All of the talk surrounding this past weekend’s games has been focused on UND head coach Dave Hakstol’s finger and the 160 combined penalty minutes during Saturday’s contest. This has slowly degenerated into discussions about “class” and the difference between “dirty play” and “hard-nosed hockey”.
It should come as no surprise to any of you that I want to write about the hockey games. I am aware that all of the incidents and suspensions are a part of the game story, but it’s reached a point where the games themselves (and some outstanding player performances) have taken a backseat, and that’s a shame.
Let’s begin with two outstanding goaltenders, Minnesota’s Alex Kangas and North Dakota’s Jean-Philippe Lamoureux. While Lamoureux (17-8-2, 1.73 GAA, .934 SV, 4 SO) has been steady all season for the Fighting Sioux, Kangas (5-5-6, 2.16 GAA, .923 SV) has been a spark for the Gophers lately after taking over for Jeff Frazee on January 12th at St. Cloud State. In starting the last six games for Minnesota, the freshman Kangas has allowed only 10 goals.
Both goaltenders were phenomenal in Minneapolis last weekend, matching each other save-for-save. Lamoureux stopped 50 of 52 shots in the two-game series; Kangas, 59 of 62. If Alex Kangas can continue his solid play (equal parts steady and spectacular), the Gophers can make a run at a top-five conference finish and home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
Evan Trupp’s overtime winner on Friday night was nothing short of spectacular, and belongs in the top three Sioux/Gopher goals of all time, along with Blake Wheeler’s overtime winner in the 2007 Final Five championship game and Neal Broten’s game-winning goal in the 1979 national title game.
Either game could have gone either way last weekend. On Friday, the Sioux were fortunate to escape the first period with a 1-1 tie, despite being outshot 8-2. Throughout the remainder of the contest, UND built momentum and held a 32-14 edge in shots on goal. Even so, Minnesota held on until Trupp’s overtime winner made the final score 2-1.
And in Saturday’s opening frame, Minnesota outshot North Dakota 13-4, but the teams were scoreless after one. UND held a 24-17 edge over the final 45 minutes, but each squad could muster only one third-period tally, and after the aforementioned donnybrook and a heated handshake line, each team had earned a hard-fought point.
A word about shot totals: I understand that many find “shots on goal” to be an overrated stat, and it may be. But it is certainly an indicator of puck possession, time spent in the offensive zone, and scoring chances. After all, you can’t score if you don’t shoot, and you can’t shoot if you don’t have the puck. So along with other stats like faceoff wins, scoring chances, and penalty minutes, “shots on goal” can be a helpful tool. After all, we can’t measure “which team wants it more”, despite what our friends at FSN might think.
UND’s penalty kill continues to impress, as North Dakota skated off all seven Minnesota power plays on the weekend. For the season, the Fighting Sioux have killed over 89 percent (115 of 129) of short-handed situations.
The Sioux were held scoreless in 12 man advantage situations and saw their power play percentage drop to 17.5% (21 of 120). North Dakota has scored only one power play goal in its last 22 opportunities.
North Dakota (17-8-2, 14-7-1 WCHA) has this weekend off before hosting Denver University on February 15th and 16th. Minnesota (12-12-6, 6-10-4 WCHA) travels to face those same Pioneers in Denver this weekend.