Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Denver

As has been well-documented, the last three national champions hail from the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, and #14 North Dakota (2016) hosts #6 Denver (2017) this weekend, one week after earning a road split against #4 Minnesota Duluth, winners of the 2018 NCAA title. Despite an up-and-down first half, UND (currently eighth place in the NCHC) only trails fourth-place teams Denver and Western Michigan by three points.

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries. The teams have played twenty times during the first five 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 ten 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 eight 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 last season’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

(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.)

This year’s version of the Pioneers will look noticeably different to UND fans, with four players graduated (forward Rudy Junda, defensemen Tariq Hammond and Adam Plant, and goaltender Tanner Jaillet) and a new bench boss (David Carle). Furthermore, Denver had five players leave eligibility on the table during the 2018 offseason, including three prolific goal scorers and a stalwart defenseman:

Forward Henrik Borgström (gave up two seasons of eligibility; drafted Round 1 #23 by the Florida Panthers in 2016): 45 goals and 95 points in 77 career NCAA games

Forward Troy Terry (gave up one season of eligibility; drafted Round 5 #148 by the Anaheim Ducks in 2015): 45 goals and 115 point in 115 career NCAA games

Forward Dylan Gambrell (gave up one season of eligibility; drafted Round 2 #60 by the San Jose Sharks in 2016): 43 goals and 132 points in 120 career NCAA games

Defenseman Blake Hillman (gave up one season of eligibility; drafted Round 6 #173 by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2016): 7 goals and 31 points in 123 career NCAA games

Free agent forward Logan O’Connor also gave up his final season of college eligibility to sign with the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL. O’Connor posted a line of 16-27-43 in 108 career NCAA games.

North Dakota was not immune to the early departure bug during the 2018 offseason, as defenseman Christian Wolanin (12-23-35 in 2017-18, 22-50-72 in 109 career games at North Dakota) and forward Shane Gersich (13-16-29 in 2017-18, 43-34-77 in 117 career games at North Dakota) each gave up his senior season to sign a pro contract (Wolanin with Ottawa, Gersich with Washington).

And the previous three summers haven’t been any easier for fans of the Green and White, as multiple players have left eligibility on the table to join the professional ranks (years of eligibility remaining at the time of signing):

2017: Forward Brock Boeser (2), Forward Tyson Jost (3), Defenseman Tucker Poolman (1)

2016: Forward Luke Johnson (1), Forward Nick Schmaltz (2), Defenseman Paul LaDue (1), Defenseman Troy Stecher (1), Defenseman Keaton Thompson (1)

2015: Defenseman Jordan Schmaltz (1), Goaltender Zane McIntyre (1)

In 2014, forward Rocco Grimaldi left after his sophomore campaign to sign with the Florida Panthers (NHL). In 2013, defenseman Derek Forbort signed with the Los Angeles Kings after his junior year. North Dakota also lost two players (Brock Nelson and Aaron Dell) to early departures in 2012 and two others (Jason Gregoire and Brett Hextall) in 2011.

Before last weekend, UND’s power play had been going strong (6 of 14; 42.9%) after sputtering out of the gates (6 of 43; 14.0%). In two games at Duluth, however, North Dakota went scoreless on twelve man-advantage opportunities. The power outage against the Bulldogs can be attributed to two factors: UMD’s goaltending and UND’s injury situation.

Barring a setback today, UND senior forward Nick Jones (lower body injury) is expected to return to the lineup after missing the past seven games. According to Brad Schlossman, other lineup concerns include sophomore forward Collin Adams (lower body), junior forward Dixon Bowen (undisclosed), junior forward Ludvig Hoff (lower body), senior forward Joel Janatuinen (illness), and freshman defenseman Johnny Tychonick (undisclosed).

If this were an NFL situation, I would list Hoff and Jones as probable, with Adams and Tychonick questionable. Janatuinen will be out of the lineup, and Bowen will almost certainly be a scratch as well.

Last year’s senior class at North Dakota (Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson) went 101-45-20 (.669) and became the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games. This year’s group (Ryan Anderson, Rhett Gardner, Joel Janatuinen, and Hayden Shaw) currently sits at 80-41-18 (.640) and would need 20 more victories in the final 29 games remaining on the schedule (at most) to continue that impressive streak.

After a home sweep of Alaska Anchorage two weeks ago, UND moved its non-conference record to 6-2-1 (.722) on the season. After going 9-1-2 (.833) in non-conference play in 2015-16 and 7-2-2 (.727) out-of-conference in 2016-17, Brad Berry’s squad went just 6-2-4 (.667) last season and snapped its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. North Dakota’s only other non-conference games of the 2018-19 campaign will be a road series at Canisius (6-8-1 overall, 5-7-1 Atlantic Hockey) in Buffalo, New York on January 4th and 5th. If he is selected to Canada’s World Junior Team, Fighting Hawks’ freshman defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker will miss the games against Canisius. Bernard-Docker will leave Monday for Team Canada’s selection camp along with eleven other defensemen; Canada is expected to keep seven blueliners.

As a whole, the NCHC has fared extremely well in non-conference action, collecting a combined record of 38-14-7 (.703) and sporting a winning record against all five of the other leagues across the college hockey landscape. Here are the inter-conference records, from best to worst:

NCHC: 38-14-7 (.703)
Big Ten: 30-17-3 (.630)
ECAC: 26-28-1 (.482)
Hockey East: 27-30-5 (.476)
WCHA: 20-31-3 (.398)
Atlantic Hockey: 8-29-3 (.237)

Not only could the NCHC as a whole field four or even five teams in the NCAA tournament, but North Dakota’s record against Minnesota (1-0-0) and Wisconsin (2-0-0) will also help them specifically in Pairwise comparisons against all of the Big Ten teams.

This weekend’s games will mark the ninth consecutive weekend of hockey action for North Dakota. After Saturday’s contest, UND will enjoy a two-week holiday break.

According to KRACH, Denver has played the second-toughest schedule in the country this season (behind only Ohio State); North Dakota’s slate of games ranks seventh. The two teams will meet again in Denver on February 1st and 2nd, 2019.

The Pioneers have lost only three games this season, all by a single goal: a pair of 4-3 defeats at #2 St. Cloud State were followed a week later by a 4-3 home loss to #1 Duluth. The Pioneers have scored three or more goals in all but one game this year, and that contest went down as a 2-0 victory over the Bulldogs. The Pios are averaging 3.67 goals per game, the eighth-best scoring offense in the country.

Denver has gone 6-1-2 on home ice this season but only 1-2-0 on the road. Yes, that’s right – the Pios have played nine home games and three road games to this point in the season. Furthermore, one of the three road games was a matchup with Air Force at Cadet Ice Arena (Colorado Springs, CO). Before this weekend, David Carle had only traveled out-of-state with his team on one occasion, and that trip ended with two road defeats at the hands of St. Cloud State. In the second half of the season, DU will only enjoy eight regular-season games at Magness Arena: three in January, four in February (including a home series against North Dakota), and one in March. Including this weekend’s matchup at North Dakota, the Pios have fourteen road games remaining on their schedule.

By comparison, North Dakota has already played six road contests in the first half of the season, with a record of 3-3-0 in those games. In 2019, UND has an even split of home and road series in NCHC play (vs. Colorado College, St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth, and Omaha; at Omaha, Denver, Western Michigan, and Colorado College) with one out-of-conference series scheduled at Canisius in early January, for a total of eight home games and ten road games before the playoffs begin.

After winning the 2018 NCHC Frozen Faceoff (3-1 over Duluth; 4-1 over St. Cloud State), Denver’s season fizzled out in the 2018 Midwest Regional (Allentown, PA). The Pioneers easily handled Penn State 5-1 in the opening round but were done in by Ohio State by an identical score.

Denver Team Profile

Head Coach: David Carle (Denver ’12, 1st season at DU, 7-3-2, .667)

National Rankings: #6/#5

This Season: 7-3-2 (.667) overall, 3-3-0-0 NCHC (t-4th)
Last Season: 23-10-8 overall (NCAA Midwest Regional Finalist), 12-6-6-4 NCHC (2nd)

Team Offense: 3.67 goals scored/game – 8th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.25 goals allowed/game – 13th of 60 teams
Power Play: 21.7% (13 of 60) – 13th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 82.5% (47 of 57) – 24th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Jarid Lukosevicius (8-6-14), Freshman F Emilio Pettersen (5-9-14), Junior F Liam Finlay (7-6-13), Freshman F Cole Guttman (7-4-11), Sophomore D Ian Mitchell (2-9-11), Junior D Michael Davies (2-4-6), Sophomore G Devin Cooley (7-3-1, 2.08 GAA, .933 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 80-41-18, .640)

National Rankings: #14/#14

This Season: 8-6-1 (.567) overall, 2-4-0-0 NCHC (8th)
Last Season: 17-13-10 (.550) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.60 goals scored/game – 40th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.60 goals allowed/game – 22nd of 60 teams
Power Play: 17.4% (12 of 69) – 36th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 75.9% (41 of 54) – 51st of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Rhett Gardner (8-1-9), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (3-8-11), Sophomore F Grant Mismash (5-4-9), Senior F Nick Jones (1-5-6 in eight games), Junior F Cole Smith (2-4-6), Junior D Colton Poolman (3-2-5), Freshman D Jacob Bernard-Docker (3-6-9), D Gabe Bast (2-4-6), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (3-6-9) Freshman G Adam Scheel (7-3-1, 1.98 GAA, .910 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 27, 2018 (Grand Forks, ND). For the second consecutive night, the two teams skated to a tie before the Pios earned the extra league point with a goal (Ian Mitchell) during the second overtime session (3×3). Christian Wolanin (Gersich, Kawaguchi) scored the lone goal for the Fighting Hawks, a second-period power play marker. In Friday’s opener, UND opened the scoring with two early goals before Denver roared back with three straight. North Dakota’s Hayden Shaw sent the game to overtime with a tying goal at 18:28 of the third period.

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

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

Last Ten Games: The teams have split the last ten games with three victories each and four ties. In those ten meetings, Denver has a slight 23-20 edge in combined score. Five of the last ten meetings in Grand Forks have gone into overtime, and all five of them went without a winner.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 145-124-14 (.537), including a sparkling 84-43-10 (.650) record in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1950, with North Dakota prevailing 18-3 in Denver.

Game News and Notes

North Dakota is third in the NCAA in team faceoff percentage (56.8 percent), while DU checks in at #12 (52.7%). Pioneers first-year bench boss David Carle is the youngest head coach in NCAA Division I men’s hockey. Only one current UND player has multiple career goals against the Pios (Cole Smith, with two). 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.

Media Coverage

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

The Prediction

North Dakota does not want to get into a track meet with the Pios. UND definitely has a chance at more than a split this weekend, with at least one of these tilts headed to overtime. If the Fighting Hawks can win the goaltending battle and end up on the plus side of the special teams ledger, they could go into the holiday break on a three-game winning streak. However, there are still too many injuries and question marks to feel certain about anything surrounding this program right now. I see the Pios outlasting the home team in the opener, with the Fighting Hawks righting the ship to earn a close victory in the rematch. DU 2-1, UND 3-2 (OT).

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

Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Minnesota Duluth

March 17th, 2018. Xcel Energy Center. St. Paul, Minnesota. North Dakota and Minnesota Duluth square off in the third-place game of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff with NCAA tournament hopes hanging in the balance. UND defeats the Bulldogs 4-1, and both teams are left to play the waiting game.

According to twincities.com:

After losing to the Fighting Hawks, UMD needed a win by either Clarkson or Providence to clinch an NCAA tournament berth. Both teams lost, leaving just one obscure scenario remaining for Duluth to continue playing.

Notre Dame’s overtime goal against Ohio State just before 10:00 p.m. (on St. Patrick’s Day) was the exclamation point on that scenario, forcing a tie between the Bulldogs and Minnesota for 12th in the Pairwise rankings — the formula used to select at-large teams and seed the 16-team field.

Notre Dame’s win gave the Bulldogs the tiebreaker for 12th in the Pairwise as UMD’s Ratings Percentage Index — a part of the Pairwise formula — was one ten-thousandth of a point (.0001) higher than the Gophers.

Typically, finishing 13th or 14th in the Pairwise gets a team into the tournament, but not (last) season, as No. 13 Minnesota and No. 14 North Dakota learned. Because four teams — Air Force (Atlantic Hockey), Michigan Tech (WCHA), Boston University (Hockey East) and Princeton (ECAC) — instead of the usual one or two from outside the bubble won their conference tournament for an automatic bid, that meant No. 12 was the cutoff for at-large teams.

With that unfortunate news, North Dakota saw its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances come to an end, while Duluth took advantage of its program-record fourth straight tourney bid, winning four consecutive one-goal games to claim the program’s second national title:

Minnesota Duluth 3, Minnesota State 2 (OT)
Minnesota Duluth 2, Air Force 1
Minnesota Duluth 2, Ohio State 1
Minnesota Duluth 2, Notre Dame 1

Before UND’s victory at the 2018 NCHC Frozen Faceoff, Scott Sandelin’s crew had won eight consecutive games against the Green and White. That losing streak for North Dakota was the longest against one team since Wisconsin won nine in a row from 1987-89.

North Dakota was done in by an unprecedented ten ties during the 2017-18 campaign, the most in program history. This year, a few of those close games have turned into victories and helped #15 UND to a 7-5-1 overall record through the first two months of the season. The Fighting Hawks have just one victory in four conference games, however, and with #2 Duluth (road) and #7 Denver (home) on the horizon before the Christmas break, it will definitely be an uphill climb in the second half.

Last season, Scott Sandelin brought in five first-year defensemen as a part of a ten-player freshman class. Three of those blueliners – Mikey Anderson, Scott Perunovich, and Dylan Samberg – played for the United States at the World Junior Championships. That trio joined teammates Joey Anderson and Riley Tufte, both sophomore forwards. Most impressively, the Bulldogs only gave up 2.09 goals/game over the course of the 2017-18 season with a relatively young d-corps.

Joey Anderson gave up his final two seasons of eligibility to sign a three-year entry level contract with the NHL’s New Jersey Devils. Anderson, who collected 23 goals and 64 points in 75 career college games, underwent surgery on Tuesday to repair a broken ankle; he is on injured reserve and his recovery is considered week-to-week.

Duluth’s Scott Perunovich (2-14-16 in 12 games this season) is currently the second-highest scoring D-man in the country, trailing only junior Adam Fox (Harvard). Fox, the only player in the country averaging over two points per game, has scored four goals and added thirteen assists for seventeen points in only eight games played. Perunovich, who also led the Bulldogs in scoring a season ago with a scoring line of 11-25-36 in 42 games played, was drafted in the second round (#45 overall) by the St. Louis Blues in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. The sophomore blueliner from Hibbing, Minnesota will face some pressure to sign with the Blues at the conclusion of this season.

North Dakota was not immune to the early departure bug during the 2018 offseason, as defenseman Christian Wolanin (12-23-35 in 2017-18, 22-50-72 in 109 career games at North Dakota) and forward Shane Gersich (13-16-29 in 2017-18, 43-34-77 in 117 career games at North Dakota) each gave up his senior season to sign a pro contract (Wolanin with Ottawa, Gersich with Washington).

And the previous three summers haven’t been any easier for fans of the Green and White, as multiple players have left eligibility on the table to join the professional ranks (years of eligibility remaining at the time of signing):

2017: Forward Brock Boeser (2), Forward Tyson Jost (3), Defenseman Tucker Poolman (1)

2016: Forward Luke Johnson (1), Forward Nick Schmaltz (2), Defenseman Paul LaDue (1), Defenseman Troy Stecher (1), Defenseman Keaton Thompson (1)

2015: Defenseman Jordan Schmaltz (1), Goaltender Zane McIntyre (1)

In 2014, forward Rocco Grimaldi left after his sophomore campaign to sign with the Florida Panthers (NHL). In 2013, defenseman Derek Forbort signed with the Los Angeles Kings after his junior year. North Dakota also lost two players (Brock Nelson and Aaron Dell) to early departures in 2012 and two others (Jason Gregoire and Brett Hextall) in 2011.

UND’s power play has come on lately after sputtering out of the gates. Here are the splits for the first ten games of the season compared to the past three games:

October 12th – November 16th: 6 goals in 43 power play opportunities (14.0%)
November 17th – November 24th: 6 goals in 14 power play opportunities (42.9%)

Much of North Dakota’s recent success can be attributed to a better net-front presence, the ability to get pucks through from the blue line, and continued success in the faceoff circle. On the season, senior forward/faceoff wizard Rhett Gardner has three power play goals, while defensemen Jacob Bernard-Docker (1), Matt Kiersted (2), and Colton Poolman (1) have chipped in from the point.

Last year’s senior class at North Dakota (Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson) went 101-45-20 (.669) and became the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games. This year’s group (Ryan Anderson, Rhett Gardner, Joel Janatuinen, and Hayden Shaw) currently sits at 79-40-18 (.642) and would need 21 more victories in the final 31 games remaining on the schedule (at most) to continue that impressive streak.

After a home sweep of Alaska Anchorage last weekend, UND moved its non-conference record to 6-2-1 (.722) on the season. After going 9-1-2 (.833) in non-conference play in 2015-16 and 7-2-2 (.727) out-of-conference in 2016-17, Brad Berry’s squad went just 6-2-4 (.667) last season and snapped its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. North Dakota’s only other non-conference games of the 2018-19 campaign will be a road series at Canisius (5-7-1 overall, 4-6-1 Atlantic Hockey) in Buffalo, New York on January 4th and 5th.

As a whole, the NCHC has fared extremely well in non-conference action, collecting a combined record of 36-14-7 (.693) and sporting a winning record against all five of the other leagues across the college hockey landscape. Here are the inter-conference records, from best to worst:

NCHC: 36-14-7 (.693)
Big Ten: 28-17-3 (.615)
ECAC: 25-26-1 (.490)
Hockey East: 27-30-5 (.476)
WCHA: 20-31-3 (.398)
Atlantic Hockey: 8-26-3 (.257)

On the injury front, senior forward Nick Jones (lower-body injury) will miss his sixth and seventh consecutive games for North Dakota, and according to the Grand Forks Herald’s Brad Schlossman, “it’s looking more likely that his injury will keep him out until after Christmas”. Furthermore, “sophomore forward Collin Adams is questionable after sustaining an injury in practice this week, and senior forward Joel Janatuinen has been limited this week in practice due to an illness”.

This weekend’s games will mark the eighth of nine consecutive weekends of hockey action for North Dakota. UND will face #7 Denver at home next weekend before enjoying a two-week holiday break.

According to KRACH, Minnesota-Duluth has played the eighth-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks 27th. The two teams will meet again in Grand Forks on February 22nd and 23rd, 2019.

Minnesota-Duluth Team Profile

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (19th season at UMD, 349-302-86, .532)

National Rankings: #2/#2

This Season: 9-2-1 (.792) overall, 3-1-0-0 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 25-16-3 (.602) overall (NCAA national champions), 13-11-0-0 NCHC (3rd)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.42 goals scored/game – 13th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.00 goals allowed/game – 6th of 60 teams
Power Play: 23.3% (10 of 43) – 11th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 88.4% (38 of 43) – 4th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Parker Mackay (6-6-12), Sophomore F Justin Richards (3-8-11), Senior F Peter Krieger (2-8-10), Sophomore F Nick Swaney (4-5-9), Junior F Riley Tufte (4-3-7), Sophomore D Scott Perunovich (2-14-16), Junior D Nick Wolff (2-7-9), Junior G Hunter Shepard (9-2-1, 1.87 GAA, .914 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 79-40-18, .642)

National Rankings: #15/#15

This Season: 7-5-1 (.577) overall, 1-3-0-0 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 17-13-10 (.550) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.85 goals scored/game – 29th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.54 goals allowed/game – 20th of 60 teams
Power Play: 20.7% (12 of 58) – 17th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 76.6% (36 of 47) – 48th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Rhett Gardner (8-1-9), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (2-7-9), Sophomore F Grant Mismash (4-4-8), Junior F Cole Smith (2-4-6), Junior D Colton Poolman (3-2-5), Freshman D Jacob Bernard-Docker (3-6-9), D Gabe Bast (2-4-6), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (3-5-8) Freshman G Adam Scheel (6-3-1, 2.18 GAA, .899 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 17, 2018 (St. Paul, MN). North Dakota built up a 2-0 lead after two periods behind goals by Austin Poganski and Joel Janatuinen, and Duluth’s Nick Wolff halted any thoughts of a comeback when he was assessed a five-minute major for kneeing UND’s Nick Jones at the 14:42 mark of the final frame. Shane Gersich and Ludvig Hoff both scored on the major penalty, while UMD managed a shorthanded tally to make the final 4-1 in favor of the Green and White. The Fighting Hawks went 2-for-5 with the man advantage and held the Bulldogs scoreless on three power plays, while senior netminder Cam Johnson made 27 of 28 saves in his final game between the pipes for North Dakota.

Last Meeting in Duluth: January 20, 2018. North Dakota stormed out to a 2-0 first period lead behind goals just 30 seconds apart from Shane Gersich and Austin Poganski, but Duluth rallied back with five consecutive goals (including two second-period tallies by Scott Perunovich). The Bulldogs won Friday’s opener by a final score of 5-3 (ENG). UND went just 1-for-11 with the man advantage on the weekend, while Duluth went 6-for-11.

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

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

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 145-85-9 (.626), including a 59-43-5 (.575) mark in games played in Duluth. The teams first met in 1954, with North Dakota winning the first ten games between the schools by a combined score of 72-16. UMD’s first win over the Fighting Sioux (a 3-2 road victory on December 18th, 1959) did not sit well with the defending national champions. UND defeated Duluth 13-2 the following night.

Last Ten: Duluth is 8-2-0 (.800) in the last ten games between the teams, outscoring the Hawks 37-21 over that stretch. North Dakota’s last victory over Duluth at Amsoil Arena was on December 12th, 2015.

Game News and Notes

The Bulldogs are 8-0-0 when scoring first and 1-2-1 when allowing the first goal. North Dakota has been outscored 18-7 in its last four games at AmsOil Arena (all losses). Duluth junior forward Jade Miller (Minto, ND) is the only North Dakotan on the Bulldog roster (16 from Minnesota, two each from Alberta and Ontario, and one each from California, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Saskatchewan). Senior forward Peter Krieger (Oakdale, Minnesota) is a transfer from Alaska Fairbanks. Both head coaches this weekend are alumni of the University of North Dakota; Brad Berry (1983-86) and Scott Sandelin (1982-86) both played for UND under John “Gino” Gasparini. In 2015, Boston University defeated both Minnesota-Duluth (3-2) and North Dakota (5-3) in the NCAA tournament on their way to the championship game. The Terriers fell 4-3 to the Providence Friars, one win short of a national title.

Media Coverage
Friday’s opener will be televised on Fox Sports North Plus, with Saturday’s game available on Midco Sports Network and WDAZ Xtra. The series will also streamed live in high definition via NCHC.tv. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com

The Prediction

All signs point to a Bulldog sweep in this one, but I see North Dakota rebounding for at least a tie (and maybe more) in Saturday’s rematch. I’ll give the Fighting Hawks the extra point in a shootout victory in Game Two. UMD 4-2 (ENG), 3-3 tie (UND wins the shootout).

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. Western Michigan

In most Division I men’s hockey games, the first team to three goals is almost always the winner. This weekend, it might take five goals to win.

Western Michigan brings a familiar brand of size, speed, and skill to Ralph Engelstad Arena this weekend along with more than a few question marks about its goaltending. #11 North Dakota is finding its scoring touch while clamping down defensively (2.22 goals allowed/game), yet the Fighting Hawks are still struggling on the penalty kill (as are the Broncos). If this series becomes a penalty fest like so many UND/WMU matchups in the past, we could see twenty goals scored this weekend.

UND’s roster features eight NHL draft picks, the most of any NCHC program: goaltender Peter Thome (Columbus, Round 6/#155 in 2016), defensemen Jacob Bernard-Docker (Ottawa, Round 1/#26 in 2018) and Jonny Tychonick (Ottawa, Round 2/#48 in 2018), and forwards Gavin Hain (Philadelphia, Round 6/#174 in 2018), Grant Mismash (Nashville, Round 2/#61 in 2017), Collin Adams (New York Islanders, Round 6/#170 in 2016), Rhett Gardner (Dallas, Round 4/#116 in 2016), and Jasper Weatherby (San Jose, Round 4/#102 in 2018).

Western Michigan has three NHL draft picks on its roster: defenseman Mattias Samuelsson (Buffalo, Round 2/#32 in 2018) and forwards Wade Allison (Philadelphia, Round 2/#52 in 2016) and Hugh McGing (St. Louis, Round 5/#138 in 2018).

A fourth NHL draft pick (forward Paul Cotter, Vegas, Round 4/#115 in 2018) left the Broncos to sign with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.

In most home games, UND has a decided advantage with last line change, manipulating matchups and shutting down the opponent’s top-scoring players. This weekend, Western Michigan head coach Andy Murray effectively negates that advantage with three scoring lines.

For the Broncos, scoring has come from expected and unexpected sources. Senior forward Colton Conrad and junior forwards Hugh McGing and Dawson DiPeitro have carried the load for the better part of a year while third-year forward Wade Allison recovers from an injury sustained in January. Those four have posted the following lines over the past three seasons:

2016-17: 81 total points in 116 combined games played
2017-18: 122 total points in 120 combined games played
2018-19: 24 total points in 27 combined games played

Wade Allison appeared in one game last weekend (his first of the 2018-19 season) and is expected to be in the lineup for Friday’s opener in Grand Forks.

The secondary scoring has been the biggest surprise, vaulting Western Michigan to 11th nationally in team offense (3.60 goals scored/game). Sophomore forwards Josh Passolt (4-5-9) and Ethan Frank (2-7-9) managed just 23 points between them in 65 games played a year ago but have nearly eclipsed that total through their first 19 combined games this season.

And aside from these six forwards, the Broncos have three other forwards and three defensemen averaging at least a half point per contest (by comparison, North Dakota has eight players at .5/game or better).

According to Western Michigan head coach Andy Murray, the Achilles heel for his squad rests squarely between the pipes. The Broncos have a team save percentage of .861 and are giving up 3.8 goals per game, good for sixth-worst in the nation. All three netminders (senior Trevor Gorsuch, junior Ben Blacker, and sophomore Austin Cain) have seen action this season, with none of them able to string together consecutive quality appearances:

Vs. #20 Bowling Green: Cain allowed 5 goals on 18 shots (loss)
At Ferris State: Cain allowed 3 goals on 23 shots (win)
Vs. Ferris State: Gorsuch allowed 0 goals on 26 shots (win)
At #11 Michigan: Gorsuch allowed 6 goals on 30 shots (loss)
Vs. #11 Michigan: Cain allowed 4 goals on 28 shots (win)
At #15 Bowling Green: Cain allowed 3 goals on 17 shots (loss)
At #15 Bowling Green: Gorsuch allowed 1 goal on 13 shots (no decision)
At #8 Denver: Blacker allowed 5 goals on 29 shots (loss)
At #8 Denver: Blacker allowed 4 goals on 40 shots (OT loss)
Vs. Omaha: Gorsuch allowed 2 goals on 18 shots (win)
Vs. Omaha: Gorsuch allowed 3 goals on 29 shots (loss)

The North Dakota goaltending situation is a bit more settled, with freshman Adam Scheel (5-2-1, 1.70 GAA, .917 SV%, 1 SO) earning the majority of the starts so far. I would expect sophomore netminder Peter Thome (0-1-0, 4.51 GAA, .786 SV%) to get one start this weekend against the Broncos or next weekend against Alaska Anchorage.

After a home sweep of Wisconsin two weeks ago, UND moved its non-conference record to 4-2-1 (.643) on the season. After going 9-1-2 (.833) in non-conference play in 2015-16 and 7-2-2 (.727) out-of-conference in 2016-17, Brad Berry’s squad went just 6-2-4 (.667) last season and snapped its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. North Dakota’s other non-conference games during the 2018-19 campaign will be a home series against Alaska Anchorage next weekend (November 23-24) and a road series at Canisius in Buffalo, New York (January 4-5).

This weekend’s games will mark the sixth of nine consecutive weekends of hockey action for North Dakota. UND’s league schedule began last week with a split against Miami, and the Fighting Hawks will also face NCHC foes #1 Minnesota Duluth (road) and #5 Denver (home) along with the aforementioned Alaska Anchorage Seawolves before enjoying a two-week holiday break.

North Dakota will also travel to face the Broncos in Kalamazoo, Michigan on February 15th and 16th, 2019.

Western Michigan Team Profile

Head Coach: Andy Murray (8th season at WMU, 122-122-34, .500)

National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 4-6-0 overall, 1-3-0-0 NCHC (t-6th)
Last Season: 15-19-2 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 10-13-1-0 NCHC (t-5th)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.60 goals scored/game – 11th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 3.80 goals allowed/game – 55th of 60 teams
Power Play: 17.6% (9 of 51) – 36th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 76.4% (42 of 55) – 49th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Colt Conrad (3-5-8), Junior F Wade Allison (1-0-1 in one game), Junior F Hugh McGing (5-4-9), Junior F Dawson DePietro (1-5-6), Sophomore F Josh Passolt (4-5-9), Sophomore F Ethen Frank (2-7-9), Junior D Cam Lee (4-5-9), Freshman D Mattias Samuelsson (3-2-5), Senior G Trevor Gorsuch (2-2-0, 2.83 GAA, .897 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 77-38-18, .647)

National Rankings: #11/#11

This Season: 5-3-1 overall, 1-1-0-0 NCHC (t-6th)
Last Season: 17-13-10 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.89 goals scored/game – 30th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.22 goals allowed/game – 13th of 60 teams
Power Play: 14.6% (6 of 41) – 45th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 77.4% (24 of 31) – 44th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Nick Jones (1-5-6), Sophomore F Grant Mismash (3-1-4), Senior F Rhett Gardner (4-1-5), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (2-5-7), Junior F Cole Smith (2-3-5), Junior D Colton Poolman (3-2-5), Senior D Hayden Shaw (0-4-4), Sophomore D Gabe Bast (2-3-5), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (2-3-5) Freshman G Adam Scheel (5-2-1, 1.70 GAA, .917 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 2, 2017 (Grand Forks, ND). #6 North Dakota scored four answered goals to upend the visiting Broncos 4-1 and complete the weekend sweep. UND won Friday’s opener 4-3 behind two first-period goals from Austin Poganski, although the Fighting Hawks took three penalties in the final two minutes of the contest to make things interesting. Ben Blacker made 46 saves in two nights of action for Western Michigan, which came into the weekend ranked #10 in the country.

Most Important Meeting: March 24, 2012 (St. Paul, MN). North Dakota upended Western Michigan 3-1 in the NCAA West Regional semifinal. Brock Nelson had two points, including an empty net goal with 25 seconds remaining that sent UND to the regional finals against Minnesota. Aaron Dell made 24 saves for the Green and White. The Broncos, who have played at the Division I level since 1975-76, have six NCAA tournament appearances.

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Saturday, March 22, 2014 (Minneapolis, MN). North Dakota faced a must-win situation in the 3rd place game at the inaugural NCHC Frozen Faceoff, and did not disappoint the partisan crowd. The Green and White rolled to a 5-0 victory behind two first-period goals from Conner Gaarder. UND netminder Zane Gothberg made 25 saves for the shutout, and Dave Hakstol’s crew played the waiting game for several more hours before discovering that they had indeed made the NCAA tournament for the twelfth consecutive season.

All-Time Series: In the short history between the schools, UND has won 18 of the 22 games, outscoring the Broncos 86-43. Before the 2016-17 season in which Western Michigan won three of the four meetings, WMU’s lone victory over North Dakota was a 2-1 road win on March 8th, 2014. The teams first met in 1997.

Last Ten: UND is 7-3 in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring Western Michigan 35-21 over that stretch. The Broncos have turned the tables more recently and have won three of the past five games.

Game News and Notes

Western Michigan moved up to the Division I ranks beginning with the 1975-76 season and has advanced to the NCAA tournament six times. WMU head coach Andy Murray’s son Brady played two seasons at North Dakota (2003-05) and finished with a scoring line of 27-39-66 in 63 career games. Brady Murray spent most of his professional hockey career in the Swiss-A league (Rapperswil-Jona and Lugano, among other teams) but did appear in four NHL games with the Los Angeles Kings in 2007-08, scoring one goal. In the 2018-19 National Collegiate Hockey Conference Preseason Media Poll, North Dakota was picked to finish in third place behind Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State, while Western Michigan was tabbed for fourth place.

Media Coverage

Both games this weekend will be carried live by Midco Sports Network and streamed live via NCHC.tv. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

On A Personal Note

I have participated in Movember for the past six years and have proudly raised over $10,000 to help change the face of men’s health. Will you join me and support the cause? Please visit my Movember fundraising page to learn more and to donate. Thank you!

The Prediction

With so much skill and toughness on the ice this weekend, it’s hard to imagine anything other than a split. In this case, however, goaltending is the great un-equalizer, and if North Dakota can get pucks to the net and win the special teams battle, a sweep is there for the taking. UND 5-3, 4-2.

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

Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Miami

Over the first five seasons of the NCHC, Miami has averaged a sixth-place finish (8th, 2nd, 5th, 7th, 8th), with a combined league record of 34-53-9-7 (.394).

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

For comparison, North Dakota has finished 2nd, 1st, 1st, 4th, and 4th in the first five seasons of the new league and has hosted the first round of their league playoffs (WCHA and NCHC) a combined sixteen consecutive times, the longest active streak in the nation (Boston College is in second place with nine; no other school in the nation has more than six).

The Fighting Hawks came in at number three in the annual NCHC media preseason poll, trailing only Duluth and St. Cloud State. Miami was picked to finish last in the eight-team league again this year.

Enrico Blasi, now in his twentieth season behind the Miami bench, is hoping that ten new faces (five traditional freshman recruits, two graduate transfers [defenseman River Rymsha and goaltender Jordan Uhelski], one decommit from Boston College [forward Monte Graham], and two decommits from Omaha [defensemen Bray Crowder and Derek Daschke]) in the lineup will translate into more success on the ice.

And so far, the victories have come: seven through the first ten games (7-3-0) after a dismal 12-20-5 overall record last year. To be fair, the #19 RedHawks have chalked up wins against relatively light competition (KRACH rankings in parenthesis):

Alabama-Huntsville (60th): 5-1 W, 4-0 W
Providence (17th): 0-4 L
Mercyhurst (45th): 3-0 W
UMass Lowell (37th): 0-3 L, 2-1 W
Colgate (53rd): 4-1 W, 6-0 W
Omaha (47th): 4-1 W, 3-6 L

By comparison, #11 North Dakota’s schedule ranks fourth-toughest in the nation (again, KRACH rankings in parenthesis):

Bemidji State (7th): 1-2 L, 1-1 (OT) T
Minnesota State (1st): 4-7 L, 4-3 W
Minnesota (16th): 3-1 W
Wisconsin (28th): 5-0 W, 3-2 (OT) W

After this most recent home sweep of Wisconsin, UND moved its record to 4-2-1 (.643) on the young season. After going 9-1-2 (.833) in non-conference play in 2015-16 and 7-2-2 (.727) out-of-conference in 2016-17, Brad Berry’s squad went just 6-2-4 (.667) last season and snapped its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. North Dakota’s other non-conference games during the 2018-19 campaign will be a home series against Alaska Anchorage (November 23-24) and a road series at Canisius in Buffalo, New York (January 4-5).

When North Dakota failed to make the tournament last season, many pointed to the road series at Miami as the “games that got away”. Let’s get in the DeLorean, shall we?

Friday, February 23rd, 2018. Steve Cady Arena. Miami, Ohio. 1.21 jiggawatts…

#12 UND led the unranked RedHawks 3-0 in the second period before surrendering four unanswered goals, the last in overtime. Had the Fighting Hawks held onto the lead and won that game, it would have been invited to the NCAAs for a sixteenth consecutive season. And conversely, Minnesota Duluth, the eventual national champion, would have been watching the tourney from home.

This weekend’s games will mark the fifth of nine consecutive weekends of hockey action for North Dakota. UND’s league schedule begins tonight, and the Fighting Hawks will also face NCHC foes Western Michigan (home), #1 Minnesota Duluth (road), and #5 Denver (home) along with the aforementioned Alaska Anchorage Seawolves before enjoying a two-week holiday break.

Miami will not travel to face North Dakota at Ralph Engelstad Arena this season.

Miami Team Profile

Head Coach: Enrico Blasi (20th season at Miami, 394-291-72, .568)

National Rankings: #19/#20

This Season: 7-3-0 overall, 1-1-0-0 NCHC (t-3rd)
Last Season: 12-20-5 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 6-14-4-2 NCHC (8th of 8 teams)

Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.10 goals scored/game – 25th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 1.70 goals allowed/game- 6th of 60 teams
Power Play: 17.4% (8 of 46) – 36th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 82.9% (34 of 41) – 24th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Gordie Green (6-6-12), Senior F Josh Melnick (3-7-10), Junior F Karch Bachman (3-2-5), Freshman F Jonathan Gruden (1-4-5), Senior D Grant Hutton (4-6-10), Freshman D Derek Daschke (2-5-7), Senior D River Rymsha (2-2-4), Junior G Ryan Larkin (6-2-0, 1.51 GAA, .942 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 76-37-18, .649)
National Rankings: #11/#11
This Season: 4-2-1 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 17-13-10 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.00 goals scored/game – 26th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.29 goals allowed/game – 15th of 60 teams
Power Play: 14.3% (5 of 35) – 46th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 75.0% (18 of 24) – 48th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Nick Jones (1-5-6), Sophomore F Grant Mismash (3-1-4), Senior F Rhett Gardner (3-1-4), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (0-5-5), Junior F Cole Smith (2-2-4), Junior D Colton Poolman (3-2-5), Senior D Hayden Shaw (0-4-4), Sophomore D Gabe Bast (2-2-4), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (1-2-3) Freshman G Adam Scheel (4-1-1, 1.58 GAA, .923 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last Meeting: February 24, 2018 (Oxford, OH). Miami’s Josh Melnick scored the first goal of the contest with a rare unassisted short-handed marker early in the second period, and Kiefer Sherwood (spoiler alert: overtime hero) made it 2-0 just 26 seconds into the third period. North Dakota rallied back behind goals from Hayden Shaw and Nick Jones, and after a scoreless five-minute overtime session, Sherwood scored a breakaway goal during the three-on-three OT. Cam Johnson made 25 saves for the Fighting Hawks.

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 in the past ten contests, outscoring Miami 36-26 over that stretch of games. The RedHawks have only hosted four of the past ten meetings between the schools.

All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 13-6-3 (.659), including a 4-3-1 (.563) record in games played in Oxford, Ohio. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).

Game News and Notes

According to KRACH, North Dakota has played the fourth-toughest schedule in the country, facing Bemidji State, Minnesota State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Miami’s slate of games (Alabama Huntsville, Providence, Mercyhurst, UMass Lowell, Colgate, Omaha) ranks 57th. Miami’s average home attendance through their first six home games is 2160, less than 60% of the capacity of Steve Cady Arena (3,642). By comparison, UND ranks first nationally with an average attendance of 11,547 through five home dates.

Media Coverage

This weekend’s series will not be televised, but a high definition webcast of both games will be available to NCHC.tv subscribers. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

The Prediction

I correctly called a sweep against Wisconsin last weekend because this year’s North Dakota squad passes the eye test. Over the past four games, UND has demonstrated determination, superb goaltending, and an ability to win games late, all attributes that travel well. It won’t be easy, but the Fighting Hawks will leave Oxford in much better shape this time around. UND 3-2 (OT), 3-2.

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

Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Wisconsin

Since Jeff Sauer left the Badger bench following the 2001-02 season, Wisconsin men’s hockey has been just like the Olympic Games: good once every four years.

Former Badger coach Mike Eaves was widely criticized for recruiting in a cycle, bringing in huge freshman classes every four years in the hopes that a dominant senior class would bring a title to Madison down the road.

And it worked. Once. In 2006, the Badgers won a national championship on the backs of three seniors (forwards Adam Burish and Ryan MacMurchy and defenseman Tom Gilbert) plus forwards Joe Pavelski and Robbie Earl, underclassmen who left the program after that season. Mike Eaves came close four years later, but Wisconsin fell to Boston College 5-0 in the title game. North Dakota derailed UW’s title hopes at the end of the 2014 season, and Bucky fell way short last year, missing the NCAA tournament.

It remains to be seen whether current Badger bench boss Tony Granato (now in his third season) and his assistants (Mark Strobel, Mark Osiecki, and Brad Winchester) will be able to break the cycle and have the Badgers more competitive every year.

Here’s a look at the overall records and NCAA tournament results under former head coach Mike Eaves (NCAA tournament record for each year in parenthesis).

2002-03: 13-23-4 (.375) – missed NCAA tournament
2003-04: 22-13-8 (.605) – made NCAA tournament (1-1; regional finalist)
2004-05: 23-14-4 (.610) – made NCAA tournament (0-1; regional semifinalist)
2005-06: 30-10-3 (.733) – made NCAA tournament (4-0; National Champions)
2006-07: 19-18-4 (.512) – missed NCAA tournament
2007-08: 16-17-7 (.487) – made NCAA tournament (1-1; regional finalist)
2008-09: 20-16-4 (.550) – missed NCAA tournament
2009-10: 28-11-4 (.698) – made NCAA tournament (3-1; National Runner-Up)
2010-11: 21-16-4 (.561) – missed NCAA tournament
2011-12: 17-18-2 (.486) – missed NCAA tournament
2012-13: 22-13-7 (.607) – made NCAA tournament (0-1; regional semifinalist)
2013-14: 24-11-2 (.676) – made NCAA tournament (0-1; regional semifinalist)
2014-15: 4-26-5 (.186) – missed NCAA tournament
2015-16: 8-19-8 (.343) – missed NCAA tournament

In the three strongest seasons under Mike Eaves (2006, 2010, 2014), the Badgers went 82-32-9 for a winning percentage of .703. But in the other eleven seasons, Wisconsin went just 185-193-57 (.491). That’s an average record of 17-18-5.

The season that really stings for Wisconsin is the 2013-14 campaign, when a 24-10-2 Badger squad fell to UND by a score of 5-2 in the opening round of the NCAA tourney. North Dakota’s Mark MacMillan potted the game-winner with just over 100 seconds remaining in the third period and Rocco Grimaldi added two empty-net goals to give himself a hat trick and put the game out of reach.

The 2014-15 season (4-26-5, .186) was historically bad for UW hockey. Before that, the last time Bucky won fewer than ten games was in 1963-64, when the Badgers went 8-5-3 in the first season of the modern era of UW hockey (Wisconsin also played as an independent from 1921 to 1935). That’s a stretch of 50 years without a season as bad as that year was for Mike Eaves.

Eaves was given one more season to turn things around, but an eight-win season (8-19-8) was not enough for Eaves to keep his job, and he was let go after fourteen years.

Granato went 20-15-1 (.569) in his first season in Madtown but dipped to 14-19-4 (.432) last season. With a 4-2-0 (.667) start to the 2018-19 campaign, Bucky fans are hopeful for an NCAA tournament bid this year.

#16 Wisconsin’s season-opening home sweep of then-#12 Boston College looked impressive at the time, but everyone is beating the Eagles these days. The Badgers followed that up with a road trip to New York, falling to Clarkson (4-2) before dominating St. Lawrence (7-1). And last weekend, UW split with former WCHA foe Michigan Tech, losing 6-2 on Friday night and reversing the scores in a 6-2 Saturday victory.

Wisconsin’s defensive corps has been impressive through the first six games of the season. Sophomore Wyatt Kalynuk (#2) leads the team in scoring with four goals and five assists while demonstrating a knack for getting the puck through traffic and on net from beyond the circles. And Kalynuk isn’t even the most highly-touted defenseman on the Badgers’ roster.

Those accolades belong to freshman blueliner K’Andre Miller (#19), a 2018 first-round draft pick (22nd overall) of the New York Rangers (NHL). An elite skater, Miller spent two years at Minnetonka High School before joining the U.S. National Team Development Program, switching from forward to defense just two seasons ago. The former Hopkins native, listed at 6-3 and 205, was named the Hockey Commissioners Association National Rookie of the Month after posting a line of 2-5-7, garnering a plus-nine rating, and leading the Badgers in shots on goal (19) through six October games.

On the injury front, Wisconsin sophomore forward Linus Weissbach (2-6-8 in six games played) traveled with the team to Grand Forks but is not expected to play after injuring his hand during Monday’s practice. In his absence, I expect freshman forward Jack Gorniak to move up to wing on the second line (joining center Tarek Baker and right wing Sean Dhooghe). Through the first six games, the Weissbach-Baker-Dhooghe line scored nine goals and added fourteen assists.

#14 North Dakota took down #5 Minnesota in Las Vegas last Saturday night and now sits at 2-2-1 on the young season. Even with victories over Minnesota State and Minnesota, this weekend’s games are critical for North Dakota’s postseason aspirations. After going 9-1-2 (.833) in non-conference play in 2015-16 and 7-2-2 (.727) out-of-conference in 2016-17, Brad Berry’s squad went just 6-2-4 (.667) last season and snapped its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. UND’s other non-conference games during the 2018-19 campaign will be a home series against Alaska Anchorage (November 23-24) and a road series at Canisius in Buffalo, New York (January 4-5).

A number of UND upperclassmen stood out last Saturday night in Las Vegas. Junior defenseman Colton Poolman (two goals) turned in his best effort of the season, senior defenseman Hayden Shaw assisted on all three North Dakota goals, and senior forward Rhett Gardner was called upon for almost all of the important draws and went an astonishing 25-11 (69.4 percent) in the faceoff circle. Poolman was named the NCHC’s Defenseman of the Week for his efforts against Minnesota.

Several freshmen also enjoyed the bright lights of Las Vegas last weekend. Forward Mark Senden continues to impress with his grit and determination, defenseman Johnny Tychonick grew by leaps and bounds with his play through the neutral zone and in his own end, and goaltender Adam Scheel stopped 20 of 21 shots and earned his second-straight victory over a top-ten opponent (he had 20 saves on 23 opportunities in a home victory vs. #7 Minnesota State). Scheel looks to have taken over North Dakota’s net for the time being, and his goals-against average (1.90) is third-lowest in the country among first-year netminders, trailing only Wisconsin’s Daniel Lebedeff (1.50) and Ferris State’s Roni Salmenkangas (1.52). Lebedeff (2-0-0, 1.50 GAA, .936 SV%) also looks to have taken the reins over from junior goaltender Jack Berry (2-2-0, 3.77 GAA, .876 SV%).

One huge loss for the Wisconsin Badgers was the early departure of forward Trent Frederic, who gave up his final two seasons of eligibility to sign a three-year entry level contract with the NHL’s Boston Bruins, the team which tabbed him in the first round (#29 overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft. After being named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2016-17 with a line of 15-18-33 in 30 games, Frederic followed that up with a 17-15-32 sophomore season for a college hockey career of 32-33-65 in 66 games.

And one year earlier, forward Luke Kunin (41-29-70 in 69 NCAA games played) signed with the Minnesota Wild after two seasons in Madtown. Kunin was the #15 overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.

As if the Frederic news wasn’t bad enough for Bucky fans, one highly-touted recruit never made it to campus. Sampo Ranta (Naantali, Finland) could not meet eligibility reqirements at UW and ended up at Minnesota instead. Ranta battled injuries during his first year with the Sioux City Musketeers (USHL), scoring just nine points (6g, 3a) in thirty games. He blossomed last season, however, scoring 23-14-37 in 53 games, finishing the season with the Finland team that won the under-18 world championship, and vaulting himself up to #18 among North American skaters in the Central Scouting pre-NHL draft rankings (the Badgers’ top player at the time of his decision to become a Gopher).

North Dakota was not immune to the early departure bug during the 2018 offseason, as defenseman Christian Wolanin (12-23-35 in 2017-18, 22-50-72 in 109 career games at North Dakota) and forward Shane Gersich (13-16-29 in 2017-18, 43-34-77 in 117 career games at North Dakota) each gave up his senior season to sign a pro contract (Wolanin with Ottawa, Gersich with Washington).

And the previous three summers haven’t been any easier for fans of the Green and White, as multiple players have left eligibility on the table to join the professional ranks (years of eligibility remaining at the time of signing):

2017: Forward Brock Boeser (2), Forward Tyson Jost (3), Defenseman Tucker Poolman (1)

2016: Forward Luke Johnson (1), Forward Nick Schmaltz (2), Defenseman Paul LaDue (1), Defenseman Troy Stecher (1), Defenseman Keaton Thompson (1)

2015: Defenseman Jordan Schmaltz (1), Goaltender Zane McIntyre (1)

In 2014, forward Rocco Grimaldi left after his sophomore campaign to sign with the Florida Panthers (NHL). In 2013, defenseman Derek Forbort signed with the Los Angeles Kings after his junior year. North Dakota also lost two players (Brock Nelson and Aaron Dell) to early departures in 2012 and two others (Jason Gregoire and Brett Hextall) in 2011.

All told, just three of seventeen NCAA players who were first-round draft picks between 2010 and 2015 made it to a third year of college hockey.

This weekend’s games will mark the fourth of nine consecutive weekends of hockey action for North Dakota. UND’s league schedule begins next Friday and Saturday night at #20 Miami, and the Fighting Hawks will also face NCHC foes #24 Western Michigan (home), #1 Minnesota Duluth (road), and #8 Denver (home) along with the aforementioned Alaska Anchorage Seawolves before enjoying a two week holiday break.

Wisconsin Team Profile

Head Coach: Tony Granato (3rd season at UW, 38-36-5, .513)
National Rankings: #16/#17
This Season: 4-2-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten
Last Season: 14-19-4 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-13-3-1 Big Ten (6th of seven teams)

Team Offense: 4.50 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.00 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 27.6% (8 of 29)
Penalty Kill: 64.3% (18 of 28)
Key Players: Senior F Seamus Malone (3-5-8), Sophomore F Tarek Baker (2-6-8), Sophomore F Sean Dhooghe (5-2-7), Senior F Will Johnson (2-3-5), Sophomore D Wyatt Kalynuk (4-5-9), Freshman D K’Andre Miller (2-5-7), Freshman G Daniel Lebedeff (2-0-0, 1.50 GAA, .936 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 74-37-18, .643)
National Ranking: #14/#15
This Season: 2-2-1 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 17-13-10 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.60 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.80 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.4% (4 of 23)
Penalty Kill: 66.7% (12 of 18)

Key Players: Senior F Nick Jones (0-4-4), Sophomore F Grant Mismash (2-0-2), Senior F Rhett Gardner (0-1-1), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (0-4-4), Junior F Cole Smith (2-2-4), Junior D Colton Poolman (2-0-2), Senior D Hayden Shaw (0-3-3), Sophomore D Gabe Bast (2-1-3), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (1-2-3) Freshman G Adam Scheel (2-1-1, 1.90 GAA, .900 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: November 4, 2017 (Madison, WI). North Dakota’s Shane Gersich potted the game-tying goal with 5:12 remaining in the third period and the teams skated to a 2-2 overtime tie (no shootouts in non-conference play). UND won Friday’s opener 3-2 behind 36 saves from freshman Peter Thome, making his first career collegiate start after Cam Johnson sustained an injury during the morning skate. Junior forward Nick Jones assisted on Friday’s game-tying goal and scored the game-winner more than halfway through the third period, while Fighting Hawks freshman forward Collin Adams netted a goal in each game of the series, two of his five tallies on the season.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: November 7, 2015. One night after the Badgers claimed a 3-1 victory, North Dakota turned the tables by the identical score. UND outshot Wisconsin 38-17 and used two third-period goals (Shane Gersich, Drake Caggiula) to pull away. In Friday’s opener, UND outshot the visitors 30-23 but could only put one past netminder Matt Jurusik, who made 64 saves in the weekend split.

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

All-time Series: Wisconsin leads the all-time series, 87-70-13 (.550), with a slight edge (37-34-9, .519) in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in December 1968.

Last Ten: The Green and White have had Bucky’s number lately, going 7-2-1 (.750) in the last ten tilts and outscoring the Badgers 32-18.

Game News and Notes

North Dakota’s Rhett Gardner, the reigning NCHC Defensive Forward of the Year, has won 70.2 percent of his faceoffs this season. UND and Wisconsin are not scheduled to meet again in any upcoming seasons, although both sides have said that they want the rivalry to continue. The Fighting Hawks are the only team in the country allowing fewer than twenty shots per game (19.8). “Badgers” cannot be spelled without “B-A-D”.

Media Coverage

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

One More Shift

North Dakota fan favorite Jim Archibald will return to Grand Forks and take the ice during the introduction of starting lineups against the University of Wisconsin. Archibald played for UND from 1981-82 to 1982-85 and helped the Fighting Sioux capture their fourth national championship in 1982. During his senior season in 1984-85, Archibald was named a co-captain and led the team in goals (37) and points (61) while being named to the All-WCHA First Team. He finished his collegiate career with 75 goals and 144 points in 154 career games and holds the program records for single-season penalties (81), single-season penalty minutes (197), career penalties (247), and career penalty minutes (540).

The Fighting Hawks plan to honor two former UND hockey greats in a similar manner each season.

The Prediction

North Dakota seems to have found its game of late, and Wisconsin is bringing nine freshman and seven sophomores to Ralph Engelstad Arena this weekend. UW can be exploited on the back end, so watch for several UND forwards (Nick Jones, Jordan Kawaguchi, and Rhett Gardner) to score their first goals of the season against the Badgers. I may be going out on a limb here, but I see a sweep for the Green and White.
UND 4-3 (OT), 3-2.

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

U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game Preview: North Dakota vs. Minnesota

The 2018 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.

The Duel In The Desert.

The reason fans from 41 states, four provinces, and four countries have descended on Las Vegas this weekend (h/t to Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald).

Or, quite simply: North Dakota vs. Minnesota, a hockey rivalry unlike any other.

North Dakota is two years removed from its eighth national championship but missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 2002.

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

More to the point…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a closer look at the thirteen combined national titles won by these two storied programs.

Despite only nine tournament victories since Minnesota’s last title (UND has 22 in that same span), Gophers’ head coach Don Lucia was inexplicably given a two-year extension that was supposed to keep him behind the bench through the 2018-19 campaign. After the Gophers sputtered to a 19-17-2 record last year, Lucia was replaced by former St. Cloud State bench boss Bob Motzko.

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

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

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

#17 North Dakota split at home against Minnesota State last weekend and now sits at 1-2-1 on the young season. With that less-than-stellar start, tonight’s game is critical for North Dakota’s postseason aspirations. After going 9-1-2 (.833) in non-conference play in 2015-16 and 7-2-2 (.727) out-of-conference in 2016-17, Brad Berry’s squad went just 6-2-4 (.667) last season and snapped its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. UND’s other non-conference opponents during the 2018-19 campaign will be Wisconsin, Alaska Anchorage, and Canisius.

This season, the Golden Gophers opened with an impressive weekend against defending national champion Minnesota Duluth, skating to a 1-1 tie at Amsoil Arena before throttling the Bulldogs 7-4 at home. Over the past two Saturdays, #5 Minnesota played a pair of exhibition contests (at US Under-18 Team, vs. Trinity Western), winning each game by a final of 7-1.

Minnesota Team Profile

Head Coach: Bob Motzko (1st season at Minnesota, 1-0-1, .750)

National Rankings: #5/#5
This Season: 1-0-1 overall, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten
Last Season: 19-17-2 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 10-12-2-1 Big Ten (5th of 7 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 4.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.0% (1 of 5)
Penalty Kill: 70.0% (7 of 10)

Key Players: Senior F Tyler Sheehy (1-0-1), Senior F Tommy Novak (0-1-1), Junior F Rem Pitlick (1-1-2), Sophomore F Brannon McManus (2-1-3), Senior D Jack Sadek (0-1-1), Sophomore D Clayton Phillips (0-4-4), Junior G Mat Robson (1-0-1, 2.40 GAA, .936 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 73-37-18, .641)
National Ranking: #17/#NR
This Season: 1-2-1 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 17-13-10 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.50 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.25 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.8% (3 of 16)
Penalty Kill: 61.5% (8 of 13)

Key Players: Senior F Nick Jones (0-4-4), Sophomore F Grant Mismash (2-0-2), Senior F Rhett Gardner (0-0-0), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (0-3-3), Sophomore D Gabe Bast (2-1-3), Freshman D Jacob Bernard-Docker (0-2-2), Freshman G Adam Scheel (1-1-1, 2.23 GAA, .878 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: October 22, 2017 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after the Gophers bested North Dakota in a tight 2-1 contest, the Fighting Hawks rolled by a 4-0 score behind 22 saves from senior netminder Cam Johnson. Defenseman Christian Wolanin scored two power play goals to help UND go 3-for-9 with the man advantage. Minnesota was powerless on six power play opportunities.

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

All-time: Minnesota leads the all-time series by an eleven-game margin, 142-131-15 (.519). The teams first met in 1948.

Last ten: The Gophers have gone 6-2-2 in the last ten meetings between the schools, outscoring UND 34-26 in those games.

Game News and Notes

Tonight’s game was announced over 27 months ago (July 26th, 2016). The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game is a regular-season game played each season to raise money for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and Museum (Evelyth, Minnesota); Ralph Engelstad Arena purchased the rights to this season’s event. For additional information about the game, please visit www.vegas18.com. The number eight is greater than the number five. In an effort to alleviate parking concerns, Minnesota fans are asked to park at Hoover Dam and walk to Orleans Arena.

Media Coverage

Tonight’s game can be seen on Midco Sports Network as well as on various cable outlets in Minnesota. The opening faceoff is set for 7:07 p.m. Pacific Time (9:07 p.m. Central Time). The games will also be streamed live in high definition via NCHC.tv. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com

The Prediction

There will certainly be a buzz at Orleans Arena tonight, with the crowd almost entirely in North Dakota’s favor. This rivalry has shown that whichever side handles the pressure and energy better will emerge victorious. I see UND coming out a bit too amped up for this one with the Gophers taking advantage early. The oddsmakers have Bob Motzko’s side as a fairly heavy favorite, but I see this game as a one-goal contest either way. College hockey is typically a race to three goals; however, this one will take more than that. The Fighting Hawks will overcome a slow start with a thrilling third-period comeback and some overtime heroics. North Dakota 4-3 (OT).

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. Minnesota State

Five 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 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 four seasons. The eight teams in the league have gone 209-105-40 (.647) in non-conference action since the start of the 2014-15 season and sent seven teams to the Frozen Four (UND and Omaha in 2015, UND and Denver in 2016, Denver and Duluth in 2017, and Duluth in 2018) over that four-year stretch. Conference members North Dakota, Denver, and Minnesota Duluth have won the last three national titles.

The last time that Minnesota State (then known as Minnesota State University – Mankato) played North Dakota was at the tail end of UND’s last season in the WCHA, a split in Mankato in March 2013. The Mavericks last played at Ralph Engelstad Arena on the last weekend of the 2011-12 regular season, a series which saw the Fighting Sioux clinch home ice for the first round of the playoffs with a 4-2 victory on Friday night and follow that up with a 3-0 victory on Saturday night.

After #16 North Dakota’s less-than-stellar showing in last weekend’s home and home series against Bemidji State (2-1 loss in Bemidji; 1-1 [OT] tie in Grand Forks), these next three weekends of out-of-conference games are critical for North Dakota’s postseason aspirations. After going 9-1-2 (.833) in non-conference play in 2015-16 and 7-2-2 (.727) out-of-conference in 2016-17, Brad Berry’s squad went just 6-2-4 (.667) last season and snapped its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. UND’s other non-conference opponents during the 2018-19 campaign will be Minnesota, Wisconsin, Alaska Anchorage, and Canisius.

One week ago, #7 Minnesota State fashioned an excellent start to the season with a home sweep (4-3, 5-3) over #8 Boston University. The Mavericks are also scheduled to face Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth (plus either Clarkson or Arizona State) during the non-conference portion of their 2018-19 campaign.

Last season was another magnificent one for head coach Mike Hastings. His Mavericks breezed through the regular season with a mark of 26-7-1 (.779) before dispatching Alaska (8-2, 6-2) in the first round of their conference tournament. Things were going according to form the following weekend with a 2-1 victory over Michigan Tech in Game One of that playoff series, but the Huskies roared back with a pair of playoff wins to end Minnesota State’s hopes of a second league playoff title (2015).

The Mavs had an extra week to prepare for the opening round of the national tournament, but it wasn’t quite enough. Minnesota-Duluth needed overtime to best their in-state rivals by a final of 3-2 after trailing 2-0 for much of the contest. The Bulldogs won all four of their games in the 2018 NCAAs by one goal each.

Less than a week after that heartbreaking loss, unrestricted free agent defenseman (and Hobey Baker finalist) Daniel Brickley gave up his final season of eligibility to sign a two-year entry level contract with the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League. Brickley (20-57-77 in 107 career NCAA games played) appeared in one NHL game last season and is currently assigned to the Ontario Reign (AHL).

North Dakota was not immune to the early departure bug during the 2018 offseason, as defenseman Christian Wolanin (12-23-35 in 2017-18, 22-50-72 in 109 career games at North Dakota) and forward Shane Gersich (13-16-29 in 2017-18, 43-34-77 in 117 career games at North Dakota) each gave up his senior season to sign a pro contract (Wolanin with Ottawa, Gersich with Washington).

And the previous three summers haven’t been any easier for fans of the Green and White, as multiple players have left eligibility on the table to join the professional ranks (years of eligibility remaining at the time of signing):

2017: Forward Brock Boeser (2), Forward Tyson Jost (3), Defenseman Tucker Poolman (1)

2016: Forward Luke Johnson (1), Forward Nick Schmaltz (2), Defenseman Paul LaDue (1), Defenseman Troy Stecher (1), Defenseman Keaton Thompson (1)

2015: Defenseman Jordan Schmaltz (1), Goaltender Zane McIntyre (1)

In 2014, forward Rocco Grimaldi left after his sophomore campaign to sign with the Florida Panthers (NHL). In 2013, defenseman Derek Forbort signed with the Los Angeles Kings after his junior year. North Dakota also lost two players (Brock Nelson and Aaron Dell) to early departures in 2012 and two others (Jason Gregoire and Brett Hextall) in 2011.

Minnesota State Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Hastings (7th season at MSU, 153-72-19, .666)
National Ranking: #7/#8
This Season: 2-0-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 WCHA
Last Season: 29-10-1 overall (NCAA Regional Semifinalist), 22-5-1-0 WCHA (1st of 10 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 4.50 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.00 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 8.3% (1 of 12)
Penalty Kill: 87.5% (7 of 8)

Key Players: Junior F Parker Tuomie (2-2-4), Junior F Marc Michaelis (1-2-3), Sophomore F Jared Spooner (0-2-2), Sophomore D Riese Zmolek (1-2-3), Sophomore F Jake Jaremko (0-1-1), Sophomore D Connor Mackey (1-1-2), Junior D Ian Scheid (0-0-0), Freshman G Dryden McKay (2-0-0, 3.00 GAA, .891 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 72-36-18, .643)
National Ranking: #16/#NR
This Season: 0-1-1 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 17-13-10 overall, 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 1.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 0.00% (0 of 8)
Penalty Kill: 75.0% (3 of 4)

Key Players: Senior F Nick Jones (0-2-2), Sophomore F Grant Mismash (1-0-1), Senior F Rhett Gardner (0-0-0), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (0-1-1), Junior D Colton Poolman (0-0-0), Sophomore D Gabe Bast (1-0-1), Senior D Hayden Shaw (0-0-0), Freshman G Adam Scheel (0-0-1, 0.93 GAA, .938 SV%), Sophomore G Peter Thome (0-1-0, 2.07 GAA, .889 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 9, 2013 (Mankato, MN). Mavericks forward Brett Knowles netted the game-winner 202 seconds into overtime to send most of the 5088 in attendance at Verizon Wireless Center into celebration mode. Danny Kristo scored North Dakota’s only goal just over a minute into the game. MSU-M netminder Stephon Williams stopped 30 of 31 shots on goal in the contest.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: March 3, 2012. Senior goaltender Brad Eidsness pitched a 29 save shutout on Senior Night and Brock Nelson added an empty-netter with 90 seconds to play as UND rolled the Mavericks 3-0. North Dakota won Friday’s opener 4-2 on the strength of a three-goal first period.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 38-11-7 (.741), including a 23-6-3 (.766) record in games played in Grand Forks.

Last ten: North Dakota has a sparkling 8-2-0 record in the last ten contests, outscoring the Mavericks 32-23 over that stretch of games.

Game News and Notes

North Dakota led the entire country in faceoff efficiency (55.5 percent) last season and is fifth in the country this season (58.3 percent). Nick Jones (59.3 percent last season), Rhett Gardner (58.6 percent), and Ludvig Hoff (54.5 percent) are all back inside the circle for the Fighting Hawks. Gardner won 29 of his 41 draws last weekend (70.7 percent) and is now in third place on UND’s all-time list for faceoff wins (behind only Corban Knight and Chris VandeVelde). Minnesota State has never won an NCAA tournament game (0-5).

The Prediction

If college hockey is indeed a race to three goals, North Dakota needs to improve its offensive pace (two total goals through the first two games of the 2018-19 season) and score a goal or two on the power play (0-for-8 thus far) this weekend. I anticipate the Fighting Hawks breaking through in Friday’s opener, with Minnesota State powering back for the weekend split. UND 3-1, MSU 4-2.

Ticket Information (from fightinghawks.com)

Single-game seats remain available for this weekend’s series against Minnesota State. Tickets can be purchased at the UND Box Office at Ralph Engelstad Arena or online at FightingHawks.com/tickets.

Media Coverage

This weekend’s games will be telecast live on Midco Sports Network and also streamed live in high definition via NCHC.tv. All UND men’s hockey games, home and away, can be heard on 96.1 FM (The Fox) and on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

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. Bemidji State

Five 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 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 four seasons. The eight teams in the league have gone 209-105-40 (.647) in non-conference action since the start of the 2014-15 season and sent seven teams to the Frozen Four (UND and Omaha in 2015, UND and Denver in 2016, Denver and Duluth in 2017, and Duluth in 2018) over that four-year stretch. Conference members North Dakota, Denver, and Minnesota Duluth have won the last three national titles.

After winning the WCHA in 2016-17 with a stellar 20-6-2 conference record, Bemidji State took a step back last season (13-9-6 WCHA, 16-14-8 overall), finishing in fourth place in the ten-team league.

North Dakota will play a home and home series against Bemidji State, with Friday’s opener in Bemidji and Saturday’s rematch at Ralph Engelstad Arena. These out-of-conference games are critical for North Dakota’s postseason aspirations. After going 9-1-2 (.833) in non-conference play in 2015-16 and 7-2-2 (.727) out-of-conference in 2016-17, Brad Berry’s squad went just 6-2-4 (.667) last season and snapped its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. UND’s other non-conference opponents during the 2018-19 campaign will be Minnesota State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Alaska Anchorage, and Canisius.

Goaltender Michael Bitzer (65-54-19, 1.98 goals-against average, .921 save percentage, and 21 shutouts as a four-year starter at BSU) is no longer between the pipes for the Beavers, and that leaves Tom Serratore with junior Jack Burgart (0-1-0, 3.49 GAA, and an .896 SV% in 86 minutes of game action) and sophomore Henry Johnson (0-0-0, one save on one shot in 20 minutes of game action) from last year’s squad. Sophomore netminder Zach Driscoll transferred to BSU after having spent his freshman season at St. Cloud State.

Another huge loss on the back end for Bemidji State was the early departure of defenseman Zach Whitecloud, who gave up his final two seasons of eligibility to sign a three-year entry level contract with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights. Whitecloud recorded seven goals and 29 assists in 77 career college games.

North Dakota was not immune to the early departure bug during the 2018 offseason, as defenseman Christian Wolanin (12-23-35 in 2017-18, 22-50-72 in 109 career games at North Dakota) and forward Shane Gersich (13-16-29 in 2017-18, 43-34-77 in 117 career games at North Dakota) each gave up his senior season to sign a pro contract (Wolanin with Ottawa, Gersich with Washington).

And the previous three summers haven’t been any easier for fans of the Green and White, as multiple players have left eligibility on the table to join the professional ranks (years of eligibility remaining at the time of signing):

2017: Forward Brock Boeser (2), Forward Tyson Jost (3), Defenseman Tucker Poolman (1)

2016: Forward Luke Johnson (1), Forward Nick Schmaltz (2), Defenseman Paul LaDue (1), Defenseman Troy Stecher (1), Defenseman Keaton Thompson (1)

2015: Defenseman Jordan Schmaltz (1), Goaltender Zane McIntyre (1)

In 2014, forward Rocco Grimaldi left after his sophomore campaign to sign with the Florida Panthers (NHL). In 2013, defenseman Derek Forbort signed with the Los Angeles Kings after his junior year. North Dakota also lost two players (Brock Nelson and Aaron Dell) to early departures in 2012 and two others (Jason Gregoire and Brett Hextall) in 2011.

Bemidji State Team Profile

Head Coach: Tom Serratore (18th season at BSU, 282-270-78, .510)
National Ranking: NR/NR
This Season: 0-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 WCHA
Last Season: 16-14-8 overall, 13-9-6 WCHA (4th of 10 teams)

2017-18 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.71 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.7% (31 of 143)
Penalty Kill: 86.5% (115 of 133)

Key Returning Players (2017-18 statistics): Junior F Adam Brady (8-18-26), Senior F Jay Dickman (15-8-23), Sophomore F Charlie Combs (13-7-20), Senior D Justin Baudry (9-10-19), Senior D Dan Billett (1-9-10), Junior G Jack Burgart (0-1-0, 3.49 GAA, .896 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 72-35-17, .649)
National Ranking: #13/#12
This Season: 0-0-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 17-13-10 overall, 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2017-18 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.92 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.38 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.5% (37 of 172)
Penalty Kill: 82.8% (130 of 157)

Key Returning Players (2017-18 statistics): Senior F Nick Jones (15-15-30), Sophomore F Grant Mismash (9-13-22), Senior F Rhett Gardner (7-13-20), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (5-14-19), Junior D Colton Poolman (7-22-29), Senior D Hayden Shaw (3-10-13), Sophomore G Peter Thome (5-4-3, 2.31 GAA, .910 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 13, 2018 (Grand Forks, ND). In a microcosm of UND’s year, the Fighting Hawks outshot the Beavers 32-20 but could manage only a 2-2 tie (one of ten ties on the season). Bemidji State rallied twice from a goal down, the second time off of a deflection midway through the final frame.

Last Meeting in Bemidji: January 12, 2018. North Dakota senior forward Austin Poganski scored just eighteen seconds into the contest and UND dominated the third period, turning a 1-1 tie into a 5-1 blowout. Junior Nick Jones and Poganski each potted two goals, and Cam Johnson made 28 saves in the road victory.

Most Important Meeting: October 15, 2010 (Bemidji, MN). In the first game played at the BREC, North Dakota spotted BSU the opening goal less than two minutes into the contest and then steamrolled the Beavers 5-2. The Fighting Sioux outshot their fellow Green-and-Whiters 38-14.

Last Ten: North Dakota is 6-1-3 (.750) in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring the Beavers 32-24 over that stretch of games. Six of the last ten tilts have been decided by a goal or less, with Bemidji State going 0-3-3 in those games.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 31-3-5 (.865), including a 21-2-3 (.865) record in games played in Grand Forks and a 10-1-2 (.846) mark in Bemidji, Two of BSU’s three wins over North Dakota have come in the past six seasons (November 2011 and October 2014). Bemidji’s other victory over UND came in 1970.

Game News and Notes

North Dakota led the entire country in faceoff efficiency (55.5 percent) last season and returns Nick Jones (59.3 percent), Rhett Gardner (58.6 percent), and Ludvig Hoff (54.5 percent). Johnny Simonson graduated after winning 53.7 percent of his faceoffs a year ago. Bemidji State has not appeared in the NCAA tournament since moving to the WCHA (eight seasons). In eleven seasons as members of the CHA, the Beavers made four NCAA tournament appearances, including a Frozen Four run in 2008-09. Friday’s opener will be played at Sanford Center (capacity 4,373) in Bemidji, Minnesota.

Set the Expectation (from fightinghawks.com)

The University of North Dakota is honored to host Brenda Tracy at Saturday’s game and all weekend long as part of her “Set the Expectation” campaign to end sexual violence.

Tracy, herself a sexual assault survivor, is making her second visit to the UND campus after having initially brought her message to UND’s student-athletes back in February.

The Fighting Hawks will be sporting both decals on their helmets and patches on their game jerseys for Saturday’s game in support of Tracy’s campaign.

For more information on Brenda Tracy and the Set the Expectation campaign, please visit BrendaTracy.com.

The Prediction

This weekend will not be an easy one for North Dakota. Watch for the Beavers to jump out to an early lead on Friday, with UND needing to mount a late comeback to take the contest to overtime. The Fighting Hawks will showcase their depth and talent in Saturday’s rematch. 2-2 tie, UND 4-1.

Ticket Information (from fightinghawks.com)

Single-game seats remain available for Saturday night’s game. Tickets can be purchased at the UND Box Office at Ralph Engelstad Arena or online at FightingHawks.com/tickets.

Media Coverage

Friday’s opener can only be seen via webcast at WCHA.tv ($8.99 for a one-day pass), with Saturday’s rematch telecast live on Midco Sports Network and also streamed live in high definition via NCHC.tv. All UND men’s hockey games, home and away, can be heard on 96.1 FM (The Fox) and on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

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

NCHC Frozen Faceoff Preview: North Dakota vs. St. Cloud State

It took St. Cloud State three games to dispatch Miami last weekend in the first round of the NCHC playoffs, as the RedHawks took Game 2 of the series with a 3-2 overtime victory. The two teams also went to overtime in Sunday’s Game 3, with SCSU prevailing on Mikey Eyssimont’s game-winner.

Overall, St. Cloud State was on the ice for 196 minutes of game action last weekend, while North Dakota defeated Omaha in two games (4-0, 4-3 OT) and was on the ice for 121 minutes of game action.

Last Saturday’s loss was the Huskies first since January 26th, when SCSU fell 5-1 at Duluth. Bob Motzko’s crew is 10-1-3 over their last fourteen games, while North Dakota is just 4-6-4 over that same stretch.

The top two seeds in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff (#1 St. Cloud State and #2 Denver) are guaranteed to be playing in the national tournament next weekend. #3 Minnesota-Duluth faces Denver in the second Friday semifinal, and the Bulldogs would make the NCAA tourney in 89 percent of scenarios in which they go 0-2 at Xcel Energy Center and would lock up a tournament bid with a single win this weekend (according to collegehockeyranked.com).

And that leaves North Dakota, which is currently 14th in the Pairwise and in a precarious position, given the number of autobids yet to be determined in other conferences. UND could of course earn the league’s autobid with two victories and a Frozen Faceoff championship. Collegehockeyranked.com puts Brad Berry’s crew at a 25 percent chance of an at-large bid with one win and at 14 percent with zero wins.

St. Cloud State earned the Penrose Cup as 2017-18 NCHC champions, their third regular-season league championship in the past six seasons (2012-13 WCHA, 2013-14 NCHC).

Last season, North Dakota and St. Cloud State battled six times, with UND clearly having the better of it and earning the UND/SCSU Challenge Cup with three regular-season victories in four meetings:

NCHC Regular Season
November 18, 2016 (St. Cloud): UND 4, SCSU 0
November 19, 2016 (St. Cloud): UND 3, SCSU 0

NCHC Regular Season
February 3, 2017 (Grand Forks): SCSU 3, UND 1
February 4, 2017 (Grand Forks): UND 2, SCSU 1 (OT)

NCHC First Round Playoff Series
March 10, 2017 (Grand Forks): UND 5, SCSU 2
March 11, 2017 (Grand Forks): UND 6, SCSU 5 (OT)

St. Cloud State earned the Challenge Cup for 2017-18 with two victories and two ties against North Dakota.

It’s been up and down for the Huskies in the first five seasons of the NCHC. After winning the Penrose Cup in the inaugural season of the new league (2013-14) with an overall record of 22-11-5 (.645), St. Cloud State made the NCAA tournament again in 2014-15 with a relatively pedestrian mark of 20-19-1 (.512). At the end of that season, SCSU had the unfortunate circumstance of facing and falling to North Dakota in the West Regional final (Fargo, ND), a virtual home game for the Green and White.

SCSU captured the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship and another NCAA tourney bid in 2015-16 with a sparkling record of 31-9-1 (.768) but unfortunately suffered an overtime loss in the opening round of the national tournament. St. Cloud State, the top seed in the NCAA West Regional (Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, MN), rallied to tie #18 Ferris State in the third period, but the Bulldogs scored just 18 seconds into the extra session to knock off the Huskies (who were ranked #2 in the country heading into the NCAAs) by a final of 5-4.

Thirty-win seasons are extremely rare in today’s college hockey landscape, with more parity and more ties taking away the opportunity to rack up victories. Since I started traveling to St. Cloud for the UND/SCSU games back in 1998, the Fighting Sioux/Hawks and the Huskies have both reached the 30-victory plateau on multiple occasions. Remarkably, St. Cloud State posted identical marks of 31-9-1 (.768) in their milestone seasons (2001 and 2016).

1997-98 North Dakota (30-8-1)
1998-99 North Dakota (32-6-2)
1999-00 North Dakota (31-8-5)
2000-01 St. Cloud State (31-9-1)
2003-04 North Dakota (30-8-3)
2010-11 North Dakota (32-9-3)
2015-16 North Dakota (34-6-4)
2015-16 St. Cloud State (31-9-1)

With a record of 24-7-6, it is possible but unlikely that St. Cloud State will reach the thirty-victory mark this year. A Frozen Faceoff championship and a national title would put SCSU at 30-7-6 for the season.

For more on the rarity and importance of a thirty-win season, follow this link.

Last season was far from a milestone season for Bob Motzko’s squad, as the group sputtered to a record of 16-19-1 (.458) and missed the NCAAs for the first time since the 2011-12 team finished at .500 (17-17-5). North Dakota has made fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the longest active streak in Division I men’s ice hockey and the second-longest streak of all time (Michigan appeared in 22 straight NCAA tourneys from 1991 to 2012).

North Dakota ended St. Cloud State’s 2016-17 campaign with a home sweep in the first round of the NCHC playoffs. UND cruised 5-2 in the opener before besting the Huskies in a 6-5 overtime thriller. As I have said before, we have come to expect close matchups in NCHC playoff games played on Saturdays (and often Sundays), as the visiting team is almost always playing to extend their season.

Last month, North Dakota reached the 1,500-win plateau all-time as a program. UND has more wins over the past eleven seasons (306) than any other program in the country, with Boston College (304) and Denver (289) rounding out the top three.

With two victories last weekend, UND’s senior class of Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson (100-44-20, .667) became the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games. North Dakota’s juniors have collected 71 wins over the past three seasons and will need a strong playoff run and a very successful senior campaign to keep the streak alive.

The Fighting Hawks have ten ties already this season, breaking a school record set by the 2000-01 national runner-up squad that went 29-8-9. With only sixteen wins on the season, it is certainly likely that UND will finish the 2017-18 campaign with fewer than twenty victories. The last time a North Dakota men’s hockey team fell below that number was in 2001-02, when a Dean Blais-led group went 16-19-2 (.459) and missed the NCAAs.

North Dakota has made the tournament for fifteen consecutive seasons (every year since 2001-02), the longest active streak in Division I men’s ice hockey. If Brad Berry can lead the program to its sixteenth-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, North Dakota would be placed in the 2018 West Regional (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) as the host school. The 2018 NCAA Frozen Faceoff will take place at Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minnesota).

St. Cloud State Team Profile

Head Coach: Bob Motzko (13th season at SCSU, 275-190-49, .583)

Pairwise Ranking: 1st of 60 teams
National Rankings: #1/#1

This Season: 24-7-6 (.730) overall, 16-4-4-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 16-19-1 (.458) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 10-13-1-0 NCHC (5th)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.76 goals scored/game – 2nd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.46 goals allowed/game – 14th of 60 teams
Power Play: 23.5% (39 of 166) – 9th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 80.3% (98 of 122) – 36th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Robby Jackson (15-27-42), Sophomore F Ryan Poehling (12-17-29), Junior F Mikey Eyssimont (17-21-38), Junior F Patrick Newell (5-20-25), Junior D Jimmy Schuldt (10-28-38), Sophomore D Jack Ahcan (3-18-21), Junior D Will Borgen (2-12-14), Freshman G David Hrenak (12-5-2, 1.93 GAA, .926 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 71-33-16, .658)

Pairwise Ranking: 14th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #12/#13

This Season: 16-12-10 (.553) overall, 8-10-6-3 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 21-16-3 (.562) overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.92 goals scored/game – 27th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.39 goals allowed/game – 12th of 60 teams
Power Play: 21.0% (34 of 162) – 20th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 82.2% (125 of 152) – 23rd of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Shane Gersich (12-16-28), Junior F Nick Jones (14-13-27), Freshman F Grant Mismash (9-13-22), Senior F Austin Poganski (10-8-18), Junior F Rhett Gardner (7-13-20), Junior D Christian Wolanin (12-22-34), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (7-20-27), Senior G Cam Johnson (11-8-7, 2.16 GAA, .907 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 3, 2018 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota clinched home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs with a 2-2 tie on the last night of the regular season. In the 3-on-3 overtime, NCHC defensive forward of the year Rhett Gardner took a pass from Christian Wolanin and put one past Hrenak for the extra conference point. UND lost two-goal leads to St. Cloud State on both nights of the series.

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, 71-42-14 (.614). Aside from their 2015 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal victory, 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).

Game News and Notes

St. Cloud State has outscored opponents 61-29 in third periods this season. North Dakota has made the second weekend of the conference tournament (WCHA Final Five/NCHC Frozen Faceoff) for sixteen consecutive seasons.

Media Coverage

Both Friday semifinals and Saturday’s championship will be available live on CBS Sports Network, with all four games streamed in high definition on NCHC.tv. UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports Radio Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

A Personal Note

The North Dakota Champions Club is hosting a pre-game event at McGovern’s Pub (225 7th Street West in St. Paul) beginning at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, March 16th. For more information about McGovern’s, please visit www.patmcgoverns.com. Here’s to hockey!

The Prediction

Let’s get this out of the way first: St. Cloud State is a better team than North Dakota this season. However, UND needs wins this weekend and has some intangibles in its favor, including a smaller ice surface and a virtual home crowd at Xcel Energy Center. The Fighting Hawks will play with a sense of urgency and come out with a huge effort on Friday afternoon. UND 4-2.

Bonus Prediction

In the second Friday semifinal, I’ve got Duluth prevailing over Denver by a score of 4-3.

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

NCHC Playoff Preview: North Dakota vs. Omaha

In an NCHC quarterfinal series that will determine the postseason fate for both teams, here are two reasons why North Dakota will advance:

1. UNO is just 5-11-0 on the road this season, with power play (20.6 percent) and penalty kill (73.5 percent) numbers far worse than their home splits (12-4-2 record, 29.8 percent power play, 81.8 percent penalty kill). The Mavericks have been outscored 65-38 on the road while being outshot 553-448.

2. Omaha’s senior class has never advanced to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff (1-6 overall in NCHC playoff games) despite an NCAA Frozen Four appearance as freshmen (2015). In fact, since joining the WCHA in 2011, the Mavs have never reached the Twin Cities for the second weekend of the conference tournament despite having home ice in three of those seven years.

And here are two reasons why Omaha will advance:

1. Mavericks junior netminder Evan Weninger has been playing much better as of late. Coming into the North Dakota series last month, Weninger had a goals-against average of 3.65 and a save percentage of .888. Over the past six games (vs. UND, vs. Colorado College, at Minnesota-Duluth), Weninger went 3-2-1 with a goals-against average of just 2.14 and a save percentage of .939.

2. North Dakota has blown two-goal leads five times in the last eleven games, including once against Omaha.

No matter which way the best-of-three series goes, it will almost certainly be decided on Sunday night:

Since 2010, UNO and North Dakota have played fourteen regular-season series, and most of them have resulted in splits. Omaha has never won more than one game in any series, while North Dakota has mixed in three sweeps and one win/tie.

In the past fifteen first-round league playoff matchups, UND has put the home fans at ease by winning Friday’s opener thirteen times (including the last eleven straight). Saturday’s games have been more difficult, as seen by the following breakdown:

Average goals scored/goals allowed in first-round home playoff games (2003-2017):

Friday: 5.00 goals scored/1.60 goals allowed (thirteen wins, two losses)
Saturday: 3.40 goals scored/2.33 goals allowed (eleven wins, four losses)
Sunday: 3.67 goals scored/1.17 goals allowed (six wins, zero losses)

Despite North Dakota’s Friday home playoff success over the past fifteen seasons, this year’s version of the Omaha Mavericks has fared far better in series openers (13-4-0) than in series finales (4-11-2). To further complicate matters, the last time North Dakota won back-to-back games was on January 6th (vs. Omaha) and January 12th (at Bemidji State), and the Fighting Hawks only accomplished two weekend sweeps all season (October 13th and 14th vs. St. Lawrence; December 1st and 2nd vs. Western Michigan).

Omaha went just 10-13-1-0 in conference play this season, which was good for fifth place in the eight-team NCHC. Despite that sub-par mark, #13 UNO is ahead of North Dakota in the Pairwise Rankings (Omaha 14th, UND 15th) thanks to a 7-2-1 non-conference record (against UMass-Lowell, Arizona State, Notre Dame, Northern Michigan, and Union).

On the plus side, Omaha is scoring 3.47 goals per game, the sixth-highest scoring offense in the country.

On the minus side, Omaha is allowing 3.71 goals per game, the worst scoring defense in the country.

And those statistics are even worse on the road, with Omaha scoring 2.38 goals per game (43rd) and allowing 4.06 (59th).

Out of conference, North Dakota had decent success (6-2-4, .667) against Alaska Anchorage, St. Lawrence, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Union, and Bemidji State. The league as a whole went 45-22-13 (.644) in non-conference play and could easily place four or even five teams in the NCAA tournament field. If the season ended today, St. Cloud State (1st), Denver (5th), Duluth (9th), Omaha (14th) and North Dakota (15th) would all make the tourney, with Western Michigan (t-20th), Colorado College (23rd) and Miami (29th) on the outside looking in.

Fighting Hawks’ first-year forward Grant Mismash has had an up-and-down freshman campaign. Mismash started the season with a line of 5-9-14 through his first seventeen games in a UND uniform (including two goals in a 6-2 victory over Colorado College in October) but was held to two goals and two assists from December 8th, 2017 through February 17th, 2018 (a stretch of thirteen games) and was a healthy scratch on January 6th vs. Omaha. To be fair, the Nashville Predators draft pick (Round 2, #61 overall) from Edina, Minnesota notched a goal and assist two weekends ago at Miami and duplicated that scoring effort last weekend against St. Cloud State to give him a line of 9-13-22 for the season and a spot on the NCHC 2017-18 All-Rookie Team.

Omaha has been dealing with the loss of junior forward Mason Morelli (4-10-14 in 16 games). According to the Omaha World-Herald, Morelli tore his ACL in a freak accident over the winter break and is lost for the season.

If UND hopes to make a deep playoff run, junior forward Shane Gersich (11-16-27) and senior forward Austin Poganski (10-7-17) will need to continue their recent scoring prowess. The two combined for 33 goals and 29 assists during the 2016-17 season but struggled to find open ice in the first half of this year. From October through December, Poganski went 4-2-6 and Gersich added 5-6-11 in twenty games each. In the past sixteen games, the two have scored twelve goals and added fifteen assists.

It is worthy of note that Gersich has scored four goals and notched five assists in eleven career games against the Mavs while Poganski has enjoyed similar success (2-8-10 in sixteen career games).

According to KRACH, Omaha has played the fifth-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks 13th.

Since January 1st, UND has gone just 4-7-5 and scored 47 goals (2.94/game) while allowing 44 (2.75/game) against Omaha (four games), Bemidji State, Duluth, Denver, Colorado College, Miami, and St. Cloud State. One could argue that the Fighting Hawks deserved a better fate in a handful of those ties and losses, but the margin of error is so small for this team.

Three weekends ago, North Dakota reached the 1,500-win plateau all-time as a program. UND has more wins over the past eleven seasons (304) than any other program in the country, with Boston College (302) and Denver (287) rounding out the top three.

UND’s senior class of Cam Johnson, Trevor Olson, Austin Poganski, and Johnny Simonson (98-44-20, .667) needs two more victories to become the fifteenth consecutive recruiting class to win at least 100 games. That streak is on the line this weekend in Grand Forks.

The Fighting Hawks have ten ties already this season, breaking a school record set by the 2000-01 national runner-up squad that went 29-8-9. With only fourteen wins on the season, it is becoming increasingly likely that UND will finish the 2017-18 campaign with fewer than twenty victories. The last time a North Dakota men’s hockey team fell below that number was in 2001-02, when a Dean Blais-led group went 16-19-2 (.459) and missed the NCAAs.

North Dakota has gone just 7-10-7 (.438) over the last twelve weekends of hockey after beginning the year 7-2-3 (.708), and at the minimum, Brad Berry’s squad will need to win this weekend’s best-of-three series in order to solidify their place in the NCAA tournament. Of course, if UND advances to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff (Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota) and wins both games next weekend, they would secure the league’s autobid. The loser of this series will be unlikely to earn an at-large bid to the tournament when the bracket is announced on Sunday, March 18th.

According to Jim Dahl of collegehockeyranked.com, UND is most likely to end up ranked 14th or 15th in the Pairwise with two victories this weekend, with an outside chance at being ranked 13th or 16th. In almost all of those scenarios, the Fighting Hawks would need to avoid two losses net weekend in St. Paul.

North Dakota has made the tournament for fifteen consecutive seasons (every year since 2001-02), the longest active streak in Division I men’s ice hockey. If Brad Berry can lead the program to its sixteenth-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, North Dakota would be placed in the 2018 West Regional (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) as the host school. The 2018 NCAA Frozen Faceoff will take place at Xcel Energy Center.

Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (1st season at UNO, 17-15-2, .529)

Pairwise Ranking: 14th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #13/#13

This Season: 17-15-2 (.529) overall, 10-13-1-0 NCHC (t-5th)
Last Season: 16-16-5 (.500) overall (missed NCAA tournament), 9-13-2-0 NCHC (6th)

Team Offense: 3.47 goals scored/game – 6th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 3.71 goals allowed/game – 60th of 60 teams
Power Play: 25.7% (39 of 152) – 5th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.2% (122 of 156) – 46th of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F David Pope (20-20-40), Senior F Tyler Vesel (11-20-31), Sophomore F Zach Jordan (16-12-28), Senior F Jake Randolph (6-19-25), Sophomore F Tristan Keck (10-12-22), Senior D Joel Messner (5-18-23), Sophomore D Ryan Jones (1-11-12), Junior G Evan Weninger (15-12-1, 3.31 GAA, .900 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 69-34-17, .646)

Pairwise Ranking: 15th of 60 teams
National Rankings: #14/NR

This Season: 14-12-10 (.528) overall, 8-10-6-3 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 21-16-3 (.562) overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th)

2017-18 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.86 goals scored/game – 29th of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.44 goals allowed/game – 13th of 60 teams
Power Play: 20.5% (32 of 156) – 22nd of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 81.6% (120 of 147) – 27th of 60 teams

Key Players: Junior F Shane Gersich (11-16-27), Junior F Nick Jones (11-13-24), Freshman F Grant Mismash (9-13-22), Senior F Austin Poganski (10-7-17), Junior F Rhett Gardner (7-12-19), Junior D Christian Wolanin (11-21-32), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (7-16-23), Senior G Cam Johnson (9-8-7, 2.21 GAA, .905 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: February 17, 2018 (Omaha, NE). UND led by a narrow 1-0 margin after two periods of play before Johnny Simonson’s third-period tally gave the visitors some breathing room. North Dakota’s Rhett Gardner added an empty-net goal with 104 seconds remaining, the Hawks’ fourteenth shot on goal of the period (to just four for the Mavs). In Friday’s opener, Omaha scored four second-period goals to erase an early 2-0 deficit and defeat the Fighting Hawks 6-3. The Mavericks went 3-for-4 with the man advantage and got 38 saves from Evan Weninger. UND outshot Omaha 78-52 on the weekend.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: January 6, 2018. One night after Evan Weninger made 34 saves in a 4-1 road victory, the Fighting Hawks exploded for seven goals and freshman netminder Peter Thome stopped all fifteen shots he faced. In the second period alone, North Dakota scored three goals and outshot the Mavericks 19-1 (32-15 for the game). UND senior forward Austin Poganski had a three-point night with an assist on junior Rhett Gardner’s first-period goal and two third-period tallies of his own, while Gardner added two assists to match Poganski in the scoring column.

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 44-24 over that stretch. Maverick goaltender Evan Weninger made 56 combined saves in two road victories (February 2017 and January 2018).

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 17-10-1 (.625), including a slight 7-6-1 (.536) edge in games played in Grand Forks. 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. UND junior defenseman Christian Wolanin (11-21-32) leads all Fighting Hawks scorers and is seeking to become the first blueliner to lead UND in scoring since James Patrick (12-36-48 in 1982-83, his second and final college season). The Mavericks won ten league games this season, two more than North Dakota.

Media Coverage

This weekend’s NCHC playoff action will be shown live on Midco Sports Network, with a high definition webcast also available to subscribers via NCHC.tv.

UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports Radio Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com.

The Prediction

Both teams have been prone to inconsistency throughout this season, and I expect momentum to shift back and forth throughout the weekend. North Dakota has not shown the ability to protect leads, and that will come back to haunt them in at least one game of this series. All signs point to hockey in Grand Forks on Sunday night. UND 3-2, UNO 4-2, UND 3-2.

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