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Preview: UND at No. 17 Western Michigan

The Broncos' top line has produced 29 goals and 79 points in 18 games this season.

North Dakota vs Western Michigan
North Dakota forward Connor Ford (21) tries to block Western Michigan forward Cole Gallant (12) during the first period Friday, March 18, 2022, in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live
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KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The numbers are eye-popping.

Western Michigan's top line — freshman Ryan McAllister, sophomore Max Sasson and senior Jason Polin — has combined for 29 goals and 79 points in 18 games this season. It is the highest-scoring line in the country. Western Michigan is the highest-scoring team in the country.

This is not a situation where the Broncos have feasted on weak nonconference opponents.

McAllister, the nation's leading scorer, has more points against National Collegiate Hockey Conference foes (17 points in eight games, 2.13 ppg) than he does in nonconference games (1.6 ppg). That's the same with Polin (1.63 ppg in NCHC, 1.1 ppg in nonconference) and Sasson (1.5 ppg in NCHC, 1.1 ppg in nonconference).

McAllister has a point in every NCHC game he's played in.

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The Broncos have a few other players who are having notable seasons, too.

Fifth-year senior Jamie Rome, who tallied just three goals in his first four years, suddenly has eight in the first half of this season. Six of his eight are on the power play, where the left-hander sits in the right circle and one-times pucks.

Junior Luke Grainger, who gave the Broncos their first-ever NCAA tournament victory last spring with an overtime winner against Northeastern, is a smaller, skilled player who also has surpassed his previous career-high in points. He has 16 this season. He had 15 a year ago.

Western Michigan's pair of transfers on the blue line — Zak Galambos from American International (and MSU-Mankato) and Carter Berger from UConn — have produced as well.

But the first line has done most of the damage.

McAllister and Polin have been the best goal-scorers on that line, and they've shown the ability to score both in tight and from beyond the dot.

Jason Polin's goal locations 2022-23

jasonpolingoals.jpg
Jason Polin's goals as of Dec. 8, 2022.
InStat

Ryan McAllister's goal locations 2022-23

ryanmcallistergoals.jpg
Ryan McAllister's goal locations as of Dec. 8, 2022.
InStat

That will put the emphasis on not just the defensemen but also the forwards to defend Western Michigan's top line this weekend.

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UND will not have last line change, so it probably won't be able to get the line matchups it wants.

"Knowing that line is on the ice, your No. 1 job is to eliminate them from trying to gain offensive opportunity," UND coach Brad Berry said. "A byproduct of that is if you're checking the right way. We call it 'checking to score.' It doesn't matter if it's a top line on the other team. You have to check to get the puck back to have an offensive opportunity. That's got to be your mindset, checking to score, and making sure that checking comes before scoring."

Tale of the tape

UNDStatWMU
3.53 (11th)Off4.17 (1st)
3.41 (51st)Def3.06 (43rd)
28.8 (4th)PP28.2 (5th)
82.8 (21st)PK74.3 (53rd)
53.8 (8th)FO50.7 (27th)
.861 (61st)SP.875 (57th)

National rank in parenthesis. Categories are offense (goals per game), defense (goals against per game), power play, penalty kill, faceoffs and team save percentage.

The focus: WMU G Cameron Rowe

Western Michigan goalie Cameron Rowe, who was at one time committed to UND, has been up and down throughout his career.

He started at Wisconsin in 2020-21. He had a .933 save percentage that season as he led the Badgers to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. They were ousted in the first round by Bemidji State.

Last season, Rowe had an .861 for the Badgers, who turned to Jared Moe, then added Kyle McClellan from Mercyhurst in the portal.

Rowe left to go to Western Michigan, where he has been the No. 1 starter this season. He's again been up and down (.881 save percentage). His performance, whether he's on or off, could dictate the way this series goes.

The pick to click: F Judd Caulfield

Judd Caulfield scored his first collegiate goal at Lawson Ice Arena on Dec. 7, 2019. He actually scored twice that night. As a freshman, Caulfield had four goals. Three came against the Broncos.

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That was just the start.

Last season, Caulfield scored four goals in five games against the Broncos as he continued to have their number.

During his career, Caulfield has seven goals in 11 games against Western Michigan (.64 goals per game). He has 17 goals in his other 101 career games (.17 goals per game). Whatever the reason, Caulfield has been 3.7 times more likely to score against the Broncos than other opponents.

The call: Split

Since mid-October, UND has not swept anyone and Western Michigan has put together one sweep (Miami).

Both of these teams have been inconsistent. Although six of the last seven series between these teams have ended up in sweeps, this one should be a high-scoring split.

Recent two-game series

February 2022, Grand Forks — UND sweep
January 2022, Kalamazoo — Western sweep
February 2020, Grand Forks — UND sweep
December 2019, Kalamazoo — UND sweep
February 2019, Kalamazoo — Split
November 2018, Grand Forks — Western sweep
December 2017, Grand Forks — UND sweep

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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