The last time these two teams met, North Dakota was ranked #5 on the young season and St. Cloud State came in to Grand Forks ranked #9 after coming off of the most successful season in program history. In 2012-13, the Huskies posted a 25-win season, claimed a share of the MacNaughton Cup as WCHA co-champions, and earned a berth in the NCAA Frozen Four (falling to Quinnipiac in the semifinals). As icing on the cake, senior forward Drew LeBlanc brought home the program’s first Hobey Baker Memorial Award.
On that November weekend in Grand Forks, SCSU swept the Green and White 3-2 and 3-1. The sweep propelled the Huskies to a 6-1-1 November record, and Bob Motzko’s squad followed that up with a 2-1-1 mark in the month of December. Since that time, however, St. Cloud has gone just 7-5-2.
UND moved in an opposite direction after that early season series. Those two losses were part of a dismal 3-6-1 November record, but the boys from Grand Forks have righted the ship since then. A December mark of 4-0-0 got things turned around, and they followed that up with a 4-1-1 January record. Coming in to this weekend’s series, North Dakota has gone 5-1-0 in the month of February and is 14-2-1 (.853) in its last 17 games.
By contrast, St. Cloud State has a record of 8-6-3 (.559) over its past 17 contests.
This weekend, the rankings are reversed. The Huskies are #5 in the polls and the Pairwise, while North Dakota has vaulted up to #10. The two teams are tied for first place in the NCHC with two weekends remaining in the season. After this weekend in St. Cloud, UND hosts Western Michigan in the final regular season series before the playoffs begin, while SCSU travels to Colorado Springs to take on the Tigers of Colorado College.
North Dakota and St. Cloud State have been paired up as schedule partners and rivals since the 2002-03 season. Two years later, the Center Ice Club created a commemorative trophy to mark the rivalry, and the two teams have been battling it out four times each season to claim the Challenge Cup.
Since that time, UND has had the better of the play, both at home (9-7-4 in the Challenge Cup era) and in St. Cloud (9-6-3). North Dakota has claimed the Cup four times, the teams have shared the trophy three times, and the Huskies won the trophy outright last season and back in 2005-06.
St. Cloud State has already clinched a share of the UND/SCSU Challenge Cup for 2013-14, and needs to pick up one point this weekend to win the trophy outright.
North Dakota comes in blazing hot but will need to contend with a Huskies squad that has converted over 25 percent of its power plays on the season. St. Cloud is very adept at using the wider Olympic ice sheet, particularly with the man advantage.
SCSU will be without the services of defenseman Andrew Prochno this weekend. The junior from Minnetonka, Minnesota is tied for the team lead in points by a defenseman with 19 (3 goals, 16 assists, 16 penalty minutes in 30 games played). The Huskies have been rotating freshman Ben Storm (0-1-1 in 24 games) and juniors Tim Daly (1-3-4 in 24 games) and Jarrod Rabey (0-2-2 in 15 games) through two spots on the blueline, but all three will be in the lineup for this pivotal NCHC showdown.
Speaking of the blue line, North Dakota boasts the top scoring d-corps in the nation (2.93 points/game). Senior Dillon Simpson (7-13-20) and sophomore Jordan Schmaltz (4-15-19) have led the charge, but junior Nick Mattson (3-12-15) has provided some jump, and the four freshman defenseman (Gage Ausmus, Paul LaDue, Troy Stecher, and Keaton Thompson) have chipped in for 11 goals and 21 assists.
That’s a total of 23 goals and 60 assists (83 points) from the top six North Dakota defenseman.
By comparison, the six SCSU blueliners expected to be in the lineup this weekend have combined for 11 goals and 39 assists for 50 points.
Since becoming the full-time starter on November 30th, UND netminder Zane Gothberg (Thief River Falls, MN) has put up eye-popping numbers: an 11-0-1 record, a 1.37 goals-against average, a save percentage of 93.8%, and the first shutout of his young college career. Gothberg has only given up more than two goals once over that stretch, a 5-3 victory at Colorado College.
St. Cloud State Team Profile
Head Coach: (Bob Motzko, 9th season at SCSU, 180-132-40, .568)
Pairwise Ranking: 5th
National Ranking: #5
This Season: 18-7-5 overall, 12-5-3-0 NCHC (t-1st)
Last Season: 25-16-1 overall (NCAA Frozen Four semifinalist), 18-9-1 WCHA (t-1st)
Team Offense: 3.63 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.67 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 25.2% (30 of 119)
Penalty Kill: 77.5% (79 of 102)
Key Players: Senior F Nic Dowd (18-15-33), Sophomore F Jonny Brodzinski (16-17-33), Sophomore F Kalle Kossila (12-17-29), Junior D Andrew Prochno (3-16-19), Sophomore D Ethan Prow (4-15-19), Junior G Ryan Faragher (16-6-4, 2.62 GAA, .910 SV%, 1 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (10th season at UND, 253-128-40, .648)
Pairwise Ranking: 10th
National Ranking: #10
This Season: 18-9-3 overall, 13-7-0-0 NCHC (t-1st)
Last Season: 22-13-7 overall (NCAA West Regional finalist), 14-7-7 WCHA (3rd)
Team Offense: 3.17 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.63 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.3% (27 of 140)
Penalty Kill: 82.3% (116 of 141)
Key Players: Sophomore F Rocco Grimaldi (12-17-29), Sophomore F Michael Parks (10-16-26), Junior F Mark MacMillan (8-10-18), Sophomore F Drake Caggiula (8-10-18), Senior D Dillon Simpson (7-13-20), Sophomore D Jordan Schmaltz (4-15-19), Sophomore G Zane Gothberg (13-5-3, 2.12 GAA, .922 SV%, 1 SO)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: November 2, 2013 (Grand Forks, ND). Nic Dowd picked up a goal and an assist to help the Huskies sweep homestanding North Dakota 3-1. SCSU did an excellent job of blocking shots, allowing only 17 shots on goal. St. Cloud, which won Friday’s opener 3-2, became the first team to sweep UND at Ralph Engelstad Arena since Denver turned that trick in January 2010.
Last Meeting in St. Cloud: November 10, 2012. One night after Clarke Saunders stopped all 32 shots he faced in a 3-0 UND victory, St. Cloud State scored five times on 37 shots in a 5-2 contest to claim the split. Senior forward Drew LeBlanc scored twice and added an assist for the Huskies, who drew even in the race for the 2012-2013 Challenge Cup.
Most Important Meeting: March 17, 2001 (St. Paul, MN). 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.
Second Most Important Meeting: February 28, 2014. With everything on the line this weekend, the two teams should be ready to leave it all on the ice.
All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 60-35-12 (.617), including a 24-18-6 (.563) mark in games played in St. Cloud.
Last Ten: St. Cloud holds a slight 5-4-1 (.550) edge in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring UND 23-22 over that span.
Game News and Notes
St. Cloud State is unbeaten (4-0-1) in the last five meetings between the schools. UND was a perfect 9-for-9 on the penalty kill last Saturday at Minnesota-Duluth. The Spencer Penrose Cup (awarded to the NCHC regular season champion) will be in St. Cloud this weekend. North Dakota has the top scoring defensive corps in the nation (26-62-88 in 30 games; 2.93 points/game). Friday’s opener can be seen on CBS Sports Network, with a puck drop of 8:07 p.m.
If these games were held on the smaller ice sheet this weekend, given the way these two teams are playing, I would lean toward giving UND a win and a tie. But St. Cloud State knows how to use the home crowd and the wider ice surface, and a split seems almost inevitable. UND 3-1, SCSU 4-2.
On a Personal Note
I look forward to this series every year because of the unique relationship we have with the St. Cloud State hockey fans. On behalf of SiouxSports.com, I would like to invite you to the UND/SCSU pre-game social on Saturday afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. on the second floor of Brother’s Bar and Grill in St. Cloud. This is a great opportunity to meet fans on both sides of the rivalry, win fabulous door prizes, enjoy a free appetizer bar, and view the Challenge Cup. This event is free and open to the public.