Friday, January 15, 2016

Friday Gameday: Time to Set the Tone

The No. 1 UND men's hockey team is 18-2-2 coming into this weekend's National Collegiate Hockey Conference Series against No. 9 Nebraska Omaha.

The first half of season couldn't have gone any better for the Green and White as the vaunted CBS line of junior Drake Caggiula, freshman Brock Boeser and sophomore Nick Schmaltz and NCAA goaltending leader sophomore Cam Johnson tore up the schedule and the scoresheet.

While all that is certainly nothing to be negative about, the real stretch begins Friday and Saturday in Grand Forks versus the Mavericks. After finishing their non-conference schedule with a sterling 9-1-2 record, it's all NCHC games from here on out for the Green and White in what is lauded by many as the best conference in the NCAA.

It's time to set the tone and make that first half really mean something.

Here's what to watch for from the Ralph in this week's "Who? What? How?" series breakdown.


Players to watch

Nebraska Omaha

UNO Jr. F, Austin Ortega

Jr. F, Jake Guentzel, 10 goals, 17 assists (8th in NCAA) -- 27 points; Jr. F, Austin Ortega, 16g (3rd in NCAA), 8a -- 24 pts; Jr. F, Justin Parizek, 6g, 15a -- 21 pts; So. F, Jake Randolph, 8g, 9a --17 pts; Jr. G, Kirk Thompson, 4-3-1, 2.75 goals against average, .899 save percentage; Freshman goaltender, UNO's statistical goalie leader, won't travel to Grand Forks this weekend due to injury.


Sr. F, Drake Caggiula, 14g (T-6 in NCAA), 15a -- 29 pts (T-6 in NCAA); So. F, Nick Schmaltz, 3g, 23a (2nd in NCAA) -- 26 pts; Fr. F, Brock Boeser, 13g (2nd in NCAA in rookie goals), 8a -- 21 pts; Jr. D, Troy Stecher, 3g, 12a -- 15 pts; So. D, Tucker Poolman, 3g, 11a -- 14 pts; So. G, Cam Johnson, 9-0-1 (1st in NCAA in win percentage), 1.07 GAA (1st in NCAA), .957 SV PCT (1st in NCAA).


Standout Stats

The "CBS line" of Drake Caggiula (+29), Nick Schmaltz (+29) and Brock Boeser (+22) ranks T-1st, T-1st
and T-3rd respectively in the NCAA in plus/minus rating. Schmaltz and Boeser return to the lineup this weekend after a bronze medal performance for the United States in this year's World Junior Championship tournament.

UND sophomore forward Nick Schmaltz returns to the lineup for the
Green and White after an 8 point, bronze medal performance in this year's WJC.
Freshman forward Brock Boeser re-joins the CBS line as well after the WJC.

UNO's Austin Ortega leads the country in game-winning goals with six. Caggiula is tied for fourth with four.

UND's Cam Johnson leads the country in all three major statistical categories, .950 win percentage, 1.07 goals against average and .957 save percentage.

UND is allowing just 1.59 goals per game which is second in the NCAA. Omaha sports the nation's 7th-best penalty kill at 87.5%


How'd they get here?

No. 1 UND (18-2-2, 9-0-1 -- 27 pts, T-1 in NCHC) has won eight-straight games since falling 6-1 at St. Cloud on November 21. The Green and White won an exhibition game against the U.S. Under-18 team 4-1 last Saturday.

No. 9 Nebraska Omaha (14-5-1, 4-5-1 -- 13 pts, 5th in NCHC) got swept by Denver 3-0, 4-3 at home last weekend after previously winning six out of their last seven games.

The Pick

UND So. G, Cam Johnson
leads the NCAA in win
percentage, goals against
average and save percentage.
Schmaltz and Boeser return to their Green and White brethren after a successful bronze for the U.S. in the WJC, putting back together the CBS line that dazzled the college hockey world in the first half. Schmaltz had a terrific tournament, notching 2 goals and adding 6 assists with Boeser adding 1 goal and 2 assists. The duo played on the same line for much of the tournament and UND looks for the chemistry from the WJC and first half of their collegiate season to continue.

Opposing the CBS line, UNO have a dynamic scoring duo in Jake Guentzel and Austin Ortega. Guentzel's 17 assists are 8th in the NCAA and Ortega's 16 goals are third. Ortega has shown over his first two and half seasons that he is truly a clutch player, setting a NCAA record with 11 game-winning goals last season and leading the country with six thus far, this year.

Omaha is coming off a rather stunning weekend against Denver in which they got swept at home, 3-0, 4-3, so expect a fired up Mavericks squad in Grand Forks.

These two teams have had a run of incredibly high-octane and tight battles over the last couple of seasons, including overtime games in three out of four contests. UND went 2-1-1 in those games.

Both of these teams can light it up offensively with top line talent, but DDC thinks the real difference between these squads comes on the back end. UNO is without freshman goaltender Evan Weninger, the team's top netminder this season due to injury while UND's Cam Johnson continues a historic pace. The Green and White goalie leads the country in every major statistical category, allowing just one goal in his last five outings. Couple that with a dynamic defensive corps led by Troy Stecher and Paul LaDue, UND is as good as it comes on the 'D' end. This ultimately will make the difference this weekend.


There you have it. Check back after this weekend for how it all went down. Thanks for reading!