College Hockey Series of the Week: North Dakota vs. Minnesota Duluth

Story posted January 24, 2020 in Sports, CommRadio by Christopher Hess

The NCHC houses some of the most historic programs in college hockey with North Dakota, Minnesota Duluth and Denver sitting atop the star-studded league of champions.

AMSOIL Arena will be the center of the college hockey world this weekend as No. 2 North Dakota (18-2-3) travels to Duluth to square off against No. 11 Minnesota Duluth (12-8-2) in a one versus two battle in the NCHC.

The Fighting Hawks from Grand Forks have propelled themselves back into the national championship conversation after missing the tournament the past three seasons.

This magical 2019-2020 season in which North Dakota is putting up video game-like numbers is due in part to a prolific offensive attack (4.15 goals per game, ranks first in the nation) alongside steady defense (1.92 goals-against average, ranks fourth).

That potent offense is led by junior forward Jordan Kawaguchi, who currently ranks third in the nation in points with 35. He trails Providence’s Tyce Thompson and Jack Dugan, who have 37 and 42 points, respectively.

In addition, Kawaguchi sits at second in all of college hockey in assists with 23, which is 12 behind Dugan. Aside from Kawaguchi, other players such as Shane Pinto, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Westin Michaud and Collin Adams are also reputable names on this roster.

Bernard-Docker and Pinto are both Ottawa Senators draft picks, and they are both highly touted prospects in their rebuilding franchise. Both players have extremely bright futures.

New York Islanders prospect Adams is also a player that has a knack for scoring and being a forward who can play well on the back end. Boasting a plus/minus rating of plus-23, which is best on the team and second best in the nation, Adams is just one piece of the puzzle for a North Dakota team that has playmakers almost everywhere on the roster.

Between the pipes, Adam Scheel has been a mainstay for one of college hockey’s perennial giants. In 22 games, Scheel has a goals-against average of 1.85, a save percentage of .910 and a record of 17-2-2.

The two-time defending national champion Minnesota Duluth will have to play a bit of catchup in the NCHC standings as it has fallen behind North Dakota by eight points.

Two losses to St. Cloud State last weekend did not help the Bulldogs’ push to the top, and they will need to do some soul searching if they want to come out on top here.

Junior defenseman Scott Perunovich is the statistical leader in both assists and points with 22 and 25, respectively. The St. Louis Blues draft selection is an unselfish player and has extremely high IQ while the puck is on his stick.

Noah Cates has lit the lamp 11 times in 22 games with Kobe Roth and Cole Koepke not far behind, recording nine and eight goals apiece, respectively.

Senior netminder Hunter Shepard was in the crease during both of Duluth’s national titles, and he has proved once again that he is a reliable option in net. Through 22 games, Shepard has started in all of them while also holding a stat line that consists of a 12-8-2 record, a goals-against average of 2.28 and a save percentage of .911.

With conference games being ever-so important, this series means far more to Duluth than it does for North Dakota.

If Duluth were to pull a massive upset and sweep the Fighting Hawks, then the Bulldogs would narrow the gap to just two points. However, if the Bulldogs were to get swept, North Dakota would gain a massive 14-point edge.

This series will generate a playoff atmosphere, and the Bulldogs will come out with a chip on their shoulder ready to prove that their two losses to St. Cloud State were flukes.

However, the Fighting Hawks have only lost once since Oct. 25, when they were stunned by Omaha 6-3 on Jan. 10. North Dakota has been playing at a championship level. Expect Kawaguchi to add to his already impressive résumé and lead his team a weekend sweep of Minnesota Duluth.

Prediction: North Dakota sweeps 2-0

Game 1: North Dakota 3, Minnesota Duluth 2

Game 2: North Dakota 4, Minnesota Duluth 2

 

Christopher Hess is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email christopherhess22@gmail.com.