The last time North Dakota had as many as ten freshmen on the roster was 2005-2006, when the Sioux brought in 13 rookies. That group included Taylor Chorney, Ryan Duncan, Brian Lee, T.J. Oshie, and Jonathan Toews.
It remains to be seen whether this year’s crop of ten freshmen will find a similar level of success. UND’s first year players will need to play valuable minutes in key situations for the Fighting Sioux to compete.
With freshmen Rocco Grimaldi (lower body injury) and Colten St. Clair (NCAA clearinghouse issues) unavailable, the top forward line is expected to be Corban Knight centering Brock Nelson and Danny Kristo. Those three combined for 30 goals and 63 assists in 120 games last year. After those three forwards, however, the returning scoring is fairly thin. The only other returning forward to register more than ten points last season is senior captain Mario Lamoureux (3-14-17).
North Dakota’s strength this season will be in net and on defense. Junior goaltender Aaron Dell (30-7-2, 1.79 GAA, .924 SV%, 6 shutouts last season) returns as one of the top netminders in the country, and Brad Eidsness (24-10-4, 2.11 GAA, .914 SV%, 3 shutouts in 2009-10) has proven he can compete for the starting job. UND boasts four defensemen who played in at least 30 games last season (Ben Blood, Derek Forbort, Andrew MacWilliam, and Dillan Simpson), and freshman Danny Mattson should contribute right away.
After this weekend’s Icebreaker tournament, UND will play four more non-conference games at home (two games each against Maine and Harvard) and will appear as the home team in non-conference action against Clarkson in Winnipeg, Manitoba. North Dakota’s results outside the WCHA will play a large role in the final PairWise rankings and seeding for the NCAA tournament.
The Air Force Academy boasts two players with North Dakota connections. Senior captain Paul Weisgarber is from Fargo and freshman Chad Demers hails from Grafton. Ten Falcons players come from Minnesota. Up front, Air Force is led by Weisgarber (13-12-25 last season) and junior John Kruse (11-18-29). On the blue line, senior Tim Kirby (7-16-23) is more than capable and senior captain Scott Mathis (8-19-27) is one of the best in the country.
Head coach Frank Serratore’s Falcons have finished in the top three in Atlantic Hockey in each of the past four seasons. Air Force won its first NCAA tournament game in 2009 and took Vermont to double overtime before falling to the Catamounts one game shy of the Frozen Four.
The winner of tonight’s contest will face the Boston College/Michigan State wnner on Saturday, while the two losing teams will also play. North Dakota will play in the late game on Saturday regardless of Friday’s result.
The Prediction: Scoring will be hard to come by early, but the home crowd will help North Dakota earn a close victory. UND 3-2.
Bonus prediction: In the early game, UND fans will either cheer for Michigan State (green and white teams need to stick together) or against Boston College (all those NCAA losses), but it won’t matter. The Eagles will roll. BC 4-1.