Thursday, February 25, 2016

Friday Gameday: Searching for a Sweep

With two weekends left in the regular season, the race for the Penrose Cup as National Collegiate Hockey Conference champions is as tight as it can be.

The No. 4 UND men's hockey team is locked in a tie with St. Cloud State for the top spot.

Although No. 13 Nebraska Omaha is out of the running for the Penrose, the Mavericks are searching for important wins for home ice in the conference tourney and to solidify their spot in the national tournament.

So, it's easy to see both teams are desperate for a sweep this weekend when the Green and White and Mavs faceoff from Baxter Arena in Omaha, however, six points may be tough to find.

These two teams have developed a good rivalry since the creation of the NCHC in 2012-13 and neither team has swept the other since February of 2013 when UND did it in Omaha. In fact, this series has been incredibly close since that sweep in 2013 with four of the six contests going into overtime, including a 4-3 win by the Mavericks in Grand Forks earlier this season.

UNO looks to bounce back after a rough weekend in St. Cloud as the Mavericks got swept 4-1, 6-3. UND is coming off a home sweep of Minnesota Duluth last weekend in Grand Forks and hopes to continue that momentum.

Can either one of these teams find those six points this weekend in Omaha? Let's see what's to watch for as North Dakota and Omaha battle in a crucial NCHC series in this week's "Who? What? How?" preview.


Players to watch

Nebraska Omaha

Omaha Jr. F, Austin Ortega
leads the NCAA in game-
winning goals, including the
winner in a 4-3 OT game
in Grand Forks in January.

Jr. F, Jake Guentzel, 16 goals, 24 assists -- 40 points (T-9 in NCAA); Jr. F, Austin Ortega, 19g (T-9 in NCAA), 12a -- 31 pts; Jr. F, Justin Parizek, 8g, 19a -- 27 pts; So. F, Jake Randolph, 9g, 12a -- 21 pts; So. F, Tyler Vesel, 6g, 11a -- 17 pts; Fr. G., Evan Weninger, 13-5-0, 2.31 goals against average, .926 save percentage.


Fr. F, Brock Boeser, 20g (2nd in NCAA in rookie goals, T-7 overall in NCAA), 15a -- 35 pts (T-4 in NCAA in rookie scoring); Sr. F, Drake Caggiula, 15g, 18a -- 33 pts; So. F, Nick Schmaltz, 4g, 25a (T-8 in NCAA) -- 29 pts; Jr. D, Troy Stecher, 6g, 15a -- 21 pts, out for Friday's game due to 1-game suspension for checking from behind misconduct; So. F, Austin Poganski, 8g, 10a -- 18 pts; So. G, Cam Johnson, 15-3-1 (T-2 in NCAA in win percentage), 1.54 GAA (2nd in NCAA), .940 SV PCT (2nd in NCAA), 5 shutouts (T-5 in NCAA).


Standout Stats

UND Sr. F, Drake Caggiula

UND is allowing just 1.84 goals per game which is tied for second in the NCAA. Omaha is slated 33rd, allowing 2.83 goals per game.

The Green and White are 11th in the NCAA in goals per game with a 3.31 average. Omaha is 16th at 3.12.

Omaha's Austin Ortega leads the NCAA with eight game-winning goals including the winner of a 4-3 contest in Grand Forks on Friday in January.

UND senior forward Drake Caggiula leads all Green and White active scorers with 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists) in 12 career games against Nebraska Omaha.

North Dakota has the country's 6th-best penalty kill at 87% and since December 1st, the Green and White leads the NCAA with a 95.1% mark. The Mavericks have struggled on the power play this season, converting just 16.3% of their opportunities, 37th in the NCAA.


How'd they get here?

No. 4 UND (No. 4 in PWR, 24-5-3, 15-4-1-1 -- 47 points, T-1st in NCHC) swept Minnesota Duluth at home 2-1 each night.

No. 13 Nebraska Omaha (No. 11 in PWR, 18-11-1, 8-11-1 -- 25 pts, T-4 in NCHC) swept on the road against St. Cloud State, 4-1, 6-3.

The two teams split on January 15-16 at the Ralph with the Mavericks winning 4-3 in overtime on Friday and the Green and White topping UNO 5-1 on Saturday.

UNO is 4-6 in their last 10 games while UND is 6-3-1 in that same span.

The Pick

As readers of the DDC are well aware, this blogger never shies away from picking a sweep for the Green and White. This weekend has DDC thinking.

It's impossible to ignore the recent history of these two teams' series that have been fast-paced, high-flying and physical battles that have consistently gone down to the wire.

It's also impossible to ignore the bench boss for the Mavericks, former UND coaching great Dean Blais' ability to get his team up to play the Green and White. With Omaha still fighting for NCHC home ice, position in the national tournament and looking to shake off a sweep last weekend, DDC certainly has a lot to ponder.

Omaha Jr. F, Austin Ortega got the best of UND with an overtime game winner
in Grand Forks back in January. Four of the last six contests between the Green and
White and the Mavericks have gone to the extra frame. (Photo Credit:
UND got the sweep last weekend at home against Duluth, but didn't do much to convince the Green and White faithful that they are back to top form after returning Drake Caggiula and Nick Schmaltz to the lineup as they struggled during the series to find open shooting lanes and create space.

One last bit of information that cannot be ignored is a huge omission to UND's lineup on Friday night. Junior defenseman and alternate captain Troy Stecher will sit out the front end of the series due to suspension after a checking from behind penalty late in last Saturday night's win. Stecher is the Green and White's leading point producer from the blue line and is a dynamic player in all phases of the game.

With all of that aside, DDC can't shake the memory of what this UND team looks like when it's truly clicking. The CBS line of Caggiula, Schmaltz and team-leading goal scorer Brock Boeser got back together for the first time in a handful of weeks last series and looked to reestablish a bit of that magic chemistry they showed in the first half on Saturday night. After being held off the scoresheet on Friday, Caggiula found Boeser for the game-winning goal on Saturday.

Sophomore netminder Cam Johnson will be tested by UNO's top line, including a pair of game-changing scorers in Jake Guentzel and Austin Ortega.

With another week of practice to get back to form (and closer to 100% health), DDC has a hunch we'll see what Green and White fans salivated over at times this season -- a dominant CBS line and huge sweep that keeps them in the race for the Penrose.


There's the pick. Check back after the series to see if DDC's homerisms were right in Omaha. Thanks for reading!