I’ve heard more talk this week about what the future holds for this rivalry than I have about this weekend’s games. And that’s not to say that the action on the ice at Mariucci isn’t important – because it is (and more on that in a moment) . It speaks more to how both fan bases want to see these games continue even as Minnesota moves to the Big Ten and North Dakota switches over to the NCHC.

As I sat at Xcel Energy Center last March during the Final Five and watched both halves of the same hockey game, I remarked that these two schools have got to find a way to continue playing each other. It’s important for both sides to put aside pride and personal politics and reach a schedule agreement, one that has each school traveling to the other at least once every four years. It’s good for the fans, it’s good for each program, and it’s good for the sport.

It’s also good for the players. It is my opinion that every four-year player at North Dakota and Minnesota should have the experience of playing in this rivalry, both home and away. So make it simple: keep the rivalry “on” for two seasons (with each school hosting one season and traveling the other), then “off” for two seasons.

It’s not enough to wait for the schools to meet in the NCAA tournament. Yes, we’ve had some thrilling NCAA games recently, but the two teams also went 25 years without meeting in the national tournament (1980-2004).

In 2005, UND defeated Minnesota in the Frozen Four semifinals, and North Dakota also claimed a 3-2 overtime victory over the Golden Gophers to advance to the 2007 Frozen Four. Don Lucia’s club turned the tables last season, ending UND’s season in the West Regional final.

It’s also difficult to wrap my head around the fact that this season’s WCHA Final Five will be the last as we know it. North Dakota has captured the last three Broadmoor trophies, but what fans of the Green and White will remember is last season’s semifinal against Minnesota, the “Timeout Game”. Gopher fans would prefer to dwell on Blake Wheeler’s overtime winner in the 2007 Final Five championship game. Either way, here’s hoping that the two clubs meet one last time on the ice at Xcel Energy Center this March.

And now, as promised, some thoughts on the games this weekend:

Both schools have posted excellent results lately, with identical 7-1-1 records over the past nine games. Minnesota’s play has been more consistent, however, while North Dakota showed defensive lapses over each of the past two weekends (vs. Holy Cross and Colorado College). UND will have to survive the first ten minutes, particularly on Friday night when emotions will be high and the Mariucci crowd (at least the ones who get there on time) will be in full throat. The Gophers have outscored opponents 33-13 in first periods this season, and a slow start will doom the team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux.

Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox has been outstanding between the pipes for Lucia and his squad. Wilcox is giving up well under two goals per contest and has notched three shutouts already. Most Most impressively, the freshman netminder stopped 32 of 33 Boston College shots in an 8-1 rout of the Eagles last month.

On the injury front, expect junior forward Erik Haula to return to the lineup for the Gophers after missing time with an injury to his hand. North Dakota appears to have everyone available except forward Derek Rodwell.

Minnesota is clipping along at 25 percent on the power play, so UND needs to play even strength for the majority of the weekend to take points away from Mariucci. North Dakota’s penalty kill has not been great (under 82 percent), and the Gophers draw a lot of penalties, particularly at home.

Minnesota Team Profile

Head Coach: Don Lucia (14th season at Minnesota, 334-176-57, .639)
Pairwise Ranking: 4th
National Ranking: #1
This Season: 16-3-3 overall, 8-3-3 WCHA (t-3rd)
Last Season: 28-14-1 (NCAA Frozen Four Semifinalist), 20-8-0 WCHA (1st)

Team Offense: 3.82 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.82 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 25.0% (27 of 108)
Penalty Kill: 90.5% (67 of 74)

Key Players: Junior F Erik Haula (9-17-26), Sophomore F Kyle Rau (13-12-25), Junior F Nick Bjugstad (12-10-22), Junior D Nate Schmidt (3-19-22), Senior D Seth Helgeson (0-3-3), Freshman G Adam Wilcox (15-2-3, 1.65 GAA, .925 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (9th season at UND, 226-112-33, .654)
Pairwise Ranking: 7th
National Ranking: #6
This Season: 13-6-3 overall, 8-3-3 WCHA (t-3rd)
Last Season: 26-13-3 overall (NCAA West Regional Finalist), 16-11-1 WCHA (4th)

Team Offense: 3.45 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.1% (19 of 85)
Penalty Kill: 81.7% (67 of 82)

Key Players: Senior F Corban Knight (10-21-31), Senior F Danny Kristo (13-17-30), Sophomore F Mark MacMillan (8-9-17), Freshman F Rocco Grimaldi (7-10-17), Junior D Derek Forbort (4-7-11), Sophomore D Nick Mattson (2-8-11), Junior G Clarke Saunders (10-4-3, 2.28 GAA, .919 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: March 25, 2012 (St. Paul, MN). In a rematch of the Final Five semifinal played nine days earlier, Minnesota got up by three goals once again. This time, however, the Gophers kept applying the pressure and punched their ticket to Tampa with a 5-2 victory over UND.

Last meeting at Mariucci: November 5, 2011 (Minneapolis, MN). North Dakota had a one goal lead with six minutes remaining, but Nick Larson and Kyle Rau both scored to lift Minnesota to a 3-2 victory and a series sweep of visiting North Dakota. The loss dropped UND to 3-6-1 overall and 1-5 in the WCHA.

Most important meeting: March 24, 1979 (Detroit, MI). North Dakota and Minnesota met to decide the national championship, and the Gophers prevailed, 4-3.

All-time: Minnesota leads the all-time series by a slim margin, 137-130-14 (.512), and boasts a 73-51-6 (.585) record in games played in Minneapolis.

Last ten: The Gophers have won six of the last ten meetings between the schools, outscoring UND 29-26 in those games.

Game News and Notes

Dave Hakstol is 17-13-3 against Minnesota in his head coaching career. North Dakota has not lost an overtime game this season (2-0-3). UND senior forward Danny Kristo (139 career points, the top active player in the NCAA) has eleven career points against Minnesota. Fellow senior Corban Knight (128 career points) is riding a 17 game point streak (8 goals and 21 assists in that span). In an effort to alleviate parking concerns, Minnesota fans are asked to park in St. Cloud and walk to Mariucci Arena.

The Prediction

As I said earlier, the start of each game will be critical. Minnesota is playing with a great deal of confidence, while North Dakota is coming in looking to find some consistency. The last time Dave Hakstol brought his team to Mariucci for a two game set, North Dakota scored a total of two goals. I see one close game and one Minnesota power play fest, with UND hoping for a split but possibly settling for less. UND 3-2, MN 5-1.