As I mentioned in my UND/SCSU Challenge Cup article, North Dakota and St. Cloud State have been paired up as schedule partners and rivals since the 2002-03 season. Two years later, the Center Ice Club created a commemorative trophy to mark the rivalry, and the two teams have been battling it out four times each season to claim the Challenge Cup.

Since that time, UND has had the better of the play, both at home (9-4-3 in the Challenge Cup era) and in St. Cloud (9-6-3). North Dakota has claimed the Cup four times, the teams have shared the trophy three times, and the Huskies won the trophy outright in 2005-06.

The teams split a November series at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, so the Cup is on the line this weekend in Grand Forks.

St. Cloud State is tied with Minnesota for first place in the league standings, but the standings are incredibly tight. First and seventh place are separated by only three points, with eighth place Wisconsin (6-5-5 in league play) in the mix as well.

Both teams boast top-end talent and rookies who have made an impact. Special teams will be key this weekend, particularly SCSU’s power play. The Huskies have had 105 man-advantage situations this season and have only been called upon to kill 75 penalties, a difference of more than one full power play per contest. North Dakota’s power play took a step back last weekend, converting only one of ten chances against Minnesota.

The other key this weekend is how different these two teams are on the smaller ice sheet. North Dakota is 10-3-3 this year on NHL ice (7-2-3 at Ralph Engelstad Arena and 3-1 at Notre Dame and Michigan Tech), while St. Cloud State is 3-5 on the road (compared to 11-5 at home). Furthermore, SCSU has only played four games on the narrow sheet this season, splitting road series at Denver and Minnesota-Duluth.

It may not feel this way since UND doesn’t have one marquee offensive defenseman, but the Green and White boast the second-highest scoring d-corps in the country. Blueliners Dillon Simpson, Derek Forbort, Joe Gleason, and Nick Mattson have all reached double digits in points this season. Of that foursome, only Joe Gleason is a senior.

There are twenty current NCAA Division I men’s hockey players with at least 100 career points, and four of them will be on the ice this weekend. North Dakota’s Danny Kristo (140) and Corban Knight (130) will be joined by St. Cloud State’s Drew LeBlanc (131) and LeBlanc’s teammate, Ben Hanowski, who joined the Century Club with a three point game (one goal, two assists) against Denver last Saturday night.

St. Cloud State Team Profile

Head Coach: (Bob Motzko, 8th season at SCSU, 151-119-34, .553)
Pairwise Ranking: 14th
National Ranking: #16
This Season: 14-10-0 overall, 11-5-0 WCHA (t-1st)
Last Season: 17-17-5 overall, 12-12 4 WCHA (6th)

Team Offense: 3.33 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.54 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.1% (19 of 105)
Penalty Kill: 84.0% (63 of 75)

Key Players: Junior F Nic Dowd (11-15-26), Senior F Drew LeBlanc (7-27-34), Senior F Ben Hanowski (8-10-18), Junior D Nick Jensen (3-16-19), Sophomore D Andrew Prochno (2-12-14), Sophomore G Ryan Faragher (13-8-0, 2.29 GAA, .911 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (9th season at UND, 226-113-34, .651)
Pairwise Ranking: t-6th
National Ranking: #5
This Season: 13-7-4 overall, 8-4-4 WCHA (t-3rd)
Last Season: 26-13-3 overall (NCAA West Regional Finalist), 16-11-1 WCHA (4th)

Team Offense: 3.38 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.67 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.4% (20 of 95)
Penalty Kill: 82.2% (74 of 90)

Key Players: Senior F Corban Knight (11-22-33), Senior F Danny Kristo (14-17-31), Sophomore F Mark MacMillan (8-9-17), Freshman F Rocco Grimaldi (8-11-19), Junior D Derek Forbort (4-8-12), Sophomore D Dillon SImpson (2-12-14), Junior G Clarke Saunders (10-5-3, 2.37 GAA, .915 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: November 10, 2012 (St. Cloud, MN). One night after Clarke Saunders stopped all 32 shots he faced in a 3-0 UND victory, St. Cloud State scored five times on 37 shots in a 5-2 home victory. Senior forward Drew LeBlanc scored twice and added an assist for the Huskies, who claimed two points and drew even in the race for the 2012-2013 Challenge Cup.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: October 29, 2011. In a reversal of the storyline from the last series in St. Cloud, UND rebounded from a Friday shutout loss (4-0) to claim a Saturday home victory. Mark MacMillan, Corban Knight, and Brock Nelson all scored second period goals as North Dakota avoided starting the WCHA portion of their schedule 0-4 for the first time in program history.

Most Important Meeting: March 17, 2001 (St. Paul, MN). St. Cloud State defeated North Dakota 6-5 to claim the 2001 WCHA Final Five Championship. Derek Eastman scored the game-winner in overtime after UND scored three goals in the final ten minutes of regulation to force the extra session.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 60-32-11 (.636), with a stellar 30-13-5 (.677) mark in games played in Grand Forks.

Last Ten: North Dakota has had the edge lately, posting a 6-3-1 (.650) record in the last ten meetings between the teams. UND has outscored St. Cloud State 28-23 during that span.

Game News and Notes

SCSU freshman forward Kalle Kossila leads the nation’s rookies with 11 goals. UND senior center Corban Knight is riding a 19 game point streak, the fourth-longest in school history. Knight has collected nine goals and 22 assists during that stretch. St. Cloud State has not tied a game this season (14-10-0), while UND has already knotted four games (13-7-4). North Dakota linemates Corban Knight and Danny Kristo have 30 career points in 30 games against the Huskies.

The Prediction

I could easily make a case for a three point weekend either way. St. Cloud State is flying high after a sweep of Denver last weekend (5-2, 5-1), while North Dakota is back at home after an emotional series at Minnesota. UND has only lost four home games to SCSU over the past eight seasons, so I’ll give the slight edge to North Dakota. Saturday’s rematch will go to overtime, with the Green and White salvaging a tie and claiming the Challenge Cup. UND 4-3, 3-3 tie.

On a Personal Note

I look forward to this series every year because of the unique relationship we have with the Center Ice Club, the official hockey booster organization for the St. Cloud State University Huskies. On behalf of SiouxSports.com and the Center Ice Club, I would like to invite you to the UND/SCSU pre-game social on Saturday afternoon from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. inside the Muddy Rivers Ballroom (710 First Avenue North) near downtown Grand Forks. This is a great opportunity to meet fans on both sides of the rivalry, win fabulous door prizes, enjoy a free appetizer bar, and view the Challenge Cup. This event is free and open to all fans 21 and older.