When the Sioux and Gophers met in Grand Forks in January of last season, Minnesota was ranked third nationally, while North Dakota was unranked. The Fighting Sioux routed the Maroon and Gold in two straight games, pulled even with Minnesota in the conference standings, and rode that momentum all the way to the WCHA conference championship and the NCAA tournament. Starting with that weekend, North Dakota went 13-2-3 on their way to the WCHA Final Five, while Minnesota went 7-10-2 the rest of the way and failed to make the national tournament even though they were serving as host of the West Regional.
Coming into this weekend’s games, the roles are reversed. The Gophers are playing at home and hoping to kick start their second half with an upset or two against North Dakota. And things are looking up for Minnesota. After allowing 41 goals in their first 13 games (3.15 goals allowed/game), they have tightened up in their last nine, giving up just 18 goals (2.0/game). Junior forward Jacob Cepis, a transfer from Bowling Green, has had an immediate impact, scoring two goals and adding an assist in his first four games with his new team.
For North Dakota, injuries continue to dominate the headlines. Defenseman Chay Genoway (4-6-10 in nine games) and forwards Brett Hextall (8-4-12) and Corban Knight (3-0-3) will miss this weekend’s action. Senior forwards Darcy Zajac (4-7-11) and Chris VandeVelde (6-12-18) are finally healthy, and the return of Danny Kristo (6-11-17) from the World Juniors and Matt Frattin (13-12-25 last season) from suspension give UND some depth up front.
The special teams battle is one to watch this weekend. Minnesota is a -4 this season (14 power play goals scored, 18 allowed), while North Dakota is a +13 (29 scored, 16 allowed). But the Gophers have been better lately, scoring a power play goal in six straight games after opening the season 8 of 66 (12.1%) with the man advantage.
Minnesota Team Profile
Head Coach: Don Lucia (11th season at Minnesota, 267-136-46, .646)
National Ranking: NR/NR
PairWise Ranking: 25
This Season: 11-10-1 overall, 6-7-1 WCHA (7th)
Last Season: 17-13-7 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 12-11-5 WCHA (5th)
Team Offense: 2.64 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.68 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 15.7% (14 of 89)
Penalty Kill: 81.6% (80 of 98)
Key Players: Junior F Mike Hoeffel (10-7-17), Sophomore F Jordan Schroeder (4-11-15), Senior F Tony Lucia (5-12-17), Junior D Cade Fairchild (1-9-10), Junior G Alex Kangas (9-7-0, 2.59 GAA, .910 SV%)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (6th season at UND, 142-77-23, .634)
National Ranking: #4/#4
PairWise Ranking: 9
This Season: 12-6-4, 8-6-2 WCHA (5th)
Last Season: 24-15-4 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional semifinalist), 17-7-4 WCHA (1st)
Team Offense: 3.23 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.09 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 23.8% (29 of 122)
Penalty Kill: 85.8% (97 of 113)
Key Players: Sophomore F Jason Gregoire (12-7-19), Senior F Chris VandeVelde (6-12-18), Freshman F Danny Kristo (6-11-17), Junior F Evan Trupp (5-13-18), Junior D Jake Marto (3-6-9), Sophomore G Brad Eidsness (11-5-3, 2.13 GAA, .912 SV%, 1 SO)
By The Numbers
Last meeting: October 17, 2009 (Grand Forks, ND). Fighting Sioux defenseman Jake Marto tied the score late in the third period and blocked a shot with under two minutes to play as North Dakota salvaged a tie with the visiting Gophers. UND dominated Minnesota 4-0 in Friday’s opener.
Last meeting at Mariucci Arena: February 2, 2008. The two teams battled to a 1-1 tie and combined for 164 penalty minutes in the series finale. North Dakota took the opener 2-1 in overtime on Evan Trupp’s spectacular game winner.
Most important meeting: March 24, 1979 (Detroit, MI). North Dakota and Minnesota met to decide the national championship, and the Gophers prevailed, 4-3.
All-time: Minnesota leads the all-time series, 130-125-13 (.509), including a 70-51-5 (.575) mark in games played in Minneapolis.
Game News and Notes
North Dakota has had the better of the play lately, going 10-2-2 in the past four seasons (outscoring the Gophers 47-27 in that stretch and losing both games by one goal). Minnesota has not lost this season when leading after two periods of play (8-0-0). UND is unbeaten in its last five games at Mariucci Arena (4-0-1). After this weekend’s home series against the Fighting Sioux, the Gophers have only four home games remaining among their twelve WCHA contests.
Three will be the magic number this weekend. If North Dakota can hang three or more goals on the Gophers, they will win. Saturday’s game will be a battle until the final horn (and possibly longer), and UND could take three points on the weekend, but I’ll call it a split. UND 4-2, UMN 3-2.
Thank you for reading. As always, I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.