Weekend Preview: UND at Omaha

#4 North Dakota (21-11-1, 16-5-1 NCHC) will head to Nebraska this weekend to face #20 Omaha (20-14-0, 10-12-0 NCHC) at Baxter Arena exactly one month after the two teams tangled in Grand Forks. With one victory in the series (or one Denver loss to Colorado College), UND would claim the program’s third-consecutive Penrose Cup as NCHC regular-season champions.

Before we dig into this weekend’s matchup, let’s take a quick look back at the past few games between the two teams…

On Friday, February 4th, UND broke a 1-1 tie with three goals in the second period, including a 5-on-3 tally by Ethan Frisch with seven seconds remaining. In Saturday’s rematch, North Dakota built a 2-0 lead through two periods but could not hold off the Mavs, allowing two third-period goals less than three minutes apart and surrendering a 3-on-3 goal midway through the five-minute overtime session.

Saturday’s rematch marked the first time in 19 games between the teams that the team scoring first did not prevail.

Last season, the two teams tangled six times over the course of 36 days in the second half of the season, and familiarity bred contempt. To that point, a line brawl erupted in the final minute of the fourth meeting between the squads, a 7-1 North Dakota home victory which secured the Fighting Hawks’ second consecutive league championship and saw Brad Berry’s squad hoist the #PenneRosa for the fourth time in the eight-year history of the NCHC.

The Saturday melee in Grand Forks started with Omaha sophomore forward Joey Abate slashing UND’s Louis Jamernik on the wrist instead of attempting to win the faceoff. Jamernik responded with a cross-check, and the royal rumble was on. Not surprisingly, Abate did the same thing late in Friday’s game with North Dakota leading 4-1 and less than two minutes on the clock. Fittingly, Abate led the NCAA in penalty minutes last season (63) after compiling 117 penalty minutes in his lone season in the NAHL and 246 in his final two seasons in the USHL.

This season, it’s Abate’s teammate – senior forward Kevin Conley – who leads the team in sin bin time (71 minutes; 8th-most in the country). UND’s Tyler Kleven is 7th in the nation with 72 minutes in penalties.

Despite the aforementioned Maverick ruffians, Omaha was the biggest surprise in the NCHC last season. Of course, I expected them to have good results playing at home in the pod (and they did, posting a record of 6-3-1), but I also expected them to regress in the second half. On the contrary, the Mavs went a combined 7-3 against Colorado College (4-0), Denver (2-2), and North Dakota (1-1) over the first ten games of the “normal travel” portion of the schedule, finished with an overall record of 14-11-1, and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time since their Frozen Four appearance in 2015. UNO ended its season with two consecutive losses; a 5-4 defeat at the hands of Denver in the opening round of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and a 7-2 drubbing by #2 Minnesota in the NCAA West Regional (Loveland, CO). The Gophers would be blanked 4-0 in the regional final by #5 Minnesota State.

Omaha’s 2020-2021 campaign was buoyed by excellent results in close games, including four overtime victories, four wins by one goal in regulation, and a ninth in a shootout. The Mavericks’ two victories over UND last season were a 5-4 win on January 30th and a 3-2 overtime victory on March 5th. North Dakota defeated UNO by scores of 6-2, 4-1, 7-1, and 4-2 for a combined scoring margin of 27-14 over the six-game season series.

Omaha is 6-4 in one-goal games this season; the Fighting Hawks are 8-3.

Turning back the clock a bit more: 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 three 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 the following year, as the 2019-20 version of the Mavs collected fourteen victories (14-17-5).

And after a 14-11-1 campaign and an NCAA tourney berth last season, Gabinet’s squad has already collected twenty victories this season. Despite the winning record, Omaha finds itself in 21st place in the all-important Pairwise rankings. The Mavericks fared well out-of-conference (10-2-0) but only have ten wins in conference play (10-12-0). In particular, three losses to Miami and two losses to Colorado College – along with non-conference splits with Lake Superior and St. Lawrence – have UNO currently on the outside of the NCAA tournament field.

When North Dakota traveled to Kalamazoo to face Western Michigan in late January, the Fighting Hawks hadn’t won a game since December 11th, 2021.

UND dropped both games against the Broncos by final scores of 4-1 and 2-0, falling to 13th in the Pairwise Rankings.

Despite the two road defeats, there were signs that Brad Berry’s squad had righted the ship…

On Friday night, North Dakota outshot the Broncos 35-23 but were undone by three WMU power play goals and an 0-for-3 performance with the man advantage.

On Saturday night, shots were nearly even, with the decisive goal coming on a shorthanded breakaway in the final minute of the first period (Western Michigan would add a late empty-net goal).

Since those defeats at the hands of the Broncos, UND has faced St. Cloud State, Omaha, Colorado College, Minnesota Duluth, and Western Michigan, winning each weekend series and effectively going 9-1 over that stretch (27 of 30 league points) to leapfrog Denver for 1st place in the league standings.

Four weeks ago, I mentioned that it would be an uphill climb for UND to catch Denver in this year’s race for the league title despite being only three points behind with ten games to play.

With two NCHC games remaining, UND now leads Denver by four points in the race for the Penrose Cup. The Pioneers have a home-and-home series with the Colorado College Tigers this weekend (at CC Friday, at DU Saturday).

With sweeps over the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs (road) and the Western Michigan Broncos (home), UND has moved up to #5 in the all-important Pairwise Rankings, secured home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs, guaranteed no worse than a second-place finish in the conference standings, and locked up an NCAA tournament appearance.

UND has put together an impressive tournament resume by playing a tough slate of games all season long; the Fighting Hawks have played the country’s sixth-toughest schedule according to KRACH; Omaha’s slate of games currently ranks as the 18th-toughest in all of college hockey.

North Dakota’s sweep vs. Western Michigan moved them to 21-11-1 on the season and secured yet another 20-win campaign. Beginning in 1996-97, UND has collected twenty victories or more in 23 of 26 seasons, including last year, when the squad earned 22 wins in just 29 games.

Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, junior netminder Isaiah Saville (15-12-0, 2.47 GAA, .908 SV%, 4 SO) has been spectacular in net for the Mavs. Fellow third-year netminder Austin Roden has appeared in nine games (5-2-0. 2.21 GAA, .927 SV%). Roden made a third-period relief appearance on Friday, November 12th at St. Cloud State, started the following night, and made 43 of 45 saves in a 3-2 overtime victory over the Huskies. In the first half o the season, Roden only squared off against one other NCHC opponent, stopping 28 of 31 in a home loss to Colorado College on December 4th.

In February, however, Roden appeared in three league games, relieving Saville in Friday’s opener at North Dakota and splitting starts against St. Cloud State (win) and Denver (loss). Saville was not at his best through the first five weeks of the 2022 league schedule (33 goals in ten games), but he put together solid performances in victories against SCSU (28 of 29 saves) and DU (31 of 32 saves).

Before UND’s December series at Colorado College, fifth-year senior Zach Driscoll had played nearly every meaningful minute between the pipes for North Dakota, going 11-6-0 with a goals-against average of 2.62, a save percentage of .889, and one shutout. Both Driscoll and freshman Jakob Hellsten got a start in Colorado Springs, and each performed admirably (Driscoll made 28 of 30 saves on Friday night, while Hellsten stopped 23 of 24 in the rematch). Each of the netminders also got one start in early January against Cornell, with Driscoll struggling on Friday night (13 saves on 17 shots) before giving way to Hellsten on Saturday (17 saves on 20 shots).

After a bit of a back-and-forth between the two, Zach Driscoll has regained his status as UND’s #1 goaltender. Since taking over for Jacob Hellsten on January 29th against St. Cloud State, Driscoll has gone 7-1-1 with a goals-against average of 1.59, a save percentage of .946 (244 saves, 14 goals allowed), and one shutout. In February, the fifth-year netminder from Apple Valley, Minnesota was awarded three consecutive NCHC Goaltender Of The Week Awards and was named the NCHC Goaltender of the Month.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Mike Gabinet’s squad has nine active players who meet that threshold, including two first-year forwards: Cameron Berg (7-13-20) and Ty Mueller (8-4-12 in 20 games). Others chipping in offensively include senior forward Taylor Ward (17-18-35), senior forward Brandon McManus (9-19-28), senior forward Taylor Weiss (8-21-29), senior forward Chase Primeau (7-12-19), senior forward Kevin Conley (8-10-18), junior forward Jack Randl (7-10-17), and junior defenseman Brandon Scanlin (6-25-31).

By that same measure, North Dakota also has nine players at a half point or better, although at least two of those – sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (7-17-24 in 21 games) and senior forward Gavin Hain (6-3-9 in 18 games) – will not be in the lineup this weekend due to injury. Two others- sophomore forward Riese Gaber (14-21-35) and junior defenseman Ethan Frisch (9-6-15) are dealing with an injuries and will be game-time decisions.

UND got forward Mark Senden (5-11-16) back in the lineup last weekend after the senior captain had missed two consecutive series.

Brad Berry can also count on the offensive production of senior forward Connor Ford (4-20-24), senior forward Ashton Calder (11-8-19), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (7-12-19), freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (6-13-19), and sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (9-10-19).

With Sanderson out of the lineup, Brad Berry will rely on a trio of blueliners – junior Ethan Frisch (9-16-15, 107 total shot attempts), graduate student Chris Jandric (1-12-13, 87), and sophomore Tyler Kleven (5-3-8, 145) – to shoulder the offensive load. Frisch has come on after being added to the top power play unit; the third-year d-man from Moorhead, Minnesota has scored a goal in six of his past nine games and has already surpassed his goal-scoring total from his first two seasons at North Dakota (four goals in 55 games).

Last year, North Dakota definitely benefitted from having a number of players stick around for a title run rather than turn pro. And UND’s roster is now feeling the effects of all of those departures happening at once, with fourteen new faces in Green and White this season. Despite bringing in five experienced transfers (forwards Ashton Calder and Connor Ford, defensemen Chris Jandric and Brady Ferner, and goaltender Zach Driscoll), the Fighting Hawks lost their top five scorers (and seven of their top eight) from a season ago: Jordan Kawaguchi, Collin Adams, Shane Pinto, Jasper Weatherby, Matt Kiersted, Grant Mismash, and Jacob Bernard-Docker combined for over 60% of UND’s offense last season (69 of 114 goals and 185 of 308 total points).

In addition to those seven skaters, Brad Berry also lost forwards Jackson Keane and Harrison Blaisdell, defensemen Gabe Bast and Josh Rieger, and goaltenders Adam Scheel and Peter Thome.

Despite losing all of that firepower and scoring depth, North Dakota is still managing 3.21 goals per game; last year, UND scored 3.93 goals/game. A more glaring difference can be found on the defensive side of the puck: after allowing less than two goals per game last year (1.97), the Fighting Hawks are giving up an average of 2.58 per game this season.

UND is scoring on 11.8 percent of its shots on goal, a mark good for 5th in the country. Omaha clocks in close behind at 11.2 percent (12th).

North Dakota made a living with the puck last season (7th and 5th in two key puck possession statistics), and it started in the faceoff circle. In particular, Shane Pinto, Collin Adams, and Jasper Weatherby had UND at #1 in the nation in faceoff percentage (56.2%); this year, the Green and White struggled early but now land at 55.2%, good for 3rd in the nation. Omaha sits at 51.1 percent (19th).

For UND, Connor Ford (61.8% of faceoffs won) takes nearly every important draw, while Jake Schmaltz (52.1%) has improved over the course of his first college season. Louis Jamernik (54.4%) has been a steady third option for Brad Berry.

For the Mavericks, it’s junior Nolan Sullivan (59.3%) and senior Chayse Primeau (49.0%) leading the way, with freshman Cameron Berg (54.3%) chipping in as well.

With both squads faring extremely well on draws, it is no surprise that the teams find themselves neck-and-neck nationally in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi: UND 51.2% (24th), Omaha 50.8% (25th)
Fenwick: UND 51.9% (21st), Omaha 50.9% (27th)

Corsi measures the percentage of shots taken vs. opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shots taken vs. opponents.

North Dakota’s penalty disparity is becoming problematic, as UND averages nearly a full minor penalty more per game (11.82 – 10.59) in conference play. The Fighting Hawks have had 119 man-advantage situations this season but have been shorthanded 133 times. With 29 power play goals scored, 28 power play goals allowed, four shorthanded goals scored, and three allowed, UND’s specialty teams net is a +2.

Omaha is in better shape in the penalty department, averaging just 14.00 penalty minutes per conference game while seeing their opponents whistled for 14.35. This has led to 170 man-advantage situations on the season against 166 shorthanded situations for the Mavericks. With 43 power play goals, 29 power play goals against, and a 3-2 advantage in shorthanded goals, UNO sits at +15.

To this point in the season, here is the complete specialty teams ledger:

Omaha power play: 43 of 170, 25.3 percent (7th)
Omaha penalty kill: 137 of 166, 84.1 percent (28th)

North Dakota power play: 29 of 119, 24.4 percent (11th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 105 of 133, 78.9 percent (43rd)

This weekend will close out the NCHC regular season, with first-round matchups in the league playoffs yet to be determined. North Dakota will finish in first or second place in the standings; while Omaha could finish in fifth or sixth place. UND will face either Miami or Colorado College in a best-of-three series next weekend in Grand Forks; the games will be played on March 11th, March 12th, and March 13th (if necessary).

Omaha Mavericks

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (5th season at UNO, 74-83-11, .473)

National Rankings: #20
Pairwise Ranking: 21st
KRACH Rating: 175.1 (16th)

This Season: 20-14-0 overall, 10-12-0 NCHC (6th)
Last Season: 14-11-1 overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 10-9-5 NCHC (4th)

Team Offense: 3.21 goals scored/game – 19th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.56 goals allowed/game – 20th of 59 teams

Power Play: 25.3% (43 of 170) – 7th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 84.1% (137 of 166) – 28th of 59 teams

Key Players: Senior F Taylor Ward (17-18-35), Senior F Brandon McManus (9-19-28), Senior F Taylor Weiss (8-21-29), Senior F Chase Primeau (7-12-19), Freshman F Cameron Berg (7-13-20), Freshman F Ty Mueller (8-4-12 in 20 games), Senior F Kevin Conley (8-10-18), Junior F Jack Randl (7-10-17), Junior D Brandon Scanlin (6-25-31), Junior G Isaiah Saville (15-12-0, 2.47 GAA, .908 SV%, 4 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND, 159-74-25, .665)

National Rankings: #4
Pairwise Ranking: 5th
KRACH Rating: 448.0 (5th)

This Season: 21-11-1 overall, 16-5-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCHC Midwest Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.21goals scored/game – 19th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.58 goals allowed/game – 21st of 59 teams

Power Play: 24.4% (29 of 119) – 11th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.9% (105 of 133) – 43rd of 59 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (14-21-35), Senior F Connor Ford (4-20-24), Senior F Ashton Calder (11-8-19), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (6-13-19), Junior F Judd Caulfield (9-7-16), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (7-12-19), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (9-10-19), Junior D Ethan Frisch (9-6-15), Senior Chris Jandric (1-12-13), Sophomore D Tyler Kleven (5-3-8), Senior G Zach Driscoll (19-9-1, 2.37 GAA, .907 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: February 5, 2022 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota built a two-goal lead through the first forty minutes of action but couldn’t make it hold up, surrendering two third-period goals less than three minutes apart to send the game to overtime. Omaha’s Brannon McManus ended the contest halfway through the five-minute 3-on-3 session. One night earlier, the teams were tied after one period, but UND erupted for three goals in the middle frame, including a 5-on-3 tally with just seven seconds remaining. The Mavericks outshot the Fighting Hawks 9-4 in the third period but could not put a second goal past Zach Driscoll, who finished with 26 saves.

Last meeting in Omaha: February 26, 2021. The two teams met in Omaha just six days after UND’s 7-1 drubbing in Grand Forks, and the Fighting Hawks picked up right where they left off, dispatching the homestanding Mavericks 4-2. North Dakota led 2-1 with three minutes remaining before UNO’s Jack Randl evened the score. Jasper Weatherby scored on the power play with less than eighty seconds left to give the visitors the lead, and a shorthanded empty-netter from Judd Caulfield iced the game. North Dakota was assessed just ten minutes in penalties, while Omaha was whistled for twenty, including fourteen minutes in the third period alone. The Fighting Hawks scored three power play goals and held the Mavs scoreless on four man-advantage opportunities.

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 six of the last ten contests between the schools, outscoring the Mavericks 39-22 over that stretch. Two of the last ten games have gone to overtime, and both went the way of Omaha by identical 3-2 scores.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 29-16-1 (.641), including a 14-7-0 (.667) record in games played in Grand Forks. North Dakota owns a record of 24-13-1 (.645) 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. North Dakota’s Brad Berry is 20-10-0 (.667) in his head coaching career against Omaha. In 18 of the past 19 contests in this series, the winning team is the one which scores the first goal.

The Prediction

North Dakota is on a mission to claim the program’s third-consecutive Penrose Cup, and I don’t see anything standing in their way. UND has battled through illness, injuries, and depleted lineups and has emerged on the other side unfazed and battle-tested. If anything can derail the Fighting Hawks, it would be a specialty teams battle, as Brad Berry would prefer to see his squad play the majority of the contest at even strength. Omaha’s Isaiah Saville is definitely capable of stealing a game between the pipes, but I don’t see that happening until Saturday night – after North Dakota hoists the #PennaRosa on Friday. UND 4-1, UNO 4-2.

Broadcast Information

Both games this weekend will be available via webcast 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 vs. Western Michigan

When North Dakota traveled to Kalamazoo to face Western Michigan in late January, the Fighting Hawks hadn’t won a game since December 11th, 2021.

UND dropped both games against the Broncos by final scores of 4-1 and 2-0, falling to 13th in the Pairwise Rankings.

Despite the two road defeats, there were signs that Brad Berry’s squad had righted the ship…

On Friday night, North Dakota outshot the Broncos 35-23 but were undone by three WMU power play goals and an 0-for-3 performance with the man advantage.

On Saturday night, shots were nearly even, with the decisive goal coming on a shorthanded breakaway in the final minute of the first period (Western Michigan would add a late empty-net goal).

Since those defeats at the hands of the Broncos, UND has faced St. Cloud State, Omaha, Colorado College, and Minnesota Duluth, winning each weekend series and effectively going 7-1 over that stretch (21 of 24 league points) to leapfrog Denver for 1st place in the league standings.

Three weeks ago, I mentioned that it would be an uphill climb for UND to catch Denver in this year’s race for the league title despite being only three points behind with ten games to play.

With four NCHC games remaining, UND now leads Denver by one point in the race for the Penrose Cup. It’s probably still Denver’s title to lose, with the following schedules over the past two weekends:

North Dakota: vs. Western Michigan, at Omaha

Denver: at Omaha, at/vs. Colorado College (home and home series)

With last weekend’s road sweep over the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, UND also moved up to #6 in the all-important Pairwise Rankings, secured home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs, and guaranteed no worse than a third-place finish in the conference standings. North Dakota is currently eight points clear of Western Michigan, so a split this weekend would lock up a top-two finish for the Fighting Hawks.

Both Western Michigan and UND have put together impressive tournament resumes by playing a tough slate of games all season long; WMU has played the country’s fourth-toughest schedule according to KRACH; North Dakota’s slate of games currently ranks as the sixth-toughest in all of college hockey.

This weekend, it’ll be #7 North Dakota (19-11-1, 14-5-1 NCHC) hosting #6 Western Michigan (20-8-1, 12-7-1 NCHC) at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks.

First-year head coach Pat Ferschweiler (WMU ’93) has his team playing at an extremely high level, with the Broncos exhibiting plenty of offense, outstanding specialty teams, and excellent goaltending. Ferschweiler, who had previously been the WMU associate head coach under Andy Murray, also spent four seasons as an assistant coach for the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings.

At 4th in the Pairwise and with a non-conference record of 8-1-0, Western Michigan is in line to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017 and just the fourth time since 1996. WMU’s eight losses on the season have come against Michigan (1st), Denver (3rd, three times), Minnesota Duluth (8th, twice), St. Cloud State (10th), and Omaha (23rd).

In the Division I era (since 1975), the Broncos have had fifteen twenty-win seasons, most recently in 2018-19 (21-15-1).

North Dakota’s sweep at Minnesota Duluth moved them to 19-11-1 on the season and within one victory of another 20-win campaign. Beginning in 1996-97, UND has collected twenty victories or more in 22 of 25 seasons, including last year, when the squad earned 22 wins in just 29 games.

Turning our attention to this weekend’s action, junior netminder Brandon Bussi has played extremely well for the Broncos this season, notching twenty wins against just eight defeats. After enduring a three-game losing streak from November 6th-13th (vs. UMD, at Denver x 2), Bussi went 8-1 with a goals-against average of 1.70 and a save percentage of .940 leading into the home weekend against North Dakota. During that stretch, his only defeat was a 1-0 home loss to Omaha in which he made 25 of 26 saves. And against the Fighting Hawks, Bussi was at his best, allowing just a single goal on the weekend while making 58 saves. He has come back down to earth over the past four weeks, however, allowing at least two goals in each game and surrendering a total of 29 goals.

The 6’5”, 210-pounder from Sound Beach, New York only appeared in four games last season, suffering a severe injury just eight minutes into the team’s first game of the season in the Omaha pod. Bussi, who went 18-12-4 with a goals-against average of 2.65 and a save percentage of .910. as a freshman in 2019-2020, managed to appear in the final three games of last season.

Before UND’s last series at Colorado College, fifth-year senior Zach Driscoll had played nearly every meaningful minute between the pipes for North Dakota, going 11-6-0 with a goals-against average of 2.62, a save percentage of .889, and one shutout. Both Driscoll and freshman Jakob Hellsten got a start in Colorado Springs, and each performed admirably (Driscoll made 28 of 30 saves on Friday night, while Hellsten stopped 23 of 24 in the rematch). Each of the netminders also got one start in early January against Cornell, with Driscoll struggling on Friday night (13 saves on 17 shots) before giving way to Hellsten on Saturday (17 saves on 20 shots).

After a bit of a back-and-forth between the two, Zach Driscoll has regained his status as UND’s #1 goaltender. Since taking over for Jacob Hellsten on January 29th against St. Cloud State, Driscoll has gone 5-1-1 with a goals-against average of 1.62, a save percentage of .945 (189 saves, 11 goals allowed), and three consecutive NCHC Goaltender Of The Week Awards.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Pat Ferschweiler’s squad has ten players who meet that threshold: senior forward Drew Worrad (6-32-38), senior forward Ethen Frank (23-10-33), senior forward Cole Gallant (8-15-23), junior forward Jason Polin (7-16-23), senior forward Paul Washe (8-5-13), sophomore forward Ty Glover (6-10-16), senior forward Josh Passolt (7-16-23), freshman forward Max Sasson (7-10-17), senior defenseman Michael Joyaux (7-21-28), and junior defenseman Ronnie Attard (11-19-30).

Josh Passolt had a three-point effort on Friday night against North Dakota but was held scoreless in the rematch. Since that series, the senior from Hayward, Wisconsin has scored four goals and added six assists in the past eight games.

By that same measure, North Dakota has nine players at a half point or better, although at least two of those – sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (7-17-24 in 21 games) and senior forward Gavin Hain (6-3-9 in 18 games) – will not be in the lineup this weekend due to injury. Two others- sophomore forward Riese Gaber (14-21-35) and senior forward Mark Senden (injury, 5-10-15) – are also dealing with injury and will be game-time decisions.

On the plus side, Brad Berry can count on the offensive production of senior forward Connor Ford (4-18-22), senior forward Ashton Calder (10-8-18), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (6-11-17), freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (6-12-18), and sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (8-9-17).

With Sanderson out of the lineup, Brad Berry will rely on a trio of blueliners – junior Ethan Frisch (9-16-15, 106 total shot attempts), graduate student Chris Jandric (1-11-12, 80), and sophomore Tyler Kleven (5-3-8, 136) – to shoulder the offensive load. Frisch has come on after being added to the top power play unit; the third-year d-man from Moorhead, Minnesota has scored a goal in six of his past eight games and has already surpassed his goal-scoring total from his first two seasons at North Dakota (four goals in 55 games).

Last year, North Dakota definitely benefitted from having a number of players stick around for a title run rather than turn pro. And UND’s roster is now feeling the effects of all of those departures happening at once, with fourteen new faces in Green and White this season. Despite bringing in five experienced transfers (forwards Ashton Calder and Connor Ford, defensemen Chris Jandric and Brady Ferner, and goaltender Zach Driscoll), the Fighting Hawks lost their top five scorers (and seven of their top eight) from a season ago: Jordan Kawaguchi, Collin Adams, Shane Pinto, Jasper Weatherby, Matt Kiersted, Grant Mismash, and Jacob Bernard-Docker combined for over 60% of UND’s offense last season (69 of 114 goals and 185 of 308 total points).

In addition to those seven skaters, Brad Berry also lost forwards Jackson Keane and Harrison Blaisdell, defensemen Gabe Bast and Josh Rieger, and goaltenders Adam Scheel and Peter Thome.

Despite losing all of that firepower and scoring depth, North Dakota is still managing 3.19 goals per game; last year, UND scored 3.93 goals/game. A more glaring difference can be found on the defensive side of the puck: after allowing less than two goals per game last year (1.97), the Fighting Hawks are giving up an average of 2.65 per game this season.

UND is scoring on 11.6 percent of its shots on goal, a mark good for 9th in the country. Western Michigan clocks in at a remarkable 12.2 percent (3rd).

North Dakota made a living with the puck last season (7th and 5th in two key puck possession statistics), and it started in the faceoff circle. In particular, Shane Pinto, Collin Adams, and Jasper Weatherby had UND at #1 in the nation in faceoff percentage (56.2%); this year, the Green and White struggled early but now land at 55.0%, good for 4th in the nation. Western Michigan sits at 51.0 percent (16th).

For UND, Connor Ford (61.7% of faceoffs won) takes nearly every important draw, while Jake Schmaltz (51.8%) has improved over the course of his first college season. Louis Jamernik (54.4%) has been a steady third option for Brad Berry.

For the Broncos, it’s senior Drew Worrad (55.5%) and fifth-year senior Paul Washe (55.0%) leading the way, with underclassmen Max Sasson (41.9%), Tim Washe (50.5%), and Luke Grainger (48.1%) chipping in as well.

With both squads faring extremely well on draws, it is no surprise that each team finds itself in the upper third nationally in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi: UND 51.6% (21st), Western Michigan 53.3% (13th)
Fenwick: UND 52.2% (18th), Western Michigan 53.2% (14th)

Corsi measures the percentage of shots taken vs. opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shots taken vs. opponents.

North Dakota’s penalty disparity is becoming problematic, as UND averages a full minor penalty more per game (12.20 – 10.20) in conference play. The Fighting Hawks have had 111 man-advantage situations this season but have been shorthanded 125 times. With 27 power play goals scored, 27 power play goals allowed, and three shorthanded goals scored, and three allowed, UND’s specialty teams net is exactly even.

Western Michigan is in better shape in the penalty department, averaging just 10.50 penalty minutes per game while seeing their opponents whistled for 12.20. This has led to 130 man-advantage situations and just 126 shorthanded situations for the Broncos. With 37 power play goals, 20 power play goals against, and a 5-3 advantage in shorthanded goals, WMU sits at +19.

To this point in the season, here is the complete specialty teams ledger:

Western Michigan power play: 37 of 130, 26.8 percent (4th)
Western Michigan penalty kill: 106 of 126, 84.1 percent (18th)

North Dakota power play: 27 of 111, 24.3 percent (10th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 98 of 125, 78.4 percent (44th)

After this weekend, the Broncos will host the Miami RedHawks to close out the NCHC regular season, while North Dakota will travel to Omaha to face the Mavericks.

Western Michigan Broncos

Head Coach: Pat Ferschweiler (1st season at WMU, 20-8-1, .707)

National Rankings: #6/#6
Pairwise Ranking: 4th
KRACH Ranking: 4th

This Season: 20-8-1 overall, 12-7-1 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 10-12-3 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 9-11-2-2 NCHC (6th)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.86 goals scored/game – 4th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.62 goals allowed/game – 24th of 59 teams

Power Play: 26.8% (37 of 130) – 4th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 84.1% (106 of 126) – 18th of 59 teams

Key Players: Senior F Drew Worrad (6-32-3), Senior F Ethen Frank (23-10-33), Senior F Cole Gallant (8-15-23), Junior F Jason Polin (13-9-22), Senior F Paul Washe (8-5-13), Senior D Michael Joyaux (7-21-28), Junior D Ronnie Attard (11-19-30), Junior G Brandon Bussi (20-8-1, 2.60 GAA, .913 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND, 157-74-25, .662)

National Rankings: #7/#7
Pairwise Ranking: 6th
KRACH Ranking: 6th

This Season: 19-11-1 overall, 14-5-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCHC Midwest Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.19 goals scored/game – 18th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.65goals allowed/game – 25th of 59 teams

Power Play: 24.3% (27 of 111) – 10th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.4% (98 of 125) – 44th of 59 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (14-21-35), Senior F Connor Ford (4-18-22), Senior F Ashton Calder (10-8-18), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (6-12-18), Junior F Judd Caulfield (7-6-13), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (6-11-17), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (8-9-17), Junior D Ethan Frisch (9-6-15), Senior Chris Jandric (1-11-12), Sophomore D Tyler Kleven (5-3-8), Senior G Zach Driscoll (17-9-1, 2.44 GAA, .903 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 22, 2022 (Kalamazoo, MI). WMU’s Max Sasson scored on a shorthanded breakway at the 19:14 mark of the first period, and the Broncos would make that hold up for a 2-0 (EN) victory. One night earlier, North Dakota outshot Western Michigan 35-23 but were undone by three power play goals and an ineffective power play of their own (0-for-3).

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: February 29, 2020. One first-period goal for each side would be all of the scoring until the overtime session, at which point UND’s Shane Pinto took over and made the final score 2-1. In Friday’s opener, North Dakota scored twice in the middle frame (Judd Caulfield and Matt Kiersted) and traded third-period goals with the Broncos for a 3-1 victory.

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 25 of the 34 games (25-9-0, .735), including 10 of the 14 games played in Grand Forks. 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 36-21 over that stretch of games. Before the Broncos’ home sweep of North Dakota last month, UND had swept the previous six with a scoring margin of 28-10.

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 eight seasons in the NCHC after advancing to the national tournament twice (2011, 2012) in the last three seasons in the now-defunct CCHA. The Broncos are 14-0-0 when leading after two periods of play but just 6-8-1 when trailing or tied. Western Michigan has outscored opponents 42-20 in third periods this season.

The Prediction

So many things have changed since these two teams tangled last month. North Dakota finally has a #1 goaltender and are finding contributions up and down the lineup. With last line change, head coach Brad Berry will be able to dictate matchups and deploy the lines of Carson Albrecht – Griffin Ness – Nick Portz and Jackson Kunz – Louis Jamernik – Dane Montgomery against WMU’s top two lines. A sweep is too much to ask this weekend, but I definitely think that North Dakota will take the opener and make things difficult in the rematch. UND 4-2, WMU 3-2.

Broadcast Information

Friday’s opener will be available exclusively on CBS Sports Network, with Saturday’s rematch broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and 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 Minnesota Duluth

#9 North Dakota (17-11-1) travels to AMSOIL Arena this weekend to take on #7 Minnesota Duluth (15-11-3) for a pair of NCHC contests. When the teams squared off in Grand Forks back on November 19th and 20th, the Bulldogs won Friday’s opener 4-1 but were unable to complete the sweep, as UND broke a 1-1 tie five minutes into the third period and held on for a 2-1 victory. The Fighting Hawks held the advantage in the faceoff circle all weekend, winning 68 of 115 faceoffs (59.1%). In game one, UMD went 1-for-6 with the man advantage and held UND scoreless on six power plays. In the rematch, it was North Dakota scoring on the power play and holding the Bulldogs without a power play goal.

And turning back the clock to March 27th, 2021, North Dakota was down 2-0 to Minnesota Duluth with just 101 seconds remaining in the third period of the 2021 NCAA Midwest Regional final at Scheels Arena in Fargo, North Dakota. The Bulldogs had built their lead with two goals just 80 seconds apart early in the final frame on a pair of fluky plays. A partially blocked shot off the stick of Jackson Cates fluttered past Fighting Hawks’ netminder Adam Scheel, and a broken stick at the blue line sent Cole Koepke in alone on a breakaway.

Through the first 25 games of the season, UND had only won one game after allowing the first goal (1-5-1). But after coming back against both Denver and St. Cloud State to claim the program’s first NCHC Frozen Faceoff postseason title, Brad Berry’s squad had to feel like another comeback was possible.

And it was indeed possible. Collin Adams and Jordan Kawaguchi scored extra-attacker goals 44 seconds apart to send the partisan crowd into a frenzy and send the game to overtime. And overtime. And overtime. And overtime.

UMD’s Luke Mylymok scored the game-winner just over two minutes into the FIFTH overtime session; his second goal of the season ended the longest NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey tournament game in history.

One could argue that after over 140 minutes of game action, Duluth had a built-in advantage: the Bulldogs (14-10-2) were scheduled to face Michigan in the regional semifinal, but after the Wolverines withdrew due to a positive COVID-19 test in their hockey program, UMD advanced in a “no contest” and therefore had fresher legs than top overall seed North Dakota (22-5-1).

Adams and Kawaguchi were two of six North Dakota players to finish the season with double digit goal totals. Of those six, only Riese Gaber remains at North Dakota.

Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State both advanced to the 2021 NCAA Frozen Four in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which meant that the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) was represented on college hockey’s biggest stage for the seventh consecutive tourney (every season that the league has existed).

Here are the NCHC teams to appear in the Frozen Four since the NCHC began play in 2013-2014:

2014: North Dakota
2015: North Dakota, Omaha
2016: North Dakota (champion), Denver
2017: Denver (champion), Minnesota Duluth
2018: Minnesota Duluth (champion)
2019: Minnesota Duluth (champion), Denver
2020: No NCAA tournament (COVID-19)
2021: Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State

The Bulldogs played ten games at the Division I level in the early 1930s but didn’t really get started until after World War II. Its first 19 seasons after the war were played as an independent before joining the WCHA in 1965. It would take 18 seasons – and a head coach named Mike Sertich – before UMD would make the NCAA tournament, and Sertich would take them there in three consecutive seasons:

1982-1983: National Quarterfinalist
1983-1984: 2nd Place (National Runner-Up)
1984-1985: 3rd Place (Consolation Champion)

In 1984, Duluth was tantalizingly close to winning its first title. The Bulldogs defeated North Dakota 2-1 in overtime (behind a goal by Bill Watson) to advance to the championship game, where they would face Bowling Green in the longest NCAA final in Division I men’s hockey history. Gino Cavallini scored for the Falcons in the fourth overtime session, ending a game that took over 97 minutes of game action to complete.

And, perhaps, fittingly, UMD would find themselves locked in overtime contests in 1985 as well. The Bulldogs took RPI to three overtimes in the national semis before falling 6-5. Back in those days, there was still a third-place game, and so Duluth faced Boston College (which had also played three overtimes in its semifinal) for no reason at all. Of course, that game also went to overtime, with UMD defeating the Eagles 7-6.

After that three-year splash on the national scene, Mike Sertich would manage just one more tournament appearance (1993) over the final fifteen years of his head coaching career before giving way to Scott Sandelin, who has guided the Bulldogs to the NCAAs ten times in his 21 seasons behind the Bulldog bench.

Even though UMD has been a more frequent participant over the past two decades than at any other point in team history, Duluth and North Dakota have only met twice in the national tournament (1984 and 2021). UND had a chance to meet the Bulldogs in the 2011 title game but fell to the Wolverines in the semifinals 2-0 (with an empty-net goal) despite outshooting Michigan 40-20.

Before the Wolverines were forced to withdraw, UMD and Michigan were set to square off in the national tournament for the first time since that overtime thriller in St. Paul.

With three national titles in a nine-year stretch, the Bulldogs could certainly be considered the best team of the 2010s; North Dakota’s eight national titles have been spread out across the decades: 1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000, and 2016.

The Wolverines have won nine NCAA titles but only two since 1964, those coming in 1996 and 1998. For that reason, I consider North Dakota (eight titles) and Denver (eight titles) the two best programs in NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey history.

Turning the page to this season, Duluth has 12 seniors and grad students on their roster; North Dakota? Only six. And that’s all thanks to the transfer portal, which allowed Brad Berry to bring in senior forwards Ashton Calder and Connor Ford, a graduate transfer on defense (Chris Jandric), and senior netminder Zach Driscoll. Forwards Gavin Hain and Mark Senden are the only two current UND seniors who were on last year’s roster, and they are both dealing with injuries. Hain will not play this weekend in Duluth, while Senden is considered probable to make his way into the lineup.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that it would be an uphill climb for UND to catch Denver in this year’s race for the league title despite being only three points behind with ten games to play.

North Dakota has tightened the race over the past three weekends, collecting fifteen of eighteen possible league points against St. Cloud State (7-1 win, 3-3 tie with a shootout victory), Omaha (4-1 win, 2-3 overtime loss), and Colorado College (3-2 win, 4-0 win). With six NCHC games remaining, UND now trails Denver by just two points in the race for the Penrose Cup. The Fighting Hawks are currently five points clear of Western Michigan and ten points better than Duluth in the fight for second place (it is worth noting, however, that Duluth has one extra game remaining on its schedule due to COVID-19 rescheduling). North Dakota will host WMU next weekend before traveling to Omaha to close out the regular season.

By effectively going 5-1 over their past six games, the Fighting Hawks have moved to #11 in the all-important Pairwise rankings. As I have been saying since January, good results each weekend may not move the Pairwise needle much in the moment, but they will help the team’s resume in the long run.

North Dakota’s four January losses (two vs. PWR 25 Cornell, two at PWR 4 Western Michigan) continue to loom large on the national scene. For the moment, UND is being held up by early-season victories over Quinnipiac (6th) Denver (3rd, twice), Minnesota Duluth (7th), Minnesota (5th), and St. Cloud State (8th). In the first half of the season, UND split its series with Quinnipiac, Duluth, Minnesota, and St. Cloud State and lost to Bemidji State (26th) and Penn State (24th).

Duluth has put together its impressive tournament resume by playing the country’s toughest schedule according to KRACH; North Dakota’s slate of games currently ranks as the sixth-toughest in all of college hockey.

Junior netminder Ryan Fanti has played nearly 85 percent of the minutes in goal for the Bulldogs, going 13-8-3 with a goals-against average of 1.91, a save percentage of .922, and four shutouts. Sophomore Zach Stejskal appeared in two games back in October before receiving a cancer diagnosis; he returned to the crease last Friday night at Denver, appearing in relief after Fanti was unable to return to the ice for the start of the second period due to illness. Stejskal turned away 20 of 22 shots to earn the road victory over the Pioneers.

Before UND’s December series at Colorado College, fifth-year senior Zach Driscoll had played nearly every meaningful minute between the pipes for North Dakota, going 11-6-0 with a goals-against average of 2.62, a save percentage of .889, and one shutout. Both Driscoll and freshman Jakob Hellsten got a start in Colorado Springs, and each performed admirably (Driscoll made 28 of 30 saves on Friday night, while Hellsten stopped 23 of 24 in the rematch). Each of the netminders also got one start in early January against Cornell, with Driscoll struggling on Friday night (13 saves on 17 shots) before giving way to Hellsten on Saturday (17 saves on 20 shots).

Nearly a month ago, Driscoll again got the Friday start at Western Michigan, allowing four goals on 23 shots. Hellsten looked better in the rematch, allowing only a late first-period shorthanded goal while making 24 saves. That allowed Brad Berry to start Hellsten against St. Cloud State, and the freshman played brilliantly on Friday night, allowing just one goal on twenty shots. Saturday was a different story, however, and he was pulled after allowing three goals in the first period. It should be noted, however, that one was a power-play tally and the other two were breakaways – one shorthanded and one just as a penalty expired.

Driscoll righted the ship in that Saturday contest, making 20 of 20 saves as North Dakota clawed back and forced overtime. After a scoreless three-on-three session, Driscoll stopped all four attempts in the shootout as the Fighting Hawks secured the extra league point.

Since then, it’s been Driscoll’s crease, and he’s responded. Over the past five games, he’s gone 3-1-1 with a goals-against average of 1.25, a save percentage of .952, and one shutout.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Scott Sandelin’s squad has six regulars in the lineup who meet that threshold: sophomore forward Blake Biondi (12-10-22), senior forward Noah Cates (8-11-19), junior forward Quinn Olson (6-15-21), senior forward Casey Gilling (7-12-19), graduate forward Kobe Roth (9-10-19), and senior forward Koby Bender (4-11-15). Freshman forward Dominic James (3-9-12), freshman defenseman Owen Gallatin (2-12-14), and sophomore defenseman Wyatt Kaiser (1-10-11) nearly meet that same offensive threshold.

Noah Cates is doubtful to make an appearance this weekend after finishing up with the U.S. Olympic Team in Beijing, China. Head coach Scott Sandelin will get Dominic James back this weekend; James missed last weekend’s games at Denver with an injury.

By that same measure, North Dakota has nine players at a half point or better, although at least two of those – sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (Olympics, 7-17-24 in 21 games) and senior forward Gavin Hain (injury, 6-3-9 in 18 games) – will not be in the lineup this weekend, while a third – senior forward Mark Senden (injury, 5-10-15) – will be a game-time decision. Brad Berry will have the services of sophomore forward Riese Gaber (14-20-34), senior forward Connor Ford (4-18-22), senior forward Ashton Calder (10-8-18), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (6-10-16) and freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (6-10-16). Sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (7-8-15) will also return to the lineup after missing last weekend’s games against Colorado College.

With Sanderson out of the lineup, Brad Berry will rely on a trio of blueliners – junior Ethan Frisch (8-6-14, 96 total shot attempts), graduate student Chris Jandric (1-10-11, 75), and sophomore Tyler Kleven (4-3-7, 126) – to shoulder the offensive load. Frisch has come on after being added to the top power play unit; the third-year d-man from Moorhead, Minnesota has scored a goal in five of his past six games and has already surpassed his goal-scoring total from his first two seasons at North Dakota (four goals in 55 games).

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 over the past two seasons, winning the program’s third and fourth Penrose Cup as NCHC champions and collecting an overall record of 48-11-5 (.789) during the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons.

Last year, North Dakota definitely benefitted from having a number of players stick around for a title run rather than turn pro. And UND’s roster is now feeling the effects of all of those departures happening at once, with fourteen new faces in Green and White this season. Despite bringing in five experienced transfers (forwards Ashton Calder and Connor Ford, defensemen Chris Jandric and Brady Ferner, and goaltender Zach Driscoll), the Fighting Hawks lost their top five scorers (and seven of their top eight) from a season ago: Jordan Kawaguchi, Collin Adams, Shane Pinto, Jasper Weatherby, Matt Kiersted, Grant Mismash, and Jacob Bernard-Docker combined for over 60% of UND’s offense last season (69 of 114 goals and 185 of 308 total points).

In addition to those seven skaters, Brad Berry also lost forwards Jackson Keane and Harrison Blaisdell, defensemen Gabe Bast and Josh Rieger, and goaltenders Adam Scheel and Peter Thome.

Despite losing all of that firepower and scoring depth, North Dakota is still managing 3.17 goals per game; last year, UND scored 3.93 goals/game. A more glaring difference can be found on the defensive side of the puck: after allowing less than two goals per game last year (1.97), the Fighting Hawks are giving up an average of 2.66 per game this season.

UND is scoring on 11.5 percent of its shots on goal, a mark good for 10th in the country. Minnesota Duluth clocks in at 9.3 percent (38th).

North Dakota made a living with the puck last season (7th and 5th in two key puck possession statistics), and it started in the faceoff circle. In particular, Shane Pinto, Collin Adams, and Jasper Weatherby had UND at #1 in the nation in faceoff percentage (56.2%); this year, the Green and White struggled early but now land at 54.9%, good for 4th in the nation. Minnesota Duluth sits at 44.9 percent, the second-worst mark in the country.

For UND, Connor Ford (61.9% of faceoffs won) takes nearly every important draw, while Jake Schmaltz (52.2%) has improved over the course of his first college season. Louis Jamernik (53.6%) has been a steady third option for Brad Berry.

For Duluth, senior Casey Gilling (47.6%) has spent the most time in the faceoff circle and has had the most success, although freshman Dominic James (47.3%) and senior Jesse Jacques (47.6%) are not far behind. Remarkably, freshman Carter Loney has taken 333 draws this season despite clocking in at under forty percent (38.2%).

A disparity in faceoff success often leads to a similar imbalance in puck possession statistics as well, and that’s the case here:

Corsi: UND 52.0% (18th), Duluth 49.2% (33rd)
Fenwick: UND 52.7% (16th), Duluth 50.5% (28th)

Corsi measures the percentage of shots taken vs. opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shots taken vs. opponents.

North Dakota’s penalty disparity is becoming problematic, as UND averages more than a full minor penalty more per game (12.78– 10.44) in conference play than its opponents. The Fighting Hawks have had 104 man-advantage situations this season but have been shorthanded 120 times. With 24 power play goals scored, 26 power play goals allowed, two shorthanded goals scored, and two shorthanded goals allowed, UND’s specialty teams net is at minus-2.

UMD is in better shape in the penalty department, averaging 11.12 penalty minutes per conference game while seeing their opponents whistled for 11.29. Overall, however, the Bulldogs have enjoyed just 102 man-advantage situations on the season against 112 shorthanded situations. With 17 power play goals, 18 power play goals against, two shorthanded goals scored, and FIVE shorthanded goals allowed, Minnesota-Duluth sits at minus-4.

To this point in the season, here is the complete specialty teams ledger:

Minnesota Duluth power play: 17 of 102, 16.7 percent (41st)
Minnesota Duluth penalty kill: 94 of 112, 83.9 percent (21st)

North Dakota power play: 24 of 104, 23.1 percent (13th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 94 of 120, 78.3 percent (46th)

After this weekend, the Bulldogs will head to St. Cloud State for a rare Tuesday tilt before traveling to Miami for a pair of games. UMD will close out the season at home against SCSU on March 4th and 5th.

Over the two weekends of the regular season, the Fighting Hawks will host the Western Michigan Broncos and travel to Omaha to face the Mavericks.

Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (21st season at UMD, 421-343-94, .545)

National Rankings: #7/#7
Pairwise Ranking: 7th
KRACH Ranking: 8th

This Season: 15-11-3 overall, 8-6-3 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 15-11-2 overall (NCAA National Semifinalist), 13-9-2-0 NCHC (3rd)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.72 goals scored/game – 34th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.38 goals allowed/game – 14th of 59 teams

Power Play: 16.7% (17 of 102) – 41st of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 83.9% (94 of 112) – 21st of 59 teams

Key players: Sophomore FBlake Biondi (12-10-22), Senior F Noah Cates (8-11-19), Junior F Quinn Olson (6-15-21), Senior F Casey Gilling (7-12-19), Graduate F Kobe Roth (9-10-19), Senior F Koby Bender (4-11-15), Sophomore D Wyatt Kaiser (1-10-11), Freshman D Owen Gallatin (2-12-14), Junior G Ryan Fanti (13-8-3, 1.91 GAA, .922 SV%, 4 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND, 155-74-25, .659)

National Rankings: #9/#10
Pairwise Ranking: 11th
KRACH Ranking: 9th

This Season: 17-11-1 overall, 12-5-1 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCHC Midwest Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.17 goals scored/game – 21st of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.66 goals allowed/game – 25th of 59 teams

Power Play: 23.1% (24 of 104) – 13th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.3% (94 of 120) – 46th of 59 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (14-20-34), Senior F Connor Ford (4-18-22), Senior F Ashton Calder (10-8-18), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (6-10-16), Junior F Judd Caulfield (7-5-12), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (6-10-16), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (7-8-15), Junior D Ethan Frisch (8-6-14), Senior Chris Jandric (1-10-11), Sophomore D Tyler Kleven (4-3-7), Senior G Zach Driscoll (15-9-1, 2.44 GAA, .899 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: November 20, 2021 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota’s Brendan Budy broke a 1-1 tie at the 5:05 mark of the third period and UND hung on for the 2-1 victory. The Fighting Hawks scored a power play goal in the first period (Ethan Frisch) and held the Bulldogs scoreless with the man-advantage. Duluth won Friday’s opener 4-1 behind two goals from Casey Gilling and an empty-net goal with just under two minutes remaining in the game.

Last Meeting in Duluth: January 25, 2020. One night after Duluth thumped UND 7-4 by scoring five unanswered goals in the second and third periods, the Fighting Hawks responded with two third-period goals (Matt Kiersted, Jonny Tychonick) just 94 seconds apart to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 road victory. UMD’s Jarod Hilderman made Duluth’s comeback attempt more difficult by committing a tripping penalty with under five minutes remaining in the hockey game.

Most Important Meeting: March 27, 2021 (Fargo, ND). Minnesota Duluth outlasted North Dakota 3-2 in five overtimes to advance to the NCAA Frozen Four. UND scored two extra-attacker goals in the final two minutes of regulation to send the game long into the night. The three goaltenders involved in the contest combined to make 114 saves.

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, 150-88-11 (.624). 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: North Dakota is 5-4-1 (.550) in the last ten games between the teams, although the Bulldogs have outscored the Hawks 25-24 over that stretch thanks to a 7-4 home victory and a 4-1 road win in the past calendar year. Only three of the past ten UND-UMD games were played in Duluth.

Game News and Notes

Duluth went 10-3-1 in October and November but has gone just 5-8-2 since that time. No UND player expected to be in the lineup this weekend has more than one career goal against the Bulldogs. Friday’s series opener will be the 250th all-time meeting between the two storied programs. 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, whose wife Kathleen (“Tootsie”) died unexpectedly on Wednesday of this week. Tootsie was inducted into the Grand Forks Public School Teachers’ Hall Of Fame in 2016.

The Prediction

Both teams will be without several players this weekend, with the status of injured players and Olympic returnees still up in the air. There is also a non-COVID illness going through the UMD locker room, which may affect head coach Scott Sandelin’s ability to field a full and healthy lineup. I expect the teams to play it a bit closer to the vest, particularly early on Friday. With both goaltenders playing well, specialty teams will be key. The Fighting Hawks should have the puck the majority of the time, and that may lead to an extra power play or two. If North Dakota can find success with the man advantage, a better result than a split is possible. As it is, though, that’s what I’ve got. UND 3-2, UMD 4-3.

Broadcast Information

Friday’s opener will be available exclusively on CBS Sports Network, with Saturday’s rematch broadcast live by My9Sports out of Duluth and carried on Midco Sports Network and 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 vs. Colorado College

#12 North Dakota (15-11-1) hosts unranked Colorado College (7-16-3) for a pair of games this weekend at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks. When the teams squared off at brand-new Robson Arena for a mid-December series in Colorado Springs, the Fighting Hawks secured the road sweep with 5-2 and 4-1 victories. Those games dropped the Tigers to 3-10-3 on the season.

UND held the advantage in all phases, outshooting the Tigers 62-54 and winning 72 of 119 faceoffs (60.5%). North Dakota scored three power play goals on nine attempts and held Colorado College to just a single power play goal in ten man-advantage opportunities.

One bright spot for CC is that since that weekend, the Tigers have gone 4-6-0 against Arizona State, Miami, Denver, Omaha, and Western Michigan, much more respectable results for first-year head coach Kris Mayotte. Mayotte replaces Mike Haviland, who went just 74-177-28 (.315) in his seven seasons behind the Tiger bench, with no regular season or postseason titles and zero NCAA tournament appearances. Haviland had something brewing from 2017-2019, with his teams going 32-37-9 (.468). Things fell off over the past two seasons, however (15-37-5, .307), and it was time for a change.

A second bright spot for Colorado College is that Louis Jamernik, Gavin Hain, and Mark Senden are not expected to be in the North Dakota lineup this weekend due to injury; the three linemates combined for five goals and eight points in Colorado Springs back in December.

In their absence, the line of Nick Portz, Carson Albrecht, and Griffin Ness will be called upon to provide tenacity and get things squared away after UND returns to even strength following power play and penalty kill situations.

Colorado College last made the NCAA tournament in 2011 under then-head coach Scott Owens. Owens (1999-2014) and Don Lucia (1993-1999) combined to lead CC to six regular-season titles, twelve NCAA tournament appearances, three Frozen Fours, and one national championship game appearance (1996).

With a new rink and a new coach, there is reason for optimism at Robson Arena. Although Colorado College struggled out of the gate, the squad has played better recently, and the Tigers have been competitive in most games. A winning record would be within reach for CC, but a 1-8 record in one-goal games has them near the bottom of the league standings (7th of 8 teams) and the Pairwise rankings (39th). Kris Mayotte has his team playing well in third periods, outshooting opponents 262-227 while winning the scoreboard battle 27-22.

As I mentioned last week, it will be an uphill climb for UND to catch Denver in this year’s race for the league title despite being only five points behind with eight games to play.

After losing four straight games to open 2022, North Dakota rose to the occasion against St. Cloud State (5 of 6 points) and Omaha (4 of 6 points) over the last two weekends. Those results solidified the Fighting Hawks at #13 in the Pairwise rankings. And yes, some may ask why UND didn’t “move up” in the Pairwise after those results. It’s important to remember that these games don’t exist in a vacuum; every result across the college hockey landscape affects the comparisons, and the only comparisons that truly matter are the ones that take place once the final games are played on Saturday, March 19th. Trust me when I tell you that good results each weekend will help the team’s resume in the long run.

North Dakota’s four January losses (two vs. PWR 25 Cornell, two at PWR 4 Western Michigan) continue to loom large on the national scene. For the moment, UND is being held up by early-season victories over Quinnipiac (5th) Denver (3rd, twice), Minnesota Duluth (8th), Minnesota (9th), and St. Cloud State (10th). In the first half of the season, UND split its series with Quinnipiac, Duluth, Minnesota, and St. Cloud State and lost to Bemidji State (26th) and Penn State (23rd).

Turning our attention to the matchup this weekend, it’s been a jumble in net for the Tigers. Sophomore Dominic Basse (6-11-2, 2.99 GAA, .895 SV%, 1 SO) has played more than two-thirds of the minutes between the pipes, but he’s been outplayed recently by junior Matt Vernon (1-5-1, .264 GAA, .918 SV%, 1 SO). Vernon only started four games during the first half of the season, but he came on in relief both nights of a January home-and-home series against Denver (stopping 36 of 38), and he’s earned three of the last four starts for the Tigers.

Before UND’s December series at Colorado College, fifth-year senior Zach Driscoll had played nearly every meaningful minute between the pipes for North Dakota, going 11-6-0 with a goals-against average of 2.62, a save percentage of .889, and one shutout. Both Driscoll and freshman Jakob Hellsten got a start in Colorado Springs, and each performed admirably (Driscoll made 28 of 30 saves on Friday night, while Hellsten stopped 23 of 24 in the rematch). Each of the netminders also got one start in early January against Cornell, with Driscoll struggling on Friday night (13 saves on 17 shots) before giving way to Hellsten on Saturday (17 saves on 20 shots).

Three weekends ago, Driscoll again got the Friday start at Western Michigan, allowing four goals on 23 shots. Hellsten looked better in the rematch, allowing only a late first-period shorthanded goal while making 24 saves. That allowed Brad Berry to start Hellsten against St. Cloud State, and the freshman played brilliantly on Friday night, allowing just one goal on twenty shots. Saturday was a different story, however, and he was pulled after allowing three goals in the first period. It should be noted, however, that one was a power-play tally and the other two were breakaways – one shorthanded and one just as a penalty expired.

Driscoll righted the ship in that Saturday contest, making 20 of 20 saves as North Dakota clawed back and forced overtime. After a scoreless three-on-three session, Driscoll stopped all four attempts in the shootout as the Fighting Hawks secured the extra league point.

Driscoll was again the goaltender of record in both games last weekend, stopping 26 of 27 in Friday’s 4-1 win and 27 of 30 in Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Kris Mayotte’s squad has just four players who meet that threshold: sophomore forward Logan Will (5-10-15), sophomore forward Matthew Gleason (5-8-13), sophomore forward Hunter McKown (10-5-15), and freshman forward Stanley Cooley (2-11-13).

McKown, who played on the U.S. National Under-17 and Under-18 Teams before coming to Colorado Springs, has come on strong since being held scoreless against North Dakota; the 19-year-old from San Jose, California has seven goals and three assists for ten points in his last ten games. He scored a total of three goals in 43 games with the USNTDP.

By that same offensive metric, Brad Berry will have five players in the lineup this weekend averaging a half point or better per game: sophomore forward Riese Gaber (13-18-31), senior forward Ashton Calder (10-7-17 in 22 games), senior forward Connor Ford (4-17-21), freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (6-9-15), and freshman forward Matteo Costantini (5-10-15 in 23 games).

As mentioned above, senior forward Mark Senden (5-10-15), sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (7-8-15), and senior forward Gavin Hain (6-3-9 in 18 games) are all battling injuries and are not expected to compete this weekend.

Sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (7-17-24 in 21 games) would also appear on this list, but he is currently representing the United States as a member of the men’s Olympic ice hockey team.

With Sanderson out of the lineup, Brad Berry will rely on a trio of blueliners – junior Ethan Frisch (6-5-11), graduate student Chris Jandric (1-8-9), and sophomore Tyler Kleven (4-2-6) – to shoulder the offensive load. Frisch has come on after being added to the top power play unit; the third-year d-man from Moorhead, Minnesota has scored a goal in three of his past four games and has already surpassed his goal-scoring total from his first two seasons at North Dakota (four goals in 55 games).

Without Sanderson (Olympics) or Ferner (injury) on the ice this weekend, the Colorado College Tigers boast the more formidable blue line in terms of offensive production, with sophomore Nicklas Andrews (3-8-11) and senior Bryan Yoon (1-9-10) leading the way. As a unit, Kris Mayotte’s defensemen are averaging 0.30 points per game (9-33-42 in 138 games), while Brad Berry’s crew comes into the weekend at 0.24 points per game (11-21-32 in 133 games).

Last year, North Dakota definitely benefitted from having a number of players stick around for a title run rather than turn pro. And UND’s roster is now feeling the effects of all of those departures happening at once, with fourteen new faces in Green and White this season. Despite bringing in five experienced transfers (forwards Ashton Calder and Connor Ford, defensemen Chris Jandric and Brady Ferner, and goaltender Zach Driscoll), the Fighting Hawks lost their top five scorers (and seven of their top eight) from a season ago: Jordan Kawaguchi, Collin Adams, Shane Pinto, Jasper Weatherby, Matt Kiersted, Grant Mismash, and Jacob Bernard-Docker combined for over 60% of UND’s offense last season (69 of 114 goals and 185 of 308 total points).

In addition to those seven skaters, Brad Berry also lost forwards Jackson Keane and Harrison Blaisdell, defensemen Gabe Bast and Josh Rieger, and goaltenders Adam Scheel and Peter Thome.

Despite losing all of that firepower and scoring depth, North Dakota is still managing 3.15 goals per game; last year, UND scored 3.93 goals/game. A more glaring difference can be found on the defensive side of the puck: after allowing less than two goals per game last year (1.97), the Fighting Hawks are giving up an average of 2.78 per game this season.

Two players in particular are driving the offense for North Dakota: forward Riese Gaber and defenseman Jake Sanderson. The two have combined for 281 shot attempts in 46 games played, more than six each per game. Tyler Kleven is third on the team in shot attempts with 113; no one else on the squad has more than 94.

UND is scoring on 11.3 percent of its shots on goal, a mark good for 12th in the country. Colorado College clocks in at 8.9 percent (43rd).

North Dakota made a living with the puck last season (7th and 5th in two key puck possession statistics), and it started in the faceoff circle. In particular, Shane Pinto, Collin Adams, and Jasper Weatherby had UND at #1 in the nation in faceoff percentage (56.2%); this year, the Green and White struggled early but now land at 54.7%, good for 4th in the nation. Colorado College sits in 51st nationally at 46.3%.

For UND, Connor Ford (61.4% of faceoffs won) takes nearly every important draw, while Jake Schmaltz (51.8%) has improved over the course of his first college season. Louis Jamernik (53.6%) had been a steady third option for Brad Berry; I would expect senior Griffin Ness (41.2%) to handle the load with Jamernik and Senden watching from the stands.

For Colorado College, sophomore Logan Will (51.2%) has spent the most time in the faceoff circle and has had the most success, although freshman Stanley Cooley (45.3%) is not far behind. Junior Noah Prokop (46.3%) and sophomore Jackson Jutting (46.6%) contribute as well.

A disparity in faceoff success often leads to a similar imbalance in puck possession statistics as well, and that’s the case here:

Corsi: UND 52.3% (16th), CC 46.8% (43rd)
Fenwick: UND 52.8% (15th), CC 47.5% (41st)

Corsi measures the percentage of shots taken vs. opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shots taken vs. opponents.

North Dakota’s penalty disparity is becoming problematic, as UND averages nearly a full minor penalty more per game (12.81 – 10.88) in conference play than its opponents. The Fighting Hawks have had 97 man-advantage situations this season but have been shorthanded 114 times. With 22 power play goals scored, 24 power play goals allowed, one shorthanded goal scored, and costly shorthanded goals allowed over the past three weekends, UND’s specialty teams net is at minus-3.

CC is in even worse shape in the penalty department, averaging 13.50 penalty minutes per conference game while seeing their opponents whistled for just 10.44. Overall, however, the Tigers have enjoyed 107 man-advantage situations on the season against 98 shorthanded situations. With 18 power play goals, 25 power play goals against, and three shorthanded goals allowed, Colorado College sits at minus-10.

To this point in the season, here is the complete specialty teams ledger:

Colorado College power play: 18 of 107, 16.8 percent (40th)
Colorado College penalty kill: 73 of 98, 74.5 percent (52nd)

North Dakota power play: 22 of 97, 22.7 percent (14th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 90 of 114, 78.9 percent (37th)

The two teams were initially scheduled to play this series last weekend; the series was rescheduled so that North Dakota could make up its games with Omaha that were postponed due to COVID-19 protocols within the UND hockey team.

According to KRACH, North Dakota has played the 4th-most difficult schedule in all of Division I men’s college hockey to this point in the season; CC’s schedule weighs in at 35th.

After this weekend, the Tigers will host Miami before traveling to St. Cloud State at the end of February. Colorado College and Denver will close out the regular season by playing a home-and-home series on March 4th and 5th.

Over the last three weekends of the regular season, the Fighting Hawks will travel to face the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, host the Western Michigan Broncos, and travel to Omaha to face the Mavericks.

Colorado College Tigers

Head Coach: Kris Mayotte (1st season at CC, 7-16-3, .327)

National Rankings: NR/NR
Pairwise Ranking: 39th

This Season: 7-16-3 overall, 4-11-1 NCHC (7th)
Last Season: 4-17-2 overall, 4-16-2 NCHC (t-7th)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.42 goals scored/game – 44th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 3.08 goals allowed/game – 37th of 59 teams

Power Play: 16.8% (18 of 107) – 40th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 74.5% (73 of 98) – 52nd of 59 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Logan Will (5-10-15), Sophomore F Hunter McKown (10-5-15), Sophomore F Matthew Gleason (5-8-13), Sophomore F Jordan Biro (5-5-10), Freshman F Stanley Cooley (2-11-13), Sophomore F Danny Weight (1-11-12), Sophomore D Nicklas Andrews (3-8-11), Senior D Bryan Yoon (1-9-10), Junior G Matt Vernon (1-5-1, 2.64 GAA, .918 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND, 153-74-25, .657)

National Rankings: #12/#12
Pairwise Ranking: 13th

This Season: 15-11-1 overall, 10-5-1 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCHC Midwest Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.15 goals scored/game – 20th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.78 goals allowed/game – 28th of 59 teams

Power Play: 22.7% (22 of 97) – 14th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.9% (90 of 114) – 37th of 59 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (13-18-31), Senior F Connor Ford (4-17-21), Senior F Ashton Calder (10-7-17), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (6-9-15), Junior F Judd Caulfield (6-5-11), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (5-10-15), Junior D Ethan Frisch (3-4-7), Senior Chris Jandric (1-8-9), sophomore D Tyler Kleven (4-2-6), Senior G Zach Driscoll (13-9-1, 2.57 GAA, .894 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 11, 2021 (Colorado Springs, CO). North Dakota’s first visit to the new Robson Arena ended up being a fruitful one, as the Fighting Hawks followed up a 5-2 victory on Friday night with a 4-1 triumph one night later. UND held the advantage in all phases, outshooting the Tigers 62-54 and winning 72 of 119 faceoffs (60.5%). North Dakota scored three power play goals on nine attempts and held Colorado College to just a single power play goal in ten man-advantage opportunities.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: January 24, 2021. UND’s Shane Pinto scored twice and Adam Scheel pitched a fifteen-save shutout as the Fighting Hawks dispatched Colorado College 5-0. At the 13:44 mark of the third period, North Dakota’s Tyler Kleven and CC’s Hugo Blixt were ejected in a scrum that resulted in 36 minutes of penalties. One night earlier, UND outshot the visitors 40-19 and won the game by a final score of 4-1. The series wrapped up a stretch of four games in 15 days between the teams; UND won all four contests while outshooting the Tigers 119-85, scoring fourteen goals, and allowing just two.

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, 168-84-11 (.660), including a massive advantage of 107-22-7 (.813) in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1948; North Dakota’s 168 wins over the Tigers are the most against any single opponent in program history.

Last Ten: North Dakota has nine wins in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring CC 35-10 over that span. UND has won nine straight against the Tigers, with CC scoring a combined seven goals in those nine games. The Fighting Hawks’ last loss to Colorado College was at CC on March 1, 2019 (1-3).

Game News and Notes

North Dakota head coach Brad Berry is 19-4-1 (.813) in his head coaching career against Colorado College. CC has won two national titles (1950, 1957). Since 1957, the Tigers have appeared in the NCAA tournament thirteen times (most recently in 2011) and advanced to three Frozen Fours (1996, 1997, 2005). Seven UND players expected to be in the lineup this weekend have scored goals in their careers against Colorado College, and netminder Zach Driscoll is 3-0-0 with a goals against average of 2.00 and a save percentage of .920 in his three career starts against CC. The Tigers are 6-6-2 when leading or tied after one period of play but 1-10-1 when trailing.

The Prediction

Despite its depleted lineup, UND needs to follow up solid home weekends against St. Cloud State and Omaha (9 of 12 possible points) with a sweep over Colorado College. I would be more worried about missing the entire forward line of Gavin Hain, Mark Senden, and Louis Jamernik were it not for the emergence of Nick Portz, Carson Albrecht, and Griffin Ness. If first-year defensemen Brent Johnson (twelve career games) and Luke Bast (14) can hold their own in the absence of Jake Sanderson and Brady Ferner, the Fighting Hawks will be just fine. UND 3-2, 5-1.

Broadcast Information

Both games will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and also streamed live in high definition 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 vs. Omaha

#12 North Dakota (14-10-1) and #18 Omaha (16-10-0) will face off for the first time this season with a weekend series set to begin on Friday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks.

Last season, the two teams tangled six times over the course of 36 days in the second half of the season, and familiarity bred contempt. To that point, a line brawl erupted in the final minute of the fourth meeting between the squads, a 7-1 North Dakota home victory which secured the Fighting Hawks’ second consecutive league championship and saw Brad Berry’s squad hoist the #PenneRosa for the fourth time in the eight-year history of the NCHC.

The Saturday melee in Grand Forks started with Omaha sophomore forward Joey Abate slashing UND’s Louis Jamernik on the wrist instead of attempting to win the faceoff. Jamernik responded with a cross-check, and the royal rumble was on. Not surprisingly, Abate did the same thing late in Friday’s game with North Dakota leading 4-1 and less than two minutes on the clock. Fittingly, Abate led the NCAA in penalty minutes last season (63) after compiling 117 penalty minutes in his lone season in the NAHL and 246 in his final two seasons in the USHL.

This season, it’s Abate’s teammate – senior forward Kevin Conley – who leads the nation in sin bin time with 69 minutes.

As I mentioned earlier this week, it will be an uphill climb for UND to catch Denver in this year’s race for the league title despite being only three points (one game) behind with ten games to play.

Despite the aforementioned Maverick ruffians, Omaha was the biggest surprise in the NCHC last season. Of course, I expected them to have good results playing at home in the pod (and they did, posting a record of 6-3-1), but I also expected them to regress in the second half. On the contrary, the Mavs went a combined 7-3 against Colorado College (4-0), Denver (2-2), and North Dakota (1-1) over the first ten games of the “normal travel” portion of the schedule, finished with an overall record of 14-11-1, and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time since their Frozen Four appearance in 2015. UNO ended its season with two consecutive losses; a 5-4 defeat at the hands of Denver in the opening round of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and a 7-2 drubbing by #2 Minnesota in the NCAA West Regional (Loveland, CO). The Gophers would be blanked 4-0 in the regional final by #5 Minnesota State.

Omaha’s 2020-2021 campaign was buoyed by excellent results in close games, including four overtime victories, four wins by one goal in regulation, and a ninth in a shootout. The Mavericks’ two victories over UND last season were a 5-4 win on January 30th and a 3-2 overtime victory on March 5th. North Dakota defeated UNO by scores of 6-2, 4-1, 7-1, and 4-2 for a combined scoring margin of 27-14 over the six-game season series.

Omaha is 5-3 in one-goal games this season; the Fighting Hawks are 4-2.

Turning back the clock a bit more: 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 three 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 the following year, as the 2019-20 version of the Mavs collected fourteen victories (14-17-5).

And after a 14-11-1 campaign and an NCAA tourney berth last season, Gabinet’s squad has already collected 16 victories this season. Despite the winning record, Omaha finds itself in 19th place in the all-important Pairwise rankings. The Mavericks fared well out-of-conference (10-2-0) but only have six wins in conference play (6-8-0). In particular, a November loss to Miami and two losses to Colorado College – along with non-conference splits with Lake Superior and St. Lawrene – have UNO currently on the outside of the NCAA tournament field.

After losing four straight games to open 2022, North Dakota rose to the occasion against St. Cloud State last weekend, securing five of six possible league points and solidifying itself at #13 in the Pairwise rankings. And yes, some may ask why UND didn’t “move up” in the Pairwise after last weekend. It’s important to remember that these games don’t exist in a vacuum; every result across the college hockey landscape affects the comparisons, and the only comparisons that truly matter are the ones that take place once the final games are played on Saturday, March 19th. Trust me when I tell you that last weekend’s 7-1 victory and shootout win over the Huskies will help the team’s resume in the long run.

North Dakota’s four January losses (two vs. PWR 22 Cornell, two at PWR 4 Western Michigan) continue to loom large on the national scene. For the moment, UND is being held up by early-season victories over Quinnipiac (6th) Denver (3rd, twice), Minnesota Duluth (9th), Minnesota (11th), and St. Cloud State (5th). In the first half of the season, UND split its series with Quinnipiac, Duluth, Minnesota, and St. Cloud State and lost to Bemidji State (27th) and Penn State (23rd).

Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, junior netminder Isaiah Saville (12-9-0, 2.37 GAA, .908 SV%, 4 SO) has been spectacular in net for the Mavs. Fellow third-year netminder Austin Roden has appeared in six games (4-1-0. 2.05 GAA, .933 SV%). Roden made a third-period relief appearance on Friday, November 12th at St. Cloud State, started the following night, and made 43 of 45 saves in a 3-2 overtime victory over the Huskies. Since that time, however, Roden has only squared off against one other NCHC opponent, stopping 28 of 31 in a home loss to Colorado College on December 4th. It appears to be Saville’s net for the foreseeable future.

Before UND’s December series at Colorado College, fifth-year senior Zach Driscoll had played nearly every meaningful minute between the pipes for North Dakota, going 11-6-0 with a goals-against average of 2.62, a save percentage of .889, and one shutout. Both Driscoll and freshman Jakob Hellsten got a start in Colorado Springs, and each performed admirably (Driscoll made 28 of 30 saves on Friday night, while Hellsten stopped 23 of 24 in the rematch). Each of the netminders also got one start in early January against Cornell, with Driscoll struggling on Friday night (13 saves on 17 shots) before giving way to Hellsten on Saturday (17 saves on 20 shots).

Two weekends ago, Driscoll again got the Friday start at Western Michigan, allowing four goals on 23 shots. Hellsten looked better in the rematch, allowing only a late first-period shorthanded goal while making 24 saves.

I correctly predicted before the St. Cloud State series that despite the recent trend of Driscoll on Friday nights and Hellsten on Saturday nights, Brad Berry would go with the freshman in net against the Huskies. Hellsten made 19 of 20 stops in the 7-1 boatrace of SCSU and earned the start the following night. In North Dakota’s worst period of the weekend, Hellsten allowed three goals on ten shots, including a power play goal, a breakaway straight out of the penalty box, and a shorthanded breakaway.

Driscoll came on at the start of the second period in a game which North Dakota had to have, and he responded, making all twenty saves and allowing his team to come back from a 3-1 deficit. After a scoreless overtime session, Driscoll made all four shootout saves to secure the extra league point for the Fighting Hawks.

This time around, I would guess that Driscoll will get the Friday night start, but last weekend showed that there is some healthy competition for the crease.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Mike Gabinet’s squad has seven active players who meet that threshold, including two first-year forwards: Cameron Berg (7-7-14) and Ty Mueller (4-3-7 in 14 games). Others chipping in offensively include senior forward Taylor Ward (15-12-27), senior forward Brandon McManus (7-14-21), senior forward Taylor Weiss (7-15-22), senior forward Chase Primeau (7-9-16), and junior defenseman Brandon Scanlin (2-20-22).

By that same offensive metric, Brad Berry will also have seven players in the lineup this weekend averaging a half point or better per game: sophomore forward Riese Gaber (11-15-26), senior forward Ashton Calder (10-7-17 in 20 games), senior forward Connor Ford (4-15-19), freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (6-9-15), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (5-10-15 in 20 games), senior forward Mark Senden (4-9-13), and sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (7-7-14).

Sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (7-17-24 in 21 games) would also appear on this list, but he is currently awaiting travel to Beijing, China to represent the United States as a member of the men’s Olympic ice hockey team.

With Sanderson out of the lineup, Brad Berry will rely on a trio of blueliners – junior Ethan Frisch (5-5-10), graduate student Chris Jandric (1-7-8), and sophomore Tyler Kleven (4-2-6) – to shoulder the offensive load. Frisch has come on after being added to the top power play unit; the third-year d-man from Moorhead, Minnesota scored a goal each night last weekend and has now surpassed his goal-scoring total from his first two seasons at North Dakota (four goals in 55 games).

Senior forward Gavin Hain (6-3-9 in 18 games) also meets that threshold but will be out of the lineup for the next couple of weeks after suffering a lower-body injury against Cornell.

Last year, North Dakota definitely benefitted from having a number of players stick around for a title run rather than turn pro. And UND’s roster is now feeling the effects of all of those departures happening at once, with fourteen new faces in Green and White this season. Despite bringing in five experienced transfers (forwards Ashton Calder and Connor Ford, defensemen Chris Jandric and Brady Ferner, and goaltender Zach Driscoll), the Fighting Hawks lost their top five scorers (and seven of their top eight) from a season ago: Jordan Kawaguchi, Collin Adams, Shane Pinto, Jasper Weatherby, Matt Kiersted, Grant Mismash, and Jacob Bernard-Docker combined for over 60% of UND’s offense last season (69 of 114 goals and 185 of 308 total points).

In addition to those seven skaters, Brad Berry also lost forwards Jackson Keane and Harrison Blaisdell, defensemen Gabe Bast and Josh Rieger, and goaltenders Adam Scheel and Peter Thome.

Despite losing all of that firepower and scoring depth, North Dakota is still managing three goals per game; last year, UND scored 3.16 goals/game. A more glaring difference can be found on the defensive side of the puck: after allowing less than two goals per game last year (1.97), the Fighting Hawks are giving up an average of 2.84 per game this season.

Two players in particular are driving the offense for North Dakota: forward Riese Gaber and defenseman Jake Sanderson. The two have combined for 266 shot attempts in 44 games played, more than six each per game. Tyler Kleven is third on the team in shot attempts with 103; no one else on the squad has more than 88.

UND is scoring on 11.3 percent of its shots on goal, a mark good for 11th in the country. Omaha clocks in at 11.0 percent (15th).

North Dakota made a living with the puck last season (7th and 5th in two key puck possession statistics), and it started in the faceoff circle. In particular, Shane Pinto, Collin Adams, and Jasper Weatherby had UND at #1 in the nation in faceoff percentage (56.2%); this year, the Green and White struggled early but now land at 54.4%, good for 6th in the nation. Omaha sits in 12th nationally at 52.1%.

For UND, Connor Ford (60.6% of faceoffs won) takes nearly every important draw, while Jake Schmaltz (52.8%) has improved over the course of his first college season. Louis Jamernik (52.1%) has been a steady third option for Brad Berry.

For the Mavericks, it’s junior Nolan Sullivan (60.5%) and senior Chayse Primeau (49.3%) leading the way, with freshman Cameron Berg (54.9%) chipping in as well.

With both squads faring extremely well on draws, it is no surprise that each team finds itself in the upper third nationally in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi: UND 52.6% (16th), Omaha 51.3% (22nd)
Fenwick: UND 53.3% (15th), Omaha 51.7% (22nd)

Corsi measures the percentage of shots taken vs. opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shots taken vs. opponents.

North Dakota’s penalty disparity is becoming problematic, as UND averages more than a full minor penalty more per game (13.36 – 11.57) in conference play than its opponents. The Fighting Hawks have had 91 man-advantage situations this season but have been shorthanded 105 times. With 20 power play goals scored, 22 power play goals allowed, one shorthanded goal scored, and costly shorthanded goals allowed each of the last two weekends, UND’s specialty teams net is at minus-3.

Omaha is in better shape in the penalty department, averaging just 14.08 penalty minutes per conference game while seeing their opponents whistled for 15.35. This has led to 135 man-advantage situations on the season against 133 shorthanded situations for the Mavericks. With 31 power play goals, twenty power play goals against, and an 3-2 advantage in shorthanded goals, UNO sits at +12.

To this point in the season, here is the complete specialty teams ledger:

Omaha power play: 31 of 135, 23.0 percent (14th)
Omaha penalty kill: 113 of 133, 85.0 percent (21st)

North Dakota power play: 20 of 91, 22.0 percent (15th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 83 of 105, 79.0 percent (44th)

The two teams were initially scheduled to play this series on January 14th and 15th; the series was rescheduled due to COVID-19 protocols within the UND hockey team.

According to KRACH, North Dakota has played the 4th-most difficult schedule in all of Division I men’s college hockey to this point in the season; Omaha’s schedule weighs in at 25th.

After this weekend, Omaha will travel to face the Miami RedHawks before ending the regular season with three straight home series: vs. St. Cloud State, vs. Denver, and vs. North Dakota.

UND will host Colorado College next weekend before traveling to face the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs. Before the rematch series at Omaha on March 4th and 5th, the Fighting Hawks will host the Western Michigan Broncos in a series that may well determine which team claims the Penrose Cup.

Omaha Mavericks

Head Coach: Mike Gabinet (5th season at UNO, 70-79-11, .472)

National Rankings: #18
Pairwise Ranking: 18th

This Season: 16-10-0 overall, 5-8-1 NCHC (6th)
Last Season: 14-11-1 overall (NCAA West Regional semifinalist), 10-9-5 NCHC (4th)

Team Offense: 2.93 goals scored/game – 28th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.19 goals allowed/game – 10th of 59 teams

Power Play: 23.0% (31 of 135) – 14th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 85.0% (113 of 133) – 21st of 59 teams

Key Players: Senior F Taylor Ward (15-12-27), Senior F Brandon McManus (7-14-21), Senior F Taylor Weiss (7-15-22), Senior F Chase Primeau (7-9-16), Freshman F Cameron Berg (7-7-14), Freshman F Ty Mueller (4-3-7 in 14 games), Junior D Brandon Scanlin (2-20-22), Junior G Isaiah Saville (12-9-0, 2.37 GAA, .908 SV%, 4 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND, 152-73-25, .658)

National Rankings: #12/#11
Pairwise Ranking: 13th

This Season: 14-10-1 overall, 9-4-1 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCAA Midwest Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.16 goals scored/game – 18th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.84 goals allowed/game – 29th of 59 teams

Power Play: 22.0% (20 of 91) – 15th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 79.0% (83 of 105) – 44th of 59 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (11-15-26), Senior F Connor Ford (4-15-19), Senior F Ashton Calder (10-7-17 in 20 games), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (6-9-15), Junior F Judd Caulfield (4-5-9), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (5-10-15 in 20 games), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (7-7-14), Senior F Mark Senden (4-9-13), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (7-17-24 in 21 games), Junior D Ethan Frisch (5-5-10), Senior G Zach Driscoll (12-8-1, 2.63 GAA, .889 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers:

Last meeting: March 5, 2021 (Grand Forks, ND). Omaha scored two power play goals on three chances – including the game-winner in overtime – and held UND scoreless on five man-advantage opportunities in securing a 3-2 road victory over #1 North Dakota. The Fighting Hawk’s Jordan Kawaguchi knotted the game at two just fifteen second into the third period. UND outshot the Mavericks 28-20.

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 six of the last ten contests between the schools, outscoring the Mavericks 40-25 over that stretch.

All-time: UND leads the all-time series 28-15-1 (.648), including a 14-8-1 (.630) record in games played in Grand Forks. North Dakota owns a record of 23-12-1 (.653) 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. North Dakota’s Brad Berry is 19-9-0 (.679) in his head coaching career against Omaha. In the last 17 contests in this series, the winning team is the one which scores the first goal.

The Prediction

Omaha has had particular struggles with series openers in the NCHC; the Mavericks have just one win on night one (1-6) and much better results after regrouping and looking at the film (5-2 in league rematches). If North Dakota can adjust to the absence of Jake Sanderson and win the specialty teams battle, good results will follow. I’ve got a feeling that UND is hitting its stride at just the right time, but the Mavericks won’t go down without a fight. UND 3-2, 3-3 (OT).

Broadcast Information

Both games will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and also available via livestream 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!

Down The Home Stretch: Who Will Win the 2022 Penrose Cup?

In the eight completed seasons of the NCHC, only three teams have ever won the Penrose Cup as league champions: North Dakota (2015, 2016, 2020, 2021), St. Cloud State (2014, 2018, 2019), and Denver (2017).

Minnesota Duluth has to be considered the fourth team of the “Big Four”, with second- or third-place finishes in each of the past five seasons. Here is the average finish for each of the eight conference opponents:

North Dakota: 2.375
St. Cloud State: 2.875
Minnesota Duluth: 3.125
Denver: 3.500
Omaha: 5.000
Western Michigan: 5.125
Miami: 6.625
Colorado College: 7.375

And here are the complete results for each season (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.):

2021: UND, SCSU, UMD, UNO, DU, WMU, CC, MIA
2020: UND, UMD, DU, WMU, SCSU, UNO, MIA, CC
2019: SCSU, UMD, WMU, DU, UND, CC, UNO, MIA
2018: SCSU, DU, UMD, UND, UNO, WMU, CC, MIA
2017: DU, UMD, WMU, UND, SCSU, UNO, MIA, CC
2016: UND, SCSU, DU, UMD, MIA, UNO, WMU, CC
2015: UND, MIA, UNO, DU, UMD, SCSU, WMU, CC
2014: SCSU, UND, UNO, UMD, WMU, DU, CC, MIA

This season, Denver appears to be in the driver’s seat for their second regular season league title, with a three-point lead over North Dakota, a six-point lead over Western Michigan, and a seven-point lead over Minnesota Duluth.

Here are the current standings with five weeks to play in the regular season (most teams have ten games remaining, while St. Cloud State has twelve and Miami has just eight):

1. Denver (32 points in 14 games played)
2. North Dakota (29 in 14)
3. Western Michigan (26 in 14)
4. Minnesota Duluth (25 in 14)
5. St. Cloud State (19 in 12)
6. Omaha (17 in 14)
7. Colorado College (14 in 14)
8. Miami (6 in 16)

Our eyes turn next to the remaining schedule for each team; St. Cloud State has two Tuesday games in addition to Friday/Saturday contests on five consecutive weekends.

1. Denver: vs. SCSU, vs. UMD, @ WMU, @ UNO, @/vs. CC

2. North Dakota: vs. UNO, vs. CC, @ UMD, vs. WMU, @ UNO

3. Western Michigan: @ CC, @ SCSU, vs. DU, @ UND, vs. MIA

4. Minnesota Duluth: BYE, @ SCSU (Tues.), @ DU, vs. UND, @SCSU (Tues.), at MIA, vs. SCSU

5. St. Cloud State: @ DU, vs. UMD (Tues.), vs. WMU, @ UNO, vs. UMD (Tues.), vs. CC, @ UMD

6. Omaha: @ UND, @ MIA, vs. SCSU, vs. DU, vs. UND

7. Colorado College: vs. WMU, @ UND, vs. MIA, @ SCSU, vs./@ DU

8. Miami: BYE, vs. UNO, @ CC, vs. UMD, @ WMU

If only there were a way to directly compare teams and derive a likely result from each game (worth three points) or series (worth six points). And thankfully, there is. KRACH is the most logical system for both ranking and comparing teams, and it gives us a way to predict how the league race will shake out in the NCHC.

Not only does KRACH do a better job of objectively ranking teams, it assigns a rating to each team. If Team A has a rating of 900.0 and Team B has a rating of 100.0, Team A will win nine out of ten games between the teams. Or, in the case of a weekend series, we could surmise that Team A will take 90 percent of the league points available, for an average result of 5.4 out of 6 possible points.

Despite the fact that Denver is at the top of the league standings, Western Michigan is the highest-rated team according to KRACH. Using the following ratings along with the schedule of remaining games listed above, we can run all of the numbers and predict the league race.

Here are the ratings:

KRACH #3 Western Michigan: 673.7
KRACH #5 Denver: 437.1
KRACH #6 St. Cloud State: 411.9
KRACH #8 Minnesota Duluth: 349.2
KRACH #10 North Dakota: 327.6
KRACH #17 Omaha: 164.1
KRACH #34 Colorado College: 79.2
KRACH #48 Miami: 38.2

Running the numbers, here are the average number of points that each team will end up with over the final five weeks of the regular season, along with their predicted order of finish:

1. Denver: 50.53 league points
2. Western Michigan: 47.37
3. North Dakota: 46.98
4. Minnesota Duluth: 41.67
5. St. Cloud State: 40.30
6. Omaha: 29.22
7. Colorado College: 21.86
8. Miami: 10.07

As you might have already noticed, the two most compelling races to watch are between Western Michigan and North Dakota for 2nd place and between Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State for the final home-ice spot in the league playoffs. UND and WMU will square off in Grand Forks on February 25th and 26th, while the Bulldogs and Huskies will drop the puck four times (single games on February 8th and 22nd plus a series to end the regular season on March 4th & 5th.

As with the stock market, past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results, but this method does give us some insight into what to expect and which games will have more of an impact on playoff seeding in the most competitive league in the country. The other unknowns, of course, are which teams stay healthy and get better goaltending in games that will certainly tighten up as the playoffs approach.

Depending on interest, I may revisit this on a weekly basis throughout the month of February, noting which teams outperform or underperform their expectation each weekend.

So now it’s your turn. Do any of these ratings or results surprise you? What do you expect down the home stretch? How would you predict the final standings? Please feel free to comment below!

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

North Dakota vs. Minnesota: A Hockey Rivalry Unlike Any Other

Which team do you consider North Dakota’s biggest rival?

I have Minnesota at the top of my list, along with Boston College, Boston University, Denver, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Combined, North Dakota and these six rivals have won 46 national titles, while all of the other college hockey teams in existence have won just 27.

And what makes some rivalries so intense? For some of the above-mentioned schools, it’s conference affiliation. Wisconsin joined the WCHA in 1969 and was a part of some of the most intense extra-curricular activities in UND hockey history – the pre-game brawl, the water bottle incident, and the line brawl in Madison.

Denver and UND have been in the same conference since 1951, and the two schools have been battling it out for league titles ever since (DU has 12, North Dakota, 19). Minnesota could make that same claim until the Gophers bolted for the Big Ten (along with UW), creating a scheduling void that few wanted to see (but more on that later). For the Pioneers, the Badgers, the Gophers, and the team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux, familiarity bred contempt.

But why else? Why are Boston College, Boston University, and Michigan on my list? And why has Denver become such a bitter feud while Wisconsin has cooled a bit? It all boils down to tournament time.

Since 1997, UND has met 23 different teams in NCAA tournament action, and of those twenty-three, ten have at one time or another ended North Dakota’s season. The Fighting Sioux avenged a loss to Michigan in 1998 with playoff wins in 2006, 2007, and 2016, but the Wolverines took out one of the most talented North Dakota teams in recent memory at the 2011 Frozen Four in St. Paul. Denver had UND’s number at one point, defeating the Sioux in 2004 and 2005, although the boys from Grand Forks got some revenge in 2011 and again on their 2016 championship run.

Ferris State bounced North Dakota from the 2003 tournament, but the 2014 double overtime regional final in Cincinnati evened the score. Yale twice ended UND’s season (2010 and 2013), and the 2009 overtime loss to New Hampshire was especially heartbreaking, as North Dakota led that game with three seconds remaining in regulation. UND took out Boston University in the 1997 national title game and again in the 2005 tournament, but the Terriers bested UND in the 2015 Frozen Four semis and outlasted North Dakota in the 2017 West Regional (Fargo, ND).

The seven tournament games between Boston College and UND (1999, 2000, 2001, and 2005-2008) are well-documented, with the Eagles holding a commanding 5-2 edge in those contests. North Dakota won its seventh national title with a victory over BC in 2000, and Dave Hakstol earned his only postseason victory over Jerry York in the 2005 East Region final (Worcester, MA).

And last season, conference foe Minnesota Duluth outlasted North Dakota in a five-overtime thriller with a Frozen Four appearance on the line.

Other teams UND has defeated in the NCAAs during that same span include Cornell (1997), Colorado College (1997, 2001), Niagara (2000, 2013), Maine (2000), Michigan State (2001), Holy Cross (2004, 2006), Princeton (2008), Renssalaer (2011), Western Michigan (2012), Northeastern (2016), St. Cloud State (2015), Quinnipiac (2015, 2016), and American International (2021). These rivalries are not as intense as the schools listed above, and it is my opinion that it is because these schools have not ended UND’s season on the biggest stage that they are not regarded as such.

In other words, postseason games against Boston College, Boston University, Denver, and Michigan seem to generate more interest because there is more postseason history, with victories on both sides of the ledger to keep things interesting. Of the others mentioned, Yale and Ferris State have some chance of becoming bigger rivalries down the road, provided the teams continue to meet in the NCAAs. If UND were to meet a conference foe such as Minnesota Duluth (again) or St. Cloud State (for the first time) on the national stage, those games would generate quite a bit of interest as well.

Up until 2008, Wisconsin and North Dakota had not met in the national tournament since the 1982 title game (a UND victory). The Green and White downed the Badgers in the 2008 regional final (Madison, WI) and in the opening round of the 2014 NCAA tournament.

And that leaves us with Minnesota. The 1979 title game between North Dakota and Minnesota, which Minnesota won 4-3, would set off a 25 year span (1980-2004) during which the two schools would not meet in the NCAA tournament. That’s astounding. During that time, Minnesota advanced to the national tournament 20 times (winning titles in 2002 and 2003), and North Dakota advanced to the national tournament 12 times (winning titles in 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, and 2000), and yet they never played each other.

North Dakota has somewhat atoned for the 1979 title game loss with NCAA victories over Minnesota in 2005 and 2007. The Gophers returned the favor twice in a three-year span, bouncing UND from the 2012 national tournament with a 5-2 victory in the West Regional final in St. Paul and again with less than one second remaining in the 2014 national semifinal.

With four NCAA tournament tilts since 2005, the rivalry has certainly gone to a new level. But the question remains: why, for those 25 years, did the two fan bases continue to circle Sioux/Gopher weekend on their calendars? What was it about these two programs that caused every regular season matchup to feel like a playoff game and every WCHA Final Five tilt to feel like the Super Bowl? And that’s saying nothing about my heart rate during overtime of the 2007 West Regional Final or the 2005 Frozen Four Semifinal.

There are a few schools of thought about why the games between UND and Minnesota are so contentious. The teams recruit many of the same players, and some of that spills over onto the ice. Crowds are at fever pitch before the puck is dropped, and to some extent both teams try to live up to what they think the fans want.

Another way to compare rivalries is to list players and coaches from each team under consideration. In other words, I have no doubt that fans of North Dakota hockey can name head coaches Jerry York (Boston College) and Red Berenson (Michigan). How many other coaches come to mind? Mike Eaves (Wisconsin)? George Gwozdecky of Denver (before he left/was shown the door)?

Which other coaches come to mind?

The ability to name coaches from years past is definitely a measure of how long a school has been a bitter rival. Without looking, I could name former Minnesota coaches Doug Woog, Brad Beutow, Herb Brooks, and Don Lucia. And I’m certain that Gopher fans can easily remember Dean Blais, Gino Gasparini, and Dave Hakstol. The more important the rivalry, the more we pay attention.

Think of all of the goaltenders from years past who have stolen victories or let pucks in from 180 feet: Adam Hauser, Steve DeBus, Alex Kangas, Kellen Briggs, Jeff Frazee, Kent Patterson, and Adam Wilcox. Players who have scored big goals against North Dakota in important games: Brian Bonin, Johnny Pohl, Jordan Leopold, Thomas Vanek, Grant and Ryan Potulny, Phil Kessel, Blake Wheeler, Jacob Cepis, Erik Haula, and Justin Holl.

And it’s important to remember that this works both ways. Fan of the Maroon and Gold still remember which two UND players crushed Kevin Wehrs into the same corner of Ralph Engelstad Arena (Matt Frattin and Brad Malone). Or how much it stung when Zach Parise chose North Dakota. The handshake lines, jersey pulls, more handshake lines, incredible goals, and crucial timeouts become a part of the story, and each game writes a new chapter.

After resuming the rivalry in Las Vegas in 2018 (a 3-1 North Dakota victory), the two schools continued the rivalry the following season over Thanksgiving weekend at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis. The two games felt like a home series for UND, and the Fighting Hawks gave their fans much to be thankful for with a sweep of the Gophers (8-3, 3-2). #6/#5 North Dakota (9-4-0, 5-1-0 NCHC) will host #11/#12 Minnesota (8-6-0, 5-3-0 Big Ten) for a pair of games at Ralph Engelstad Arena this weekend, and the teams are also scheduled to meet in non-conference action in each of the next two seasons (through 2022-23).

This schedule agreement is good for the fans, it’s good for each program, and it’s good for the sport.

It’s also good for the players. It is my opinion that every four-year player at North Dakota and Minnesota should have the experience of playing in this rivalry, both home and away.

Over the years, I have asked the Twitterverse about this rivalry; here are some of the responses:

@AlexBerger_:

2012 Final Five Semifinal UND 6 – Minnesota 3. I was 11 years old, but I vividly remember Corban Knight scoring the 5th goal on the PP and hearing my Grandma yell from the other room “They scored again?!?!?”

@goon48:

The Handshake Game Finley and Wheeler.

@nhaug1129:

Wehrs getting blown up, both times! Also, Bina scoring from 185 feet away.

@SchaumannTanya:

I remember a series back in ‘96 when UND had cancelled classes on Friday due to the extreme cold. Goofs came in with a 19-game unbeaten streak. The Sioux crowd was raucous. Students started chanting, “Warm up DeBus!” when MN’s starting goalie was getting throttled. UND won 8-2.

@uptownjesusRS:

The ‘timeout’ game.

@zambonijabroni:

Bina’s bouncing puck for a goal

Trupp’s baseball swing OT winner

Porter’s wrap-around OT winner

I’ve got UND winning Friday’s opener by a final score of 4-2, with the Gophers managing a 3-3 tie in Saturday’s rematch. What do you think? I’d like to hear your thoughts. Your stories. Your memories of the Sioux/Gopher rivalry. Please leave comments about your favorite games and ones you’d like to forget. It’s your turn. It’s your time. It’s North Dakota and Minnesota on the ice again. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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!

NCAA Midwest Regional Final Preview: UND vs. Minnesota Duluth

In tonight’s 2021 NCAA Midwest Region final (Fargo, ND), top overall seed North Dakota (22-5-1) will square off against #3 seed Minnesota Duluth (14-10-2), which advanced over Michigan in a “no contest” due to a positive COVID-19 test in the Wolverines’ hockey program.

Earlier this week, Notre Dame withdrew from the NCAAs, advancing Boston College to its regional final.

Duluth has won the past two national titles (2018, 2019) and three in the past ten seasons. UMD claimed the 2011 championship with an overtime victory over those same Michigan Wolverines.

One of these two longtime rivals will advance to the 2021 NCAA Frozen Four in Pittsburgh, PA. This means that the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) will be represented on college hockey’s biggest stage for the seventh consecutive tourney (every season that the league has existed).

Here are the NCHC teams to appear in the Frozen Four since the NCHC began play in 2013-2014:

2014: North Dakota
2015: North Dakota, Omaha
2016: North Dakota (champion), Denver
2017: Denver (champion), Minnesota Duluth
2018: Minnesota Duluth (champion)
2019: Minnesota Duluth (champion), Denver

Omaha and St. Cloud State also have a chance to make it through to Pittsburgh; the Mavericks will face the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the first round of the West Regional (Loveland, CO) later tonight, while the SCSU Huskies and Boston University Terriers will square off in the opening game of the Northeast Regional (Albany, NY).

Another possibility is that four teams from Minnesota advance to the Frozen Four; all five current Division 1 men’s programs from the state of hockey are among the eleven teams still alive for the national title:

Northeast Regional semifinal:
St. Cloud State vs. Boston University (winner plays BC)

West Regional semifinals:
Minnesota vs. Omaha
Minnesota State vs. Quinnipiac

East Regional final:
Bemidji State vs. UMass

Midwest Regional final:
Minnesota Duluth vs. North Dakota

Minnesota will add a sixth team to that mix next season: St. John’s University (Collegeville, MN, about 20 miles west of St. Cloud) has competed at the Division III level (Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) since 1920. There is no Division II in the men’s college hockey landscape.

It has not been a great week for the Big Ten, and I’m not even talking about basketball. Notre Dame and Michigan had to exit the tournament due to COVID-19, and #1-seed Wisconsin dropped its first game of the tournament to Bemidji State (WCHA) by a final score of 6-3. Minnesota is the only team remaining in the NCAA tournament from the conference that ruined college hockey as we knew it.

With a 5-1 victory over Lake Superior State, UMass now owns the best winning percentage in Division I men’s college hockey tournament history at .714. That stat is a bit misleading, though, as the Minutemen have only played seven NCAA tourney games and have gone 5-2.

Incidentally, Duluth defeated UMass 3-0 for the 2018 NCAA title.

Among teams with more than three appearances in the NCAAs, Minnesota Duluth holds the best winning percentage (27-12, .692), with North Dakota right behind at .671 (53-26). Amazingly, the team that had to vacate the tournament – Michigan – is in third place at .639 (53-30).

The only team with more NCAA tournament victories than UND is Minnesota (55-38, .591).

The Bulldogs played ten games at the Division I level in the early 1930s but didn’t really get started until after World War II. Its first 19 seasons after the war were played as an independent before joining the WCHA in 1965. It would take 18 seasons – and a head coach named Mike Sertich – before UMD would make the NCAA tournament, and Sertich would take them there in three consecutive seasons:

1982-1983: National Quarterfinalist
1983-1984: 2nd Place (National Runner-Up)
1984-1985: 3rd Place (Consolation Champion)

In 1984, Duluth was tantalizingly close to winning its first title. The Bulldogs defeated North Dakota 2-1 in overtime (behind a goal by Bill Watson) to advance to the championship game, where they would face Bowling Green in the longest NCAA final in Division I men’s hockey history. Gino Cavallini scored for the Falcons in the fourth overtime session, ending a game that took over 97 minutes of game action to complete.

And, perhaps, fittingly, UMD would find themselves locked in overtime contests in 1985 as well. The Bulldogs took RPI to three overtimes in the national semis before falling 6-5. Back in those days, there was still a third-place game, and so Duluth faced Boston College (which had also played three overtimes in its semifinal) for no reason at all. Of course, that game also went to overtime, with UMD defeating the Eagles 7-6.

After that three-year splash on the national scene, Mike Sertich would manage just one more tournament appearance (1993) over the final fifteen years of his head coaching career before giving way to Scott Sandelin, who has guided the Bulldogs to the NCAAs ten times in his 21 seasons behind the Bulldog bench.

Even though UMD has been a more frequent participant over the past two decades than at any other point in team history, Duluth and North Dakota have not met in the national tournament since 1984. UND had a chance to meet the Bulldogs in the 2011 title game but fell to the Wolverines in the semifinals 2-0 (with an empty-net goal) despite outshooting Michigan 40-20.

Before the Wolverines were forced to withdraw, UMD and Michigan were set to square off in the national tournament for the first time since that overtime thriller in St. Paul.

With three national titles in a nine-year stretch, the Bulldogs could certainly be considered the best team of the 2010s; North Dakota’s eight national titles have been spread out across the decades: 1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000, and 2016.

The Wolverines have won nine NCAA titles but only two since 1964, those coming in 1996 and 1998. For that reason, I consider North Dakota (eight titles) and Denver (eight titles) the two best programs in NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey history.

With Michigan out of the tournament and Denver not in it to begin with, North Dakota has a chance to become the best college hockey program of all time with three more victories in the NCAAs.

Of the teams remaining in the tournament, Boston College (5 titles), Boston University (5), and Minnesota (5) can add to their impressive resumes. The other six teams in the field – Bemidji State, Massachusetts, Minnesota State, Omaha, Quinnipiac, and St. Cloud State – are all seeking their first national championship.

It is an interesting question whether UND benefits from getting a tournament game under its belt or whether Minnesota Duluth benefits from the rest. Given the fact that the Fighting Hawks were able to stay healthy and roll four lines, one could make the argument either way.

For me, it’s about more than just yesterday. Let’s take a closer look at the last seven weeks of the season….

Both teams played a full weekend of hockey back on February 12th and 13th. UND completed a home sweep of Denver that weekend (3-0, 5-2). The Bulldogs traveled to Kalamazoo, Michigan to take on WMU and lost both games (0-4, 1-4).

Since then, North Dakota has played eight games, going 7-1-0. Duluth has only played five games over that stretch, going 2-3-0.

The Fighting Hawks’ only loss in its last ten games was a 3-2 overtime defeat at the hands of the Omaha Mavericks.

One of UND’s “extra” games was due to some shuffling at the end of the regular season. Another was the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game against St. Cloud State, who had defeated Minnesota Duluth in the league playoff semifinals (there was no consolation game). And the third was last night’s 5-1 victory over American International.

Playing yesterday was also an advantage for the Fighting Hawks because no one on the current roster had ever appeared in an NCAA tournament game. The team must feel more comfortable heading into a rivalry game against a conference opponent with the “first one” out of the way.

Prior to the 2017-2018 campaign, North Dakota had made the national tournament in fifteen straight seasons (2003-2017).

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).

As another sign that Berry has righted the ship, UND is now 48-10-5 (.802) over the past two seasons.

North Dakota brought the top scoring offense in the country (3.96 goals scored/game) into yesterday’s contest and bettered that mark in the first period, potting four goals in under eight minutes in the opening frame. UND would add a late goal to bring its offensive production up to an even 4.00 goals scored per game this season (112 goals in 28 games).

Duluth checks in at a shade over three goals per game, good for 21st in the country overall and better than only Bemidji State among the eleven teams still alive in the tournament:

1. North Dakota (4.00)
2. Boston College (3.91)
3. Minnesota (3.79)
4. Minnesota State (3.52)
5. Massachusetts (3.50)
6. Quinnipiac (3.46)
7. Boston University (3.33)
8. Omaha (3.32)
9. St. Cloud State (3.19)
10. Minnesota Duluth (3.04)
11. Bemidji State (2.93)

UMD finds themselves in a bit better shape on the defensive side of things, landing squarely in the middle of the tournament field; North Dakota lowered its average goals allowed by giving up just a single goal last night:

1. Minnesota State (1.52)
2. Massachusetts (1.77)
3. North Dakota (1.93)
4. Quinnipiac (1.96)
5. Minnesota (2.00)
6. Boston College (2.35)
6. Minnesota Duluth (2.35)
8. Bemidji State (2.36)
9. Boston University (2.60)
10. St. Cloud State (2.67)
11. Omaha (2.96)

Including yesterday’s opening round win, North Dakota has a record of 8-3-1 against this season’s tournament field (AIC, Minnesota Duluth, Omaha, and St. Cloud State) and also went 5-2 against Denver, a team squarely on the bubble for the NCAAs before the field was announced on Sunday evening.

UMD sports an overall record of 3-6-2 against North Dakota, Omaha, and St. Cloud State but did defeat Denver twice in the Omaha pod back in December. Five of the Bulldogs’ six losses to tournament teams came at the hands of the Huskies (2-5-0).

Duluth and UND played to a 2-2 tie back on December 10th, with the Fighting Hawks claiming a 2-1 victory in the rematch nine days later. UMD had tied the game at one less than eight minutes into the third period before Grant Mismash buried his fourth goal of the pod for the game-winner with 48 seconds remaining in regulation.

The Bulldogs outshot North Dakota in both contests (32-28 and 24-19), although UND had the edge on specialty teams, with a power play goal in each game and seven successful penalty kills. It is worth noting that the Fighting Hawks were without the services of freshman defensemen Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven in both matchups against UMD, as the pair were competing for – and winning – gold at the 2021 World Junior Championships.

Scheels Arena can be considered familiar territory for North Dakota, as this is the third time that UND has played in the regional just 70 miles south of Grand Forks. The Fighting Hawks rolled through Quinnipiac (4-1) and St. Cloud State (4-1) in 2015 but fell to Boston University 4-3 in double overtime in 2017.

15 years ago this week, Holy Cross defeated Minnesota at Ralph Engelstad Arena, marking the first time a four-seed defeated a one-seed since the tournament expanded to 16 teams.

It has happened every year since then. Lots of #4-overall seeds have fallen: New Hampshire (2007 and 2008), Michigan (2009), Miami (2011 and 2015), Notre Dame (2013), Wisconsin (2014, 2021), Providence (2016) and Minnesota (2017) all lost as the “last #1 seed”.

Wisconsin’s 2014 defeat came at the hands of North Dakota, just days after UW’s victory over Ohio State in the Big Ten playoff title game got UND into the tournament.

#3-overall seeds have fared better, but Clarkson (2007), Denver (2009), Cornell (2018), and Minnesota State (2019) all lost their opening round game from that position.

Most people mistakenly believe that Minnesota was the top team in the country before falling to Holy Cross in 2006; the Golden Gophers were actually the #2-overall seed in that tourney (the top spot belonged to Wisconsin, and the Badgers rode their seeding all the way to a national title). Other #2-overall seeds to fall in their first game include Notre Dame (2009), Denver (2010), Michigan (2012), Minnesota (2013), and St. Cloud State (2016).

And, in the ultimate of disappointments, THREE of the past six top overall seeds in the NCAA tourney have gone down to 16-seeds:

RIT defeated top-seeded Minnesota State 2-1 in 2015.
Air Force dismantled top-seeded St. Cloud State 4-1 in 2018.

And the Huskies suffered the same fate AGAIN in 2019, losing to AIC by a final score of 2-1 despite outshooting the Yellow Jackets 34-13.

North Dakota has never lost in the first round as a #1 seed since the tournament expanded to 16 teams.

Former UND head coach Dean Blais famously said, “In the playoffs, you shouldn’t even call it ‘hockey’. Just call it ‘goalie’.” With that in mind, let’s take a look at the two players expected to be guarding the crease in today’s contest…

For UMD, Ryan Fanti (10-7-2, 2.40 goals-against average, and a save percentage of .905) should get the nod from Scott Sandelin after starting both of Duluth’s NCHC tournament games. Fanti was the netminder of record in both contests against North Dakota in the pod, making 43 of 47 saves in a tie and a loss. The sophomore from Thunder Bay, Ontario has lost three of his last four starts, allowing 12 goals on 106 shots on goal over that stretch.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (20-3-1, 1.78 GAA, .929 SV%, 4 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (2-2-0, 2.83 GAA, .872 SV%) appearing in five games. In addition to his four shutouts, Scheel has allowed just a single goal in seven other victories this season (including the Frozen Faceoff semifinal against Denver and yesterday’s tourney opener vs. AIC). In February and March of this season, Scheel is 8-0 while allowing a total of 11 goals, giving him a goals-against average of 1.36 and a save percentage of .946 over the past two months.

The junior from Lakewood, Ohio was recently named NCHC Goaltender of the Year and a 2021 Mike Richter Award finalist (along with eight other goaltenders; Scheel was the only finalist from the NCHC). However, Scheel was not named to the “Hat Trick”; those honors went to Spencer Knight (Boston College), Jack Lafontaine (Minnesota), and Dryden McKay (Minnesota State). The winner of this year’s Richter will be announced in April during the NCAA Frozen Four.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Scott Sandelin’s squad has just six regulars in the lineup who meet that threshold: senior forward Nick Swaney (13-14-27), junior forward Jackson Cates (10-16-26), senior forward Kobe Roth (13-10-23), junior forward Cole Koepke (13-8-21), senior forward Kobe Bender (7-12-19), and junior forward Noah Cates (5-13-18).

By that same measure, Brad Berry has ten players at a half point or better per game: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (15-15-30), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (9-26-35), senior forward Collin Adams (13-20-33), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (3-18-21), senior forward Grant Mismash (10-9-19 in 19 games), freshman forward Riese Gaber (11-10-21), junior forward Jasper Weatherby (14-9-23), junior forward Mark Senden (3-11-14), junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker (3-15-18), and freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (2-13-15 in 21 games). Pinto, Kawaguchi, Adams, and Mismash are all averaging a full point or better per contest.

Mismash had missed seven consecutive games before returning to the lineup yesterday and scoring a goal on three shots (six shot attempts). Bernard Docker also returned to the lineup, notched an assist, and anchored the top defensive pair along with Matt Kiersted. Mark Senden (upper body injury) did not suit up last night.

Riese Gaber was driven hard into the boards during last night’s game but did return to the ice; his eight shot attempts co-led the team (along with Shane Pinto).

Puck possession will be a key factor in tonight’s contest, and North Dakota should have an advantage in that area. UND clocks in as the third-best team remaining in the tournament in Corsi (55.5%); Duluth is 7th at 53.3%. Fenwick looks even better for the Fighting Hawks (56.7%, 2nd), while UMD is 6th in that area (53.6%).

Corsi measures the percentage of shots taken vs. opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shots taken vs. opponents.

North Dakota is averaging 31.8 shots on goal per game and allowing 24.9 shots on goal per game to opponents. Minnesota Duluth is averaging 31.6 shots on goal per game and allowing 25.7.

The Bulldogs have outscored opponents 79-61 this season. North Dakota’s eye-popping scoring margin is 112-54. Here’s how that compares to the tournament field:

1. North Dakota +58 (112-54 in 28 games)
2. Minnesota +52 (110-58 in 29 games)
3. Minnesota State +50 (88-38 in 25 games)
4. Massachusetts +45 (91-46 in 26 games)
5. Quinnipiac +42 (97-55 in 28 games)
6. Boston College +36 (90-54 in 23 games)
7. Minnesota Duluth +18 (79-61 in 26 games)
8. Bemidji State +16 (82-66 in 28 games)
9. St. Cloud State +14 (86-72 in 27 games)
10. Boston University +11 (50-39 in 15 games)
11. Omaha +9 (83-74 in 25 games)

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot. The Fighting Hawks are tops in the nation in faceoff win percentage at 56.2 percent, while Minnesota Duluth is 39th (47.0%) 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 (61.7%), Jasper Weatherby (56.4%), and Collin Adams (54.6%). UMD will counter with Noah Cates (48.5%), Jackson Cates (49.2%), and Jesse Jacques (46.6%).

The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.6 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 2nd in the country. UMD is way down in the middle of the pack, lighting the lamp on just 9.6 percent of their shots on goal (27th).

Through 26 games, the Bulldogs have blocked 277 shots as a team, led by blueliners Wyatt Kaiser (36), Matt Anderson (32), and Matt Cairns (26).

North Dakota has blocked 359 shots in its 28 games, with defensemen Matt Kiersted (49), Jacob Bernard-Docker (33), Ethan Frisch (26), and Gabe Bast (22) and forward Mark Senden (24!) leading the way.

When North Dakota is at full strength on the back end, they enjoy a roster advantage against nearly every opponent, and that will be the case again tonight. UMD’s six most likely starters on defense have combined for just 4 goals and 30 assists in 153 combined games this season (0.22 points/game), while the six UND defenders expected in the lineup tonight have put together a line of 17 goals and 58 assists in 139 combined games (0.54 points/game). Matt Kiersted, Jacob Bernard Docker, Jake Sanderson, Ethan Frisch, Tyler Kleven, and Gabe Bast can all 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).

To this point in the season, here is the specialty teams ledger:

Minnesota Duluth power play: 19 of 93, 20.4 percent (19th)
Minnesota Duluth penalty kill: 72 of 96, 75.0 percent (44th)

North Dakota power play: 29 of 122, 23.8 percent (8th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 97 of 113, 85.8 percent (8th)

North Dakota has scored four shorthanded goals this season without allowing one to opponents, while the Bulldogs have scored two and allowed two this season. That leaves UMD’s net specialty teams at a minus-5, while UND weighs in at plus-17.

UND doesn’t necessarily need to score first (although the team is 19-0-0 when they do), but I do think it’s important that they don’t fall behind by more than two if they hope to advance to the Frozen Four. In general, Duluth’s recipe for success in the past two national tournaments has been to get a lead and lock it down OR have the ability to come back late; here are the scores from its two most recent title runs:

2018:
3-2 (OT) vs. Minnesota State (came back with a goal in the 2nd and a goal in the 3rd)
2-1 vs. Air Force (scored twice in the first period)
2-1 vs. Ohio State (scored twice in the first three minutes of the game)
2-1 vs. Notre Dame (scored twice in the first period)

2019:
2-1 (OT) vs. Bowling Green (scored late in regulation to tie)
3-1 vs. Quinnipiac (built a 2-0 lead)
4-1 vs. Providence (grabbed a 1-0 lead in the 2nd and a 2-1 lead in the 3rd before two empty-netters)
3-0 vs. Massachusetts (scored less than four minutes into the hockey game)

Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (21st season at UMD, 405-331-91, .545)
National Rankings: #9/#9

This Season: 14-10-2 overall, 13-9-2 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 22-10-2 overall, 17-5-2-0 NCHC (2nd)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.04 goals scored/game – 21st of 51 teams
Team Defense: 2.35 goals allowed/game – 12th of 51 teams

Power Play: 20.4% (19 of 93) – 19th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 75.0% (72 of 96) – 44th of 51 teams

Key players: Senior F Nick Swaney (13-14-27), Junior F Jackson Cates (10-16-26), Senior F Kobe Roth (13-10-23), Junior F Cole Koepke (13-8-21), Senior F Kobe Bender (7-12-19), Junior F Noah Cates (5-13-18), Freshman D Wyatt Kaiser (0-10-10), Senior D Matt Anderson (0-7-7), Senior D Matt Cairns (0-6-6), Sophomore G Ryan Fanti (10-7-2, 2.40 GAA, .905 SV%)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 138-62-24, .670)
National Rankings: #1/#1

This Season: 22-5-1 overall, 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 4.00 goals scored/game – 1st of 51 teams
Team Defense: 1.93 goals allowed/game – 3rd of 51 teams

Power Play: 23.8% (29 of 122) – 8th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 85.8% (97 of 113) – 8th of 51 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Shane Pinto (15-15-30), Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (9-26-35), Freshman F Riese Gaber (11-10-21), Senior F Collin Adams (13-20-33), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (14-9-23), Senior F Grant Mismash (10-9-19), Senior D Matt Kiersted (3-18-21), Junior D Jacob Bernard Docker (3-15-18), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (2-13-15 in 21 games), Junior G Adam Scheel (20-3-1. 1.78 GAA, .929 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 19, 2020 (Omaha, NE). It appeared to be yet another overtime tilt between these two teams, but North Dakota’s Grant Mismash had other ideas. The senior forward potted the game-winner with just 48 seconds remaining in regulation to break the 1-1 tie. Collin Adams scored the Fighting Hawks’ first goal at 13:15 of the second period, while UMD’s Noah Cate lit the lamp just over seven minutes into the third. The two teams skated to a 2-2 tie nine days earlier on the same sheet of ice.

Last Meeting in the NCAA tournament: 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, 149-86-11 (.628). 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: North Dakota is 5-4-1 (.550) in the last ten games between the teams, although the Bulldogs have outscored the Hawks 28-25 over that stretch thanks to two five-goal performances in Duluth back in 2018 and a 7-4 home victory back in January of last year. Only two of the past ten UND-UMD games were played in Grand Forks.

Game News and Notes

UND is 19-0-0 when it scores the first goal and just 3-5-1 when its opponent lights the lamp first, although two of those comeback victories came in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. The Fighting Hawks have outscored opponents 41-17 in third periods and overtime this season, while the Bulldogs have scored 32 and allowed 23 in the same frames. UND is 3-1-1 in overtime this season; Duluth is 2-2-2. North Dakota head coach Brad Berry is now 5-1 in the NCAA tournament.

The Prediction

If my Twitter poll is any indication, North Dakota has an 82% chance of advancing to the NCAA Frozen Four. On ice, however, it’s a different story. For the second consecutive game, UND is facing a team with more NCAA tournament experience, although the Fighting Hawks got the first game under their collective belts yesterday and are playing perhaps their best hockey of the season. I firmly believe that it is harder to stay on top of the mountain than it is to get there, and part of it comes down to motivation – this current North Dakota roster is highly motivated after how last season ended and will do whatever it takes to survive and advance. Brad Berry’s squad does have last line change and that counts for something. If the Bulldogs have a weakness, it’s on the penalty kill, and although the Fighting Hawks don’t rely on the power play as much as some teams, it would help matters if they could get one to go. I’m expecting North Dakota to have their foot on the gas from the drop of the puck as Duluth adjusts to the ice surface, the officiating, the crowd, and a different Fighting Hawks team than they faced in the pod. I almost went with an overtime thriller and a Kawaguchi game-winner, but this Green and White squad has the depth and top-end talent to get it done in regulation. UND 4, Minnesota Duluth 2.

Broadcast Information

Tonight’s NCAA Midwest Regional Semifinal will be televised live on ESPNU and available on several streaming services, including YoutubeTV (a free trial is available); puck drop is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Central Time. Leah Hextall (play-by-play) and Dave Starman (color commentary) will handle the call from Fargo; Hextall’s uncle Dennis played at North Dakota for two seasons (31-56-87) and was the program’s first NHL player in 1968 (New York Rangers, and later with the Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Detroit Red Wings, and Washington Capitals). Furthermore, Leah Hextall’s second-cousin Brett played three years at UND (39-42-81 in 115 games) and helped the team make it all the way to the NCAA Frozen Four in 2011.

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!

NCAA Midwest Regional Semifinal Preview: UND vs. American International

In tonight’s 2021 NCAA Midwest Region semifinal (Fargo, ND), top overall seed North Dakota (21-5-1) will square off against #4 seed American International (15-3-0).

#3 seed Minnesota Duluth (14-10-2) was set to square off against #2 seed Michigan (15-10-1) in Friday’s first regional semifinal in what was widely considered the most intriguing matchup across all four regional sites, but COVID intervened and the Michigan Wolverines became the second team to vacate their position in the tournament due to a positive case.

Earlier this week, Notre Dame withdrew from the NCAAs, advancing Boston College to its regional final.

The two-time defending national champion Bulldogs will await tonight’s AIC-UND winner with a trip to the 2021 Frozen Four (Pittsburgh, PA) on the line.

The Midwest Regional game that will actually be played today features two of the top five offenses in the country:

1st. North Dakota 3.96 goals scored per game
5th. American International 3.67

Duluth can be found in 21st place on the list (3.04).

Those same two high-scoring teams are impressive defensively as well, allowing less than two goals per contest:

3rd. American International 1.94 goals allowed per game
4th. North Dakota 1.96

Duluth is 13th on this list, allowing 2.35 goals per game.

The top three seeds in the Midwest Regional have combined to win twenty national championships; here’s how the other three regionals stack up:

Northeast Regional (Albany, NY): 10 (Boston College 5, Boston University 5)
East Regional (Bridgeport, CT): 9 (Wisconsin 6, Lake Superior State 3)
West Regional (Loveland, CO): 5 (Minnesota 5)

The Bulldogs have won the last two NCAA titles (2018, 2019) to go along with their first national championship back in 2011, a 3-2 victory over Michigan at Xcel Energy Center. North Dakota also appeared in that Frozen Four but fell to the Wolverines in the semifinals 2-0 (with an empty-net goal) despite outshooting Michigan 40-20.

Before the Wolverines were forced to withdraw, UMD and Michigan were set to square off in the national tournament for the first time since that overtime thriller in St. Paul.

The Wolverines have won nine NCAA titles but only two since 1964, those coming in 1996 and 1998.

North Dakota’s eight national titles have been spread out across the decades: 1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000, and 2016.

Scheels Arena can be considered familiar territory for North Dakota, as this is the third time that UND has played in the regional just 70 miles south of Grand Forks. The Fighting Hawks rolled through Quinnipiac (4-1) and St. Cloud State (4-1) in 2015 but fell to Boston University 4-3 in double overtime in 2017.

UND did not earn a bid to the national tournament in 2019. Had they made it as one of the last teams in, it would have forced AIC to a different regional. As it turned out though, the Yellow Jackets can also consider Scheels Arena friendly, as they defeated top overall seed St. Cloud State 2-1 in the regional semis despite being outshot 34-13. The game-winning goal was scored by defenseman Brennan Kapcheck, who is now a senior captain for the Yellow Jackets and was named the Atlantic Hockey East Pod Player Of The Year. Kapcheck notched three assists in the AHA title game and now has 18 helpers on the season to lead his team.

Forward Tobias Fladeby assisted on the game winner against SCSU; the now-senior from Asker, Norway is also still on the roster.

Denver would go on to spoil AIC’s 2019 Cinderella run with a 3-0 victory, although that game was still in doubt with four minutes remaining in regulation and the Pios clinging to a 1-0 lead. American International outshot DU 10-2 in the third period of that contest (and 26-24 for the game) but could not put a puck passed Pioneers’ netminder Filip Larsson. With the victory, Denver advanced to their third Frozen Four in four seasons, but the Pios would eventually fall to #4 Massachusetts in overtime in the national semifinal.

15 years ago this week, Holy Cross defeated Minnesota at Ralph Engelstad Arena, marking the first time a four-seed defeated a one-seed since the tournament expanded to 16 teams.

It has happened every year since then. Lots of #4-overall seeds have fallen: New Hampshire (2007 and 2008), Michigan (2009), Miami (2011 and 2015), Notre Dame (2013), Wisconsin (2014), Providence (2016) and Minnesota (2017) all lost as the “last #1 seed”.

Wisconsin’s 2014 defeat came at the hands of North Dakota, just days after UW’s victory over Ohio State in the Big Ten playoff title game got UND into the tournament.

#3-overall seeds have fared better, but Clarkson (2007), Denver (2009), Cornell (2018), and Minnesota State (2019) all lost their opening round game from that position.

Most people mistakenly believe that Minnesota was the top team in the country before falling to Holy Cross in 2006; the Golden Gophers were actually the #2-overall seed in that tourney (the top spot belonged to Wisconsin, and the Badgers rode their seeding all the way to a national title). Other #2-overall seeds to fall in their first game include Notre Dame (2009), Denver (2010), Michigan (2012), Minnesota (2013), and St. Cloud State (2016).

And, in the ultimate of disappointments, THREE of the past five top overall seeds in the NCAA tourney have gone down to 16-seeds:

RIT defeated top-seeded Minnesota State 2-1 in 2015.
Air Force dismantled top-seeded St. Cloud State 4-1 in 2018.

And, as mentioned above, the Huskies suffered the same fate AGAIN in 2019.

North Dakota has never lost as a #1 seed since the tournament expanded to 16 teams.

Amazingly, no current UND player has appeared in an NCAA tournament game. Prior to the 2017-2018 campaign, North Dakota had made the national tournament in fifteen straight seasons (2003-2017).

Aside from two games in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs (victories over Niagara and Canisius), AIC hasn’t played since January 30th. Twelve Yellow Jackets games were canceled for COVID-19 related reasons since the start of the new year, which meant that Eric Lang’s squad had six consecutive weekends off before the Atlantic Hockey playoffs last weekend. Much like UND, the Yellow Jackets trailed in the semifinals and in the championship game before prevailing in both contests thanks to big third periods each night. AIC outscored its two playoff opponents 5-0 over the final twenty minutes of play, outshooting the Purple Eagles 12-5 and the Golden Griffins 20-4.

American International’s sixteen-game regular season schedule consisted of Air Force (a record of 2-0), Army (3-1), Bentley (2-0), Quinnipiac (0-2), Long Island (2-0), Holy Cross (3-0), and Sacred Heart (1-0).

While there was not much interleague play this year to adequately compare teams from different conferences, it is fair to say that UND – with a full slate of 27 NCHC games – has played a far tougher schedule than AIC. North Dakota posted a record of 7-3-1 against this season’s tournament teams (Minnesota Duluth, Omaha, and St. Cloud State) and also went 5-2 against Denver, a team squarely on the bubble for the NCAAs before the field was announced on Sunday evening.

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.

AIC and North Dakota are the only two teams this season to win both their regular season and postseason titles. The two squads also won regular season titles a year ago before COVID shut down the hockey world. For the Fighting Hawks, the 2021 NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship was their first postseason title in the eight-year history of the league.

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).

As another sign that Berry has righted the ship, UND is now 47-10-5 (.798) over the past two seasons.

Former UND head coach Dean Blais famously said, “In the playoffs, you shouldn’t even call it ‘hockey’. Just call it ‘goalie’.” With that in mind, let’s take a look at the two players expected to be guarding the crease in this contest…

For AIC, senior Stefano Durante (9-3-0, 2.17 goals-against average, and a save percentage of .907) started both conference playoff games for the Yellow Jackets after returning from a knee injury. Prior to the AHA tournament, Durante had not played since January 13th.

In the 2019 regionals, Durante was backing up Zackarias Skog, who was a junior at the time.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (19-3-1, 1.81 GAA, .928 SV%, 4 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (2-2-0, 2.83 GAA, .872 SV%) appearing in five games. In addition to his four shutouts, Scheel has allowed just a single goal in seven other victories this season (including the Frozen Faceoff semifinal against Denver). The junior from Lakewood, Ohio was recently named NCHC Goaltender of the Year and a 2021 Mike Richter Award finalist (along with eight other goaltenders; Scheel was the only finalist from the NCHC). However, Scheel was not named to the “Hat Trick”; those honors went to Spencer Knight (Boston College), Jack Lafontaine (Minnesota), and Dryden McKay (Minnesota State). The winner of this year’s Richter will be announced in April during the NCAA Frozen Four.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Eric Lang’s squad has nine regulars in the lineup who meet that threshold: senior forward Tobias Fladeby (9-8-17), junior forward Chris Theodore (4-14-18), senior forward Chris Dodero (7-11-18), junior forward Justin Cole (9-7-16), junior forward Elijiah Barriga (7-6-13), freshman forward Julius Janhonen (3-5-8), sophomore forward Eric Otto (2-5-7), senior defenseman Brennan Kapcheck (0-18-18), and sophomore defenseman Zak Galambos (4-6-10).

By that same measure, Brad Berry has ten players at a half point or better per game: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (15-15-30), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (9-25-34), senior forward Collin Adams (11-20-31), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (3-18-21), senior forward Grant Mismash (9-9-18 in 18 games), freshman forward Riese Gaber (11-9-20), junior forward Jasper Weatherby (12-9-21), junior forward Mark Senden (3-11-14), junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker (3-14-17), and freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (2-12-14 in 20 games). Pinto, Kawaguchi, Adams, and Mismash are all averaging a full point or better per contest, although Mismash (upper body injury) has missed seven consecutive games. It also remains to be seen whether Jacob Bernard-Docker (upper body injury) and Mark Senden (upper body injury) suit up for tonight’s contest.

Puck possession will be a key factor in tonight’s contest, and both teams are used to dominating in that area. For the first time in a long time, North Dakota will be facing an opponent with better overall advanced metrics, as the Yellow Jackets are 2nd in the country in shots on goal allowed/per game (22.2) and third in both Corsi (57.6%) and Fenwick (59.3%). By comparison, UND is 4th in the country in shots on goal allowed (24.9), 9th in Corsi (55.4%), and 6th in Fenwick (56.7%).

Corsi measures the percentage of shots taken vs. opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shots taken vs. opponents.

American International has outscored opponents 66-35 (an average of 3.67-1.94) in its eighteen games, outshooting the opposition 583-399 (32.4-22.2). North Dakota has outscored opponents 107-53 (3.96-1.96) and outshot opponents 858-672 (31.8-24.9) in its 27 games.

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot. The Fighting Hawks are tops in the nation in faceoff win percentage at 56.1 percent, while American International is 15th (51.8%) 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 (61.8%), Jasper Weatherby (56.2%), and Collin Adams (54.3%). AIC will counter with Elijiah Barriga (55.0%), Eric Otto (52.2%), Jake Stella (48.3%), and Julius Janhonen (49.6%).

The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.5 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 2nd in the country. AIC is not far behind in 9th place, lighting the lamp on 11.3 percent of their shots on goal.

North Dakota’s puck possession game and sharpshooting have led to 107 goals scored by twenty different players in 27 games (3.96 goals scored/game); AIC has managed to score 66 goals in 18 games (3.67 goals scored/game). Twenty different Yellow Jackets have lit the lamp this season.

UND’s offensive prowess is matched by their stingy defense, as the Fighting Hawks have only allowed 53 goals in 27 games (1.96 goals allowed/game). By comparison, American International has allowed 1.94 goals per contest (35 goals allowed in 18 games).

Through 18 games, the Yellow Jackets have blocked 226 shots as a team, led by blueliners Parker Revering (28), Nico Somerville (21), and Brennan Kapcheck (17).

North Dakota has blocked 349 shots in its 27 games, with defensemen Matt Kiersted (48), Jacob Bernard-Docker (32), Ethan Frisch (24), and Gabe Bast (22) and forward Mark Senden (24!) leading the way.

When North Dakota is at full strength on the back end, they enjoy a roster advantage against nearly every opponent, and that will be the case again tonight. AIC’s six most likely starters on defense have combined for 7 goals and 42 assists in 95 combined games this season (0.52 points/game), while the six UND defenders expected in the lineup tonight have put together a line of 17 goals and 54 assists in 133 combined games (0.53 points/game) against superior competition. Matt Kiersted, Jacob Bernard Docker, Jake Sanderson, Ethan Frisch, Tyler Kleven, and Gabe Bast can all 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).

It is also worth noting that if Bernard Docker is unable to suit up tonight, Brad Berry has the luxury of inserting freshman blueliner Cooper Moore into the lineup on the third pairing; Moore has scored two goals and added three assists in 18 games this season.

To this point in the season, here is the specialty teams ledger:

American International power play: 20 of 84, 23.8 percent (9th)
American International penalty kill: 55 of 71, 77.5 percent (36th)

North Dakota power play: 29 of 118, 24.6 percent (8th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 93 of 108, 86.1 percent (6th)

North Dakota has scored four shorthanded goals this season without allowing one to opponents, while the Yellow Jackets have scored one and allowed one this season. That leaves AIC’s net specialty teams at a +4, while UND weighs in at +18.

American International has scored 20 of their 66 goals this season with the man advantage (30.3%), while the Fighting Hawks have scored 29 of their 105 goals this season on the power play (27.6%).

In the NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal, Denver employed its game plan to near-perfection and came up 87 seconds short. UND was constantly frustrated breaking pucks out of their own end, limited in the neutral zone, and stymied by excellent goaltending. North Dakota finally wore down the Pioneers as the game went on thanks to a 28-13 differential in hits – an unheard-of disparity given the fact that the Fighting Hawks also led in shot attempts 63-39 and in shots on goal 32-18 (typically, the team without the puck has more opportunities to deliver hits and finish checks throughout the game).

In the championship game, the Fighting Hawks built momentum late in the second period and finally broke through in the third, erupting for three goals in a span of 122 seconds. UND dominated in the faceoff circle all night long (50-25) and iced the game with a empty-net goal at the 19:51 mark of the final frame.

In both contests, North Dakota played with an edge and brought a heavy game, staying right on the line between finishing checks and ending up in the penalty box. UND ended up with a combined six power plays (2-for-6) and was shorthanded only four times, with three successful penalty kills.

It will be interesting to see whether the Yellow Jackets can handle North Dakota’s physical play throughout the game, as the Fighting Hawks are one of the heaviest teams in the country, averaging over 190 pounds per player. AIC weighs in at 185.7, right between St. Cloud State (186.6) and Denver (184.3).

UND doesn’t necessarily need to score first (although the team is 18-0-0 when they do), but I do think it’s important that they don’t fall behind by more than two if they hope to advance to tomorrow night’s regional final.

This is the first-ever meeting between the two teams. American International began play at the Division I level in 1998, although the team has been competing since the 1948-49 season.

American International Yellow Jackets

Head Coach: Eric Lang (5th season at AIC, 82-72-14, .530)
National Rankings: #15/#14

This Season: 15-3-0 overall, 11-1-0 AHA (1st)
Last Season: 21-12-1 overall, 21-6-1 AHA (1st)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.67 goals scored/game – 5th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 1.94 goals allowed/game – 3rd of 51 teams

Power Play: 23.8% (20 of 84) – 9th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 77.5% (55 of 71) – 36th of 51 teams

Key players: Senior F Tobias Fladeby (9-8-17), Junior F Chris Theodore (4-14-18), Senior F Chris Dodero (7-11-18), Junior F Justin Cole (9-7-16), Junior F Elijiah Barriga (7-6-13), Freshman F Julius Janhonen (3-5-8), Sophomore F Eric Otto (2-5-7), Senior D Brennan Kapcheck (0-18-18), Sophomore D Zak Galambos (4-6-10), Senior G Stefano Durante (9-3-0, 2.17 GAA, .907 SV%)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 137-62-24, .668)
National Rankings: #1/#1

This Season: 21-5-1 overall, 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.96 goals scored/game – 1st of 51 teams
Team Defense: 1.96 goals allowed/game – 4th of 51 teams

Power Play: 24.6% (29 of 118) – 8th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 86.1% (93 of 108) – 6th of 51 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Shane Pinto (15-15-30), Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (9-25-34), Freshman F Riese Gaber (11-9-20), Senior F Collin Adams (11-20-31), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (12-9-21), Junior F Mark Senden (3-11-14), Senior D Matt Kiersted (3-18-21), Sophomore D Ethan Frisch (3-7-10), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (2-12-14 in twenty games), Junior G Adam Scheel (19-3-1. 1.81 GAA, .928 SV%, 4 SO)

Game News and Notes

UND is 18-0-0 when it scores the first goal and just 3-5-1 when its opponent lights the lamp first, although two of those comeback victories came in its past two games. The Fighting Hawks have outscored opponents 40-16 in third periods and overtime this season, while the Yellow Jacket have scored 23 and allowed 10 in the same frames. UND is 3-1-1 in overtime this season; American International won its only overtime game of the year. This is North Dakota’s 33rd appearance in the NCAA tournament, while AIC is making its second consecutive appearance and second overall.

The Prediction

If my Twitter poll is any indication, North Dakota has an 85% chance of advancing through to face Duluth in the regional final. On the ice, however, it’s a different story. It is hard to believe, but AIC has more tournament experience than the Fighting Hawks, and – more importantly – belief that they can win this game. As is so often the case, this game will come down to which team wins the specialty teams battle, gets better goaltending, can better handle the momentum swings, and has an advantage in the faceoff circle and in 50/50 battles all over the ice. Brad Berry’s squad does have last line change and that counts for something. If the Yellow Jackets have a weakness, it’s on the penalty kill, and although the Fighting Hawks don’t rely on the power play as much as some teams, it would help matters if they could get one to go. Expect a ten-minute “feeling out” period to open the contest, with UND’s depth and top-end talent making the difference in the end. UND 3, American International 2.

Broadcast Information

Tonight’s NCAA Midwest Regional Semifinal will be televised live on ESPN3 and available on several streaming services, including YoutubeTV (a free trial is available); puck drop has been moved up to 7:30 p.m. Central Time. Leah Hextall (play-by-play) and Dave Starman (color commentary) will handle the call from Fargo; Hextall’s uncle Dennis played at North Dakota for two seasons (31-56-87) and was the program’s first NHL player in 1968 (New York Rangers, and later with the Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Detroit Red Wings, and Washington Capitals). Furthermore, Leah Hextall’s second-cousin Brett played three years at UND (39-42-81 in 115 games) and helped the team make it all the way to the NCAA Frozen Four in 2011.

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!

NCHC Playoff Preview: UND vs. St. Cloud State

In the 2021 NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game, top-seeded North Dakota (20-5-1) will square off against #2 seed St. Cloud State (17-9-0).

UND has never won the postseason title in the eight-year history of the league; North Dakota’s last conference playoff championship was a WCHA Final Five title in 2012. In a nod to the Miracle On Ice, fans may well remember the 6-3 victory over Minnesota in the “Timeout Game” that year but forget that there was another game to play in the tournament. One night later, the green and white was out in full force on St. Patrick’s Day, and the Green and White dispatched Denver 4-0 to hoist the Broadmoor Trophy for the third consecutive season.

Tonight will mark St. Cloud State’s fifth appearance in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game; the Huskies won the playoff title in 2016 and were runners-up in 2015, 2018, and 2019. SCSU’s 2016 championship (over Minnesota Duluth) was its first league playoff win since 2001, when they defeated North Dakota 6-5 in overtime after the Fighting Sioux mounted a furious third period comeback to send the game to an extra frame.

UND and SCSU only met twice this season, and both of those games took place in the Omaha pod back in December. 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, gave up two power play goals, and fell 5-3 to the Huskies. In the rematch four days later, Jordan Kawaguchi scored just eight seconds into the 3-on-3 overtime session to knot the season series at one win apiece. SCSU outshot the Fighting Hawks 27-21 in game two but were held scoreless on three man advantage opportunities while allowing a power play goal to North Dakota, and that proved to be the difference in the game.

By the way, here’s what I predicted would happen in the pod rematch:

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).

The final score on Wednesday, December 16th? UND 4, SCSU 3 (OT).

North Dakota advanced to today’s championship game with a 2-1 overtime victory over Denver, a result that goes into the books as UND’s fifth win over the Pioneers this season (5-2-0) and eighth victory over the past two seasons (8-2-1). The Fighting Hawks outscored DU 22-14 in the 2020-2021 season series. UND allowed ten goals in the first three meetings with a record of 1-2; since their loss in game one at Denver on January 17th, the Fighting Hawks have notched four consecutive victories over DU (15 goals for, 4 goals against). That mid-January defeat was definitely a wakeup call for Brady Berry’s squad; since that time, the Green and White are 11-2-0 overall, outscoring opponents 57-21.

An NCAA tourney berth is locked up for both of the teams in tonight’s championship tilt, as the Fighting Hawks and Huskies finished 1-2 in the best conference in all of college hockey. North Dakota should be a #1 seed in the Midwest Regional (Fargo, ND) next weekend but could secure the top overall seed in the national tournament with a victory, while a St. Cloud State win could earn them a #1 seed in one of the other three regionals. Even with an SCSU victory, however, the other three top regional seeds could go to Boston College, Minnesota State, and whoever claims tonight’s Big Ten playoff championship (Minnesota or Wisconsin).

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 (30-5-3) 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.

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, where the Huskies sat with a conference record of 3-7-0. 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. St. Cloud State was sitting with an overall record of 13-15-6 and were scheduled to travel to Lawson Ice Arena to take on the Western Michigan Broncos in the first round of the NCHC playoffs when the whole world changed.

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).

As another sign that Berry has righted the ship, UND is now 46-10-5 (.795) over the past two seasons.

Turning our attention to tonight’s matchup, St. Cloud State senior goaltender David Hrenak has been everything that head coach Brett Larson has needed him to be. Hrenak has appeared in 22 games this season, going 14-8-0 with a goals-against average of 2.53, a save percentage of .907, and two shutouts.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (18-3-1, 1.76 GAA, .929 SV%, 4 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (2-2-0, 2.83 GAA, .872 SV%) appearing in five games. In addition to his four shutouts, Scheel has allowed just a single goal in seven other victories this season (including last night’s semifinal). The junior from Lakewood, Ohio was recently named NCHC Goaltender of the Year and a 2021 Mike Richter Award finalist (along with eight other goaltenders; Scheel is the only finalist from the NCHC). The winner of this year’s Richter will be announced in April during the NCAA Frozen Four.

North Dakota went 7-2-1 in the pod, while St. Cloud State managed a record of 6-3-0 (SCSU’s first scheduled game against Colorado College was rescheduled and played in St. Cloud on February 20th). If one considers that 4-0 victory over the Tigers as an extension of the Omaha experience, then Brett Larson’s squad put together a record of 7-3-0.

A big reason for the gap between #1 UND (54 conference points) and #2 SCSU (45) is that the Huskies went just 2-4-0 against Western Michigan this season and dropped a game at Miami in mid-February, whereas North Dakota took care of business against Miami (2-0-0), Colorado College (4-0-0), and Western Michigan (2-0-0). Given that the final margin in the race for the Penrose Cup equated to three wins in league play, St. Cloud State could have used a few more victories (and/or a North Dakota loss or two) against the bottom three teams in the NCHC.

Freshman forward Veeti Miettinen has been the brightest spot for SCSU this season, tallying ten goals and adding thirteen assists to lead the team in points through his first 26 collegiate games. Miettinen – a 5-foot-9 right winger – is a threat to score from anywhere on the ice with an effortless wrist shot. The 19-year-old from Espoo, Finland was a 6th-round pick (168th overall) of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2020 NHL entry draft.

North Dakota also has a rookie forward who has splashed in his first college season. Riese Gaber (9-8-17 in 26 games) is an undrafted right winger from Gilbert Plains, Manitoba (a six-hour drive from Grand Forks, ND) who spent his past two seasons in the USHL, scoring 56 goals and adding 49 assists in 108 games with the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

Miettinen and Gaber were named to the NCHC All-Rookie Team along with Denver forward Carter Savoie, North Dakota defenseman Jake Sanderson, Minnesota Duluth defenseman Wyatt Kaiser, and Miami goaltender Ludvig Persson.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Brett Larson’s squad has eight active players who meet that threshold: freshman forward Vieeti Mieetinen (10-13-23), junior defenseman Nick Perbix (6-14-20), sophomore forward Zach Okabe (5-14-19), sophomore forward Jami Krannila (10-9-19), junior forward Nolan Walker (8-10-18), senior forward Easton Brodzinski (11-5-16), senior forward Kevin Fitzgerald (9-7-16), and junior forward Sam Hentges (7-8-15).

By that same measure, Brad Berry has ten players at a half point or better per game: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (15-14-29), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (7-24-31), senior forward Collin Adams (11-18-29), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (3-17-20), senior forward Grant Mismash (9-9-18 in 18 games), freshman forward Riese Gaber (9-8-17), junior forward Jasper Weatherby (12-9-21), junior forward Mark Senden (3-11-14), junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker (3-14-17), and freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (2-11-13 in 19 games). Pinto, Kawaguchi, Adams, and Mismash are all averaging a full point or better per contest, although Mismash (upper body injury) is expected to miss his seventh consecutive game. It also remains to be seen whether Jacob Bernard-Docker (upper body injury) and Mark Senden (upper body injury) suit up for tonight’s contest or if Brad Berry elects to hold them out of the lineup until the NCAA regionals ten days from now.

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 161 shot attempts this season and won the league scoring title over Kawaguchi and Duluth’s Nick Swaney (13-14-27). Pinto was recently named the NCHC Player of the Year, Forward of the Year, and Defensive Forward of the Year.

Both Kawaguchi (7th in the nation in scoring) and Pinto (10th) should be considered candidates for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award along with teammate Matt Kiersted, whose 20 points rank fourth among defensemen.

Of UND’s four national award hopefuls, only Shane Pinto (Ottawa, #32 overall in 2019) has been drafted. Kiersted, Kawaguchi, and Scheel should all expect plenty of offers once they have used up their college eligibility. Including Pinto, the Fighting Hawks have twelve NHL draft picks on their roster, the most in the NCHC. UND is expected to bring in four more drafted players next season – Ethan Bowen, Matteo Costantini, Jackson Kunz, and Jake Schmaltz.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot during the postseason, and the numbers bear that out. After 26 games, the Fighting Hawks are 4th in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (24.6) and are in the top ten in the country in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 55.4% (9th)
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 56.7% (6th)

By comparison, the Huskies are 18th in Corsi (52.7%) and 17th in Fenwick (53.1%), averaging 29.8 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 31.7/game) while allowing 26.2 shots on goal against/contest.

Over the course of the season, St. Cloud State is leading the shot count over its adversaries by a margin of 774-681; North Dakota is outshooting opponents 823-639.

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot. The Fighting Hawks are 2nd in the nation in faceoff win percentage at 55.5 percent, while St. Cloud State is 15th (52.1%) 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 (61.8%), Jasper Weatherby (55.1%), and Collin Adams (54.4%). St. Cloud State will counter with Will Hammer (55.6%), Nolan Walker (50.0%), Sam Hentges (56.7%), and Kevin Fitzgerald (60.3%).

In their first meeting in the pod, North Dakota won 36 of 62 faceoffs (58.1%), including an incredible 10-2 performance by Collin Adams. In the pod rematch, the faceoff battle was a bit closer, with UND winning 31 of 57 draws (54.5%). Shane Pinto led the way in game two by winning 19 of 27 (70.4%).

The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.4 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 2nd in the country. The Huskies find themselves in 15th place, lighting the lamp on 10.7 percent of their shots on goal.

North Dakota’s puck possession game and sharpshooting have led to 102 goals scored by twenty different players in 26 games (3.92 goals scored/game); St. Cloud State has managed to score 83 goals over the same number of games (3.19 goals scored/game). SCSU’s 78 goals in conference play were one behind Omaha’s 79 in the race for second place (UND scored 94 goals in its 24 league games).

UND’s offensive prowess is matched by their stingy defense, as the Fighting Hawks have only allowed 50 goals in 26 games (1.92 goals allowed/game). By comparison, St. Cloud State has allowed 2.58 goals per contest (67 goals allowed in 26 games).

Through 26 games, St. Cloud State has blocked 282 shots as a team, led by blueliners Seamus Donohue (37), Nick Perbix (34), Luke Jaycox (29), and Brendan Bushy (26).

North Dakota has blocked 335 shots in its 26 games, with defensemen Matt Kiersted (45), Jacob Bernard-Docker (32), Ethan Frisch (23), and Gabe Bast (21) and forward Mark Senden (24!) leading the way.

When North Dakota is at full strength on the back end, they enjoy a roster advantage against nearly every opponent, and that will be the case again tonight. St. Cloud State’s six most likely starters on defense have combined for 11 goals and 48 assists in 154 combined games this season (0.38 points/game), while the six UND defenders expected in the lineup tonight have put together a line of 16 goals and 40 assists in 120 combined games (0.47 points/game). Matt Kiersted, Jake Sanderson, Ethan Frisch, Tyler Kleven, Gabe Bast, and Cooper Moore can all 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).

It is also worth noting that I have left Jacob Bernard-Docker (3-14-17 in 25 games) out of the comparison above; North Dakota’s advantage would be even greater if he is able to suit up tonight.

Remarkably, the Fighting Hawks’ d-corps has put up those offensive numbers while also allowing less than two goals per contest (1.92, good for 3rd in the country). By comparison, St. Cloud State is allowing 2.58 goals per game (18th).

To this point in the season, here is the specialty teams ledger:

St. Cloud State power play: 20 of 87, 23.0 percent (13th)
St. Cloud State penalty kill: 82 of 95, 86.3 percent (6th)

North Dakota power play: 27 of 114, 23.7 percent (8th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 91 of 106, 85.9 percent (8th)

North Dakota has scored four shorthanded goals this season, while the Huskies have two to their credit, including an odd one late in period two yesterday against Duluth that stood as the game winner. Neither side has allowed a shorthanded tally this year. That leaves St. Cloud State’s net specialty teams at a +9, while UND weighs in at +16.

The Huskies have scored 20 of their 83 goals this season with the man advantage, while the Fighting Hawks have scored 27 of their 102 goals this season on the power play.

In yesterday’s late semifinal, Denver employed its game plan to near-perfection and came up 87 seconds short. UND was constantly frustrated breaking pucks out of their own end, limited in the neutral zone, and stymied by excellent goaltending. North Dakota finally wore down the Pioneers as the game went on thanks to a 28-13 differential in hits – an unheard-of disparity given the fact that the Fighting Hawks also led in shot attempts 63-39 and in shots on goal 32-18 (typically, the team without the puck has more opportunities to deliver hits and finish checks throughout the game).

It will be interesting to see whether the Huskies can handle North Dakota’s physical play throughout the game, as the Fighting Hawks are one of the heaviest teams in the country and they bring a heavy game every night. St. Cloud State certainly has the same ability as Denver to frustrate and smother teams defensively, with an even greater measure of skill and goal-scoring ability.

UND doesn’t necessarily need to score first (although the team is 18-0-0 when they do), but I do think it’s important that they don’t fall behind by more than two if they hope to claim the program’s first NCHC postseason title.

The Fighting Hawks are hosting an NCAA Regional 70 miles south in Fargo, North Dakota on March 26 and 27 and, as a lock to make the national tournament, will be automatically placed in that regional as the host school.

Of course, being the home team means familiar surroundings and last line change, and that has certainly paid off for the Green and White this season. After going 18-1-0 at REA last season, North Dakota has gone 8-1-0 at home this season, outscoring opponents 38-11 while going 8-for-41 (19.5%) on the power play and killing 28 of 31 opponent man-advantage situations (90.3%). Even though Denver won last night’s specialty teams battle on paper, it is nothing to worry about for Brad Berry’s squad, as the lone Pios goal (a power play marker by Carter Savoie) was deflected in off of a North Dakota stick, and the game winner in overtime came just seconds after the UND power play expired and while DU freshman defenseman Antti Tuomisto was still trying to get back in his defensive zone.

UND netminder Adam Scheel has been at his best at the Ralph, winning all seven of his starts with a goals-against average of 0.84, a save percentage of .959, and two shutouts.

UND’s next potential road game is on Thursday, April 8th in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the site of this season’s NCAA Frozen Four.

St. Cloud State Huskies

Head Coach: Brett Larson (3rd season at SCSU, 60-30-9, .652)
National Rankings: #8/#8

This Season: 17-9-0 overall, 15-9-0 NCHC (2nd)
Last Season: 13-15-6 overall, 10-12-2 NCHC (5th)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.19 goals scored/game – 18th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 2.58 goals allowed/game – 18th of 51 teams

Power Play: 23.0% (20 of 87) – 13th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 86.3% (82 of 95) – 6th of 51 teams

Key players: Freshman F Veeti Miettinen (10-13-23), Sophomore F Zach Okabe (5-14-19), Sophomore F Jami Krannila (10-9-19), Junior F Nolan Walker (8-10-18), Senior F Easton Brodzinski (11-5-16), Senior F Kevin Fitzgerald (9-7-16), Junior F Sam Hentges (7-8-15), Junior D Nick Perbix (6-14-20), Sophomore D Chase Brand (4-4-8), Senior D Seamus Donohue (0-7-7), Senior G David Hrenak (14-8-0, 2.53 GAA, .907 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 136-62-24, .667)
National Rankings: #2/#2

This Season: 20-5-1 overall, 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.92 goals scored/game – 1st of 51 teams
Team Defense: 1.92 goals allowed/game – 3rd of 51 teams

Power Play: 23.7% (27 of 114) – 8th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 85.9% (91 of 106) – 8th of 51 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Shane Pinto (15-14-29), Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (7-24-31), Freshman F Riese Gaber (9-8-17), Senior F Collin Adams (11-18-29), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (12-9-21), Junior F Mark Senden (3-11-14), Senior D Matt Kiersted (3-17-20), Sophomore D Ethan Frisch (3-6-9), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (2-11-13 in nineteen games), Junior G Adam Scheel (18-3-1. 1.76 GAA, .929 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 16, 2020 (Omaha, NE). St. Cloud State rallied from a two-goal deficit to force an extra session only to see their dreams dashed after only eight seconds of 3-on-3. Jordan Kawaguchi was the overtime hero for North Dakota, which went 1-for-4 with the man advantage and held the Huskies scoreless on three power plays. SCSU outshot the Fighting Hawks 27-21.

Last Meeting Outside Of The Pod: February 22nd, 2020 (St. Cloud, MN). 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.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: November 23, 2019. Kawaguchi was the overtime hero AGAIN as North Dakota dispatched the visiting Huskies 2-1. One night earlier, Shane Pinto potted two goals as UND doubled St. Cloud State (4-2).

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, 75-46-15 (.607), including a record of 38-19-7 (.648) in games played in Grand Forks. Aside from their 2015 and 2018 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal victories, the Huskies also defeated North Dakota in the 2001 WCHA Final Five championship game. The teams have been squaring off regularly since the 1989-90 season but have only met once in the NCAA tournament (2015).

Last Ten: The teams are dead even over the last ten games, with each squad claiming four victories and two others ending in ties. North Dakota has outscored St. Cloud State 27-25 over that stretch. Five of the last ten meetings have gone to overtime.

Game News and Notes

UND is 18-0-0 when it scores the first goal and just 2-5-1 when its opponent lights the lamp first, although one of those two comeback victories came last night. St. Cloud State has won the regular season league title four times over the past nine seasons (WCHA 2012-13; NCHC 2013-14, 2017-18, and 2018-19). SCSU has made the national tournament 13 times in the past twenty seasons, with one Frozen Four appearance (2013). North Dakota has outscored opponents 36-15 in third periods and overtime this season, while the Huskies have scored 32 and allowed 19 in the same frames. The Fighting Hawks have not allowed a third period goal at home this season (eleven goals for).

The Prediction

St. Cloud State is healthier and has had a few more hours to recover after yesterday’s games, but it will come down to which team wins the specialty teams battle, gets better goaltending, can better handle the momentum swings, and has an advantage in the faceoff circle and in 50/50 battles all over the ice. Brad Berry’s squad does have last line change and that counts for something, but each side wants to roll four lines as much as possible until it’s crunch time. North Dakota must avoid turning the puck over in their own end and through the neutral zone if they hope to contain the speed and skill of St. Cloud State. For once in this year’s NCHC playoffs, both teams are confidently in the tournament and we can all just sit back and enjoy the play on the ice and the atmosphere in the building. I’m torn between a one-goal regulation victory, a two-goal victory with an empty-netter, and yet another overtime between these two squads. In any event, it will be a nailbiter, with both teams in it until the very end. UND 4, St. Cloud State 3.

Broadcast Information

Tonight’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game will be televised live on CBS Sports Network. 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!