As if the Denver vs North Dakota clash wasn’t intense enough, add the possibility to advance to the National Championship and the opportunity to break the tie for seven national titles. The Denver Pioneers and the North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ sixth meeting of the year serves as the ultimate test as the two teams clash once more in Tampa.
The record is split between DU and UND at 2-2-1, further weighing the importance of Thursdays game. The Fighting Hawks demolished the Pioneers in Grand Forks in early December. After 5-1 and 4-0 beatings, Denver faced a season low. That sweep preceded another sweep, this time by St. Cloud State a week later, against the Pioneers.
The holiday break provided time to regroup sparking Denver’s 16-1-3 regular season second-half run. During the run, the Pioneers swept the Fighting Hawks in a thrilling weekend of top-tier college hockey. Top lines for both teams the Pacific Rim Line and the CBS line dominated the scoreboard. The Pacific Rim Line combined for eleven points including three goals and four assists while the CBS line totaled six points, making their first debut in a month (due to injuries).
The fifth meeting occurred in the consolation game in the Frozen Faceoff on March 19. After both teams were stunned in the first round by their opponents, the Pioneers and Fighting Hawks skated to a cautious 1-1 tie in which both teams showcased conservative lineups. The Pioneers scratched three of their four seniors, their entire fourth line, and two defensemen. The game provided insight into the degree of talent each team carries, extending far past the top lines, and an opportunity for players who typically don’t play to see the ice at the Target Center’s venue.
What To Expect
Denver and UND both produced high scoring wins with few goals relinquished during the first two rounds of playoffs. The Fighting Hawks rolled past Northeastern 6-2 before claiming the Midwest Regional Championship against Michigan with a 5-2 win. The Pioneers downed Boston University 7-2 and won the West Regional Championship with a 6-3 over Ferris State.
In both regional championship games, both teams produced three third period goals. The Fighting Hawks’ late goals were scored by two forwards and a defenseman (Gardner, Sanderson, LaDue) while the Pioneers had two blueliners secure a tally and one forward (Hillman, Zajac, Shore).
Powerhouse top lines lead both teams in points. Denver’s Pacific Rim Line has combined for 139 points this season while UND’s CBS line has amassed 154 points.
Goaltenders from both sides are respectively similar in grade, performance, and shot percentages. DU’s sophomore netminder Tanner Jaillet has skated in 30 games boasting a .923 save percentage. UND’s sophomore goalie Cam Johnson has appeared in 32 games and maintained a .934 save percentage.
DU lacks size, an area where North Dakota holds an edge over the Pioneers, with typical skaters all five-foot-ten and taller.
Denver has assembled four dynamic top lines, all of which have showcased their ability to provide crucial conversions and essential energy. Additionally, the Pioneers’ blueliners have emerged throughout the season, playing well in all three zones, and providing long-range threats on net.
Thursday’s game will be the tell-tale of the 2015-16 season between the two closely matched teams. The history and intensity between DU and North Dakota will only amplify the passion of this already exciting matchup.