Game Preview: UND vs. Minnesota

Friday, January 26, 2007. Minnesota (21-3-3, 13-2-3 WCHA) and North Dakota (13-11-2, 7-9-2 WCHA) face off at Mariucci Arena in the only regular-season series between the two teams. The Gophers jump out to a quick 2-0 lead in the opening period on goals by Ryan Stoa and Alex Goligoski, and appear to have taken away any hope the Sioux may have had of stealing points from the series.

Cue Robbie Bina. The junior defenseman scored a short-handed goal at 18:05 of the first period, and UND, despite being outshot 15 to 7 in the opening frame, went into the locker room trailing only 2-1. The Fighting Sioux would score the next four goals of the contest (including the only three goals of the second period) and win the opener, 5-3.

North Dakota laid claim to a 2-0 lead in the first period of Saturday’s contest, but Minnesota roared back, scoring three power play goals in a six minute span. Things went from bad to worse when North Dakota, having already given up five power play goals in the first 76 minutes of the series, found itself short-handed yet again.

And you know the rest. Robbie Bina’s 180 footer, the most-watched college hockey goal of all time (298,000 views on YouTube alone), knotted the score at 3-3 and sent Jeff Frazee packing and the Gophers reeling. North Dakota rattled off four more goals and won going away, 7-3.

North Dakota rode the momentum from that weekend sweep to a 14-3-3 record over its final 20 games and a third consecutive Frozen Four berth.

Minnesota, meanwhile, found itself in a bit of a second-half slump, faltering to a 12-9-0 finish after beginning the season 19-1-3.

This season, the roles are seemingly reversed. UND (16-8-1, 13-7-0 WCHA) appears to have righted the ship, winning seven consecutive games and sitting all alone in second place in the WCHA. Minnesota (12-11-5, 6-9-3 WCHA) has won only twice in its last seven contests (2-2-3) and sports a 5-6-5 mark since Thanksgiving. North Dakota, by comparison, is 11-5-0 over that same span.

The Golden Gophers find themselves in sixth place in the conference, one point ahead of Michigan Tech, MSU-Mankato, and St. Cloud State. Minnesota is hoping to avoid going on the road for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. North Dakota is all alone in second place, two points ahead of third-place Denver and nine points ahead of two fourth-place teams, Wisconsin and Minnesota-Duluth. The Fighting Sioux are hoping to stay in one of the top three positions, advance to the Final Five, and avoid the dreaded Thursday play-in game.

That being said, this weekend’s games are critical for league points, momentum, and the all-important Sioux-Gopher rivalry.

In the first two games of this season’s series, the Sioux and Gophers split a pair at Ralph Engelstad Arena, with UND winning 4-2 on Friday night and Minnesota winning 4-3 on Saturday night. North Dakota is 8-2-0 since that weekend split; the Gophers, 3-3-4.

Last season, North Dakota took three of four games from Minnesota, including the aformentioned series sweep at Mariucci Arena and an overtime victory in the NCAA West Regional Final which propelled the Sioux to the 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: #18/#15
Head Coach: Don Lucia (9th season at Minnesota, 232-107-34, .668)
This Season: 12-11-5 Overall, 6-9-3 WCHA (6th)
Special Teams: Power Play 12.6% (15 of 119), Penalty Kill 86.4% (95 of 110)
Last Season: 31-10-3 Overall, 18-7-3 WCHA (1st)
Key Players: Junior F Blake Wheeler (13-12-25), Senior F Ben Gordon (9-12-21), Sophomore F Jay Barriball (3-12-15), Junior D R.J. Anderson (4-7-11), Freshman G Alex Kangas (5-4-5, 2.28 GAA, .918 SV)

North Dakota Team Profile
National Rankings: #3/#3
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (4th season at UND, 94-53-12, .629)
This Season: 16-8-1 Overall, 13-7-0 WCHA (2nd)
Specialty Teams: Power Play 19.4% (21 of 108), Penalty Kill 88.5% (108 of 122)
Last Season: 24-14-5 (Frozen Four Semifinalist), 13-10-5 WCHA (3rd)
Key Players: Junior F Ryan Duncan (10-16-26), Junior F T.J. Oshie (12-14-26), Sophomore F Chris VandeVelde (10-12-22), Senior D Robbie Bina (2-19-21), Junior D Taylor Chorney (2-17-19), Senior G Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (16-8-1, 1.80 GAA, .932 SV, 4 SO)

By The Numbers
Last Meeting: December 8, 2007 (Grand Forks, ND). The Golden Gophers survive a furious two-goal rally in the final four minutes of the hockey game to prevail, 4-3. North Dakota won the opener, 4-2.
Last Meeting at Mariucci Arena: January 27, 2007. Robbie Bina singlehandedly ends Frazee’s night, deflates the Gophers, and earns himself the #1 play on SportsCenter. UND wins 7-3 to complete their first two-game sweep in Minneapolis since 1980.
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, 130-121-11 (.517), including a 70-50-4 (.581) record in games played in Minneapolis.

Game News and Notes
UND and Minnesota have each won five of the previous ten meetings between the teams. North Dakota is 10-14-4 in games played at the new Mariucci since it opened in the fall of 1993, but has won the last three contests there. UND has won at least one game on 22 consecutive regular season weekends, the longest streak in the WCHA. Ryan Duncan and T.J. Oshie have each collected 11 points in 10 career games against Minnesota. North Dakota senior goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux started his 50th consecutive game last Saturday against Alaska-Anchorage, the longest streak in school history. UND junior defenseman Zach Jones has not been whistled for a penalty in 14 consecutive games. Fighting Sioux head coach Dave Hakstol is six victories away from 100 for his career.

The Prediction
A sweep is hard to come by at Mariucci Arena, particularly two years in a row. North Dakota has the edge in every category, but something tells me Minnesota will be ready to play. UM 2-1, UND 4-2.

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions. Click here for commentary on the weekend game action.

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