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!

Weekend Preview: UND vs. St. Cloud State

#13 North Dakota (13-10-0, 8-4-0 NCHC) has not won a game – exhibition or otherwise – since the calendar turned to 2022, and the task doesn’t get any easier with a two-game series against #6 St. Cloud State (14-6-0, 6-4-0 NCHC) at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks this weekend.

On Friday, December 3rd in St. Cloud, the homestanding Huskies embarrassed the Fighting Hawks by a final score of 8-1. SCSU went 3-for-7 on the power play and held UND scoreless on two man-advantage opportunities. In Saturday’s rematch, North Dakota turned the specialty teams tables, going 1-for-7 on the power play and killing all four Husky power plays en route to a 5-3 road victory and a split of the weekend series.

These days, Brad Berry’s squad would love to score four goals in a weekend series. Since scoring nine goals in a road sweep at Colorado College, UND has experienced a power outage, notching a combined five goals over the course of four games (vs. Cornell, at Western Michigan). If one counts the uncountable 2-0 home exhibition loss to the US Under-18 team on New Year’s Day, the Fighting Hawks are averaging one goal per game over the past five.

For offensively-challenged North Dakota, the following information is quite troubling: including its home series against the Fighting Hawks, SCSU has scored 39 goals over the past six games, an average of 6.5 goals per game, which, as you can plainly see, is way more than one.

At 5th in the Pairwise and with a non-conference record of 8-2-0, St. Cloud State is in line to make the NCAA tourney for the fourth consecutive season. (It is worth noting that in 2019-2020 – when there was no national tournament – SCSU went just 13-15-6.) The Huskies’ six losses this season have come against Minnesota State (2nd in the Pairwise), Minnesota (11th), Omaha (20th), Western Michigan (4th, twice), and North Dakota (13th).

On the other side of the ledger, North Dakota’s four January losses (two vs. PWR 18 Cornell, two at PWR 4 Western Michigan) dropped the squad from 4th to 13th in the Pairwise rankings. At the moment, UND is being held up by early-season victories over Quinnipiac (6th) Denver (3rd, twice), Minnesota Duluth (8th), Minnesota (11th), and St. Cloud State (5th). UND ended up splitting its series with Quinnipiac, Duluth, Minnesota, and St. Cloud State; the Fighting Hawks also lost to Bemidji State (27th) and Penn State (24th) in the first half of the season

With twelve games played, Denver leads the NCHC with 27 points. Western Michigan and UND have 24 points each, with Duluth one game behind them (21 points). St. Cloud State has 18 points in 10 games played.

North Dakota (2015, 2016, 2020, and 2021) and St. Cloud State (2014, 2018, and 2019) have combined to win the regular season title in seven of the eight seasons of the NCHC. The Huskies also won the last WCHA conference title in 2013.

Given that these two squads have been at the top of the league standings since its inception, it was only fitting that they would meet in the 2021 NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game, played in Grand Forks last March. Top-seeded North Dakota (20-5-1) squared off against #2 seed St. Cloud State (17-9-0). UND trailed 2-1 after two periods, but strung together three goals just 122 seconds apart to take a lead they would never relinquish. The victory secured North Dakota’s first NCHC postseason title in the eight-year history of the league and its first conference playoff championship since the 2012 WCHA Final Five. 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.

Both UND and St. Cloud State won their opening round games in the 2021 NCAA tournament; SCSU followed up their 6-2 victory over Boston University with a 4-1 triumph over Boston College. The Huskies’ scoring ways continued with a 5-4 thriller over Minnesota State; Nolan Walker’s game-winner was scored with 54 seconds remaining in the contest.

But that was all of the lamplighting for Brett Larson’s crew, as they were blanked 5-0 by UMass in the NCAA title game.

Last season’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship was St. Cloud State’s fifth appearance in the final game of the league playoffs; 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.

SCSU’s roster is loaded with experience (twenty juniors and seniors) and top-end talent, very similar to the lineups that North Dakota was able to field over the past two seasons. Coming into the last series against North Dakota, St. Cloud State had outscored opponents 47-28, although those numbers were buoyed by a sweep of first-year program St. Thomas (12-2, 2-0). SCSU had played its other twelve games at a more realistic goals for-goals against pace of 33-26. As mentioned above, there has been no slowing of the scoring pace, and a blistering power play (32 of 84, 38.1 percent) has the Huskies outscoring opponents 86-38 on the season (4.3 – 1.9 per game).

Last season, 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 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.

UND and SCSU only met twice during the 2020-2021 regular 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).

Sophomore forward Veeti Miettinen was the brightest spot for SCSU last season, tallying eleven goals and adding thirteen assists to lead the team in points. In his seven playoff games, however, the 5-foot-9 right winger only managed one point, a goal against Boston University in St. Cloud State’s NCAA tournament opener. Miettinen has seven goals and nine assists through the first twenty games of this season and 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 sophomore forward who has splashed in his first college season. Riese Gaber (11-10-21 in 29 games last season) 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. Gaber boasts a line of 9-13-22 in 23 games this season.

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.

With twenty juniors and seniors on the SCSU roster, Miettinen is the fifth-highest scoring forward on his team. On the contrary, Gaber leads the North Dakota forward group in scoring by five points.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Brett Larson’s squad has THIRTEEN active players who meet that threshold: senior forward Kevin Fitzgerald (11-14-25), senior forward Sam Hentges (6-7-13 in nine games), junior forward Jami Krannila (9-8-17), senior forward Easton Brodzinski (11-9-20), senior forward Nolan Walker (7-8-15), sophomore forward Veeti Miettinen (7-9-16), junior forward Zach Okabe (8-9-17), junior forward Kyle Kupka (3-10-13), senior forward Micah Miller (7-4-11), senior defenseman Nick Perbix (2-18-20), freshman defenseman Jack Peart (2-12-14), senior defenseman Spencer Meier (2-9-11), senior defenseman Seamus Donahue (0-11-11)

By that same offensive metric, Brad Berry will have eight players in the lineup this weekend averaging a half point or better per game: sophomore forward Riese Gaber (9-13-22), senior forward Ashton Calder (8-7-15 in 18 games), senior forward Connor Ford (3-14-17), freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (6-8-14), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (5-6-11 in 18 games), senior forward Mark Senden (4-8-12), sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (7-6-13), and sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (6-16-22 in 19 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 few weeks after suffering a lower-body injury against Cornell.

SCSU forward Sam Hentges and UND forward Ashton Calder did not appear in the December series in St. Cloud. North Dakota’s Jake Sanderson will skate on the United States Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey team along with Hentges and Huskies defenseman Nick Perbix. St. Cloud State head coach Brett Larson will serve as an assistant coach for the U.S. men.

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 3.93 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 2.91 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 239 shot attempts in 40 games played, almost six each per game. No one else on the team has more than 93 attempts.

UND is scoring on 10.9 percent of its shots on goal, a mark good for 15th in the country. St. Cloud State clocks in at 12.8 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 54.1%, good for 6th in the nation. St. Cloud State sits in 11th nationally at 52.8%.

For UND, Connor Ford (60.6% of faceoffs won) takes nearly every important draw, while Jake Schmaltz (51.6%) has improved over the course of his first college season. Louis Jamernik (51.0%) has been a steady third option for Brad Berry.

For the Huskies, it’s seniors Kevin Fitzgerland (52.4%) and Nolan Walker (54.8%) leading the way, with junior Jami Krannila (46.3%) 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% (17th), St. Cloud State 57.3% (4th)
Fenwick: UND 53.1% (14th), St. Cloud State 57.3% (4th)

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 (14.08 – 11.67) in conference play than its opponents. The Fighting Hawks have had 83 man-advantage situations this season but have been shorthanded 98 times. With 19 power play goals scored, 20 power play goals allowed, one shorthanded goal scored, and a costly shorthanded goal allowed last weekend at Western Michigan, UND’s specialty teams net is at minus-1.

St. Cloud State is in better shape in the penalty department, averaging just 12.6 penalty minutes per conference game while seeing their opponents whistled for 13.8. This has led to 84 man-advantage situations on the season and just 73 shorthanded situations for the Huskies. With 32 power play goals, nine power play goals against, and an 8-4 advantage in shorthanded goals, SCSU sits at +27.

SCSU senior netminder David Hrenak has put together by far his best season in college hockey, going 12-5-0 with a goals-against average of 1.76, a save percentage of .928, and two shutouts. Hrenak started both December games against the Fighting Hawks, making 51 of 57 saves in the weekend split. Since that series, Hrenak has started three games, going 3-0 while allowing a total of two goals

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).

Fans may remember that before spending three seasons at Bemidji State, Driscoll went 6-6-1 in 14 games played for the 2016-17 edition of the St. Cloud State Huskies.

Last weekend, 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.

Despite the recent trend of Driscoll on Friday nights and Hellsten on Saturday nights, I have a sneaking suspicion that Brad Berry may mix things up this weekend by starting the freshman in tonight’s opener.

St. Cloud State Huskies

Head Coach: Brett Larson (4th season at SCSU, 77-38-9, .657)

National Rankings: #6/#6
Pairwise Ranking: 5th

This Season: 14-6-0 overall, 5-3-11 NCHC (4th)
Last Season: 20-11-0 overall (NCAA National Runner-Up), 12-6-3-3 NCHC (2nd)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 4.30 goals scored/game – 1st of 59 teams
Team Defense: 1.90 goals allowed/game – 5th of 59 teams

Power Play: 38.1% (32 of 84) – 1st of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 87.7% (64 of 73) – 8th of 59 teams

Key players: Senior F Kevin Fitzgerald (11-14-25), Junior F Jami Krannila (9-8-17), Senior F Easton Brodzinski (11-9-20), Senior F Nolan Walker (7-8-15), Sophomore F Veeti Miettinen (7-9-16), Junior F Zach Okabe (8-9-17), Senior F Sam Hentges (6-7-13 in 9 games), Senior F Nick Perbix (2-18-20), Freshman D Jack Peart (2-12-14), Senior D Seamus Donahue (0-11-11), Senior D Spencer Meier (2-9-11), Senior G David Hrenak (12-5-0, 1.76 GAA, .928 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND, 151-73-24, .657)

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

This Season: 13-10-0 overall, 8-4-0 NCHC (t-2nd)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCAA Midwest Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.00 goals scored/game – 25th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.91 goals allowed/game – 31st of 59 teams

Power Play: 22.9% (19 of 83) – 11th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 79.6% (78 of 98) – 34th of 59 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (9-13-22), Senior F Connor Ford (3-14-17), Senior F Ashton Calder (8-7-15 in 18 games), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (6-8-14), Junior F Judd Caulfield (4-5-9), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (5-6-11 in 18 games), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (7-6-13), Senior F Mark Senden (4-8-12), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (6-16-22 in 19 games), Junior D Ethan Frisch (3-5-8), Senior G Zach Driscoll (12-8-0, 2.74 GAA, .884 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 4, 2021 (St. Cloud, MN). North Dakota rebounded from an 8-1 shellacking at the hands of the homestanding Huskies by scoring two goals in the middle frame to break a 2-2 tie. Each team scored once in the third period to bring the final score to 5-3 in favor of the Fighting Hawks. St. Cloud State outshot UND 33-29 for the game and 65-57 over the course of the weekend series.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: March 16, 2021. One night before St. Patrick’s Day, North Dakota enjoyed playing for the NCHC playoff title in front of a whole bunch of green. St. Cloud State led 2-1 after two periods, but the Fighting Hawks stormed back with four third-period goals – including three in the span of 122 seconds early in the final frame and an empty-netter to seal the 5-3 victory and the program’s first Frozen Faceoff championship. UND senior Jordan Kawaguchi and freshman Riese Gaber each had two goals and an assist.

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, 78-46-15 (.615), including a record of 39-19-7 (.654) 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: UND holds a slight lead of 5-4-1 (.550) in the last ten tilts between the teams, although both teams have scored a total of 34 goals over that stretch of games. Two of the last ten meetings have gone to overtime, with North Dakota’s Jordan Kawaguchi scoring the game winner in both contests.

Game News and Notes

UND’s Mark Senden and Riese Gaber each have six career points against the Huskies. North Dakota netminder Zach Driscoll spent the 2016-2017 season at St. Cloud State before transferring to Bemidji State; Driscoll appeared in 14 contests at SCSU, amassing a record of 6-6-1. SCSU has outscored opponents 30-5 in first periods this season.

The Prediction

It probably goes without saying that whichever team produces better results this weekend is more likely to challenge Denver, Western Michigan, and Duluth for the 2022 NCHC regular season title. UND will need to challenge St. Cloud State in the neutral zone, taking away time and space while avoiding unnecessary penalties. A good start will be key for Brad Berry’s squad, as the North Dakota faithful will be anxious after losing four straight games. There is no doubt that the Huskies are the better team with a deeper, more talented roster, but I expect Hellsten to start in Friday’s opener and steal a game for the homestanding Hawks. UND 3-2, SCSU 6-1.

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!

Weekend Preview: UND at Western Michigan

#9 North Dakota (13-8-0, 8-2-0 NCHC) has not won a game – exhibition or otherwise – since the calendar turned to 2022, and the task doesn’t get any easier with a weekend series against #4 Western Michigan (14-5-0, 6-4-0 NCHC) at Lawson Ice Arena in Kalamazoo.

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 6th 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 has just five losses on the season, coming against Michigan (2nd), Minnesota Duluth (7th), Denver (3rd, twice), and Omaha (17th).

On the other side of the ledger, two home losses to Cornell (13th) in early January dropped North Dakota to 10th in the Pairwise. At the moment, UND is being held up by early-season victories over Quinnipiac (5th) Denver (3rd, twice), Minnesota Duluth (7th), Minnesota (12th), and St. Cloud State (4th). UND ended up splitting its series with Quinnipiac, Duluth, Minnesota, and St. Cloud State; the Fighting Hawks also lost to Bemidji State (19th) and Penn State (28th) in the first half of the season

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 (5-22-27), senior forward Ethen Frank (17-7-24), senior forward Cole Gallant (7-9-16), junior forward Jason Polin (6-8-14), senior forward Paul Washe (8-5-13), sophomore forward Chad Hillebrand (2-4-6 in nine games), sophomore forward Ty Glover (4-8-12), senior forward Josh Passolt (2-8-10), senior defenseman Michael Joyaux (4-15-19), and junior defenseman Ronnie Attard (5-13-18).

By that same offensive metric, Brad Berry will have eight players in the lineup this weekend averaging a half point or better per game, with TWO of those are averaging a point per game or better: sophomore forward Riese Gaber (9-13-22) and sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (6-16-22 in 17 games); both Gaber and Sanderson are nominees for the 2022 Hobey Baker Memorial Award. Other offensive contributors include senior forward Ashton Calder (8-7-15 in 16 games), senior forward Connor Ford (3-13-16), freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (6-8-14), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (5-5-10 in 16 games), senior forward Mark Senden (4-8-12), and sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (7-6-12). Senior forward Gavin Hain (6-3-9 in 18 games) also meets that threshold but will be out of the lineup for the next few weeks after suffer 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 well over three goals per game (3.24); 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 2.90 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 217 shot attempts in 38 games played, almost six each per game. No one else on the team has more than 85 attempts.

UND is scoring on 11.8 percent of its shots on goal, a mark good for 6th in the country. Western Michigan is just behind the Fighting Hawks at 11.6 percent (8th).

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 clock in at 54.5%, good for 4th in the nation. Western Michigan sits in 13th nationally at 52.0%.

For UND, Connor Ford (61.4% of faceoffs won) takes nearly every important draw, while Jake Schmaltz (50.6%) has improved over the course of his first college season. Louis Jamernik (50.4%) has been a steady third option for Brad Berry.

For the Broncos, it’s senior Drew Worrad (56.2%) and fifth-year senior Paul Washe (55.0%) leading the way, with underclassmen Max Sasson (40.0%), Tim Washe (48.7%), and Luke Grainger (54.8%) 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 53.0% (18th), Western Michigan 55.2% (11th)
Fenwick: UND 53.3% (17th), Western Michigan 56.0% (8th)

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 almost a full minor penalty more per game (13.38 – 11.95) than opponents. The Fighting Hawks have had 77 man-advantage situations this season but have been shorthanded 89 times. With 19 power play goals scored, 17 power play goals allowed, and one shorthanded goal scored, UND’s specialty teams net is only +3.

Western Michigan is in better shape in the penalty department, averaging just 10.79 penalty minutes per game while seeing their opponents whistled for 12.05. This has led to 90 man-advantage situations and just 83 shorthanded situations for the Broncos. With 21 power play goals, twelve power play goals against, and a 2-1 advantage in shorthanded goals, WMU sits at +10.

Junior netminder Brandon Bussi has played extremely well for the Broncos this season, notching fourteen wins against just five defeats. After enduring a three-game losing streak from November 6th-13th (vs. UMD, at Denver x 2), Bussi has gone 8-1 with a goals-against average of 1.70 and a save percentage of .940. During that stretch, his only defeat was a 1-0 home loss to Omaha in which he made 25 of 26 saves. 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).

Zach Driscoll has faced the Broncos twice in his collegiate career, going 1-0-1 with a goals-against average of 2.40 and a save percentage of .917.

Western Michigan Broncos

Head Coach: Pat Ferschweiler (1st season at WMU, 14-5-0, .737)

National Rankings: #4/#3
Pairwise Ranking: 6th

This Season: 14-5-0 overall, 6-4-0 NCHC (t-3rd)
Last Season: 10-12-3 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 9-11-2-2 NCHC (6th)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.84 goals scored/game – 4th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.37 goals allowed/game – 17th of 59 teams

Power Play: 23.3% (21 of 90) – 11th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 85.5% (71 of 83) – 15th of 59 teams

Key Players: Senior F Drew Worrad (5-22-27), Senior F Ethen Frank (17-7-24), Senior F Cole Gallant (7-9-16), Junior F Jason Polin (6-8-14), Senior F Paul Washe (8-5-13), Senior D Michael Joyaux (4-15-19), Junior D Ronnie Attard (5-13-18), Junior G Brandon Bussi (14-5-0, 2.39 GAA, .916 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND, 151-71-24, .663)

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

This Season: 13-8-0 overall, 8-2-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCAA Midwest Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.24 goals scored/game – 18th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.90 goals allowed/game – 31st of 59 teams

Power Play: 24.7% (19 of 77) – 8th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 80.9% (72 of 89) – 32nd of 59 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (9-13-22), Senior F Connor Ford (3-13-16), Senior F Ashton Calder (8-7-15 in 16 games), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (6-8-14), Junior F Judd Caulfield (3-5-8), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (5-5-10 in 16 games), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (7-6-13), Senior F Mark Senden (4-8-12), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (6-16-22 in 17 games), Junior D Ethan Frisch (3-5-8), Senior G Zach Driscoll (12-7-0, 2.66 GAA, .888 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 13, 2020 (Omaha, NE). In the second of two meetings in the Omaha pod, North Dakota defeated the Broncos 6-3 behind two goals from freshman Riese Gaber. UND netminder Adam Scheel made 20 of 23 saves to improve the Fighting Hawks’ record in the pod to 4-2-1. One week earlier, North Dakota’s Grant Mismash and Shane Pinto scored two goals apiece and four other Fighting Hawks lit the lamp in an 8-2 shellacking of Western Michigan. UND erupted for four goals in the first period and outshot the Broncos 18-2 in the opening frame, chasing netminder Austin Cain after twenty minutes of play. On the other side of the ice, senior Peter Thome made 16 saves for the Green and White.

Last Meeting in Kalamazoo: December 7, 2019. One night after Gavin Hain’s overtime winner was the ONLY goal of the contest, the Green and White erupted for the first four goals of the contest in an 8-2 victory over the homestanding Broncos. WMU’s Mattias Samuelsson was assessed a major penalty at the 13:22 mark of the third period in a 5-2 game, and North Dakota scored three consecutive goals in a span of under three minutes to put the game out of reach. The 2019-2020 version of the Fighting Hawks would play from October 25th until January 10th without a loss.

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 32 games (25-7-0, .781), including a record of 11-3-0 (.786) in games played in Kalamazoo. 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 37-22 over that stretch of games. UND has had a clean sweep in the past 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 9-0-0 when leading after two periods of play but just 5-5-0 when trailing or tied. Western Michigan has outscored opponents 28-9 in third periods this season. The two teams will tangle again in Grand Forks on February 25th and 26th.

The Prediction

I’ve got a bad feeling about this. UND slept through much of its exhibition contest against the US Under-18 team on New Year’s Day, coughed up three third-period goals in a span of under five minutes against Cornell in Friday’s opener, and followed that up by scoring just once (at the 2:00 mark of the first period) in Saturday’s rematch. And to make matters worse, the goaltending situation is muddled, and Brad Berry will have to juggle lines after losing senior forward Gavin Hain, one member of the most defensively-sound trio that North Dakota has. Western Michigan is playing with confidence and will have the last line change to go along with the Lawson Lunatics this weekend. I expect the Fighting Hawks to keep one game close, and it’s more likely to be on Saturday night. Western Michigan 4-2, 2-2 tie.

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. Cornell

#14 Cornell (9-3-1) was ranked as high as 9th in the USCHO poll back in December, but a pair of losses at Arizona State last weekend (2-5, 2-3) dropped them to 26th in the Pairwise. A closer look at the strength of schedule for the Big Red reveals that it may be tough task to climb in the rankings in the second half of the season.

According to KRACH, Cornell has played the 44th toughest schedule in the country to this point of the season (for comparison, #5 North Dakota has played the 4th-toughest schedule, behind only Duluth, Minnesota, and St. Cloud State). Aside from two games against Quinnipiac (7th in PWR) and this weekend’s series at UND (4th), Cornell will play the following schedule in the second half of the season:

Clarkson (21st)
Harvard (24th)
Rensselaer (37th)
2 games against Colgate (40th)
St. Lawrence (43rd)
Union (48th)
2 games against Princeton (50th)
Dartmouth (51st)
Brown (56th)
Yale (59th)

Needless to say, a split or better against the Fighting Hawks this weekend and good results against the QU Bobcats may be the only chances that Cornell has of moving up far enough in the Pairwise rankings to secure an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament.

Incidentally, the twelve teams in the ECAC have combined to win seven NCAA titles, with only two of those (Yale in 2013 and Union in 2014) coming in the last 30 years. Before the league’s two recent national championships, the last conference member to claim college hockey’s biggest prize was Harvard in 1989. Cornell lays claim to two of those seven crowns, with title game victories in 1967 and 1970. The 1967 championship came after a 1-0 triumph over North Dakota in the semifinals.

The Big Red did not play any games last season due to COVID-19. In fact, only four league members competed (Quinnipiac, Clarkson, St. Lawrence, and Colgate). Cornell joined the other five Ivy League teams (Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale) as well as Rensselaer and Union in sitting out the season.

UND has played Cornell just eight times in school history, with three of those meetings in the NCAA tournament. The two teams last squared off in January 2010 in the first two UND games ever played in Ithaca, New York. Cornell won the opener 1-0 before North Dakota evened the series with a 3-1 victory.

Without much history between the two programs, let’s dive into the stats to see how the teams measure up…

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Mike Schafer’s squad has eight players who meet that threshold: junior forward Matt Stienburg (8-11-19), senior forward Max Andreev (7-10-17), senior forward Brenden Locke (4-8-12), junior forward Ben Berard (6-4-10), freshman forward Ondrej Psenicka (6-1-7), junior defenseman Sam Malinski (3-7-10), junior defenseman Travis Mitchell (2-6-8), and sophomore defenseman Tim Rego (2-6-8).

By that same offensive metric, Brad Berry has nine players at a half point or better per game, with THREE of those are averaging a point per game or better: sophomore forward Riese Gaber (8-12-20), sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (6-13-19 in 15 games), and senior forward Ashton Calder (7-7-14 in 14 games), Other offensive contributors include senior forward Connor Ford (3-13-16), freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (5-7-12), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (5-5-10 in 14 games), senior forward Mark Senden (3-8-11), sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (7-5-12), and senior forward Gavin Hain (6-3-9).

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 well over three goals per game (3.37); 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 2.84 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 198 shot attempts in 34 games played, almost six each per game. No one else on the team has more than 75 attempts.

UND is scoring on 12.4 percent of its shots on goal, a mark good for 6th in the country. Cornell is just ahead of the Fighting Hawks at 13.0 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 clock in at 54.4%, good for 5th in the nation. Cornell sits in 7th nationally at 53.8%.

For UND, Connor Ford (60.5% of faceoffs won) takes nearly every important draw, while Jake Schmaltz (50.8%) has improved over the course of his first college season. Louis Jamernik (50.7%) has been a steady third option for Brad Berry.

For Cornell, a trio of seniors lead the way in the faceoff circle. Max Andreev (60.1%) has been stellar, with Kyle Betts (56.3%) and Brenden Locke (53.3%) producing fantastic results as well.

With both teams 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 52.1% (20th), Cornell 55.4% (11th)
Fenwick: UND 52.5% (19th) Cornell 55.3% (12th)

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 almost a full minor penalty more per game (13.79 – 12.00) than opponents. The Fighting Hawks have had 71 man-advantage situations this season but have been shorthanded 83 times. With 17 power play goals scored, 16 power play goals allowed, and one shorthanded goal scored, UND’s specialty teams net is only +2.

Cornell is roughly even in the penalty department, averaging just 10.77 penalty minutes per game while seeing their opponents whistled for 10.46. That has led to 47 man advantage situations and just 41 shorthanded situations for the Big Red. With eight power play goals and five power play goals allowed, CU sits at +3.

Cornell head coach Mike Schafer has split the goaltending duties between freshman Joe Howe and senior Nate McDonald, with no discernable pattern. Howe played both games on November 12th and 13th, with McDonald taking the reigns on two separate weekends (November 19th/20th and December 3rd/4th). On three other occasions, the two have split games, but even that has been a roll of the dice, with Howe getting the Friday start twice and McDonald once.

Despite being a senior, McDonald had not appeared in a game before this season. As a freshman and a sophomore, he was third on the depth chart behind Matthew Galajda and Austin McGrath. And, as mentioned above, the Big Red did not compete last year during his junior campaign.

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).

After this weekend’s final nonconference games of the season, North Dakota is scheduled to start up the second half of league play with a home series against league foe Omaha next weekend.

Cornell Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Schafer (26th season at Cornell, 490-264-100, .632)

National Rankings: #14/#14
Pairwise Ranking: 26th

This Season: 9-3-1 overall, 6-1-1 ECAC (2nd)
Last Season: Did not participate

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.85 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.46 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.0% (8 of 4)
Penalty Kill: 87.8% (36 of 41)

Key Players: Junior F Matt Stienburg (8-11-19), Senior F Max Andreev (7-10-17), Senior F Brenden Locke (4-8-12), Junior F Ben Berard (6-4-10), Freshman F Ondrej Psenicka (6-1-7), Junior D Sam Malinski (3-7-10), Junior D Travis Mitchell (2-6-8), Sophomore D Tim Rego (2-6-8), Freshman G Joe Howe (4-2-0, 2.35 GAA, .905 S%, 1 SO), Senior G Nate McDonald (5-1-1, 2.50 GAA, .896 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND, 151-69-24, .668)

National Rankings: #5/#5
Pairwise Ranking: 4th

This Season: 13-6-0 overall, 6-2-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall, 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.37 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.84 goals allowed/game

Power Play: 23.9% (17 of 71)
Penalty Kill: 80.7% (67 of 83)

Key players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (8-12-20), Senior F Connor Ford (3-13-16), Senior F Ashton Calder (7-7-14 in 14 games),
Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (5-7-12), Junior F Judd Caulfield (3-5-8), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (5-5-10 in 14 games), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (7-5-12), Senior F Mark Senden (3-8-11), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (6-13-19 in 15 games), Junior D Ethan Frisch (3-4-7), Senior G Zach Driscoll (12-6-0, 2.58 GAA, .893 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 23, 2010 (Ithaca, New York). One night after dropping a 1-0 decision despite outshooting Cornell 28-15, North Dakota scored early (Brad Malone at 1:33 of the first period) late (Chris VandeVelde at 11:18 of the third period), and later (Jason Gregoire at 19:58 of the third period) to counteract an extra attacker goal by Cornell with ten seconds remaining. For the weekend, UND outshot the host team 54-31.

Last meeting in Grand Forks: November 29, 2008. One night after the Fighting Sioux drubbed Cornell 7-3, the teams played a tighter contest on Saturday, with the Big Red scoring the game winner with under four minutes to play. UND had a power play goal disallowed earlier in the contest.

Most Important Meeting: The teams have met twice in the NCAA semifinals, with Cornell coming out on top 1-0 in 1967 and North Dakota returning the favor the following season, 3-1.

All-Time: North Dakota leads the all-time series 5-3-0 (.625). The teams have only played twice in Grand Forks.

Game News and Notes

With ten more victories, Cornell bench boss Mike Schafer (Cornell ’86) will reach 500 coaching wins in his illustrious career. Schafer has lead the Big Red to six regular season titles, five league playoff titles, thirteen NCAA tournament appearances, and one Frozen Four (2003). His teams have only had losing records four times, and those teams were barely under .500 (15-16 in 1997-98, 12-15 in 1998-99, 15-16 in 2012-13, and 11-14 in 2014-15). The Big Red have outscored opponents in every period this season but appear to be most vulnerable in the final frame, outscoring opponents 18-15 while being outshot 115-111. Some of this could be a function of Cornell simply locking down leads over the final twenty minutes of games. CU’s record is also buoyed by a 3-0 record in 3-on-3 overtime sessions. UND has been prone to slow starts but has really turned things on in second periods, outscoring opponents 22-13 while holding a shots-on-goal advantage of 182-137.

The Prediction

Cornell has something to prove after being swept at Arizona State last weekend, while North Dakota came out flat in its exhibition contest against the US-Under 18 squad on New Year’s Day and would like to get back on track before re-entering league play one week from tonight. I expect a methodical first period, with both teams adjusting to the speed, skill, and game plan of the other. Keep an eye on which team works its way more crisply through the neutral zone; that will be a good early indicator of success. The biggest question mark for me is how quickly Brad Berry can get his squad playing at the level and in the style that brought them so many victories in the first half. I think things will get squared away in game two, with tonight’s opener proving more of a challenge. UND 3-2, 5-3.

Broadcast Information

Both games this weekend will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and will also be available via high-definition 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 at Colorado College

This weekend will mark the first appearance at the brand-new Robson Arena for the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team; the 3,400 seat on-campus facility opened on October 2nd, 2021. Colorado College used to play on the wider Olympic ice surface; the new Robson features an NHL sheet of ice (85 x 200). It has taken some time for the Tigers to get adjusted to their new digs; CC is just 1-3-1 at home to this point in the season.

And that’s not the only thing new in Colorado Springs, as Kris Mayotte takes over the head coaching duties. 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.

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 (3-8-3 overall) struggled out of the gate, the squad has played better recently, skating to a scoreless tie at Minnesota Duluth before earning a hard-fought split at Omaha (3-4, 4-0). Five of the Tigers’ fourteen games have gone to overtime (0-2-3), with another four decided by a single goal in regulation time (all CC losses). Kris Mayotte has his team playing well in third periods, outshooting opponents 155-101 while winning the scoreboard battle 15-7.

It’s been a tale of two UND squads to this point in the season, and I’m not just referring to the Friday/Saturday splits over the last three weekends:

Fridays: 0-3, with 3 goals scored and 17 goals allowed

Saturdays: 3-0, with 10 goals scored and 6 goals allowed

Granted, those six games were against #5 Minnesota Duluth, #10 Minnesota, and #6 St. Cloud, but it is still alarming that in all three series, it took a Friday night “wake up call” to remind the players how they needed to play to be successful. And how does North Dakota need to play to be successful? For me, it boils down to three things:

1. Early leads. North Dakota has scored first in nine games (7-2-0) and allowed the first goal in the other eight (4-4-0). When leading or tied after one period of play, the Fighting Hawks are 10-1-0; when trailing after twenty minutes, the team is just 1-5-0.

UND has also been good at extending leads, particularly in the second period. In middle frames this season, Brad Berry’s group has scored 20 goals while allowing just 13.

2. Tight checking. Against most opponents, UND is not talented enough to win on talent alone. When Brad Berry’s squad is at their best, they are taking away time and space in all three zones, using their speed, and creating turnovers with a relentless forecheck.

At their worst, they are allowing opponents to dictate the play, chasing pucks, and committing penalties. North Dakota is allowing just 22.9 shots on goal in winning efforts but 26.5 in its six losses.

3. Goaltending. North Dakota netminder Zach Driscoll has been more than capable between the pipes in his eleven wins and nearly dreadful in his six losses. Here are the splits:

Wins: 1.73 goals-against average (19 goals allowed in 658 minutes) and a save percentage of .925.

Losses: 4.54 goals-against average (23 goals allowed in 304 minutes) and a save percentage of .820.

To be fair, the team’s performances in losing efforts haven’t been up to par either, causing Driscoll to handle shots from more dangerous areas and face additional shorthanded situations.

Here’s a closer look at UND’s specialty teams:

In eleven wins, North Dakota has scored ten power play goals in 37 man advantage situations (27.0%), killed 33 of 38 shorthanded situations (86.8%), and scored a key shorthanded goal against St. Cloud for a net of +6. In those victories, UND averaged 3.45 shorthanded situations per game.

In six losses, North Dakota has scored four power play goals in 25 man advantage situations (16.0%) and killed 25 of 35 shorthanded situations (71.4%) for a net of -6. In those losses, UND averaged 5.83 shorthanded situations per game.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Kris Mayotte’s squad has six players who meet that threshold: sophomore forward Logan Will (4-6-10), sophomore forward Matthew Gleason (4-7-11), sophomore forward Jordan Biro (5-3-8), freshman forward Stanley Cooley (1-7-8), freshman forward Brett Chorske (2-2-4 in 7 games), and sophomore defenseman Chase Foley (1-3-4 in 8 games).

By that same offensive metric, Brad Berry has eight players at a half point or better per game, with THREE of those are averaging a point per game or better: sophomore forward Riese Gaber (8-9-17), sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (6-13-19), and senior forward Ashton Calder (7-7-14 in 14 games played), Other offensive contributors include senior forward Connor Ford (3-11-14), freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (4-7-11), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (4-5-9 in 13 games), senior forward Mark Senden (3-6-9), and sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (4-5-9). Calder will not make the trip to Colorado this weekend.

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 well over three goals per game (3.24); 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 exactly three goals 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 189 shot attempts in 32 games played, almost six each per game. No one else on the team has more than 65 attempts.

UND is scoring on 12.1 percent of its shots on goal, a mark good for 11th in the country. By contrast, Colorado College lights the lamp on just 8.1 percent of its shots on goal (46th).

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 clock in at 53.7%, good for 7th in the nation. Colorado College sits in 46th nationally at 47.3%.

For UND, Connor Ford (61.6% of faceoffs won) takes nearly every important draw, while Jake Schmaltz (48.6%) has improved over the course of his first college season. Louis Jamernik (47.8%) has been a steady third option for Brad Berry.

For Colorado College, freshman Stanley Cooley (46.7%) has spent the most time in the faceoff circle, although sophomore Logan Will (52.7%) has been the strongest performer. Junior Noah Prokop (47.3%) and sophomore Jackson Jutting (47.4%) contribute as well.

North Dakota’s penalty disparity is becoming problematic, as UND averages almost a full minor penalty more per game (14.24 – 12.35) than opponents. The Fighting Hawks have had 62 man-advantage situations this season but have been shorthanded 73 times.

The Tigers are on the other end of that penalty disparity, averaging just 8.71 penalty minutes per game while their opponents have been whistled for 13.93. That has led to 63 man advantage situations and just 49 shorthanded situations for Colorado College. And while last year was a specialty teams disaster for CC (five power play goals scored, 23 power play goals allowed), the Tigers seem to have righted the ship this season by scoring 13 and allowing just 11.

North Dakota is 5-1-0 in NCHC play; Colorado College sits at 1-4-1. After this weekend’s series, UND is off until a home exhibition tilt against the US Under-18 team on New Year’s Day. The Green and White will host Cornell for two games on January 7th and 8th and start up the second half of the NCHC season with a home series against Omaha the following weekend.

CC will host Arizona State for a pair of nonconference games on December 17th and 18th before returning to NCHC action at Miami on January 7th and 8th.

The Fighting Hawks and Tigers will square off on February 4th and 5th in Grand Forks.

Colorado College Tigers

Head Coach: Kris Mayotte (1st season at CC, 3-8-3, .321)
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 3-8-3 overall, 1-4-1 NCHC (7th)

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

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.36 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.43 goals allowed/game

Power Play: 20.6% (13 of 63)
Penalty Kill: 77.6% (38 of 49)

Key players: Sophomore F Logan Will (4-6-10), Sophomore Forward Matthew Gleason (4-7-11), Sophomore F Jordan Biro (5-3-8), Freshman F Stanley Cooley (1-7-8), Freshman F Brett Chorske (2-2-4 in 7 games), Sophomore D Chase Foley (1-3-4 in 8 games), Senior D Bryan Yoon (0-4-4), Sophomore G Dominic Basse (3-7-2, 2.50 GAA, .904 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND, 149-69-24, .665)
National Rankings: #7/#7

This Season: 11-6-0 overall, 6-2-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall, 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.24 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.00 goals allowed/game

Power Play: 22.6% (14 of 62)
Penalty Kill: 79.5% (58 of 73)

Key players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (8-9-17), Senior F Connor Ford (3-11-14), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (4-7-11), Junior F Judd Caulfield (3-5-8), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (4-5-9 in 13 games), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (4-5-9), Senior F Mark Mark Senden (3-6-9), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (6-13-19), Junior D Ethan Frisch (3-4-7), Senior G Zach Driscoll (11-6-0, 2.62 GAA, .889 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 24, 2021 (Grand Forks, ND). 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.

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

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, 166-84-11 (.657), although Colorado College holds a slim 59-56-4 (.513) edge in games played in Colorado Springs. The teams first met in 1948; North Dakota’s 166 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 33-12 over that span. UND has won seven straight against the Tigers, with CC scoring a combined four goals in those seven 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 17-4-1 (.795) 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). Six current UND players have scored goals in their careers against Colorado College, and netminder Zach Driscoll is 2-0-0 with a goals against average of 2.00 and a save percentage of .917 in his two career starts against CC. The Tigers are 3-3-2 when leading or tied after one period of play but 0-5-1 when trailing.

The Prediction

UND fans will know within the first ten minutes of Friday’s opener how the hockey game will go. An early indication will be how well North Dakota competes for the puck and finishes checks. Brad Berry would like to see his team avoid a parade to the penalty box, so it’s a fine line, but if the Green and White can keep the specialty teams battle even, they’ve got a good shot at sweeping on the road. These conference points are just as important as those against Duluth and St. Cloud, and I expect the Fighting Hawks to rise to the challenge and head into the break with two victories. UND 4-2, 3-1.

Broadcast Information

Both games will be streamed live at NCHC.tv, with Friday’s opener also available on Midco 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!

Weekend Preview: UND at St. Cloud State

In the 2021 NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game, top-seeded North Dakota (20-5-1) squared off against #2 seed St. Cloud State (17-9-0). UND trailed 2-1 after two periods, but strung together three goals just 122 seconds apart to take a lead they would never relinquish. The victory secured North Dakota’s first NCHC postseason title in the eight-year history of the league and its first conference playoff championship since the 2012 WCHA Final Five. 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.

Both UND and St. Cloud State won their opening round games in the 2021 NCAA tournament; SCSU followed up their 6-2 victory over Boston University with a 4-1 triumph over Boston College. The Huskies’ scoring ways continued with a 5-4 thriller over Minnesota State; Nolan Walker’s game-winner was scored with 54 seconds remaining in the contest.

But that was all of the lamplighting for Brett Larson’s crew, as they were blanked 5-0 by UMass in the NCAA title game.

Last season’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship was St. Cloud State’s fifth appearance in the final game of the league playoffs; 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.

SCSU’s roster is loaded with experience (twenty juniors and seniors) and top-end talent, very similar to the lineups that North Dakota was able to field over the past two seasons. But while it may look on paper that St. Cloud State is dominating teams by scoring 47 goals and allowing just 28 to this point of the season, it is worth mentioning that SCSU swept first-year program St. Thomas by a combined score of 14-2; aside from those two games, the Huskies’ scoring margin is a more realistic 33-26.

St. Cloud State has five losses already this season; UND’s sixth loss of the season was in the West Regional final against Minnesota Duluth, a five-overtime thriller.

Perhaps even more concerning for Brett Larson’s squad is that they have dropped three straight games in league play:

Vs. Omaha: 2-3 (OT)
At Western Michigan: 2-6
At Western Michigan: 0-4

Those early league losses have St. Cloud State two games back of UND in the race for the conference title after just six league games.

Last season, 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 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.

UND and SCSU only met twice during the 2020-2021 regular 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).

Sophomore forward Veeti Miettinen was the brightest spot for SCSU last season, tallying eleven goals and adding thirteen assists to lead the team in points. In his seven playoff games, however, the 5-foot-9 right winger only managed one point, a goal against Boston University in St. Cloud State’s NCAA tournament opener. Miettinen has three goals and five assists through the first fourteen games of this season and 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 sophomore forward who has splashed in his first college season. Riese Gaber (11-10-21 in 29 games last season) 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. Gaber boasts a line of 7-8-15 in 15 games this season.

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 eleven active players who meet that threshold: senior forward Kevin Fitzgerald (6-10-16), senior forward Sam Hentges (1-4-5 in five games), junior forward Jami Krannila (6-5-11), senior forward Easton Brodzinski (6-3-9), senior forward Nolan Walker (5-3-8), sophomore forward Veeti Miettinen (3-5-8), junior forward Zach Okabe (4-4-8), senior forward Micah Miller (5-2-7), freshman defenseman Jack Peart (2-4-6), senior defenseman Seamus Donahue (0-8-8), and freshman defenseman Josh Luedtke (1-4-5).

Hentges has been out with an injury since late October and will be unavailable this weekend.

By that same offensive metric, Brad Berry has just eight players at a half point or better per game, although THREE of those are averaging a point per game or better: sophomore forward Riese Gaber (7-8-15), sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (6-10-16), and senior forward Ashton Calder (7-7-14), Other offensive contributors include senior forward Connor Ford (1-11-12), freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (4-7-11), junior forward Judd Caulfield (3-5-8), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (4-5-9 in 11 games), and sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (3-5-8). Calder will not make the trip to St. Cloud State this weekend, although Costantini is expected to make his return to the lineup after missing the last four games (illness).

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 well over three goals per game (3.27); 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 2.67 goals per game this season.

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 clock in at 54.7%, good for fifth in the nation. St. Cloud State sits in 17th nationally at 52.4%.

North Dakota is 5-1-0 in NCHC play; St. Cloud State sits at 3-3-0. The teams will also square off on January 28th and 29th in Grand Forks. Whoever takes the season series between the two programs will be more likely to contend with Minnesota Duluth for the league title.

St. Cloud State Huskies

Head Coach: Brett Larson (4th season at SCSU, 72-37-9, .648)
National Rankings: #5/#6

This Season: 9-5-0 overall, 3-3-0 NCHC (t-4th)
Last Season: 20-11-0 overall, 15-9-0 NCHC (2nd)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.36 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.00 goals allowed/game

Power Play: 33.9% (20 of 59)
Penalty Kill: 84.0% (42 of 50)

Key players: Senior F Kevin Fitzgerald (6-10-16), Junior F Jami Krannila (6-5-11), Senior F Easton Brodzinski (6-3-9), Senior F Nolan Walker (5-3-8), Sophomore F Veeti Miettinen (3-5-8), Junior F Zach Okabe (4-4-8), Senior F Micah Miller (5-2-7), Freshman D Jack Peart (2-4-6), Senior D Seamus Donahue (0-8-8), Freshman D Josh Luedtke (1-4-5), Senior G David Hrenak (8-4-0, 1.83 GAA, .927 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND, 148-68-24, .667)
National Rankings: #7/#7

This Season: 10-5-0 overall, 5-1-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall, 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 3.27 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.67 goals allowed/game

Power Play: 24.5% (13 of 53)
Penalty Kill: 80.6% (50 of 62)

Key players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (7-8-15), Senior F Connor Ford (1-11-12), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (4-7-11), Junior F Judd Caulfield (3-5-8), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (4-5-9 in 11 games), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (3-5-8), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (6-10-16), Junior D Ethan Frisch (3-4-7), Senior G Zach Driscoll (10-5-0, 2.42 GAA, .895 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 16, 2021 (Grand Forks, ND). One night before St. Patrick’s Day, North Dakota enjoyed playing for the NCHC playoff title in front of a whole bunch of green. St. Cloud State led 2-1 after two periods, but the Fighting Hawks stormed back with four third-period goals – including three in the span of 122 seconds early in the final frame and an empty-netter to seal the 5-3 victory and the program’s first Frozen Faceoff championship. UND senior Jordan Kawaguchi and freshman Riese Gaber each had two goals and an assist.

Last Meeting In St. Cloud: 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.

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, 77-45-15 (.617), including a record of 29-23-0 (.558) in games played in St. Cloud. 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: St. Cloud holds a slight lead of 5-4-1 (.550) in the last ten tilts between the teams, although North Dakota has outscored St. Cloud State 30-26 over that stretch. Three of the last ten meetings have gone to overtime.

Game News and Notes

Since 2012, the teams have played to an even record (6-6-2) in games played in St. Cloud. UND’s Mark Senden, Gavin Hain, and Riese Gaber each have four career points against the Huskies. North Dakota netminder Zach Driscoll spent the 2016-2017 season at St. Cloud State before transferring to Bemidji State; Driscoll appeared in 14 contests at SCSU, amassing a record of 6-6-1.

The Prediction

Both teams will be looking to play to their identity this weekend, and on the wide sheet, that favors St. Cloud State. North Dakota will need to play a tight-checking game in all three zones to keep these games close, and I don’t see that happening on consecutive nights. SCSU has an advantage on special teams, so the Fighting Hawks will need to stay out of the penalty box and roll four lines to have a shot. The Huskies should come out of this series with four or five league points and tighten up the race for the league title. SCSU 4-3, 3-3 tie.

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!

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!

Weekend Preview: UND vs. Minnesota Duluth

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, #4 Duluth (7-2-1 overall, 2-1-1 NCHC) has 12 seniors and grad students on this year’s roster; North Dakota? Only five. And that’s all thanks to the transfer portal, which allowed Brad Berry to bring in senior forwards Ashton Calder and Connor Ford 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.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Scott Sandelin’s squad has eight regulars in the lineup who meet that threshold: sophomore forward Blake Biondi (4-4-8), senior forward Noah Cates (3-5-8), junior forward Quinn Olson (2-5-7), senior forward Tanner Laderoute (5-1-6), senior forward Casey Gilling (2-4-6), graduate forward Kobe Roth (1-5-6), senior forward Koby Bender (2-3-5), and sophomore defenseman Wyatt Kaiser (1-4-5).

By that same measure, #6 North Dakota (8-3-0 overall, 4-0-0 NCHC) has nine players at a half point or better per game and FOUR averaging a point per game or better: sophomore forward Riese Gaber (6-7-13), sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (6-9-15), senior forward Ashton Calder (7-6-13), and senior forward Connor Ford (1-9-10). Other offensive contributors include freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (4-5-9), junior forward Judd Caulfield (3-5-8), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (4-5-9), sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (3-3-6), and junior defenseman Ethan Frisch (2-4-6).

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, the offensive numbers appear to be fine on the surface. UND is averaging 3.82 goals per game through its first eleven contests; last year, North Dakota scored 3.93 goals/game. However, there are two key differences between this year’s team and last year’s to this point of the season:

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 clock in at #12 (53.2%).

The other glaring statistic surrounding this year’s squad is that opponents are averaging 2.56 goals per game; last season, UND held the opposition under two goals per contest (1.94).

After experiencing slow starts against Bemidji State, Quinnipiac, and Penn State, UND got back to its game over the past two weekends against Denver and Miami:

The Fighting Hawks scored twice early against DU in the second period to build a 2-0 lead on Friday night and held on to win 3-1, following up that effort with their most complete period of the season in Saturday’s opening frame. Brad Berry’s squad jumped out to a 2-0 lead after eleven minutes, survived a strong Denver second period, and completed the sweep with two goals in the third.

In the two-game series against the Pios, North Dakota led for nearly ninety minutes of game action and never trailed. And last weekend on the road at Miami, the Fighting Hawks scored the first goal of each game, extended leads, never trailed, and led on the scoreboard for 85 game minutes.

This is the recipe for success for this year’s squad – keep games close and settle in rather than having to chase the game.

In its three losses (vs. Bemidji State, at Quinnipiac, vs. Penn State), North Dakota trailed each opponent by multiple goals at various points in the contest. BSU scored two goals in the opening 90 seconds and led until UND tied it with 38 seconds remaining, QU scored four consecutive goals to build a 4-1 lead midway through the third period, and PSU built a 2-0 lead through the first thirteen minutes of the opening frame in Nashville. In those three losses, the Fighting Hawks led for a TOTAL of five minutes and seven seconds.

The Fighting Hawks will need to do a better job of keeping games close early if they expect to complete for a top-half finish in the NCHC. To be fair, UND has played better in second periods this season – outshooting opponents 114-76 while scoring fifteen goals and allowing just seven – but when they’ve struggled out of the gate, they have often been behind and chasing the scoreboard by that point.

Why is it important to bring all of this up as UND enters a three-week gauntlet against #4 Duluth, #2 St. Cloud State, and #7 Minnesota? Because the stronger competition will expose these areas even as Brad Berry’s team develops some chemistry. Splits are very possible on home ice, something that has been nearly unheard of over the past two seasons (North Dakota went 27-2-0 over the past two seasons at the Ralph). An overall record of 45-10-5 (.792) over the past two seasons has certainly raised the already-high bar for the UND faithful, but fans should temper expectations and expect close, frustrating contests until January and beyond. Even with North Dakota’s 4-0 start in league play (the first since 2015-2016), this team is still finding its identity and will be a much tougher opponent in the second half of the season.

On the plus side, UND is taking advantage of scoring opportunities when they present themselves, lighting the lamp on 13.9% of shots on goal (good for 2nd in the country). Minnesota Duluth is in 32nd place in that category at 9.7%.

Duluth’s only two losses this season were a 5-1 home shellacking at the hands of #1 Michigan and a 4-3 road loss at #13 Western Michigan. UMD rebounded the following night with a 3-0 victory, and outscored Colorado College 5-0 last weekend. The only trouble with the CC result was that all five goals were scored in Friday’s opener; the teams skated to a snoozefest of a 0-0 tie on Saturday. The Bulldogs also have a home-and-home sweep of Minnesota to their credit this year (5-3, 2-1).

Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (21st season at UMD, 413-334-92, .547)
National Rankings: #4/#4

This Season: 7-2-1 overall, 2-1-1 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 15-11-2 overall, 13-9-2-0 NCHC (3rd)

2021-2022 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.80 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.80 goals allowed/game

Power Play: 17.1% (6 of 35
Penalty Kill: 86.5% (32 of 37)

Key players: Sophomore FBlake Biondi (4-4-8), enior F Noah Cates (3-5-8), Junior F Quinn Olson (2-5-7), enior F Tanner Laderoute (5-1-6), Senior F Casey Gilling (2-4-6), Graduate F Kobe Roth (1-5-6), Senior F Koby Bender (2-3-5), Sophomore D Wyatt Kaiser (1-4-5), Freshman D Owen Gallatin (2-2-4), Junior G Ryan Fanti (6-1-1, 1.36 GAA, .946 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND ; 146-66-24, .669)
National Ranking: #6/#6
This Season: 8-3-0 overall, 4-0-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCAA Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

Team Offense: 3.82 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.55 goals allowed/game

Power Play: 28.2% (11 of 39)
Penalty Kill: 80.0% (36 of 45)

Key Players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (6-7-13), Senior F Ashton Calder (7-6-13), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (4-5-9), Junior F Judd Caulfield (3-5-8), Senior F Connor Ford (1-9-10), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (3-3-6), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (4-5-9), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (6-9-15), Sophomore D Tyler Kleven (3-2-5), Junior D Ethan Frisch (2-4-6), Senior G Zach Driscoll (8-3-0, 2.38 GAA, .896 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last 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.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: February 23, 2019. One night after a three-goal first period allowed North Dakota to cruise to a 4-1 victory, it was a two-goal second period that propelled the Bulldogs to a 3-2 win and a series split. The game-winning goal was scored on a 5×3 after UND’s Jackson Keane and Rhett Gardner took penalties 29 seconds apart. The teams combined for just 33 shots on goal in a tight-checking affair.

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, 149-87-11 (.626). 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 26-25 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

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. No current UND player has more than one career goal against the Bulldogs. According to KRACH, Minnesota Duluth has played the toughest schedule in the country to this point in the season; North Dakota’s schedule ranks 10th. These two teams will also tangle on February 18th and 19th in Duluth.

The Prediction

Both teams are playing very well right now, although Duluth appears to have an edge in experience and in net. The Fighting Hawks have a few things going for them as well: a more talented group of defensemen, the home crowd, and last line change. Brad Berry will match up his shutdown line of Gavin Hain, Louis Jamernik, and Mark Senden against Scott Sandelin’s skilled forwards, and that should keep both games close. With all of the growing pains that this year’s version of the Green and White have gone through, a split would be an excellent result, and that’s what I’ve got: UMD 3-2, UND 3-1.

Broadcast Information

Both games this weekend will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and also available online at NCHC.tv. Friday’s opener can also be seen on TSN in Canada. All UND men’s hockey games can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network as well as through the iHeart Radio app.

Social Media

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

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

Weekend Preview: North Dakota at Miami

The Miami RedHawks only faced North Dakota three times last season, but that was more than enough for Chris Bergeron’s squad.

Way back on December 2nd, 2020, the two teams met in Omaha in the first pod game for either side. North Dakota blanked Miami 2-0 and put 39 shots on goal.

And in the rematch on December 20th – the final game of the Omaha pod – the RedHawks managed to score twice but allowed six North Dakota goals on 39 shots.

Miami put a total of 42 shots on frame over the course of those six periods of hockey.

After those two December tilts, the teams were not scheduled to face each other in the second half of the season. As fate would have it, however, top-seeded UND (18-5-1) drew last-place Miami (5-17-2) in the first round of the modified NCHC Frozen Faceoff. There was little drama in the contest, as the Fighting Hawks scored three goals in the first six minutes of the hockey game and cruised to a 6-2 victory, outshooting MU 46-28.

In the season series, North Dakota outscored Miami 14-4 while holding a 124-70 advantage in shots on goal.

Unfortunately for the RedHawks, that was the case all of last season, as Chris Bergeron’s squad only scored 48 goals all year (1.92 goals/game) while allowing 89 and were outshot 885-587. Goaltending kept things close, but Miami scored more than two goals in a game just seven times last year (in 25 games played).

Sophomore goaltender Ludvig Persson was a bright spot for Miami last season (5-11-2, 2.62, .925, 2 SO), but he has come down to earth in his first seven appearances this year, going just 2-4-1 with a goals-against average of 3.29 and a save percentage of .892.

Miami is scoring at a better pace this season (2.88 goals per game) and has scored more than two goals in four of eight games this year. The issue has been that MU is allowing 3.5 goals per contest and has not held an opponent under two goals all season.

Over the first eight seasons of the NCHC, Miami has averaged worse than a sixth-place finish (8th, 2nd, 5th, 7th, 8th, 8th, 7th, 8th), with a combined league record of 55-117-20 (.339).

By comparison, North Dakota has finished 2nd, 1st, 1st, 4th, 4th, 5th, 1st, and 1st for an average finish somewhere between 2nd and 3rd place and a combined league record of 116-61-15 (.643). No other league member has collected as many conference wins as UND.

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

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

Incidentally, Bergeron recruited current UND grad transfer Connor Ford to Bowling Green; Ford scored 53 goals and added 61 assists for 114 points in his four seasons (148 games) with the Falcons.

Eight 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 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. And now, the WCHA is no more, and the CCHA has re-formed for the 2021-2022 campaign.

The NCHC has been the premier hockey conference since its inception, and particularly over the past five seasons. The eight teams in the league have gone 385-199-80 (.640) in non-conference action since the start of the 2014-15 season and sent eleven teams to the Frozen Four (UND and Omaha in 2015, UND and Denver in 2016, Denver and Duluth in 2017, Duluth in 2018, Denver and Duluth in 2019, Duluth and St. Cloud State in 2021) over that seven-year stretch (there was no national tournament in 2020). Conference members North Dakota (2016), Denver (2017), and Minnesota Duluth (2018, 2019) have won four of the last five national titles.

After sputtering to records of 17-13-10 (.550) and 18-17-2 (.514) and missing the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons, UND head coach Brad Berry got his team on the right track 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, the offensive numbers appear to be fine on the surface. UND is averaging 3.67 goals per game through its first nine contests; last year, North Dakota scored 3.93 goals/game. There is one concerning metric, however: in my opinion, the Fighting Hawks have been relying too heavily on the power play (10 of 33 goals this season, 30.3% of the team’s offensive production) and not generating enough chances at even strength. Last year, the power play units were effective but not essential, accounting for 29 of UND’s 114 goals scored (25.4%).

This is concerning for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Brad Berry’s squad will not have the puck enough this season to draw the number of power plays required to win in this fashion. Through nine games, UND has had 31 man advantage opportunities (3.4/game) while finding themselves shorthanded 37 times (4.1/game) and allowing six power play goals. Last year, the Green and White averaged 4.3 power plays per game while finding themselves shorthanded exactly four times per contest. Coupled with four shorthanded goals, this led to a +17 specialty teams margin last season. This year, North Dakota sits at +3 through nine games and now finds itself in the gauntlet of the NCHC schedule.

And to drill down on this point a bit further, why will UND not enjoy a power play quantity advantage over opponents this season? Quite simply, they will not possess the puck enough. The team chasing the puck will hook, hold, obstruct, interfere, and trip opponents in order to regain possession or prevent scoring chances. 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 clock in at #19 (52.1%).

Having the puck most of the time also led to a 33-26 shot advantage last season; this year, it’s nearly dead even at 26-24. With top-end talent and puck possession, UND scored nearly four goals per game last year while allowing less than two (1.94); the most glaring statistic with this year’s squad is that opponents are averaging 2.56 goals per game.

After experiencing slow starts against Bemidji State, Quinnipiac, and Penn State, UND got back to its game against Denver last weekend. The Fighting Hawks scored twice early in the second period to build a 2-0 lead on Friday night and held on to win 3-1, following up that effort with their most complete period of the season in Saturday’s opening frame. Brad Berry’s squad jumped out to a 2-0 lead after eleven minutes, survived a strong DU second period, and completed the sweep with two goals in the third.

In the two-game series, North Dakota led for nearly ninety minutes of game action and never trailed. This is the recipe for success for this year’s squad – keep games close and settle in rather than having to chase the game.

In its three losses (vs. Bemidji State, at Quinnipiac, vs. Penn State), North Dakota trailed each opponent by multiple goals at various points in the contest. BSU scored two goals in the opening 90 seconds and led until UND tied it with 38 seconds remaining, QU scored four consecutive goals to build a 4-1 lead midway through the third period, and PSU built a 2-0 lead through the first thirteen minutes of the opening frame in Nashville. In those three losses, the Fighting Hawks led for a TOTAL of five minutes and seven seconds.

The Fighting Hawks will need to do a better job of keeping games close early if they expect to complete for a top-half finish in the NCHC. To be fair, UND has played better in second periods this season – outshooting opponents 92-61 while scoring thirteen goals and allowing just six – but when they’ve struggled out of the gate, they have often been behind and chasing the scoreboard by that point.

Why is it important to bring all of this up as UND enters league play? Because the stronger competition will expose these areas even as Brad Berry’s team develops some chemistry. Splits are very possible on home ice, something that has been nearly unheard of over the past two seasons (North Dakota went 27-2-0 over the past two seasons at the Ralph). An overall record of 45-10-5 (.792) over the past two seasons has certainly raised the already-high bar for the UND faithful, but fans should temper expectations and expect close, frustrating contests until January and beyond. Even with North Dakota’s home sweep of Denver last weekend, this team is still finding its identity and will be a much tougher opponent in the second half of the season.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Chris Bergeron’s squad has ten players who meet that threshold: junior forward Joe Cassetti (3-2-5), senior forward Matt Barry (2-3-5), freshman forward Chase Gresock (3-2-5), junior forward Ryan Savage (3-1-4), freshman forward Red Savage (0-4-4), sophomore forward Thomas Daskas (2-2-4), senior forward Michael Regush (1-3-4), senior defenseman Derek Daschke (2-3-5), junior defenseman Alec Capstick (1-2-3), and junior defenseman Jack Clement (1-3-4).

By that same measure, Brad Berry has nine players at a half point or better per game and three averaging a point per game or better: sophomore forward Riese Gaber (4-7-11), sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (3-6-9), and senior forward Ashton Calder (5-4-9). Other offensive contributors include freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (4-4-8), junior forward Judd Caulfield (3-5-8), freshman forward Matteo Costantini (3-4-7), senior forward Connor Ford (1-5-6), sophomore forward Louis Jamernik (3-3-6), and junior defenseman Ethan Frisch.

On the plus side, UND is taking advantage of scoring opportunities when they present themselves, lighting the lamp on 14.1% of shots on goal (good for 3rd in the country). Miami is in 12th place in that category at 11.9%.

Both teams have had goaltending struggles to this point in the season, with Miami (a team save percentage of .888) and North Dakota (.895) ranking in the bottom half of all men’s Division I hockey teams in that statistic. To be fair, Zach Driscoll (6-3-0, 2.35 GAA, .904 SV%, 1 SO), who has played every minute in net for UND, rebounded from a subpar performance in Nashville (five goals allowed on 22 shots) to make 43 of 45 saves last weekend against Denver (one goal allowed each night).

For Miami, sophomore Ludvig Persson (2-4-1, 3.29 GAA, .892 SV%) has played the majority of minutes between the pipes, with junior Logan Neaton (0-1-0, 2.99 GAA, .907%) appearing in two games. Persson is the reigning NCHC Rookie of the Year.

After this weekend, #7/#7 North Dakota (6-3-0) will face three consecutive ranked opponents, all from the state of Minnesota:

November 19th and 20th: vs. #4/#4 Minnesota Duluth (6-2-0)
November 26th and 27th: vs. #6/#8 Minnesota (6-4-0)
December 3rd and 4th: at #1/#1 St. Cloud State (8-2-0)

Miami RedHawks

Head Coach: Chris Bergeron (3rd season at Miami, 15-44-8, .284)
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 2-5-1 overall, 1-1-0 NCHC (t-3rd)
Last Season: 5-18-2 overall, 5-17-2 NCHC (8th)

Team Offense: 2.71 goals scored/game – 29th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 3.57 goals allowed/game – 50th of 59 teams
Power Play: 16.1% (5 of 31) – 33rd of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 78.3% (18 of 23) – 43rd of 59 teams

Key players: Junior F Joe Cassetti (3-2-5), Senior F Matt Barry (2-3-5), Freshman F Chase Gresock (3-2-5), Junior F Ryan Savage (3-1-4), Freshman F Red Savage (0-4-4), Sophomore F Thomas Daskas (2-2-4), Senior F Michael Regush (1-3-4), Senior D Derek Daschke (2-3-5), Junior D Alec Capstick (1-2-3), Junior D Jack Clement (1-3-4), Sophomore G Ludvig Persson (2-4-1, 3.29 GAA, .892 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND ; 144-66-24, .667)
National Ranking: #7/#7
This Season: 6-3-0 overall, 2-0-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCAA Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

Team Offense: 3.67 goals scored/game – 9th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 2.56 goals allowed/game – 27th of 59 teams
Power Play: 30.3% (10 of 33) – 6th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 84.6% (33 of 39) – 29th of 59 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (4-7-11), Senior F Ashton Calder (5-4-9), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (4-4-8), Junior F Judd Caulfield (3-5-8), Senior F Connor Ford (1-5-6), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (3-3-6), Freshman F Matteo Costantini (3-4-7), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (3-6-9), Sophomore D Tyler Kleven (2-1-3), Junior D Ethan Frisch (2-3-5), Senior G Zach Driscoll (6-3-0, 2.35 GAA, .904 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 12, 2021 (Grand Forks, ND). Top-seeded UND (18-5-1) drew last-place Miami (5-17-2) in the first round of the modified NCHC Frozen Faceoff. There was little drama in the contest, as the Fighting Hawks scored three goals in the first six minutes of the hockey game (including two by Collin Adams and cruised to a 6-2 victory, outshooting MU 46-28. Over the next four days, North Dakota would defeat Denver 2-1 (OT) and St. Cloud State 5-3 to claim the program’s first NCHC postseason tournament title.

Last Meeting in Miami: January 18, 2020. One night after the teams skated to a 4-4 tie, North Dakota exploded with three goals in the third period to escape with a 5-3 road victory. Miami had taken a 3-2 lead on a power play goal with just fifty seonds remaining in the middle frame. UND’s Cole Smith potted the game-winner with just 64 ticks on the clock, and Westin Michaud added an empty net goal 37 seconds later to ice the contest. The Fighting Hawks outshot the RedHawks 36-22 for the game and 73-38 in the series.

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

Last Ten: UND has picked up seven wins and two ties (7-1-2, .800) in the past ten contests between the teams, outscoring Miami 42-22 over that stretch of games. The RedHawks have not beaten North Dakota since November 10, 2018, a 3-2 home victory.

All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 20-7-4 (.710), including a 6-4-2 (.583) record in games played in Oxford, Ohio. The teams first played in 1999 (Badger Showdown, Milwaukee, WI).

Game News and Notes

In his three games against Miami last season, sophomore forward Riese Gaber scored four goals and added an assist. In this year’s unbalanced schedule, this will be the last time that the two teams tangle in the regular season. Friday’s opener will be MU’s second home game of the season. Green Hawks are preferable to RedHawks.

The Prediction

I don’t expect this to be easy for North Dakota, as Brad Berry will not have the benefit of last line change to contain Miami’s top two lines of Fletcher-Regush-Ryan Savage and Gresock-Red Savage-Barry. Those six players have accounted for 23 of MU’s 34 points from forwards this season. I expect some bumps in the road early in Friday’s contest, and I am also interested to see how Saturday’s afternoon start affects both teams. I think that the Fighting Hawks have grown over the past three weekends and will outscore the home team in this series; it’s really a matter of whether Miami can keep one close and win late. UND 3-2, 5-1.

Broadcast Information

Both games this weekend will be available online at NCHC.tv; puck drop is set for 6:05 Central Time on Friday and 4:05 Central Time on Saturday. 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. Denver

In last season’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals (held at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks), North Dakota needed overtime to outlast a gutsy performance by a Pios squad that had been decimated by COVID-19. DU dressed only nine forwards for the contest but led 1-0 with under 90 seconds remaining. With the goalie pulled, the Fighting Hawks’ Shane Pinto blasted a shot on net that hit Jasper Weatherby on the way in to send the game to overtime. It took over eight minutes of extra time before Gavin Hain sent the home crowd into a frenzy with a blast of his own that sent the Green and White into the championship game; Denver had just killed Antti Tuomisto’s boarding minor but could not clear the zone. UND outshot the weary Pioneers 20-4 in the third period and overtime.

With the playoff victory, North Dakota moved to 20-5-1 on the season; David Carle’s squad saw its season end at 10-13-1, the first time DU failed to advance to the NCAA tournament since 2007. Last year was the first losing campaign for DU since the 1999-2000 team went 16-23-2. UND won five of the seven meetings between the teams last season, outscoring the Pios 22-14. North Dakota 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 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; from that point until the end of the season, the Green and White went 13-3 outscoring opponents 69-28.

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries. The teams have played 34 times during the first seven seasons of the new conference, but the feud goes all the way back to Geoff Paukovitch’ illegal check on Sioux forward Robbie Bina during the 2005 WCHA Final Five.

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

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

And last season was no different, with the teams combining for 187 penalty minutes in six regular season games (the NCHC semifinal game featured just four minor penalties). The last contest between the squads in Denver saw a DU goaltender run over with nine minutes remaining, which ignited tempers further. That spilled over to the series in Grand Forks in February, with the Pioneers “winning” the penalty minute battle 54-29. North Dakota won the specialty teams battle, scoring two goals on ten man advantage opportunities and blanking DU on its ten power play chances.

In Saturday’s series finale, North Dakota led on the scoreboard 5-2 thanks to two goals by Jasper Weatherby and 18 saves from Peter Thome, who started in place of injured netminder Adam Scheel. And how was Scheel injured, you might ask? Denver’s Kohen Olischefski ran Scheel from behind late in Friday’s 3-0 UND victory. Olischefski was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for goaltender interference and was issued an additional one-game suspension by the league office.

Eight 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 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. And now, the WCHA is no more, and the CCHA has re-formed for the 2021-2022 campaign.

The NCHC has been the premier hockey conference since its inception, and particularly over the past five seasons. The eight teams in the league have gone 385-199-80 (.640) in non-conference action since the start of the 2014-15 season and sent eleven teams to the Frozen Four (UND and Omaha in 2015, UND and Denver in 2016, Denver and Duluth in 2017, Duluth in 2018, Denver and Duluth in 2019, Duluth and St. Cloud State in 2021) over that seven-year stretch (there was no national tournament in 2020). Conference members North Dakota (2016), Denver (2017), and Minnesota Duluth (2018, 2019) have won four of the last five national titles.

After sputtering to records of 17-13-10 (.550) and 18-17-2 (.514) and missing the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons, UND head coach Brad Berry got his team on the right track 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, the offensive numbers appear to be fine on the surface. UND is averaging 3.71 goals per game through its first seven contests; last year, North Dakota scored 3.93 goals/game. There is one concerning metric, however: in my opinion, the Fighting Hawks are relying too heavily on the power play (8 of 26 goals this season, 30.8% of the team’s offensive production) and not generating enough chances at even strength. Last year, the power play units were effective but not essential, accounting for 29 of UND’s 114 goals scored (25.4%).

This is concerning for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Brad Berry’s squad will not have the puck enough this season to draw the number of power plays required to win in this fashion. Through seven games, UND has had 26 man advantage opportunities (3.7/game) while finding themselves shorthanded 32 times (4.6/game) and allowing six power play goals. Last year, the Green and White averaged 4.3 power plays per game while finding themselves shorthanded exactly four times per contest. Coupled with four shorthanded goals, this led to a +17 specialty teams margin last season. This year, North Dakota sits at +2 through seven games and now enters league play against arguably stronger competition.

And to drill down on this point a bit further, why will UND not enjoy a power play quantity advantage over opponents this season? Quite simply, they will not possess the puck enough. The team chasing the puck will hook, hold, obstruct, interfere, and trip opponents in order to regain possession or prevent scoring chances. 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 clock in at #12 (52.9%).

Having the puck most of the time also led to a 33-26 shot advantage last season; this year, it’s nearly dead even at 26-25. With top-end talent and puck possession, UND scored nearly four goals per game last year while allowing less than two (1.94); the most glaring statistic with this year’s squad is that opponents are averaging three goals per game.

This season, it’s Denver who has been dominating puck possession, sitting at #2 in the country in both Corsi and Fenwick (63.6% in each category), while North Dakota clocks in at 18th and 20th. UND fans who watched the series at Quinnipiac should expect something very similar against the Pioneers; QU played the same puck possession game to near perfection against the Fighting Hawks.

UND has been plagued by slow starts this season, allowing the first goal in four of seven contests. In two of those games, North Dakota found itself down 2-0 in short order. Brad Berry’s squad has experienced three distinct game types so far this season:

North Dakota won with relative ease against Niagara, scoring the first goal at 3:01 of the first period on Friday night and at the 1:09 mark of the opening frame on Saturday night. On the weekend, UND never trailed, was tied for just 4:10, and led for almost 116 of the 120 minutes of the series.

In two tightly contested victories (at Bemidji State, at Quinnipiac), the Fighting Hawks led for over 67 minutes, were tied for 33 minutes, and trailed just nineteen minutes combined over the two contests. More importantly, UND never trailed by more than a single goal in either game. This is the recipe for success for this year’s squad – keep games close and settle in rather than having to chase the game.

In its three losses (vs. Bemidji State, at Quinnipiac, vs. Penn State), North Dakota trailed each opponent by multiple goals at various points in the contest. BSU scored two goals in the opening 90 seconds and led until UND tied it with 38 seconds remaining, QU scored four consecutive goals to build a 4-1 lead midway through the third period, and PSU built a 2-0 lead through the first thirteen minutes of the opening frame in Nashville. In those three losses, the Fighting Hawks led for a TOTAL of five minutes and seven seconds.

The Fighting Hawks will need to do a better job of keeping games close early if they expect to complete for a top-half finish in the NCHC. To be fair, UND has played better in second periods this season – outshooting opponents 76-46 while scoring eleven goals and allowing just four – but they’ve far too often been behind and chasing the scoreboard by that point.

Why is it important to bring all of this up as UND enters league play? Because the stronger competition will expose these areas even as Brad Berry’s team develops some chemistry. Splits are very possible on home ice, something that has been nearly unheard of over the past two seasons (North Dakota went 27-2-0 over the past two seasons at the Ralph). An overall record of 45-10-5 (.792) over the past two seasons has certainly raised the already-high bar for the UND faithful, but fans should temper expectations and expect close, frustrating contests until January and beyond.

Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, a half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and David Carle’s squad has fourteen active players who meet that threshold and SEVEN averaging a point per game or better: sophomore forward Carter Savoie (6-6-12), junior forward Bobby Brink (3-6-9), senior forward Cole Guttman (3-6-9), freshman forward Massimo Rizzo (5-3-8), junior defenseman Justin Lee (1-3-4 in three games), freshman defenseman Sean Behrens (0-7-7), and senior forward Brett Stapley (1-5-6). Rizzo was a former North Dakota recruit.

By that same measure, Brad Berry has nine players at a half point or better per game and four averaging a point per game or better: sophomore forward Riese Gaber (3-6-9), sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson (3-5-8), freshman forward Jake Schmaltz (4-4-8), and senior forward Ashton Calder (4-3-7).

On the plus side, UND is taking advantage of scoring opportunities when they present themselves, lighting the lamp on 14.2% of shots on goal. Denver sits a ways back at 11.8%. The issue for North Dakota is that they are not generating enough shot attempts. DU is putting over 42 shots on net per game, scoring an average of five goals per contest. Remarkably, the Pioneers are allowing less than 25 shots on goal per game.

Both teams have had goaltending struggles to this point in the season, with Denver (a team save percentage of .878) and North Dakota (.880) ranking in the bottom quarter of all men’s Division I hockey teams in that statistic.

Zach Driscoll (4-3-0, 2.74 GAA, .890 SV%, 1 SO) has played every minute in net for UND, while junior Magnus Chrona (3-1-0, 3.12 GAA, .868 SV%) and freshman Matt Davis (1-1-0, 2.36 GAA, .911 SV%, 1 SO) have split time for the Pios.

Denver Pioneers

Head Coach: David Carle (4th season at DU, 59-36-12, .607)
National Rankings: #11/#13

This Season: 4-2-0 overall, 0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 10-13-1 overall, 9-12-1 NCHC (5th)

Team Offense: 5.00 goals scored/game – 2nd of 59 teams
Team Defense: 3.00 goals allowed/game – 36th of 59 teams
Power Play: 27.6% (8 of 29) – 9th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 57.7% (15 of 26) – 57th of 59 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Carter Savoie (6-6-12), Junior F Bobby Brink (3-6-9), Senior F Cole Guttman (3-6-9), Freshman F Massimo Rizzo (5-3-8), Senior F Brett Stapley (1-5-6), Junior D Justin Lee (1-3-4 in three games), Freshman D Sean Behrens (0-7-7), Freshman G Matt Davis (1-1-0, 2.36 GAA, .911 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (7th season at UND ; 142-66-24, .664)
National Ranking: #8/#10
This Season: 4-3-0 overall, 0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 22-6-1 overall (NCAA Regional Finalist), 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)

Team Offense: 3.71 goals scored/game – 11th of 59 teams
Team Defense: 3.00 goals allowed/game – 26th of 59 teams
Power Play: 32.1% (9 of 28) – 5th of 59 teams
Penalty Kill: 82.4% (28 of 34) – 33rd of 59 teams

Key Players: Sophomore F Riese Gaber (3-6-9), Senior F Ashton Calder (4-3-7), Freshman F Jake Schmaltz (4-4-8), Junior F Judd Caulfield (3-3-6), Senior F Connor Ford (1-5-6), Sophomore F Louis Jamernik (1-3-4), Sophomore D Jake Sanderson (3-5-8), Sophomore D Tyler Kleven (1-1-2), Junior D Ethan Frisch (2-2-4), Senior G Zach Driscoll (4-3-0, 2.74 GAA, .890 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 15, 2021 (Grand Forks, ND). A Denver Pioneers squad with just nine forwards due to COVID-19 protocols almost outlasted a deep and highly skilled North Dakota team in front of 2500 fans on a rare Monday showdown at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Carter Savoie scored a power play goal in the second period that nearly held up as the game-winner, but UND’s Shane Pinto had other plans: his rocket from the faceoff circle went past Magnus Chrona off of Jasper Weatherby and sent the game to overtime. Six seconds after a Fighting Hawks’ power play expired, Gavin Hain won it for North Dakota. UND outshot the Pios 32-18.

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

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

Last Ten Games: North Dakota won the last three meetings of the 2019-2020 season, outscoring the Pios 13-3 in the process. Splits in the Omaha pod and in Denver plus a February home sweep and the aforementioned NCHC playoff semifinal give the Fighting Hawks an 8-2-0 (.800) advantage over the last ten games. UND has outscored DU 35-17 over that stretch, including a 19-5 scoreboard advantage in five home victories.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 154-130-16 (.540), with a considerable edge of 90-44-10 (.660) in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1950, with North Dakota prevailing 18-3 in Denver. The 300 games played between the schools is the most among all of UND’s opponents.

Game News and Notes

Through six games, Denver has allowed eleven power play goals to opponents. UND captain Mark Senden has faced Denver 17 times in his collegiate career, with one goal and six assists in those contests. Senden scored the first goal in North Dakota’s Saturday night victory over Quinnipiac two weeks ago; the Fighting Hawks are now 14-2-0 when Senden scores a goal. Nine of Denver head coach David Carle’s 36 head coaching losses have come against UND. Last season, the Fighting Hawks won the Penrose Cup as NCHC regular season champions for the fourth time in the eight-year history of the league; the Pioneers have captured the Penrose only once (2016-2017). Since seven of Michigan’s nine titles were earned by 1964, I consider Denver (eight titles) and North Dakota (eight titles) to be the top two men’s college hockey programs of all time.

The Prediction

For the first time in a long time, Denver appears to hold the roster advantage. It will be interesting to see how this next chapter in the rivalry plays out. I expect North Dakota to trail for large stretches of this series as they have against tough opponents to this point in the season. The difference may just come down to goaltending, but I have a feeling that there will be plenty of goals scored at the Ralph this weekend. DU 5-3, UND 4-3.

Broadcast Information

Both games this weekend will be broadcast live on Midco Sports Network and also available via high-definition 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!