Last January, UND made a trip to Buffalo, N.Y., to take on Canisius College in a two-game series.
It ended in disaster.
The Fighting Hawks lost both games -- their first-ever losses to an Atlantic Hockey opponent -- and those defeats were devastating in the Pairwise Rankings, which are used to select the 16-team NCAA tournament field.
UND ultimately missed the NCAAs for a second-straight year, and the Fighting Hawks could point to that series as the culprit. Had UND swept Canisius, it would have been in the NCAAs.
Heading into the 2019-20 season, there are several key series for UND that could once again make or break its NCAA tournament hopes.
Here are five series that figure to have major Pairwise implications at the end of the season:
5. At Western Michigan, Dec. 6-7
The Broncos are going to be very good this season, led by the most explosive group of forwards in the NCHC. They’re also not going to often lose at home in the raucous Lawson Ice Arena.
That makes this series -- the final one before Christmas break -- a huge opportunity for UND. A big weekend, on the road, against a top team could be a nice Pairwise boost at the end of the season.
4. At Minnesota Duluth, Jan. 24-25
Perhaps UND’s most critical conference series will come at the back-to-back defending NCAA national champions in late January. It should be a key series for three reasons.
First, the Bulldogs figure to be one of the country’s top teams again, retaining almost all of their star defensive corps and goalie Hunter Shepard. Second, this series is on the road, which means road bonus points are available in the Pairwise. And, third, this is the only meeting between UND and Minnesota Duluth of the season. The winner of this series could be the winner of the Pairwise comparison.
3. Home vs. Alabama Huntsville, Jan. 3-4
Alabama Huntsville last visited Ralph Engelstad Arena during the 2015-16 season. UND won the series opener 1-0 on a power-play goal by Bryn Chyzyk, who is now a student manager with the team.
Since that game, Huntsville is 1-21 against teams outside of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. The only win in that stretch came two seasons ago at Arizona State.
This series comes at a time when UND is at risk to be upset, too: It is possible that the Fighting Hawks will be without Jacob Bernard-Docker, Jonny Tychonick and/or Shane Pinto, who are all candidates to make their World Junior Championship teams. It also will come at a time when UND students are on break and there won’t be as much of a home-ice advantage as usual.
2. Home vs. Canisius, Oct. 11-12
UND won’t have to wait long to get another swing at Canisius. The Fighting Hawks open the regular season against the Golden Griffins in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Canisius finished in last place in Atlantic Hockey a season ago and lost its top scorer, former Hobey Baker Award finalist Dylan McLaughlin, and four of its six regular defensemen. That means the Golden Griffins probably won’t finish high in Atlantic Hockey standings and losses to them could be just as devastating as they were a year ago.
1. At MSU-Mankato, Oct. 18-19
UND’s first trip to Mankato since March 2013 will be a massive opportunity for the Fighting Hawks. MSU-Mankato should be a top-five team for much -- if not all -- of the season and the Mavericks likely will roll through the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
A successful weekend in Mankato -- with Pairwise road bonus available -- could single-handedly jump the Fighting Hawks a few spots in the Pairwise Rankings at the end of the season. This series will be an opportunity UND does not want to waste.