawks will be playing in the Fargo regional two weekends from now – while Chris Bergeron’s squad will need three consecutive victories in the modified NCHC Frozen Faceoff to continue their season.

Way back on December 2nd, these 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.

Unfortunately for the RedHawks, that’s been the case far too frequently, as Chris Bergeron’s squad has only scored 46 goals all season (1.92 goals/game) and has been outshot 839-559. Goaltending has kept things close (more on that later), but Miami has scored more than two goals in a game just seven times this year (in 24 games played).

By comparison, North Dakota has scored at least two goals in all but one contest this year, averaging 3.92 goals/game (94 goals in 24 games).

Despite the apparent advantages that Brad Berry’s crew will enjoy in tonight’s league playoff opener – home ice, last line change, and a deeper, more talented roster – Chris Bergeron has one ace up his sleeve: Ludvig Persson. The freshman netminder from Hindas, Sweden started five games during the Omaha pod, with a goals-against average of 1.91 and a save percentage of .962. His best performance came against Omaha on December 12th, with a 30-save shutout in a game his team won 1-0 despite putting only twelve shots on frame.

Persson has not faced North Dakota this season.

For the season, Miami has allowed 83 goals. With Persson in net? They have scored 24 and allowed 24.

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.

Miami is used to dreadful postseason positioning, and the RedHawks have the only three victories by #8 seeds over #1 seeds in league history, all against St. Cloud State (a 2-0 series victory in 2014 and a 2-1 series loss in 2018). With the single-elimination format of the entire NCHC playoff bracket, MU would need just one victory over North Dakota (rather than the typical two) to advance into the semifinal round.

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 (8-21-5 last season in Miami) 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.

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.

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 44-10-5 (.788) over the past two seasons.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (16-3-1. 1.80 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 half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Chris Bergeron’s squad has just four players who meet that threshold: junior forward Matt Barry (2-15-17), senior forward Casey Gilling (4-10-14), freshman forward Matthew Barbolini (5-9-14), and junior defenseman Derek Daschke (4-8-12). No other Miami player on the roster has more than eight points on the season.

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 (7-20-27), senior forward Collin Adams (9-15-24), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (3-16-19), senior forward Grant Mismash (9-9-18 in 18 games), freshman forward Riese Gaber (8-8-16), junior forward Jasper Weatherby (11-8-19), junior forward Mark Senden (3-10-13), junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker (2-13-15), and freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (2-9-11 in 17 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 sixth consecutive game.

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 141 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 (14th in the nation in scoring) and Pinto (8th) 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. Miami has zero drafted players on its roster and the same number in its recruiting pipeline. 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 24 games, the Fighting Hawks are 5th in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (24.7) and are ninth in the country in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 55.1%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 56.2%

By comparison, the RedHawks are 47th in both Corsi (41.8%) and Fenwick (40.6%), averaging 23.3 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 31.0/game) while allowing 35.0 shots on goal against/contest.

Miami has been outshot 839-559 this season; North Dakota is outshooting opponents 745-593.

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot. The Fighting Hawks are second in the nation in faceoff win percentage at 55.5 percent, while Miami is 34th (48.1%) 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 (62.0%), Jasper Weatherby (53.9%), and Collin Adams (56.0%). Miami will counter with Casey Gilling (46.2%), Monte Graham (57.0%), and Matt Barry (44.1%).

In their two games against Miami in the Omaha pod, North Dakota won 67 of 126 faceoffs (53.2%).

The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.6 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 2nd in the country. The RedHawks are near the bottom of the list, lighting the lamp on just 8.2 percent of their shots on goal (41st).

North Dakota’s puck possession game and sharpshooting have led to 94 goals scored by nineteen different players in 24 games (3.92 goals scored/game); 94 goals was the high-water mark in the NCHC regular season. Miami’s 46 goals (1.92 goals/game) have been scored by 21 different players.

Only Colorado College (35 goals scored in 22 games played) was a more futile offensive unit than the RedHawks.

UND’s offensive prowess is matched by their stingy defense, as the Fighting Hawks have only allowed 47 goals in 24 games (1.96 goals allowed/game), the lowest total in the NCHC. Minnesota Duluth finished in second place defensively, having allowed 54 goals in 24 games this season for an average of 2.25 goals allowed per game.

By comparison, Miami allowed 3.46 goals per contest (83 goals allowed in 24 games), one less goal than the Western Michigan Broncos allowed as the league’s worst defensive team.

Through 24 games, Miami has blocked 279 shots as a team, led by Jack Clement (40), Derek Daschke (32), Bray Crowder (25), and Dylan Moulton (18).

North Dakota has blocked 309 shots in its 24 games, with Matt Kiersted (44), Jacob Bernard-Docker (31), Gabe Bast (21), and forward Mark Senden (21) 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. Miami’s six most likely starters on defense have combined for 13 goals and 17 assists in 126 combined games this season (0.24 points/game), while the six UND defenders expected in the lineup tonight have put together a line of 16 goals and 46 assists in 117 combined games (0.53 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).

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 5th in the country). By comparison, Miami is allowing 3.46 goals per game (38th).

Through each team’s 24 regular season games, here is the specialty teams ledger:

Miami power play: 12 of 81, 14.8 percent (43rd)
Miami penalty kill: 58 of 77, 75.3 percent (43rd)

North Dakota power play: 27 of 108, 25.0 percent (7th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 88 of 102, 86.3 percent (9th)

North Dakota has scored four shorthanded goals this season, while the RedHawks have one to their credit. The Fighting Hawks have not allowed a shorthanded tally this year; MU has given up one. That leaves Miami’s net specialty teams at a -7, while UND weighs in at +17.

The RedHawks have scored 12 of their 46 goals this season with the man advantage, while the Fighting Hawks have scored 27 of their 94 goals this season on the power play.

The NCHC playoff semifinals (Monday, March 15th) and championship game (Tuesday, March 16th) will also be played at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks are hosting an NCAA Regional 70 miles south in Fargo 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 6-1-0 at home this season, outscoring opponents 30-8 while going 8-for-35 (22.9%) on the power play and killing 25 of 27 opponent man-advantage situations (92.6%). UND netminder Adam Scheel has been at his best at the Ralph, winning all five of his starts with a goals-against average of 0.60, a save percentage of .970, 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.

Miami RedHawks

Head Coach: Chris Bergeron (2nd season at Miami, 13-38-7, .284)
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 5-17-2 overall, 5-17-2 NCHC (8th)
Last Season: 8-21-5 overall, 5-16-3 NCHC (7th)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 1.92 goals scored/game – 45th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 3.46 goals allowed/game – 38th of 51 teams

Power Play: 14.8% (12 of 81) – 43rd of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 75.3% (58 of 77) – 43rd of 51 teams

Key players:

Junior F Matt Barry (2-15-17), Senior F Casey Gilling (4-10-14), Freshman F Matthew Barbolini (5-9-14), Senior F Phil Knies (2-6-8), Sophomore F Ryan Savage (2-3-5), Junior D Derek Daschke (4-8-12), Freshman D Robby Drazner (3-4-7), Junior D Bray Crowder (2-1-3), Freshman G Ludvig Persson (5-10-2, 2.40 GAA, .930 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 134-62-24, .664)
National Rankings: #2/#2

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

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.92 goals scored/game – 1st of 51 teams
Team Defense: 1.96 goals allowed/game – 5th of 51 teams

Power Play: 25.0% (27 of 108) – 7th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 86.3% (88 of 102) – 9th of 51 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Shane Pinto (15-13-28), Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (7-20-27), Senior F Grant Mismash (9-9-18), Freshman F Riese Gaber (8-8-16), Senior F Collin Adams (9-15-24), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (11-8-19), Junior F Mark Senden (3-10-13), Senior D Matt Kiersted (3-16-19), Junior D Jacob Bernard-Docker (2-13-15), Sophomore D Ethan Frisch (3-5-8), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (2-9-11 in seventeen games), Junior G Adam Scheel (16-3-1. 1.80 GAA, .929 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 20, 2020 (Omaha, NE). For the second consecutive game against Miami, UND freshman phenom Riese Gaber was the difference maker, breaking a 2-2 tie just over eight minutes into period two. North Dakota would add two more goals in the middle frame (Shane Pinto, Collin Adams) and a third period shorthanded tally by Ethan Frisch for a final score of 6-2. In the first pod meeting between the teams, the Fighting Hawks outshot Miami 29-9 through two periods but held a tenuous 1-0 lead on a power play goal from Matt Kiersted. Enter Gaber, who – in his first collegiate game – scored the only goal of the third period just 67 seconds into the final frame. In the two games combined, UND netminder Adam Scheel stopped 37 of 39 shots on goal.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: November 9, 2019. North Dakota’s Collin Adams scored two goals in the 5-4 UND victory, with the RedHawks making it interesting by scoring the last two goals of the contest. One night earlier, the Fighting Hawks boatraced Miami 7-1, with three players notching three points each. Noah Jordan scored MU’s lone goal three minutes into the third period to spoil the shutout bid by Adam Scheel (21 saves).

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 six wins and two ties (6-2-2, .700) in the past ten contests between the teams, outscoring Miami 39-24 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 19-7-4 (.700), including a 9-2-2 (.769) record in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).

Game News and Notes

In their careers against Miami, senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi has five goals and twelve assists in twelve games and senior defenseman Matt Kiersted has two goals and ten assists in ten games. North Dakota has not allowed a third period goal at home this season (nine goals for). UND is 17-0-0 when it scores the first goal and 1-5-1 when its opponent lights the lamp first. Green Hawks are preferable to RedHawks.

The Prediction

It is always difficult to end a team’s season, and tonight’s quarterfinal matchup will have a similar feel to Sunday night Game Threes from past first-round series. Miami will need freshman phenom Ludvig Persson to be at his best between the pipes if they’re going to have a shot at the end. If North Dakota already has its mental bags packed for Fargo and overlooks the RedHawks, things could get interesting; however, there are enough veterans and leaders in the locker room that I don’t see that happening, particularly since UND dropped its last home game one week ago. The Fighting Hawks should survive, advance, and head into Monday with another opponent in its sights. UND 3, Miami 1.

Broadcast Information

All of Friday and Saturday’s quarterfinal matchups will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and also be available online 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!

Game Preview: UND vs. Omaha

#1 North Dakota (18-4-1) and #12 Omaha (13-9-1) will face off for the sixth time in 36 days at Ralph Engelstad Arena on Friday night, and tensions are high in this series. The last time the two teams tangled in Grand Forks back on February 20th, a line brawl erupted with less than a minute remaining in UND’s 7-1 win over the Mavericks, a victory that secured the Fighting Hawks’ second consecutive league championship and saw Brad Berry’s squad hoist the #PenneRosa for the fourth time in the eight-year history of the NCHC.

It is astounding to think that North Dakota would play 25 percent of its games against one team over the course of the season, but that’s doubly true for North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks also faced Denver six times this year, going 4-2 against the Pioneers. UND has four victories in its previous five meetings with the Omaha Mavericks.

As this is the last week of the regular season, the standings are coming into focus. North Dakota has clinched the #1 seed for the league playoffs, with the only battle remaining for the #2 seed between St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth. SCSU and UMD will play at St. Cloud on Saturday, March 6th, with the Huskies owning a one-point advantage in the league standings.

Seeds 4-8 have all been determined; UND will face Miami in the first round of the conference playoffs.

Here is the current NCHC leaderboard in terms of points earned/game:

1. North Dakota 2.30 (53 points in 23 games)
2. St. Cloud State 1.87 (43 points in 23 games)
3. Minnesota Duluth 1.83 (42 points in 23 games)
4. Omaha 1.65 (38 points in 23 games)
5. Denver 1.41 (31 points in 22 games)
6. Western Michigan 1.38 (33 points in 24 games)
7. Colorado College 0.82 (18 points in 22 games)
8. Miami 0.75 (18 points in 24 games)

Denver and Colorado College cancelled their final two head-to-head matchups, while Western Michigan and Miami have already played all 24 of the league games on their schedules.

North Dakota played all ten scheduled games in the Omaha pod, but it has not been smooth sailing in the second half. UND has already had multiple weekends scratched and rescheduled in the second half; the league has done an excellent job helping teams get games in when possible, and the flexibility the Fighting Hawks have shown in adjusting to game times and days will benefit the team in the national tournament.

Omaha has been the biggest surprise in the NCHC this season. While I expected them to have good results in the pod (and they did, posting a record of 6-3-1), I thought that they might regress in the second half, but they went a combined 7-3 against Colorado College (4-0), Denver (2-2), and North Dakota (1-1) over the first ten games of the “normal travel” portion of the schedule.

Over the past two weekends, however, UNO has run into a buzzsaw of a North Dakota team playing perhaps its best hockey of the season, and the Mavericks were outscored 15-4 in dropping all three games.

Mike Gabinet’s squad could be ranked even higher were it not for a disappointing 1-0 defeat at the hands of Miami back on December 12th. In that contest, the Mavs outshot the RedHawks 30-12 (including 15-2 in the third period) but could not solve Ludvig Persson. Other than that frustration, Omaha has fared extremely well in close games, winning three games in overtime, four games by one goal in regulation, and an eighth in a shootout. One of those one-goal regulation victories was UNO’s 5-4 home victory over the Fighting Hawks back on January 30th.

Turning back the clock a bit: After a trip to the Frozen Four in 2015, Dean Blais could only manage a mark of 35-34-6 over his final two seasons behind the Omaha bench. He was replaced by Mike Gabinet (Omaha ’04), and Gabinet finished up his rookie campaign with an eerily similar record of 17-17-2.

Maverick fans were certainly hopeful that improvement was coming two seasons ago, but Omaha struggled out of the gate with a record of 0-6-1. Things leveled off a bit after that, with a record of 6-4-1 to close out 2018. Once the calendar year turned, however, Gabinet was only able to lead his team to three more wins (the last coming on February 8th) and a season record of 9-24-3. UNO fans had to have been a bit more pleased with last season’s results, as the 2019-20 version of the Mavs collected fourteen victories (14-17-5).

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.

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 44-9-5 (.802) over the past two seasons.

Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, sophomore netminder Isaiah Saville (11-9-1, 2.80 GAA, .914 SV%, 1 SO) had been spectacular in net for the Mavs coming into the aforementioned Saturday contest at Ralph Engelstad Arena, but the Fighting Hawks chased him after just 33 minutes of game action by scoring five goals on fifteen shots on goal. In Friday’s opener, Saville stopped 37 of the 41 shots he faced.

Fellow second-year netminder Austin Roden has appeared in four games (2-0-0. 2.67 GAA, .921 SV%, 1 SO), including his relief appearance on that Saturday night (two goals allowed on twelve shots). Omaha has allowed more than two goals only eleven times all season (including all five games against UND), while North Dakota’s opponents have scored more than two goals seven times. More impressively, since the Fighting Hawks dropped a 4-1 Sunday decision at Denver back on January 17th, they have allowed just 15 goals in the past ten games, going 9-1-0 over that stretch. The one loss in that timeframe? A 5-4 defeat at Omaha on January 30th.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (16-3-1. 1.80 GAA, .929 SV%, 4 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (2-1-0, 2.79 GAA, .879 SV%) appearing in four 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 a 2021 Mike Richter Award finalist along with eight other goaltenders; Scheel is the only finalist from the NCHC. This year’s winner 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 Mike Gabinet’s squad boasts eight players who meet that threshold: junior forward Chase Primeau (8-14-22), junior forward Taylor Ward (10-7-17), junior forward Tyler Weiss (6-14-20), senior forward Kevin Conley (8-8-16), freshman forward Matt Miller (7-5-12), sophomore forward Jack Randl (5-7-12), freshman forward Brock Bremer (6-7-13), and defenseman Brandon Scanlin (2-12-14).

Sophomore forward Joey Abate (1-7-8) no longer appears on this list of offensive contributors after being held pointless in his last seven games and taking 28 minutes in penalties. Abate is the NCAA leader in penalties and penalty minutes this season.

Saturday’s melee in Grand Forks thirteen days ago started with Abate slashing UND forward Louis Jamernik on the wrist instead of attempting to win the faceoff. Jamernik responded with a cross-check, and the line brawl was on. Not surprisingly, Abate did the same thing late in Friday’s game with North Dakota leading 4-1 and less than two minutes on the clock.

Over the course of the past two weekends, the Hawks chose to do most of their fighting on the scoreboard, and, as evidence of that, Brad Berry now has ten players at a half point or better per game: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (15-13-28), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (6-20-26), senior forward Collin Adams (9-14-23), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (3-16-19), senior forward Grant Mismash (9-9-18 in 18 games), freshman forward Riese Gaber (8-8-16), junior forward Jasper Weatherby (11-7-18), junior forward Mark Senden (3-10-13), junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker (2-13-15), and freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (2-9-11 in 16 games).

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 138 shot attempts this season and leads the entire league in scoring, one point ahead of Duluth’s Nick Swaney (13-14-27), who had a hat trick last weekend while Pinto was held out of the lineup. Both Kawaguchi (12th in the nation in scoring) and Pinto (6th) 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.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After 23 games, the Fighting Hawks are 6th in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (24.9) and are in the top ten in the country in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 55.1% (10th)
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 56.2% (7th)

By comparison, the Mavericks are 35th in Corsi (48.0%) and 32nd in Fenwick (48.3), averaging 28.3 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 31.2/game) while allowing 32.7 shots on goal against/contest.

Remarkably, Omaha is outscoring opponents 76-67 despite being outshot 752-650 on the season (North Dakota is outshooting opponents 717-573).

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot (and not just for slashing). The Fighting Hawks are first in the nation in faceoff win percentage at 55.0 percent, while Omaha is 26th (50.4%) 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 (53.9%), and Collin Adams (55.3%). Omaha will counter with Nolan Sullivan (58.3%), Noah Prokop (50.5%), Chayse Primeau (51.8%), and Joey Abate (42.2%).

In their January series in Omaha, the teams were relatively even in the faceoff circle on Friday, with UND holding a slight 29-27 edge (51.2%). North Dakota dominated the dot in the rematch, winning 46 of 71 (64.8%). For the weekend, the Fighting Hawks outshot the Mavericks 83-59.

In Grand Forks, the faceoffs were nearly even, with UND winning 60 draws and Omaha winning 59. North Dakota outshot UNO 68-43 in the two-game series.

And one week ago, North Dakota won 30 of 58 faceoffs and outshot the Mavs 37-32.

The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.8 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 2nd in the country. The Mavericks are right behind in 6th place, lighting the lamp on 11.7 percent of their shots on goal.

North Dakota’s puck possession game and sharpshooting have led to 92 goals scored by nineteen different players in 23 games (4.00 goals scored/game); 92 goals is the high-water mark in the NCHC this season. Omaha’s 76 goals (3.30 goals/game) have been scored by seventeen different players.

After UND and the Mavericks, here are the next closest teams in terms of offensive production:

St. Cloud State: 74 goals scored in 23 games (3.22 goals/game)
Western Michigan: 73 goals scored in 24 games (3.04)
Minnesota Duluth: 69 goals scored in 23 games (3.00)

UND’s offensive prowess is matched by their stingy defense, as the Fighting Hawks have only allowed 44 goals in 23 games (1.91 goals allowed/game), the lowest total in the NCHC. Minnesota Duluth is in second place defensively, having allowed 50 goals in 23 games this season for an average of 2.17 goals allowed per game.

By comparison, Omaha is allowing 2.91 goals per contest (67 goals allowed in 23 games).

UND’s scoring margin of 92-44 is certainly impressive, but a look inside the numbers reveals that the Fighting Hawks outscored Colorado College, Western Michigan, and Miami 36-9 in eight games (8-0-0) and played relatively even (56 goals for, 35 goals against) in its other fifteen matchups (six games against Denver, five games against Omaha, and two each vs. Duluth and St. Cloud State), going 10-4-1 in those contests.

Through 23 games, Omaha has blocked 328 shots as a team, led by Jason Smallidge (45), Nate Knoepke (44), Kirby Proctor (29), and Nolan Sullivan (19).

North Dakota has blocked 297 shots in its 23 games, with Matt Kiersted (43), Jacob Bernard-Docker (31), Gabe Bast (20), and Ethan Frisch (19) 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. Omaha’s six most likely starters on defense have combined for 12 goals and 38 assists in 127 combined games this season (0.39 points/game), while the six UND defenders expected in the lineup tonight have put together a line of 16 goals and 46 assists in 111 combined games (0.56 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).

Remarkably, the Fighting Hawks’ d-corps has put up those offensive numbers while also allowing less than two goals per contest (1.91, good for 6th in the country). By comparison, Omaha is allowing 2.91 goals per game (27th).

Through each team’s first 23 games, here is the specialty teams ledger:

Omaha power play: 18 of 91, 19.8 percent (20th)
Omaha penalty kill: 78 of 91, 85.7 percent (10th)

North Dakota power play: 27 of 103, 26.2 percent (5th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 87 of 99, 87.9 percent (6th)

North Dakota has scored four shorthanded goals this season, while the Mavericks have two to their credit. The Fighting Hawks have not allowed a shorthanded tally this year; UNO has given up five. That leaves Omaha’s net specialty teams at a +2, while UND weighs in at +19.

In North Dakota’s last defeat (at Omaha on January 30th), North Dakota’s penalty kill let them down, allowing three power play goals to the Mavericks on five man-advantage opportunities in a 5-4 loss. For the weekend, UND went 1 for 10 on the power play, while UNO scored four power play goals on twelve power plays.

Ove the past three games against the Mavs, however, it has been a different story, with the Fighting Hawks scoring seven goals on fourteen man advantage opportunities and holding Omaha scoreless on nine power plays.

The Mavericks have scored 18 of their 76 goals this season with the man advantage, while the Fighting Hawks have scored 27 of their 92 goals this season on the power play.

After tonight’s regular season finale, Brad Berry’s squad will remain in Grand Forks and play all of its league playoff games on home ice at Ralph Engelstad Arena. The Fighting Hawks are hosting an NCAA Regional 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 is a perfect 6-0-0 at home this season, outscoring opponents 28-5 while going 8-for-30 (26.7%) on the power play and killing all 24 opponent man-advantage situations. UND netminder Adam Scheel has been at his best at the Ralph, winning all five of his starts with a goals-against average of 0.60, a save percentage of .970, 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.

On the injury front, UND senior forward Grant Mismash (9-9-18 in 18 games played) will miss his fifth consecutive game after sustaining an injury on February 12th against Denver. North Dakota is 4-0 without Mismash, outscoring opponents 20-6.

Omaha Mavericks

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (4th season at UNO, 53-68-11, .443)
National Rankings: #12/#12

This Season: 13-9-1 overall, 13-9-1 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 14-17-5 overall, 8-13-3-0 NCHC (6th)

Team Offense: 3.30 goals scored/game – 15th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 2.91 goals allowed/game – 27th of 51 teams
Power Play: 19.8% (18 of 91) – 20th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 85.7% (78 of 91) – 10th of 51 teams

Key Players: Junior F Chase Primeau (8-14-22), Junior F Taylor Ward (10-7-17), Junior F Tyler Weiss (6-14-20), Senior F Kevin Conley (8-8-16), Freshman F Matt Miller (7-5-12), Sophomore F Jack Randl (5-7-12), Sophomore D Brandon Scanlin (2-12-14), Freshman F Brock Bremer (6-7-13), Junior D Jason Smallidge (1-10-11), Sophomore G Isaiah Saville (11-9-1, 2.80 GAA, .914 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 134-61-24, .667)
National Rankings: #1/#1

This Season: 18-4-1 overall, 17-4-1 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: 1.91 goals allowed/game – 6th of 51 teams

Power Play: 26.2% (27 of 103) – 5th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 87.9% (87 of 99) – 6th of 51 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Shane Pinto (15-13-28), Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (6-20-26), Senior F Grant Mismash (9-9-18), Freshman F Riese Gaber (8-8-16), Senior F Collin Adams (9-14-23), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (11-7-18), Junior F Mark Senden (3-10-13), Senior D Matt Kiersted (3-16-19), Junior D Jacob Bernard-Docker (2-13-15), Sophomore D Ethan Frisch (3-5-8), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (2-9-11 in sixteen games), Junior G Adam Scheel (16-3-1. 1.80 GAA, .929 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: February 26, 2021 (Omaha, NE). Brad Berry held out forwards Jordan Kawaguchi, Grant Mismash, and Shane Pinto, and it didn’t matter. North Dakota defeated the homestandings Mavs 4-2 behind a goal and two assists from Jasper Weatherby. The Fighting Hawks’ specialty teams came up huge, with three power play goals on four attempts, four successful penalty kills, and a shorthanded empty-netter for good measure.

Last meeting in Grand Forks: February 20, 2021. The Fighting Hawks boatraced Omaha 7-1 to complete the weekend sweep and secure the program’s fourth Penrose Cup in the eight-year history of the NCHC. UND’s Collin Adams scored two goals and added an assist for the league champions, who potted three power play goals in five attempts and killed all three Maverick power plays (Omaha was whistled for 63 minutes in penalties; UND, 41). One night earlier, the score was a bit closer, with North Dakota prevailing 4-1.

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

Last ten: North Dakota has won seven of the last ten contests between the schools, outscoring the Mavericks 43-26 over that stretch.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 28-14-1 (.663), including a 14-7-1 (.659) record in games played in Grand Forks. North Dakota owns a record of 23-11-1 (.671) against the Mavericks since both teams joined the NCHC. The teams first met on November 19, 2010.

Game News and Notes

In 2015, both North Dakota and Omaha advanced to the Frozen Four but neither team made the championship game. UND fell to Boston University 5-3, while the Mavericks were upended 4-1 by eventual national champion Providence. Since joining the WCHA in 2011 (and later the NCHC), the Mavs have never reached the Twin Cities for the second weekend of the conference tournament despite having home ice in three of those eight years. UND senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi has sixteen points in seventeen career games against Omaha. The Mavericks have not made the national tournament since their run to the Frozen Four in 2015. North Dakota’s Brad Berry is 19-8-0 (.704) in his head coaching career against Omaha. Since coming out flat in game one at Denver just over a month ago, UND has outscored opponents 47-15 and won nine of ten contests. Five of those fifteen goals allowed came in the second game of the January series at Baxter Arena. North Dakota is 17-0-0 when scoring the first goal this season and 1-4-1 when allowing the first goal. Omaha went 10-6-1 (.618) at Baxter Arena this season, while UND clocked in with a record of 9-3-1 (.731).

The Prediction

While it is true that the Green and White could benefit from another victory in its quest for the #1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, the Mavericks are in a very precarious position nationally and could sorely use a win against top-ranked North Dakota, if only to impress the committee making the final seeding decisions. UND has done very well historically on Senior Night, and I’ve got a feeling that seniors Collin Adams, Gabe Bast, Jordan Kawaguchi, Jackson Keane, Matt Kiersted, Josh Rieger, and maybe even goaltender Peter Thome will do everything possible to ensure a victory on home ice. For the second week in a row, I just hope no one gets hurt. UND 5, Omaha 1.

Broadcast Information

Tonight’s game (7:37 p.m. Central Time) will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network ond TSN (Canada), with a livestream also available 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, I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

Game Preview: UND at Omaha

#2 North Dakota (17-4-1) and #11 Omaha (13-8-1) will face off for the fifth time in less than a month at Baxter Arena on Friday night, and tensions are already high. Just six days ago, a line brawl erupted with less than a minute remaining in UND’s 7-1 win over the Mavericks, a victory that secured the Fighting Hawks’ second consecutive league championship and saw Brad Berry’s squad hoist the #PenneRosa for the fourth time in the eight-year history of the NCHC.

With only two weeks remaining in the regular season, the standings are coming into focus. North Dakota has clinched the #1 seed for the league playoffs, with the other three “home ice” teams decided but still jockeying for position within the table.

Here is the current NCHC leaderboard in terms of points earned/game:

1. North Dakota 2.27 (50 points in 22 games)
2. St. Cloud State 1.95 (43 points in 22 games)
3. Minnesota Duluth 1.77 (39 points in 22 games)
4. Omaha 1.73 (38 points in 22 games)
5. Denver 1.33 (28 points in 21 games)
6. Western Michigan 1.23 (27 points in 22 games)
7. Colorado College 0.86 (18 points in 21 games)
8. Miami 0.82 (18 points in 22 games)

Here is the remaining schedule for the eight league members to get each team to 24 conference games before the start of the NCHC playoffs (March 12th-16th):

North Dakota/Omaha (two games remaining):

@ UNO on Friday, February 26th
@ UND on Friday, March 5th

St. Cloud State/Minnesota Duluth (two games remaining):

@ UMD on Saturday, February 27th
@ SCSU on Saturday, March 6th

Denver/Colorado College (three games remaining):

@ DU on Saturday, February 27th and Thursday March 4th
@ CC on Saturday, March 6th

Western Michigan/Miami (two games remaining):

@ WMU on Friday, February 26th
@ Miami on Sunday, February 28th

North Dakota played all ten scheduled games in the Omaha pod, but it has not been smooth sailing in the second half. UND has already had multiple weekends scratched and rescheduled in the second half; the league has done an excellent job helping teams get games in when possible, and the flexibility the Fighting Hawks have shown in adjusting to game times and days will benefit the team in the national tournament.

Omaha has been the biggest surprise in the NCHC this season. While I expected them to have good results in the pod (and they did, posting a record of 6-3-1), I thought that they might regress in the second half, but they went a combined 7-3 against Colorado College (4-0), Denver (2-2), and North Dakota (1-1) over the first ten games of the “normal travel” portion of the schedule.

Last weekend, however, UNO ran into a buzzsaw of a North Dakota team playing perhaps its best hockey of the season, and the visitors were swept by a combined score of 11-2.

Mike Gabinet’s squad could be ranked even higher were it not for a disappointing 1-0 defeat at the hands of Miami back on December 12th. In that contest, the Mavs outshot the RedHawks 30-12 (including 15-2 in the third period) but could not solve Ludvig Persson. Other than that frustration, Omaha has fared extremely well in close games, winning three games in overtime, four games by one goal in regulation, and an eighth in a shootout. One of those one-goal regulation victories was UNO’s 5-4 home victory over the Fighting Hawks back on January 30th.

Turning back the clock a bit: After a trip to the Frozen Four in 2015, Dean Blais could only manage a mark of 35-34-6 over his final two seasons behind the Omaha bench. He was replaced by Mike Gabinet (Omaha ’04), and Gabinet finished up his rookie campaign with an eerily similar record of 17-17-2.

Maverick fans were certainly hopeful that improvement was coming two seasons ago, but Omaha struggled out of the gate with a record of 0-6-1. Things leveled off a bit after that, with a record of 6-4-1 to close out 2018. Once the calendar year turned, however, Gabinet was only able to lead his team to three more wins (the last coming on February 8th) and a season record of 9-24-3. UNO fans had to have been a bit more pleased with last season’s results, as the 2019-20 version of the Mavs collected fourteen victories (14-17-5).

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.

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 43-9-5 (.798) over the past two seasons.

Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, sophomore netminder Isaiah Saville (11-8-1, 2.78 GAA, .913 SV%, 1 SO) had been spectacular in net for the Mavs coming into last Saturday’s contest at Ralph Engelstad Arena, but the Fighting Hawks chased him after just 33 minutes of game action by scoring five goals on fifteen shots on goal. In Friday’s opener, Saville stopped 37 of the 41 shots he faced.

Fellow second-year netminder Austin Roden has appeared in four games (2-0-0. 2.67 GAA, .921 SV%, 1 SO), including his relief appearance on Saturday night (two goals allowed on twelve shots). Omaha has allowed more than two goals only ten times all season (including all four games against UND), while North Dakota’s opponents have scored more than two goals seven times.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (15-3-1. 1.78 GAA, .928 SV%, 4 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (2-1-0, 2.79 GAA, .879 SV%) appearing in four games. Scheel came on in relief in UND’s loss to St. Cloud State after Thome allowed four goals on 18 shots in 33 minutes of action. After giving up just four total goals in his previous four starts, Scheel allowed five goals on 27 shots in UND’s last game at Omaha but rebounded with a 24-save shutout performance against Denver last Friday night. Near the end of that contest, Denver captain Kohen Olischefski tripped Scheel from behind and earned himself a major penalty and a one-game suspension. Scheel was unable to play in Saturday’s rematch but earned both victories last weekend in Grand Forks, stopping 41 of 43 shots in the two-game sweep.

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 a 2021 Mike Richter Award finalist along with eight other goaltenders; Scheel is the only finalist from the NCHC. This year’s winner 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 Mike Gabinet’s squad boasts nine players who meet that threshold: junior forward Chase Primeau (8-14-22), junior forward Taylor Ward (10-7-17), junior forward Tyler Weiss (6-14-20), senior forward Kevin Conley (8-7-15), freshman forward Matt Miller (7-5-12), sophomore forward Jack Randl (4-7-11), freshman forward Brock Bremer (5-7-12), defenseman Brandon Scanlin (2-12-14), and freshman defenseman Jake Harrison (0-3-3 in six games).

Sophomore forward Joey Abate (1-7-8) no longer appears on this list of offensive contributors after being held pointless last weekend and taking eighteen minutes in penalties. Abate is the NCAA leader in penalties and penalty minutes this season.

Saturday’s melee started with Abate slashing UND forward Louis Jamernik on the wrist instead of attempting to win the faceoff. Jamernik responded with a cross-check, and the line brawl was on. Not surprisingly, Abate did the same thing late in Friday’s game with North Dakota leading 4-1 and less than two minutes on the clock.

Over the course of the weekend, the Hawks chose to do most of their fighting on the scoreboard, and, as evidence of that, Brad Berry now has ten players at a half point or better per game: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (15-13-28), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (6-20-26), senior forward Collin Adams (9-14-23), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (3-16-19), senior forward Grant Mismash (9-9-18 in 18 games), freshman forward Riese Gaber (8-8-16), junior forward Jasper Weatherby (10-5-15), junior forward Mark Senden (2-10-12), junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker (2-11-13), and freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (1-8-9 in 15 games).

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 138 shot attempts this season and leads the entire league in scoring, two points ahead of Kawaguchi and four points clear of Duluth’s Nick Swaney (10-14-24). Both Kawaguchi (9th in the nation in scoring) and Pinto (6th) should be considered candidates for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award along with teammate Matt Kiersted, whose 19 points rank third 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.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After 22 games, the Fighting Hawks are 6th 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): 55.3% (9th)
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 56.4% (5th)

By comparison, the Mavericks are 34th in Corsi (47.9%) and 32nd in Fenwick (48.3), averaging 28.1 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 30.9/game) while allowing 32.5 shots on goal against/contest.

Remarkably, Omaha is outscoring opponents 74-63 despite being outshot 715-618 on the season (North Dakota is outshooting opponents 680-541).

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot (and not just for slashing). The Fighting Hawks are first in the nation in faceoff win percentage at 55.7 percent, while Omaha is 25th (50.5%) 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 (53.2%), and Collin Adams (54.6%). Omaha will counter with Nolan Sullivan (58.5%), Noah Prokop (50.5%), Chayse Primeau (52.4%), and Joey Abate (41.6%).
In their January series in Omaha, the teams were relatively even in the faceoff circle on Friday, with UND holding a slight 29-27 edge (51.2%). North Dakota dominated the dot in the rematch, winning 46 of 71 (64.8%). For the weekend, the Fighting Hawks outshot the Mavericks 83-59.

Last weekend in Grand Forks, the faceoffs were nearly even, with UND winning 60 draws and Omaha winning 59. North Dakota outshot UNO 68-43 in the two-game series.

The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.9 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 2nd in the country. The Mavericks are right behind in 5th place, lighting the lamp on 12.0 percent of their shots on goal.

North Dakota’s puck possession game and sharpshooting have led to 88 goals scored by nineteen different players in 22 games (4.00 goals scored/game); 88 goals is the high-water mark in the NCHC this season. Omaha’s 74 goals (3.36 goals/game) have been scored by seventeen different players.

After UND and the Mavericks, here are the next closest teams in terms of offensive production:

St. Cloud State: 73 goals scored in 22 games (3.32 goals/game)
Minnesota Duluth: 64 goals scored in 22 games (2.91)
Western Michigan: 64 goals scored in 22 games (2.91)

UND’s offensive prowess is matched by their stingy defense, as the Fighting Hawks have only allowed 42 goals in 22 games (1.91 goals allowed/game), the lowest total in the NCHC. Minnesota Duluth is in second place defensively, having allowed 49 goals in 22 games this season for an average of 2.23 goals allowed per game.

By comparison, Omaha is allowing 2.86 goals per contest (63 goals allowed in 22 games).

UND’s scoring margin of 88-42 is certainly impressive, but a look inside the numbers reveals that the Fighting Hawks outscored Colorado College, Western Michigan, and Miami 36-9 in eight games (8-0-0) and played relatively even (52 goals for, 33 goals against) in its other fourteen matchups (six games against Denver, four games against Omaha, and two each vs. Duluth and St. Cloud State), going 9-4-1 in those contests.

In late January, North Dakota traveled to Omaha for a weekend series, winning 6-2 on Friday night before losing 5-4 in the rematch.

Through 22 games, Omaha has blocked 318 shots as a team, led by Jason Smallidge (45), Nate Knoepke (44), Kirby Proctor (29), and Nolan Sullivan (19).

North Dakota has blocked 284 shots in its 22 games, with Matt Kiersted (42), Jacob Bernard-Docker (30), and Ethan Frisch (19) leading the way. Gabe Bast has contributed twenty blocks in his sixteen games, although he will sit this one out after tangling with Omaha’s Noah Prokop in Saturday’s 7-1 UND victory.

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 this weekend. Omaha’s six most likely starters on defense have combined for 12 goals and 37 assists in 121 combined games this season (0.40 points/game), while the six UND defenders expected in the lineup tonight have put together a line of 16 goals and 44 assists in 105 combined games (0.57 points/game). Matt Kiersted, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Jake Sanderson, Ethan Frisch, Tyler Kleven, 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).

Remarkably, the Fighting Hawks’ d-corps has put up those numbers while also allowing less than two goals per contest (1.91, good for 5th in the country). By comparison, Omaha is allowing 2.86 goals per game (24th).

In addition to Gabe Bast, UND bench boss Brad Berry is likely to be without the services of senior forward Grant Mismash (9-9-18) for the fourth consecutive game. Berry may also choose to sit one or more other players dealing with minor injuries. I would expect freshman Cooper Moore in the lineup in place of Bast, with senior forward/defenseman Josh Rieger (1-1-2 in fourteen games) and sophomore forward Carson Albrecht (scoreless in eight games) in the lineup as well.

Through each team’s first 22 games, here is the specialty teams ledger:

Omaha power play: 18 of 87, 20.7 percent
Omaha penalty kill: 77 of 87, 88.5 percent

North Dakota power play: 24 of 99, 24.2 percent
North Dakota penalty kill: 83 of 95, 87.4 percent

North Dakota has scored three shorthanded goals this season, while the Mavericks have two to their credit. The Fighting Hawks have not allowed a shorthanded tally this year; UNO has given up four. That leaves Omaha’s net specialty teams at a +6, while UND weighs in at +15.

As one of the nation’s most penalized teams, North Dakota’s penalty kill finally let them down in their last game at Omaha, allowing three power play goals to the Mavericks on five man-advantage opportunities in a 5-4 loss. For the weekend, UND went 1 for 10 on the power play, while UNO scored four power play goals on twelve power plays.

Last weekend, things were a different story. The Fighting Hawks scored four goals on ten man advantage opportunities and held Omaha scoreless on five power plays.

The Mavericks have scored 18 of their 74 goals this season with the man advantage, while the Fighting Hawks have scored 24 of their 88 goals this season on the power play.

After this weekend, North Dakota will host the Mavericks on Friday, March 5th, and all of its games in the league playoffs will also be played at Ralph Engelstad Arena. The Fighting Hawks are hosting an NCAA Regional 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 is a perfect 6-0-0 at home this season, outscoring opponents 28-5 while going 8-for-30 (26.7%) on the power play and killing all 24 opponent man-advantage situations. UND netminder Adam Scheel has been at his best at the Ralph, winning all five of his starts with a goals-against average of 0.60, a save percentage of .970, and two shutouts.

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

Omaha Mavericks

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (4th season at UNO, 53-66-11, .450)
National Rankings: #11/#12

This Season: 13-8-1 overall, 13-8-1 NCHC
Last Season: 14-17-5 overall, 8-13-3-0 NCHC (6th)

Team Offense: 3.36 goals scored/game – 15th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 2.86 goals allowed/game – 24th of 51 teams
Power Play: 20.7% (18 of 87) – 18th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 88.5% (77 of 87) – 5th of 51 teams

Key Players: Junior F Chase Primeau (8-14-22), Junior F Taylor Ward (10-7-17), Junior F Tyler Weiss (6-14-20), Senior F Kevin Conley (8-7-15), Freshman F Matt Miller (7-5-12), Sophomore F Jack Randl (4-7-11), Sophomore D Brandon Scanlin (2-12-14), Freshman F Brock Bremer (5-7-12), Junior D Jason Smallidge (1-9-10), Sophomore G Isaiah Saville (11-8-1, 2.78 GAA, .913 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 133-61-24, .665)
National Rankings: #2/#1

This Season: 17-4-1 overall, 17-4-1 NCHC
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: 1.91 goals allowed/game – 5th of 51 teams

Power Play: 24.2% (24 of 99) – 8th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 87.4% (83 of 95) – 9th of 51 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Shane Pinto (15-13-28), Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (6-20-26), Senior F Grant Mismash (9-9-18), Freshman F Riese Gaber (8-8-16), Senior F Collin Adams (9-14-23), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (10-5-15), Junior F Mark Senden (2-10-12), Senior D Matt Kiersted (3-16-19), Junior D Jacob Bernard-Docker (2-11-13), Sophomore D Ethan Frisch (3-5-8), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (1-8-9 in fifteen games), Junior G Adam Scheel (15-3-1. 1.78 GAA, .928 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: February 20, 2021 (Grand Forks, ND). The Fighting Hawks boatraced Omaha 7-1 to complete the weekend sweep and secure the program’s fourth Penrose Cup in the eight-year history of the NCHC. UND’s Collin Adams scored two goals and added an assist for the league champions, who potted three power play goals in five attempts and killed all three Maverick power plays (Omaha was whistled for 63 minutes in penalties; UND, 41). One night earlier, the score was a bit closer, with North Dakota prevailing 4-1.

Last meeting in Omaha: January 30, 2021. Specialty teams was the difference in this one, as UND allowed three power play goals on five attempts to the homestanding Mavericks, including one to former North Dakota defenseman Jonny Tychonick, who scored his second goal of the season with eleven seconds remaining in the first period. Omaha netminder Isaiah Saville made 43 saves in the 5-4 victory. One night earlier, the Fighting Hawks scored five unanswered goals in the second and third periods to earn a 6-2 road victory.

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

Last ten: North Dakota has won seven of the last ten contests between the schools, outscoring the Mavericks 41-25 over that stretch.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 27-14-1 (.655), including a 13-7-0 (.650) record in games played in Omaha. North Dakota owns a record of 22-11-1 (.662) against the Mavericks since both teams joined the NCHC. The teams first met on November 19, 2010.

Game News and Notes

In 2015, both North Dakota and Omaha advanced to the Frozen Four but neither team made the championship game. UND fell to Boston University 5-3, while the Mavericks were upended 4-1 by eventual national champion Providence. Since joining the WCHA in 2011 (and later the NCHC), the Mavs have never reached the Twin Cities for the second weekend of the conference tournament despite having home ice in three of those eight years. UND senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi has sixteen points in seventeen career games against Omaha. The Mavericks have not made the national tournament since their run to the Frozen Four in 2015. North Dakota’s Brad Berry is 18-8-0 (.692) in his head coaching career against Omaha. Since coming out flat in game one at Denver a month ago, UND has outscored opponents 43-13 and won eight of nine contests. Five of those thirteen goals allowed came in the second game of the January series at Baxter Arena. North Dakota is 16-0-0 when scoring the first goal this season and 1-4-1 when allowing the first goal. Omaha is 10-5-1 (.656) at Baxter Arena this season, while UND clocks in with a record of 8-3-1 (.708).

The Prediction

UND split its last two road series (at Denver, at Omaha), scoring 16 goals and allowing 12. With only one game on the docket this weekend, a split is obviously impossible. I have to imagine that UNO can’t wait to get back on the ice after being swept out of Ralph Engelstad Arena last weekend, and therefore I give the edge to the homestanding Mavs. Fighting Hawks’ head coach Brad Berry may elect to rest a couple of players who are a bit banged up, and a post-#PenneRosa letdown has been a problem for UND in the past. While it is true that the Green and White could benefit from another victory in its quest for the #1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, the Mavericks are playing to avoid facing Denver in the first game of the league playoffs and are in a more precarious position nationally. Honestly, I just hope no one gets hurt in this one. Omaha 3, North Dakota 2.

Broadcast Information

Tonight’s game at Omaha (7:07 p.m. Central Time) will be available via streaming 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, 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. Omaha

With all of the ties, shootouts, late-game heroics, and overtime winners as well as the disparity in each team’s number of games played in the Omaha pod and during the second half of the season, it can be difficult to get a handle on who is ahead in the conference standings. The best way I have found is to look at the average number of points earned. It is also possible that the teams will finish the regular season with an uneven number of games played; in that case, the league will use average points earned/game as the measuring stick to determine the league championship as well as the matchups in the first round of the conference playoffs.

With that as our guide, here’s the NCHC leaderboard (three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime or shootout win, and one point for an overtime or shootout loss)

1. North Dakota 2.20 (44 points in 20 games)
2. St. Cloud State 1.90 (40 points in 21 games)
3. Omaha 1.90 (38 points in 20 games)
4. Minnesota Duluth 1.77 (39 points in 22 games)
5. Denver 1.25 (25 points in 20 games)
6. Western Michigan 1.23 (27 points in 22 games)
7. Colorado College 0.95 (18 points in 19 games)
8. Miami 0.82 (18 points in 22 games)

After losing last night for the third straight game, Duluth has been mathematically eliminated from the race for the Penrose Cup; the top three teams in the standings can all finish as NCHC regular season champions.

#2 North Dakota (15-4-1) played all ten scheduled games in the Omaha pod, but it has not been smooth sailing in the second half. UND has already had multiple weekends scratched and rescheduled in the second half; the league has done an excellent job helping teams get games in when possible, and the flexibility the Fighting Hawks have shown in adjusting to game times and days will benefit the team in the national tournament.

#9 Omaha (13-6-1) has been the biggest surprise in the NCHC this season. While I expected them to have good results in the pod (and they did, posting a record of 6-3-1), I thought that they might regress in the second half, and they certainly haven’t, going a combined 7-3 against Colorado College (4-0), Denver (2-2), and North Dakota (1-1). Prior to this season, it had been six seasons since the Mavericks defeated the Pioneers (a nineteen-game wineless streak).

Mike Gabinet’s squad could be ranked even higher were it not for a disappointing 1-0 defeat at the hands of Miami back on December 12th. In that contest, the Mavs outshot the RedHawks 30-12 (including 15-2 in the third period) but could not solve Ludvig Persson. Other than that frustration, Omaha has fared extremely well in close games, winning three games in overtime and another in a shootout.

Turning back the clock a bit: After a trip to the Frozen Four in 2015, Dean Blais could only manage a mark of 35-34-6 over his final two seasons behind the Omaha bench. He was replaced by Mike Gabinet (Omaha ’04), and Gabinet finished up his rookie campaign with an eerily similar record of 17-17-2.

Maverick fans were certainly hopeful that improvement was coming two seasons ago, but Omaha struggled out of the gate with a record of 0-6-1. Things leveled off a bit after that, with a record of 6-4-1 to close out 2018. Once the calendar year turned, however, Gabinet was only able to lead his team to three more wins (the last coming on February 8th) and a season record of 9-24-3. UNO fans had to have been a bit more pleased with last season’s results, as the 2019-20 version of the Mavs collected fourteen victories (14-17-5).

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.

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 41-9-5 (.791) over the past two seasons.

Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, sophomore netminder Isaiah Saville (11-6-1, 2.52 GAA, .921 SV%, 1 SO) has been spectacular in net for the Mavs, with classmate Austin Roden appearing in three games (2-0-0. 2.35 GAA, .933 SV%, 1 SO). Omaha has allowed more than two goals only eight times all season (including both games against UND), while North Dakota’s opponents have scored more than two goals seven times.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (13-3-1. 1.88 GAA, .925 SV%, 4 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (2-1-0, 2.79 GAA, .879 SV%) appearing in four games. Scheel came on in relief in UND’s loss to St. Cloud State after Thome allowed four goals on 18 shots in 33 minutes of action. After giving up just four total goals in his previous four starts, Scheel allowed five goals on 27 shots in UND’s last game at Omaha but rebounded with a 24-save shutout performance against Denver last Friday night. Near the end of that contest, Denver captain Kohen Olischefski tripped Scheel from behind and earned himself a major penalty and a one-game suspension. Scheel was unable to play in Saturday’s rematch but is expected to be available for this weekend’s series against the Mavericks.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Mike Gabinet’s squad boasts eleven players who meet that threshold: junior forward Chase Primeau (8-14-22), junior forward Taylor Ward (10-6-16), junior forward Tyler Weiss (5-14-19), senior forward Kevin Conley (7-7-14), freshman forward Matt Miller (7-5-12), sophomore forward Jack Randl (4-7-11), freshman forward Brock Bremer (5-6-11), sophomore forward Joey Abate (1-7-8), senior forward Martin Sundberg (6-3-9), defenseman Brandon Scanlin (2-12-14), and freshman defenseman Jake Harrison (0-3-3 in six games).

By that same measure, eight North Dakota players make the list: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (14-12-26), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (5-18-23), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (3-16-19), senior forward Grant Mismash (9-9-18), freshman forward Riese Gaber (8-7-15), senior forward Collin Adams (7-12-19), junior forward Jasper Weatherby (8-4-12), and junior forward Mark Senden (2-9-11).

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 125 shot attempts this season and leads the entire league in scoring, two points ahead of Duluth’s Nick Swaney (10-14-24 in 22 games played). Both Kawaguchi (10th in the nation in scoring) and Pinto (4th) should be considered candidates for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award along with teammate Matt Kiersted, whose 19 points rank second among defensemen.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After twenty games, the Fighting Hawks are 6th in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (24.9) and are in the top seven in the country in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 55.2% (7th)
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 56.1% (6th)

By comparison, the Mavericks are 34th in Corsi (48.3%) and 30th in Fenwick (49.0), averaging 28.8 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 30.6/game) while allowing 32.4 shots on goal against/contest.

Remarkably, Omaha is outscoring opponents 72-52 despite being outshot 647-575 on the season (North Dakota is outshooting opponents 612-498).

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot. The Fighting Hawks are first in the nation in faceoff win percentage at 56.2 percent, while Omaha is 21st (50.6%) 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 (61.9%), Jasper Weatherby (53.8%), and Collin Adams (56.3%). Omaha will counter with Nolan Sullivan (59.2%), Noah Prokop (51.7%), Chayse Primeau (51.3%), and Joey Abate (42.4%).

In their January series in Omaha, the teams were relatively even in the faceoff circle on Friday, with UND holding a slight 29-27 edge (51.2%). North Dakota dominated the dot in the rematch, winning 46 of 71 (64.8%). For the weekend, the Fighting Hawks outshot the Mavericks 83-59.

The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.6 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 3rd in the country. The Mavericks are right behind in 5th place, lighting the lamp on 12.5 percent of their shots on goal.

North Dakota’s puck possession game and sharpshooting have led to 77 goals scored by eighteen different players in twenty games (3.85 goals scored/game); 77 goals is the high-water mark in the NCHC this season. Omaha’s 72 goals (3.60 goals/game) have been scored by seventeen different players.

After UND and the Mavericks, here are the next closest teams in terms of offensive production:

St. Cloud State: 69 goals scored in 21 games (3.29 goals/game)
Minnesota Duluth: 64 goals scored in 22 games (2.91)
Western Michigan: 64 goals scored in 22 games (2.91)

UND’s offensive prowess is matched by their stingy defense, as the Fighting Hawks have only allowed 40 goals in twenty games (2.00 goals allowed/game), the lowest total in the NCHC. Minnesota Duluth is in second place defensively, having allowed 49 goals in 22 games this season for an average of 2.23 goals allowed per game.

By comparison, Omaha is allowing 2.60 goals per contest (52 goals allowed in twenty games).

UND’s scoring margin of 77-40 is certainly impressive, but a look inside the numbers reveals that the Fighting Hawks outscored Colorado College, Western Michigan, and Miami 36-9 in eight games (8-0-0) and played relatively even (41 goals for, 31 goals against) in its other twelve matchups (six games against Denver and two each vs. Duluth, Omaha, and St. Cloud State), going 7-4-1 in those contests.

In late January, North Dakota traveled to Omaha for a weekend series, winning 6-2 on Friday night before losing 5-4 in the rematch.

Through twenty games, Omaha has blocked 294 shots as a team, led by Nate Knoepke (42), Jason Smallidge (42), Kirby Proctor (25), and Brandon Scanlin (18).

North Dakota has blocked 257 shots in its twenty games, with Matt Kiersted (39), Jacob Bernard-Docker (29), and Ethan Frisch (19 in fifteen games) leading the way. Gabe Bast has contributed 18 blocks in his fourteen games; he made his return to the lineup last weekend.

When North Dakota is healthy on the back end, they enjoy a roster advantage against nearly every opponent, and that will be the case again this weekend. Omaha’s six most likely starters on defense have combined for 12 goals and 35 assists in 109 combined games this season (0.43 points/game), while UND’s top six have put together the exact same line (12 goals and 35 assists) in 94 games (0.50 points/game). All six UND blueliners expected in the lineup this weekend can 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).

Remarkably, the Fighting Hawks’ d-corps has put up those numbers while also allowing exactly two goals per contest (6th in the country). By comparison, Omaha is allowing 2.60 goals per game (20th).

Through each team’s first twenty games, here is the specialty teams ledger:

Omaha power play: 18 of 82, 22.0 percent
Omaha penalty kill: 71 of 77, 92.2 percent

North Dakota power play: 20 of 89, 22.5 percent
North Dakota penalty kill: 78 of 90, 86.7 percent

North Dakota has scored three shorthanded goals this season, while the Mavericks have two to their credit. The Fighting Hawks have not allowed a shorthanded tally this year; UNO has given up four. That leaves Omaha’s net specialty teams at a +10, while UND weighs in at +11.

As one of the nation’s most penalized teams, North Dakota’s penalty kill finally let them down in their last game at Omaha, allowing three power play goals to the Mavericks on five man-advantage opportunities in a 5-4 loss. For the weekend, UND went 1 for 10 on the power play, while UNO scored four power play goals on twelve power plays.

The Mavericks have scored 18 of their 72 goals this season with the man advantage, while the Fighting Hawks have scored 20 of their 77 goals this season on the power play.

After this weekend, North Dakota is scheduled to travel to Omaha for a single game next Friday, February 26th and host the Mavericks on Friday, March 5th. Including this weekend, five of UND’s final six regular season games – as well as all of its games in the league playoffs – will be played at Ralph Engelstad Arena. The Fighting Hawks are hosting an NCAA Regional 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 virtual lock at this point.

With two regulation victories over its final four games before the playoffs, North Dakota would win its fourth Penrose Cup as NCHC regular season champions. UND (2015, 2016, 2020) and St. Cloud State (2014, 2018, 2019) are each three-time winners of the #PennaRosa. Denver (2017) is the only other league team to earn the prestigious trophy.

Omaha Mavericks

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (4th season at UNO, 53-64-11, .457)
National Rankings: #9/#10

This Season: 13-6-1 overall, 13-6-1 NCHC
Last Season: 14-17-5 overall, 8-13-3-0 NCHC (6th)

Team Offense: 3.60 goals scored/game – 12th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 2.60 goals allowed/game – 20th of 51 teams
Power Play: 22.0% (18 of 82) – 14th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 92.2% (71 of 77) – 3rd of 51 teams

Key Players: Junior F Chase Primeau (8-14-22), Junior F Taylor Ward (10-6-16), Junior F Tyler Weiss (5-14-19), Senior F Kevin Conley (7-7-14), Freshman F Matt Miller (7-5-12), Sophomore F Jack Randl (4-7-11), Sophomore F Joey Abate (1-7-8), Sophomore D Brandon Scanlin (2-12-14), Junior D Jason Smallidge (1-8-9), Sophomore G Isaiah Saville (11-6-1, 2.52 GAA, .921 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 131-61-24, .662)
National Rankings: #2/#1

This Season: 15-4-1 overall, 15-4-1 NCHC
Last Season: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.85 goals scored/game – 3rd of 51 teams
Team Defense: 2.00 goals allowed/game – 6th of 51 teams

Power Play: 22.5% (20 of 89) – 12th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 86.7% (78 of 90) – 10th of 51 teams

Key players: Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (5-18-23), Sophomore F Shane Pinto (14-12-26), Senior F Grant Mismash (9-9-18), Freshman F Riese Gaber (8-7-15), Senior F Collin Adams (7-12-19), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (8-4-12), Junior F Mark Senden (2-9-11), Senior D Matt Kiersted (3-16-19), Sophomore D Ethan Frisch (3-3-6), Junior D Jacob Bernard-Docker (1-8-9), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (1-5-6 in thirteen games), Junior G Adam Scheel (13-3-1. 1.88 GAA, .925 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: January 30, 2021 (Omaha, NE). Specialty teams was the difference in this one, as UND allowed three power play goals on five attempts to the homestanding Mavericks, including one to former North Dakota defenseman Jonny Tychonick, who scored his second goal of the season with eleven seconds remaining in the first period. Omaha netminder Isaiah Saville made 43 saves in the 5-4 victory. One night earlier, the Fighting Hawks scored five unanswered goals in the second and third periods to earn a 6-2 road victory.

Last meeting in Grand Forks: January 11, 2020. One night after the Mavericks handed North Dakota its only home loss of the season by scoring six goals on thirteen shots and chasing Adam Scheel (four goals allowed, four saves), the Fighting Hawks scored three first-period goals (Casey Johnson, Collin Adams, and Mark Senden) in a 4-1 victory. Omaha’s Taylor Ward scored the lone goal for the visiting side, while UND’s Shane Pinto earned himself a one-game suspension for a third period cross-check across the back of Joey Abate. North Dakota outshot Omaha 56-32 in the two-game series.

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

Last ten: North Dakota has won six of the last ten contests between the schools, outscoring the Mavericks 37-30 over that stretch.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 25-14-1 (.638), including a 12-7-1 (.625) record in games played in Grand Forks. North Dakota owns a record of 20-11-1 (.641) against the Mavericks since both teams joined the NCHC. The teams first met on November 19, 2010.

Game News and Notes

In 2015, both North Dakota and Omaha advanced to the Frozen Four but neither team made the championship game. UND fell to Boston University 5-3, while the Mavericks were upended 4-1 by eventual national champion Providence. Since joining the WCHA in 2011 (and later the NCHC), the Mavs have never reached the Twin Cities for the second weekend of the conference tournament despite having home ice in three of those eight years. UND senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi has thirteen points in fifteen career games against Omaha. The Mavericks have not made the national tournament since their run to the Frozen Four in 2015. North Dakota’s Brad Berry is 16-8-0 (.667) in his head coaching career against Omaha. Since coming out flat in game one at Denver three weekends ago, UND has outscored opponents 32-11 and won six of seven contests. At home, it’s been even better for the Fighting Hawks, with four straight victories and a combined scoreboard of 17-3.

The Prediction

If the first goal is important in determining the winner of Friday’s opener, then the winner of Friday’s opener may just determine how the rest of the season series goes between these two squads. If Omaha can narrow the Penrose Cup race with a victory in game one, the intensity will ratchet up for the rematch. If North Dakota can defeat the Mavericks in the opener and open up a nine-point advantage with three games remaining on each team’s schedule, the race will be all but over. If UND netminder Adam Scheel can make two starts in his return from injury, I give the advantage to the home team. I expect both games to be tightly contested and have a playoff atmosphere despite limited fans. If North Dakota can weather the early storm and play large stretches of the weekend at 5-on-5, they’ve got a shot at more than a split, and that’s what I’m going with here, with Friday’s game decided in the extra session. UND 4-3 (OT), 4-2.

Broadcast Information

Both games will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and also available on 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!