UND men’s hockey looks to stay hot versus the Pioneers

After a Thanksgiving weekend sweep of Michigan State, the UND men’s hockey team will look to pile on more wins as it plays host to NCHC opponent and long-time rival, the Denver Pioneers.

This weekend marks the final home stand of the semester as well as the first of two pivotal NCHC matchups between the Pioneers, followed by a series against the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs.

This won’t be the first time the two have met. The first game played between UND and Denver was February 1, 1950, with the Fighting Hawks routing Denver for a  18-3 victory.

Since then, the two have played a total of 270 times with the Hawks holding the advantage of 140-120-10.

UND will have plenty of firepower to enhance the win percentage even further with the help of NCHC’s player of the month, Nick Schmaltz. Schmaltz tallied two goals and dished out 13 assists with a plus-14 rating in eight November games, closing out the month on a seven-game point streak. He also led the NCHC with an average of scoring and assists per game with 1.62 in the last month.

But Schmaltz isn’t the only one receiving awards, as Drake Caggiula received Offensive Player of the Week, Cam Johnson received Goaltender of the Week and Tucker Poolman earned Defenseman of the Week.

The Hawks will have their talons full facing off against Denver this time though.

The No. 9 ranked squad in the NCAA was red hot through November, going 4-0-2. While UND and St. Cloud State are at a gridlock atop the NCHC, Denver is in a tie of its own with Nebraska-Omaha with 10 points on the season.

The best offense is a good defense, and the Pioneers boast that statistic. Despite having the second fewest goals scored this season compared to other NCHC teams, they also take the lead in fewest goals allowed, with only five.

Denver coach Jim Montgomery knows what the Pioneers are up against with some of the best players in the NCAA.

“This series will be a huge test for us,” Montgomery said. “(The Fighting Hawks’) defensive corps is as good as it gets in the NCAA, and their top forward line is arguably the most dangerous in the country. We’re expecting two tough games up in their arena this weekend.”

The rivalry between two of the country’s top ten teams continues Friday with puck drop at 7:07 p.m. at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Jack Harvey is a sports writer for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]