Denver Hockey Series Preview: North Dakota

Photo credit: Seth McConnell/The Denver Post

Although the #2/#1 Denver Pioneers got off to solid starts last weekend at Minnesota Duluth, they weren’t able to hold on in either game going 0-1-1 for the series, though they did earn the extra NCHC point in the shootout on Friday.  Head coach David Carle met with the media on Thursday and said “to get punched in the face and in the mouth and see how you get back up is a healthy thing,” describing the Pioneers’ learning experience going up against one of college hockey’s top teams.  Denver hosts the #9 North Dakota Fighting Hawks this weekend – already the Pios’ third top-ten series of the season – who are riding a five-game winning streak so it should make for another thrilling NCHC matchup.

The Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs were by far the toughest team the Pioneers have played to date.  The back-to-back NCAA national champions haven’t been as good offensively as they have been in the recent past, but that didn’t keep them from playing a full 60 minutes and outplaying Denver in game 2.  It was evident that they were in the heads of the Pioneers who struggled late in both games to stay out of the penalty box.  But that’s what playing in the NCHC has been the past several years.  It’s the most cutthroat, elite conference in college hockey.  Now that freshmen like Bobby Brink, Brett Edwards, and Magnus Chrona know what the NCHC is, hopefully, they can adjust this weekend for North Dakota.

It’s important to note that captain Ian Mitchell and sophomore Cole Guttman were again held off the scoresheet this past weekend.  Guttman has just one point in his last five games and hasn’t produced a point in his last three games.  Both players are in need of a spark heading into this weekend.

In the news

North Dakota Fighting Hawks (7-1-1)

Just like the Pioneers do each year, the Fighting Hawks have reloaded with another class of top prospects.  They currently have 8 players who have been drafted to NHL teams in their lineup each night.  Yet their best player is junior forward Jordan Kawaguchi who was undrafted.  Kawaguchi broke out last season scoring 26 points in 37 games, leading the Fighting Hawks in scoring.  Not much has changed this year as Kawaguchi has been North Dakota’s best playmaker.  He has 13 points in nine games so far and was one of the NCAA’s three stars of the week after a six-point series against Miami.

Another player to watch for is senior forward Westin Michaud.  The transfer from Colorado College has five goals and three assists in nine games this year following a 30 points season with the Tigers.  North Dakota also gets plenty of offense from their blue line.  Captain Colton Poolman leads a very active defensive unit featured with two Ottawa Senators first-round draft picks in Jacob Bernard-Docker and Jonny Tychonick.  Neither are afraid to jump into the rush and create chances in the offensive zone.

North Dakota head coach Brad Berry and a few players met with the media this week to talk road games and facing No. 2 Denver this weekend:

Head coach Brad Berry on North Dakota’s road record

“We did a good job ramping up early in the season…and it gets tougher this weekend.  Six of our last eight games before the first half closes are on the road.  One thing we want to improve on is our road record from last year.”

Freshman forward Harrison Blaisdell on the rivalry with Denver

“The last few years it’s been a big rivalry because they are always strong teams.  Denver has been really good the past few years.  Going in we really have to be prepared.  It’s probably our toughest test yet.  We did play Mankato and that was a hard building to play in but going into Denver is going to be tough.”

Sophomore forward Mark Senden on facing Denver

“We have to stick to what we do best.  Play with that little bit of swagger and confidence.  We know we can take down these teams.  We’re a top team in this country, we just have to prove it every single day now playing these high-end teams in the NCHC.  It will be great for us.”

Prediction – Pioneers split

My prediction last week was a little optimistic and turns out the Pioneers were brought back down to earth.  But returning to Magness Arena for a couple of games with North Dakota should get Denver excited and playing well again.  Both teams have electric offensive ability and skate well. Look for a high-scoring affair tonight followed by a buttoned-up defensive gem likely decided by one goal tomorrow.  This could be one of the best series of the year for Denver.

Twitter Follow – @UNDmhockey

Where to Watch/Listen

Friday – 7:07pm MT – tv: Altitude/NCHC.tv radio: 104.3 The Fan

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

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

  1. This is one of those weekends to circle on the calendar. I expect two hard-fought, entertaining, and close games between these two teams. Can’t wait.

    DU has some “chinks in the armor” after last weekend. They should have won on Friday but couldn’t protect the lead. On Saturday Duluth was the more determined and better team and pushed the pace, especially physically. I’m sure UND will try to do the same this weekend. Hard forecheck, physical play in the corners, try to keep DU defending and bogged down in its own zone etc. Pios have to use their speed to create space and establish puck management, keep UND off balance and hopefully chasing, and stay disciplined.

  2. I think we get 5 points this weekend. 4 if we lose the shootout. ND is very good, but they are not used to playing a team like DU where anyone of 20 players can score a goal. Chrona better protect the left post better.

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