In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota will be at the top of the league rivalries. Despite having played just two games since February 2013, the schools clearly do not like each other. 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 six 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 won the last four playoff games between the schools, including three consecutive victories in the WCHA Final Five (2010-2012) and the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional final which sent the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four.
A key storyline for DU in the early going has been the emergence of freshman forward Danton Heinen. The 6-foot, 161 pound phenom from Langley, British Columbia leads the Pios in scoring with 16 points in 13 games. Heinen, who played his junior hockey with the Surrey Eagles (BCHL), has been even more impressive since the calendar turned to November, cranking out five goals and adding seven assists for twelve points in his last eight contests. Nationally, Jack Eichel (Boston University) has been the most impressive freshman (8-17-25 in 15 games to lead the nation in scoring), but Heinen is the second-most prolific scorer among first-year players.
One of the biggest reasons for UND’s success over the first seventeen games of this current campaign has been North Dakota’s ability to hold a lead. Dave Hakstol’s squad is unbeaten this season (10-0-1) when leading after the first forty minutes of play. In fact, over the past nine years, North Dakota is converting ninety percent of second intermission leads into victories (165-13-12).
On the injury front, North Dakota will be without the services of sophomore defenseman Troy Stecher, the most consistent blueliner on the roster (a team-leading +10 on the season). Stecher’s leg injury is expected to keep him out for 6-8 weeks (between six and ten games), with senior d-man Nick Mattson taking his spot in the lineup. Mattson has appeared in nine contests this season after playing 120 games over his first three seasons at UND.
At forward, Drake Caggiula, Mark MacMillan, Brendan O’Donnell, and Nick Schmaltz have returned to the lineup after missing a combined ten games. Colten St. Clair is out indefinitely with an upper body injury he sustained against Lake Superior State, while Bryn Chyzyk has not played since being injured November 21st at St. Cloud State. Chyzyk could return to the lineup this weekend against the Pioneers.
So far, Dave Hakstol has been able to keep things humming by inserting first-year forwards Johnny Simonson, Trevor Olson and Austin Poganski into the lineup (4-6-10 in 41 combined games played). Sophomore winger Wade Murphy has appeared in seven games, and freshman defenseman Tucker Poolman has been effective at forward when called upon. With twelve healthy forwards, however, expect Poolman back at his natural position on the blueline this weekend against Denver.
Junior netminder Zane McIntyre has been everything for North Dakota while the boys in green and white shuffle lines and adjust to the mounting list of injuries. McIntyre, from Thief River Falls, Minnesota, is UND’s all-time leader in goals-against average (2.10) and save percentage (.925). Jean-Phillippe Lamoureux, Jordan Parise, Aaron Dell, and Karl Goehring round out the top five in each category.
For the Pioneers, sophomore goaltender Evan Cowley has started nine of the first thirteen games, posting a record of 6-4-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average, a save percentage of .922, and two shutouts. Cowley, from nearby Arvada, Colorado, played in five games last season (1.76 GAA, .949 SV%) while learning from senior Sam Brittain. At 6’4”, Cowley is three inches taller than Brittain and two inches taller than McIntyre.
UND is currently 7-1-1 (.833) in non-conference play, with only a January home series versus Niagara (3-11-0, .214) remaining outside of their league schedule.
The National Collegiate Hockey Conference as a whole has a stellar record against other leagues so far this season, a far cry from last year’s troubles. Currently, five conference schools are ranked in the top twelve in the country: #1 North Dakota, #6 Miami, #9 Minnesota-Duluth, #11 Denver, and #12 Nebraska-Omaha (St. Cloud State is also receiving votes, while Western Michigan and Colorado College are unranked). More importantly, those same five ranked teams are also currently in the top twelve in the Pairwise rankings. If the league continues to notch non-conference victories at this pace, the NCHC could easily place four or even five teams in the NCAA tournament after sending just three (and barely that) a year ago.
NCHC overall record vs. other conferences: 36-17-2 (.673, best in the country)
NCHC record vs. Atlantic Hockey: 3-2-0 (.600)
NCHC record vs. Big Ten: 12-2-0 (.857)
NCHC record vs. ECAC: 8-4-1 (.654)
NCHC record vs. Hockey East: 3-3-1 (.500)
NCHC record vs. WCHA: 10-6-0 (.625)
The six teams in the Big Ten (Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin) are a combined 29-34-4 (.463) in non-league play, the second-worst winning percentage in college hockey (Atlantic Hockey, 11-33-2, .261). Not including a 7-0-1 mark against Atlantic Hockey, the Big Ten sports a dismal 22-34-3 (.398) record against the other four major hockey conferences.
Denver Team Profile
Head Coach: Jim Montgomery (2nd season at DU, 29-20-6, .582)
National Rankings: #11/#11
This Season: 9-4-0 overall, 3-2-0-0 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 20-16-6 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional semifinalist), 10-11-3-2 NCHC (6th)
Team Offense: 3.38 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.23 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 27.6% (16 of 58)
Penalty Kill: 84.7% (50 of 59)
Key Players: Freshman F Danton Heinen (6-10-16), Senior F Daniel Doremus (4-11-15), Sophomore F Trevor Moore (5-9-14), Junior F Quentin Shore (5-6-11), Senior D Joey LaLeggia (5-6-11), Junior D Nolan Zajac (3-7-10), Sophomore G Evan Cowley (6-4-0, 1.98 GAA, .922 SV%, 2 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (11th season at UND, 272-136-42, .651)
National Rankings: #1/#1
This Season: 12-3-2 overall, 5-2-1-0 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 25-14-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 15-9-0-0 NCHC (2nd)
Team Offense: 3.41 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.12 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 23.1% (18 of 78)
Penalty Kill: 88.0% (66 of 75)
Key Players: Junior F Drake Caggiula (7-14-21), Senior F Michael Parks (6-13-19), Senior F Mark MacMillan (8-7-15 in 13 games), Freshman F Nick Schmaltz (2-12-14 in 13 games), Junior D Jordan Schmaltz (3-11-14), Sophomore D Paul LaDue (3-6-9), Junior G Zane McIntyre (12-3-2, 1.94 GAA, .929 SV%)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: January 25, 2014 (Denver, CO). Despite outshooting the Pioneers 43-23, North Dakota failed to put one past Sam Brittain and fell 3-0 to homestanding DU. Denver’s Zac Larraza scored two third period goals, one early on the power play and a late empty netter to seal the victory. UND won Friday’s opener 4-2, with nine different players figuring in the scoring for the Green and White.
Most Important Meeting: It’s hard to pick just one game, as the two teams have played four times for the national title. Denver defeated UND for the national championship in 1958, 1968, and 2005, while the Sioux downed the Pioneers in 1963. But the game that stands out in recent memory as “the one that got away” was DU’s 1-0 victory over the Fighting Sioux in the 2004 NCAA West Regional final (Colorado Springs, CO). That North Dakota team went 30-8-4 on the season (Dean Blais’ last behind the UND bench) and featured one of the deepest rosters in the past twenty years: Brandon Bochenski, Zach Parise, Brady Murray, Colby Genoway, Drew Stafford and David Lundbohm up front; Nick Fuher, Matt Jones, Matt Greene, and Ryan Hale on defense; and a couple of goaltending stalwarts in Jordan Parise and Jake Brandt.
Last Ten Games: North Dakota has had the better of it lately, going 6-3-1 (.650) in the last ten meetings between the schools and outscoring Denver 39-25 over that span. The two teams have also met once in the WCHA Final Five (St. Paul) and once in the NCAA regionals during this most recent stretch, with UND winning both of those playoff games.
All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 138-118-9 (.537), but the Pioneers hold a 69-52-3 (.569) record in game played at altitude.
Game News and Notes
Currently 12-3-2, head coach Dave Hakstol has never won more than thirteen games before Christmas in his ten seasons behind the North Dakota bench. Senior forward Brendan O’Donnell has scored a goal in each of his last three games (UND is 16-0-1 when O’Donnell scores a goal). Denver is 7-2-0 at home this season; North Dakota is 6-1-0 on the road (sweeps at Colorado College and Wisconsin, a road win at Bemidji State, and a split at St. Cloud State). The aforementioned 2003-04 UND squad is the last team to leave Denver with a sweep. The two teams will meet again in February 2015 in Grand Forks.
With all of the talent on both rosters, a split is the most likely result. I’ll take the home team in a close one on Friday, with UND rebounding on Saturday to keep both teams feeling good about themselves heading into the holiday break. DU 3-2, UND 4-2.