Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday Gameday: It's Time to Stretch

Here we go, college hockey fans. We’ve officially hit the stretch run.

Tonight and Saturday, the No. 2 UND men’s hockey team takes on the Colorado College Tigers from the Ralph Engelstad Arena in a National Collegiate Hockey Conference two-game tussle.

This weekend’s series finds these two teams pretty much where they were when they faced each other back in October, with North Dakota near the top of the national rankings while CC continues its search for consistency.

UND entered that early-season series in Colorado Springs with the sting of a stunning 5-1 opening-night loss to Bemidji State still fresh on their minds, but rolled the Tigers 3-1 and 7-2 to earn a sweep.

Since then, not much has changed for the Green and White as they’ve rolled to a 16-5-2 record and a No. 4 Pairwise ranking.

Colorado College has started to show signs of life, earning their first NCHC win of the season last weekend against NCHC-leading Nebraska-Omaha.

The Tigers lost Saturday night’s game against the Mavericks 4-1, but outshot UNO 28-14.

UND rounded out their non-conference season in the Dave Hakstol era with a dominating 7-1, 5-0 weekend sweep over Niagara this past weekend to earn a stellar 9-1-1 record out of the NCHC.

Terrible Tendies

As these two teams dig in for the race to the postseason, the Tigers will look to slow UND’s No. 6 nationally-ranked offensive attack that is clipping at 3.48 goals per game.

To find success this weekend, CC will need to find someone to step up between the pipes.

Freshman Chase Perry and sophomore Tyler Marble have both started 12 games this season for a Tiger team that’s allowing the fourth-most goals per game in country, averaging 4.00 goals allowed per game.

The netminding duo have put up some pretty paltry numbers this year that finds both Perry and Marble in the bottom five out of 79 qualifying goalies in save percentage (Perry .884, Marble .880) and goals against average (Perry 3.64, Marble 3.95).

Junior forward Cody Bradley (8g, 10a –18 points) and dynamic sophomore defenseman Jaccob Slavin (2g, 8a –10 pts) lead the Tiger offense.

Dynamic Depth

Junior forward Drake Caggiula continues to lead UND offensively with 24 points (9g, 15a) while senior assistant captain Mark MacMillan carries the goal scoring lead with 11 for the Green and White.

Depth has been UND’s calling card this season with 10 players entering this weekend’s series with double-digit point totals. Two more, defenseman Troy Stecher and forward Bryn Chyzyk, both of who have missed significant time with injuries, have nine points on the season.

Welcome Back?

Speaking of injuries, UND may have finally turned the corner in a good way as Stecher (leg), junior Colton St. Clair (upper-body injury) and freshman Trevor Olson (mononucleosis) all returned to practice this week. While all three are still very much questionable for this weekend, a return for these three key cogs could prove huge for UND as the stretch run rolls on.

The Man, the Myth, the McIntyre

UND's Zane McIntyre
Defensively for North Dakota, as it has been all season, it starts and ends with goaltender Zane McIntyre.

The junior from DDC’s hometown of Thief River Falls, Minn., was lights out last weekend against Niagara, stopping 42-of-43 shots and was one Friday night softie away from a pair of shutouts.

McIntyre (16-5-2) is tied for most wins in the country and places 10th nationally in both goals against average (1.87) and save percentage  (.933).

The Pick

While CC has certainly grown as a team since these two played in October under first-year head coach Mike Haviland, the Tiger’s goaltending situation looks to be much too shaky to slow a high-flying offense like UND’s.

The Green and White are coming off a weekend that saw them put up 12 goals and DDC expects UND to continue to put pressure forward this weekend.

Throw in North Dakota’s No. 8 ranked defense (allowing just 2.09 goals per game) in front of a goaltender in McIntyre playing better and better by the weekend, this weekend has sweep written all over it.

DDC expects to CC to bring intensity and hustle all weekend, but in the end, UND is playing too well to pick against them.

UND SWEEPS 4-1, 5-2.