Friday, March 18, 2016

Frozen Faceoff Preview: Top Four for the Title

Semifinals and Final on CBS Sports,
Third Place Game on

Game times:

UND vs. Minnesota Duluth, 4:08 p.m.;
St. Cloud State vs. Denver, 7:38 p.m.

Third place game, Saturday, 3:38 p.m.;
Championship game, Saturday, 7:08 p.m.
When the National Collegiate Hockey Conference was born, league brass picked the Target Center in Minneapolis to host its league postseason tournament with hopes that the central location would create a must-see weekend.

With UND, St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth all just hours away from the Twin Cities, the possibilities were ripe for a full arena.

While the first two incarnations of the Frozen Faceoff drew good numbers, this weekend's version could be the best ever.

All four quarterfinal series ended in sweeps by the top four seeds, with the three attendance golden geese, UND, SCSU and UMD all included. Throw Denver into the mix, a team in the midst of the nation's best 11-game winning streak, the NCHC tournament looks like it will fulfill all the dreams that officials hoped for in 2013.

The Bulldogs look to be the team who has the most to gain this weekend in Minneapolis as the Green and White, Huskies and Pioneers are all locks for the national tournament. UMD sits at No. 13 in the Pairwise Rankings and will look to cement their own spot. UND and SCSU look to be No. 1 seeds in the NCAA's and Denver is playing for a shot at their own.

Attendance. National tournament implications. Rivalries.

Strap in, folks. This is going to be a fun weekend.

Here's DDC's Frozen Faceoff preview in traditional "Who? What? How?" fashion.


Players to watch

UMD Sr. F, Tony Cameranesi

Minnesota Duluth

Sr. F, Tony Cameranesi, 10 goals, 24 assists -- 34 points; Sr. F, Austin Farley, 13g, 15a -- 28 pts; Jr. F, Alex Iafallo, 7g, 13a -- 20 pts; Sr. D, Andy Welinksi, 6g, 13a -- 19 pts; So. G., Kasimir Kaskisuo, 17-13-5, 1.89 goals against average, .924 save percentage.


Fr. F, Brock Boeser, 25g (Most goals in NCHC, 2nd in NCAA in rookie goals, 4th overall in NCAA), 23a -- 48 pts (NCHC scoring champ, 2nd in NCAA in rookie scoring, T-7 overall); Sr. F, Drake Caggiula, 19g, 23a -- 42 pts; So. F, Nick Schmaltz, 8g, 32a (2nd in NCAA in assists per game with 1.03) -- 40 pts; Jr. D, Troy Stecher, 7g, 19a -- 26 pts; Mike Richter Award Finalist So. G, Cam Johnson, 20-3-1 (1st in NCAA in win percentage), 1.58 GAA (1st in NCAA), .938 SV PCT (T-1st in NCAA).

DU Fr. F, Dylan Gambrell


Fr. F, Dylan Gambrell, 15g, 27a -- 42 points (3rd in NCAA rookie scoring); Jr. F, Trevor Moore, 9g, 32a (T-5 in assists per game .91) -- 41 pts; So. F, Danton Heinen, 18g, 22a -- 40 pts; Jr. D, Will Butcher, 6g, 23a -- 29 pts; Jr. G., Tanner Jaillet, 15-3-5, 2.19 GAA, .928 SV PCT.

St. Cloud State

Sr. F, Kalle Kossila, 14g, 34a (7th in assists per game .89) -- 48 pts; Sr. F, Joey Benik, 21g, 23a -- 44 pts; So. F, Patrick Russell, 19g, 19a -- 38 pts; Sr. D, Ethan Prow, 8g, 27a -- 35 pts (NCHC's lone Hobey Baker Award Finalist and NCHC player-of-the-year); Mike Richter Award Finalist Jr. G, Charlie Lindgren, 28-8-1, 2.08 GAA, .926 SV PCT.


Standout Stats


The Green and White own the NCAA's third-best scoring defense allowing just 1.82 goals per game and has the NCAA's seventh-best scoring attack with a 3.66 goals per game average.

Drake Caggiula leads the country with a +38 while linemates Nick Schmaltz and Brock Boeser are tied for fourth at +34.

Sophomore goaltender and Mike Richter Award finalist Cam Johnson leads the NCAA in win percentage (.854), goals against average (1.58) and is tied for first in save percentage (.938).

Minnesota Duluth

The Bulldogs own the NCAA's eighth-best scoring defense allowing just 2.03 goals per game and is tied for sixth in the country on the penalty kill with a 86.2% kill rate.

UMD has struggled on the power play this season converting just 15.8% of their chances with the extra man. That mark is 41st in the NCAA.


The Pioneers own the NCAA's 14th best scoring offense at 3.22 and is 12th in the country in scoring defense, allowing 2.28 goals per game.

Denver's special teams have been average this season with the NCAA's 25th best penalty kill (82.9) and 29th best power play (17.9%).

DU's top line of Dylan Gambrell, Trevor Moore and Danton Heinen have accounted for 36% of the team's goals this season.

St. Cloud State

The Huskies have the second-best scoring offense (4.32 goals per game) in the NCAA and is tied for first in power play (29.5%).

SCSU's scoring defense is allowing the 10th least goals per game in the NCAA at 2.16.

Defenseman Ethan Prow is the league's lone Hobey Baker Finalist and NCHC player-of-the-year and goaltender Charlie Lindgren is one of five Mike Richter Award finalists as the nation's best netminder.


How'd they get here?

No. 1 UND (No. 1 in PWR, 30-5-3) swept CC 7-1, 5-1 in the first round of the NCHC tournament. The Green and White are on a eight-game winning streak, the third best current streak in the NCAA.

UND swept CC last weekend in the NCHC quarterfinals. The Green and White
take on the UMD Bulldogs in the Frozen Faceoff semifinals at 4:08 on Friday.
Denver and St. Cloud State play in the other semifinal at 7:38. (Photo: GF Herald)
No. 16 Minnesota Duluth (No. 13 in PWR, 17-14-5) swept Miami 5-4. 3-1 in the first round of the NCHC tournament. The Bulldogs are on a six-game winning streak since being swept by UND in Geand Forks on February 19-20.

No. 4 St. Cloud State (No. 3 in PWR, 29-8-1) swept Western Michigan 4-3 (OT), 4-2 in the first round for the NCHC tournament. The Huskies are on a four-game winning streak and are 7-3 in their last 10 games.

No. 6 Denver (No. 6 in PWR, 23-8-5) swept Nebraska Omaha 5-2, 4-3 (2 OT) in the first round of the NCHC tournament. The Pioneers are on a NCAA best 11-game winning streak.

The Pick(s)

Four teams playing in four important games with four positions in the NCAA tournament on the line. Who is going to skate away from the Target Center with the Frozen Four Championship trophy?

North Dakota vs. Minnesota Duluth

UND and So. G, Cam Johnson
are 4-0 against UMD this season.
Johnson has allowed just two
goals in those four games.

The Green and White have beaten the Bulldogs four times this season, sweeping both series. In those four games, UND netminder Cam Johnson has allowed just two goals. All four contests have been tight-checking, playoff-type affairs. To expect anything different would just be silly.

UMD looks to have more to gain with a win as they are still trying to get into the NCAA tournament, but UND is still battling for the No. 1 overall seed.

The Frozen Faceoff has not been kind to UND in the first two years of the tournament as the Green and White are 1-3 at the Target Center. DDC sees this as a major motivation factor for North Dakota and expects to see a lot of jump from the Green and White on Friday afternoon.


St. Cloud State vs. Denver

SCSU Sr. D, Ethan Prow is the
NCHC's lone Hobey Baker
Award finalist.

This one will be a barn burner. These two team can fly up and down the ice with team speed and both have tremendous scoring touch.

St. Cloud's offense and power play seem to give them the offensive edge, but it's hard to go against Denver's 11-game winning streak.

If the Pioneers can limit slot chances and stay out of the penalty box, the line of Dylan Gambrell, Trevor Moore and Danton Heinen could take over. SCSU defenseman and NCHC player-of-the-year Ethan Prow and the rest of the Huskies will need to slow DU's top line.

DDC expects a lot of goals in this one and DU takes it late.


Third Place Game -- SCSU vs. UMD

With a loss to UND in the semifinals, the Bulldogs will officially be on the bubble.

UMD swept the Huskies in St. Cloud in late February in which the Bulldogs held the nation's second-best scoring attack to just two goals in the series. This series could go a long way in terms of how UMD plays SCSU in this match up.

Duluth will be a bit more rested and desperate in this one and they punch their ticket to the big dance with a win.


Championship Game -- UND vs. Denver

DDC thinks UND will take home the NCHC Frozen
Faceoff Trophy, topping DU in the championship game.

Depending on how everything shakes out, UND could be playing for the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAAs and Denver could be fighting for their own No. 1.

This game would feature two of the best top lines in the country with UND's CBS line of Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser and Nick Schmaltz and DU's line of Gambrell, Heinen and Moore.

DDC's guess in that battle, they cancel each other out, so that means this game comes down to depth. The Green and White have shown over the last month or so that they are as deep as any team in the country. DU swept UND in Denver mid-February igniting a huge run for both teams. Since that series, UND has won eight in a row and DU pushed their streak to 11.

In that series, the Green and White defensive corps was leaky and DU's top line went to work. With a trophy and the No. 1 overall seed on the line, DDC thinks UND will remember that performance, shake off the Frozen Four demons and take home the hardware.


Thanks for reading. Enjoy what should be an incredible weekend in Minneapolis and check back later to see how it went down.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Roses and Thorns: Moving on to Minneapolis

NCHC playoffs first-round results:

No. 1 UND sweeps No. 8 CC, 7-1, 5-1;
No. 2 SCSU sweeps No. 7 WMU, 4-3 (OT), 4-2;
No. 3 Denver sweeps No. 6 Omaha, 5-2, 4-3 (2 OT);
No. 4 UMD sweeps No. 5 Miami, 5-4, 3-1.
DDC noted in his "Who? What? Where?" preview of UND and Colorado College's National Collegiate Hockey Conference first-round playoff series that it's tough to end somebody's season.

The Green and White evidently didn't agree.

With a 7-1 drubbing on Friday followed by a 5-1 shellacking on Saturday, the UND men's hockey team put the Tigers out of their misery in front of a lively Ralph Engelstad Arena crowd and punched their ticket to the Frozen Faceoff at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

For the 14th-straight season, the Green and White earned a berth in the conference postseason tournament with the last three in the NCHC.

North Dakota pounced on CC both nights with an aggressive pace and scoring punch that saw them pot six goals combined in the two first periods (two Friday, four Saturday).

It was a dominant weekend for UND as they turn their focus to the Frozen Faceoff that hasn't been very kind to the Green and White. North Dakota is just 1-3 in their two trips to the Target Center including two embarrassing losses last season.

Here's what stood out to DDC in this week's Roses and Thorns.


No. 1 -- Killer Instinct

Another cliche: Let a sleeping dog lie.

Well, Colorado College was just that having lost nine-straight games coming into the series and UND didn't give the Tigers a chance to wake up. The six goals combined in the two first periods buried CC before they even got a chance to get going. UND smelled blood from the drop of the puck on Friday night and never let the Tigers off the mat.

UND's Joel Janatuinen celebrates a goal on Saturday night. The Green and White
were dominant in every facet in the 7-1, 5-1 NCHC playoff sweep of CC, the team's
14th-straight first round playoff series win. (Photo credit: Jesse Trelstad, Grand Forks Herald)
One telling segment for DDC was the first period on Saturday. With Colorado College netminder Jacob Nehama laboring with an obvious injury, UND stepped on the Tiger's throat, dominating the play and peppering the CC net with 14 shots and four goals. North Dakota outshot CC 62-33 on the weekend. This killer instinct is huge for the Green and White. While there will be ebbs and flows in each game left, being able to put away a team when the momentum is clearly in their favor will be extremely important. CC was an inferior opponent this weekend and while games going forward will likely be much more tight, having this killer instinct to bury chances when their opposition is on the ropes could prove vital.

No. 2 -- Extra Man Eruption

UND Fr. D, Hayden Shaw
netted his first two career
goals against the Tigers.

UND has been an average power play team this season despite owning a Top 10 scoring offense. On Friday night, the Green and White exploded for four goals with the extra man. Luke Johnson netted a power play goal just four plus minutes into the game while Joel Janatuinen, Nick Schmaltz and Hayden Shaw added three more. Shaw's goal in the third period was the first in his career. UND looked comfortable with the extra man setting up their attack with precision passing and finishing their chances from all over the zone. The Green and White have shown the ability to dominate while 5-on-5 and with the rest of the season being one-and-done games, adding a significant power play could very well decide games. UND's penalty kill has been one of the best, if not the best, in the NCAA since the start of 2016 and pairing that with the type of power play they showed against CC will be a huge development.

No. 3 -- 'D' Does it's Job

UND allowed just 33 shots and Cam Johnson held the Tigers to two goals on the weekend as the Green and White flexed their muscles defensively. With captain and arguably the team's best stay-at-home defenseman Gage Ausmus out for the weekend due to injury, UND did not miss a beat. Hayden Shaw was great in this series, playing responsible defensively and adding his first two career goals. If Ausmus can't go this coming weekend at the Frozen Faceoff, UND knows it has a reliable substitution in either Shaw or Christian Wolanin. North Dakota sports the third-best goals allowed mark in the NCAA with a 1.86 average and as playoff games tighten up defensively, UND will lean on their blue line. The kind of effort they showed against CC will continue to be absolutely necessary.

No. 4 -- Depth Does it Again

UND Fr. F, Joel Janatuinen
had a three-point weekend,
with 2 goals and 1 assist.

The CBS line of Drake Caggiula (1 goal, 2 assists) , Brock Boeser (5a) and Nick Schmaltz (3g, 3a) were great this weekend tallying 14 points, but for the second weekend in a row, the depth of UND also stepped up with a huge series. The rest of the Green and White notched 22 points on the weekend, including two goals from Shaw, two assists from Paul LaDue and a three point weekend (2g, 1 a) by Janatuinen. As the CBS goes, so goes UND, but if the Green and White can see this kind of consistent depth scoring, they will be very tough to beat going forward.


No. 1 -- A Farewell to the Ralph

There's no more pure home-ice advantage for UND.

The Green and White turned out the lights on the Ralph Engelstad Arena for the 2015-16 season with another successful weekend and rounded out a tremendous home record. UND went 16-2-1 in front of the REA faithful this year and for the 14th-straight season, it ended in style with a first-round conference playoffs series win. For the four seniors, Caggiula, Coltyn Sanderson, Colten St. Clair and Bryn Chyzyk and any player potentially leaving for pro contracts, it was their last game at "The Palace on the Prairie." It's always tough to know that UND won't play again in Grand Forks until October, but hopefully, the next time the lights go on at the Ralph, an eighth green banner will join the 16th white one in the rafters.

So that's it. Check back later this week for DDC's preview of the NCHC tournament as UND travels down I-94 to Minneapolis for the Frozen Faceoff from the Target Center. Thanks again for reading.