Weekend Preview: UND vs. Colorado College

With all of the ties, shootouts, late-game heroics, and overtime winners as well as the disparity in each team’s number of games played in the Omaha pod and over the first few weeks of the second half, it can be difficult to get a handle on who is ahead in the conference standings. The best way I have found is to look at the average number of points earned.

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

1. North Dakota 2.07 (29 points in 14 games)
2. Omaha 2.00 (24 points in 12 games)
3. St. Cloud State 1.88 (30 points in 16 games)
4. Minnesota Duluth 1.62 (21 points in 13 games)
5. Denver 1.29 (18 points in 14 games)
6. Western Michigan 1.19 (19 points in 16 games)
7. Colorado College 1.07 (15 points in 14 games)
8. Miami 1.00 (15 points in 15 games)

#3 North Dakota (10-3-1) played all ten scheduled games in the Omaha pod, but the second half has had a few hiccups. UND has already had four games scratched against Omaha, with those games rescheduled for later this season. Not wanting two consecutive weekends off, the Fighting Hawks worked with the NCHC to squeeze in a Sunday-Monday series in Colorado Springs two weekends ago. After sweeping the Tigers (3-0, 2-1), Brad Berry’s squad returned home to prepare for last weekend’s series against the 18th-ranked Pioneers, only to learn last Wednesday that that series would also be pushed back two days. As I mentioned last week, the flexibility that the Fighting Hawks have shown in adjusting to game times and days will benefit this team in the national tournament.

Amazingly, UND played its first fourteen games of the season on the road (ten in the Omaha pod plus road series at Colorado College and Denver). Brad Berry’s team is one of just five in men’s Division I ice hockey without a home game to its credit. Of course, that will change tonight at Ralph Engelstad Arena. After 330 days, the Fighting Hawks will be on home ice, playing in front of nearly 3000 fans (25 percent capacity) and raising a banner as 2020 NCHC regular season champions.

Of the other four teams who have been on the road to this point in the season, Sacred Heart (2-3-0) is scheduled to play a home game next weekend, with Long Island (3-5-0) following suit on February 13th. Maine (2-5-1) is at the mercy of the league office, as Hockey East is setting schedules on a weekly basis. Arizona State (5-11-2) is playing all of its games on the road this season.

After winning just twenty total games over his first three seasons behind the CC bench, head coach Mike Haviland won fifteen games (15-17-5) during the 2017-18 campaign and took Denver to three games in the first round of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs (2-0 W, 2-3 L, 1-6 L). Two seasons ago. Colorado College registered its most wins under Mike Haviland (17) and most since joining the NCHC. CC went 9-12-3-0 in league play and finished 6th in the league. Last year, however, the Tigers went just 11-20-3 overall and won only four games in the NCHC, finishing in last place.

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

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

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

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

Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, freshman netminder Dominic Basse (3-5-1, 2.71 GAA, .897 SV%) has been steady as Colorado College (3-9-2) sorts out its goaltending situation. Matt Vernon got the majority of the starts for CC last year (8-16-3, 3.43 GAA, .901 SV%), but the sophomore from Calgary, Alberta has struggled mightily in the early going, going winless in six appearances (0-4-1) with a goals-against average of 3.88 and a save percentage of just .843.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (9-2-1. 1.98 GAA, .923 SV%, 2 SO) has been the clear-cut #1 for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (1-1-0, 3.18 GAA, .870 SV%) appearing in three games. Scheel won both games against the Tigers in Colorado Springs, allowing just one goal on 51 shots in the two-game sweep and earning NCHC Goaltender of the Week honors. Last weekend against Denver, Scheel was pulled after two periods in the opener (four goals allowed on twenty shots) but rebounded with a strong performance on Monday night, stopping 32 of 33 in the 5-1 victory.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Mike Haviland’s squad has just three players who meet that threshold: sophomore forward Josiah Slavin (4-6-10), junior forward Grant Cruikshank (6-2-8 in ten games; out of the lineup for the last four), and junior forward Ben Copeland (4-6-10). Freshman defenseman Jack Millar has been held scoreless over the past four games after opening his collegiate career with two goals and four assists in his first ten games.

By that same measure, eight North Dakota players make the list: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (5-10-15), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (4-12-16), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (3-11-14), senior forward Grant Mismash (7-7-14), freshman forward Riese Gaber (8-2-10), senior forward Collin Adams (5-7-12), junior forward Mark Senden (1-8-9), and newly-added freshman forward Louis Jamernik (0-2-2 in four games).

Kawaguchi was the only NCHC player to notch at least one point in each of his team’s games in the Omaha pod. Mismash, who scored in each game of the series in Colorado Springs (including the game-winner in the rematch), will not be available for the first game this weekend in Grand Forks after the NCHC issued him a one-game suspension for checking Denver goaltender Magnus Chrona during Monday night’s game. Chrona left the game after hitting his head on the ice, and there has been no update on his condition.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After fourteen games, the Fighting Hawks are sixth in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (25.8) and are in the top fifteen in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 53.4% (11th)
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 54.5% (12th)

By comparison, the Tigers are 30th in Corsi (49.0%) and 27th in Fenwick (49.2), averaging 28.6 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 29.1/game) while allowing 26.3 shots on goal against/contest.

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot. The Fighting Hawks are second in the nation in faceoff win percentage at 56.1 percent, while the Tigers are 37th in the nation at 47.2%. To this point of the season, 51 men’s Division I college hockey teams have played at least one game.

Leading the way in the faceoff circle for North Dakota have been Shane Pinto (63.0%), Jasper Weatherby (52.7%), Collin Adams (58.0%), and Mark Senden (46.6%). Colorado College will counter with Logan Will (55.4%), Josiah Slavin (49.0%), Jackson Jutting (46.9%), and Troy Conzo (39.1%).

The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.3 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 6th in the country. By contrast, the Tigers are lighting the lamp on just 7.0% of their shots on goal (46th).

North Dakota’s puck possession game and sharpshooting have led to fifty goals scored by sixteen different players in fourteen games (3.57 goals scored/game); 50 goals is the high-water mark in the NCHC this season.

Here are the three closest teams in terms of offensive production:

Western Michigan: 48 goals scored in 16 games (3.00 goals scored/game)
Omaha: 43 goals scored in 12 games (3.58)
St. Cloud State: 43 goals scored in 15 games (2.87)

No other league team has scored more than 37 goals this season.

UND’s offensive prowess is matched by their stingy defense, as the Fighting Hawks have only allowed 30 goals in fourteen games (2.14 goals allowed/game). Only Omaha has allowed fewer total goals to this point in the season (26 goals allowed in 12 games; 2.17). Minnesota Duluth is close behind (31 in 13, 2.38), with Miami in fourth place (38 in 14, 2.71)

UND’s scoring margin of 50-30 is certainly impressive, but a look inside the numbers reveals that the Fighting Hawks outscored Western Michigan and Miami 22-7 in four victories and played relatively even (28 goals for, 23 goals against) in its other ten matchups (four games against Denver and two each vs. Colorado College, Duluth, and St. Cloud State). In the series against the Tigers two weeks ago, North Dakota outscored CC 5-1.

Amazingly, Western Michigan has already allowed 61 goals through sixteen games, an average of 3.81 goals allowed/game. North Dakota scored 14 of those goals in its two pod contests against the Broncos.

Through fourteen games, Colorado College has blocked 196 shots as a team, led by Zach Berzolla (44!), Jack Millar (21), Hugo Blixt (17), and Connor Mayer (15).

North Dakota has blocked 182 shots, with Matt Kiersted (25), Jacob Bernard-Docker (22), and Gabe Bast (16) leading the way.

Special teams is a huge area of concern for Mike Haviland’s squad. CC has only scored four goals with the man advantage this season and has already allowed 14 power play goals to opponents. The Tigers have also allowed three shorthanded goals while scoring just one for net of minus-twelve.

By comparison, North Dakota is a plus-nine (15 power play goals scored, 8 power play goals allowed, 2 shorthanded goals scored, 0 shorthanded goals allowed). Colorado College has scored just one power play in its last twenty man-advantage opportunities.

On the injury front, Colorado College junior forward Grant Cruikshank will not be in the lineup this weekend after having his appendix removed. Cruikshank leads the Tigers in goals (six) and is second in shots on goal (38) despite missing the past four games. In his absence, Ben Copeland (four goals, 44 shots on goal) and Josiah Slavin (four goals, 33 shots on goal) will lead the way. Cruikshank is the son of four-team Olympic speed skating parents Bonnie Blair (four gold medals) and Dave Cruikshank.

In much the same way that North Dakota added freshman forward Louis Jamernik to fill out their lineup, Colorado College has added center Matthew Gleason from the Chicago Steel. Gleason, who put up a line of 3-3-6 in thirteen USHL games this season, was a finalist for Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey Award and was named the Star Tribune Metro player of the year.

There may be a couple of holes on the blue line this weekend for North Dakota. Senior defenseman Gabe Bast did not make the trip to Denver last weekend, and sophomore Ethan Frisch left Sunday’s game against the Pioneers and did not return that night or in the rematch. In their absence, freshman Cooper Moore and senior Josh Rieger made up the third pair on Sunday night. An update on the availability of Bast and Frisch for tonight’s contest has not been provided.

Last weekend, North Dakota struggled out of the gate in a 4-1 loss at Denver before rebounding for a resounding 5-1 victory. Colorado College lost two home games against Omaha by identical 3-2 scores this week, including a heartbreaking loss on Tuesday with 0.9 seconds remaining in overtime. The Tigers had the better of the play for large stretches – outshooting the Mavs 69-45 – but went 0-for-11 with the man advantage and fell just short in both games.

Colorado College Tigers

Head Coach: Mike Haviland (7th season at CC, 66-145-22, .330)
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 3-9-2 overall, 3-9-2 NCHC
Last Season: 11-20-3 overall, 4-17-3-1 NCHC (8th)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.00 goals scored/game – 45th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 3.14 goals allowed/game – 35th of 51 teams
Power Play: 8.2% (4 of 49) – 48th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 68.2% (30 of 44) – 49th of 51 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Josiah Slavin (4-6-10), Junior F Grant Cruikshank (6-2-8), Junior F Ben Copeland (4-6-10), Freshman F Hunter McKown (2-2-4), Senior F Troy Conzo (1-3-4), Sophomore F Patrick Cozzi (1-4-5), Freshman D Jack Millar (2-4-6), Junior D Bryan Yoon (1-1-2), Freshman D Nicklas Andrews (1-2-3), Freshman G Dominic Basse (3-5-1, 2.71 GAA, .897 SV%)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 126-60-24, .657)
National Rankings: #3/#3

This Season: 10-3-1 overall, 10-3-1 NCHC
Last Season: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.57 goals scored/game – 12th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 2.14 goals allowed/game – 9th of 51 teams
Power Play: 25.4% (15 of 59) – 5th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 86.4% (51 of 59) – 15th of 51 teams

Key players: Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (4-12-16), Sophomore F Shane Pinto (5-10-15), Senior F Grant Mismash (7-7-14), Freshman F Riese Gaber (8-2-10), Senior F Collin Adams (5-7-12), Junior F Mark Senden (1-8-9), Senior D Matt Kiersted (3-11-14), Sophomore D Ethan Frisch (2-3-5 in 11 games), Junior D Jacob Bernard-Docker (1-5-6), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (1-2-3 in seven games), Junior G Adam Scheel (9-2-1. 1.98 GAA, .923 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 11, 2021 (Colorado Springs, CO). After the two teams traded power play goals in the middle frame (Riese Gaber for UND, Ben Copeland for CC), it was Grant Mismash who unknotted the score in favor of the visitors early in the third period. North Dakota locked it down after that, allowing the Tigers only three shots on goal in the final twenty minutes of play. One night earlier, the Fighting Hawks blanked CC 3-0 despite being outshot 27-18.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: February 1, 2020. One night after a third-period power play goal held up for a 1-0 UND victory, North Dakota built a snowman with an 8-1 win, outshooting the Tigers 35-15 in the process. Seven different Fighting Hawks lit the lamp, including Jordan Kawaguchi, who had two goals and an assist.

Most Important Meeting: March 27, 1997. UND defeated Colorado College, 6-2, in the Frozen Four Semifinals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Two nights later, North Dakota downed Boston University, 6-4, to claim its sixth NCAA Championship. North Dakota and Colorado College also met in the 2001 East Regional (Worcester, Mass.), with UND prevailing, 4-1.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 164-84-11 (.654), with a remarkable record of 105-22-7 (.810) in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: North Dakota has eight wins in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring CC 37-20 over that span. UND has won five straight against the Tigers, with CC scoring a combined three goals in those five games. The Fighting Hawks’ last home loss to Colorado College was on February 9, 2018 (4-2).

Game News and Notes

These two coaching staffs coached against each other at the AHL and NHL levels prior to the NCHC. North Dakota head coach Brad Berry has had far the better of it, with a overall record of 15-4-1 (.775) against Colorado College. CC has won two national titles (1950, 1957). Since 1957, the Tigers have appeared in the NCAA tournament thirteen times (most recently in 2011) and advanced to three Frozen Fours (1996, 1997, 2005). In their careers against Colorado College, Jordan Kawaguchi has five goals and seven assists in twelve games and Grant Mismash has six goals and two assists in eight games. The Tigers have played teams fairly evenly in first periods this season (eight goals scored, nine goals allowed) but have faded after that, allowing 35 goals over the final 45 minutes of games (2nd periods, 3rd periods, and overtime sessions) while scoring just 20. Had last season been allowed to continue, North Dakota would have hosted Colorado College in the first round of the NCHC playoffs. UND will play seven of its final ten regular season games at home.

The Prediction

North Dakota has the depth to handle the absence of Grant Mismash, while Colorado College will continue to struggle without Grant Cruikshank. UND will benefit from home ice, the banner-raising ceremony, at least a few thousand fans, and, if that isn’t enough – the dog cutouts. Most teams would be raring to go after losing in heartbreaking fashion like the Tigers did, so a quick start is important for both sides. CC has not had much success at Ralph Engelstad Arena, and with the home team’s edge in net and on specialty teams, I don’t see anything to indicate a break from that trend. UND 4-2, 5-1.

Broadcast Information

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

Social Media

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

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

Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Minnesota State

In the last season of the WCHA as we knew it (2012-13), Minnesota, St. Cloud State, and North Dakota finished as the top three teams in the conference standings. There was a three-way tie for fourth, with the final three home-ice spots in the twelve-team league taken by Denver, Wisconsin, and…

Minnesota State.

Seven seasons ago, the Mavericks were on the rise. That year (Mike Hastings’ first behind the bench), Minnesota State went 24-14-3 overall and advanced to the national tournament for the first time since 2003 and just the second time since the Mavericks went Division I in 1996.

Following that historic season, Minnesota State found most of its conference rivals bolting for the Big Ten (Minnesota, Wisconsin) or the newly-formed NCHC (Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota Duluth, North Dakota, Omaha, and St. Cloud State).

Mike Hastings’ squad has taken full advantage of its new collection of league foes, winning the WCHA regular season title three times over the past six seasons and posting a combined league record of 116-35-17 (.741). Those league results have propelled the Mavericks to seven consecutive 20-win seasons and five NCAA tournament appearances over the past seven seasons.

For North Dakota, the goal is simple: return to national prominence after a two-year absence from the national tournament. There is reason for optimism in Grand Forks, with an experienced d-corps, plenty of returning grit and skill, and a crop of freshmen with a tremendous amount of upside.

Last weekend, the Mavericks blitzed Arizona State (4-1, 5-0), while the Fighting Hawks swept Canisius (5-0, 8-1).

Minnesota State Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Hastings (8th season at Minnesota State, 185-80-21, .684)
National Ranking: #2
This Season: 2-0-0 overall
Last Season: 32-8-3 overall (NCAA East Regional Semifinalist), 22-5-1-1 WCHA (1st)

Team Offense: 4.50 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 0.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 35.7% (5 of 14)
Penalty Kill: 100.0% (8 of 8)

Key Players: Senior F Marc Michaelis (3-0-0), Sophomore F Julian Napravnik (1-2-3), Freshman F Lucas Sowder (1-2-3), Junior F Reggie Lutz (1-1-2), Junior F Jared Spooner (0-2-2), Senior D Ian Scheid (0-4-4), Junior D Riese Zmolek (1-1-2), Junior D Connor Mackey (0-1-1), Sophomore G Dryden McKay (2-0-0, 0.5008 GAA, .975 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (5th season at UND ; 92-52-19, .623
National Ranking: #16
This Season: 2-0-0 overall
Last Season: 18-17-2 overall, 12-11-1-0 NCHC (5th)

Team Offense: 6.50 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 0.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 11.1% (1 of 9)
Penalty Kill: 100.0% (8 of 8)

Key Players: Junior F Jordan Kawaguchi (0-3-3), Sophomore F Mark Senden (1-2-3), Senior F Cole Smith (2-0-2), Junior F Grant Mismash (1-1-2), Freshman F Shane Pinto (1-1-2), Sophomore D Jacob Bernard Docker (0-4-4), Senior D Colton Poolman (0-2-2), Junior D Gabe Bast (2-0-2), Sophomore G Adam Scheel (2-0-0, 0.50 GAA, .957 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: October 20, 2018 (Grand Forks, ND). Cole Smith netted two goals in a 4-3 North Dakota victory. Minnesota State took Friday’s opener 7-4 behind a hat trick from Max Coatta.

Last Meeting in Mankato: March 9, 2013. Minnesota State’s Brett Knowles netted the overtime winner to break a 1-1 tie and send the home fans happy. One night earlier, UND netminder Zane McIntyre made 37 saves in a 4-3 victory.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 39-12-7 (.733), including a 15-5-4 (.708) record in games played in Mankato.

Last ten: North Dakota has a sparkling 8-2-0 record in the last ten contests, outscoring the Mavericks 35-25 over that stretch of games.

Game News and Notes

Since the start of last season, the Mavericks are 23-1-0 in the Mankato Civic Center. Game times are 7:07 p.m. on Friday and 6:07 p.m. on Saturday. All-time, North Dakota has only lost five games in Mankato (15-5-4).

Broadcast Information

All UND men’s hockey games, home and away, can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network as well as through the iHeart Radio app. This weekend’s series can be viewed online at flohockey.tv.

The Prediction

I really can’t see either team taking more than one victory from this series. Both teams were perfect on the penalty kill last weekend; I expect that to change in this series, with both teams exhibiting too much skill to be blanked with the man advantage. Mankato will be too much for UND in game one, with North Dakota silencing the cowbells in the series finale on Saturday night. MSUM 4-2, UND 4-2.

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your thoughts, comments, and suggestions. Here’s to hockey!

Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. St. Cloud State

Last season, North Dakota and St. Cloud State battled five times, with SCSU having the better of it (3-0-2) despite four overtime contests:

NCHC Regular Season
December 8, 2017 (St. Cloud): SCSU 2, UND 2 (OT)
December 9, 2017 (St. Cloud): SCSU 3, UND 1

NCHC Regular Season
March 2, 2018 (Grand Forks): SCSU 4, UND 3 (OT)
March 3, 2018 (Grand Forks): SCSU 2, UND 2 (OT)

NCHC Frozen Faceoff Semifinal
March 16, 2018 (St. Paul): SCSU 3, UND 2 (OT)

It’s been up and down for the Huskies in the first six seasons of the NCHC, but things are definitely trending in the right direction for the Cardinal and Black. 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.

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.

And last year brought more playoff agony for the Huskies, as head coach Bob Motzko brought the NCHC regular-season champions (24-9-6) into the NCAA West Regional (Sioux Falls, SD) to face Air Force (22-14-5) in the opening round. Blake Lizotte got St. Cloud State within one with 2:51 remaining in the contest, but two empty-net goals sealed the deal for the Falcons, who got 39 saves from netminder Billy Christopoulos. It was only the second time since the tournament expanded to sixteen teams that the top overall seed lost their first game.

Turning back the clock to that 2015-16 season, both North Dakota and St. Cloud State posted historically good records. 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 current record of 17-3-2 (.818), it is very possible but that #1 St. Cloud State will reach the thirty-victory mark this year. By comparison, last year’s stellar SCSU squad finished the season at 25-9-6.

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

Last season was far from a milestone campaign for Brad Berry’s squad, as the group sputtered to a record of 17-13-10 (.550) and missed the NCAAs for the first time since the 2001-02 team finished at 16-19-2 (.459). Prior to last year, North Dakota had made fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the second-longest streak of all time (Michigan appeared in 22 straight NCAA tourneys from 1991 to 2012). Denver now boasts the nation’s longest active streak with eleven consecutive tourney bids (2008-2018).

Currently, UND leads the nation in faceoff efficiency (58.5 percent); St. Cloud State is 4th at 55.1 percent. North Dakota also outpaces SCSU in both Corsi (59.8 to 57.7 percent) and Fenwick (59.7 to 58.5 percent). Corsi measures the percentage of shot attempts by a team compared to that of its opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shot attempts by a team compared to that of its opponents.

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 84-45-18 (.633) and would need sixteen more victories in the final 21 games remaining on the schedule (at most) to continue that impressive streak.

After getting swept at Canisius earlier this month, UND saw its non-conference record drop to 6-4-1 (.591) 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.

As a whole, the NCHC fared extremely well in non-conference action, collecting a combined record of 50-21-8 (.684) and sporting a winning record against four of the other five leagues across the college hockey landscape (losing the head-to-head with the ECAC, 2-3-1). Here are the inter-conference records, from best to worst:

NCHC: 50-21-8 (.684)
Big Ten: 34-22-5 (.598)
Hockey East: 51-42-8 (.545)
ECAC: 42-45-6 (.484)
WCHA: 22-38-5 (.377)
Atlantic Hockey: 13-44-6 (.254)

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. If the season ended today, St. Cloud State (1st in the Pairwise rankings), Denver (3rd), Duluth (4th), and Western Michigan (13th) would make the national tourney, with North Dakota (21st) and Miami (29th) on the outside looking in.

According to KRACH, St. Cloud State has played the fourth-toughest schedule in the country this season; North Dakota’s slate of games ranks as the 21st most difficult out of sixty men’s Division I hockey programs.

This weekend marks the third of eight consecutive conference opponents to finish out the regular season, and the schedule sets up favorably for North Dakota, with two of its three most difficult matchups on home ice. Here are the remaining series for the Fighting Hawks:

Home: St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth, Omaha
Road: Denver, Western Michigan, Colorado College

Note: North Dakota will not face NCHC foe Miami in the second half of the season.

Last weekend’s road split at Omaha (4-3 W, 3-4 L) kept UND in fifth place in the NCHC, six points clear of sixth-place Miami and only two points back of fourth-place Western Michigan. At 6-6-0-0 (18 points) in league play, North Dakota will likely need six more victories over its final twelve conference games to secure home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs. Over the first five seasons, the fourth-place finisher (final home ice spot) has averaged roughly 36 points (11-11-2-1).

According to Jim Dahl of collegehockeyranked.com, UND will likely need to win nine of those twelve conference games to end the regular season between 8th and 14th in the Pairwise (>90% chance of landing in this range). A 9-3 record will be tough to come by, given UND’s remaining opponents. To find nine victories, North Dakota would need to sweep at Colorado College and vs. Omaha plus one more series (vs. St. Cloud State, at Denver, at Western Michigan, vs. Duluth) and then split the other three weekends.

St. Cloud State Team Profile

Head Coach: Brett Larson (1st season at SCSU, 17-3-2, .818)

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

This Season: 17-3-2 (.818) overall, 9-1-2-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 25-9-6 (.700) overall (NCAA West Regional Semifinalist), 16-4-4-1 NCHC (1st)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.91 goals scored/game – 2nd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.09 goals allowed/game – 7th of 60 teams
Power Play: 24.7% (21 of 85) – 6th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 88.9% (64 of 72) – 3rd of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Patrick Newell (11-12-23), Senior F Robby Jackson (10-11-21), Freshman F Nolan Walker (6-13-19), Junior F Ryan Poehling (3-16-19), Sophomore F Easton Brodzinski (10-6-16), Junior D Jack Ahcan (2-18-20), Senior D Jimmy Schuldt (6-13-19), Sophomore G David Hrenak (13-2-1, 2.17 GAA, .905 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 84-45-18, .633)

Pairwise Ranking: 21st of 60 teams
National Rankings: #21/NR

This Season: 12-10-1 (.543) overall, 6-6-0-0 NCHC (5th)
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: 2.61 goals scored/game – 42nd of 60 teams
Team Defense: 2.57 goals allowed/game – 21st of 60 teams
Power Play: 16.8% (16 of 95) – 39th of 60 teams
Penalty Kill: 79.3% (69 of 87) – 37thth of 60 teams

Key Players: Senior F Rhett Gardner (8-2-10), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (6-11-17), Senior F Nick Jones (4-10-14 in sixteen games), Junior F Cole Smith (2-6-8), Junior D Colton Poolman (4-6-10), Freshman D Jacob Bernard-Docker (4-10-14), D Gabe Bast (4-5-9), Sophomore D Matt Kiersted (5-7-12) Freshman G Adam Scheel (11-7-1, 2.14 GAA, .899 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 16, 2018 (St. Paul, MN). North Dakota freshman Jordan Kawaguchi knotted the game at 2-2 midway through the third period, but UND couldn’t even survive two minutes of overtime. St. Cloud State’s Nick Poehling netted the game-winner at 1:47 of the extra session, propelling the Huskies to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game. Cam Johnson made 31 saves for the Fighting Hawks, who were outshot 34-23.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: March 3, 2018. One night after SCSU’s Ryan Poehling potted the overtime winner for the Huskies, the teams needed more than sixty minutes yet again. UND’s Grant Mismash and Rhett Gardner had put the home team up by two after forty minutes of play, but Ryan Poehling and Jacob Benson knotted things up in the third. North Dakota won the shootout after the extra session expired, and those conference points were just enough for the Fighting Hawks to earn the fourth and final home ice spot in the NCHC playoffs, with Colorado College, Omaha, and Western Michigan each two points back.

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, 71-43-14 (.609), including a 35-18-7 (.642) record in games played in Grand Forks. Aside from their 2015 and 2018 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal victories, the Huskies also defeated North Dakota in the 2001 WCHA Final Five championship game. The teams have been squaring off regularly since the 1989-90 season, but have only met once in the NCAA tournament (2015).

Last Ten: The two teams have each won four of the last ten games, with the other two ending in ties. North Dakota has outscored the Huskies 27-25 over that stretch of games. Six of the last eight meetings have gone to overtime.

Game News and Notes

St. Cloud State has outscored opponents 34-12 in second periods this season; UND has been outscored 21-16 in the middle frame. North Dakota leads the nation in attendance once again this season (11,357/game) and is bidding to lead the NCAA in total attendance for the eighth consecutive year and in average attendance for the fifth consecutive year. SCSU clocks in 16th in the country, with an average of 4216 fans per game. The Huskies are 14-0-0 on Olympic ice sheets (200×100) this season and 3-3-2 on NHL ice sheets (200×85).

Media Coverage

Friday’s game will be available exclusively on CBS Sports Network, with Saturday’s rematch available on Midco Sports Network, Fox College Sports, and TSN2. Both games will be 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

Due to a scheduling conflict, SiouxSport.com is unable to host a UND/SCSU pre-game event this weekend. We plan to resume this event next season and for many years to come. 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, the Fighting Hawks have some intangibles in their favor, including a home ice crowd and a smaller ice surface. In some cases where one side is outmatched, special teams and goaltending can make up the difference. In this case, however, I think UND’s best shot is to play as much of the game at even strength as possible. One way or another, the Huskies will prevail in each contest, although the home side will take at least one of the games to overtime. SCSU 4-1, 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. St. Lawrence

St. Lawrence has struggled mightily out of the gate this season, dropping their exhibition contest to McGill (Montreal, Quebec) by a final score of 3-2 before losing 3-1 to Michigan and 4-1 to #10 Penn State at home last weekend. And it doesn’t get any easier for the Saints after visiting Ralph Engelstad Arena to tangle with the eighth-ranked Fighting Hawks. Unranked SLU will host #9 Providence and #12 UMass-Lowell next weekend before heading to Madison for a pair at #10 Wisconsin to close out October.

UND played well enough to win both contests last weekend at Alaska-Anchorage (outshooting the Seawolves 78-32) but let late leads slip away each night. North Dakota could not net the game-winner in Friday’s opener and settled for a 1-1 tie (followed by a meaningless shootout win), but Casey Johnson’s tally in Saturday’s overtime session sent the Fighting Hawks home with three out of a possible four points.

The last time St. Lawrence traveled to Grand Forks for a weekend series was in November 2013 for the Subway Holiday Classic. The Saints handled North Dakota in Friday’s opener before UND rebounded to earn a split. Both teams were unranked at the time, but Dave Hakstol took his team on a patented second-half run (21-5-2 including the victory over SLU) to reach the NCAA Frozen Four.

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

St. Lawrence Team Profile

Head Coach: Mark Morris (2nd season at SLU, 17-15-7, .526)
National Ranking: NR/NR
This Season: 0-2-0 overall, 0-0-0 ECAC
Last Season: 17-13-7 overall, 12-6-4 ECAC (4th of 12 teams)

2017-18 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 1.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 11.1% (1 of 9)
Penalty Kill: 80.0% (8 of 10)

Key Players: Senior F Mike Marnell (0-0-0), Senior F Joe Sullivan (0-0-0), Junior F Alex Gilmour (2-0-0), Junior F Jacob Pritchard (0-0-0), Sophomore D Ben Finkelstein (0-1-1), Senior D Nolan Gluchowski (0-0-0), Junior G Arthur Brey (0-2-0, 3.06 GAA, .902 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 56-22-8, .698)
National Ranking: #8/#8
This Season: 1-0-1 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 21-16-3 overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2017-18 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 11.1% (1 of 9)
Penalty Kill: 100.0% (8 of 8)

Key Players: Junior F Shane Gersich (0-0-0), Senior F Austin Poganski (0-0-0), Junior F Rhett Gardner (0-2-2), Junior F Joel Janatuinen (0-0-0), Junior D Christian Wolanin (0-1-1), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (0-0-0), Senior G Cam Johnson (1-0-1, 1.43 GAA, .906 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: November 30, 2013 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after the visiting Saints shocked North Dakota with a 5-2 victory, UND turned the tables with a shorthanded goal (Rocco Grimaldi) midway through the first period and two goals 31 seconds apart in the second period (Connor Gaarder, Stephane Pattyn) to earn a 3-2 win and a series split. Zane Gothberg (later McIntyre) turned aside 25 St. Lawrence shots and helped the Green and White kill all three SLU power play opportunities.

Most important meeting: February 20 and 21, 1987 (Grand Forks, ND). The Hrkac Circus dismantled St. Lawrence in a best-of-three NCAA quarterfinal series, taking down the Saints 3-1 and 6-3 on their way to the program’s fifth national championship.

All-time record: UND leads the all-time series, 12-2-0 (.857), including a 7-1-0 (.875) mark in games played in Grand Forks. Before November 2013, North Dakota’s only loss to SLU was in Canton, New York during the 1981-82 season, a campaign that also ended in an NCAA title for the Fighting Sioux.

Last Ten: UND has won nine of the previous ten games between the schools, outscoring the Saints 40-21 over that stretch of games.

Game News and Notes

St. Lawrence has been a member of the ECAC since 1961 and has won the regular season title twice (2000 and 2007). North Dakota put 78 shots on net last weekend against Alaska Anchorage last weekend but scored only four goals. The Saints last made the NCAA tournament in 2007.

Tickets

Single game tickets remain available for both games this weekend against St. Lawrence. To purchase tickets, please visit the UND Box Office inside Ralph Engelstad Arena or point your internet device toward UNDSports.com/tickets.

Media Coverage

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

The Prediction

Often, when two teams haven’t played in a while, the first period or two of the first game are played pretty close to the vest, without much action either way. I feel like this weekend’s games will be wide open from the outset, with plenty of chances for both squads. It’ll come down to special teams and goaltending, with neither side showing signs of life in the former and North Dakota holding a decided advantage in the latter. UND 4-1, 3-1.

Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Alaska Anchorage

Four 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 three seasons. The eight teams in the league have gone 149-72-28 (.655) in non-conference action since 2015-16 and sent two teams to the Frozen Four in each of those three years. Conference members North Dakota and Denver claimed the past two national titles, with DU besting Minnesota-Duluth for the championship in April.

The University of Alaska Anchorage became a member of the WCHA beginning with the 1993-94 season and has not advanced to the NCAA tournament since that time (the Seawolves made three tourney appearances as an independent from 1989-92). UAA has had only one winning season in the past 24 years (18-16-4 in 2013-14), with travel being the biggest factor in the team’s lack of success.

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

Alaska Anchorage Team Profile

Head Coach: Matt Thomas (5th season at UAA, 44-79-17, .375)
National Ranking: NR/NR
This Season: 0-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 WCHA
Last Season: 7-21-6 overall, 6-16-6 WCHA (10th of 10 teams)

2016-17 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 1.74 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.00 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 8.3% (15 of 181)
Penalty Kill: 83.1% (148 of 178)

Key Returning Players (2016-17 statistics): Senior F Matt Anholt (5-17-22), Senior F Tad Kozun (5-14-19), Junior F Jonah Renouf (3-6-9), Junior F Alex Jackstadt (4-4-8), Senior D Jarrett Brown (5-10-15), Senior D Tanner Johnson (3-3-6), Senior G Olivier Mantha (7-18-4, 2.82 GAA, .913 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (3rd season at UND, 55-22-7, .696)
National Ranking: #7/#7
This Season: 0-0-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 21-16-3 overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 11-12-1-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2016-17 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.17 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.60 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.5% (32 of 173)
Penalty Kill: 83.8% (140 of 167)

Key Returning Players (2016-17 statistics): Junior F Shane Gersich (21-16-37), Senior F Austin Poganski (12-13-25), Junior F Rhett Gardner (8-13-21), Junior F Joel Janatuinen (8-11-19), Junior D Christian Wolanin (6-16-22), Sophomore D Colton Poolman (2-10-12), Senior G Cam Johnson (20-13-3, 2.39 GAA, .903 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: October 27, 2012 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after dispatching the Seawolves by a 4-1 margin, North Dakota needed an extra-attacker goal from Derek Forbort to manage a 3-3 tie. Corban Knight and Rocco Grimaldi also scored for the Fighting Sioux, who scored once in each period. Both teams went 0-for-2 with the man advantage, although UAA’s Tyler Currier tallied a shorthanded marker early in the third period to tie the game at 2-2. The late great Butch Mousseaux served as one of the on-ice officials for the contest.

Last meeting in Alaska: October 19, 2012 (Fairbanks, AK). Despite playing with only 15 skaters (nine forwards) due to suspensions and injuries, UND steamrolled Alaska-Anchorage 5-0 in the opening game of the Goal Rush tournament. Sophomore forward Mark MacMillan led the way for North Dakota with two goals, while junior netminder Clarke Saunders stopped all 21 shots he faced to earn the victory.

Most Important Meeting: March 19, 2004 (St. Paul, MN). The Fighting Sioux and Seawolves met in the semifinal round of the WCHA Final Five, and UND cruised to the championship game with a 4-2 victory.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 46-17-5 (.713), with a slight edge (17-14-1, .547) in games played in Anchorage.

Last Ten: UND has a 7-2-1 (.750) record in the last ten games between the teams, outscoring the Seawolves 41-16 over that span.

Game News And Notes

North Dakota is unbeaten in the last seven meetings between the programs. UND is the winningest men’s collegiate hockey program in the nation over the past eleven seasons (290 victories); Alaska Anchorage has notched 118 wins over that same stretch. The Fighting Hawks were the only team in the nation to draw more than 200,000 fans in 2016-17 and led the nation in average home attendance (11,505). The Seawolves last hosted UND in Anchorage in December 2011, with North Dakota sweeping the series (5-2, 4-1).

The Prediction

North Dakota has an advantage all over the ice and will prove too much for Alaska Anchorage to handle. I see Friday’s contest as the more difficult one, with UND pulling away late after struggling to find their legs early. Cam Johnson should be able to blank the Seawolves in Saturday’s rematch. UND 4-2, 3-0.

Media Coverage

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. This weekend’s series will not be televised, but both games will be streamed live via WCHA.tv.

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!

The UND/SCSU Challenge Cup

Beginning with the 2002-03 season, the WCHA changed its schedule rotation, creating “rivals” which would play each other four times each season. St. Cloud State and North Dakota were partnered up in a scheduling system that ended in 2009-10.

At that time, even though the WCHA expanded to 12 teams (adding Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha) and implemented a new rotating schedule, UND and SCSU continued to play four games each year. In the NCHC, that is not the case. Last season (2015-16) was the first time since 2001-02 that the two teams did not play four times in the regular season.

Over the past twelve seasons, the fans have made their mark on the partnership between the schools. The UND/SCSU rivalry has a commemorative fan trophy, thanks to the Center Ice Club at St. Cloud State University:

Challenge Cup

The UND/SCSU Challenge Cup is awarded to the team that wins the regular season series. As you may be able to see in the photo above, the winning team is engraved for each year.

UND won the Challenge Cup in 04-05, going 3-0-1 against the Huskies. St. Cloud took the trophy back in 05-06, sporting a record of 3-1-0 against North Dakota. In 06-07, the Sioux won two games and tied the other two, collecting six points and the Challenge Cup. The next season, the teams shared the Cup, with UND and SCSU each winning one game and tying the other two. In 08-09, North Dakota sprinted to the lead in the Challenge Cup race by winning both games in Grand Forks but needed a Saturday victory in St. Cloud to salvage a split on the weekend and reclaim the Cup. The following year (09-10), both series were splits, and the Challenge Cup was shared once again. In 2010-11, UND claimed seven of eight points (3-0-1) and took back the trophy, while the 2011-12 campaign went down as another tie. The Huskies claimed the Cup for two consecutive seasons (2012-14) by going 5-2-1 over North Dakota, but UND pulled off a Challenge Cup-worthy sweep in Grand Forks during the 2014-15 campaign that also earned them a share of the Penrose Cup. The teams split a pair of games in St. Cloud almost exactly one year ago, so the two schools shared the hardware yet again.

If you’re keeping track at home, UND has won the Cup five times, St. Cloud has claimed the trophy three times, and the schools have shared the Challenge Cup four times.

Since the two teams will also play in Grand Forks during the regular season this year, the teams will be earning points toward the trophy but the Challenge Cup will not be on the line this weekend at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.

The Challenge Cup will be on display at the UND/SCSU pregame event on Saturday, November 19th at Brothers Bar & Grill (119 5th Avenue South) in St. Cloud. This is a great opportunity to meet fans on both sides of this hockey rivalry. There will be complimentary appetizers, and the event is free and open to the public.

Please follow this link for a complete preview of this weekend’s games. Here’s to hockey!

NCHC 2015-16 Midseason Report

At the beginning of the season, I gave you my predicted order of finish in the NCHC:

1. Minnesota-Duluth
2. Denver
3. North Dakota
4. Omaha
5. Miami
6. St. Cloud State
7. Western Michigan
8. Colorado College

And here’s how the race stacks up heading into this weekend’s action:

NCHC 2015-16 Current Standings

Team Record Points
North Dakota 9-1-0-0 27
St. Cloud State 8-2-0-0 24
Minnesota-Duluth 4-5-1-1 14
Omaha 4-3-1-0 13
Western Michigan 4-6-0-0 12
Denver 3-4-1-0 10
Miami 2-7-1-1 8
Colorado College 2-8-0-0 6

It is worth noting that Omaha and Denver have each played only eight conference games, while the other six NCHC teams have already played ten. It appears that North Dakota and St. Cloud State have all but locked up home ice for the first round of the conference playoffs, with Minnesota-Duluth, Omaha, Western Michigan, and Denver battling for the other two places in the top half of the league.

We will have a very interesting race for the league title. Take a look at the remaining opponents for North Dakota and St. Cloud State:

North Dakota Home: UNO (2), CC (2), UMD (2), WMU (2)
Road: WMU (2), DU (2) UNO (2)
St. Cloud State Home: CC (2), WMU (2), UMD (2)
Road: UMD (2), Miami (2), UNO (2), CC (2)

UND has one more home series than the Huskies, but St. Cloud plays four of their remaining 14 conference games against Colorado College. With a three point (one game) lead headed into the second half, I’ll give the edge to North Dakota, but it’s close.

St. Cloud State has definitely been the biggest surprise to me in the first half (I tabbed them to finish sixth in the league), while both Duluth (my preseason #1) and Denver (#2) have been a mystery. SCSU already has eight league wins after collecting just eleven a year ago, while the Bulldogs (4-5-11) and Pioneers (3-4-1-0) have just seven between them.

Here’s why I had the Huskies in 6th place headed into this season:

After winning back-to-back conference titles, the Huskies fell to 6th place in the NCHC last year. While SCSU consistently scored with the man advantage, the rest of the offense suffered. St. Cloud State only scored 1.65 even strength goals per game in 2014-15 after posting a much more respectable 2.42 goals per game in the same category two seasons ago. If Bob Motzko’s crew wants to contend for an upper-division finish, balanced scoring is key.

Fast forward to this season: Yes, St. Cloud is blistering on the power play (22 of 72, 30.6%), but they’ve also scored two shorthanded goals, five empty-netters, and 61 even-strength goals in 20 games while allowing under two goals per contest. That’s good for a scoring margin of 90-39 while playing the most difficult schedule in the country (according to KRACH).

If I had to predict how the race for home ice would play out, I would put them in this order:

1. North Dakota
2. St. Cloud State
3. Omaha
4. Duluth

Of the bottom four teams, Denver is the most likely to make a run at Duluth for the final home-ice spot, while Miami, Western Michigan, and Colorado College will be playing for seeding purposes in the second half.

Who do you think will hoist the Penrose Cup? Feel free to comment below with your predictions, and we’ll see you at the rink!

UND/SCSU pregame event set for Saturday, November 21st

Please join us for the UND/SCSU pregame social, an event which takes place in both Grand Forks, North Dakota and St. Cloud, Minnesota each hockey season. This is an opportunity for fans of the University of North Dakota and St. Cloud State University to gather, celebrate the great sport of hockey, and view the Challenge Cup, a traveling trophy which is presented to the team that wins the regular season series. North Dakota claimed the Cup last season with a record of 3-1 against SCSU, outscoring the Huskies 10-8 in the four contests. The teams also met twice in the postseason. St. Cloud State bested UND 3-1 in the NCHC semifinals, while the Green and White earned revenge eight days later with a 4-1 victory in the NCAA West Regional final.

UND SCSU fan social

The pregame event will be held on Saturday, November 21st from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on the second floor of Brothers Bar & Grill (the same location as the past two years). The address is 119 Fifth Avenue South in St. Cloud, within walking distance of the Kelly Inn. The event is free and open to the public. A free appetizer bar will be available, and everyone in attendance will have the opportunity to win door prizes.

Fans of both teams enjoy the camaraderie at these social events and regularly comment that the connection between the two fan bases is among the best in college hockey.

Mark your calendars and join us for this event!

Weekend Preview: UND vs. Miami

Miami’s first year in the newly-formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference was a disaster. The RedHawks, picked to finish at the top of the league, went just 6-17-1-1 (.271) in conference play and finished dead last – yes, behind even Colorado College.

In that season (2013-14), Enrico Blasi’s crew allowed 80 goals in 24 conference games and lost ten one-goal contests overall. Miami came back with a vengeance last year, pushing UND to the final weekend of the regular season before a split between the two teams had North Dakota hoisting the Penrose Cup.

In the 2015-16 NCHC preseason poll, North Dakota was picked to finish third and Miami was tabbed to finish fifth, although both schools received first-place votes. In league play this season, Miami swept Western Michigan but suffered a sweep at the hands of St. Cloud State. North Dakota has played only one conference series this year, earning two victories at Colorado College.

#3 North Dakota (7-1-2) is currently ranked considerably higher than #17 Miami (5-4-1), although the RedHawks have played the 3rd toughest schedule in the country (according to KRACH), while UND has played the 60th toughest (otherwise known as the easiest). Miami has already faced #7 Providence, #14 St. Cloud State, and #17 St. Lawrence (rankings are for the week in which the games were played), and will host #6 Omaha next weekend. Brad Berry’s club has not faced a ranked opponent this season, but will travel to #9 St. Cloud State next weekend to face the Huskies.

Miami has killed an incredible 34 of 35 penalties (97.1%) this season. North Dakota went 0-for-9 with the man advantage last weekend against Wisconsin but killed all six Badger power plays in the home split over their former WCHA rival.

Both teams are relying heavily on their freshman classes to carry the scoring load. Miami’s Jack Roslovic (6-3-9) and UND’s Brock Boeser (5-2-7) are leading the pack and rank 1-2 in the league’s freshman goal-scoring race. Overall, Enrico Blasi’s first-year players have scored 11 of Miami’s 20 goals this season (and 21 of 56 points), while Brad Berry’s new recruits have potted 16 of North Dakota’s 33 tallies (21 of 87 points).

Miami Team Profile

Head Coach: Enrico Blasi (17th season at Miami, 356-234-58, .594)
National Ranking: #17/#18
This Season: 5-4-1 overall, 2-2-0-0 NCHC (t-1st)
Last Season: 25-14-1 overall (NCAA East Regional Semifinalist), 14-9-1-1 NCHC (2nd)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.4% (7 of 38)
Penalty Kill: 97.1% (34 of 35)

Key players: Freshman F Jack Roslovic (6-3-9), Freshman F Josh Melnick (3-3-6), Junior F Anthony Louis (1-5-6), Senior F Sean Kuraly (0-3-3), Sophomore D Louis Belpedio (1-4-5), Senior D Matthew Caito (1-3-4), Senior G Ryan McKay (5-2-1, 1.70 GAA, .937 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 7-1-2, .800)
National Ranking: #3/#4
This Season: 7-1-2 overall, 2-0-0-0 NCHC (t-1st)
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)

Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.30 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.70 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 14.3% (6 of 42)
Penalty Kill: 83.3% (30 of 36)

Key Players: Senior F Drake Caggiula (3-8-11), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (0-7-7), Senior F Bryn Chyzyk (5-3-8), Freshman F Brock Boeser (5-2-7), Junior D Paul LaDue (0-2-2), Junior D Troy Stecher (2-5-7), Junior G Matt Hyrnkiw (6-1-1, 1.63 GAA, .933 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: November 15, 2014. After surrendering the first goal early in the second period, North Dakota came roaring back with three of their own in the middle frame and cruised to a 4-1 win in front of 11,802 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Junior forward Drake Caggiula potted two goals (including a highlight reel dangle through Ben Paulides’ skates) and assisted on another, while seniors Mark MacMillan and Michael Parks collected two points each. Zane McIntyre made 28 of 29 saves in the victory, while UND hung the loss on Ryan McKay (23 of 27 saves). Miami won the series opener by a final of 3-2, with both teams scoring a shorthanded goal.

Most Important Meeting: March 6, 2015 (Oxford, OH). North Dakota went on the road and took care of business, securing a hard-fought 2-1 victory over the RedHawks and earning the Penrose Cup, UND’s 16th regular season conference title. UND scored early in each of the first two periods (Keaton Thompson at 2:43 of the first; Connor Gaarder at 1:56 of the second) and survived a furious Miami rally. Zane McIntyre made 43 of 44 saves, including 38 stops in the final two periods.

All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 7-4-1 (.688), including a 3-1-1 (.700) mark in games played in Grand Forks. Five of the twelve all-time meetings between the schools came during the 2013-14 season, with UND picking up wins in three of those five games. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).

Game News and Notes

UND is not scheduled to play in Oxford this season but could meet Miami in the NCHC and/or NCAA playoffs. That matchup could feature the Fighting Hawks versus the RedHawks, unless voters choose to be known as the University of North Dakota Roughriders instead. UND and Miami are two of six teams tied atop the NCHC standings with six points (two victories), although only three schools (Denver, North Dakota, and St. Cloud State) are 2-0-0. UND senior forward Drake Caggiula has collected five goals and four assists in nine career games against the RedHawks.

Media Coverage

This weekend’s series against Miami is televised on MidcoSports Network, and a high definition stream of both games is 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.

On A Personal Note

I am almost halfway through my Movember campaign, and I could use your help. My goal is $2018, with the 18 in honor of my favorite UND player, David Hoogsteen. Please visit mobro.co/daveberger, donate, and help me change the face of men’s health. Thank you!

The Prediction

I can’t see any way either one of these teams sweeps the series. I’ve got Miami going ahead both nights, with North Dakota rallying in Saturday’s rematch to earn the split. Miami 3-2, UND 4-1.

Ice Breaker Tournament Preview: UND vs. Maine

This weekend marks the official start of the Brad Berry head coaching era at the University of North Dakota. Since 1978. UND has known only three men behind the bench: John “Gino” Gasparini, Dean Blais, and Dave Hakstol. Berry (North Dakota ’02) becomes the fourth in that span (38 years) and the 16th head coach in UND men’s hockey history. The former UND and NHL defenseman spent nine years as an assistant coach at North Dakota and two seasons in that same role with the Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL). Brad Berry takes over the reins from Dave Hakstol (now with the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers), and he inherits a program both built and expected to win – every season.

Brad Berry’s North Dakota squad has one victory on the young season, a 5-2 triumph over Lake Superior State in the opening game of the 2015 Ice Breaker Tournament (Portland, Maine). UND now turns its attention to Maine, the host school for the tourney even though the Black Bears play their home games in Orono (two hours away).

It’s hard to find a North Dakota fan who doesn’t have admiration and respect for the Maine Black Bears. There’s a certain affinity for other great hockey teams that survive and thrive in smaller markets and are the flagship programs for their state.

More specifically, the connection between UND and Maine is well-documented. Former UND head coach Dean Blais is fondly remembered for his tribute to Shawn Walsh during Walsh’s cancer battle. I remember vividly the game played in Orono, Maine on Friday, October 13th, 2000, when the defending national champion Fighting Sioux took to the ice in matching “Walsh” jerseys and donated the game-worn uniforms to defray coach Walsh’s medical costs.

It was only fitting that when the late Shawn Walsh’s shamrock was retired and hoisted to the rafters at Alfond Arena in October 2004, North Dakota was once again on hand as the visiting team.

Both teams were hit by the early departure bug during this most recent offseason. Maine forward Devin Shore (14-21-35 in 39 games) signed with the Dallas Stars, while defenseman Ben Hutton (9-12-21 in 39) inked a deal with Vancouver. Both players gave up their senior season in the process.

Meanwhile, North Dakota lost two key underclassmen on the back end. Stalwart blueliner Jordan Schmaltz (4-24-28 in 42 games) and Mike Richter award winner Zane McIntyre (29-10-3, 2.05 GAA, .929 SV%) left one year early. Schmaltz is now with the St. Louis organization and McIntyre signed with the Boston Bruins.

Turning our attention to this season, Maine managed just a tie in Friday evening’s contest with Michigan State after the Spartans scored a late extra attacker power play goal. Five of the six goals in the game were scored with the man advantage or shorthanded.

These early season games are critical for North Dakota’s postseason aspirations. Last season, Dave Hakstol’s squad went 9-1-1 in regular season non-conference action and advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four, while the Black Bears sported a pedestrian 5-8-1 record in non-league games and missed the national tournament. UND’s other non-conference opponents this season will be Bemidji State, Vermont, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Alabama-Huntsville (all currently unranked).

Seven of North Dakota’s eight October games will be played on the road, with only a single home tilt versus Bemidji State on Saturday, October 17th to satisfy the fans in Grand Forks. Beginning with a November visit from the Wisconsin Badgers, however, UND will have eight home series and only six weekends away from Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Maine Team Profile

Head Coach: Dennis “Red” Gendron (3rd season at Maine, 30-37-8, .453)
National Ranking: NR/NR
This Season: 0-0-1 overall, 0-0-0 Hockey East
Last Season: 14-22-3 overall, 8-12-2 (t-9th)

2014-15 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 2.77 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.26 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 13.1% (19 of 145)
Penalty Kill: 82.9% (121 of 146)

Key Returning Players (2014-15 statistics): Senior F Steven Swavely (8-20-28), Junior F Cam Brown (7-21-28), Junior F Blaine Byron (12-15-27), Junior D Dan Renouf (3-9-12), Senior D Conor Riley (3-8-11), Senior G Matt Morris (7-9-2, 2.99 GAA, .905 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (1st season at UND, 1-0-0, 1.000)
National Ranking: #4/#4
This Season: 1-0-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 29-10-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 16-6-2-0 NCHC (1st)

2014-15 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.29 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.24 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.4% (34 of 167)
Penalty Kill: 84.0% (142 of 169)

Key Returning Players (2014-15 statistics): Senior F Drake Caggiula (18-18-36), Sophomore F Nick Schmaltz (5-21-26), Junior F Luke Johnson (11-13-24), Junior D Paul LaDue (5-17-22), Junior D Troy Stecher (3-10-13), Sophomore D Tucker Poolman (8-10-18), Sophomore G Cam Johnson (0-0-0, 5.54 GAA, .765 SV% in 43 minutes of game action)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: October 15, 2011 (Grand Forks, ND). Maine scored a power play goal midway through the third period to salvage a 3-3 tie with homestanding North Dakota. Five of the six goals were scored on the power play. Danny Kristo notched two goals and an assist to lead UND.

Last Meeting in Maine: October 23, 2010 (Orono, ME). The Black Bears chose to start freshman goaltender Dan Sullivan in the second game of the series and he responded, stopping 23 of 25 North Dakota shots in earning a 4-2 victory and a weekend sweep for his squad. Maine won the opener, 7-3.

Most Important Meeting: April 6, 2000 (Providence, RI). The Fighting Sioux scored twice in the second period and Karl Goehring stopped all 30 shots he faced as UND advanced to the national title game with a 2-0 victory over Maine. Two nights later, the Green and White would claim their seventh national championship.

Last Ten: The teams have split the last ten meetings, with each school winning four times and two games ending in a tie.

All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 12-8-2 (.591), including a 6-3-0 (.667) edge in games played in Maine.

Game News and Notes

Maine was just 3-6 in one goal contests and 1-5-3 in overtime games last season. UND was 18-0-1 last year when leading after two periods of play. North Dakota is now 42-19-7 (.669) in season openers.

The Prediction

Goaltending remains a question mark for North Dakota. Sophomore Cam Johnson (just over 100 minutes of college experience) will get the start for UND, while his counterpart for Maine (senior Matt Morris) has appeared in 27 NCAA contests and logged over 1400 minutes of game action. As in Friday’s opener, North Dakota will need to rely on a veteran group of defensemen to allow Johnson to settle in and see the puck. I see a repeat of yesterday’s script, with the Green and White falling behind early before coming back to win. UND 3-2.