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North Dakota, Denver look to boost WCHA standing

by Michael Blinn /
North Dakota (17-11-3) at Denver (15-9-4)
Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network


North Dakota: It was an up-and-down first half for North Dakota, as the team followed up a second-place finish at the Ice Breaker tournament with a split against Maine. They suffered weekend sweeps at the hands of Wisconsin and Minnesota, but exacted their own double-victories over Colorado College and Alaska-Anchorage. Splits with St. Cloud State, Bemidji State, Nebraska-Omaha, and a win and tie vs. Harvard finished out the first half of the season. It's well-known that Dave Hakstol's teams tend to run things in the second half of the season, and it's no different this time around. Since the calendar flipped to 2012, North Dakota has gone 7-2-1, splitting with the Gophers, Huskies, and Minnesota-Duluth, while getting a sweep of their own against the Badgers. Last weekend, they took a hard-fought three points from Michigan Tech in a big goalie duel. Should they take all four points from the table against Denver, they'll jump over the Pioneers in the standings, possibly as high as third, and within striking distance of the top two spots in the WCHA.

NCAA Hockey on NBC Sports Network

Denver: The early-season roller-coaster ride Denver took has seen the Pioneers continue peaking in the new year. A second-place finish at the Denver Cup set the tone for a two-win weekend over Minnesota State, though inconsistency saw the team struggle for back-to-back wins, something they did just three times in the first three months of the season. When the new year rolled around, however, the Pioneers did as well, racking up five- and three-game winning streaks for an 8-3-1 record since Jan. 6. Denver has risen up to second in the jam-packed WCHA, and while a split against Wisconsin left a sour taste in tie Pioneers' collective mouth, four points against North Dakota could help solidify a top-two spot in the league standings.


There's only a handful of NCAA teams that can boast three 30-point scorers, and North Dakota is one of them. Sophomore Brock Nelson (20 goals, 35 points) leads the charge, already having obliterated his first-year totals and hanging near the nation's top goal-scorers. Danny Kristo (14 goals, 33 points) has bounced back from a recession in his second season to find his freshman-year form, while junior Corban Knight has shown the ability to put the team on his shoulders and run, with eight multi-point efforts on the season (11 goals, 30 points). Junior Carter Rowney (14 goals, 23 points) has exploded, more than doubling his career totals across the board, while freshman Nick Mattson (5 goals, 16 points), senior Ben Blood (2 goals, 14 points), sophomore Dillon Simpson (1 goal, 14 points) and junior Joe Gleason (13 points) have given North Dakota one of the deepest blue line corps in the nation. Junior goalie Aaron Dell (12-9-2, 2.90 goals-against average) came in as the incumbent this season, coming off a 30-win season (and breaking Ed Belfour's team record of 29 in the process), though a day-to-day injury has put his status this weekend in jeopardy. Senior Brad Eidsness (5-2-1, 1.92 GAA), a two-time 24-game winner in his first two seasons, is more than capable of stepping up to take over the role, and possibly awaking a two-headed monster in the crease for North Dakota.

The Pioneers face a similar issue in a net, but with an added caveat: a third goalie. Sam Brittain's offseason knee surgery allowed both junior Adam Murray (8-2-1, 3.09 GAA) and freshman Juho Olkinuora (6-6-3, 2.22 GAA) to stake their claim in the crease. Six games into his return, however, the sophomore Brittain (4-2-0, 2.51 GAA) has reclaimed the starting job, getting the nod in Denver's last five. Up front, he sees another one of the NCAA's 30-point scoring trios, led by junior Drew Shore (18 goals, 42 points), who has yet to have back-to-back games without a point this season. Sophomore Jason Zucker (17 goals, 37 points) has been on a tear since returning from the World Junior Championship, racking up 6 goals and 13 points in the nine games since. On the blue line, Joey LaLeggia (10 goals, 23 points) has lived up to his billing in his first year, picking up 12 multi-point efforts including an eight-game streak totaling 15 points. Shore's younger sibling, sophomore Nick (10 goals, 29 points), has lived up to the family name as well, and is on the way to giving the Pioneers a fourth 30-point scorer.

North Dakota Denver Pioneers
Brock Nelson - 31 GP-20G-15A-35Pts Drew Shore - 31GP-18G-24A-42Pts
Danny Kristo - 31GP-14G-19A-33Pts Jason Zucker - 27GP-17G-20A-37Pts
Corban Knight - 28GP-11G-19A-30Pts Joey LaLeggia - 32GP-10G-23A-33Pts
Carter Rowney - 31GP-14G-9A-23Pts Nick Shore - 32GP-10G-19A-29Pts
Nick Mattson - 31GP-5G-11A-16Pts Luke Salazar - 31GP-8G-13A-21Pts
Brad Eidsness - 5-2-1, 1.92 GAA, .926 SV% Juho Olkinuora - 6-6-3, 3.2.22AA, .923 SV%
Aaron Dell - 12-9-2, 2.90 GAA, .890 SV% Sam Brittain - 4-2-0, 2.51 GAA, .923 SV%


North Dakota Denver Pioneers
Coach: Dave Hakstol (204-104-30) Coach: George Gwozdecky (563-372-80)
Record: 17-11-3 (13-10-1 WCHA) Record: 15-9-4 (10-6-4 WCHA)
22.2% PP (10th) / 82.3% PK (27th) 23.3% PP (7th) / 81.1% PK (34th)
Drafted: Ben Blood (OTT), Derek Forbort (LAK), Joe Gleason (CHI), Andrew MacWilliam (TOR), Nick Mattson (CHI), Dillon Simpson (EDM), Rocco Grimaldi (FLA), Corban Knight (FLA), Danny Kristo (MTL), Mark MacMillan (MTL), Brock Nelson (NYI), Brendan O'Donnell (TBL), Michael Parks (PHI), Derek Rodwell (NJD), Brad Eidsness (BUF) Drafted: Josiah Didier (MTL), John Lee (FLA), Scott Mayfield (NYI), Paul Phillips (CHI), Beau Bennett (PIT), Zac Larraza (PHX), Drew Shore (FLA), Jason Zucker (MIN), Sam Brittain (FLA)


"As far as raw skill on our team, I'd say he's definitely No. 1,” Kristo said. “He's probably one of the smartest players I've ever played with. He definitely knows where to go on the ice to get himself open and knows how to go to the net." -- North Dakota forward and Canadiens' prospect Danny Kristo to on teammate Brock Nelson, a 2010 Islanders' draft pick

"That's one of the advantages to having a brother -- he's always been there to push me. We have a great relationship, but it is very competitive, along with my two younger brothers. He's always there to push me, and I'm there to do the same, so it's definitely a big advantage.” -- Panthers' prospect and Denver forward Drew Shore to on his relationship with brother Nick, a sophomore on the Pioneers' roster.


NHL connections: Denver forward Larkin Jacobson is the stepson of Ruslan Fedotenko, and Ty Loney's father Troy won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins. Shawn Ostrow is the younger brother of Blue Jackets' prospect Kyle. North Dakota's Brock Nelson is the nephew of former Olympian and NHLer Dave Christian, while teammate Dillon Simpson's father Craig played for the Penguins, Oilers, and Sabres. ... Family Studies: Mario Lamoureux is the sixth member of his immediate family to attend North Dakota. His sisters Monique and Jocelyn are juniors on the women's team, while Jean-Phillipe tended the nets from 2004-08. Brother Pierre-Paul is an assistant with the men's coaching staff, while sibling Jacques was a Hobey Baker finalist for Air Force. ... Breaking the Ice: Zucker is the first Nevada native to be drafted by an NHL team. ... Developmental Studies: North Dakota has the NCAA's second-highest concentration of NHL prospects with 15; combined with Denver's nine, they will represent 15 teams, including five from Florida, three from Montreal and Chicago, and two from the Islanders. ... Tale of the Tape: North Dakota is the NCAA's fifth-heaviest team, and seventh-tallest -- despite having 5-foot-6, 165-pound Rocco Grimaldi on their roster. Denver coach George Gwozdecky is the sixth all-time winningest coach with 523, though his North Dakota counterpart Dave Hakstol has the eighth-best winning percentage among active coaches at .635.

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