College Hockey Series of the Week: No. 9 North Dakota vs. No. 2 Denver
With the temperature dropping as winter approaches, the NCHC title race is already heating up in the month of November, as No. 2 Denver (8-1-1) will host No. 9 North Dakota (7-1-1) in a battle of blue-blood programs.
Denver has seen tremendous success over the past few years. The Pioneers have been a consistent top-10 program and have made the Frozen Four three out of the last four seasons. Denver has been a perennial giant in the college hockey world and will most likely remain on that “elite” pedestal for years to come.
Denver boasts the ninth-best scoring offense in the country at the moment, averaging 3.77 goals per contest. The Pioneers take pride in their ability to score and smother the opposing team with disciplined defense.
Senior forward Liam Finlay is a player that will definitely make a massive impact in this two-game set. He leads Denver in points with 11, sits with Emilio Pettersen atop the stat sheet with eight assists, and is second in the plus/minus category with plus-6.
Senior forward Tyson McLellan is a prolific scorer, finding the back of the net four times, as has freshman forward and Philadelphia Flyers prospect Bobby Brink.
Freshman Justin Lee has just two points through 10 games, but his impact on the back end, which doesn’t show on the stat sheet, is what makes Lee special. The smooth-skating defenseman leads Denver in plus/minus at plus-7 and has a knack for shutting down the opponent’s best scorer.
In net, freshman Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Magnus Chrona has been a steady and reliable presence following the departure of Filip Larsson, who left to play for the Detroit Red Wings. Chrona has played in nine games, holding a record of 7-1-1, allowing 20 goals, and holding a save percentage of .913.
North Dakota is a program that has an insanely rich hockey tradition that dates back to 1929 and has produced players such as Ed Belfour, Zach Parise, Jonathan Toews, Travis Zajac and T.J. Oshie.
Since their 2016 championship, the Fighting Hawks have missed the NCAA Tournament two out of the past three seasons, which is extremely unlike them as a dominant program in the college hockey world. But through nine games in 2019-20, it’s clear that North Dakota is finally returning to that blue-blood status.
Junior forward Jordan Kawaguchi leads the North Dakota attack, which ranks third nationally in scoring offense with 4.29 goals per game. Only Harvard and Cornell are ahead of the Fighting Hawks on that list.
Kawaguchi has accounted for 13 points, with 10 of them coming via assist. There’s no denying that he really knows how to spread the puck around. Kawaguchi is also second on the team with a plus-minus of plus-12, which is one behind New York Islanders prospect Collin Adams in that category.
Colorado College graduate transfer Westin Michaud has scored five goals through nine games, and his impact in the offensive zone gives players like Kawaguchi and Ottawa Senators prospect Jacob Bernard-Docker extremely reliable options while passing the puck.
Sophomore Adam Scheel has started off the 2019-20 campaign on the right foot, as he has started each of nine games in net for the Fighting Hawks. Giving up just 15 goals through nine games, Scheel’s goals-against average of 1.66 ranks eighth in the country.
With Denver maintaining its status among college hockey’s elite, the Pioneers will be ready to go for this pivotal series. North Dakota, on the other hand, can use this series as a way to make a statement and launch itself back into the national spotlight.
Expect both teams to come out with an aggressive game plan. These two games have “old school hockey” written all over them. This series will be dogfight for 120 minutes (and potentially more if overtime were to strike).
North Dakota will make a massive push towards a sweep, but that may be far-fetched. Denver is just too powerful to get swept at home. Magness Arena is definitely one of the toughest environments in the entire country, and it will be rocking from start to finish.
Prediction: 1-1 split
Game 1: North Dakota 3, Denver 2
Game 2: Denver 3, North Dakota 1
Christopher Hess is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.