It’s hard to find a Sioux fan who doesn’t have admiration and respect for the Maine Black Bears. There’s a certain affinity for other great hockey teams that survive and thrive in smaller markets and are the flagship programs for their state.
More specifically, the connection between North Dakota and Maine is well-documented. Former UND head coach Dean Blais is fondly remembered for his tribute to Shawn Walsh during Walsh’s cancer battle. I remember vividly the game played in Orono, Maine on Friday, October 13th, 2000, when the defending national champion Fighting Sioux took to the ice in matching “Walsh” jerseys and donated the game-worn uniforms to defray coach Walsh’s medical costs.
It was only fitting that when the late Shawn Walsh’s shamrock was retired and hoisted to the rafters at Alfond Arena in October 2004, North Dakota was once again on hand as the visiting team.
Turning the page to this weekend’s action, both squads are hungry to pick up key wins that will prove beneficial in the Pairwise Rankings. The Black Bears have had the better of the play lately, picking up two victories in Grand Forks in October 2006 on their way to Frozen Four and earning a home sweep in Orono last season (7-3, 4-2). North Dakota will look to return the favor this weekend.
One area of concern for the Fighting Sioux is the youth of the team. At this point in the season, UND does not have many players to count on for scoring and leadership. The other two problems with North Dakota’s inexperience – defensive zone coverage and lazy penalties – were exposed last Saturday night against Boston College. If those lapses and penalties continue, we could see the same scoreboard we witnessed at Maine last season, or worse. A veteran Sioux squad traveled to face the Black Bears in October 2010 and gave Maine 19 power plays, resulting in five power play goals.
Maine narrowly missed the NCAAs last season and hope to return to postseason play after a four year absence. That will be tougher this season because the Black Bears will be without two-time Hobey Baker finalist Gustav Nyquist, who gave up his final season of eligibility after leading Maine in scoring each of his three seasons (combined 50 goals and 94 assists in 113 games). Maine is also without its top two centers from last year’s team.
Maine Team Profile
Head Coach: Tim Whitehead (11th season at Maine, 217-139-43 .598)
National Ranking: #17/#17
This Season: 1-1-0 overall, 1-1-0 Hockey East
Last Season: 17-12-7 overall, 14-8-5 Hockey East (5th)
Team Offense: 3.50 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 12.5% (2 of 16)
Penalty Kill: 90.9% (10 of 11)
Key Players: Senior F Brian Flynn (1-4-5), Senior F Spencer Abbott (2-1-3), Junior F Joey Diamond (1-2-3), Senior D Will O’Neill (0-0-0), Junior D Mike Cornell (0-1-1), Sophomore G Dan Sullivan (1-0-0, 3.01 GAA, .889 SV%)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (8th season at UND, 188-94-27, .652)
National Ranking: #6/#6
This Season: 1-1-0, 0-0-0 WCHA
Last Season: 32-9-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four semifinalist), 21-6-1 WCHA (1st)
Team Offense: 3.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 4.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 22.2% (2 of 9)
Penalty Kill: 88.9% (8 of 9)
Key Players: Junior F Corban Knight (2-1-3), Sophomore F Brock Nelson (2-1-3), Junior F Danny Kristo (0-3-3), Sophomore D Derek Forbort (1-1-2), Senior D Ben Blood (0-0-0), Junior G Aaron Dell (1-1-0, 4.94 GAA, .800 SV%)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: October 23, 2010 (Orono, ME). The Black Bears chose to start freshman goaltender Dan Sullivan in the second game of the series and he responded, stopping 23 of 25 North Dakota shots in earning a 4-2 victory and a weekend sweep for his squad. Maine won the opener, 7-3.
Last Meeting in Grand Forks: October 21, 2006. Maine sophomore goaltender Ben Bishop held UND scoreless for almost 58 minutes and the Black Bears weathered a barrage of North Dakota 5-on-3 power plays as the visiting squad won 3-1 to complete the weekend sweep. Bishop made 48 of 50 saves on the weekend.
Most Important Meeting: April 6, 2000 (Providence, RI). The Fighting Sioux scored twice in the second period and Karl Goehring stopped all 30 shots he faces as UND advanced to the national title game with a 2-0 victory over Maine. Two nights later, the Green and White would claim their seventh national championship.
Last Ten: UND is 4-5-1 (.450) in the last ten meetings between the teams. Maine has won the last four contests by a combined score of 20-8.
All-time Series: North Dakota leads the all-time series 11-8-1 (.575), including a 6-3-0 (.667) edge in games played in Orono.
Game News and Notes:
Only four current Fighting Sioux players (Ben Blood, Corban Knight, Danny Kristo, Derek Rodwell) have ever scored against Maine. Each of the four collected a single point in last season’s weekend series. The Black Bears return 19 players who saw action last season; the Fighting Sioux have 14 players back. With six more saves, Brad Eidsness would become the tenth goalie in UND hockey history to record 2,000 career stops.
North Dakota needs to improve in all major areas to compete for points this weekend. I feel like UND has a better shot at a win on Saturday night, with a rough showing Friday. Maine 4-2, 3-3 tie.