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Hockey Preview: #5 North Dakota "Fighting Hawks"

The Spartans welcome a top 5 program to Munn Arena this weekend

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

This weekend the Spartans for the 2nd week in a row will host an old friend from their days in the WCHA, this time with North Dakota visiting Munn Arena for the first time since 1980. North Dakota, newly dubbed the Fighting Hawks after a vote for a new nickname, have spent some time as the top ranked team in the country this season and come to town sporting a 10-2-2 record. The Spartans will need the best weekend of hockey they have played all season if they want to avoid a sweep on home ice, and they definitely need to tighten up defensively after a weekend surrendering 9 goals to the Michigan Tech Huskies.

North Dakota is in their first season under head coach Brad Berry, after Dave Hakstol left Grand Forks this past summer to  become the bench boss of the Philadelphia Flyers. North Dakota was coming off of a season where they lost in the national semi-final to Boston University. North Dakota lost three of their top scorers from last season and came into the year with limited experience in the net, but that has not stopped the team from getting off to a great start in Barry's first season.

Michigan State Spartans Stats Match-Up (National Rank) #5 North Dakota
3.36 (14) Goals Scored/Game 3.43 (12)
3.09 (44) Goals Against/Game 2.21 (12)
9-of-51 17.65% (33) Power Play Percentage 9-of-55 16.36% (38)
38-of-42 90.5% (8) Penalty Kill Percentage 41-of-53 77.4% (49)

Jake Hildebrand (Sr)

4-5-1 2.83 GAA, .904 save %

Expected Goaltenders

Matt Hrynkiw (Jr)

9-2-1 2.11 GAA, .911 save %

North Dakota has featured a balanced team this season, as they are ranked 12th in both team offense and team defense. Up front they are lead by senior Drake Caggiula (Stouffville, ON) and freshman Brock Boeser (Burnsville, MN. Vancouver Canucks-1st Rd. 2015) who each have seven goals this season. Boeser was one of the top recruits of the 2015 class and was originally committed to Wisconsin before switching to North Dakota last season. The leading point scorer on North Dakota is Nick Schmaltz (Verona, WI. Chicago Blackhawks-1st Rd. 2014) who has 15 assists, so he will be someone to watch as the set-up man on the ice. Schmaltz has just two goals on the season, but one of his goals was a result of the best passing play in college hockey all season, posted below.

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In net North Dakota has been led by Matt Hrynkiw (Saskatoon, Sask.) who has started the last 11 games after Cam Johnson was injured earlier in the season. Hrynkiw has played exceptionally well for someone who had played 0 minutes of NCAA hockey coming into the season, save for the 6-1 loss to St. Cloud State this past Saturday. The only other loss Hrynkiw has been in net for is a loss to Wisconsin November 6, where Wisconsin went into a defensive shell for 30 minutes after taking a 3-1 lead. If there is a weakness with North Dakota you would want to say it is in the net, as the Spartans have for the first time since 2009-10 scored 4 or more goals in 5 straight games. However, the Spartans would be wise to not get into a track meet this weekend as they need to focus on playing better defensively against a high powered offense such as North Dakota.

Game Info

Friday Nov. 27 7:00 PM

Sunday Nov.29 3:00 PM

Streaming BTNPlus on BTN2Go
Radio Spartan Sports Network

3 Keys to Spartan Success

  1. Jake Hildebrand rise to the occasion- Hildebrand has been subject to a slightly slow start each season at Michigan State, but the senior goaltender was really fighting the puck this last series against Michigan Tech. He was beat multiple times on point shots, and surrender weak side goals that he does not give up when he is on his game. If the Spartans are going to upset North Dakota this weekend they will need Hildebrand to be at his All-American level.
  2. Power Play- North Dakota has one of the worst penalty kills in the country, operating at below an 80% kill rate. North Dakota currently has the 2nd best Corsi For percentage (60%) in the country at even strength so they are extremely good at possessing the puck. The Spartans likely will not be winning puck possession at 5-on-5 so when they are given opportunities with the man advantage it is vital that they take advantage.
  3. Watch the stretch play- Boston College was able to victimize the Spartans defense with long stretch plays and North Dakota has the ability to do the same. Last Sunday the Spartans went with a lineup featuring just 5 defenseman so they need to be on their game this weekend to help Hildebrand. With the offense being more aggressive (with great results) the defenseman need to refocus on their primary responsibility and not stress forcing things to make offense happen.

It is really hard to see the Spartans earning even a split this weekend against North Dakota. I'll say North Dakota wins 4-3, 5-1.

Around the B1G
Dartmouth is travelling to Ann Arbor to take on the #12 Michigan Wolverines. Ohio State is heading to Omaha to take on former CCHA foe and #6 nationally Nebraska-Omaha. Minnesota hosts former WCHA foe #7 St. Cloud State this weekend while #20 Penn State will host Vermont for a single game on Sunday. This is the last weekend of out of conference play before all six teams dive into B1G play next weekend.