NCAA Northeast Regional Preview: North Dakota vs. Yale

Last season, the high-flying Yale Bulldogs cruised to the ECAC regular season and playoff championships and were averaging 4.67 goals per game heading into the NCAA tournament. Their first round opponent was Vermont, and the Catamounts stifled and stymied the host Bulldogs, 4-1.

If KRACH is an indication of the strength of teams in each conference, then (aside from #13 Cornell), Yale played a season against squads comparable to Alaska-Anchorage (#32 KRACH) and Michigan Tech (#48). In a full season against the likes of #28 Union , #33 St. Lawrence, #34 Quinnipiac, #35 Rensselaer, #36 Colgate, #40 Princeton, #44 Brown, #46 Dartmouth, #47 Harvard, and #50 Clarkson, the Bulldogs put up impressive offensive numbers: 4.09 goals/game and a power play that converted at a 23.5% clip. But against those same opponents, Yale also allowed almost three goals per game.

Or put more simply, here is the comparison between North Dakota and Yale:

Yale (Strength of Schedule #37): 4.09 goals scored/game, 2.94 goals allowed/game
UND (Strength of Schedule #2): 3.29 goals scored/game, 2.10 goals allowed/game

The question is this: which team will be able to play its style and take away time and space from their opponent?

In the first three months after Chay Genoway’s injury, the Fighting Sioux struggled to a 6-10-4 mark. Since that time, North Dakota has been on a mission, winning 12 of its last 13 games and outscoring opponents 55-22 during that stretch. UND has seen improvement in all areas, but most notably goaltending and team defense.

The Green and White are deep, talented, and rugged up front, and penalty trouble seems to be the only thing that can derail North Dakota’s momentum.

Yale suffered its own blow on the injury front, losing senior forward Sean Backman (21 goals and 14 assists in 29 games) for the season to a non-hockey related foot injury. Backman was voted to the all-ECAC first team and was named Ivy League Player of the Year.

Yale Team Profile

Head Coach: Keith Allain (4th season at Yale, 71-48-12, .588)
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 4, most recently 2009
National Titles: None
This Season:  20-9-3, 15-5-2 ECAC (1st)
National Rankings: #8/#8
PairWise Ranking: 9th
Team Offense: 4.09 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.94 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 23.5% (44 of 187)
Penalty Kill: 81.8% (126 of 154)
Last Season: 24-8-2 overall (NCAA East Regional semifinalist), 15-5-2 ECAC (1st)
Key Players: Junior F Broc Little (26-14-40), Sophomore F Brian O’Neill (14-25-39), Junior F Denny Kearney (9-25-34), Senior D Thomas Dignard (6-20-26), Junior D Jimmy Martin (2-15-17), Senior G Billy Blasé (7-2-0, 2.37 GAA, .901 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (6th season at UND, 155-83-24, .637)
NCAA tournament appearances: 25, most recently 2009
National Titles: 7, most recently 2000
National Ranking: #4/#4
PairWise Ranking: 5th
This Season: 22-12-5, 15-10-3 WCHA (4th)
Last Season: 24-15-4 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional semifinalist), 17-7-4 WCHA (1st)
Team Offense: 3.29 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.10 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.2% (42 of 208)
Penalty Kill: 86.3% (170 of 197)
Key Players: Senior F Chris VandeVelde (16-25-41), Sophomore F Jason Gregoire (20-17-37), Freshman F Danny Kristo (15-21-36), Junior F Evan Trupp (8-26-34), Junior D Derrick LaPoint (2-20-22), Junior D Jake Marto (5-13-18), Sophomore G Brad Eidsness (24-9-4, 2.09 GAA, .915 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: November 1, 2003 (Grand Forks, ND). The Fighting Sioux crushed the visiting Bulldogs 10-0 to complete the two game sweep. Brady Murray scored the game winner 13 seconds into the first period, and Zach Parise led the way with a hat trick and an assist. UND won Friday’s opener, 8-4, behind two goals each from Brandon Bochenski and Quinn Fylling. Eight future NHL players were in uniform for North Dakota in that series.

Most Important Meeting: January 1, 1960 (Troy, NY). In the only tournament game these two teams have ever played, North Dakota trounced Yale 15-0 in the RPI holiday tourney,

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 5-0-0.

Game News and Notes

North Dakota senior forward Chris VandeVelde (117 career points) needs two points to crack the top 50 on UND’s all-time scoring list. Yale has the nation’s second best power play (23.5%). The Fighting Sioux have scored five shorthanded goals over the past thirteen games. UND is 3-0 all-time in NCAA tournament games played in Worcester, MA. Yale head coach Keith Allain was born and raised in Worcester.

The Prediction

Yale hasn’t seen a team like North Dakota all season, and the Fighting Sioux are on a roll. If it’s a parade to the penalty box, things could get interesting, but UND is too deep and too focused for the Bulldogs. North Dakota 4, Yale 2.

Bonus Predictions

In the other regional semifinal, Alaska is a better team than most fans give them credit for, but a date with Boston College seems like destiny (and could be payback) for North Dakota. Boston College 3, Alaska 2.

In the other regionals, I have:

Wisconsin over St. Cloud State in the West Regional final
Denver over New Hampshire in the East Regional final
Miami over Michigan in the Midwest Regional final

Thank you for reading. Check back on Sunday for a preview of the Northeast Regional final.

WCHA Final Five Preview: UND vs. Minnesota-Duluth

When these two teams met in Grand Forks in February, Duluth was ranked #6 and was in the top ten in the Pairwise rankings, while North Dakota was ranked #11 and, at 13th in the Pairwise, was squarely on the bubble for the national tournament.

In February and March, North Dakota has gone 9-2-0, while Minnesota-Duluth staggered to the finish line with a 5-6-0 mark over the same time span. Two of North Dakota’s victories came during a home sweep of UMD during which the Fighting Sioux outscored the Bulldogs, 10-3. North Dakota and Minnesota-Duluth have switched positions in the race for the NCAAs.

Coming into the weekend, North Dakota can finish no lower than 6th in the Pairwise and is a lock for the NCAA tournament. Duluth can finish as high as 5th or as low as 19th. The Bulldogs could make it easy by winning the Broadmoor for the second consecutive year; otherwise, it might be a restless Saturday night for Scott Sandelin’s squad.

North Dakota junior forward Matt Frattin collected four goals last weekend against Minnesota. He also collected a five minute major penalty for charging and a one game suspension from the league office. The Fighting Sioux will also be without the services of freshman defenseman Joe Gleason (undisclosed injury). Expect to see Carter Rowney in for Frattin and Corey Fienhage supplanting Gleason when the Green and White hit the ice in St. Paul on Thursday night.

Minnesota-Duluth Team Profile

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (10th season at UMD, 166-189-46, .471)
This Season:  22-16-1 Overall, 16-11-1 WCHA (t-5th)
National Rankings: #11/#11
PairWise Ranking: t-11th
Team Offense: 3.23 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.74 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 23.5% (55 of 234)
Penalty Kill: 82.3% (167 of 203)
Last Season: 22-13-8 Overall (NCAA West Regional Finalist), 10-11-7 WCHA
Key Players: Sophomore F Jack Connolly (18-31-49), Junior F Justin Fontaine (21-25-46), Junior F Rob Bordson (12-28-40), Sophomore F Mike Connolly (14-26-40), Sophomore D Brady Lamb (11-13-24), Junior G Kenny Reiter (13-9-0, 2.38 GAA, .910 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (6th season at UND, 152-83-24, .633)
National Ranking: #5/#5
PairWise Ranking: t-4th
This Season: 22-12-5, 15-10-3 WCHA (4th)
Last Season: 24-15-4 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional semifinalist), 17-7-4 WCHA (1st)
Team Offense: 3.26 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.10 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.2% (42 of 208)
Penalty Kill: 86.3% (170 of 197)
Key Players: Sophomore F Jason Gregoire (19-16-35), Senior F Chris VandeVelde (14-22-36), Freshman F Danny Kristo (14-19-33), Junior F Evan Trupp (5-23-28), Junior D Jake Marto (5-11-16), Sophomore G Brad Eidsness (21-9-4, 2.09 GAA, .914 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: February 20, 2010 (Grand Forks). Mario Lamoureux came back from a one game suspension and single-handedly downed the visiting Bulldogs with his two goals. North Dakota won the series finale 5-1 after downing UMD in the opener, 5-2.

Last Meeting at the WCHA Final Five: March 20, 2009 (St. Paul). North Dakota was the second of three victims of the Alex Stalock Express, falling 3-0 to the eventual tournament champions. Duluth became the only team in Final Five history to capture the Broadmoor trophy after participating in the Thursday play-in game.

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

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 128-70-8 (.641), although Duluth holds a 2-1-1 (.625) edge in games on neutral ice.

Last Ten: North Dakota is 5-4-1 (.550) in the last ten games between the teams.

Game News and Notes

North Dakota senior forward Chris VandeVelde needs four points to move into a tie with Zach Parise on UND’s career scoring list. Minnesota-Duluth has gone 82 games without being shut out, and has blanked nine opponents in that span. If North Dakota advances to Friday’s semifinal, expect to see Aaron Dell between the pipes. Coming into this year, Bulldog winger Rob Bordson had played in 42 games and notched one goal and six assists. This season, he’s put up 12 goals and 28 assists in 39 games.

The Prediction

Having Frattin (suspension), Gleason (undisclosed injury), and Genoway (concussion) out of the lineup will test UND’s depth. As with so many playoff games, this one will come down to special teams and goaltending. The crowd will definitely be a factor, and I can’t see North Dakota’s run coming to an end just yet. UND 3-2.

Bonus Final Five Predictions:

Friday afternoon: Wisconsin 4, St. Cloud State 2
Friday evening: Denver 4, North Dakota 3
Saturday afternoon: North Dakota 2, St. Cloud State 2
Saturday evening: Wisconsin 3, Denver 2

Thank you for reading. As always, I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.

WCHA First Round Playoff Preview: UND vs. Minnesota

Minnesota’s playoff history in Grand Forks is dreadful. Not only have the Gophers never beaten the Fighting Sioux at North Dakota in the playoffs (0-6), but Minnesota has also lost playoff games in Grand Forks to Harvard and Princeton, along with some other team in the 2006 West Regional.

The recent playoff history away from Grand Forks isn’t much better for the Maroon and Gold, although they did claim WCHA Final Five championships with victories over North Dakota in 2004 and 2007. The Fighting Sioux have had the better of the results on the bigger stages, however, defeating Minnesota to advance to the national championship game in 2005 and to the Frozen Four in 2007.

North Dakota is riding a NCAA-best seven game winning streak. Brad Eidsness has been spectacular during the streak, posting a .940 save percentage and a 1.57 goals-against average while allowing two goals or less in all seven games.

The special teams battle is one to watch this weekend. Minnesota is a -3 this season (27 power play goals scored, 30 allowed), while North Dakota is a +16 (40 scored, 24 allowed). UND has been clipping along at 25 percent (11 for 44) since Brett Hextall returned from injury on February 12th, while Minnesota went five for eight with the man advantage last Sunday against Wisconsin.

Minnesota Team Profile

Head Coach: Don Lucia (11th season at Minnesota, 273-143-47, .640)
National Ranking: #26/NR
PairWise Ranking: t-23rd
This Season: 17-17-2 overall, 12-14-2 WCHA (7th)
Last Season: 17-13-7 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 12-11-5 WCHA (5th)
Team Offense: 2.81 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.72 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.8% (27 of 152)
Penalty Kill: 82.0% (137 of 167)
Key Players: Junior F Mike Hoeffel (12-10-22), Sophomore F Jordan Schroeder (8-19-27), Senior F Tony Lucia (11-15-26), Junior D Cade Fairchild (4-16-20), Junior G Alex Kangas (15-13-1, 2.54 GAA, .911 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (6th season at UND, 150-82-24, .633)
National Ranking: #5/#5
PairWise Ranking: t-5th
This Season: 20-11-5, 15-10-3 WCHA (4th)
Last Season: 24-15-4 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional semifinalist), 17-7-4 WCHA (1st)
Team Offense: 3.19 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.14 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.3% (40 of 197)
Penalty Kill: 87.0% (161 of 185)
Key Players: Sophomore F Jason Gregoire (18-13-31), Senior F Chris VandeVelde (13-20-33), Freshman F Danny Kristo (13-17-30), Junior F Evan Trupp (5-23-28), Junior D Jake Marto (5-8-13), Sophomore G Brad Eidsness (19-8-4, 2.16 GAA, .911 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: January 16, 2010 (Minneapolis, MN). The Golden Gophers scored three goals in under four minutes in the second period and cruised to a 5-1 victory over the visiting Sioux. Five different players scored for Minneota. The two teams tied 3-3 in the series opener on Friday night.

Last meeting in Grand Forks: October 17, 2009. Fighting Sioux defenseman Jake Marto tied the score late in the third period and blocked a shot with under two minutes to play as North Dakota salvaged a tie with the visiting Gophers. UND dominated Minnesota 4-0 in Friday’s opener.

Most important meeting: March 24, 1979 (Detroit, MI). North Dakota and Minnesota met to decide the national championship, and the Gophers prevailed, 4-3.

All-time: Minnesota leads the all-time series, 131-125-14 (.511), but North Dakota holds a 67-53-8 (.555) advantage in games played in Grand Forks.

Last Ten: North Dakota is 5-2-3 in the last ten meetings between the teams. Four of the last ten games have gone to overtime.

Game News and Notes

Minnesota has won only one game this season when trailing after the first period (1-9-1). Three is the magic number of goals for North Dakota; the Gophers have only won twice this season (2-16-2) when opponents have scored three or more goals. With one more victory, Brad Eidsness would join Karl Goehring as the only Sioux goaltenders to win twenty games in each of their first two seasons. This weekend is a White Out Weekend at Ralph Engelstad Arena, with Fighting Sioux fans encouraged to wear white to all games. In an effort to minimize traffic and congestion at the arena, Gopher fans are asked to arrive at 10:37 p.m.

The Prediction

Three will be the magic number this weekend. If North Dakota can score three goals in each game this weekend, it will be season over for Minnesota. I have a feeling that this series will go three games, with both Saturday and Sunday going right down to the wire and possibly into overtime. North Dakota 4-2, Minnesota 3-2 (OT), North Dakota 3-2.

Bonus Predictions

In the other first-round matchups, here’s how I see them playing out:

Denver over Michigan Tech in 2 games
Wisconsin over Alaska-Anchorage in 2 games
St. Cloud State over MSU-Mankato in 3 games
Duluth over Colorado College in 3 games

Thank you for reading. As always, I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.