I wrote in my WCHA Season Preview that the four games between North Dakota and Minnesota might very well decide the race for the McNaughton Cup.
As it looks right now, these games might determine whether one of these squads goes on the road for the first round of the conference playoffs.
UND (7-5-1, 5-5-0 WCHA) is currently in fifth place in the WCHA, while Minnesota (8-7-1, 4-6-0 WCHA) is tied for sixth with Wisconsin. Those standings are a bit misleading, however, as three of the four teams ahead of North Dakota and Minnesota in the league race (Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, and Michigan Tech) have played twelve conference games while the Sioux and the Gophers have each played ten.
That being said, these games are critical for league points, momentum, and the all-important Sioux-Gopher rivalry.
Last season, North Dakota took three of four games from Minnesota, including a regular season sweep at Mariucci Arena and an overtime victory in the NCAA West Regional Final which propelled the Sioux to their third consecutive Frozen Four. Minnesota defeated North Dakota 3-2 in overtime to claim the WCHA Final Five Championship in St. Paul.
Minnesota Team Profile
National Rankings: #15/#17
Head Coach: Don Lucia (9th season at Minnesota, 228-103-30, .673)
This Season: 8-7-1 Overall, 4-6-0 WCHA
Special Teams: Power Play 11.5% (9 of 78), Penalty Kill 83.8% (57-68)
Last Season: 31-10-3 Overall, 18-7-3 WCHA (1st)
Key Players: Sophomore F Jay Barriball (2-8-10), Senior F Ben Gordon (4-9-13), Sophomore F Kyle Okposo (6-4-10), Junior F Blake Wheeler (6-6-12), Freshman D Cade Fairchild (2-8-10), Junior G Jeff Frazee (6-5-0, 2.72 GAA, .896 SV, 1 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
National Rankings: #7/#8
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (4th season at UND, 85-50-12, .619)
This Season: 7-5-1 Overall, 5-5-0 WCHA
Specialty Teams: Power Play 16.9% (10 of 59), Penalty Kill 90.9% (60 of 66)
Last Season: 24-14-5 (Frozen Four Semifinalist), 13-10-5 WCHA (3rd)
Key Players: Junior F Ryan Duncan (5-9-14), Junior F T.J. Oshie (7-6-13), Sophomore F Chris VandeVelde (5-4-9), Senior D Robbie Bina (0-11-11), Junior D Taylor Chorney (0-9-9), Senior G Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (7-5-1, 1.52 GAA, .940 SV, 4 SO)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: March 25, 2007 (NCAA West Regional Final, Denver, CO). Chris Porter scores the game-winner at 9:43 of overtime as UND prevails, 3-2, to advance to its third consecutive Frozen Four
Last Meeting in Grand Forks: December 10, 2005. Minnesota defeats UND 4-3 to sweep the weekend series. The Golden Gophers won the series opener by the same score. For the weekend, the Fighting Sioux never had a lead.
Most Important Meeting: March 24, 1979. North Dakota and Minnesota meet to decide the national championship, and the Gophers prevail, 4-3.
All-time Series: Minnesota leads the all-time series, 129-120-11 (.517). UND leads the series in Grand Forks, 63-52-7 (.545).
Game News and Notes
UND goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (who was recently named the WCHA Defensive Player of the Week) has now started 38 consecutive games betwen the pipes, two shy of the school record of 40 held by Al Finkelstein (1951-53). Minnesota holds a three game winning streak over North Dakota at Ralhp Engelstad Arena, and is 6-3-1 in the last ten meetings between the teams in Grand Forks.
UND appears to have an edge in goaltending, defensive depth, and special teams. In honor of the three Sioux victories in four opportunities last season, I’m picking three points this weekend for North Dakota. UND 5-2, 2-2 tie.