Denver Hockey Series Preview: North Dakota

Photo courtesy of FightingHawks.com

No. 7 Denver will try to rebound this weekend when they host archrival, unranked North Dakota

It was a tough series for the Pioneers who lost both games against Western Michigan last weekend.  With goals scored by Liam Finlay and Emilio Pettersen, the Pioneers didn’t bring enough firepower to Kalamazoo to compete with the Broncos.  The Pioneers played from behind all weekend and couldn’t get going offensively early in the games.  Head coach David Carle described the series as “getting punched in the mouth,” something the Pioneers haven’t had much of this season.  But with more games on the schedule to be played, Denver will move forward and learn from the experience.

With a month and a half left to go in the regular season, Denver currently sits in 5th place, outside looking in at the group who would host the first round of the NCHC Tournament, in the NCHC with 20 points.  They will play North Dakota this weekend followed by Duluth, Miami, Omaha, and CC.  They also have an extra game to play against CC that was rescheduled because of poor weather conditions.  There is plenty of time for DU to get back on track in time for the postseason.

A bright spot from January was the performance of freshman Tyler Ward.  He earned NCHC Rookie of the month honors after scoring three goals and two assists in seven games.

If you take a look at the Pioneers games this year, they have been pretty consistent.  They have pulled out tough games on the road and they take care of business at home, but they also have occasional hiccups like every team has.  In a conference with so much talent, it’s natural to have an off weekend every once in a while, especially against a good team or a bad matchup.

One characteristic from last year’s team was that they lost games they shouldn’t have.  Teams like Merrimack and Dartmouth won at Magness Arena, shocking the top team in the nation. The upperclassmen on the Pioneers know that anybody can be a threat and have done a good job leading this team and competing every night.

There is a lot to look forward to this year and beyond for DU hockey.  Getting swept by Western Michigan isn’t the end of the world, however, it does expose a side of Denver that is their weakness.  They can’t play from behind when there isn’t much space to work with.  The Broncos limited them to few shots in the first two periods and worked the clock until it was too late for Denver to come back.  Carle will have to mix up personnel in similar physical series moving forward this year.

North Dakota Fighting Hawks (13-11-1)

In a year where a number of college hockey’s bluebloods are having down years, North Dakota isn’t any different.  The Fighting Hawks haven’t had as much offensive power as they’ve had in the past.  They’re averaging just 2.6 goals per game and are limiting their opponents to 2.5 goals per game so they’ve been in a lot of close games.

One thing the Pioneers need to be aware of is North Dakota’s success when scoring first.  With a record of 10-4-1 after scoring the first goal, UND plays very well when they can set the tone of the game and play with the lead.

A player that North Dakota will miss is Nashville Predators prospect Grant Mismash who will most likely be out for the remainder of the season after a collision with St. Cloud’s Jimmy Schuldt last weekend.  Mismash had five goals and four assists in 21 games this season.

Two players to keep an eye on this weekend are seniors Nick Jones and Rhett Gardner.  They take a lot of UND’s and play a lot in the offensive zone.  The Hawks blue line cannot be underestimated in this series either.  Filip Larsson will have a difficult series seeing shots from the point as the blueliners from UND are great facilitators of the puck.  The last thing the Pioneers want to do is be on the PK late in a close game.

This series is important for a few reasons.  This could give Denver serious confidence that they need to fight back from a bad weekend against Western Michigan.  It would also give the young Pioneers an opportunity to show their ability to rebound.  Denver rebounded from a sweep at St. Cloud with a win at home against Duluth.  And finally, any win against North Dakota is important.  This rivalry is among the best in the country and these schools have a history that goes back over six decades. Make sure you don’t miss this series.

Prediction – Pioneers go 1-0-1 vs UND

Here are two teams coming off tough series with conference rivals who really need the points.  Whenever North Dakota comes to town, it always makes for the best hockey with an incredible atmosphere.  These are two powerhouse programs that really put on a show whenever they collide.  At least one of these games, if not both, will go to a shootout just because it’s DU vs UND.  But Saturday the Pioneers will make UND pay on the power play.  The Fighting Hawks don’t let a lot of shots through so Denver will have to shoot through lanes quickly.

Let’s get ready to rumble!

Twitter Follow – @UNDmhockey

Where to Watch/Listen

Friday – 7:07pm MT, Altitude 2, 104.3 The Fan

Saturday – 7:07pm MT, NCHC.tv, 104.3 The Fan

2 thoughts on “Denver Hockey Series Preview: North Dakota”

  1. DU’s special teams problems on both PP and PK were the biggest reason that the Pioneers were unable to come back against WMU. I expect that DU has been working on this area all week in practice, and if these problems can get fixed, I think DU will likely be ok vs UND.

    Another area of concern is goaltending. Larsson needs to be better this weekend.

    Finally, DU needs to come out strong. Flat starts have been a problem in many DU games, even when you expect emotions to be very high. Watch to see if DU is moving their feet, especially in puck possession and puck pursuit.

  2. Hard to envision anything other than a split this weekend. There’s a lot on the line. Both these teams are fighting for home ice. DU needs to rebound after last weekend’s setback and needs league points. UND needs wins for PW purposes and league points. Should be a great series.

    I expect DU to come out flying tonight and really push the pace.

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