Thursday, November 16, 2017

Friday Gameday: Time for a Test

Oh hey, Denver. Remember me? Nick Schmaltz celebrates his game-winning goal in the 2016 Frozen Four semifinals.
Sure, this has nothing to do with this weekend when No. 3 UND takes on No. 1 Denver at Magness Arena, but so be it.
Coming into the season, there was really one sure-fire hypothesis across the college hockey landscape -- the Denver Pioneers were going to be really good again after winning the national championship last season.

Sure the Pios lost 2017 Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher, but they returned five big stars from their title run -- the forward trio of Henrik Borgstrom, Troy Terry and Dylan Gambrell, All-American goaltender Tanner Jaillet and head coach Jim Montgomery. All five of those who returned spurned NHL offers to come back to DU for another run at college hockey glory.

The Pioneers had a hiccup two weekends ago when they were swept by Western Michigan in Kalamazoo, but after a convincing sweep of then No. 1 and undefeated St. Cloud State last weekend, all is right again in Denver with the Pios back on top of the polls.

So far, the hypothesis is still spot on -- DU is really good.

For the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks, the Green and White faithful had plenty of questions coming into the season. With the departures of three NHL players Tyson Jost, Brock Boeser and Tucker Poolman, who would pick up the slack for UND?

The Hawks sport the nation's third-best team defense allowing just 1.75 goals per game and all things considered, UND has had a heckuva start to their season. Going 7-2-3 with good weekends against Minnesota, Wisconsin and a five-point weekend last series against Miami, it has indeed been a good start, but this weekend is a different story. It's time for a test.

UND travels to the Rocky Mountain state to take on the Pioneers in a weekend that could very well show the Hawks where they stand in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and NCAA landscape in a match up of No. 1 vs. No. 3.

A rivalry rooted in history renews and DDC has his take and says what he's watching in this weekend's "Who? What? How?" series preview.


Players to Watch

DU So. F, Henrik Borgstrom
leads the NCAA with 11 goals.

University of Denver Pioneers

Jr. F, Troy Terry, 5 goals, 13 assists -- 18 points (second in NCAA); So. F, Henrik Borgstrom, 11g (leads NCAA), 6a -- 17 pts (leads NCAA in points per game); Jr F, Dylan Gambrell, 5g, 11a --16 pts; Jr. F, Jarid Lukoesevicius, 4g, 6a -- 10 pts; Jr. F, Colin Staub, 2g, 7a -- 9 pts; Sr G, Tanner Jaillet, 5-1-2, 2.46 goals against average; .911 save percentage.

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks:

Fr. F, Grant Mismash, 4g, 7a -- 11 pts; Jr. D, Christian Wolanin, 3g, 7a -- 10 pts; Jr. F, Nick Jones, 5g, 4a --9 pts; Jr. F, Shane Gersich, 4g, 4a -- 8 pts; Jr. F, Rhett Gardner, 3g, 4a -- 7 pts; Sr. G, Cam Johnson, 5-2-1, 1.63 GAA (5th in NCAA), .925 SV PCT; Fr. G, Peter Thome, 2-0-2, 1.92 GAA, .929 SV PCT (9th in NCAA).


Standout Stats


The Pioneers are 42nd in the NCAA in penalty killing at 77.8%, but are 4th in power play, clipping at 27.7%.

Denver is the nation's 2nd best scoring attack, netting 4.20 goals per game.

Sophomore sensation Henrik Borgstrom leads the NCAA in goals (11) and in goals per game (1.22). He's third in points (17). Teammate Troy Terry is second in points with 18 and Dylan Gambrell is tied for 7th with 16.


UND is tied for 3rd in team defense nationally, allowing just 1.75 goals per game and is second in the NCAA with a 95.8% penalty kill.

Senior netminder Cam Johnson is tied for 5th nationally with a 1.63 goals against average. Teammate Peter Thome is 10th with a 1.92 mark and 9th in save percentage at .929.

Freshman Grant Mismash is tied for 4th in the NCAA in rookie scoring with a 1.00 point per game mark. 


How’d they get here?

No. 1 Denver (6-2-2; 2-2-0 NCHC) swept then No. 1 SCSU at home 4-2, 5-1. Sophomore Henrik Borgstrom continued his early-season tear, notching two goals and an assist on Friday and added an assist on Saturday for a four-point weekend.

No. 3 UND (7-2-3, 2-1-1 NCHC) took five points last weekend at home against Miami, winning 4-1 on Friday and winning a shootout after a 3-3 tie on Saturday. Freshman goaltender Peter Thome started his third- and fourth-straight games for the Fighting Hawks as senior Cam Johnson nurses an injury.

The Pick

It's hard to not get nostalgic when UND vs. Denver faceoff.

One of DDC's fondest hockey memories, the Green and White's victory over the Pioneers in the 2016 Frozen Four semifinal capped by Nick Schmaltz's dramatic game-winner with just a minute to go in the game, will always come to mind when these two teams tussle.

Just for funsies, shall we?

What a memory.

Anyway, sure, Denver won it all last year, but UND actually served Denver its last loss before the Pios ran the table to a title last year, a 1-0 win in the NCHC semifinals last year.

Ok, back to the business at hand.

Again, Denver is really good. They sport a top trio in the aforementioned Borgstrom, Terry and Gambrell. They are good in net with Jaillet. The only question mark Denver had coming into this weekend was on the backend and after a leaky weekend against WMU, the Pioneers held an explosive St. Cloud team to just three goals last weekend.

For most of the season, Denver grouped their big three together and their offense was great, but the defense struggled a bit. Last weekend against the Huskies, Borgstrom, Terry and Gambrell were split up and that paid dividends.

Can UND slow DU's dynamic trio of Henrik Borgstrom (11 goals leads NCAA)
Troy Terry (17 points, second in NCAA) and Dylan Gambrell (16 points)
who've combined for a whopping 51 points in 10 games this season?
With last change against a UND team defense who's been really good this year against some good offenses, will Montgomery split the three up in hopes of spreading the offense around? Or will the trio be grouped together to avoid the Hawks top D-pairing of Christian Wolanin and Colton Poolman?

For UND, their scoring this season has been about depth. Against the Pioneers, DDC thinks the Green and White scoring punch needs to step up. Junior Shane Gersich and senior Austin Poganski have had slow starts to this season, but are more than capable of putting this team on their backs.

This weekend will come down to UND playing defense and picking their spots on offense. Expect to see bodies consistently hitting Borgstrom, the NCAA leader in goals (11) this weekend. If the Hawks can slow down Denver and get good goaltending from freshman Peter Thome, who has yet to lose in four starts, they should be able to keep up. Senior netminder Cam Johnson will miss his third-straight weekend due to injury.

Just in case he wasn't clear, for the third time, DU is really good. DDC also thinks UND is pretty good, too, but the question is how good? Will the Green and White score enough this weekend? DDC thinks the Hawks make a statement against the champs and leave Colorado with important early-season points.


Come back after the weekend to see if UND passed its test. Thanks for reading!