NCHC playoff preview: Western Michigan at Minnesota Duluth
No. 6 Western Michigan (15-17-2, 10-13-1) at No. 3 Minnesota Duluth (19-14-3, 13-11)
What: NCHC best-of-three first-round playoff series
When: 7:05 p.m. Friday/Saturday/Sunday (if necessary)
Where: Amsoil Arena
Series: Bulldogs lead 16-8-1
Coaches: Scott Sandelin, in his 18th season at UMD, is 334-298-85; Andy Murray, in his sixth season at Western Michigan, is 118-114-32.
TV: KBJR on Friday and Saturday/My 9 on Sunday
Radio: KDAL-AM 610/KDAL-FM 103.9
Internet: KDAL610.com (audio); nchc.tv (video)
Western Michigan update: The Broncos are visiting Duluth for the first round of the NCHC playoffs for the second time in the league's five-year history. The Broncos swept the Bulldogs at Amsoil Arena during the NCHC's inaugural season in a 4-5 matchup. They've advanced out of the league quarterfinals in two of the past four years, having beaten Nebraska-Omaha in three games a year ago. The Broncos, who lost to UMD in last year's NCHC semifinals in Minneapolis, finished sixth in the NCHC during the regular season, going 4-9-1 in league play after Christmas. WMU lost four of its past five games — winning its regular-season finale at Colorado College 8-2 — and won just two of its final 10. Two weeks ago the Broncos were swept at home by the Bulldogs 8-0 and 6-1. Three goaltenders — Trevor Gorsuch, Austin Cain and Ben Blacker — combined to give up the 14 goals on 69 shots. The Broncos finished the regular season with the second-best scoring offense in NCHC play, averaging 3.42 goals per game. Their scoring defense was the worst, giving up 3.92 goals per game in conference action. Broncos sophomore forwards Wade Allison and Dawson DiPietro received All-NCHC honorable mentions this week. Allison, who is out for the season, led the team in goals with 15, while DiPietro had a team-high 22 assists and 35 points.
UMD update: The Bulldogs are the defending NCHC postseason champions, having appeared in the past two NCHC Frozen Faceoff Championship games in the Twin Cities after missing the first two Frozen Faceoff tournaments. UMD swept Miami at Amsoil Arena in the NCHC quarterfinals each of the previous two years. This year the Bulldogs returned from Christmas below .500 and seventh in the NCHC. They finished the regular season third and in prime position to make a fourth-straight NCAA tournament thanks to an 11-5-1 record after Christmas, including 10-4 in NCHC play in the second half. UMD won five of its past six games, splitting a week ago at home against Nebraska-Omaha. Sophomore goalie Hunter Shepard — a semifinalist for national goaltender of the year and a finalist for NCHC Goaltender of the Year — has been a big part of the Bulldogs' second half, with a .942 save percentage since Dec. 8. Freshman defenseman Scott Perunovich — an All-NCHC first-team and rookie-team pick, plus a finalist for Rookie of the Year — also has been a force since returning in January from the World Junior Championship, totaling five goals and 10 assists in the past 15 games. He leads the Bulldogs in scoring with nine goals and 22 assists, including eight goals and 16 assists in NCHC play. UMD's penalty kill finished the regular season second in the NCHC at 83.8 percent, but after the holiday break the Bulldogs' PK has killed off 91.8 percent of opposing power plays. On 5-on-4 disadvantages, UMD's PK is 94.3 percent.
Quote: "I can tell you it's not going to be a 14-1 series and I don't think it was a 14-1 series in Kalamazoo. It's going to be a much, much tighter series; a much more intense series. ... I'm expecting exactly what we expected going into there the first time — to have tight games, physical games, not a lot of room on the rink." — Sandelin