Weekend Preview: UND at Omaha

With all of the ties, shootouts, late-game heroics, and overtime winners as well as the disparity in each team’s number of games played in the Omaha pod and 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. It is also possible that the teams will finish the regular season with an uneven number of games played; in that case, the league will use average points earned/game as the measuring stick to determine the league championship as well as the matchups in the first round of the conference playoffs.

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

1. North Dakota 2.19 (35 points in 16 games)
2. St. Cloud State 1.94 (33 points in 17 games)
3. Omaha 1.93 (27 points in 14 games)
4. Minnesota Duluth 1.80 (27 points in 15 games)
5. Denver 1.31 (21 points in 16 games)
6. Western Michigan 1.06 (19 points in 18 games)
7. Colorado College 0.94 (15 points in 16 games)
7. Miami 0.94 (15 points in 16 games)

#9 Omaha (9-4-1) has been the biggest surprise in the NCHC this season. While I expected them to have good results in the pod (and they did, posting a record of 6-3-1), I thought that they might regress in the second half. Over the past two weekends, the Mavs went out to Colorado Springs and swept the Tigers (3-2, 3-2 OT) before splitting a home series with Denver (1-4, 5-2). A home split may not seem impressive, but Saturday’s win was the first time that Omaha had beaten the Pioneers in six years, snapping a nineteen-game winless streak.

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

#2 North Dakota (12-3-1) played all ten scheduled games in the Omaha pod (going 7-2-1), 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 three weekends ago. After sweeping the Tigers (3-0, 2-1), Brad Berry’s squad returned home to prepare for a road series against the 18th-ranked Pioneers, only to learn on Wednesday that that series would also be pushed back two days. Last week’s home series against CC was also pushed back to a Saturday-Sunday series, with UND winning both nights. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, sophomore netminder Isaiah Saville (7-4-1, 2.18 GAA, .928 SV%, 1 SO) has been spectacular in net for the Mavs, with classmate Austin Roden appearing in three games (2-0-0. 2.35 GAA, .933 SV%, 1 SO). Omaha has allowed more than two goals only four times all season, while North Dakota’s opponents have scored more than two goals six times.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (11-2-1. 1.77 GAA, .928 SV%, 3 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 last weekend in Grand Forks, allowing just one goal on 34 shots in the two-game sweep and earning NCHC Goaltender of the Week honors for the second time in the past three weeks.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Mike Gabinet’s squad boasts eleven players who meet that threshold: junior forward Chase Primeau (4-9-13), junior forward Taylor Ward (7-4-11), junior forward Tyler Weiss (4-7-11), senior forward Kevin Conley (5-5-10), freshman forward Matt Miller (6-3-9), sophomore forward Jack Randl (4-5-9), sophomore forward Joey Abate (1-7-8), senior forward Martin Sundberg (5-2-7), sophomore forward Ryan Brushett (0-6-6), sophomore defenseman Brandon Scanlin (1-9-10), and junior defenseman Jason Smallidge (1-7-8).

By that same measure, eight North Dakota players make the list: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (8-11-19), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (5-13-18), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (3-13-16), senior forward Grant Mismash (8-7-15), freshman forward Riese Gaber (8-4-12), senior forward Collin Adams (6-10-16), junior forward Mark Senden (1-8-9), and freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (1-4-5 in nine games).

Jordan Kawaguchi was the only NCHC player to notch at least one point in each of his team’s games in the Omaha pod. Shane Pinto has already generated 100 shot attempts this season and leads the entire league in scoring, one point ahead of Kawaguchi, Duluth’s Nick Swaney (6-12-18), and St. Cloud State’s Veeti Miettinen (9-9-18). Both Kawaguchi (6th in the nation in scoring) and Pinto (4th) should be considered candidates for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award along with teammate Matt Kiersted, whose 16 points rank third among defensemen.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After sixteen games, the Fighting Hawks are fourth in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (24.7) and are in the top ten in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 55.0% (9th)
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 56.2% (7th)

By comparison, the Mavs are 29th in Corsi (49.2%) and 26th in Fenwick (49.9%), averaging 28.7 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 29.9/game) while allowing 31.1 shots on goal against/contest. Remarkably, Omaha is outscoring opponents 49-32 despite being outshot 435-402 on the season (North Dakota is outshooting opponents 479-395).

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot. The Fighting Hawks are leading the nation in faceoff win percentage at 56.2 percent, while the Mavericks are 15th in the country at 52.2%. 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 (62.7%), Jasper Weatherby (54.2%), Collin Adams (56.6%), and Mark Senden (48.3%). Omaha will counter with Nolan Sullivan (60.8%), Chayse Primeau (51.6%), Noah Prokop (56.9%), and Joey Abate (43.6%). Pinto and Sullivan are the top two faceoff men in the NCHC.

The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.3 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 6th in the country. The Mavs are right behind in eighth place, lighting the lamp on 12.2 percent of their shots on goal.

North Dakota’s puck possession game and sharpshooting have led to 59 goals scored by eighteen different players in sixteen games (3.69 goals scored/game); 59 goals is the high-water mark in the NCHC this season. Omaha’s 49 goals have been scored by sixteen different players.

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

St. Cloud State: 54 goals scored in 17 games (3.18 goals scored/game)
Western Michigan: 50 goals scored in 18 games (2.78)
Omaha: 49 goals scored in 14 games (3.50)

No other league team has scored more than 43 goals this season.

UND’s offensive prowess is matched by their stingy defense, as the Fighting Hawks have only allowed 31 goals in sixteen games (1.94 goals allowed/game), the lowest total in the NCHC. Omaha has allowed 32 goals in 14 games (2.29 goals allowed/game), with Minnesota Duluth close behind (33 in 15; 2.20).

UND’s scoring margin of 59-31 is certainly impressive, but a look inside the numbers reveals that the Fighting Hawks outscored Colorado College, Western Michigan, and Miami 36-9 in eight games (8-0-0) and played relatively even (23 goals for, 22 goals against) in its other eight matchups (four games against Denver and two each vs. Duluth and St. Cloud State), going 4-3-1 in those contests.

Amazingly, Western Michigan has already allowed 70 goals through eighteen games, an average of 3.89 goals allowed/game. North Dakota scored 14 of those goals in its two pod contests against the Broncos.

Through fourteen games, Omaha has blocked 208 shots as a team, led by Nate Koepke (35), Jason Smallidge (29), and Kirby Proctor (15).

North Dakota has blocked 209 shots in its sixteen games, with Matt Kiersted (31), Jacob Bernard-Docker (26), and Ethan Frisch (15 in eleven games) leading the way. Gabe Bast contributed 16 blocks in his twelve games but is expected to be out of the lineup again this weekend.

Special teams will be a huge battle this weekend, with both squads boasting terrific power play and penalty kill units.

Omaha has scored eleven power play goals this season and has successfully killed 47 of 50 opponent man advantage opportunities (94.0%, the best penalty kill in the country). To their credit, the Mavs have scored two shorthanded goals, but they have also allowed four to their opponents. This brings their net special teams margin to +6.

North Dakota has scored seventeen power play goals this season and has successfully killed 60 of 68 opponent man advantage opportunities, including 41 of its last 42 to bring its season-long average to 88.2% (tenth-best in the nation). The Fighting Hawks have also scored two shorthanded goals while not allowing any, for a net special teams margin of +11.

As mentioned above, UND is expected to once again be without the services of senior defenseman Gabe Bast, who was injured three weekends ago at Colorado College and has not returned to the lineup. Bast has appeared in 97 games in his North Dakota hockey career. On the plus side for UND, sophomore blueliner Ethan Frisch will make his return to the lineup in this series after missing the past three games. In the absence of Bast and Frisch, head coach Brad Berry went with a third D-pair of freshman Cooper Moore and senior Josh Rieger last weekend against the Tigers. Thankfully for the Fighting Hawks, both Moore and Reiger got extended playing time in the Omaha pod while freshmen Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven were off winning gold medals at the World Junior Championships. I expect Frisch to displace Rieger on the blueline against the Mavericks, as Cooper Moore has developed nicely over the first half of the season and deserves to see the ice.

When North Dakota is healthy on the back end, they enjoy a roster advantage against nearly every opponent, and that will be the case again this weekend. Omaha’s six most likely starters on defense have combined for seven goals and 23 assists in 74 combined games this season (0.41 points/game), while UND’s top six have scored eleven goals and added 28 assists in 73 games (0.53 points/game). All six UND blueliners expected in the lineup this weekend can defend, move the puck, and score, and Brad Berry has the luxury of trusting all of his defensemen in all situations, much like he had during North Dakota’s run to the national title in 2016 (with Gage Ausmus, Paul LaDue, Tucker Poolman, Hayden Shaw, Troy Stecher, Keaton Thompson, and Christian Wolanin manning the back end).

Remarkably, the Fighting Hawks’ d-corps has put up those numbers while also allowing just 1.94 goals per contest (5th in the country). By comparison, Omaha is allowing 2.29 goals per game (13th).

After this weekend, UND and Omaha are scheduled to play four more times; here is North Dakota’s remaining regular season schedule (subject to change, of course):

January 29 and 30: at Omaha
February 5 and 6: No games scheduled
February 12 and 13: vs. Denver
February 19 and 20: vs. Omaha
February 26: at Omaha
March 5: vs. Omaha

NCHC quarterfinals are scheduled at home venues on March 12-14, with the NCHC Frozen Faceoff the following weekend at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. UND is hosting an NCAA Regional in Fargo, North Dakota on March 26 and 27 and would be automatically placed in that regional if they are selected for the national tournament.

Omaha Mavericks

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (4th season at UNO, 49-62-11, .447)
National Rankings: #9/#9

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

Team Offense: 3.50 goals scored/game – 15th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 2.29 goals allowed/game – 13th of 51 teams
Power Play: 20.4% (11 of 54) – 22nd of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 94.0% (47 of 50) – 1st of 51 teams

Key Players: Junior F Chase Primeau (4-9-13), Junior F Taylor Ward (7-4-11), Junior F Tyler Weiss (4-7-11), Senior F Kevin Conley (5-5-10), Freshman F Matt Miller (6-3-9), Sophomore F Jack Randl (4-5-9), Sophomore F Joey Abate (1-7-8), Sophomore D Brandon Scanlin (1-9-10), Junior D Jason Smallidge (1-7-8), Sophomore G Isaiah Saville (7-4-1, 2.18 GAA, .928 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 128-60-24, .660)
National Rankings: #2/#3

This Season: 12-3-1 overall, 12-3-1 NCHC
Last Season: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.69 goals scored/game – 10th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 1.94 goals allowed/game – 5th of 51 teams
Power Play: 24.6% (17 of 69) – 8th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 88.2% (60 of 68) – 10th of 51 teams

Key players: Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (5-13-18), Sophomore F Shane Pinto (8-11-19), Senior F Grant Mismash (8-7-15), Freshman F Riese Gaber (8-4-12), Senior F Collin Adams (6-10-16), Junior F Mark Senden (1-8-9), Senior D Matt Kiersted (3-13-16), Sophomore D Ethan Frisch (2-3-5 in eleven games), Junior D Jacob Bernard-Docker (1-5-6), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (1-4-5 in nine games), Junior G Adam Scheel (11-2-1. 1.77 GAA, .928 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: March 7, 2020 (Omaha, NE). One night after dropping a 4-1 decision to the Mavs, North Dakota rebounded with a resounding 5-0 triumph, highlighted by two power play goals and Colton Poolman’s shorthanded marker late in the first period. Jacob Bernard-Docker scored twice while netminder Peter Thome stopped all 17 shots he faced. Saturday’s game would be the last of the season for the Fighting Hawks, ending a fantastic campaign at 26-5-4.

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

Last ten: North Dakota has won seven of the last ten contests between the schools, outscoring the Mavericks 35-26 over that stretch.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 24-13-1 (.645), including a 12-6-0 (.667) record in games played in Omaha. North Dakota owns a record of 19-10-1 (.650) against the Mavericks since both teams joined the NCHC. The teams first met on November 19, 2010.

Game News and Notes

In 2015, both North Dakota and Omaha advanced to the Frozen Four but neither team made the championship game. UND fell to Boston University 5-3, while the Mavericks were upended 4-1 by eventual national champion Providence. Since joining the WCHA in 2011 (and later the NCHC), the Mavs have never reached the Twin Cities for the second weekend of the conference tournament despite having home ice in three of those eight years. UND senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi has ten points in thirteen career games against Omaha. The Mavericks have not made the national tournament since their run to the Frozen Four in 2015. Johnny Tychonick has scored one goal and added one assist in his eleven games with the Mavs. Tychonick was a member of the North Dakota men’s hockey team for the past two seasons. Incredibly, UND’s Collin Adams has scored six goals in only 25 shots on net. North Dakota’s Brad Berry is 15-7-0 (.682) in his head coaching career against Omaha. Since coming out flat in game one at Denver two weekends ago, UND has won three straight, outscoring opponents 14-2.

The Prediction

I am very interested to see just how the season series between these two squads plays out. With so many games in just a few short weeks – and with so much on the line, including NCAA tournament berths and the Penrose Cup – I expect every game to be tightly contested and have a playoff atmosphere despite limited fans. The last two series in Omaha have been splits, and I can’t deviate from that formula until I see both teams hit the ice tonight. The Mavericks are coming off of a huge victory against the Pios, and the first ten minutes will tell the tale. If North Dakota can weather the early storm and play large stretches of the weekend at 5-on-5, they’ve got a shot at putting some more distance between themselves and the Mavs. As it is, though, I see each side claiming one victory, and, with three of the remaining four head-to-head matchups taking place at Ralph Engelstad Arena, the Fighting Hawks should have the inside track to the Penrose Cup. Omaha 4-3, UND 3-1.

Broadcast Information

Friday’s opener (7:00 Central Time) will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network, with Saturday’s rematch (6:00 Central Time) available on NCHC.tv. All UND men’s hockey games can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network as well as through the iHeart Radio app.

Social Media

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

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

Weekend Preview: UND at Denver

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 2.17 (26 points in 12 games)
2. Omaha 1.90 (19 points in 10 games)
3. St. Cloud State 1.80 (27 points in 15 games)
4. Minnesota Duluth 1.62 (21 points in 13 games)
5. Denver 1.25 (15 points in 12 games)
6. Western Michigan 1.19 (19 points in 16 games)
7. Colorado College 1.17 (14 points in 12 games)
8. Miami 1.07 (15 points in 14 games)

#2 North Dakota (9-2-1) played all ten scheduled games in the Omaha pod, but it has not been smooth sailing to open the second half. 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 last weekend’s Sunday-Monday series in Colorado Springs. After sweeping the Tigers (3-0, 2-1), Brad Berry’s squad returned home to prepare for a Friday/Saturday series against 18th-ranked Pioneers, only to learn on Wednesday that this series would also be pushed back two days. Playing last weekend at altitude will certainly help the Green and White this time around, and the flexibility they have shown in adjusting to game times and days will benefit this team in the national tournament.

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries. The teams have played 33 times during the first seven seasons of the new conference, but the feud goes all the way back to Geoff Paukovitch’ illegal check on Sioux forward Robbie Bina during the 2005 WCHA Final Five.

Since that 2005 Final Five contest (a Denver victory), the two teams have met twelve times in tournament play. Denver won the 2005 NCAA title with a victory over North Dakota and claimed a 2008 WCHA Final Five win as well. UND has earned six victories and a tie in the last ten playoff games between the schools, including three consecutive victories in the WCHA Final Five (2010-2012), the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional final which sent the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four, 2016’s thrilling Frozen Four semifinal (a 4-2 UND victory) in Tampa, Florida, and the 2017 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Denver turned the tables by dispatching North Dakota in the first round of the league playoffs at Magness Arena to end the Fighting Hawks’ 2018-2019 campaign.

(It is impossible to bring up the Paukovitch/Bina incident without also writing that Brad Malone‘s check on Denver’s Jesse Martin during an October 2010 contest at Ralph Engelstad Arena fractured three of Martin’s vertebrae and ended the hockey career of the Atlanta Thrashers’ draft pick.)

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

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

In the 2019 NCAA tournament, league members Denver and St. Cloud State were both placed in the West Regional (Fargo, North Dakota) and were on track to face off in the regional final. The Pioneers (#6 in the country) held up their end of the bargain with a 2-0 victory over #9 Ohio State, but #19 American International shocked the college hockey world and dispatched the #1-ranked Huskies by a final score of 2-1. One night later, Denver blanked AIC 3-0 to advance to their third Frozen Four in four seasons. The Pios would eventually fall to #4 Massachusetts in overtime in the national semifinal.

In 2019-20, North Dakota’s Shane Pinto and Denver’s Bobby Brink were the two frontrunners for Rookie of the Year in the NCHC, with Pinto earning the honor at the end of the season and Brink nabbing a unanimous NCHC All-Rookie Team selection. Here’s how the two stat lines compared:

Bobby Brink (right wing): 11 goals and 13 assists in 24 games played (0.86 points/game)

Shane Pinto (center): 16 goals and 12 assists in 33 games played (0.85 points/game)

In the November 2019 series at altitude in Denver (1-1 tie, 4-1 UND victory), neither freshman figured in on the scoresheet. When the teams took the ice in Grand Forks for a pair of NCHC games in February 2020 (a North Dakota sweep), Shane Pinto scored the first goal of the weekend and Bobby Brink notched a “natural answer” by potting the very next goal by either team. Pinto broke the head-to-head tie with an assist on Matt Kiersted’s opening-period goal in Saturday’s rematch.

Denver netminder Magnus Chrona (16-6-4, 2.15 goals-against average, a save percentage of .920, and two shutouts last season) was also named to the All-Rookie team and was a finalist for the league’s Goalie of the Year award (which was won by Duluth senior Hunter Shepard).

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, Denver sophomore goaltender Magnus Chrona started out the season playing every minute in net, but he has gone just 2-7-0 while giving up nearly three goals per game (2.96) and posting a pedestrian save percentage of .893. Graduate transfer Corbin Kaczperski (2-0-1, 1.76 GAA, .891 SV%) has filled in admirably; here are Kaczperski’s career numbers from his three seasons at Yale:

29-22-4, 2.53 GAA, .911 SV%, and three shutouts.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (8-1-1. 1.82 GAA, .927 SV%, 2 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (1-1-0, 3.86 GAA, .833 SV%) appearing in two games. Scheel came on in relief in UND’s loss to St. Cloud State after Thome allowed four goals on 18 shots in 33 minutes of action. After allowing just one goal in a weekend sweep at Colorado College (the first time UND has ever accomplished that feat), I believe that it’s Adam Scheel’s crease for the foreseeable future.

Although North Dakota certainly misses (among others) forwards Westin Michaud (16-12-28), Cole Smith (11-7-18), and Dixon Bowen (6-4-10) and defenseman Colton Poolman (4-13-17) from last year’s squad, the team returned 68 percent of its goal scoring (92 of 135 goals) from a year ago. Offensively, forwards Jordan Kawaguchi (15-30-45, Hobey Hat Trick finalist), Shane Pinto (16-12-28), Collin Adams (12-16-28), Grant Mismash (8-12-20), Jasper Weatherby (10-8-18), Judd Caulfield (4-8-12), Harrison Blaisdell (2-10-12), Mark Senden (5-6-11), and Gavin Hain (2-8-10) will lead the way along with defensemen Matt Kiersted (6-23-29), Jacob Bernard-Docker (7-18-25), Gabe Bast (2-3-5), and Ethan Frisch (1-4-5).

By comparison, Denver returns 63 percent of its point production from last season, led by junior forward Cole Guttman (14-14-28), sophomore forward Bobby Brink (11-13-24 in 28 games played), junior forward Brett Stapley (5-25-30), senior forward Kohen Olischefski (9-11-20), junior forward Tyler Ward (10-9-19), senior defenseman Griffin Mendel (3-6-9), and junior defenseman Slava Demin (2-7-9). Additionally, grad transfers Steven Jandric (26-54-80 in 107 games over three seasons playing forward at Alaska Fairbanks) and Bo Hanson (11-36-47 in 102 games over three seasons playing defense at St. Lawrence) should chip in offensively.

A key issue that separated the two teams in the first half of the season is that North Dakota mostly avoided the early departure bug while Denver lost forward Emilio Pettersen (13-22-35, left two years early), defenseman Ian Mitchell (10-22-32, left one year early), and goaltender Devin Cooley (4-3-2, 2.08 GAA, .908 SV%, left one year early). Of particular concern for the Pios is that Mitchell’s absence means that they returned only seven goals and 24 total points on their blue line.

By comparison, North Dakota’s five returning defensemen (Gabe Bast, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Ethan Frisch, Matt Kiersted, and Josh Rieger scored 17 goals and added 48 assists for a total of 65 points last season.

I say UND mostly avoided the early-departure bug because while head coach Brad Berry did not see anyone leave his program early for the pro ranks, junior defenseman Jonny Tychonick transferred to Omaha. Tychonick, who put together a line of 4-7-11 in 24 games played last season, was looking for more playing time, and Maverick bench boss Mike Gabinet has certainly used the nimble blueliner in plenty of situations.

North Dakota went 7-2-1 in the pod, while Denver managed just three victories (3-6-1). In the pod, there was simply not as much time for practice, video work, and system adjustment, which meant that the teams with veteran leadership, depth, and good-to-excellent goaltending were in the best position to succeed.

Freshman forward Carter Savoie has been the brightest spot for Denver this season, tallying eight goals and five assists through his first twelve collegiate games. Savoie, a 5-foot-9 left winger who notched 84 goals and 88 assists over two seasons (112 games) with the Sherwood Park Crusaders (AJHL), is a threat to score from anywhere on the ice. The 18-year-old from St. Albert, Alberta was a 4th-round pick (100th overall) of the Edmonton Oilers in the 2020 NHL entry draft.

North Dakota also has a rookie forward with eight goals through his first twelve collegiate games. Freshman Riese Gaber, an undrafted right winger from Gilbert Plains, Manitoba (a six-hour drive from Grand Forks, ND), spent his past two seasons in the USHL, scoring 56 goals and adding 49 assists in 108 games with the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

Savoie and Gaber trail only Western Michigan senior forward Ethen Frank (ten goals in fifteen games) in the league goal-scoring race. Only one freshman has scored more than twelve goals in the history of the NCHC. North Dakota’s Brock Boeser notched 20 goals in 24 conference games in 2015-16, leading UND to its eighth national title.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and David Carle’s squad has seven players who meet that threshold: freshman forward Carter Savoie (8-5-13), junior forward Cole Guttman (4-6-10), junior forward Brett Stapley (4-3-7), freshman forward McKade Webster (3-4-7), senior forward Kohen Olischefski (3-3-6), sophomore forward Bobby Brink (0-3-3 in three games), and freshman defenseman Mike Benning (1-7-8).

By that same measure, nine North Dakota players make the list: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (5-10-15), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (3-11-14), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (2-10-12), senior forward Grant Mismash (6-6-12), freshman forward Riese Gaber (8-2-10), senior forward Collin Adams (5-7-12), freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (1-2-3 in five games), sophomore defenseman Ethan Frisch (2-3-5 in ten games), and junior forward Jasper Weatherby (3-3-6).

Kawaguchi was the only NCHC player to notch at least one point in each of his team’s games in the Omaha pod, although he was held scoreless on Monday evening and saw his eleven-game point streak come to an end. UND’s 44 goals this season have been scored by fifteen different players.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After twelve games, the Fighting Hawks are fourth in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (24.8) and are ninth in the country in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 54.3%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 55.6%

By comparison, the Pioneers are 10th in both Corsi (54.2%) and Fenwick (54.7), averaging 30.0 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 29.3/game) while allowing 24.3 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 56.4 percent, while Denver is 48th (44.5%) among the 51 men’s college hockey teams to have played at least one game this season.

Leading the way in the faceoff circle for North Dakota have been Shane Pinto (64.0%), Jasper Weatherby (53.9%), and Collin Adams (55.2%). Denver will counter with Jaakko Heikkinen (40.8%), Cole Guttman (54.4%), Brett Stapley (48.8%), and McKade Webster (39.6%).

In their first meeting in the pod, North Dakota won 37 of 48 faceoffs (77.1%), including an incredible 18-0 performance by Shane Pinto. In the pod rematch, the faceoff battle was a bit closer, with UND winning 37 of 61 draws (60.7%). Pinto also came back to earth, going 17-9 (65.4%).

The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.5 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 5th in the country. By contrast, the Pioneers are only lighting the lamp on 8.9% of their shots on goal (29th).

UND’s scoring margin of 44-25 through twelve games looks impressive, but a look inside the numbers reveals that the Fighting Hawks outscored Western Michigan and Miami 22-7 in four victories and was relatively even (22 goals for, 18 goals against) in its other eight matchups (two each vs. Colorado College, Denver, Duluth, and St. Cloud State).

Through twelve games, Denver has blocked 137 shots as a team, led by Antti Tuomisto (16), Kohen Olischefski (13), Griffin Mendel (12), and Justin Lee (12).

North Dakota has blocked 148 shots, with Matt Kiersted (21), Jacob Bernard-Docker (19), and Gabe Bast (16) leading the way.

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

Denver power play: 12 of 48, 25.0 percent
Denver penalty kill: 31 of 40, 77.5 percent

North Dakota power play: 14 of 50, 28.0 percent
North Dakota penalty kill: 42 of 50, 84.0 percent

North Dakota has scored two shorthanded goals this season, while the Pios have none to their credit. Neither team has allowed a shorthanded tally. The Pioneers have scored 12 of their 32 goals this season with the man advantage, while the Fighting Hawks have scored 14 of their 44 goals this season on the power play. Denver must generate more five-on-five chances in this series if the Pios hope to gain a split or better against North Dakota.

UND is scheduled to host the Pios at Ralph Engelstad Arena on February 5th and 6th in the final regular season meetings between the two teams. North Dakota is also scheduled to face Omaha six times and Colorado College twice in the second half of the season. Seven of UND’s final ten regular season games will be played at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

On the injury front, it remains to be seen whether junior forward Gavin Hain makes his return to the North Dakota lineup. Hain was injured in UND’s first game against Colorado College and did not suit up for the rematch.

Denver did not play last weekend because of a positive COVID-19 test within the team, and Sunday’s lineup chart suggests that bench boss David Carle is missing a few players. Most notably, freshman defenseman Mike Benning (1-7-8 in 11 games played) will not suit up in game one. No active Pioneers defenseman has more than three points, although I expect forward Antti Tuomisto (0-4-4) to play defense against UND. Of the seven players expected to patrol the blue line for the Pios, only Tuomisto is right-handed.

Denver Pioneers

Head Coach: David Carle (3rd season at DU, 49-28-12, .618)
National Rankings: #18/#18

This Season: 4-7-1 overall, 4-7-1 NCHC
Last Season: 21-9-6 overall, 11-8-5-4 NCHC (3rd)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.67 goals scored/game – 30th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 2.75 goals allowed/game – 22nd of 51 teams
Power Play: 25.0% (12 of 48) – 10th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 77.5% (31 of 40) – 33rd of 51 teams

Key players: Freshman F Carter Savoie (8-5-13), Junior F Cole Guttman (4-6-10), Junior F Brett Stapley (4-3-7), Freshman F McKade Webster (3-4-7), Senior F Kohen Olischefski (3-3-6), Sophomore F Bobby Brink (0-3-3 in three games), Freshman D Mike Benning (1-7-8), Senior D Bo Hanson (0-3-3), Senior G Corbin Kaczperski (2-0-1, 1.76 GAA, .891 SV%)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 125-59-24, .659)
National Rankings: #2/#2

This Season: 9-2-1 overall, 9-2-1 NCHC
Last Season: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.67 goals scored/game – 11th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 2.08 goals allowed/game – 7th of 51 teams
Power Play: 28.0% (14 of 50) – 4th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 84.0% (42 of 50) – 17th of 51 teams

Key players: Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (3-11-14), Sophomore F Shane Pinto (5-10-15), Senior F Grant Mismash (6-6-12), Freshman F Riese Gaber (8-2-10), Senior F Collin Adams (5-7-12), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (3-3-6), Senior D Matt Kiersted (2-10-12), Sophomore D Ethan Frisch (2-3-5), Junior D Jacob Bernard-Docker (1-4-5), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (1-2-3 in five games), Junior G Adam Scheel (8-1-1. 1.82 GAA, .927 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: Tuesday, December 8 (Omaha, NE). In their second pod matchup in five days, the Pioneers built an early 2-0 before UND clawed back to even the score late in the 2nd period. The two teams traded chances in the third before Denver’s Carter Savoie netted the game-winning power play goal with just over two minutes remaining in the contest. Each team scored two goals with the man advantage. In their first pod meeting (Friday, December 4th), the two teams needed an extra session, where frequent overtime hero Jordan Kawaguchi sent fans of the Green and White into a frenzy. UND outshot Denver 35-22, including a 14-5 advantage in the second period.

Last Meeting in Denver: November 16, 2019. One night after Colton Poolman scored during the 3-on-3 session to give the visitors the extra point, Cole Smith scored two goals in a 4-1 UND victory. Denver outshot North Dakota 28-22 but went scoreless on six power plays.

A Recent Memory: April 7, 2016 (Tampa, Florida). In the semifinals of the NCAA Frozen Four, the two league rivals squared off in a tightly-contested matchup. Senior forward Drake Caggiula scored twice early in the middle frame to stake UND to a 2-0 lead, but the Pioneers battled back with a pair of third period goals. The CBS line came through when it mattered most, with Nick Schmaltz scoring the game winner off of a faceoff win with 57 seconds remaining in the hockey game. North Dakota blocked 27 Denver shot attempts and goaltender Cam Johnson made 21 saves for the Fighting Hawks, who won the program’s eighth national title on the same sheet of ice two nights later.

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

Last Ten Games: After going 0-3-1 over the last four games of the 2018-2019 season, North Dakota went 3-0-1 against the Pioneers last year, outscoring the Pios 12-4 in the process. A split in the Omaha pod leaves the teams at 4-4-2 over the last ten games. UND has scored a total of seventeen goals in the last five games after scoring only five combined goals in the five games before that. On a positive note, the Pioneers have only scored nineteen goals in the past ten. Three of the last ten meetings have gone into overtime.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 150-129-16 (.536), although Denver enjoys a 76-55-5 (.577) advantage in games played at altitude. The teams first met in 1950, with North Dakota prevailing 18-3 in Denver.

Game News and Notes

North Dakota has won six consecutive games, outscoring opponents 23-10 over that stretch. UND and DU were tabbed to finish one-two in the league in the 2020-2021 NCHC Preseason Media Poll. To this point in the season, the Pioneers are not holding up their end of the bargain. UND is one of just five Division I men’s college hockey teams that have yet to play a home game. Since seven of Michigan’s nine titles were earned by 1964, I consider Denver (eight titles) and North Dakota (eight titles) to be the top two men’s college hockey programs of all time.

The Prediction

I don’t think that either team can pick up more than four of the six possible points this weekend. North Dakota has an edge on the back end and in net, but either team can score at any time. I give the edge to the visitors in the opener, and I’m expecting an overtime contest in the rematch. UND 4-2, DU 4-3 (OT).

Broadcast Information

Sunday evening’s game will be broadcast live on Altitude and picked up locally by MidcoSN, while Monday’s rematch will be available nationally on CBS Sports Network. Both games will also be available online at NCHC.tv. All UND men’s hockey games can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network as well as through the iHeart Radio app.

Social Media

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

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

Weekend Preview: UND at 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. St. Cloud State 2.08 (27 points in 13 games)
2. North Dakota 2.00 (20 points in 10 games)
3. Omaha 1.90 (19 points in 10 games)
4. Minnesota Duluth 1.62 (21 points in 13 games)
5. Colorado College 1.40 (14 points in 10 games)
6. Denver 1.25 (15 points in 12 games)
7. Miami 1.07 (15 points in 14 games)
8. Western Michigan 0.93 (13 points in 14 games)

#3 North Dakota (7-2-1) played all ten scheduled games in the Omaha pod, but it has not been smooth sailing to open the second half. 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 this unusual Sunday-Monday series in Colorado Springs in advance of its series at Denver on Friday and Saturday (January 15-16), but it remains to be seen whether the games against the Pioneers will go off without a hitch.

This will be UND’s last regular-season trip to World Arena, which is one of only a handful of Olympic ice sheets remaining in college hockey. The Tigers will move to an on-campus rink next season (Robson Arena), with an NHL ice surface and less than half of the number of seats.

North Dakota freshman defensemen Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven won gold with Team USA at the World Junior Championships and have been cleared to return to the UND lineup. Both blueliners played in three games before departing Omaha to play for their country.

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 (3-3-1, 2.75 GAA, .894 SV%) has been steady as Colorado College sorts out its goaltending situation. Sophomore 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 four appearances (0-2-1) with a goals-against average of 4.70 and a save percentage of just .846.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (6-1-1. 2.13 GAA, .913 SV%, 1 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (1-1-0, 3.86 GAA, .833 SV%) appearing in two games. Scheel came on in relief in UND’s loss to St. Cloud State after Thome allowed four goals on 18 shots in 33 minutes of action. I would expect Scheel to get the start tonight against the Tigers.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Mike Haviland’s squad has just four players who meet that threshold: sophomore forward Josiah Slavin (3-6-9), junior forward Grant Cruikshank (6-2-8), junior forward Ben Copeland (2-4-6), and freshman defenseman Jack Millar (2-4-6).

By that same measure, eleven North Dakota players make the list: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (5-8-13), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (3-10-13), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (2-7-9), senior forward Grant Mismash (4-6-10), freshman forward Riese Gaber (7-2-9), senior forward Collin Adams (4-5-9), freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (1-2-3 in three games), sophomore defenseman Ethan Frisch (2-3-5 in eight games), junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker (1-4-5), junior forward Jasper Weatherby (3-3-6), and junior forward Mark Senden (1-4-5).

Kawaguchi was the only NCHC player to notch at least one point in each of his team’s games in the Omaha pod. UND’s 39 goals this season have been scored by fifteen different players.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After ten games, the Fighting Hawks are third in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (24.7) and are in the top ten in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 54.7% (9th)
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 56.5% (5th)

By comparison, the Tigers are 37th in Corsi (46.4%) and 35th in Fenwick (46.9), averaging 28.1 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 30.5/game) while allowing 27.6 shots on goal against/contest.

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot. The Fighting Hawks are third in the nation in faceoff win percentage at 57.1 percent, while the Tigers are 38th in the nation at 46.7%. 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 (65.2%), Jasper Weatherby (56.6%), Collin Adams (53.4%), and Mark Senden (47.3%). Colorado College will counter with Grant Cruikshank (56.1%), Logan Will (55.7%), Josiah Slavin (51.5%), Jackson Jutting (42.7%), and Troy Conzo (39.0%).

The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.8 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 5th in the country. By contrast, the Tigers are only lighting the lamp on 8.2% of their shots on goal (41st).

UND’s scoring margin of 39-24 through ten games looks impressive, but a look inside the numbers reveals that the Fighting Hawks outscored Western Michigan and Miami 22-7 in four victories and was exactly even (17 goals for, 17 goals against) in its other six matchups (two each vs. Denver, Duluth, and St. Cloud State).

Through ten games, Colorado College has blocked 152 shots as a team, led by Zach Berzolla (35), Hugo Blixt (15), and Connor Mayer.

North Dakota has blocked 130 shots, with Matt Kiersted (19), Jacob Bernard-Docker (18), and Gabe Bast (14) leading the way.

Special teams is a huge area of concern for the Tigers. CC has only scored three goals with the man advantage this season and has already allowed 11 power play goals to opponents for a net of minus-eight. By comparison, North Dakota is a plus-five (12 power play goals scored, 7 power play goals allowed).

On the injury front, Colorado College junior forward Grant Cruikshank will not be in the lineup on Sunday evening (appendicitis) and could miss Monday’s rematch as well. Cruikshank leads the Tigers in goals (six) and shots on goal (38); no other CC player has more than three tallies this season or 21 shots on goal this season.

Colorado College Tigers

Head Coach: Mike Haviland (7th season at CC, 66-141-22, .336)
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 3-5-2 overall, 3-5-2 NCHC
Last Season: 11-20-3 overall, 4-17-3-1 NCHC (8th)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.30 goals scored/game – 38th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 3.30 goals allowed/game – 37th of 51 teams
Power Play: 10.3% (3 of 29) – 43rd of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 65.6% (21 of 32) – 51st of 51 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Josiah Slavin (3-6-9), Junior F Grant Cruikshank (6-2-8), Junior F Ben Copeland (2-4-6), Freshman F Hunter McKown (2-2-4), Senior F Troy Conzo (1-3-4), Sophomore F Patrick Cozzi (1-3-4), Freshman D Jack Millar (2-4-6), Junior D Bryan Yoon (1-1-2), Freshman D Nicklas Andrews (1-1-2), Freshman G Dominic Basse (3-3-1, 2.75 GAA, .894 SV%)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 123-59-24, .655)
National Rankings: #3/#3

This Season: 7-2-1 overall, 7-2-1 NCHC
Last Season: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.90 goals scored/game – 5th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 2.40 goals allowed/game – 13th of 51 teams
Power Play: 27.9% (12 of 43) – 5th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 82.9% (34 of 41) – 20th of 51 teams

Key players: Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (3-10-13), Sophomore F Shane Pinto (5-8-13), Senior F Grant Mismash (4-6-10), Freshman F Riese Gaber (7-2-9), Senior F Collin Adams (4-5-9), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (3-3-6), Senior D Matt Kiersted (2-7-9), Sophomore D Ethan Frisch (2-3-5), Junior D Jacob Bernard-Docker (1-4-5), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (1-2-3 in three games), Junior G Adam Scheel (6-1-1. 2.13 GAA, .913 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: February 1, 2020 (Grand Forks, ND). 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.

Last Meeting in Colorado Springs: March 2, 2019 (Colorado Springs, CO). North Dakota built a 2-0 lead in the first period (Cole Smith, Matt Kiersted) and made it hold up in a 2-1 road victory. The Fighting Hawks outshot the Tigers 36-25. CC won Friday’s opener 3-1, with Westin Michaud assisting on the game winner. All four Friday goals were scored in the third period.

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, 162-84-11 (.652), although Colorado College holds a slim 60-55-4 (.521) advantage in games played in Colorado Springs. The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: North Dakota has seven wins in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring CC 33-21 over that span. UND had gone unbeaten in 14 straight (13-0-1) against the Tigers until four of the last six series between the schools ended in splits.

Game News and Notes

These two coaching staffs coached against each other at the AHL and NHL levels prior to the NCHC. 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). UND last swept at Robson Arena during the 2015-2016 season on their way to their eighth national title. In their careers against Colorado College, Jordan Kawaguchi has five goals and six assists in eleven games and Grant Mismash has four goals and two assists in six games.

The Prediction

UND is healthy, rested, and ready to finally get the second half underway. The wide sheet of ice is normally problematic for road teams, particularly on the first night of a weekend series. This year’s version of the Green and White has the skating ability, puck possession, and goaltending to mitigate any advantage the Tigers normally have. One of these games will be close, but North Dakota should collect all six points this weekend. UND 3-2, 5-1..

Broadcast Information

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

Social Media

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

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

UND Game Preview: NCHC Pod Game #10 vs. Miami

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, it can be difficult to get a handle on who is ahead in the NCHC 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 leaderboard (three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime or shootout win, and one point for an overtime or shootout loss)

Minnesota Duluth 2.00 (18 points in 9 games)
North Dakota 1.89 (17 points in 9 games)
St. Cloud State 1.88 (15 points in 8 games)
Omaha 1.78 (16 points in 9 games)
Colorado College 1.57 (11 points in 7 games)
Denver 1.33 (12 points in 9 games)
Miami 0.89 (8 points in 9 games)
Western Michigan 0.80 (8 points in 10 games)

Way back on December 2nd, these two teams met in the first pod game for either side. North Dakota blanked Miami 2-0 and put 39 shots on goal. Unfortunately for the RedHawks, that’s been the case far too frequently, as Chris Bergeron’s squad has only scored 13 goals all season (nine games, 1.44 goals/game) and has been outshot 309-196. Goaltending has kept things close (more on that later), but Miami has scored more than one goal in a game just three times this year.

By comparison, North Dakota has scored at least two goals in every contest this year, averaging 3.67 goals/game (33 goals in nine games).

UND played Minnesota Duluth at noon yesterday, outlasting a tough Bulldogs squad by scoring the game winner with 48 seconds remaining. Eight hours later, Miami and Colorado College went to overtime, with the Tigers gaining the extra league point with a shootout victory.

After today’s tilt, North Dakota will head into break until Thursday, December 31st.

Over the first seven seasons of the NCHC, Miami has averaged worse than a sixth-place finish (8th, 2nd, 5th, 7th, 8th, 8th, 7th), with a combined league record of 50-100-18 (.351).

By comparison, North Dakota has finished 2nd, 1st, 1st, 4th, 4th, 5th, and 1st, for an average finish somewhere between 2nd and 3rd place and a combined league record of 98-56-14 (.625). The only other league member to collect as many conference wins as UND is St. Cloud State (98).

When the National Collegiate Hockey Conference was formed, Miami appeared positioned to be a dominant program. Prior to the 2013-14 season (their inaugural campaign in the NCHC), the RedHawks had made eight consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, with consecutive Frozen Four bids in 2009 (2nd) and 2010 (3rd). Since joining the NCHC, Miami has just one NCAA tournament appearance (2015), and that ended quickly with a first-round loss to eventual national champion Providence.

Long-tenured head coach Enrico Blasi was fired after posting a fourth consecutive losing season in 2018-2019. Over that stretch of time, the RedHawks were 47-81-19 (.384). There is reason for optimism in Oxford, however, with new bench boss Chris Bergeron (8-21-5 last season in Miami) taking over the program after leading Bowling Green to six consecutive winning seasons, five consecutive years with twenty or more victories, and an NCAA tournament appearance in 2018-2019.

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

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

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

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

Although North Dakota certainly misses (among others) forwards Westin Michaud (16-12-28), Cole Smith (11-7-18), and Dixon Bowen (6-4-10) and defenseman Colton Poolman (4-13-17) from last year’s squad, the team returned 68 percent of its goal scoring (92 of 135 goals) from a year ago. Offensively, forwards Jordan Kawaguchi (15-30-45, Hobey Hat Trick finalist), Shane Pinto (16-12-28), Collin Adams (12-16-28), Grant Mismash (8-12-20), Jasper Weatherby (10-8-18), Judd Caulfield (4-8-12), Harrison Blaisdell (2-10-12), Mark Senden (5-6-11), and Gavin Hain (2-8-10) will lead the way along with defensemen Matt Kiersted (6-23-29), Jacob Bernard-Docker (7-18-25), Gabe Bast (2-3-5), and Ethan Frisch (1-4-5).

Miami also returns 68 percent of its goal scoring (63 of 92 goals) from last season, but the problem for the RedHawks is that they didn’t score a lot in 2019-20 (2.71 goals per game, 32nd in the nation). To make matters worse for Chris Bergeron’s team, the fourth-worst defensive team in the country a year ago (3.74 goals allowed per game) now has to compete without goaltender Ryan Larkin (7-12-2, 3.47 GAA, .901 SV%, 3 shutouts last season; 37-62-16, 3.07 GAA, .901 SV%, and 8 shutouts in his collegiate career).

North Dakota rookie defensemen Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven will not appear in today’s contest, having made the final roster for the 2021 U.S. National Junior Team competing in the World Junior Championships (December 25th, 2020 through January 5th, 2021). The team arrived into the Edmonton bubble one week ago, and the international competition begins on Friday. Sanderson and Kleven are also expected to miss UND’s first two games of the second half (at Omaha on December 31st and January 1st) but could return to action at Ralph Engelstad Arena the following weekend (also against Omaha).

The absence of Sanderson and Kleven will mean that both senior Josh Rieger and freshman Cooper Moore will once again be inserted into the lineup on defense. Moore’s first collegiate game was two weeks ago against Western Michigan (one assist). Rieger has appeared in 39 games over his four seasons at North Dakota, with one goal, three assists, and 31 penalty minutes, including two minor penalties against Denver, one minor in game one against SCSU, and a major penalty for boarding in Wednesday’s rematch with the Huskies. Moore is growing into his role on the back end, and it definitely helped North Dakota to have Ethan Frisch back in the lineup on defense yesterday against UMD. Barring a setback, Brad Berry should be able to field six healthy defensemen for his team’s final foray in the pod.

Each team’s first nine NCHC pod games have given us a glimpse of what we can expect today and in the second half of the season.

#1 North Dakota blanked Miami 2-0 to open up their pod schedule, followed that up with a 4-3 overtime victory over #4 Denver, boat raced #17 Western Michigan 8-2, fell 3-2 to the Pioneers in the rematch, took #3 Minnesota Duluth to overtime, lost to #13 St. Cloud State by a final of 5-3, handled WMU 6-2 one week ago, scored eight seconds into overtime in Wednesday’s rematch with the Huskies, and followed up those heroics with a final-minute winner in yesterday’s thrilling victory over the Bulldogs.

It’s been a struggle in the pod for the RedHawks, with only two victories (1-0 vs. Omaha and 3-0 vs. Denver). Miami also took Omaha to overtime in their other matchup (losing 17 seconds into overtime) and fell to the Colorado College Tigers in a shootout last night. In their five regulation losses, Miami has been outscored 20-7.

For the RedHawks, goaltender Ludvig Persson (2-2-1, 1.19 GAA, .962 SV%, 2 SO) has been a revelation, keeping the RedHawks in games despite the team being outshot 107-160 in his five starts. The freshman from Hindas, Sweden was at his best against Omaha on December 12th, with a 30-save shutout in a game his team won 1-0 despite putting only twelve shots on frame. Persson had been alternating starts with sophomore Ben Kraws (0-4-0, 3.30 GAA, .912 SV%), but Chris Bergeron has to go with the hot hand in today’s tilt against the Fighting Hawks.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (5-1-1, 2.13 GAA, .915 SV%, 1 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (1-1-0, 3.86 GAA, .833 SV%) appearing in two games. Scheel came on in relief in UND’s loss to St. Cloud State after Thome allowed four goals on 18 shots in 33 minutes of action. Earlier this week, I mentioned that I expected Thome to get the start today against Miami, but the way Scheel is playing between the pipes has me thinking that Brad Berry may just stick with what’s working in the pod.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Chris Bergeron’s squad has just one player who meets that threshold: junior forward Matt Barry (2-3-5) scored Miami’s lone goal in yesterday’s 1-1 tie (shootout loss) with the Tigers.

By that same measure, eight North Dakota players make the list: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (4-8-12), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (3-9-12), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (2-7-9), senior forward Grant Mismash (4-4-8), freshman forward Riese Gaber (5-1-6), senior forward Collin Adams (3-5-8), freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (1-2-3 in three games), and junior forward Jasper Weatherby (2-3-5).

Kawaguchi is the only NCHC player to notch at least one point in each of his team’s games in the Omaha pod. UND’s 33 goals this season have been scored by fifteen different players.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After nine games, the Fighting Hawks are sixth in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (24.9) and 11th in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 54.4%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 56.4%

By comparison, the RedHawks are 44th in both Corsi (43.1%) and Fenwick (41.3%), averaging 21.8 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 29.6/game) while allowing 34.3 shots on goal against/contest.

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot. The Fighting Hawks are third in the nation in faceoff win percentage at 58.2 percent, while the RedHawks are 23rd in the nation at 49.9%. To this point of the season, 49 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 (65.5%), Jasper Weatherby (58.8%), Collin Adams (53.4%), and Mark Senden (49.1%). Miami will counter with Monte Graham (56.1%), Ben Lown (53.5%), Casey Gilling (49.0%), and Matt Barry (48.0%).

The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.4 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 7th in the country. By contrast, the RedHawks are only lighting the lamp on 6.6% of their shots on goal (42nd).

Through nine games, here is the specialty teams ledger and team offense/defense for each side:

Miami team offense: 1.44 goals scored/game
Miami team defense: 2.56 goals allowed/game

Miami power play: 2 of 29, 6.9 percent
Miami penalty kill: 24 of 27, 88.9 percent

North Dakota team offense: 3.67 goals scored/game
North Dakota team defense: 2.44 goals allowed/game

North Dakota power play: 11 of 39, 28.2 percent
North Dakota penalty kill: 31 of 38, 81.6 percent

UND’s scoring margin of 33-22 through nine games looks impressive, but a look inside the numbers reveals that the Fighting Hawks outscored Western Michigan 14-5 in two victories and played its other seven opponents almost even (19 goals for, 17 goals against).

Through nine games, Miami has blocked 113 shots as a team, led by Jack Clement (15) and Bray Crowder (13). Three other RedHawks have blocked eight.

North Dakota has blocked 119 shots, with Jacob Bernard Docker and Matt Kiersted at 17 apiece and Gabe Bast in third place with 13.

After seven games in the first twelve days of the pod (December 2nd-13th), North Dakota will only play three games this week (Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday). This was done so that UND’s student-athletes would have more off-days during finals week.

After its pod games are complete, the Fighting Hawks are not scheduled to face Miami, Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State, or Western Michigan during the remainder of the regular season. In addition to four second-half games against Denver, UND will play Omaha six times and Colorado College six times.

North Dakota will open up the second half of the season back in Omaha on Thursday, December 31st and Friday, January 1st, 2021, facing the Mavericks for a pair of NCHC contests. UNO will head to Grand Forks the following weekend for two more games (January 8th and 9th).

Here is the complete NCHC Pod schedule and results for North Dakota:

Pod Game #1: 2-0 win vs. Miami

Pod Game #2: 4-3 overtime win vs. Denver

Pod Game #3: 8-2 win vs. Western Michigan

Pod Game #4: 2-3 loss vs. Denver

Pod Game #5: 2-2 tie/shootout loss vs. Minnesota Duluth

Pod Game #6: 3-5 loss vs. St. Cloud State

Pod Game #7: 6-3 win vs. Western Michigan

Pod Game #8: 4-3 overtime win vs. St. Cloud State

Pod Game #9: 2-1 win vs. Minnesota Duluth

Pod Game #10: Miami
(Sunday, December 20th at 8:05 p.m.)

For a complete NCHC pod preview and information about all eight league teams, please click this link.

Miami RedHawks

Head Coach: Chris Bergeron (2nd season at Miami, 10-27-5, .298)

2019-20 Season Results: 8-21-5 overall, 5-16-3-2 NCHC (7th)

2019-20 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.71 goals scored/game
(32nd in the nation)

Team Defense: 3.74 goals allowed/game
(57th in the nation)

Power Play: 23.9% (28 of 117)
(10th in the nation)

Penalty Kill: 75.4% (101 of 134)
(54th in the nation)

Key graduation losses: F Gordie Green (14-22-36), F Karch Bachman (10-21-31), D Grant Frederic (2-2-4), G Ryan Larkin (7-12-2, 3.47 GAA, .901 SV%, 3 SO)

Key returning players: Senior F Casey Gilling (9-22-31), Junior F Matt Barry (3-8-11 in 17 games), Sophomore F Ryan Savage (7-7-14), Sophomore F Chase Pletzke (6-8-14), Sophomore F John Sladic (7-6-13), Junior D Monte Graham (5-8-13), Senior D Phil Knies, Junior D Derek Daschke (10-13-23), Sophomore D Jack Clement (4-5-9), Junior D Bray Crowder (1-7-8), Sophomore G Ben Kraws (1-7-2, 4.12 GAA, .871 SV%)

Additions: Freshman F Joe Cassetti (0-2-2 in 14 games at Merrimack last season; he also put up 11-8-19 in 22 games last season with Waterloo [USHL]. In two previous seasons at Waterloo, Cassetti put together a line of 28-27-55 over 106 games. Prior to his USHL career, the left wing from Pleasanton, California was a member of the U.S. Under-17 and Under-18 teams.)

Potential impact freshmen: F Matthew Barbolini, D Hampus Rydqvist, D Robby Drazner, G Ludvig Persson

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 122-59-24, .654)

2019-20 Season Results: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2019-20 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.86 goals scored/game
(4th in the nation)

Team Defense: 1.94 goals allowed/game
(4th in the nation)

Power Play: 21.2% (29 of 137)
(17th in the nation)

Penalty Kill: 88.0% (103 of 117)
(5th in the nation)

Key graduation losses: F Westin Michaud (16-12-28), F Cole Smith (11-7-18), F Dixon Bowen (6-4-10), D Colton Poolman (4-13-17), D Andrew Peski (1-9-10)

Departures: Junior D Jonny Tychonick (4-7-11, transferred to Omaha)

Key returning players: Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (15-30-45), Sophomore F Shane Pinto (16-12-28), Senior F Collin Adams (12-16-28), Senior F Grant Mismash (8-12-20), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (10-8-18), Senior D Matt Kiersted (6-23-29), Junior D Jacob Bernard-Docker (7-18-25), Junior G Adam Scheel (19-4-2, 2.07 GAA, .904 SV%, 2 SO)

Additions: Sophomore F Brendan Budy (19-30-49 in 50 games with the Langley Rivermen [BCHL]. In 2018-19, Budy split time between Denver [scoreless in six games] and the USHL’s Tri-City Storm [11-21-31 in 31 games]. In two previous seasons with the Rivermen, the hometown hero from Langley, British Columbia put up a line of 37-64-101 in 105 games.)

Potential impact freshmen: F Griffin Ness, F Riese Gaber, D Jake Sanderson, D Tyler Kleven

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 2, 2020 (Omaha, NE). Despite outshooting Miami 29-9 through the opening two periods, North Dakota held a tenuous 1-0 lead on a power play goal from Matt Kiersted. Enter Riese Gaber, playing in his first collegiate game. The freshman potted the only goal of the third period just 67 seconds into the final frame and UND made the lead hold up for a 2-0 victory. The teams played a relatively even final twenty minutes, with each squad mustering ten shots on goal. North Dakota won 39 of 67 faceoffs (58.2%).

Last Meeting Outside The Pod: January 18, 2020 (Oxford, Ohio). Miami led 2-0 midway through the first period before UND’s Judd Caulfield got the visitors on the board. The teams traded goals in the middle frame, and North Dakota’s Jordan Kawaguchi tied things up nearly five minutes into the third. Cole Smith put the Fighting Hawks ahead with just 64 seconds remaining, and Westin Michaud added an empty-netter 37 seconds later for a 5-3 win. One night earlier, the two teams skated to a 4-4 tie, with UND earning the extra league point with a shootout victory.

Most Important Meeting: March 6, 2015 (Oxford, OH). North Dakota claimed the Penrose Cup with a 2-1 road victory over Miami. UND fell flat the following night, losing 6-3 in the final game of the regular season.

Last Ten: UND has picked up five wins and three ties (5-2-3, .650) in the past ten contests between the teams, outscoring Miami 36-25 over that stretch of games. The RedHawks have not beaten North Dakota since November 10, 2018, a 3-2 home victory.

All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 18-7-4 (.690), including a 3-0-1 record last season and a 3-1 record at neutral sites. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).

Game News and Notes

In their careers against Miami, senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi has five goals and eleven assists in eleven games and senior defenseman Matt Kiersted has two goals and ten assists in nine games. With an assist and the overtime winner against St. Cloud State on Wednesday evening, Kawaguchi (33-69-102 in 117 games) became the 86th member of North Dakota’s Century Club (100 career points). In this year’s unbalanced schedule, this will be the last time that the two teams tangle in the regular season. Green Hawks are preferable to RedHawks.

The Prediction

It will be a shooting gallery tonight in the Omaha pod, and Miami will need freshman phenom Ludvig Persson to be at his best between the pipes if they’re going to have a shot at the end. If North Dakota already has its mental bags packed and overlooks the RedHawks, things could get interesting; however, there are enough veterans and leaders in the locker room that I don’t see that happening. The Fighting Hawks should roll in this one and head into the break feeling good about the first half of their season. UND 3, Miami 1.

Broadcast Information

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

Social Media

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

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

UND Game Preview: NCHC Pod Game #9 vs. Minnesota Duluth

With all of the ties and shootouts and overtime winners as well as the disparity in each team’s number of games played in the Omaha pod, it can be difficult to get a handle on who is ahead in the NCHC standings. The best way I have found is to look at the average number of points earned by each squad.

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

Minnesota Duluth 2.25 (18 points in 8 games)
St. Cloud State 1.88 (15 points in 8 games)
Omaha 1.78 (16 points in 9 games)
North Dakota 1.75 (14 points in 8 games)
Colorado College 1.50 (9 points in 6 games)
Denver 1.25 (10 points in 8 games)
Miami 0.88 (7 points in 8 games)
Western Michigan 0.78 (7 points in 9 games)

Points are critical when the puck drops at noon today, as North Dakota could draw within one point of the first-place Bulldogs with a regulation win or drop as many as seven points back with a loss. This is doubly important because the two teams will not meet in the second half of the season.

After today’s tilt, UND will face off against Miami tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. to close out the first half.

The Bulldogs and Fighting Hawks played to a 2-2 tie back on December 10th, with the teams going scoreless through the 3-on-3 overtime session and UMD winning the shootout 1-0 behind a goal from Nick Swaney.

Before we dig into today’s matchup, let’s take a look back at the past couple of seasons…

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

According to twincities.com:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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).

Although North Dakota certainly misses (among others) forwards Westin Michaud (16-12-28), Cole Smith (11-7-18), and Dixon Bowen (6-4-10) and defenseman Colton Poolman (4-13-17) from last year’s squad, the team returned 68 percent of its goal scoring (92 of 135 goals) from a year ago. Offensively, forwards Jordan Kawaguchi (15-30-45, Hobey Hat Trick finalist), Shane Pinto (16-12-28), Collin Adams (12-16-28), Grant Mismash (8-12-20), Jasper Weatherby (10-8-18), Judd Caulfield (4-8-12), Harrison Blaisdell (2-10-12), Mark Senden (5-6-11), and Gavin Hain (2-8-10) will lead the way along with defensemen Matt Kiersted (6-23-29), Jacob Bernard-Docker (7-18-25), Gabe Bast (2-3-5), and Ethan Frisch (1-4-5).

By comparison, Minnesota Duluth returned nearly 80 percent of its goal scoring from last season, led by Junior F Cole Koepke (16-17-33), Junior F Noah Cates (14-19-33), Senior F Nick Swaney (12-14-26), Junior F Jackson Cates (9-11-20), Senior F Kobe Roth (13-8-21), Junior F Tanner Laderoute (8-8-16), and sophomore F Quinn Olson (7-8-15).

The only thing that I see separating these teams right now is that North Dakota mostly avoided the early departure bug while Duluth lost forward Justin Richards (14-11-25, left one year early) and defensemen Scott Perunovich (6-34-30, left one year early) and Dylan Samberg (1-20-21, left one year early).

Of particular concern for the Bulldogs is that the absence of Perunovich and Samberg means that they return only two goals and eight total points on their blue line.

By comparison, North Dakota’s five returning defensemen (Gabe Bast, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Ethan Frisch, Matt Kiersted, and Josh Rieger scored 17 goals and added 48 assists for a total of 65 points last season.

North Dakota rookie defensemen Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven will not appear in today’s contest, having made the final roster for the 2021 U.S. National Junior Team competing in the World Junior Championships (December 25th, 2020 through January 5th, 2021). The team arrived into the Edmonton bubble late Sunday evening, immediately traveling from the plane to the hotel. Team USA viewed the four-day quarantine period as an opportunity to make the team better and bring them closer together before competition begins on Friday.

The absence of Sanderson and Kleven will mean that both senior Josh Rieger and freshman Cooper Moore will once again be inserted into the lineup on defense. Moore’s first collegiate game was thirteen days ago against Western Michigan (one assist). Rieger has appeared in 38 games over his four seasons at North Dakota, with one goal, three assists, and 31 penalty minutes, including two minor penalties against Denver, one minor in game one against SCSU, and a major penalty for boarding in Wednesday’s rematch with the Huskies. Moore is growing into his role on the back end, and it has definitely helped both of them that head coach Brad Berry has split them up for the past two games (they played together on the third d-pair on Tuesday vs. Denver). As fellow blueliner Ethan Frisch (sophomore) sustained an upper-body injury against St. Cloud State eight days ago, I expect both Moore and Rieger to log plenty of minutes against the Huskies.

UND head coach Brad Berry has not ruled out Frisch’s return for today’s game, and is clear that the sophomore blueliner from Moorhead, Minnesota is certainly closer to returning than either of UND’s injured forwards (Harrison Blaisdell and Judd Caulfield).

I say UND mostly avoided the early-departure bug because while head coach Brad Berry did not see anyone leave his program early for the pro ranks, junior defenseman Jonny Tychonick transferred to Omaha. Tychonick, who put together a line of 4-7-11 in 24 games played last season, was looking for more playing time, and Maverick bench boss Mike Gabinet has certainly used the nimble blueliner in plenty of situations in UNO’s first nine pod games. The 2018 second-round pick of the Ottawa Senators has notched a goal and an assist this season, with both points coming against Western Michigan.

Each team’s first eight NCHC pod games have given us a glimpse of what we can expect over the next couple of weeks and throughout the season.

#1 North Dakota blanked Miami 2-0 to open up their pod schedule, followed that up with a 4-3 overtime victory over #4 Denver, boat raced #17 Western Michigan 8-2, fell 3-2 to the Pioneers in last Tuesday’s rematch, took #3 Minnesota Duluth to overtime on Thursday, lost to #13 St. Cloud State by a final of 5-3, handled WMU on Sunday (6-2), and scored eight seconds into overtime in Wednesday’s rematch with the Huskies.

After a perfect 4-0 start in the pod, Duluth has earned just six conference points in its past four games, with a shootout win over North Dakota, a 4-1 victory over Denver, a 4-1 loss to Colorado College, and a shootout loss to Omaha.

For the Bulldogs, sophomore Ryan Fanti (4-1-2, 2.23 GAA, .919 SV%) has been one of the stories of the pod so far, serving as a more-than-adequate replacement for all-everything netminder Hunter Shepard (22-10-2, 2.18 GAA, .918 SV%, 2 shutouts last season). Freshman goaltender Zach Stejskal (1-0-0, 2.00 GAA, .920 SV%) has started one game for Duluth this season, but I can’t imagine that it’s not Fanti’s crease today.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (4-1-1, 2.30 GAA, .909 SV%, 1 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (1-1-0, 3.86 GAA, .833 SV%) appearing in two games. Scheel came on in relief in UND’s loss to St. Cloud State after Thome allowed four goals on 18 shots in 33 minutes of action. With their results so far and two days off since the Fighting Hawks’ last contest, I would expect Scheel (1-1-1, 2.84 GAA, .906 SV% in his career against UMD) to start against Minnesota Duluth today, with Thome in line to play on Sunday against the Miami RedHawks.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Scott Sandelin’s squad has ten players who meet that threshold: senior forward Nick Swaney (3-9-12), senior forward Kobe Roth (5-2-7), junior forward Cole Koepke (3-4-7), junior forward Noah Cates (2-5-7), junior forward Jackson Cates (3-2-5), senior forward Koby Bender (2-2-4), senior defenseman Matt Cairns (0-4-4), freshman defenseman Wyatt Kaiser (0-4-4), freshman forward Luke Mylymok (0-1-1 in two games), and junior defenseman Jake Rosenbaum (0-1-1 in two games).

By that same measure, eleven North Dakota players make the list: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (4-8-12), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (3-8-11), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (2-6-8), senior forward Grant Mismash (3-4-7), freshman forward Riese Gaber (5-1-6), senior forward Collin Adams (2-4-6), freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (1-2-3 in three games), junior forward Jasper Weatherby (2-3-5), sophomore defenseman Ethan Frisch (1-2-3 in six games), sophomore forward Brendan Budy (2-2-4), and junior forward Mark Senden (1-3-4).

Kawaguchi is the only NCHC player to notch at least one point in each of his team’s games in the Omaha pod. UND’s 31 goals this season have been scored by fifteen different players.

Minnesota Duluth’s Noah Cates and Cole Koepke were two of six players named to the NCHC Preseason All-Conference Team along with UND’s Jordan Kawaguchi, Jacob Bernard-Docker, and Matt Kiersted and Denver netminder Magnus Chrona.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After eight games, the Fighting Hawks are seventh the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (25.0) and seventh in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 55.6%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 57.2%

By comparison, the Bulldogs are 20th in both Corsi (52.3%) and 20th Fenwick (52.3%), averaging 31.6 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 30.9/game) while allowing 27.8 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 59.2 percent, while the Bulldogs are 30th in the nation at 47.9%. To this point of the season, 48 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 (66.7%, 10th in the country), Jasper Weatherby (59.7%), Collin Adams (54.5%), and Mark Senden (49.1%). Minnesota Duluth will counter with Noah Cates (53.5%), Jackson Cates (47.1%), and Jesse Jacques (45.5%).

The Fighting Hawks (12.6%) and Bulldogs (9.9%) are both scoring on a high percentage of their shots on goal, good for 9th and 23rd in the country.

Through eight games, here is the specialty teams ledger and team offense/defense for each side:

Minnesota Duluth team offense: 3.13 goals scored/game
Minnesota Duluth team defense: 2.25 goals allowed/game

Minnesota Duluth power play: 7 of 31, 22.6 percent
Minnesota Duluth penalty kill: 26 of 32, 81.2 percent

North Dakota team offense: 3.88 goals scored/game
North Dakota team defense: 2.63 goals allowed/game

North Dakota power play: 10 of 35, 28.6 percent
North Dakota penalty kill: 27 of 34, 79.4 percent

UND’s scoring margin of 31-21 through eight games looks impressive, but a look inside the numbers reveals that the Fighting Hawks outscored Western Michigan 14-5 in two victories and played its other five opponents almost even (17 goals for, 16 goals against).

After seven games in the first twelve days of the pod (December 2nd-13th), North Dakota will only play three games this week (Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday). This was done so that UND’s student-athletes would have more off-days during finals week.

After its pod games are complete, the Fighting Hawks are not scheduled to face Miami, Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State, or Western Michigan during the remainder of the regular season. In addition to four second-half games against Denver, UND will face Omaha six times and Colorado College six times.

North Dakota will open up the second half of the season back in Omaha on Thursday, December 31st, 2020 and Friday, January 1st, 2021, ringing in the new year with a pair of league games against the Mavericks. UNO will head to Grand Forks the following weekend for two more games (January 8th and 9th).

Here is the complete NCHC Pod schedule and results for North Dakota:

Pod Game #1: 2-0 win vs. Miami

Pod Game #2: 4-3 overtime win vs. Denver

Pod Game #3: 8-2 win vs. Western Michigan

Pod Game #4: 2-3 loss vs. Denver

Pod Game #5: 2-2 tie/shootout loss vs. Minnesota Duluth

Pod Game #6: 3-5 loss vs. St. Cloud State

Pod Game #7: 6-3 win vs. Western Michigan

Pod Game #8: 4-3 overtime win vs. St. Cloud State

Pod Game #9: Minnesota Duluth
(Saturday, December 19th at 12:05 p.m.)

Pod Game #10: Miami
(Sunday, December 20th at 8:05 p.m.)

For a complete NCHC pod preview and information about all eight league teams, please click this link.

Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (21st season at UMD, 396-322-91, .546)

2019-20 Season Results: 22-10-2 overall, 17-5-2-0 NCHC (2nd)

2019-20 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.35 goals scored/game
(10th in the nation)

Team Defense: 2.26 goals allowed/game
(12th in the nation)

Power Play: 25.4% (34 of 134)
(9th in the nation)

Penalty Kill: 81.9% (104 of 127)
(27th in the nation)

Key graduation losses: F Jade Miller (2-7-9), D Nick Wolff (0-10-10), G Hunter Shepard (22-10-2, 2.18 GAA, .918 SV%, 2 SO)

Departures: D Scott Perunovich (6-34-30, left one year early), F Justin Richards (14-11-25, left one year early), D Dylan Samberg (1-20-21, left one year early)

Key returning players: Junior F Cole Koepke (16-17-33), Junior F Noah Cates (14-19-33), Senior F Nick Swaney (12-14-26), Junior F Jackson Cates (8-15-23), Senior F Kobe Roth (13-8-21), Junior F Tanner Laderoute (8-8-16), Senior D Louie Roehl (2-3-5)

Additions: Senior D Matt Cairns (3-3-6 in 61 games over three seasons at Cornell)

Potential impact freshmen: F Blake Biondi, F Luke Mylymok, D Connor Kelley, D Darian Gotz, D Wyatt Kaiser, G Zach Stejskal

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 121-59-24, .652)

2019-20 Season Results: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2019-20 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.86 goals scored/game
(4th in the nation)

Team Defense: 1.94 goals allowed/game
(4th in the nation)

Power Play: 21.2% (29 of 137)
(17th in the nation)

Penalty Kill: 88.0% (103 of 117)
(5th in the nation)

Key graduation losses: F Westin Michaud (16-12-28), F Cole Smith (11-7-18), F Dixon Bowen (6-4-10), D Colton Poolman (4-13-17), D Andrew Peski (1-9-10)

Departures: Junior D Jonny Tychonick (4-7-11, transferred to Omaha)

Key returning players: Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (15-30-45), Sophomore F Shane Pinto (16-12-28), Senior F Collin Adams (12-16-28), Senior F Grant Mismash (8-12-20), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (10-8-18), Senior D Matt Kiersted (6-23-29), Junior D Jacob Bernard-Docker (7-18-25), Junior G Adam Scheel (19-4-2, 2.07 GAA, .904 SV%, 2 SO)

Additions: Sophomore F Brendan Budy (19-30-49 in 50 games with the Langley Rivermen [BCHL]. In 2018-19, Budy split time between Denver [scoreless in six games] and the USHL’s Tri-City Storm [11-21-31 in 31 games]. In two previous seasons with the Rivermen, the hometown hero from Langley, British Columbia put up a line of 37-64-101 in 105 games.)

Potential impact freshmen: F Griffin Ness, F Riese Gaber, D Jake Sanderson, D Tyler Kleven

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 10, 2020 (Omaha, NE). The Bulldogs struck seven minutes in on a goal by Jesse Jacques, and that lead held up for more than 25 minutes of game action. North Dakota’s Riese Gaber and Shane Pinto gave UND the lead, but it only held for four minutes. The two teams played a scoreless 3-on-3 overtime session before UMD won the shootout 1-0. Minnesota Duluth outshot the Fighting Hawks 32-28.

Last Meeting Outside The Pod: January 25th, 2020 (Duluth, MN). The score was 1-0 in UND’s favor after two periods thanks to Westin Michaud’s tally. Early in the third, Duluth’s Scott Perunovich assisted on the tying goal and scored the go-ahead goal. The Fighting Hawks stormed back with two markers of their own (Matt Kiersted, Jonny Tychonick) to claim the road victory. One night earlier, the Bulldogs prevailed 7-4 behind two goals from Kobe Roth. North Dakota led that game 3-1 early in the second period before the floodgates opened. The teams did not play in Grand Forks last season.

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

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

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 148-86-11 (.627). The teams first met in 1954, with North Dakota winning the first ten games between the schools by a combined score of 72-16. UMD’s first win over the Fighting Sioux (a 3-2 road victory on December 18th, 1959) did not sit well with the defending national champions. UND defeated Duluth 13-2 the following night.

Last Ten: Minnesota Duluth is 5-4-1 (.550) in the last ten games between the teams, outscoring the Hawks 32-26 over that stretch. Seven of the past ten contests have taken place in the state of Minnesota, with the Bulldogs winning four times.

Game News and Notes

Both head coaches this weekend are alumni of the University of North Dakota; Brad Berry (1983-86) and Scott Sandelin (1982-86) both played for UND under John “Gino” Gasparini. Sandelin is four victories away from 400 career wins.In 2015, Boston University defeated both Minnesota-Duluth (3-2) and North Dakota (5-3) in the NCAA tournament on their way to the championship game. The Terriers fell 4-3 to the Providence Friars, one win short of a national title. With an assist and the overtime winner against St. Cloud State, UND senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (33-68-101 in 116 games) became the 86th member of North Dakota’s Century Club (100 career points). Kawaguchi has nine points in his ten career games against UMD. In this year’s unbalanced schedule, this will be the last time that the two teams tangle in the regular season.

The Prediction

Goaltending and special teams will be key in this one (as they so often are). The absence of Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven on the back end makes a huge difference for North Dakota as they try to match up against Minnesota Duluth’s forward depth, and until I see if Frisch can play today, I’m giving the edge to the Bulldogs. The Fighting Hawks’ best chance is to get pucks in deep, establish the cycle, and outwork UMD down low. This one could go either way, but I’m predicting a narrow victory for the Green and White, with an empty netter for the final margin. UND 4, Minnesota Duluth 2.

Broadcast Information

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

Social Media

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

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

UND Game Preview: NCHC Pod Game #8 vs. St. Cloud State

North Dakota did not come out with enough effort in its first pod matchup with St. Cloud State, took too long to establish a forecheck, and fell 5-3 to the Huskies. Today’s tilt will be UND’s only opportunity to even the score, as the two teams will not meet during the remainder of the regular season.

Before taking a closer look at today’s game, here’s a look back at the past few seasons for each squad….

St. Cloud State entered the 2019 NCAA tournament as the #1 overall seed and with an overall record of 30-5-3. The Huskies quickly ran into a buzzkill – literally – as the swarming Yellow Jackets of #19 American International shocked the college hockey world and dispatched SCSU by a final score of 2-1. That defeat would be just the sixth loss for Brett Larson’s crew in his first season behind the St. Cloud State bench.

Fast forward one season, and the Huskies went just 13-15-6 (.471).

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.

The 2017-2018 campaign 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.

And unfortunately for St. Cloud State, they duplicated that feat in the 2019 NCAA tournament by dropping their opening game to #19 American International as the #1 overall seed, bringing an abrupt end to a fantastic season. Head coach Brett Larson compiled a sparkling record of 30-6-3 in his first campaign.

Both North Dakota and St. Cloud State posted historically good records in 2015-16. 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 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)
2018-19 St. Cloud State (30-6-3)

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

Incidentally, the 2019-2020 North Dakota Fighting Hawks (26-5-4) were ahead of the pace set by the 2015-2016 team, and, had the season continued, UND fans could have definitely seen another 30-win season from the Green and White.

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 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).

The Fighting Hawks came in at number one in this season’s NCHC media preseason poll, with Denver, Minnesota Duluth, and St. Cloud State rounding out the top four. So far, the Bulldogs (17 points in 7 games played) have come out on top, with the Huskies (12 points in 6 games) and Fighting Hawks (12 points in 7 games) not far behind. Denver (10 points in 7 games) has lost to each of the other three teams in the top four of the preseason poll, but the Pios found redemption with a narrow victory over UND last Tuesday afternoon.

As North Dakota will not face Minnesota Duluth or St. Cloud State in the second half of the year, tonight’s matchup with the Huskies and Saturday’s noon tilt with the Bulldogs will go a long way toward determining the 2020-2021 Penrose Cup championship.

After UND and SCSU played on Saturday, both teams suited up for Sunday games before having the past couple of days off. St. Cloud State was blanked by Omaha (2-0) despite outshooting the Mavericks 41-21. North Dakota handled Western Michigan 6-3, although the Broncos came back from a 3-0 deficit and brought the game to within a goal five minutes into the third period. Thankfully for fans of the Green and White, freshman phenom Riese Gaber (five goals in seven games) answered 27 seconds later to double UND’s lead, and Brad Berry’s squad never looked back.

It’s been a tale of two game scripts for North Dakota in the Omaha pod.

In its win over Miami and two victories against Western Michigan, the Fighting Hawks never trailed while leading for nearly 127 of 180 game minutes.

UND had to chase the game far too often in its more competitive games (Denver twice, Minnesota Duluth, and St. Cloud State), holding the lead for less than six minutes combined while trailing for over 144 minutes of game action.

Playing with the lead allows North Dakota to settle in and use the entire lineup, thereby easing the burden on its top two lines and top three defensemen.

Although North Dakota certainly misses (among others) forwards Westin Michaud (16-12-28), Cole Smith (11-7-18), and Dixon Bowen (6-4-10) and defenseman Colton Poolman (4-13-17) from last year’s squad, the team returned 68 percent of its goal scoring (92 of 135 goals) from a year ago. Offensively, forwards Jordan Kawaguchi (15-30-45, Hobey Hat Trick finalist), Shane Pinto (16-12-28), Collin Adams (12-16-28), Grant Mismash (8-12-20), Jasper Weatherby (10-8-18), Judd Caulfield (4-8-12), Harrison Blaisdell (2-10-12), Mark Senden (5-6-11), and Gavin Hain (2-8-10) will lead the way along with defensemen Matt Kiersted (6-23-29), Jacob Bernard-Docker (7-18-25), Gabe Bast (2-3-5), and Ethan Frisch (1-4-5).

By comparison, St. Cloud State returned nearly 70 percent of its goal scoring from last season, led by senior F Easton Brodzinski (12-15-27), junior F Sam Hentges (7-17-24), junior F Micah Miller (7-11-18), sophomore F Jami Krannila (5-9-14), senior F Kevin Fitzgerald (5-7-12), junior F Nolan Walker (2-10-12), junior D Nick Perbix (4-11-15), and junior D Spencer Meier (4-6-10).

The problem is that the Huskies only scored 94 goals last season (UND scored 135).

North Dakota rookie defensemen Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven will not appear in today’s contest, having made the final roster for the 2021 U.S. National Junior Team competing in the World Junior Championships (December 25th, 2020 through January 5th, 2021). The team arrived into the Edmonton bubble late Sunday evening, immediately traveling from the plane to the hotel. Team USA views the four-day quarantine period as an opportunity to make the team better and bring them closer together before competition begins one week from Friday.

The absence of Sanderson and Kleven will mean that both senior Josh Rieger and freshman Cooper Moore will once again be inserted into the lineup on defense. Moore’s first collegiate game was ten days ago against Western Michigan (one assist). Rieger has appeared in 37 games over his four seasons at North Dakota, with one goal, three assists, and 26 penalty minutes, including two minor penalties against Denver and one against SCSU. Moore is growing into his role on the back end, and it has definitely helped both of them that head coach Brad Berry has split them up for the past two games (they played together on the third d-pair on Tuesday vs. Denver). As fellow blueliner Ethan Frisch (sophomore) sustained an upper-body injury against St. Cloud State on Saturday, I expect both Moore and Rieger to log plenty of minutes against the Huskies.

UND head coach Brad Berry has not ruled out Frisch’s return for today’s game, and is clear that the sophomore blueliner from Moorhead, Minnesota is certainly closer to returning than either of UND’s injured forwards (Harrison Blaisdell and Judd Caulfield).

Each team’s first seven NCHC pod games have given us a glimpse of what we can expect in the last week of the pod and during the second half of the season.

#1 North Dakota blanked Miami 2-0 to open up their pod schedule, followed that up with a 4-3 overtime victory over #4 Denver, boat raced #17 Western Michigan 8-2, fell 3-2 to the Pioneers in last Tuesday’s rematch, took #3 Minnesota Duluth to overtime on Thursday, lost to #13 St. Cloud State by a final of 5-3, and handled WMU on Sunday (6-2).

#13 St. Cloud State got off to a fast start in the pod, downing #17 Western Michigan (4-3), #4 Denver (4-3), and Omaha (5-3). However, the Huskies suffered two close defeats last week, dropping a 2-1 decision to WMU and a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Omaha Mavericks.

For SCSU, senior David Hrenak (4-3-1, 2.77 GAA, .912 SV%) has been solid in the pod so far, and last Wednesday’s loss to the Broncos was certainly not on him (30 saves on 32 shots). Sophomore goaltender Jaxon Castor (1-0-0, 3.00 GAA, .889 SV%) got the start against Omaha, but I can’t imagine that it’s not Hrenak’s crease this evening.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (3-1-1, 2.18 GAA, .912 SV%, 1 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (1-1-0, 3.86 GAA, .833 SV%) appearing in two games. Scheel came on in relief in UND’s loss to St. Cloud State after Thome allowed four goals on 18 shots in 33 minutes of action. With their results so far and another two days off after today’s contest, I would expect Scheel (3-1-0, 1.58 GAA, .931 SV% in his career against SCSU) to start against St. Cloud State (Wednesday) and Minnesota Duluth (Saturday), with Thome in line to play on Sunday against the Miami RedHawks.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and St. Cloud State has nine players who meet that threshold: senior forward Kevin Fitzgerald (3-2-5), junior defenseman Nick Perbix (2-3-5), junior forward Sam Hentges (2-2-4), sophomore forward Jami Krannila (2-2-4), senior forward Easton Brodzinski (2-2-4), junior forward Nolan Walker (1-3-4), freshman forward Veeti Miettinen (1-3-4), sophomore forward Zach Okabe (1-2-3 in five games), and sophomore defenseman Ondrej Trejbal (0-2-2 in four games).

By that same measure, ten North Dakota players make the list: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (3-7-10), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (2-7-9), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (2-5-7), senior forward Grant Mismash (3-4-7), freshman forward Riese Gaber (5-1-6), senior forward Collin Adams (1-4-5), sophomore defenseman Ethan Frisch (1-2-3 in six games), freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (1-2-3), sophomore forward Brendan Budy, and junior forward Jasper Weatherby (2-2-4). Kawaguchi is the only NCHC player to notch at least one point in each of his team’s games in the Omaha pod.

Although the Fighting Hawks will sorely miss freshman blueliners Jake Sanderson (1-2-3 in three games) and Tyler Kleven (1-0-1 in three games) for the remainder of their games in the Omaha pod, they will certainly contend for the highest-scoring defensive unit in the country.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After seven games, the Fighting Hawks are ninth in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (24.7) and are sixth in the nation in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 57.1%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 57.8%

By comparison, the Huskies are 33rd in both Corsi (46.7%) and Fenwick (48.5%), averaging 30.3 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 32.3/game) while allowing 28.8 shots on goal against/contest.

To St. Cloud’s credit, they have made up for a lack of puck possession by blocking a ton of shots this season. Through their first six games, SCSU has blocked 98 shots (16.3/game). By comparison, North Dakota has only blocked 80 shots in its seven games (11.4/game).

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot. The Fighting Hawks are third in the nation in faceoff win percentage at 59.9 percent, while the Huskies are 29th (48.3%) among the 47 men’s college hockey teams to have played at least one game this season.

Leading the way in the faceoff circle for North Dakota have been Shane Pinto (66.1%, 20th in the country), Jasper Weatherby (61.9%, 32nd in the country), Collin Adams (55.6%), and Mark Senden (51.0%). St. Cloud State will counter with Will Hammer (55.7%), Sam Hentges (53.0%). Nolan Walker (45.6%), and Jami Krannila (36.6%).

The Huskies (10.4%) and Fighting Hawks (12.0%) are both scoring on a high percentage of their shots on goal, good for 17th and 10th in the country.

Up to this point in the season, here is the specialty teams ledger and team offense/defense for each side:

St. Cloud State team offense: 3.17 goals scored/game
St. Cloud State team defense: 2.67 goals allowed/game
St. Cloud State power play: 2 of 17, 11.8 percent
St. Cloud State penalty kill: 23 of 25, 92.0 percent

North Dakota team offense: 3.86 goals scored/game
North Dakota team defense: 2.57 goals allowed/game
North Dakota power play: 9 of 31, 29.0 percent
North Dakota penalty kill: 24 of 31, 77.4 percent

UND’s scoring margin of 27-18 through seven games looks impressive, but a look inside the numbers reveals that the Fighting Hawks outscored Western Michigan 14-5 in two victories and played its other five opponents even (13 goals for, 13 goals against).

UND went scoreless on five man-advantage situations against St. Cloud State on Saturday, and, to make matters worse, allowed two power play goals on five chances to a Huskies’ unit that had not scored a goal with the man advantage coming into the game (and has not scored one since). The Fighting Hawks were able to muster an extra-attacker goal on a delayed penalty (Brendan Budy) and a penalty shot goal (Grant Mismash), but it wasn’t enough in the 5-3 loss.

After seven games in the first twelve days of the pod (December 2nd-13th), North Dakota will only play three games over the last seven days of the pod. This was done so that UND’s student-athletes would have more off-days during finals week.

After today’s tilt with the Huskies, the Fighting Hawks will not face SCSU during the remainder of the regular season. After its pod games are complete, the Fighting Hawks are not scheduled to face Miami, Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State, or Western Michigan during the remainder of the regular season. In addition to four second-half games against Denver, UND will face Omaha six times and Colorado College six times.

Here is the complete NCHC Pod schedule and results for North Dakota:

Pod Game #1: 2-0 win vs. Miami

Pod Game #2: 4-3 overtime win vs. Denver

Pod Game #3: 8-2 win vs. Western Michigan

Pod Game #4: 2-3 loss vs. Denver

Pod Game #5: 2-2 tie/shootout loss vs. Minnesota Duluth

Pod Game #6: 3-5 loss vs. St. Cloud State

Pod Game #7: 6-3 win vs. Western Michigan

Pod Game #8: St. Cloud State
(Wednesday, December 16th at 7:35 p.m.)

Pod Game #9: Minnesota Duluth
(Saturday, December 19th at 12:05 p.m.)

Pod Game #10: Miami
(Sunday, December 20th at 8:05 p.m.)

For a complete NCHC pod preview and information about all eight league teams, please click this link.

St. Cloud State Huskies

Head Coach: Brett Larson (3rd season at SCSU, 47-23-9, .652)

2019-20 Season Results: 13-15-6 overall, 10-12-2-1 NCHC (5th)

2019-20 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.76 goals scored/game
(29th in the nation)

Team Defense: 3.18 goals allowed/game
(48th in the nation)

Power Play: 18.1% (21 of 116)
(34th in the nation)

Penalty Kill: 79.1% (91 of 115)
(43rd in the nation)

Key graduation losses: F Nick Poehling (8-18-26), F Jack Poehling (9-11-20), F Jake Wahlin (4-8-12), D Jack Ahcan (7-18-25)

Key returning players: Senior F Easton Brodzinski (12-15-27), Junior F Sam Hentges (7-17-24), Junior F Micah Miller (7-11-18), Sophomore F Jami Krannila (5-9-14), Senior F Kevin Fitzgerald (5-7-12), Junior F Nolan Walker (2-10-12), Junior D Nick Perbix (4-11-15), Junior D Spencer Meier (4-6-10), Senior G David Hrenak (12-11-6, 2.76 GAA, .906 SV%, 2 SO)

Additions: Senior F Jared Cockrell (23-29-52 in 112 games over four seasons at Colgate, including an injury-shortened seven-game season in 2018-19), Senior D Seamus Donohue (7-48-55 in 117 games over three seasons at Michigan Tech)

Potential impact freshmen: F Veeti Miettinen, F Joe Molenaar, D Brady Ziemer

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 120-59-24, .650) – check record

2019-20 Season Results: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2019-20 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.86 goals scored/game
(4th in the nation)

Team Defense: 1.94 goals allowed/game
(4th in the nation)

Power Play: 21.2% (29 of 137)
(17th in the nation)

Penalty Kill: 88.0% (103 of 117)
(5th in the nation)

Key graduation losses: F Westin Michaud (16-12-28), F Cole Smith (11-7-18), F Dixon Bowen (6-4-10), D Colton Poolman (4-13-17), D Andrew Peski (1-9-10)

Departures: Junior D Jonny Tychonick (4-7-11, transferred to Omaha)

Key returning players: Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (15-30-45), Sophomore F Shane Pinto (16-12-28), Senior F Collin Adams (12-16-28), Senior F Grant Mismash (8-12-20), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (10-8-18), Senior D Matt Kiersted (6-23-29), Junior D Jacob Bernard-Docker (7-18-25), Junior G Adam Scheel (19-4-2, 2.07 GAA, .904 SV%, 2 SO)

Additions: Sophomore F Brendan Budy (19-30-49 in 50 games with the Langley Rivermen [BCHL]. In 2018-19, Budy split time between Denver [scoreless in six games] and the USHL’s Tri-City Storm [11-21-31 in 31 games]. In two previous seasons with the Rivermen, the hometown hero from Langley, British Columbia put up a line of 37-64-101 in 105 games.)

Potential impact freshmen: F Griffin Ness, F Riese Gaber, D Jake Sanderson, D Tyler Kleven

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 12, 2020 (Omaha, NE). Brendan Budy’s goal drew North Dakota even at two goals apiece early in the second period, but St. Cloud State rattled off two goals in less than two minutes midway through the middle frame. The teams traded goals in the third period, highlighted by a penalty shot marker from UND’s Grant Mismash. The Fighting Hawks outshot the Huskies 36-30.

Last Meeting Outside Of The Pod: February 22nd, 2020 (St. Cloud, MN). In the last college hockey game I watched in person, St. Cloud’s Jack Poehling broke a 1-1 tie six minutes into the third period and the Huskies made it hold up despite being outshot 13-5 in the final frame and 30-19 for the game. One night earlier, the teams skated to a 3-3 tie before St. Cloud State notched the extra league point with a shootout win.

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, 74-46-15 (.604). 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: SCSU has won five of the last ten meetings between the teams, with two others ending in ties. Each team has scored 26 goals over that stretch of games. Five of the last ten meetings have gone to overtime.

Game News and Notes

St. Cloud State has won the regular season league title four times over the past seven seasons (WCHA 2012-13; NCHC 2013-14, 2017-18, & 2018-19). UND senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (32-67-99 in 115 games) is one point shy of reaching 100 points in his North Dakota career. SCSU has made the national tournament 13 times in the past twenty seasons, with one Frozen Four appearance (2013). North Dakota’s 27 goals have come from 14 different players. In this year’s unbalanced schedule, this will be the last time that the two teams tangle in the regular season.

The Prediction

It will take a stronger start for North Dakota to come out on top in this one. Both teams should be rested and ready, with a slight depth edge to St. Cloud State unless Ethan Frisch can return to the lineup for the Fighting Hawks. Five of the last ten tilts between these two squads have gone to overtime, and I feel like we’re in for another one tonight. I don’t like shootouts, but I think that the Green and White will end it before we get there. UND 4, SCSU 3 (OT).

Broadcast Information

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

Social Media

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

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

UND Game Preview: NCHC Pod Game #7 vs. Western Michigan

In its NCHC pod opener, #17 #Western Michigan (2-3-1) dropped a close 4-3 decision to St. Cloud State and lost their starting goaltender (sophomore Brandon Bussi, 18-12-4, 2.65 goals-against average, and a save percentage of .910 last season). Bussi went down just over eight minutes into the contest with what appeared to be a groin injury. The sophomore from Sound Beach, New York was expected to stabilize things on the back end while the team dealt with the loss of defensemen Luke Bafia, Kale Bennett, Cam Lee, and Mattias Samuelsson.

In the first game without Bussi, the Broncos lost 10-2 to Omaha.

Three days later, #1 North Dakota (3-2-1) boat raced WMU by a score of 8-2.

The good news for Western Michigan fans is that head coach Andy Murray has his squad playing much better this week, with a shootout win and a regulation win against Colorado College and an impressive 2-1 victory over #13 St. Cloud State.

It appears as though senior Austin Cain will shoulder the load in Bussi’s absence, and he has settled in a bit after giving up 14 goals on 68 shots in just over 100 minutes of game action over his first three games. Cain has been particularly solid over his past two, leading the Broncos to two consecutive victories while allowing only three goals on 53 shots.

Bussi, who started 34 of 36 games for WMU a year ago, is not expected to return to action in the first half of the season.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (2-1-1, 1.99 GAA, .921 SV%, 1 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (1-1-0, 3.86 GAA, .833 SV%) appearing in two games. Scheel came on in relief in yesterday’s loss to St. Cloud State after Thome allowed four goals on 18 shots in 33 minutes of action. I am expecting a 60/40 or 70/30 split of minutes for the Fighting Hawks, with Scheel earning the start today against the Broncos.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Western Michigan has eight players who meet that threshold: senior forward Josh Passolt (3-4-7), senior forward Paul Washe (3-2-5), senior forward Ethan Frank (3-1-4), sophomore defenseman Ronnie Attard (0-4-4), freshman defenseman Aidan Fulp (0-4-4), sophomore forward Jason Polin (2-1-3), sophomore defenseman Scooter Brickey (1-2-3), and junior forward Drew Worrad (0-3-3). One could argue that Passolt also assisted on St. Cloud State’s game-winning tally with 27 seconds remaining, as he batted a puck out of the air and into his own net. The Huskies’ Nick Perbix was given credit for the goal.

By that same measure, nine North Dakota players make the list: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (3-5-8), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (2-6-8), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (2-4-6), senior forward Grant Mismash (3-2-5), freshman forward Riese Gaber (3-1-4), senior forward Collin Adams (1-3-4), sophomore defenseman Ethan Frisch (1-2-3), freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (1-2-3), and junior forward Jasper Weatherby (1-2-3). Kawaguchi is the only NCHC player to notch at least one point in each of his team’s games in the Omaha pod.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After six games, the Fighting Hawks are sixth the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (25.0) and are in the top five in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent):
58.9% (fourth in the nation)

Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent):
59.1% (fifth in the nation)

By comparison, the Broncos are 29th in Corsi (47.5%) and 28th in Fenwick (47.2%), averaging 27.5 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 33.2/game) while allowing 35.5 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 60.4 percent, while Western Michigan is tenth in the country at 52.6 percent.

Leading the way in the faceoff circle for North Dakota have been Shane Pinto (65.8%, 19th in the country), Jasper Weatherby (64.0%, 22nd), Collin Adams (55.1%), and Mark Senden (47.9%). Western Michigan will counter with Paul Washe (58.0%), Drew Worrad (52.1%), Luke Grainger (51.7%), and Brett Van Os (43.3%).

The Broncos (10.3%) and Fighting Hawks (10.6%) are both scoring on a high percentage of their shots on goal, good for 17th and 15th in the country.

Up to this point in the season, here is the specialty teams ledger and team offense/defense for each side:

Western Michigan team offense: 2.83 goals scored/game
Western Michigan team defense: 4.67 goals allowed/game
Western Michigan power play: 5 of 19, 28.3 percent
Western Michigan penalty kill: 15 of 20, 75.0 percent

North Dakota team offense: 3.50 goals scored/game
North Dakota team defense: 2.50 goals allowed/game
North Dakota power play: 8 of 27, 29.6 percent
North Dakota penalty kill: 20 of 27, 74.1 percent

UND went scoreless on five man advantage situations against St. Cloud State yesterday and, to make matters worse, allowed two power play goals on five chances to a Huskies’ unit that had not scored a goal with the man advantage coming into the game. The Fighting Hawks were able to muster an extra-attacker goal on a delayed penalty (Brendan Budy) and a penalty shot goal (Grant Mismash), but it wasn’t enough in a 5-3 loss.

North Dakota rookie defensemen Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven will not appear in today’s contest, having arrived in Plymouth, Michigan for the 2021 U.S. National Junior Team training camp. Sanderson and Kleven have made the final roster for the World Junior Championships and will depart for Edmonton, Alberta today. The tournament will be played from December 25th, 2020 through January 5th, 2021.

The absence of Sanderson and Kleven will mean that both senior Josh Rieger and freshman Cooper Moore will once again be inserted into the lineup on defense. Moore’s first collegiate game was one week ago against Western Michigan (one assist). Rieger has appeared in 36 games over his four seasons at North Dakota, with one goal, three assists, and 26 penalty minutes, including two minor penalties against Denver and one against SCSU. Moore is growing into his role on the back end, and it has definitely helped both of them that head coach Brad Berry has split them up for the past two games (they played together on the third d-pair on Tuesday vs. Denver). As fellow blueliner Ethan Frisch sustained an injury (undisclosed) against St. Cloud State yesterday, I expect both Moore and Rieger to log more minutes against the Broncos.

There are three games scheduled at Baxter Arena today: Minnesota Duluth will face off in the first game today (12:05 p.m.), with UND and WMU scheduled for 4:05 p.m. St. Cloud State and Omaha will play the third game of the day at 8:05 p.m.

Here is the complete NCHC Pod schedule and results for North Dakota:

Pod Game #1: 2-0 win vs. Miami

Pod Game #2: 4-3 overtime win vs. Denver

Pod Game #3: 8-2 win vs. Western Michigan

Pod Game #4: 2-3 loss vs. Denver

Pod Game #5: 2-2 tie/shootout loss vs. Minnesota Duluth

Pod Game #6: 3-5 loss vs. St. Cloud State

Pod Game #7: Western Michigan
(Sunday, December 13th at 4:05 p.m.)

Pod Game #8: St. Cloud State
(Wednesday, December 16th at 7:35 p.m.)

Pod Game #9: Minnesota Duluth
(Saturday, December 19th at 12:05 p.m.)

Pod Game #10: Miami
(Sunday, December 20th at 8:05 p.m.)

After its pod games are complete, the Fighting Hawks are not scheduled to face Miami, Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State, or Western Michigan during the remainder of the regular season. In addition to four second-half games against Denver, UND will face Omaha six times and Colorado College six times.

For a complete NCHC pod preview and information about all eight league teams, please click this link.

The Fighting Hawks came in at number one in this season’s NCHC media preseason poll, with Denver, Minnesota Duluth, and St. Cloud State rounding out the top four. Western Michigan was tabbed to finish fifth.

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).

This season, North Dakota certainly misses (among others) forwards Westin Michaud (16-12-28), Cole Smith (11-7-18), and Dixon Bowen (6-4-10) and defenseman Colton Poolman (4-13-17) from last year’s squad, but the team returns 68 percent of its goal scoring (92 of 135 goals) from a year ago. Offensively, forwards Jordan Kawaguchi (15-30-45, Hobey Hat Trick finalist), Shane Pinto (16-12-28), Collin Adams (12-16-28), Grant Mismash (8-12-20), Jasper Weatherby (10-8-18), Judd Caulfield (4-8-12), Harrison Blaisdell (2-10-12), Mark Senden (5-6-11), and Gavin Hain (2-8-10) will lead the way along with defensemen Matt Kiersted (6-23-29), Jacob Bernard-Docker (7-18-25), Gabe Bast (2-3-5), and Ethan Frisch (1-4-5).

By comparison, Western Michigan only returns 51 percent of its point production from last season, with senior forward Paul Washe (12-9-21), senior forward Ethen Frank (9-11-20), junior forward Cole Gallant (4-16-20), junior forward Rhett Kingston (9-8-17), junior forward Drew Worrad (6-11-17), senior forward Josh Passolt (5-11-16), junior defenseman Michael Joyaux (2-15-17), and sophomore defenseman Ronnie Attard (6-8-14) leading the way.

It seems strange face a Broncos team without forward Wade Allison. The oft-injured right winger seemingly played for WMU forever, scoring 45 goals in 106 career games at Western Michigan.

While North Dakota mostly avoided the early-departure bug, WMU lost forward Austin Rueschhoff (12-14-26) and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson (2-12-14) to the pro ranks. Rueschhoff left one year early, while Samuelsson left two years of eligibility on the table.

I say UND mostly avoided the early-departure bug because while head coach Brad Berry did not see anyone leave his program early for the pro ranks, junior defenseman Jonny Tychonick transferred to Omaha. Tychonick, who put together a line of 4-7-11 in 24 games played last season, was looking for more playing time, and Maverick bench boss Mike Gabinet has certainly used the nimble blueliner in plenty of situations in UNO’s first six pod games. The 2018 second-round pick of the Ottawa Senators notched his first point of the season with an assist on the Mavericks’ first goal against the Broncos.

Western Michigan Broncos

Head Coach: Andy Murray (10th season at WMU, 159-147-41, .517)

2019-20 Season Results: 18-13-5 overall, 12-9-3-2 NCHC (4th)

2019-20 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.47 goals scored/game
(8th in the nation)

Team Defense: 2.81 goals allowed/game
(32nd in the nation)

Power Play: 19.8% (25 of 126)
(24th in the nation)

Penalty Kill: 76.8% (116 of 151)
(52nd in the nation)

Key graduation losses: F Hugh McGing (13-22-35), F Dawson DiPietro (12-17-29), F Wade Allison (10-13-23), F Lawton Courtnall (5-5-10), D Cam Lee (3-18-21), D Luke Bafia (1-10-11), D Kale Bennett (3-5-8)

Departures: F Austin Rueschhoff (12-14-26, left one year early), D Mattias Samuelsson (2-12-14, left two years early)

Key returning players: Senior F Paul Washe (12-9-21), Senior F Ethen Frank (9-11-20), Junior F Cole Gallant (4-16-20), Junior F Rhett Kingston (9-8-17), Junior F Drew Worrad (6-11-17), Senior F Josh Passolt (5-11-16), Junior D Michael Joyaux (2-15-17), Sophomore D Ronnie Attard (6-8-14), Sophomore G Brandon Bussi (18-12-4, 2.65 GAA, .910 SV%)

Potential impact freshmen: F Chad Hillebrand, F Luke Grainger, F Hugh Larkin, D Daniel Hilsendager, D Aidan Fulp

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 119-59-24, .649)

2019-20 Season Results: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2019-20 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.86 goals scored/game
(4th in the nation)

Team Defense: 1.94 goals allowed/game
(4th in the nation)

Power Play: 21.2% (29 of 137)
(17th in the nation)

Penalty Kill: 88.0% (103 of 117)
(5th in the nation)

Key graduation losses: F Westin Michaud (16-12-28), F Cole Smith (11-7-18), F Dixon Bowen (6-4-10), D Colton Poolman (4-13-17), D Andrew Peski (1-9-10)

Departures: Junior D Jonny Tychonick (4-7-11, transferred to Omaha)

Key returning players: Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (15-30-45), Sophomore F Shane Pinto (16-12-28), Senior F Collin Adams (12-16-28), Senior F Grant Mismash (8-12-20), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (10-8-18), Senior D Matt Kiersted (6-23-29), Junior D Jacob Bernard-Docker (7-18-25), Junior G Adam Scheel (19-4-2, 2.07 GAA, .904 SV%, 2 SO)

Additions: Sophomore F Brendan Budy (19-30-49 in 50 games with the Langley Rivermen [BCHL]. In 2018-19, Budy split time between Denver [scoreless in six games] and the USHL’s Tri-City Storm [11-21-31 in 31 games]. In two previous seasons with the Rivermen, the hometown hero from Langley, British Columbia put up a line of 37-64-101 in 105 games.)

Potential impact freshmen: F Griffin Ness, F Riese Gaber, D Jake Sanderson, D Tyler Kleven

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 6, 2020 (Omaha, NE). North Dakota’s Grant Mismash and Shane Pinto scored two goals apiece and four other Fighting Hawks lit the lamp in an 8-2 shellacking of Western Michigan. UND erupted for four goals in the first period and outshot the Broncos 18-2 in the opening frame, chasing netminder Austin Cain after twenty minutes of play. On the other side of the ice, senior Peter Thome made 16 saves for the Green and White.

Last Meeting Outside Of The Pod: February 29, 2020 (Grand Forks, ND). After trading first-period goals, the two teams went scoreless for 45 game minutes before freshman Shane Pinto scored exactly two minutes into overtime to send North Dakota to a 2-1 victory and a four-game season sweep of Western Michigan. #3-ranked UND managed only 19 shots on goal but held the 16th-ranked Broncos to just 16. One night earlier, Western Michigan got the game within one in the third period but allowed a Westin Michaud power play goal with 104 seconds left. Less than thirty seconds after that, WMU freshman defenseman Ronnie Attard was given a five minute major and a game misconduct for contact to the head. North Dakota’s home sweep of the Broncos put them into position to win the Penrose Cup in Omaha one week later.

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

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

All-Time Series: In the short history between the schools, UND has won 24 of the 31 games (24-7-0, .774). Before the 2016-17 season in which Western Michigan won three of the four meetings, WMU’s lone victory over North Dakota was a 2-1 road win on March 8th, 2014. The teams first met in 1997.

Last Ten: North Dakota has won seven of the last ten meetings between the two teams, outscoring the Broncos 35-20 over that stretch of games. UND has had a clean sweep in the past five, with a scoring margin of 22-6.

Game News and Notes

Western Michigan moved up to the Division I ranks beginning with the 1975-76 season and has advanced to the NCAA tournament six times. The Broncos have made the NCAA tourney once (2017) in their first seven seasons in the NCHC after advancing to the national tournament twice (2011, 2012) in the last three seasons in the now-defunct CCHA. WMU head coach Andy Murray’s son Brady Murray played two seasons at North Dakota (2003-05) and finished with a scoring line of 27-39-66 in 63 career games. Brady spent most of his professional hockey career in the Swiss-A league (Rapperswil-Jona and Lugano, among other teams) but did appear in four NHL games with the Los Angeles Kings in 2007-08, scoring one goal. UND senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (32-66-98 in 114 games) is two points shy of reaching 100 points in his North Dakota career. Western Michigan has been outscored 11-4 in third periods this season. In this year’s unbalanced schedule, that will be the last time that the two teams tangle in the regular season.

The Prediction

North Dakota bench boss Brad Berry will need to carefully manage minutes this afternoon, particularly in the fourth game of the week with only five healthy defensemen. The Fighting Hawks never trailed in their first game against the Broncos, and that’s the recipe for success today. WMU will certainly bring a rough, physical brand of hockey to this one, but if North Dakota can stay out of the penalty box and roll all four forward lines, the game should open up in the second and third periods. North Dakota 5, Western Michigan 2.

Broadcast Information

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

Social Media

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

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

UND Game Preview: NCHC Pod Game #6 vs. St. Cloud State

St. Cloud State entered the 2019 NCAA tournament as the #1 overall seed and with an overall record of 30-5-3. The Huskies quickly ran into a buzzkill – literally – as the swarming Yellow Jackets of #19 American International shocked the college hockey world and dispatched SCSU by a final score of 2-1. That defeat would be just the sixth loss for Brett Larson’s crew in his first season behind the St. Cloud State bench.

Fast forward one season, and the Huskies went just 13-15-6 (.471).

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.

The 2017-2018 campaign 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.

And unfortunately for St. Cloud State, they duplicated that feat in the 2019 NCAA tournament by dropping their opening game to #19 American International as the #1 overall seed, bringing an abrupt end to a fantastic season. Head coach Brett Larson compiled a sparkling record of 30-6-3 in his first campaign.

Both North Dakota and St. Cloud State posted historically good records in 2015-16. 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 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)
2018-19 St. Cloud State (30-6-3)

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

Incidentally, the 2019-2020 North Dakota Fighting Hawks (26-5-4) were ahead of the pace set by the 2015-2016 team, and, had the season continued, UND fans could have definitely seen another 30-win season from the Green and White.

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 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).

The Fighting Hawks came in at number one in this season’s NCHC media preseason poll, with Denver, Minnesota Duluth, and St. Cloud State rounding out the top four. So far, the Bulldogs (14 points in 5 games played) have come out on top, with the Huskies (9 points in 4 games) and Fighting Hawks (9 points in 5 games) not far behind. Denver (7 points in 5 games) has lost to each of the other three teams in the top four of the preseason poll, but the Pios found redemption with a narrow victory over UND on Tuesday afternoon.

Although North Dakota certainly misses (among others) forwards Westin Michaud (16-12-28), Cole Smith (11-7-18), and Dixon Bowen (6-4-10) and defenseman Colton Poolman (4-13-17) from last year’s squad, the team returned 68 percent of its goal scoring (92 of 135 goals) from a year ago. Offensively, forwards Jordan Kawaguchi (15-30-45, Hobey Hat Trick finalist), Shane Pinto (16-12-28), Collin Adams (12-16-28), Grant Mismash (8-12-20), Jasper Weatherby (10-8-18), Judd Caulfield (4-8-12), Harrison Blaisdell (2-10-12), Mark Senden (5-6-11), and Gavin Hain (2-8-10) will lead the way along with defensemen Matt Kiersted (6-23-29), Jacob Bernard-Docker (7-18-25), Gabe Bast (2-3-5), and Ethan Frisch (1-4-5).

By comparison, St. Cloud State returned nearly 70 percent of its goal scoring from last season, led by senior F Easton Brodzinski (12-15-27), junior F Sam Hentges (7-17-24), junior F Micah Miller (7-11-18), sophomore F Jami Krannila (5-9-14), senior F Kevin Fitzgerald (5-7-12), junior F Nolan Walker (2-10-12), junior D Nick Perbix (4-11-15), and junior D Spencer Meier (4-6-10).

The problem is that the Huskies only scored 94 goals last season (UND scored 135).

UND rookie defensemen Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven will not appear in today’s contest, having arrived in Plymouth, Michigan for the 2021 U.S. National Junior Team training camp. Sanderson and Kleven are two of 29 players invited to the camp, which will run until the final roster of 25 players is announced on December 13th. On that date, the team will depart for Edmonton, Alberta for the World Junior Championships, which will be played from December 25th, 2020 through January 5th, 2021.

The absence of Sanderson and Kleven will mean that both senior Josh Rieger and freshman Cooper Moore will once again be inserted into the lineup on defense. Moore played his first collegiate game on Sunday against Western Michigan and tallied an assist. Rieger has appeared in 35 games over his four seasons at North Dakota, with one goal, three assists, and 24 penalty minutes, including two minor penalties against Denver. Moore is growing into his role on the back end, and it definitely helped both of them that head coach Brad Berry split them up against Minnesota Duluth on Thursday (they played together on the third d-pair on Tuesday vs. Denver).

Each team’s first few NCHC pod games have given us a glimpse of what we can expect over the next couple of weeks and throughout the season.

#1 North Dakota blanked Miami 2-0 to open up their pod schedule, followed that up with a 4-3 overtime victory over #4 Denver on Friday night, boat raced Western Michigan 8-2 on Sunday, fell 3-2 to the Pioneers in Tuesday’s rematch, and took #3 Minnesota Duluth to overtime on Thursday before losing in a shootout.

#13 St. Cloud State got off to a fast start in the pod, downing #17 Western Michigan (4-3), #4 Denver (4-3), and Omaha (5-3). The Huskies had a hiccup on Wednesday, however, dropping a 2-1 decision to the Western Michigan Broncos. SCSU has not played since that tilt against WMU three days ago.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (four games, 2-1-1, 1.95 GAA, .922 SV%, 1 SO) and senior Peter Thome (one game, 1-0-0, 2.00 GAA, .889 SV%) have each seen time between the pipes for North Dakota. With so many games in a short stretch of days, I am expecting a 60/40 or 70/30 split of minutes for the Fighting Hawks, with Thome earning the start today against the Huskies.

For SCSU, senior David Hrenak (2-1-0, 2.70 GAA, .910 SV%) has been solid in the pod so far, and Wednesday’s loss to the Broncos was certainly not on him (30 saves on 32 shots). Sophomore goaltender Jaxon Castor (1-0-0, 3.00 GAA, .889 SV%) got the start against Omaha, but I can’t imagine that it’s not Hrenak’s crease this afternoon.

Brett Larson has to be impressed with his group through four games, with forwards Kevin Fitzgerald (2-1-3), Jami Krannila (1-2-3), Veeti Miettinen (1-2-3), and Easton Brodzinski (1-1-2) and defensemen Nick Perbix (2-1-3), Spencer Meier (1-1-2), and Brady Ziemer (1-1-2) leading the charge.

North Dakota has eight players at three points or better through five games, led by forwards Shane Pinto (3-5-7), Jordan Kawaguchi (2-5-7), Grant Mismash (2-1-3), Collin Adams (1-3-4), and Riese Gaber (3-0-3) and defensemen Ethan Frisch (1-2-3), and Matt Kiersted (1-4-5). Although the Fighting Hawks will sorely miss freshman blueliners Jake Sanderson (1-2-3 in three games) and Tyler Kleven (1-0-1 in three games) for the remainder of their games in the Omaha pod, they will certainly contend for the highest-scoring defensive unit in the country.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After five games, the Fighting Hawks are eighth in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (24.0) and are fifth in the nation in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 58.2%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 59.9%

By comparison, the Huskies are 32nd in both Corsi (45.0%) and Fenwick (44.9%), averaging 27.8 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 32.6/game) while allowing 29.0 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 60.9 percent, while the Huskies are 16th (51.0%) among the 44 men’s college hockey teams to have played at least one game this season.

Leading the way in the faceoff circle for North Dakota have been Shane Pinto (68.7%, 7th in the country), Jasper Weatherby (66.7%, 10th in the country), and Collin Adams (50.0%). St. Cloud State will counter with Will Hammer (60.6%), Nolan Walker (53.1%), and Sam Hentges (50.9%).

The Huskies (12.6%) and Fighting Hawks (11.0%) are both scoring on a high percentage of their shots on goal, good for 5th and 10th in the country.

Up to this point in the season, here is the specialty teams ledger and team offense/defense for each side:

St. Cloud State team offense: 3.50 goals scored/game
St. Cloud State team defense: 2.75 goals allowed/game
St. Cloud State power play: 0 of 9, 0.0 percent
St. Cloud State penalty kill: 15 of 17, 88.2 percent

North Dakota team offense: 3.60 goals scored/game
North Dakota team defense: 2.00 goals allowed/game
North Dakota power play: 8 of 22, 36.4 percent
North Dakota penalty kill: 17 of 22, 77.3 percent

After today’s tilt with the Huskies, the Fighting Hawks will face St. Cloud State just one more time this season: next Wednesday, December 16th at 7:35 p.m. in the Omaha pod. After its pod games are complete, the Fighting Hawks are not scheduled to face Miami, Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State, or Western Michigan during the remainder of the regular season. In addition to four second-half games against Denver, UND will face Omaha six times and Colorado College six times.

Here is the complete NCHC Pod schedule and results for North Dakota:

Pod Game #1: 2-0 win vs. Miami

Pod Game #2: 4-3 overtime win vs. Denver

Pod Game #3: 8-2 win vs. Western Michigan

Pod Game #4: 2-3 loss vs. Denver

Pod Game #5: 2-2 tie/shootout loss vs. Minnesota Duluth

Pod Game #6: St. Cloud State
(Saturday, December 12th at 4:05 p.m.)

Pod Game #7: Western Michigan
(Sunday, December 13th at 4:05 p.m.)

Pod Game #8: St. Cloud State
(Wednesday, December 16th at 7:35 p.m.)

Pod Game #9: Minnesota Duluth
(Saturday, December 19th at 12:05 p.m.)

Pod Game #10: Miami
(Sunday, December 20th at 8:05 p.m.)

For a complete NCHC pod preview and information about all eight league teams, please click this link.

St. Cloud State Huskies

Head Coach: Brett Larson (3rd season at SCSU, 46-22-9, .656)

2019-20 Season Results: 13-15-6 overall, 10-12-2-1 NCHC (5th)

2019-20 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.76 goals scored/game
(29th in the nation)

Team Defense: 3.18 goals allowed/game
(48th in the nation)

Power Play: 18.1% (21 of 116)
(34th in the nation)

Penalty Kill: 79.1% (91 of 115)
(43rd in the nation)

Key graduation losses: F Nick Poehling (8-18-26), F Jack Poehling (9-11-20), F Jake Wahlin (4-8-12), D Jack Ahcan (7-18-25)

Key returning players: Senior F Easton Brodzinski (12-15-27), Junior F Sam Hentges (7-17-24), Junior F Micah Miller (7-11-18), Sophomore F Jami Krannila (5-9-14), Senior F Kevin Fitzgerald (5-7-12), Junior F Nolan Walker (2-10-12), Junior D Nick Perbix (4-11-15), Junior D Spencer Meier (4-6-10), Senior G David Hrenak (12-11-6, 2.76 GAA, .906 SV%, 2 SO)

Additions: Senior F Jared Cockrell (23-29-52 in 112 games over four seasons at Colgate, including an injury-shortened seven-game season in 2018-19), Senior D Seamus Donohue (7-48-55 in 117 games over three seasons at Michigan Tech)

Potential impact freshmen: F Veeti Miettinen, F Joe Molenaar, D Brady Ziemer

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 119-58-24, .652)

2019-20 Season Results: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2019-20 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.86 goals scored/game
(4th in the nation)

Team Defense: 1.94 goals allowed/game
(4th in the nation)

Power Play: 21.2% (29 of 137)
(17th in the nation)

Penalty Kill: 88.0% (103 of 117)
(5th in the nation)

Key graduation losses: F Westin Michaud (16-12-28), F Cole Smith (11-7-18), F Dixon Bowen (6-4-10), D Colton Poolman (4-13-17), D Andrew Peski (1-9-10)

Departures: Junior D Jonny Tychonick (4-7-11, transferred to Omaha)

Key returning players: Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (15-30-45), Sophomore F Shane Pinto (16-12-28), Senior F Collin Adams (12-16-28), Senior F Grant Mismash (8-12-20), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (10-8-18), Senior D Matt Kiersted (6-23-29), Junior D Jacob Bernard-Docker (7-18-25), Junior G Adam Scheel (19-4-2, 2.07 GAA, .904 SV%, 2 SO)

Additions: Sophomore F Brendan Budy (19-30-49 in 50 games with the Langley Rivermen [BCHL]. In 2018-19, Budy split time between Denver [scoreless in six games] and the USHL’s Tri-City Storm [11-21-31 in 31 games]. In two previous seasons with the Rivermen, the hometown hero from Langley, British Columbia put up a line of 37-64-101 in 105 games.)

Potential impact freshmen: F Griffin Ness, F Riese Gaber, D Jake Sanderson, D Tyler Kleven

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: February 22nd, 2020 (St. Cloud, MN). In the last college hockey game I watched in person, St. Cloud’s Jack Poehling broke a 1-1 tie six minutes into the third period and the Huskies made it hold up despite being outshot 13-5 in the final frame and 30-19 for the game. One night earlier, the teams skated to a 3-3 tie before St. Cloud State notched the extra league point with a shootout win.

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, 74-45-15 (.608). 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: SCSU has won five of the last ten meetings between the teams, with two others ending in ties. Each team has scored 24 goals over that stretch of games. Five of the last ten meetings have gone to overtime.

Game News and Notes

St. Cloud State has won the regular season league title four times over the past seven seasons (WCHA 2012-13; NCHC 2013-14, 2017-18, & 2018-19). UND senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (32-65-97 in 113 games) is three points shy of reaching 100 points in his North Dakota career. SCSU has made the national tournament 13 times in the past twenty seasons, with one Frozen Four appearance (2013).

The Prediction

Two things stick out to me: St. Cloud State has not scored a power play goal through four games, and, despite their team speed, they have been in 17 shorthanded situations against just nine man-advantage opportunities. SCSU has more offensive skill on the blue line than most of North Dakota’s opponents thus far, but the Fighting Hawks should be able to generate chances off of the forecheck and cycling the puck down low. This feels like the game where things really start to click for the Green and White. UND 4, SCSU 2.

Broadcast Information

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

Social Media

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

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

UND Game Preview: NCHC Pod Game #5 vs. Minnesota Duluth

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

According to twincities.com:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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.

The Fighting Hawks came in at number one in this season’s NCHC media preseason poll, with Denver, Minnesota Duluth, and St. Cloud State rounding out the top four. So far, the Bulldogs (4-0-0-0, 12 points) have come out on top, with the Huskies (3-1-0-0, 9 points)) and Fighting Hawks (3-1-0-1, 8 points) not far behind. Denver (1-3-0-0-1, 4 points) has lost to each of the other three teams in the top four of the preseason poll, but the Pios found redemption with a narrow victory over UND on Tuesday afternoon.

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).

Although North Dakota certainly misses (among others) forwards Westin Michaud (16-12-28), Cole Smith (11-7-18), and Dixon Bowen (6-4-10) and defenseman Colton Poolman (4-13-17) from last year’s squad, the team returned 68 percent of its goal scoring (92 of 135 goals) from a year ago. Offensively, forwards Jordan Kawaguchi (15-30-45, Hobey Hat Trick finalist), Shane Pinto (16-12-28), Collin Adams (12-16-28), Grant Mismash (8-12-20), Jasper Weatherby (10-8-18), Judd Caulfield (4-8-12), Harrison Blaisdell (2-10-12), Mark Senden (5-6-11), and Gavin Hain (2-8-10) will lead the way along with defensemen Matt Kiersted (6-23-29), Jacob Bernard-Docker (7-18-25), Gabe Bast (2-3-5), and Ethan Frisch (1-4-5).

By comparison, Minnesota Duluth returned nearly 80 percent of its goal scoring from last season, led by Junior F Cole Koepke (16-17-33), Junior F Noah Cates (14-19-33), Senior F Nick Swaney (12-14-26), Junior F Jackson Cates (9-11-20), Senior F Kobe Roth (13-8-21), Junior F Tanner Laderoute (8-8-16), and sophomore F Quinn Olson (7-8-15).

The only thing that I see separating these teams right now is that North Dakota mostly avoided the early departure bug while Duluth lost forward Justin Richards (14-11-25, left one year early) and defensemen Scott Perunovich (6-34-30, left one year early) and Dylan Samberg (1-20-21, left one year early).

Of particular concern for the Bulldogs is that the absence of Perunovich and Samberg means that they return only two goals and eight total points on their blue line.

By comparison, North Dakota’s five returning defensemen (Gabe Bast, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Ethan Frisch, Matt Kiersted, and Josh Rieger scored 17 goals and added 48 assists for a total of 65 points last season.

UND rookie defensemen Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven will not appear in today’s contest, having arrived in Plymouth, Michigan for the 2021 U.S. National Junior Team training camp. Sanderson and Kleven are two of 29 players invited to the camp, which will run until the final roster of 25 players is announced on December 13th. On that date, the team will depart for Edmonton, Alberta for the World Junior Championships, which will be played from December 25th, 2020 through January 5th, 2021.

The absence of Sanderson and Kleven will mean that both senior Josh Rieger and freshman Cooper Moore will once again be inserted into the lineup on defense. Moore has played in two games in his collegiate career, tallying one assist. Rieger has appeared in 34 games over his four seasons at North Dakota, with one goal, three assists, and 24 penalty minutes (including two minor penalties in his last game vs. Denver).

I say UND mostly avoided the early-departure bug because while head coach Brad Berry did not see anyone leave his program early for the pro ranks, junior defenseman Jonny Tychonick transferred to Omaha. Tychonick, who put together a line of 4-7-11 in 24 games played last season, was looking for more playing time, and Maverick bench boss Mike Gabinet has certainly used the nimble blueliner in plenty of situations in UNO’s first five pod games against #3 Minnesota Duluth (3-5 loss), #17 Western Michigan (10-2 win), Miami (2-1 win), St. Cloud State (3-5 loss), and Colorado College (6-1 win). The 2018 second-round pick of the Ottawa Senators notched his first point of the season with an assist on the Mavericks’ first goal against the Broncos. With its three victories in the pod, Omaha is now ranked #18 in the country, joining #1 North Dakota, #3 Minnesota Duluth, #9 Denver, and #13 St. Cloud State.

Each team’s first four NCHC pod games have given us a glimpse of what we can expect over the next couple of weeks and throughout the season.

#1 North Dakota (3-0-0) blanked Miami 2-0 to open up their pod schedule, followed that up with a 4-3 overtime victory over #4 Denver on Friday night, boat raced Western Michigan 8-2 on Sunday, and fell 3-2 to the Pioneers in Tuesday’s rematch.

#3 Duluth is perfect through four games, with a 5-3 victory over Omaha, a 2-1 comeback win against Denver, and two consecutive victories over Miami (5-3, 4-2). After today’s tilt with the Fighting Hawks, UMD will face Denver at noon on Saturday.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (three games, 2-1-0, 1.99 GAA, .914 SV%, 1 SO) and senior Peter Thome (one game, 1-0-0, 2.00 GAA, .889 SV%) have each seen time between the pipes for North Dakota. With so many games in a short stretch of days, I am expecting a 60/40 or 70/30 split of minutes for the Fighting Hawks, with Thome earning the start today against the Bulldogs.

For the Bulldogs, sophomore Ryan Fanti (3-0-0, 2.33 GAA, .920 SV%) has been one of the stories of the pod so far, serving as a more-than-adequate replacement for all-everything netminder Hunter Shepard (22-10-2, 2.18 GAA, .918 SV%, 2 shutouts last season). Freshman goaltender Zach Stejskal (1-0-0, 2.00 GAA, .920 SV%) got the start in UMD’s last game vs Miami, but I can’t imagine that it’s not Fanti’s crease this evening.

Scott Sandelin has to be impressed with his forward group so far, with senior Nick Swaney (1-7-8), senior Kobe Roth (5-1-6, including two game-winning goals), junior brothers Noah (2-3-5) and Jackson Cates (2-2-4), and junior Cole Koepke (1-3-4) leading the charge. Freshman defenseman Wyatt Kaiser and senior Matt Cairns (0-2-2) have chipped in from the blueline as well.

North Dakota has eleven players at two or more points through four games, led by forwards Shane Pinto (2-5-7), Jordan Kawaguchi (2-3-5), Grant Mismash (2-1-3), Collin Adams (1-3-4), Riese Gaber (2-0-2), Jasper Weatherby (1-1-2), and Mark Senden (0-2-2) and defensemen Ethan Frisch (1-2-3), Matt Kiersted (1-3-4), and Jacob Bernard-Docker (0-2-2). Although the Fighting Hawks will sorely miss freshman blueliners Jake Sanderson (1-2-3) and Tyler Kleven (1-0-1) for the remainder of their games in the Omaha pod, they will certainly contend for the highest-scoring defensive unit in the country.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After four games, the Fighting Hawks are fourth the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (22.0) and fourth in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 60.2%
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 61.7%

By comparison, the Bulldogs are 16th in both Corsi (52.1%) and Fenwick (52.4%), averaging 31.5 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 33.8/game) while allowing 28.0 shots on goal against/contest.

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot. The Fighting Hawks are leading the nation in faceoff win percentage at 61.7 percent, while the Bulldogs are right in the middle (20th, 50.0%) among the 41 men’s college hockey teams to have played at least one game this season.

Leading the way in the faceoff circle for North Dakota have been Shane Pinto (71.1%, 7th in the country), Jasper Weatherby (67.3%, 10th in the country), and Collin Adams (49.1%). Minnesota Duluth will counter with Noah Cates (53.0%), Jackson Cates (50.0%), and Jesse Jacques (48.2%).

The Bulldogs (12.7%) and Fighting Hawks (11.9%) are both scoring on a high percentage of their shots on goal, good for 5th and 9th in the country.

Through four games, here is the specialty teams ledger and team offense/defense for each side:

Minnesota Duluth team offense: 4.00 goals scored/game
Minnesota Duluth team defense: 2.25 goals allowed/game

Minnesota Duluth power play: 5 of 17, 29.4 percent
Minnesota Duluth penalty kill: 17 of 19, 89.5 percent

North Dakota team offense: 4.00 goals scored/game
North Dakota team defense: 2.00 goals allowed/game

North Dakota power play: 7 of 20, 35.0 percent
North Dakota penalty kill: 14 of 19, 73.7 percent

After today’s tilt with the Bulldogs, the Fighting Hawks will face Minnesota Duluth just one more time this season: next Saturday, December 19th at 12:05 p.m. in the Omaha pod. After its pod games are complete, the Fighting Hawks are not scheduled to face Miami, Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State, or Western Michigan during the remainder of the regular season. In addition to four second-half games against Denver, UND will face Omaha six times and Colorado College six times.

Here is the complete NCHC Pod schedule and results for North Dakota:

Pod Game #1: 2-0 win vs. Miami

Pod Game #2: 4-3 overtime win vs. Denver

Pod Game #3: 8-2 win vs. Western Michigan

Pod Game #4: 2-3 loss vs. Denver

Pod Game #5: Minnesota Duluth
(Thursday, December 10th at 7:35 p.m.)

Pod Game #6: St. Cloud State
(Saturday, December 12th at 4:05 p.m.)

Pod Game #7: Western Michigan
(Sunday, December 13th at 4:05 p.m.)

Pod Game #8: St. Cloud State
(Wednesday, December 16th at 7:35 p.m.)

Pod Game #9: Minnesota Duluth
(Saturday, December 19th at 12:05 p.m.)

Pod Game #10: Miami
(Sunday, December 20th at 8:05 p.m.)

For a complete NCHC pod preview and information about all eight league teams, please click this link.

Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (21st season at UMD, 395-321-89, .546)

2019-20 Season Results: 22-10-2 overall, 17-5-2-0 NCHC (2nd)

2019-20 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.35 goals scored/game
(10th in the nation)

Team Defense: 2.26 goals allowed/game
(12th in the nation)

Power Play: 25.4% (34 of 134)
(9th in the nation)

Penalty Kill: 81.9% (104 of 127)
(27th in the nation)

Key graduation losses: F Jade Miller (2-7-9), D Nick Wolff (0-10-10), G Hunter Shepard (22-10-2, 2.18 GAA, .918 SV%, 2 SO)

Departures: D Scott Perunovich (6-34-30, left one year early), F Justin Richards (14-11-25, left one year early), D Dylan Samberg (1-20-21, left one year early)

Key returning players: Junior F Cole Koepke (16-17-33), Junior F Noah Cates (14-19-33), Senior F Nick Swaney (12-14-26), Junior F Jackson Cates (8-15-23), Senior F Kobe Roth (13-8-21), Junior F Tanner Laderoute (8-8-16), Senior D Louie Roehl (2-3-5)

Additions: Senior D Matt Cairns (3-3-6 in 61 games over three seasons at Cornell)

Potential impact freshmen: F Blake Biondi, F Luke Mylymok, D Connor Kelley, D Darian Gotz, D Wyatt Kaiser, G Zach Stejskal

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 119-58-23, .653)

2019-20 Season Results: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2019-20 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.86 goals scored/game
(4th in the nation)

Team Defense: 1.94 goals allowed/game
(4th in the nation)

Power Play: 21.2% (29 of 137)
(17th in the nation)

Penalty Kill: 88.0% (103 of 117)
(5th in the nation)

Key graduation losses: F Westin Michaud (16-12-28), F Cole Smith (11-7-18), F Dixon Bowen (6-4-10), D Colton Poolman (4-13-17), D Andrew Peski (1-9-10)

Departures: Junior D Jonny Tychonick (4-7-11, transferred to Omaha)

Key returning players: Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (15-30-45), Sophomore F Shane Pinto (16-12-28), Senior F Collin Adams (12-16-28), Senior F Grant Mismash (8-12-20), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (10-8-18), Senior D Matt Kiersted (6-23-29), Junior D Jacob Bernard-Docker (7-18-25), Junior G Adam Scheel (19-4-2, 2.07 GAA, .904 SV%, 2 SO)

Additions: Sophomore F Brendan Budy (19-30-49 in 50 games with the Langley Rivermen [BCHL]. In 2018-19, Budy split time between Denver [scoreless in six games] and the USHL’s Tri-City Storm [11-21-31 in 31 games]. In two previous seasons with the Rivermen, the hometown hero from Langley, British Columbia put up a line of 37-64-101 in 105 games.)

Potential impact freshmen: F Griffin Ness, F Riese Gaber, D Jake Sanderson, D Tyler Kleven

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 25th, 2020 (Duluth, MN). The score was 1-0 in UND’s favor after two periods thanks to Westin Michaud’s tally. Early in the third, Duluth’s Scott Perunovich assisted on the tying goal and scored the go-ahead goal. The Fighting Hawks stormed back with two markers of their own (Matt Kiersted, Jonny Tychonick) to claim the road victory. One night earlier, the Bulldogs prevailed 7-4 behind two goals from Kobe Roth. North Dakota led that game 3-1 early in the second period before the floodgates opened. The teams did not play in Grand Forks last season.

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

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

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 148-86-10 (.627). The teams first met in 1954, with North Dakota winning the first ten games between the schools by a combined score of 72-16. UMD’s first win over the Fighting Sioux (a 3-2 road victory on December 18th, 1959) did not sit well with the defending national champions. UND defeated Duluth 13-2 the following night.

Last Ten: Minnesota Duluth is 6-4-0 (.600) in the last ten games between the teams, outscoring the Hawks 34-27 over that stretch. Eight of the past ten contests have taken place in the state of Minnesota, with the Bulldogs winning five times.

Game News and Notes

Both head coaches this weekend are alumni of the University of North Dakota; Brad Berry (1983-86) and Scott Sandelin (1982-86) both played for UND under John “Gino” Gasparini. In 2015, Boston University defeated both Minnesota-Duluth (3-2) and North Dakota (5-3) in the NCAA tournament on their way to the championship game. The Terriers fell 4-3 to the Providence Friars, one win short of a national title.

The Prediction

Goaltending and special teams will be key in this one (as they so often are). The absence of Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven on the back end makes a huge difference for North Dakota as they try to match up against Minnesota Duluth’s forward depth, and until I see more out of Moore and Rieger, I’m giving the edge to the Bulldogs. The Fighting Hawks’ best chance is to get pucks in deep, establish the cycle, and outwork UMD down low. This one could go either way, but I’m predicting one more loss for the Green and White until they can right the ship and escape the pod with six or seven total victories. Minnesota Duluth 4, UND 2.

Broadcast Information

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

Social Media

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

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

UND Game Preview: NCHC Pod Game #4 vs. Denver

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries. The teams have played 33 times during the first seven seasons of the new conference, but the feud goes all the way back to Geoff Paukovitch’ illegal check on Sioux forward Robbie Bina during the 2005 WCHA Final Five.

Since that 2005 Final Five contest (a Denver victory), the two teams have met twelve times in tournament play. Denver won the 2005 NCAA title with a victory over North Dakota and claimed a 2008 WCHA Final Five win as well. UND has earned six victories and a tie in the last ten playoff games between the schools, including three consecutive victories in the WCHA Final Five (2010-2012), the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional final which sent the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four, 2016’s thrilling Frozen Four semifinal (a 4-2 UND victory) in Tampa, Florida, and the 2017 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Denver turned the tables by dispatching North Dakota in the first round of the league playoffs at Magness Arena to end the Fighting Hawks’ 2018-2019 campaign.

(It is impossible to bring up the Paukovitch/Bina incident without also writing that Brad Malone‘s check on Denver’s Jesse Martin during an October 2010 contest at Ralph Engelstad Arena fractured three of Martin’s vertebrae and ended the hockey career of the Atlanta Thrashers’ draft pick.)

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

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

In the 2019 NCAA tournament, league members Denver and St. Cloud State were both placed in the West Regional (Fargo, North Dakota) and were on track to face off in the regional final. The Pioneers (#6 in the country) held up their end of the bargain with a 2-0 victory over #9 Ohio State, but #19 American International shocked the college hockey world and dispatched the #1-ranked Huskies by a final score of 2-1. One night later, Denver blanked AIC 3-0 to advance to their third Frozen Four in four seasons. The Pios would eventually fall to #4 Massachusetts in overtime in the national semifinal.

In 2019-20, North Dakota’s Shane Pinto and Denver’s Bobby Brink were the two frontrunners for Rookie of the Year in the NCHC, with Pinto earning the honor at the end of the season and Brink nabbing a unanimous NCHC All-Rookie Team selection. Here’s how the two stat lines compared:

Bobby Brink (right wing): 11 goals and 13 assists in 24 games played (0.86 points/game)

Shane Pinto (center): 16 goals and 12 assists in 33 games played (0.85 points/game)

In the November 2019 series at altitude in Denver (1-1 tie, 4-1 UND victory), neither freshman figured in on the scoresheet. When the teams took the ice in Grand Forks for a pair of NCHC games in February 2020 (a North Dakota sweep), Shane Pinto scored the first goal of the weekend and Bobby Brink notched a “natural answer” by potting the very next goal by either team. Pinto broke the head-to-head tie with an assist on Matt Kiersted’s opening-period goal in Saturday’s rematch.

Denver netminder Magnus Chrona (16-6-4, 2.15 goals-against average, a save percentage of .920, and two shutouts last season) was also named to the All-Rookie team and was a finalist for the league’s Goalie of the Year award (which was won by Duluth senior Hunter Shepard).

In last Friday’s NCHC pod contest in Omaha, #1 North Dakota defeated then-#4 Denver 4-3 in overtime behind senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi’s overtime winner. Bobby Brink assisted on the Pios’ first two goals, while Shane Pinto was held pointless but won all 18 of his faceoffs, an unheard-of statistic.

Three players from Friday’s tilt will not appear in the lineup this afternoon. UND freshmen defensemen Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven and Denver forward Bobby Brink have arrived in Plymouth, Michigan for the 2021 U.S. National Junior Team training camp. Sanderson, Kleven, and Brink are three of 29 players invited to the camp, which will run until the final roster of 25 players is announced on December 13th. On that date, the team will depart for Edmonton, Alberta for the World Junior Championships, which will be played from December 25th, 2020 through January 5th, 2021.

The absence of Sanderson and Kleven will mean that both senior Josh Rieger and freshman Cooper Moore will be inserted into the lineup on defense for UND. Moore played his first collegiate game on Sunday against Western Michigan and tallied an assist. Rieger has appeared in 33 games over his four seasons at North Dakota, with one goal, three assists, and twenty penalty minutes. It will be very interesting to watch how many minutes (and in which situations) Rieger and Moore are asked to play this afternoon.

DU will certainly miss Bobby Brink, but they will have the services of centerman Cole Guttman for the rematch. Guttman was held out of the UND game but has played in his team’s other two pod matches, scoring one goal. For his career, the junior from Los Angeles, California has a line of 29-26-55 in 78 games played.

The Fighting Hawks came in at number one in this season’s NCHC media preseason poll, with Denver, Minnesota Duluth, and St. Cloud State rounding out the top four. UND, UMD, and SCSU have all held up their end of the bargain by collecting three wins each to open pod play.

With losses to each of the other three teams in the top four of the preseason poll, the Denver Pioneers fell to #9 in this week’s USCHO men’s Division I college hockey poll. After today’s tilt against North Dakota, the schedule lightens up a bit for the Pios, as four of their next five games will be against Miami and Western Michigan.

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).

Although North Dakota certainly misses (among others) forwards Westin Michaud (16-12-28), Cole Smith (11-7-18), and Dixon Bowen (6-4-10) and defenseman Colton Poolman (4-13-17) from last year’s squad, the team returned 68 percent of its goal scoring (92 of 135 goals) from a year ago. Offensively, forwards Jordan Kawaguchi (15-30-45, Hobey Hat Trick finalist), Shane Pinto (16-12-28), Collin Adams (12-16-28), Grant Mismash (8-12-20), Jasper Weatherby (10-8-18), Judd Caulfield (4-8-12), Harrison Blaisdell (2-10-12), Mark Senden (5-6-11), and Gavin Hain (2-8-10) will lead the way along with defensemen Matt Kiersted (6-23-29), Jacob Bernard-Docker (7-18-25), Gabe Bast (2-3-5), and Ethan Frisch (1-4-5).

By comparison, Denver returned 63 percent of its point production from last season, led by Junior F Cole Guttman (14-14-28), Sophomore F Bobby Brink (11-13-24 in 28 games played), Junior F Brett Stapley (5-25-30), Senior F Kohen Olischefski (9-11-20), Junior F Tyler Ward (10-9-19), Senior D Griffin Mendel (3-6-9), and Junior D Slava Demin (2-7-9). Additionally, grad transfers Steven Jandric (26-54-80 in 107 games over three seasons playing forward at Alaska Fairbanks) and Bo Hanson (11-36-47 in 102 games over three seasons playing defense at St. Lawrence) should chip in offensively.

The only thing that I see separating these teams right now is that North Dakota mostly avoided the early departure bug while Denver lost forward Emilio Pettersen (13-22-35, left two years early), defenseman Ian Mitchell (10-22-32, left one year early), and goaltender Devin Cooley (4-3-2, 2.08 GAA, .908 SV%, left one year early). Of particular concern for the Pios is that Mitchell’s absence means that they return only seven goals and 24 total points on their blue line.

By comparison, North Dakota’s five returning defensemen (Gabe Bast, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Ethan Frisch, Matt Kiersted, and Josh Rieger scored 17 goals and added 48 assists for a total of 65 points last season.

I say UND mostly avoided the early-departure bug because while head coach Brad Berry did not see anyone leave his program early for the pro ranks, junior defenseman Jonny Tychonick transferred to Omaha. Tychonick, who put together a line of 4-7-11 in 24 games played last season, was looking for more playing time, and Maverick bench boss Mike Gabinet has certainly used the nimble blueliner in plenty of situations in UNO’s first four pod games against #3 Minnesota Duluth (3-5 loss), #17 Western Michigan (10-2 win), Miami (2-1 win), and St. Cloud State (3-5 L). The 2018 second-round pick of the Ottawa Senators notched his first point of the season with an assist on the Mavericks’ first goal against the Broncos. With its two victories in the pod, Omaha is now ranked #18 in the country, joining #1 North Dakota, #3 Minnesota Duluth, #9 Denver, and #13 St. Cloud State.

Each team’s first three NCHC pod games have given us a glimpse of what we can expect over the next couple of weeks and throughout the season.

#1 North Dakota (3-0-0) blanked Miami 2-0 to open up their pod schedule, followed that up with a 4-3 overtime victory over #4 Denver on Friday night, and boat raced Western Michigan 8-2 on Sunday.

#9 Denver has lost leads in all three of its NCHC losses (1-2 vs. Minnesota-Duluth, 3-4 [OT] vs. North Dakota, and 3-4 vs. St. Cloud State). Two of those leads were coughed up in the third period. Even though it is early in the season, DU bench boss David Carle has to be concerned about this trend.

In the pod, there is just simply not as much time for practice, video work, and system adjustment, which means that the teams with veteran leadership, depth, and good-to-excellent goaltending will do well over the next couple of weeks.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (two games, 2-0-0, 1.48 GAA, .927 SV%, 1 SO) and senior Peter Thome (one game, 1-0-0, 2.00 GAA, .889 SV%) have each seen time between the pipes for North Dakota. With so many games in a short stretch of days, I am expecting a 60/40 or 70/30 split of minutes for the Fighting Hawks, with Scheel earning the start today against the Pioneers even though he allowed three goals on 22 shots in UND’s first matchup with Denver.

For the Pios, sophomore goaltender Magnus Chrona has played every minute in net, allowing ten goals while posting a goals-against average of 3.37 and a save percentage of .880. While I expect his numbers to improve over the next couple of weeks, I wouldn’t be surprised if grad transfer Corbin Kaczperski got a spot start over this next stretch of games. Here are Kaczperski’s career numbers from his three seasons at Yale:

29-22-4, 2.53 GAA, .911 SV%, and three shutouts.

Freshman forward Carter Savoie has been the brightest spot for Denver in the pod, tallying four goals and an assist through his first three collegiate games. Savoie, a 5-foot-9 left winger who notched 84 goals and 88 assists over two seasons (112 games) with the Sherwood Park Crusaders (AJHL), is a threat to score from anywhere on the ice. The 18-year-old from St. Albert, Alberta was a 4th-round pick (100th overall) of the Edmonton Oilers in the 2020 NHL entry draft.

Others to splash for the Pioneers have been sophomore forward Brett Edwards (1-0-1 in two games) and freshman defenseman Mike Benning (0-5-5 )

North Dakota has eleven players at two or more points through three games, led by forwards Shane Pinto (2-3-5), Jordan Kawaguchi (1-3-4), Grant Mismash (2-1-3), Collin Adams (0-3-3), Riese Gaber (2-0-2), and Jasper Weatherby (1-1-2) and defensemen Ethan Frisch (1-2-3), Matt Kiersted (1-1-2), Jacob Bernard-Docker (0-2-2), and Gabe Bast (1-0-1). Although the Fighting Hawks will sorely miss freshman blueliners Jake Sanderson (1-2-3) and Tyler Kleven (1-0-1) for the remainder of their games in the Omaha pod, they will certainly contend for the highest-scoring defensive unit in the country.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot this season, and the numbers bear that out. After two games, the Fighting Hawks are third the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (19.7) and are in the top five in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent):
62.0% (third in the nation)

Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent):
64.1% (second in the nation)

By comparison, the Pioneers are 10th in Corsi (55.2%) and 15th in Fenwick (52.8%), averaging 28.0 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 36.3/game) while allowing 27.7 shots on goal against/contest.

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot. The Fighting Hawks are leading the nation in faceoff win percentage at 62.0 percent, while Denver is dead last (38.1%) among the 40 men’s college hockey teams to have played at least one game this season.

Leading the way in the faceoff circle for North Dakota have been Shane Pinto (73.4%, 5th in the country), Jasper Weatherby (66.7%, 9th in the country)), and Collin Adams (53.7%). Denver will counter with Jaakko Heikkinen (41.0%), Cole Guttman (43.8%), Brett Stapley (51.9%), and <kohen olischefski (25.0%).

Through three games, here is the specialty teams ledger:

Denver power play: 4 of 17, 23.5 percent
Denver penalty kill: 9 of 12, 75.0 percent

North Dakota power play: 5 of 17, 29.4 percent
North Dakota penalty kill: 11 of 14, 78.6 percent

The Pioneers have scored four of their seven goals this season with the man advantage, while the Fighting Hawks have scored five of their fourteen goals this season on the power play. Denver must generate more five-on-five chances today and in their remaining pod games if the Pios hope to leave Omaha with a .500 record or better.

This will be the last time that North Dakota and DU square off in the first half of the season. UND is scheduled to travel to Denver for a weekend series on January 15th and 16th and host the Pios at Ralph Engelstad Arena on February 5th and 6th.

After today’s tilt with the Pios, the Fighting Hawks will face Minnesota Duluth on Thursday evening and St. Cloud State on Saturday afternoon before a rematch with Western Michigan on Sunday afternoon. Here is the complete NCHC Pod schedule and results for North Dakota:

Pod Game #1: 2-0 win vs. Miami

Pod Game #2: 4-3 overtime win vs. Denver

Pod Game #3: 8-2 win vs. Western Michigan

Pod Game #4: Denver
(Tuesday, December 8th at 3:35 p.m.)

Pod Game #5: Minnesota Duluth
(Thursday, December 10th at 7:35 p.m.)

Pod Game #6: St. Cloud State
(Saturday, December 12th at 4:05 p.m.)

Pod Game #7: Western Michigan
(Sunday, December 13th at 4:05 p.m.)

Pod Game #8: St. Cloud State
(Wednesday, December 16th at 7:35 p.m.)

Pod Game #9: Minnesota Duluth
(Saturday, December 19th at 12:05 p.m.)

Pod Game #10: Miami
(Sunday, December 20th at 8:05 p.m.)

After its pod games are complete, the Fighting Hawks are not scheduled to face Miami, Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State, or Western Michigan during the remainder of the regular season. In addition to four second-half games against Denver, UND will face Omaha six times and Colorado College six times.

For a complete NCHC pod preview and information about all eight league teams, please click this link.

Denver Pioneers

Head Coach: David Carle (3rd season at DU, 45-24-11, .631)

2019-20 Season Results: 21-9-6 overall, 11-8-5-4 NCHC (3rd)

2019-20 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.28 goals scored/game
(11th in the nation)

Team Defense: 2.25 goals allowed/game
(11th in the nation)

Power Play: 23.1% (36 of 156)
(12th in the nation)

Penalty Kill: 84.2% (112 of 133)
(16th in the nation)

Key graduation losses: F Liam Finlay (5-23-28), F Tyson McLellan (5-6-11), D Michael Davies (1-4-5)

Departures: F Emilio Pettersen (13-22-35, left two years early), D Ian Mitchell (10-22-32, left one year early), G Devin Cooley (4-3-2, 2.08 GAA, .908 SV%, left one year early)

Key returning players: Junior F Brett Stapley (5-25-30), Junior F Cole Guttman (14-14-28), Sophomore F Bobby Brink (11-13-24 in 28 games played), Senior F Kohen Olischefski (9-11-20), Junior F Tyler Ward (10-9-19), Senior D Griffin Mendel (3-6-9), Junior D Slava Demin (2-7-9), Sophomore G Magnus Chrona (16-6-4, 2.15 GAA, .920 SV%, 2 SO)

Additions: Senior F Steven Jandric (26-54-80 in 107 games over three seasons at Alaska Fairbanks), Senior D Bo Hanson (11-36-47 in 102 games over three seasons at St. Lawrence), Senior G Corbin Kaczperski (29-22-4, 2.53 GAA, .911 SV%, 3 SO over three seasons at Yale)

Potential impact freshmen: F Antti Tuomisto, F Carter Savoie, D Mike Benning, D Reid Irwin

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 119-57-23, .656)

2019-20 Season Results: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2019-20 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.86 goals scored/game
(4th in the nation)

Team Defense: 1.94 goals allowed/game
(4th in the nation)

Power Play: 21.2% (29 of 137)
(17th in the nation)

Penalty Kill: 88.0% (103 of 117)
(5th in the nation)

Key graduation losses: F Westin Michaud (16-12-28), F Cole Smith (11-7-18), F Dixon Bowen (6-4-10), D Colton Poolman (4-13-17), D Andrew Peski (1-9-10)

Departures: Junior D Jonny Tychonick (4-7-11, transferred to Omaha)

Key returning players: Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (15-30-45), Sophomore F Shane Pinto (16-12-28), Senior F Collin Adams (12-16-28), Senior F Grant Mismash (8-12-20), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (10-8-18), Senior D Matt Kiersted (6-23-29), Junior D Jacob Bernard-Docker (7-18-25), Junior G Adam Scheel (19-4-2, 2.07 GAA, .904 SV%, 2 SO)

Additions: Sophomore F Brendan Budy (19-30-49 in 50 games with the Langley Rivermen [BCHL]. In 2018-19, Budy split time between Denver [scoreless in six games] and the USHL’s Tri-City Storm [11-21-31 in 31 games]. In two previous seasons with the Rivermen, the hometown hero from Langley, British Columbia put up a line of 37-64-101 in 105 games.)

Potential impact freshmen: F Griffin Ness, F Riese Gaber, D Jake Sanderson, D Tyler Kleven

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: Friday, December 4th, 2020 (Omaha, NE). The teams managed one power play goal a piece through the first forty minutes of play (Carter Savoie and Jake Sanderson). On the first shift of the third period, DU’s Brett Edwards put the Pios in front, but North Dakota’s Ethan Frisch and Jasper Weatherby put the Fighting Hawks ahead with under five minutes to play. Savoie struck again 94 seconds later, and the bitter rivals were headed to an extra session of 3-on-3 hockey, where frequent overtime hero Jordan Kawaguchi sent fans of the Green and White into a frenzy. UND outshot Denver 35-22, including a 14-5 advantage in the second period.

A Recent Memory: April 7, 2016 (Tampa, Florida). In the semifinals of the NCAA Frozen Four, the two league rivals squared off in a tightly-contested matchup. Senior forward Drake Caggiula scored twice early in the middle frame to stake UND to a 2-0 lead, but the Pioneers battled back with a pair of third period goals. The CBS line came through when it mattered most, with Nick Schmaltz scoring the game winner off of a faceoff win with 57 seconds remaining in the hockey game. North Dakota blocked 27 Denver shot attempts and goaltender Cam Johnson made 21 saves for the Fighting Hawks, who won the program’s eighth national title on the same sheet of ice two nights later.

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

Last Ten Games: With a tie and three wins last season combined with Friday’s victory, North Dakota is now even with Denver over their last ten meetings (4-4-2). UND has scored a total of fifteen goals in the last four games after scoring only six combined goals in the six games before that. On a positive note, the Pioneers have only scored eighteen goals in the past ten. Four of the last ten meetings have gone into overtime.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 150-128-16 (.537), although the Pioneers hold a slight 8-7-1 (.531) edge in games played at neutral sites. The teams first met in 1950, with North Dakota prevailing 18-3 in Denver.

Game News and Notes

Tuesday afternoon’s contest will be Brad Berry’s 200th game as UND’s head coach. He could get his 120th victory to go along with just 57 losses and 23 ties. North Dakota has won four consecutive games over Denver, the longest streak for the Green and White since a five-game winning streak from March 15th, 2003 through January 30th, 2004. That streak started with a pair of home overtime wins in the WCHA playoffs. The last time DU had a four-game winning streak over North Dakota was from November 20th, 2009 through January 30th, 2010. Incredibly, senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi’s overtime winner was his first career goal in sixteen games against the Pioneers, although he has notched nine assists. Since seven of Michigan’s nine titles were earned by 1964, I consider Denver (eight titles) and North Dakota (eight titles) to be the top two men’s college hockey programs of all time.

The Prediction

Here’s what I said on Twitter two days ago: “Not looking forward to UND facing an 0-3 Denver squad looking for revenge on Tuesday, but that’s what’s on the schedule in the #NCHCPod.” I still feel that way. North Dakota will definitely feel the loss of Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven on the back end, while the Pioneers should be able to handle things without Bobby Brink. All signs point to the Pios righting the ship with their first victory of the 2020-2021 campaign. Denver 4, North Dakota 3.

Broadcast Information

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

Social Media

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

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