Weekend Preview: UND vs. St. Cloud State

North Dakota has played by far the toughest schedule in the country to this point, battling five teams (two games each) in the top 13 in the pairwise rankings. Nebraska-Omaha, Minnesota-Duluth, Notre Dame, Denver, and Maine would all make the tournament (along with North Dakota) if the season ended today.

St. Cloud State has faced three opponents in the same category (Miami [OH], Minnesota, and Nebraska-Omaha), for a total of six games.

UND went 4-5-1 against top-tier opponents, losing one game in overtime and another in the final second of regulation. St. Cloud has a record of 1-3-2 against its toughest opponents.

Why, then, is North Dakota a top-ten team in the polls and in the pairwise, while St. Cloud is looking at a second-division WCHA finish?

The answer is in the rest of the schedule. The Fighting Sioux are 5-0-1 against Alaska, Alaska-Anchorage, Wisconsin, and Bemidji State, while the Huskies are a pedestrian 4-4-0 against RIT, Clarkson, Quinnipiac, and Alaska-Anchorage.

SCSU is currently in 7th place in the WCHA, but that’s a bit misleading since they’ve only played eight league games while more than half of the teams in the conference (and six of the seven teams tied or above in the standings) have played ten.

After this weekend, the two teams play one more WCHA series (UND at MSU-Mankato, SCSU vs. Colorado College) before the Christmas break, and both squads would like to pick up conference points this weekend to set themselves up for a second half run.

On the injury front, UND forward Brett Hextall will miss this weekend’s games with an undisclosed injury, while two other (unnamed) Sioux players are questionable for the series.

St. Cloud State Team Profile

Head Coach: Bob Motzko (6th season at SCSU, 110-81-26, .567)
This Season: 5-7-2, 3-4-1 WCHA (t-7th)
Last Season: 24-14-5 (NCAA West Regional finalist), 15-9-4 WCHA (3rd)

PairWise Ranking: NR
National Rankings: NR/NR

Team Offense: 2.86 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.07 goal sallowed/game
Power Play: 17.0% (16 of 94)
Penalty Kill: 81.7% (49 of 60)

Key Players: Senior F Garrett Roe (2-8-10), Junior F Drew LeBlanc (5-12-17), Junior F Jared Festler (6-3-9), Freshman D Nick Jensen (2-7-9), Senior D Chris Hepp (1-2-3), Sophomore G Mike Lee (3-4-1, 3.27 GAA, .887 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (7th season at UND, 164-89-26, .634)
This Season: 9-5-2, 7-3-0 WCHA (3rd)
Last Season: 25-13-5 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional semifinalist), 15-10-3 WCHA (t-4th)

PairWise Ranking: # 7
National Rankings: # 7/# 7

Team Offense: 3.14 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.86 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.7% (17 of 82)
Penalty Kill: 84.7% (61 of 72)

Key Players: Senior F Matt Frattin (13-4-17), Junior F Jason Gregoire (6-7-13), Sophomore F Corban Knight (8-8-16), Senior F Evan Trupp (4-7-11), Senior D Chay Genoway (3-10-13), Freshman D Derek Forbort (0-8-8), Sophomore G Aaron Dell (8-4-1, 2.29 GAA, .899 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: March 20, 2010 (St. Paul, MN). In the Final Five title game, SCSU won the opening minute 2-0 and the Fighting Sioux won the remaining 59 minutes by a score of 5-1. It was North Dakota’s third victory in three nights at the tournament.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: November 14, 2009. One night after St. Cloud junior forward Aaron Marvin met North Dakota senior defenseman Chay Genoway with a high elbow, the visiting Huskies posted a 3-2 victory over North Dakota. SCSU goaltender Dan Dunn made 46 saves and withstood a furious Sioux comeback after St. Cloud took an early 3-0 lead.

Most Important Meeting: There are two classic Final Five championship games between the schools:

2001: St. Cloud State defeated North Dakota 6-5 to claim the 2001 WCHA Final Five Championship. Derek Eastman scored the game-winner in overtime after UND scored three goals in the final ten minutes of regulation to force the extra session.

2010: SCSU took a 2-0 lead less than a minute into the Final Five title game but couldn’t make it last, falling to North Dakota 5-3. UND became the second team in as many seasons to notch three victories at the WCHA postseason tournament.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 53-29-10 (.630), including a 27-12-5 (.670) mark on home ice and a record of 8-3-3 (.679) in games played in the new Ralph Engelstad Arena since it opened in 2001.

Last Ten: North Dakota holds a 6-3-1 (.650) edge in the last ten meetings between the two teams. UND and SCSU play four regular season games every year under the WCHA’s schedule partner arrangement.

Challenge Cup: The two schools shared the Challenge Cup last season, splitting both regular season series.

Game News and Notes

UND is 8-0-0 all-time when Mario Lamoureux scores a goal (so here’s hoping he doesn’t shadow box anybody). The junior forward has scored three goals in five career games against the Huskies. SCSU netminder Mike Lee is expected to start Friday’s opener despite being lit up in three games against North Dakota last season (0-3, 6.70 GAA, .835 SV%). Fighting Sioux head coach Dave Hakstol has 99 career WCHA victories to his credit.

The Prediction

This one hinges on the health in North Dakota’s locker room. If one of the (unnamed) players unable to go this weekend is who I believe he is, then we could be looking at a split. I was spot on with my three point prediction last weekend against the Fighting Irish, so we’ll try it again. The Fighting Sioux will have better success against goaltender Mike Lee on Friday than they will against his counterpart (Dan Dunn) on Saturday, so we’ll go with UND 5-2, 3-3 tie.

On a Personal Note

I look forward to this series every year because of the unique relationship we have with the Center Ice Club, the official hockey booster organization for the St. Cloud State University Huskies. On behalf of SiouxSports.com, I would like to invite you to the UND/SCSU pre-game social on Saturday afternoon from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. at Southgate Grill and Bar (a smoke-free venue). This is a great opportunity to meet fans on both sides of the rivalry, view the Challenge Cup, and win fabulous door prizes. This event is free and open to all fans 21 and older.

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