Denver Hockey Series Preview: University of North Dakota

Photo courtesy of UND Sports

After taking back the No. 1 ranking from St. Cloud State with a sweep last weekend, the Pioneers have another tough test in No. 3 North Dakota

We’re just a week away from Thanksgiving and I think it’s safe to say a lot of us are thankful for College Hockey.  It was a great weekend for the Pioneers last week who completed a sweep of the then No. 1 St. Cloud State Huskies.  It was a tough battle but the Pioneers prevailed and have good momentum going into their series this weekend with the North Dakota Fighting Hawks.

Last weekend the Hawks played Miami University and came away with a win and a tie.  Their record is currently 7-2-3 with their only losses coming from the University of Minnesota and Colorado College.

With the new USCHO poll, the Pioneers are again the No. 1 team and the Fighting Hawks fell from No. 2 to No. 3.  This weekend, College Hockey will again feature another great NCHC matchup between two top-ranked teams in the country.

North Dakota was the only NCHC team to not play a game at Magness Arena last season and they probably weren’t missed by Pioneers fans.

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Photo Courtesy of NewsDay.com

Strengths

Goaltending

North Dakota goaltender Cam Johnson has been out with an injury for a couple weeks and it’s not clear whether he’ll start this weekend against the Pioneers.  Fortunately for the Fighting Hawks, freshman Peter Thome hasn’t missed a beat stepping in in Johnson’s absence.  In four games, the Columbus Blue Jackets prospect is 2-0-2 with a goals against average of 1.92 and a save percentage of .929.

Last weekend the Pioneers faced another hot goaltender in David Hrenak but ended up blowing the doors off his goals against average by putting up five goals on the St. Cloud State freshman.  The Pioneers will face a different style defense and a group of forwards who play very well defensively.

Penalty Kill / Shot Differential

The Fighting Hawks are also a very well coached team in the NCHC and it shows through their dedication to defense.  In 47 opportunities, North Dakota opponents have only scored two power-play goals.  They average around five penalties per game so the Pioneers will need to find a way to make the Hawks pay.

The Hawks are also not letting many shots get to their goaltender.  Opponents are averaging just 24 shots on goal all season.  Needless to say, this is going to be a tight series.

Opportunities

Home Ice

I generally don’t believe there is a home-advantage in hockey, but this series could make a huge difference.  The North Dakota fans are known to travel well which will give a lot of motivation to the Pioneer fans to get loud.  Last weekend against St. Cloud State, the student section and the band blew the roof off of Magness Arena, especially when things escalated at the end of the second game.  This weekend will have a lot of long-term implications for the two rivals which will make for a splendid series.

Slow Starts

Of their 36 goals, just 22% of their goals came in the first period.  The Pioneers, however, have scored 30% of their goals in the 1st and 42% in the 3rd.  The Pios will have to come out strong and set the tempo early.  If they can get the Hawks on their heels, turnovers will be forced.  Montgomery is great at game-planning so teams have to adjust to the Pioneers, not the other way around.

Who to Watch:

#16 – F – Grant Mismash (NSH 2nd, 2017) – 4G, 7A, +7

#24 – F – Christian Wolanin (OTT 4th, 2015) – 3G, 7A, 34SOG, 2PPG

#8 – F – Nick Jones – 5G, 4A

#19 – F – Shane Gersich (WSH 5th, 2014) – 4G, 4A, 45SOG

#6 – D – Colton Poolman – 2G, 5A, +6, 22 blocks

#1 – G – Peter Thome – 2-0-2, 1.92GAA, .929SV%

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Photo Courtesy of Inforum.com

Prediction – Pioneers split with the Fighting Hawks

A few of you called me a little crazy for predicting a sweep of the St. Cloud State Huskies last weekend and I will admit I was also surprised with the result.  But this weekend I’m not as confident.  The University of North Dakota is the Pioneers’ archrival, and anything goes when you play your rival.

Watching a little bit of the Hawks this year, this is a team that plays a very similar style as the Pioneers.  They have elite talent, they are relentless forecheckers, and they move the puck very fast.  Hockey is so much about matchups that sometimes stats and records have nothing to do with predicting an outcome.  It’s basically “Any Given Sunday,” or in this case Friday/Saturday.

Twitter Follow:  @UNDmhockey , @SchlossmanGF

Where to Watch:  

Friday – 7:05pm, Altitude 2

Saturday – 7:05pm, Altitude 2