Duluth got off to a blistering 3-0-1 start this season in non-conference play, scoring eighteen goals and allowing just nine in a tour of Michigan schools (Lake Superior, Northern Michigan, Western Michigan).
Once the Bulldogs began their WCHA schedule, however, things got noticeably tougher. UMD has won just one of its first seven conference games (1-4-2) and already finds itself near the bottom of the standings.
One thing that is different about this year’s Bulldog team is that the DECC is stacked with players who can score. After notching just 202 points all of last season (36 games), Duluth has tallied 90 points in 11 games this year. Last season’s Bulldogs barely cracked 11% on the power play, while this year’s squad is clipping along at over 18%.
In Grand Forks, this season feels like déjà vu all over again. And it feels like déjà vu all over again. Over the past five years, the Fighting Sioux have struggled in the first two months of the season:
2004-2005 October/November record: 9-5-2 (7-4-1 WCHA)
2005-2006 October/November record: 8-5-1 (4-4-0 WCHA)
2006-2007 October/November record: 7-6-1 (5-4-1 WCHA)
2007-2008 October/November record: 6-5-1 (4-5-0 WCHA)
And again, this season in October and November: 4-6-0 (4-4-0 WCHA)
In Hakstol’s first four seasons as head coach, there is a distinct difference between the opening two months (30-21-5, .580) and the rest of the season (76-35-10, .669).
Here’s my summary: “We’ve played tough teams, we’ve competed well in almost every game, and we can clearly get better in every phase. And that’s reason for optimism, not pessimism, in my book.”
Sound about right? Yes, but I wrote that last year before the Sioux/Bulldog series in Grand Forks. It’s clear that we’ve been down this road before.
The difference this year is we also need to get healthy. Injuries to Joe Finley, Zach Jones, and Chay Genoway have forced other players into expanded roles on the blue line. The Brad Miller-as-defenseman experiment is equal parts exciting and nerve-wracking, and sophomore defensemen Jake Marto (38 career games played) and Derrick Lapoint (41) are adjusting and improving as they play more minutes in key situations.
The one situation that appears settled is the goaltending issue. Freshman Brad Eidsness (4-3-0, 2.98 GAA, .895 SV) is the clear number one after replacing senior Aaron Walski last Friday night against Anchorage. Eidsness stopped 29 of 30 shots on the weekend in about 90 minutes of play. For the weekend, Eidsness went 1-0-0 with a 0.70 GAA and a .967 save percentage and was named WCHA co-Rookie of the Week.
North Dakota has had the better of the results between the two teams recently, going 10-1-1 against Duluth in the past twelve games.
Minnesota-Duluth Team Profile
National Rankings: NR
Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (9th season at UMD, 126-164-40, .442)
This Season: 4-4-3 Overall, 1-4-2 WCHA (t-8th)
Team Offense: 3.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.64 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.6% (16 of 86)
Penalty Kill: 78.1% (50 of 64)
Last Season: 13-17-6 Overall, 9-14-5 WCHA (8th)
Key Players: Senior F MacGregor Sharp (5-7-12), Senior F Nick Kemp (7-7-14), Sophomore F Justin Fontaine (6-7-13), Freshman F Mike Connolly (4-6-10), Senior D Josh Meyers (4-4-8), Junior G Alex Stalock (4-4-3, 2.58 GAA, .901 SV, 1 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (5th season at UND, 110-62-15, .628)
This Season: 4-6-0 Overall, 4-4-0 WCHA (t-5th)
National Ranking: #20/#15
Team Offense: 2.50 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 13.2% (10 of 76)
Penalty Kill: 83.1% (49 of 59)
Last Season: 28-11-4 Overall (NCAA Frozen Four semifinalist), 18-7-3 WCHA (2nd)
Key Players: Senior F Ryan Duncan (4-5-9), Junior F Chris VandeVelde (3-4-7), Senior F/D Brad Miller (2-5-7), Freshman F Brett Hextall (4-1-5), Junior D Chay Genoway (0-5-5)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: March 2, 2008 (Duluth, MN). Chris VandeVelde scored less than a minute into overtime as visiting North Dakota outlasted Minnesota-Duluth, 2-1. The victory pushed UND’s unbeaten streak to 15 games (14-0-1) and secured a second-place finish in the WCHA. The Fighting Sioux won Friday’s series opener, 2-0.
Most Important Meeting: March 22, 1984. Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota met in an NCAA national semifinal game in Lake Placid, New York. The Bulldogs defeated the Fighting Sioux 2-1 in overtime to advance to the title game. UND went on to defeat Michigan State 6-5 (OT) for third place, while Duluth fell to Bowling Green 5-4 in four overtimes, the longest championship game ever played.
All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 128-70-8 (.641), including a 54-37-5 (.589) record in Duluth.
Game News and Notes
North Dakota holds a 16-2-1 record against Duluth over the past five seasons. The Bulldogs have been outscored 12-6 in the first period this season, and have a record of 0-3-2 when trailing after the opening twenty minutes. North Dakota senior forward Ryan Duncan is currently 30th on the UND career scoring list. Duncan has notched 142 points in his Sioux career and would move into the top 25 all-time with a four-point weekend at Duluth. UMD junior netminder Alex Stalock has started 47 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NCAA. Sioux freshman forward Brett Hextall has scored a goal in four straight games; the last North Dakota player to score in five consecutive contests was Rastislav Spirko, who pulled off that feat in 2004-05.
Kozek and Trupp will be itching to get back in the lineup after watching from the stands last Saturday night. North Dakota will catch the Bulldogs by surprise on Friday night, and then rally to tie on Saturday night in a much tighter contest. UND 5-2, 3-3 tie.
Thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions.