Preview: UND at No. 4 Denver
The Fighting Hawks are set to play in Magness Arena for the first time in more than two years.
DENVER — UND has a large alumni base in Denver.
It's so much so that the alumni association is setting up pregame parties before both games this weekend, while numerous members of the athletic department and alumni association are on the trip.
UND President Andy Armacost will be here. Athletic director Bill Chaves traveled with the team. Coltyn Sanderson, Steve Brekke and Tom Dosch from the association are in Denver.
For UND's Denver-based fans, it's been a long wait.
They haven't been able to watch UND in the city since Nov. 15-16, 2019.
In 2020-21, the Fighting Hawks played two games behind closed doors in Magness Arena. Last season, they did not travel to Denver. Now, they've waited until almost the end of this season for this series.
UND will try to take a page out of the UND women's basketball team's book. The Fighting Hawks did their best to turn Hamilton Gymnasium into Betty West on Thursday night, winning in front of a strong contingent of green and white.
Now, it's the hockey team's turn to try.
It won't be easy.
Denver has been one of college hockey's top teams all season, but the Pioneers have been even better at home.
They're 14-3 in Denver this season and 7-4 outside of it. Denver's only three home losses this season were in overtime against St. Cloud State and in regulation against Omaha and Alaska (Fairbanks).
"This is a good test for us," UND forward Ben Strinden said. "Obviously, they came in our building and took two from us. That's not a good feeling at all. We're going to go there with the intention of doing the same to them."
UND has been much better defensively as of late, allowing just five goals in the last four games. But those came against struggling offenses in Minnesota Duluth and Miami.
Denver is the country's No. 7 scoring offense.
"We saw them earlier in the year," UND coach Brad Berry said. "It wasn't our best performance. But we're a much better team than we were in the first half."
Follow the game
When: 8:30 p.m. Central on Friday, 7 p.m. Central on Saturday.
Where: Magness Arena, Denver.
TV: CBS Sports Network on Friday only. On air: Alex Heinert (play-by-play), Dave Starman (analysis), Shireen Starman (rinkside).
Stream: NCHChockey.com on Saturday only.
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM). On air: Tim Hennessy (play-by-play), Darrin Looker (analysis).
Tale of the tape
|3.56 (10th)||Off||3.64 (7th)|
|3.00 (39th)||Def||2.14 (5th)|
|32.4 (2nd)||PP||24.4 (10th)|
|83.3 (14th)||PK||77.7 (44th)|
|52.7 (15th)||FO||49.0 (37th)|
|.880 (60th)||SP||.913 (12th)|
National rank in parenthesis. Categories are offense (goals per game), defense (goals against per game), power play percentage, penalty kill percentage, faceoff percentage and team save percentage.
The focus: D Sean Behrens
Denver has a number of offensive weapons, so it's easy to overlook defenseman Sean Behrens.
The second-round draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche did not play in the November series between UND and Denver due to an injury, but he's been a big producer since he's come back.
The 5-foot-9 Behrens, a speedy and shifty skater, has 11 points in the last 11 games for the Pioneers.
UND pick to click: F Nick Portz
UND has moved most of its third- and fourth-line players in and out of the lineup this season as it looks for combinations to click, but Nick Portz has continually made his case to stay in.
Portz has quietly been one of UND's most consistent players. He's fifth on the team in points per minute played, despite not getting any power-play time.
He's been a factor lately by setting up teammates for goals. He's due for one of his own.
The call: Split
UND and Denver played two completely different games in November.
On Friday, the Pioneers didn't sustain a ton of offense but managed to sneak out a 3-2 win anyway with a third-period goal.
On Saturday night, they looked like the Boston Bruins, completely bottling up UND's attempts to break out of the defensive zone and swarming the Fighting Hawks. Denver eventually broke through offensively in the third period and won 6-3.
UND needs to be much better with its zone exits in this series to avoid a repeat of what happened in November. If the Fighting Hawks can do that — and if Drew DeRidder stays locked in — they can come away with one in Magness.
Friday: Denver 4, UND 2
Saturday: UND 3, Denver 2