Denver Hockey Series Preview: North Dakota

With the Pioneers riding an 11-game unbeaten streak into the series with the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, not many would’ve predicted Denver getting swept at home.  It was an opportune moment for the Pioneers to take a strong position in the NCHC standings, but instead, they fall to a 3rd place tie with Western Michigan, each with 28 points.  Head coach David Carle said that the Pioneers couldn’t match the intensity that UMD brought in the second game and they simply lost to the better team.  The schedule doesn’t get any easier and no love will be lost as Denver travels to Grand Forks for a Valentine’s Weekend series with a Fighting Hawks team that is 14-1 at home this year.

The good news here is that after the North Dakota series, Denver is a combined 6-0 against their final three opponents of the year in Miami (home), St. Cloud State (away), and Colorado College (home-and-home).  The bad news is that come Frozen Faceoff time, they will have to find ways to get past UMD and/or North Dakota.  Denver tends to play a very close first game with their rivals followed by a bad loss, showing the proper adjustments are made.

The key seems to be getting the first goal.  This season when the Pioneers trail after period one, they are 5-4-1.  If they trail after two periods, they have a record of 1-6-2.  Yet if the Pioneers score first, they are an astounding 10-0-2.

It’s not a surprise that they Pioneers play well with a lead.  They’re a fast transitioning team with, at times, an impenetrable defense.  They get pucks deep and force their opponents to defend in their own zone for long stretches of time.  And they feast on mistakes in the neutral zone.  Thus it makes sense for teams like UMD to come out hard and force the Pioneers to play on their heels.  The focus moving forward has to be matching that intensity right at puck drop and enable the team to dictate the pace of the game.

On a more positive note, freshman Bobby Brink was honored as the NCHC’s player of the month.  In January, Brink scored three goals and had nine points.  He’s currently second on the team in points with 23 and is on a five-game point streak.

North Dakota Fighting Hawks (21-3-3)

In what may be the best season North Dakota has had since Brad Berry took over as head coach in 2015, it seems like the Fighting Hawks are firing on all cylinders.  They are 3rd in the country in goals scored this season with 113 and 73% of those goals come at even-strength.  North Dakota is also the heaviest team in the league with an average weight of 194 pounds, compared to Denver’s 4th lightest at 182 pounds.

Forward Jordan Kawaguchi is having another breakout season, leading the Fighting Hawks in points with 41 in 27 games.  He and three other North Dakota skaters have double-digit goals this season.  One of those skaters is freshman Shane Pinto, a 2nd round draft pick of the Ottawa Senators.  Pinto had a strong World Juniors tournament despite an early exit for Team USA.  Pinto has made an immediate impact for the Fighting Hawks with 13 goals and nine assists.

If you thought UMD’s top three defensemen were good, meet Jacob Bernard-Docker, Jonny Tychonick, and Colton Poolman.  All three combine for a plus/minus of +44.  Add junior Matt Kiersted who is having a breakout season to the mix and you’d understand why North Dakota has given up the 4th least goals in college hockey this season.

If you had to identify one way to crack the North Dakota code, you could say that sophomore goaltender Adam Scheel could be had.  Despite his phenomenal numbers this season (17-3-2, 2.08 GAA, .903 SV%), he has given up three or more goals six times this season.  To his defense, he’s only lost two of those games due to UND’s high-octane offense.  If Denver can somehow steal a game on the road this weekend, they will have to take the eyes away from Scheel and get to him early.

Fighting Hawks head coach Brad Berry met with the media this week to discuss the upcoming series with Denver:

Prediction – Denver goes 0-1-1

In what may be the toughest series and environment of the season for DU, this will be very tough for them to pull out wins.  This is the strongest the Fighting Hawks have been in a few years although they have faltered at the hands of Omaha and Minnesota Duluth.  Both of those teams have risen to the occasion despite their record.  If Denver wants to steal some points in Grand Forks, they will have to bring a playoff-like style knowing there is a lot on the line this weekend. Revenge may play a factor for the Pioneers as well as North Dakota took five of six points from Denver at Magness Arena in November. The Pioneers would love nothing more than to return the favor and then some in this Valentine’s weekend series.

Twitter Follow – @UNDmHockey

Where to Watch/Listen

Friday – 6:37pm MT – tv: CBS Sports Network radio: 104.3 The Fan

Saturday – 6:07pm MT tv: TSN / radio: 104.3 The Fan

Top Photo courtesy of Denver Athletics

One thought on “Denver Hockey Series Preview: North Dakota”

  1. Huge challenge this weekend. I’m hoping the Pios can earn a split. Anything more than that would be icing on the cake.

    It’s been an interesting season thus far and a season with some notable accomplishments: 17 wins (and almost certainly another 20-win season), a sparkling non-conference record, a couple of long winning streaks, and the continued growth and maturity of a talented group that’s a lot of fun to watch when they are playing the relentless Denver style. The lingering question, however, is how does this team stack up against the elite teams in the NCHC, namely UND and UMD? The answer thus far is not so well. Can this DU team reverse that trend on the road against the top team in the conference and in the national rankings?

    This weekend is a very important measuring stick as DU gears up for the postseason.

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