WCHA First Round Playoff Preview: UND vs. Minnesota

Minnesota’s playoff history in Grand Forks is dreadful. Not only have the Gophers never beaten the Fighting Sioux at North Dakota in the playoffs (0-6), but Minnesota has also lost playoff games in Grand Forks to Harvard and Princeton, along with some other team in the 2006 West Regional.

The recent playoff history away from Grand Forks isn’t much better for the Maroon and Gold, although they did claim WCHA Final Five championships with victories over North Dakota in 2004 and 2007. The Fighting Sioux have had the better of the results on the bigger stages, however, defeating Minnesota to advance to the national championship game in 2005 and to the Frozen Four in 2007.

North Dakota is riding a NCAA-best seven game winning streak. Brad Eidsness has been spectacular during the streak, posting a .940 save percentage and a 1.57 goals-against average while allowing two goals or less in all seven games.

The special teams battle is one to watch this weekend. Minnesota is a -3 this season (27 power play goals scored, 30 allowed), while North Dakota is a +16 (40 scored, 24 allowed). UND has been clipping along at 25 percent (11 for 44) since Brett Hextall returned from injury on February 12th, while Minnesota went five for eight with the man advantage last Sunday against Wisconsin.

Minnesota Team Profile

Head Coach: Don Lucia (11th season at Minnesota, 273-143-47, .640)
National Ranking: #26/NR
PairWise Ranking: t-23rd
This Season: 17-17-2 overall, 12-14-2 WCHA (7th)
Last Season: 17-13-7 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 12-11-5 WCHA (5th)
Team Offense: 2.81 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.72 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.8% (27 of 152)
Penalty Kill: 82.0% (137 of 167)
Key Players: Junior F Mike Hoeffel (12-10-22), Sophomore F Jordan Schroeder (8-19-27), Senior F Tony Lucia (11-15-26), Junior D Cade Fairchild (4-16-20), Junior G Alex Kangas (15-13-1, 2.54 GAA, .911 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (6th season at UND, 150-82-24, .633)
National Ranking: #5/#5
PairWise Ranking: t-5th
This Season: 20-11-5, 15-10-3 WCHA (4th)
Last Season: 24-15-4 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional semifinalist), 17-7-4 WCHA (1st)
Team Offense: 3.19 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.14 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.3% (40 of 197)
Penalty Kill: 87.0% (161 of 185)
Key Players: Sophomore F Jason Gregoire (18-13-31), Senior F Chris VandeVelde (13-20-33), Freshman F Danny Kristo (13-17-30), Junior F Evan Trupp (5-23-28), Junior D Jake Marto (5-8-13), Sophomore G Brad Eidsness (19-8-4, 2.16 GAA, .911 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: January 16, 2010 (Minneapolis, MN). The Golden Gophers scored three goals in under four minutes in the second period and cruised to a 5-1 victory over the visiting Sioux. Five different players scored for Minneota. The two teams tied 3-3 in the series opener on Friday night.

Last meeting in Grand Forks: October 17, 2009. 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.

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, 131-125-14 (.511), but North Dakota holds a 67-53-8 (.555) advantage in games played in Grand Forks.

Last Ten: North Dakota is 5-2-3 in the last ten meetings between the teams. Four of the last ten games have gone to overtime.

Game News and Notes

Minnesota has won only one game this season when trailing after the first period (1-9-1). Three is the magic number of goals for North Dakota; the Gophers have only won twice this season (2-16-2) when opponents have scored three or more goals. With one more victory, Brad Eidsness would join Karl Goehring as the only Sioux goaltenders to win twenty games in each of their first two seasons. This weekend is a White Out Weekend at Ralph Engelstad Arena, with Fighting Sioux fans encouraged to wear white to all games. In an effort to minimize traffic and congestion at the arena, Gopher fans are asked to arrive at 10:37 p.m.

The Prediction

Three will be the magic number this weekend. If North Dakota can score three goals in each game this weekend, it will be season over for Minnesota. I have a feeling that this series will go three games, with both Saturday and Sunday going right down to the wire and possibly into overtime. North Dakota 4-2, Minnesota 3-2 (OT), North Dakota 3-2.

Bonus Predictions

In the other first-round matchups, here’s how I see them playing out:

Denver over Michigan Tech in 2 games
Wisconsin over Alaska-Anchorage in 2 games
St. Cloud State over MSU-Mankato in 3 games
Duluth over Colorado College in 3 games

Thank you for reading. As always, I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.

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