Line matchups have been critical for UND against Denver
The Fighting Hawks have used last line change to their advantage against skilled Pioneers squads.
GRAND FORKS — Playing at home has its advantages and it's not just about the friendly crowd and comfortable surroundings.
In hockey, the home team also has last line change.
After whistles, the visiting team has to put its lines on the ice first. Then, the home team can see which opposing players are out there and decide who matches up against them.
This is something UND coach Brad Berry has used to his advantage significantly in recent years — especially against Denver, which is set to play a two-game series in Ralph Engelstad Arena (7:07 p.m. Friday, 6:07 p.m. Saturday).
Dating back to Jan. 1, 2012, the Pioneers have only won two of their last 19 games against UND in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
They've lost seven in a row.
Last season, Berry used the shutdown line of Gavin Hain, Mark Senden and Louis Jamernik V to match up against Denver's prolific top line of Cole Guttman, Carter Savoie and Bobby Brink. Denver's stars were held off the scoresheet Friday as UND won 3-1.
Pioneers coach David Carle split up his big line for Saturday's game, moving Savoie to a different line to try to avoid the matchup. UND used the shutdown line on Guttman and Brink, and once again shut them out in a 4-1 Fighting Hawks' victory. Savoie took a major penalty out of frustration in the waning minutes.
It ended up being the only two-game series all year that Denver was held under six goals.
"Everybody brought their 'A' game, taking time and space away from a highly skilled team, and playing the right way for 60 minutes," Berry said. "There wasn't a lot of ice on both sides. The games were 3-1 and 4-1, I believe, but we played consistently through that 60-minute timeframe, where there wasn't a lot given up."
Berry indicated he wants to use line matchups again this weekend.
While Guttman, Brink and Savoie all signed NHL deals in the offseason, the Pioneers have a new prolific top line in Carter Mazur, Massimo Rizzo and Harvard transfer Casey Dornbach.
Mazur, a Red Wings draft pick, is ranked No. 2 nationally in goals with 10. Rizzo, a Carolina Hurricanes pick, is ranked No. 3 nationally in points with 17.
"At the end of the day, I think you want the guys that you want out against their top line," Berry said. "They do have a top line. They have other good players as well, but they do have a top line that's scoring a majority of their goals. It's a situation where we probably want to get the matchups that we want."
It's unclear exactly what UND's shutdown line will look like. Hain missed last weekend's series at Omaha with a lower-body injury and is questionable for the Denver series. If he can't go, UND would have to find someone else to play with Jamernik V and Senden.
Taking on difficult matchups won't be new to Mazur and Rizzo, both sophomores. Carle said they've been doing it through the first month of the season.
"Maz and Riz are pretty determined people and players," Carle said. "They're relishing the opportunity to be the focal point of other teams' defensive gameplans. They're relishing that. They're doing a nice job of that. Casey, through his maturity and ability to possess pucks, has fit in nicely with the two of them."
Denver hasn't had much secondary scoring this season, but injuries have played a big role in that.
Star freshman Aidan Thompson, a Blackhawks pick, missed the first month of the season with an injury. He returned last weekend. Lightning pick McKade Webster also missed nearly a month, but returned to the lineup Saturday.
"It gives us a few different options up front," Carle said. "It makes the group as a whole a little more dangerous."
UND and Denver shared the Penrose Cup last season as National Collegiate Hockey Conference regular-season champions, adding to the rivalry between the programs.
"It goes deep — the tradition and history of both programs, the national championships of both programs," Berry said. "When you talk about recruiting, we're in the same recruiting territory, going after pretty much the same players. And then when you transfer it to the ice, it's the same thing. It's two really good teams that every year perennially have good teams."
Good news on Albrecht
UND received some positive updates on the injury front.
After playing Omaha last week without four forwards (Gavin Hain, Ben Strinden, Carson Albrecht, Dane Montgomery) and one defenseman (Luke Bast), Berry said Wednesday he's expecting to get some players back.
Both Strinden and Hain are skating. Strinden is probable for the weekend series. Hain is questionable.
On Thursday, another player took big strides toward being available.
Albrecht, who has not played since Oct. 21 against Minnesota, returned to practice.
A Swedish view of UND
Joa Hellsten, the father of UND goalie Jakob Hellsten, traveled from his hometown in Sweden to Grand Forks this week.
It is Joa's second time in the United States. His other U.S. trip was to Miami in 1989.
He spoke to the Herald while watching practice in Ralph Engelstad Arena on Thursday.
"I think the arena is fantastic," Joa said. "They have everything here. The support the student-athletes have is amazing — everything from the actual building to the staff."
How does it different from Sweden?
"It's not comparable, actually," said Joa, a goalie coach. "I've been working in SHL arenas. This is way, way better. It's not even comparable."
Hellsten's mother, Annica, also has traveled to the United States this year to see Jakob. She attended the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game last month in Las Vegas.
Back at home
UND is back at home for the first time in four weeks.
The Fighting Hawks had three consecutive road trips to Minnesota, Las Vegas and Omaha.
Now, they'll be at home for two weeks, hosting Denver and Miami.
"It will pretty nice to see my bed this weekend," defenseman Ty Farmer said.
No. 2 Denver at No. 12 UND
When: 7:07 p.m. Friday, 6:07 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Records: Denver 7-3, UND 4-3-2.
TV: Midco Sports (GF Ch. 27/622 HD).
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).