It's hard to believe, but there are just five regular season series left for the UND men's hockey team and this weekend is huge one in the chase for the Penrose Cup as National Collegiate Hockey Conference champions.
The Green and White sit just three points behind first place St. Cloud State coming into this weekend. With the Huskies playing in the North Star College Cup, a four-point series against Western Michigan would put UND all alone a top the conference.
Just like last weekend against Colorado College, the Green and White will be without some vitally important scorers against the Broncos. UND has ruled out Drake Caggiula, Nick Schmaltz and Chris Wilkie for this series and again, it will be up to the depth of North Dakota to be successful.
Here's what DDC is watching for from Lawson Arena in Kalamazoo, Michigan in this week's "Who? What? How?" series preview.
Players to watch
|WMU Sr. G, Lukas Hafner|
Fr. F, Griffen Molino, 7 goals, 11 assists -- 18 points; Jr. F, Sheldon Dries, 10g, 4a -- 14 pts; Fr. F, Colt Conrad, 5g, 8a -- 13 pts; Sr. F, Nolan LaPorte, 5g, 6a -- 11 pts. Likely to return this weekend after missing the last three games due to injury; Sr. G., Lukas Hafner, 5-9-3, 3.49 goals against average, .901 save percentage.
Sr. F, Drake Caggiula, 15 (T-10th in NCAA), 15a -- 30 pts (T-11th in NCAA) Out this weekend due to injury; So. F, Nick Schmaltz, 3g, 24a (3rd in NCAA) -- 27 pts. Out this weekend due to injury; Fr. F, Brock Boeser, 15g (2nd in NCAA in rookie goals, T-10 overall in NCAA), 12a -- 27 pts (4th in NCAA in rookie scoring); Jr. D, Troy Stecher, 5g, 14a -- 19 pts; Sr. F, Bryn Chyzyk, 9g, 7a -- 16 pts; So. G, Cam Johnson, 11-1-1 (1st in NCAA in win percentage), 1.42 GAA (1st in NCAA), .942 SV PCT (T-2 in NCAA).
|UND Jr. G, Cam Johnson|
UND goalie Cam Johnson continues to be near the atop or near the top in the country in all three major statistical categories, .885 win percentage (T-1st), 1.42 goals against average (1st) and .942 save percentage (T-2).
UND is allowing just 1.77 goals per game which is third in the NCAA. Western Michigan is 59th out of 60 in goals allowed with a 3.96 mark.
WMU is last in the country in penalty kill, stopping just 68.8% of their opponents power plays.
The Green and White are 11-0-2 when leading after the first period this season and 17-0-2 when leading after 2. The Broncos are 4-1-0 when leading after 1 and 6-0-0 after 2.
How'd they get here?
No. 2 UND (20-3-3, 11-2-1-1 -- 35 points, 2nd in NCHC) tied 5-5 and won the shootout for the extra NCHC point on Friday and won 5-1 on Saturday at home against Colorado College. With St. Cloud State playing two non-conference games this weekend, UND has an opportunity to move into first alone with at least four points, against WMU.
Western Michigan (7-14-3, 4-9-1 -- 13 pts, 7th in NCHC) got swept at the hands of St. Cloud State 8-2 and 7-3 in St. Cloud. After sweeping CC in early December, the Broncos have skidded to a 1-4-2 record in their last seven games.
The PickWhile it's again a tall task for UND to be without its top two scorers, the Green and White showed last weekend that it certainly has the ability to score goals. Adding to the lineup frustration, reigning NCHC rookie of the week and the team's third-leading goal scorer, Rhett Gardner is questionable for the series due to illness.
|With injuries gripping the UND lineup, Fr. F, Brock Boeser will look to pace|
the Green and White offensive attack. (Photo credit: Grand Forks Herald)
Despite the injuries, North Dakota netted 10 goals against Colordo College, en route to a five-point weekend as their defense played sharp on Saturday, allowing just 19 shots against the Tigers. Against a Broncos squad that has had trouble finding the back of the for large portions of the season, the Green and White have a definitive edge in the 'D'-zone.
Sophomore goaltender Cam Johnson had a bit of a rocky weekend against CC, getting pulled in the second period on Friday night, but bounced back admirably on Saturday, while still not looking as crisp as he has throughout the 2015-16 campaign. If Johnson can get back to form and the Green and White continue to play as they have defensively all year, UND has plenty of offense to off-set the losses in the forward group. Look for Troy Stecher and Tucker Poolman to be very active from the blue line against a WMU team that has been leaky for much of this season.
UND SWEEPS IN "THE ZOO" AND VAULTS INTO THE NCHC DRIVER'S SEAT, 4-1, 4-2
Check back early in the week to see how it all went down. Thanks for reading.