Friday rundown: UND has opportunity in the Pairwise the next two weeks
The Fighting Hawks play highly ranked Western Michigan and St. Cloud State before Jake Sanderson heads to the Olympics.
KALAMAZOO, Mich. — UND opened the second half in position to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
In less than 40 hours, it dropped to the NCAA tournament bubble.
UND's back-to-back losses to Cornell were costly in the Pairwise Rankings, which are used to select and seed the 16-team NCAA field.
Fortunately for UND, it has an opportunity to make it up right away.
The Fighting Hawks are currently No. 10 in the Pairwise Rankings and their next four games are against No. 6 Western Michigan (6:05 p.m. Friday, 6:05 p.m. Saturday in Lawson Ice Arena) and No. 4 St. Cloud State (next weekend in Ralph Engelstad Arena).
They will likely be UND's two best opportunities to make up ground that was lost due to the Cornell weekend.
"There's seven weeks of NCHC hockey until playoffs," UND coach Brad Berry said. "Playoffs are around the corner. We want to keep building upon what we've done in the NCHC in knowing there are other good teams out there that are playing really good hockey right now and Western is one of them."
Here are 20 other notes ahead of this weekend:
1. Every UND hockey player who contracted COVID-19 during last week's outbreak is out of quarantine. The only players who are expected to be unavailable for this weekend's series are forwards Gavin Hain and Brendan Budy.
As players returned to practice this week, they were closely monitored by the coaching and medical staff.
"Everybody is different on what affected them and how fast they recovered," Berry said. "There are a couple guys whose lungs are burning a little bit and you've got to know to take it a little bit easier on those guys to re-acclimate to the situation here. There are some guys who weren't affected at all with no symptoms that are hitting the ground running. I think you've got to be very sensitive on who got hit and how hard it hit them and where you're at with them."
2. While UND was off last weekend due to COVID-19 cases within the team, Western Michigan hasn't played a game since Dec. 29 against Michigan State. Broncos coach Pat Ferschweiler isn't worried about his team coming out flat, though.
"We're not a team that comes out flat," Ferschweiler said. "I don't think we're going to do that."
3. UND may be in first place, but Denver (three points back) and Western Michigan (six back) both have an opportunity to catch the Fighting Hawks this weekend.
That begs a question: Are Denver and Western Michigan the favorites to win the Penrose Cup right now?
The Pioneers and Broncos both escaped without having any players selected by USA Hockey for the Olympics, so they should have their full rosters available, while UND (Jake Sanderson), St. Cloud State (Sam Hentges, Nick Perbix) and Minnesota Duluth (Noah Cates) all will be losing key players for two or three weeks.
4. Western Michigan is the tallest team in the country this season with an average height of 6 feet, 1.53 inches. The Broncos have 13 players on their roster that are at least 6-foot-3. UND, by comparison, has three.
5. Faceoffs will be key this weekend. UND ranks fourth in the nation at 54.5 percent. Western Michigan ranks 13th at 52 percent. But Western Michigan's Drew Worrad and Paul Washe are two of the league's best. Connor Ford will see a lot of them.
6. In the last two weeks, six of the eight NCHC teams have had to call off games due to COVID-19 outbreaks within their program — UND, St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth, Omaha, Colorado College and Denver. Western Michigan has yet to call off any games due to COVID-19 cases within its program during the pandemic.
7. Miami is expected to be without goalie Logan Neaton for the rest of the season. Neaton, a Winnipeg Jets draft pick, recently suffered an injury. Ludvig Persson figures to start every game from here that he's healthy. Forwards Ryan Savage and Chase Gresock also have been missing with injuries.
8. Colorado College plays Denver this weekend with the Gold Pan on the line. The Denver Post had a good story today about how the original Gold Pan went missing in 2004. It has never been recovered.
9. Quinnipiac, which took over the No. 1 ranking in the polls this week, continues to steamroll teams. The Bobcats haven’t lost since Oct. 23 against UND. They’re 17-1-3 on the season and they’ve outscored their opponents 38-2 in their last eight games dating back to Nov. 20. Quinnipiac plays at Colgate and at Cornell this weekend.
10. UND commit Cole Spicer of Grand Forks scored a goal Monday during the BioSteel All-American Game, which features top American-born NHL Draft-eligible prospects. Spicer was one of three UND commits who played in the contest in Plymouth, Mich. The other two were forward Ben Strinden of Fargo and defenseman Jake Livanavage.
11. Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton on Strinden: "He's out there pretty much daily with our skills coach working on things."
12. Grand Forks Central’s Brandon Holt, who has signed a Letter of Intent to play college hockey at Maine, has been on fire in the North American Hockey League. Holt, a defenseman, has 11 points in the last eight games, including a three-point game last weekend for the New Mexico Ice Wolves.
13. College hockey has surpassed 300 alums in the NHL this season. The leaders: Minnesota 24, North Dakota 23, Boston University 19, Boston College 19, Michigan 19, Wisconsin 16, Notre Dame 13, Denver 12, Minnesota Duluth 12, Miami 11, Harvard 11, St. Cloud State 11, UMass 11.
14. Union coach Rick Bennett was put on administrative leave Thursday. There aren't many details emerging yet .
15. Denver is 10-0-1 at home this season. The only team to get a tie was Alaska (Fairbanks). Denver's next three home games: Colorado College, Miami and Miami.
16. Former UND goalie Aaron Dell earned his first win as a Buffalo Sabre last weekend.
17. Roseau's Max Strand is having a huge season for a very good Rams team. He is currently uncommitted.
18. The East Grand Forks boys are set to play an outdoor game tomorrow as part of Hockey Day in Minnesota. The Green Wave will play against Prior Lake at Mankato's Blakeslee Field. Both teams have a D-I commit on the roster. East Grand Forks has UND commit Jaksen Panzer. Prior Lake has Vermont commit Alex Bump.
19. An interesting note about Omaha: The Mavericks have had more power plays than any team in the nation this season. They've also allowed their opponents more power plays than any team in the country this season.
20. Minnesota hosts Michigan this weekend in a battle between the top two teams in the Big Ten in terms of winning percentage. It's a key series considering both teams will be hit hard during the Olympics.
Forward Ethen Frank opted to take advantage of his free COVID-19 season from the NCAA and return for a fifth season. That has been big for Western Michigan. Frank is tied as the leading goal-scorer in the nation with 17. He has scored nine at even-strength, seven on the power play and one shorthanded. Frank already has five multi-goal games this season, including a four-goal night against Omaha. When he scores, he usually does it in bunches.
The pick to click
UND's most successful players in Lawson Ice Arena in recent years have been the big or physical players, who are able to thrive in that type of a game. For this team, think Judd Caulfield, Mark Senden, Louis Jamernik and Connor Ford. We're going to give a nod to Ford, who should feel at home in Lawson. During his Bowling Green days, Ford played a game in Kalamazoo as a freshman (no points), sophomore (goal) and junior (two assists).
Lawson Ice Arena is one of the most difficult road venues in the NCHC. Making this weekend even more difficult is the fact that this may be Western Michigan's best team. But UND proved earlier this year it can win in tough road venues (Quinnipiac, St. Cloud State). It will have to do that again with valuable Pairwise points on the line.
Friday: WMU 5, UND 3
Saturday: UND 3, WMU 2
4. St. Cloud State
6. Western Michigan
7. Minnesota Duluth
9. UMass Lowell
10. Michigan Tech
11. North Dakota
14. Ohio State
15. Notre Dame
19. Bemidji State