Friday, February 19, 2016

Friday Gameday: It's Time to Forget

With six games left to go in the 2015-16 season, the UND men's hockey team has lost just five times.

However, when two of those losses come in sweeping fashion on the road for the first time since 2011 against a bitter rival, with a chance to clinch home ice in the first round of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs, and with the race for the NCHC championship as tight as it is, it's hard to fight off a sense of concern.

That concern aside, the Green and White have a job to do this weekend against Minnesota Duluth.

Those two important pieces, the aforementioned chases for home ice and the Penrose Cup, are still  directly in front of UND. Three points this weekend at home against the Bulldogs or if Nebraska Omaha loses three, the Green and White will clinch playoff home ice for the 14th-straight season. With a sweep, UND will for sure stay atop the NCHC standings.

Simply put, last weekend no longer matters.

The Green and White hosts a desperate UMD squad in the Ralph that is looking to cement their spot in the NCHC playoffs and make a run at the NCAA tournament.

Here's what to watch for as No. 4 North Dakota takes on UMD in this week's "Who? What? How?" series preview.


Players to watch

UMD Sr. F. Tony Cameranesi

Minnesota Duluth

Sr. F, Tony Cameranesi, 9 goals, 18 assists -- 27 points; Sr. F, Austin Farley, 13g, 13a -- 26 pts (out this weekend due to injury); Sr. D, Andy Welinski, 4g, 13a -- 17 pts; Jr. F, Dom Toninato, 10g, 4a -- 14 pts; Jr. F, Alex Iafallo, 6g, 8a -- 14 pts; So. G., Kasimir Kaskisuo, 11-11-5, 2.01 goals against average, .918 save percentage, 4 shutouts (T-7 in NCAA).


Fr. F, Brock Boeser, 19g (2nd in NCAA in rookie goals, T-6 overall in NCAA), 14a -- 33 pts (T-3 in NCAA in rookie scoring); Sr. F, Drake Caggiula, 15g, 17a -- 32 pts; So. F, Nick Schmaltz, 4g, 25a (T-5 in NCAA) -- 29 pts; Jr. D, Troy Stecher, 6g, 14a -- 20 pts; Sr. F, Bryn Chyzyk, 9g, 8a -- 17 pts; So. G, Cam Johnson, 13-3-1 (4th in NCAA in win percentage), 1.61 GAA (2nd in NCAA), .937 SV PCT (3rd in NCAA), 5 shutouts (T-4 in NCAA).


Standout Stats

Despite being swept last weekend at Denver, North Dakota can clinch home ice in the first round of the NCHC playoffs with at least three points this weekend or if Omaha loses three points. The Green and White have hosted the first round for 13 straight years, the longest active streak in men's hockey.

UND Jr. F, Luke Johnson
Last weekend, the Green and White dropped back-to-back games for the first time since last year's NCHC Frozen Faceoff tournament. UND bounced back from those losses one week later and punched their ticket to the Frozen Four with two West Regional wins in Fargo.

Junior Luke Johnson has tallied 8 points (3 goals, 5 assists) in 8 career games against UMD.

UND is allowing just 1.90 goals per game which is fourth in the NCAA. UMD is 11th, allowing just 2.18 goals per game.

The Bulldogs are outshooting teams by a 10.96 margin this season, the second-best mark in the NCAA and has the third most shots per game with 36.14.

North Dakota has the country's 5th best penalty kill at 87.1%. In the past 14 games, UND has killed 96.3% of their PK chances, including 20 straight. The Bulldogs have struggled on the power play this season, converting just 14.5% of their opportunities, slating them 42nd in the NCAA.

UND is 10-2-1 at the Ralph this season while UMD is just 5-6-2 away from home.

The Green and White has won three straight and 5 of 6 against UMD.


How'd they get here?

No. 4 UND (No. 3 in PWR, 22-5-3, 13-4-1-1 -- 41 points, T-1st in NCHC) were swept on the road last weekend against Denver 6-4, 4-1, for the first time since 2011.

Minnesota Duluth (No. 23 in PWR, 7-8-3-1 -- 25 pts, T-4 in NCHC) lost a rescheduled game from earlier in the season at home against Bemidji State, 2-1, on Feb. 9.

The Green and White swept the Bulldogs in Duluth on December 4-5. Cam Johnson shutout UMD 3-0 in both games despite the Bulldogs outshooting UND by 18 in each game.

The Pick

As mentioned earlier, it's hard to shake off the lingering effects of last weekend's series in Denver.

The Green and White spent the entire weekend chasing a hungry Pioneers squad that pushed one of the nation's best defenses in a way DDC hadn't seen so far this season.

DU netted 10 goals in the series while UND constantly left Pioneer skaters wide open for easy shots in the slot and on backdoor feeds. The Green and White got back three skaters last weekend, Drake Caggiula, Nick Schmaltz and Chris Wilkie, but the team seemed to lack a bit of chemistry it had shown earlier in the season.

The powerful CBS line of Caggiula, Schmaltz and Brock Boeser were kept off the scoresheet as a group for the first time this season, while the team as a whole, struggled to generate offense.

With all of that said, all of UND's regular season goals are still in front of them and this weekend's series against the Bulldogs is easily the most important, to date.

As noted by the Grand Forks Herald's Brad Schlossman, UMD is a dominant puck possession team that will test UND's defensive corps that played arguably it's worst series of the year last weekend at Denver.

That will put much of the onus on UND sophomore netminder Cam Johnson, who shutout the Bulldogs in December with back-to-back sterling 3-0 shutouts that saw UMD outshoot the Green and White by 18 shots in each game.

UND netminder Cam Johnson shined in December against UMD in back-to-back
3-0 shutouts in Duluth. The Green and White will look to their sophomore goalie
this weekend as the Bulldogs visit the Ralph. (Photo Credit: Duluth News Tribune)

The loss of UMD's leading goal scorer, Austin Farley, cannot be understated as UND's defense has one less key cog to worry about.

Despite a terrible weekend in Denver, the Green and White have had a special year.

Injuries to a young squad, a new head coach and a difficult schedule has yet to derail this UND team that has shown the ability to take over games when they play with speed, heavy forecheck and grit. DDC expects to see a very fired up squad wearing Green and White this weekend and also expects North Dakota to return to from as the stretch run winds down.

The Ralph will be rocking.

UND SWEEPS, 5-2, 4-3.

There you have it. Come back later to see how it all unfolded. Thanks again for reading.

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