It’s the middle of February, and St. Cloud State sits behind Alaska-Anchorage in the league standings.
I’m not sure I’m as good at predictions as some of you think I am, for reasons I’m about to illustrate:
Before the season started, I picked St. Cloud to finish 2nd and Anchorage to finish 11th. According to Jim Dahl’s “possible outcomes” thread, SCSU can finish no higher than 3rd, and those possibilities look even more remote with North Dakota coming to town.
In October, the Huskies appeared to be locked and loaded to challenge UND for the league title, with the only question mark on the blue line. At this point in the season, SCSU is loaded with question marks. Bob Motzko’s squad went on a seven-game unbeaten streak, but that was bookended with seven losses by a combined score of 30-10.
The road doesn’t get any easier as SCSU struggles to gain home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. After a home series against the Fighting Sioux, the Huskies host Wisconsin and travel to Denver to close out the regular season.
North Dakota clinched home ice and moved into first place in the league with a home sweep last weekend. UND has the easiest remaining schedule of the MacNaughton contenders, with a home series against Bemidji State and a road trip to Michigan Tech on the schedule.
Since losing defenseman Chay Genoway (lower body injury) and forward Danny Kristo (frostbite), the Fighting Sioux have played some of their best hockey of the season. The return of forwards Brett Hextall and Jason Gregoire from injury has helped in that regard. Gregoire, in particular, has been an offensive catalyst, notching twelve points in eight games since his return to the lineup.
UND goaltender Aaron Dell notched his 20th victory of the season last weekend against Alaska-Anchorage, and has looked steady all season long. In addition to four shutouts, Dell has allowed a single goal in seven other starts. Junior netminder Brad Eidsness might not see the crease again this year.
This weekend, the teams will be earning points for the UND/SCSU Challenge Cup, a traveling fan trophy awarded to the team which wins the four-game season series. North Dakota swept the series in Grand Forks and will claim the trophy outright with at least one point in the series. The Cup will be awarded in St. Cloud on Saturday. February 19th. Including this year, North Dakota has won at least a share of the Challenge Cup each of the past five seasons.
St. Cloud State Team Profile
Head Coach: Bob Motzko (6th season at SCSU, 117-88-28, .562)
This Season: 12-14-4, 8-11-3 WCHA (9th)
Last Season: 24-14-5 (NCAA West Regional finalist), 15-9-4 WCHA (3rd)
Pairwise Ranking: t-26th
National Rankings: NR/NR
Team Offense: 2.90 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.00 goal sallowed/game
Power Play: 16.8% (29 of 173)
Penalty Kill: 83.3% (110 of 132)
Key Players: Senior F Garrett Roe (6-22-28), Junior F Drew LeBlanc (12-23-35), Junior F Jared Festler (11-7-18), Freshman D Nick Jensen (5-11-16), Senior D Brett Barta (1-10-11), Sophomore G Mike Lee (10-10-3, 2.83 GAA, .905 SV%, 1 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (7th season at UND, 176-92-26, .643)
This Season: 21-8-2, 16-6-0 WCHA (1st)
Last Season: 25-13-5 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional semifinalist), 15-10-3 WCHA (t-4th)
Pairwise Ranking: 3rd
National Rankings: #2/#2
Team Offense: 3.71 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.39 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.8% (32 of 162)
Penalty Kill: 85.1% (126 of 148)
Key Players: Senior F Matt Frattin (22-13-35), Senior F Brad Malone (9-17-26), Sophomore F Corban Knight (13-18-31), Senior F Evan Trupp (13-15-28), Senior F/D Jake Marto (5-7-12), Junior D Ben Blood (1-6-7), Sophomore G Aaron Dell (20-6-1, 1.99 GAA, .920 SV%, 4 SO)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: December 4, 2010 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota put on the black jerseys and exploded for five first period goals in a rout over visiting St. Cloud State. UND’s 6-2 victory secured the first home sweep of the season for the Fighting Sioux.
Last Meeting in St. Cloud: February 13, 2010. After a scoreless first period, UND erupted for six goals in the middle frame and destroyed the homestanding Huskies, 8-1. Sioux forward Matt Frattin added two goals in the third period.
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, 55-29-10 (.638), including a 21-16-5 (.560) record in St. Cloud.
Last Ten: North Dakota holds a 7-3-0 (.700) 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. North Dakota has already claimed at least a share of the Cup with a sweep in Grand Forks earlier this season.
Game News and Notes
In the last meeting between the teams, UND wore black jerseys at home for just the second time ever. St. Cloud State is only 4-7-3 at the National Hockey Center this season, with home victories over Quinnipiac and Bemidji State and a sweep against Michigan Tech. North Dakota is 9-4-1 on the road, with sweeps at Bemidji State, Wisconsin, and MSU-Mankato. The Fighting Sioux have won the last four games between the teams by a combined score of 22-7.
If these two teams met on neutral ice or in Grand Forks, I would predict another Sioux sweep. But UND has struggled on Friday nights in St. Cloud (0-7-3 in their last ten), and I have a feeling that they’ll need to mount a comeback to salvage a tie in the opener. The rematch is all North Dakota. 3-3 tie, UND 5-1.
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 the Center Ice Club, I would like to invite you to the UND/SCSU pre-game social on Saturday afternoon (February 19th) from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. at Legends Grill and Bar in the Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites in St. Cloud. This is a great opportunity to meet fans on both sides of the rivalry, share in some complimentary food and door prizes, and view the Challenge Cup. This event is free and open to all fans 21 and older.
Thank you for reading. I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.