Friday Game React: UND vs. Denver

2009 has been very good to North Dakota.

The Fighting Sioux have not lost since the calendar turned to the new year, going 6-0-1 so far in January and vaulting to within one point of first-place Denver. With a victory in Saturday’s rematch, UND would claim the top spot in the WCHA with ten games to play.

More importantly, North Dakota’s 8-3 victory over visiting Denver has them in 14th place in the PairWise rankings. There is plenty of hockey to be played, but UND’s record over the past two months (10-2-1) has all but erased the memory of a 5-8-1 start.

The Fighting Sioux dominated the opening period on Friday night, outscoring the Pioneers 4-1. UND’s fourth goal chased DU goaltender Marc Cheverie from the action in favor of Lars Paulgaard. Cheverie returned for the second period and part of the third, but North Dakota’s seventh goal sent him to the showers for good.

UND took control of the hockey game with a balanced attack. All four lines contributed to the rout, led by Evan Trupp-Chris Vandevelde-Matt Frattin (2 goals and 3 assists) and Matt Watkins-Darcy Zajac-Ryan Martens (2 goals and 3 assists). North Dakota’s two leading scorers, defensemen Chay Genoway and Brad Miller, were held off the scoresheet, but Joe Finley (1 goal, 3 assists) and Jake Marto (1 goal, 2 assists) provided punch from the blueline.

Sioux freshman forward Brett Hextall completed a rare triple play midway through the third period: he drew three penalties at the same time. Rhett Rhakshani elbowed Hextall, causing the refs to call a delayed penalty. After Denver touched the puck and the whistle blew, Anthony Maiani skated past Hextall and dragged him down by the jersey. Both Rhakshani (elbowing) and Maiani (misconduct) were sent to the box at 9:59 of the third period. As the referees were sorting out the penalties and the scoreboard, UND prepared to take the faceoff for their 5 on 3 power play. Dustin Jackson was lined up across from Hextall for the faceoff, and made several attempts to engage Hextall before the puck was dropped. Jackson’s slash did not go unnoticed, and he was sent to the showers with a 2 (slashing) and 10 (misconduct) at – you guessed it – 9:59. It was abundantly clear that Brett Hextall took several Pioneers off of their game on Friday night.

The remaining ten minutes of the hockey game could best be described as a powder keg, but I thought the referees kept things under control. They stepped in quickly and did a nice job of calling the extra penalty on the initiating player. I also appreciated their attempts to stop Denver from emptying their bench onto the ice at the end of every period (if you remember, that’s what started the Radke vs. Vossberg beatdown last year). I don’t care if “that’s what Denver always does”, it’s not allowed.

In an 8-3 win, the winning goaltender can often be overlooked, but Brad Eidsness turned in another solid performance. He was victimized by a couple of defensive breakdowns late in periods one and two, but he made some key saves early on when the game was tight. Eidsness’ stop on Rhett Rhakshani midway through the first period stands out as a game-changing save.

North Dakota is now 8-0-1 when leading after one, while Denver falls to 1-6-1 when trailing after the opening twenty minutes. Denver fell to 4-4-0 on the road, while the Fighting Sioux have compiled a home record of 9-3-0. UND will be looking for its fourth consecutive stick salute (commemorating a home sweep) in Saturday’s finale.

Freshman defenseman Ben Blood saw his first game action since January 3rd and played well. He used his size effectively and played well with Brad Miller. The coaches felt that Blood had earned a start in practice, but expect to see Zach Jones back in the lineup on Saturday night.

The “overrated” chant is my least favorite chant in the history of hockey. This is what it sounds like to me: “Your team must not be as good as everyone says you are, because even WE can beat you”. Fans, we need to put that chant to rest. And one other thing…I’m not a big wave fan, but if you’re going to start one, wait until a tv timeout or referee’s conference or after a fight when the ice looks like one big yard sale. We don’t need the wave when the puck is in play. END RANT.

The two teams face off Saturday night at 7:07 p.m. In my weekend preview, I had this to say:

The Prediction

North Dakota has fared better against teams that like to transition quickly, and Denver fits the bill. The first period on Friday night will be key for the weekend series. I have a feeling that UND will click in the opener and Denver’s goaltending will even up the series on Saturday. UND 4-2, DU 3-1.

I’m not so certain about Denver’s goaltending after watching Cheverie allow 7 goals on 21 shots, but I do think that the rematch will be closer and more tightly contested. For more on the matchup between the teams, click here.

Thank you for reading. I welcome your comments and suggestions. Check back after Saturday’s game for more reaction and commentary.

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