U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game Preview: North Dakota vs. Minnesota

The 2018 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.

The Duel In The Desert.

The reason fans from 41 states, four provinces, and four countries have descended on Las Vegas this weekend (h/t to Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald).

Or, quite simply: North Dakota vs. Minnesota, a hockey rivalry unlike any other.

North Dakota is two years removed from its eighth national championship but missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 2002.

Minnesota has only advanced to the NCAAs five times in the last ten seasons and is stuck on five national titles, the most recent in 2002 and 2003.

More to the point…

The Golden Gophers played from 1947-1973 without a title (26 seasons).

Head coach Herb Brooks led Minnesota to three NCAA championships in a six year stretch (1974, 1976, and 1979).

The Golden Gophers then played from 1979-2001 without a title (22 seasons).

Head coach Don Lucia won back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003.

This year will mark the sixteenth anniversary of Minnesota’s most recent NCAA crown.

North Dakota has been relevant in every decade, with head coaches Bob May, Barry Thorndycraft, John “Gino” Gasparini, Dean Blais, and Brad Berry all lifting college hockey’s most coveted trophy.

Here is a closer look at the thirteen combined national titles won by these two storied programs.

Despite only nine tournament victories since Minnesota’s last title (UND has 22 in that same span), Gophers’ head coach Don Lucia was inexplicably given a two-year extension that was supposed to keep him behind the bench through the 2018-19 campaign. After the Gophers sputtered to a 19-17-2 record last year, Lucia was replaced by former St. Cloud State bench boss Bob Motzko.

Thankfully for fans of college hockey’s greatest matchup, this weekend’s game marks the third of seven consecutive seasons in which the teams are guaranteed to meet:

October 27, 2018: Orleans Arena (Las Vegas, Nevada) *Hall Of Fame Game*
2019-20: 3M Arena at Mariucci (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
2020-21: Ralph Engelstad Arena (Grand Forks, North Dakota)
2011-22: 3M Arena at Mariucci (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
2022-23: Ralph Engelstad Arena (Grand Forks, North Dakota)

Minnesota can no longer lay claim to having a roster made up exclusively of the State of Hockey’s “Pride On Ice”, with players hailing from Anchorage (Alaska), Grand Rapids (Michigan), Mississauga (Ontario), Newport Beach (California), River Falls (Wisconsin), Scottsdale (Arizona), and Naantali (Finland).

#17 North Dakota split at home against Minnesota State last weekend and now sits at 1-2-1 on the young season. With that less-than-stellar start, tonight’s game is critical for North Dakota’s postseason aspirations. After going 9-1-2 (.833) in non-conference play in 2015-16 and 7-2-2 (.727) out-of-conference in 2016-17, Brad Berry’s squad went just 6-2-4 (.667) last season and snapped its streak of fifteen consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. UND’s other non-conference opponents during the 2018-19 campaign will be Wisconsin, Alaska Anchorage, and Canisius.

This season, the Golden Gophers opened with an impressive weekend against defending national champion Minnesota Duluth, skating to a 1-1 tie at Amsoil Arena before throttling the Bulldogs 7-4 at home. Over the past two Saturdays, #5 Minnesota played a pair of exhibition contests (at US Under-18 Team, vs. Trinity Western), winning each game by a final of 7-1.

Minnesota Team Profile

Head Coach: Bob Motzko (1st season at Minnesota, 1-0-1, .750)

National Rankings: #5/#5
This Season: 1-0-1 overall, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten
Last Season: 19-17-2 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 10-12-2-1 Big Ten (5th of 7 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 4.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.0% (1 of 5)
Penalty Kill: 70.0% (7 of 10)

Key Players: Senior F Tyler Sheehy (1-0-1), Senior F Tommy Novak (0-1-1), Junior F Rem Pitlick (1-1-2), Sophomore F Brannon McManus (2-1-3), Senior D Jack Sadek (0-1-1), Sophomore D Clayton Phillips (0-4-4), Junior G Mat Robson (1-0-1, 2.40 GAA, .936 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Brad Berry (4th season at UND, 73-37-18, .641)
National Ranking: #17/#NR
This Season: 1-2-1 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 17-13-10 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 8-10-6-1 NCHC (4th of 8 teams)

2018-19 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.50 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.25 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.8% (3 of 16)
Penalty Kill: 61.5% (8 of 13)

Key Players: Senior F Nick Jones (0-4-4), Sophomore F Grant Mismash (2-0-2), Senior F Rhett Gardner (0-0-0), Sophomore F Jordan Kawaguchi (0-3-3), Sophomore D Gabe Bast (2-1-3), Freshman D Jacob Bernard-Docker (0-2-2), Freshman G Adam Scheel (1-1-1, 2.23 GAA, .878 SV%)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: October 22, 2017 (Grand Forks, ND). One night after the Gophers bested North Dakota in a tight 2-1 contest, the Fighting Hawks rolled by a 4-0 score behind 22 saves from senior netminder Cam Johnson. Defenseman Christian Wolanin scored two power play goals to help UND go 3-for-9 with the man advantage. Minnesota was powerless on six power play opportunities.

Most important meeting: March 24, 1979 (Detroit, MI). North Dakota and Minnesota met to decide the national championship, and the Gophers prevailed, 4-3. Neal Broten scored the game-winning goal for the U of M, and Steve Janaszak was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.

All-time: Minnesota leads the all-time series by an eleven-game margin, 142-131-15 (.519). The teams first met in 1948.

Last ten: The Gophers have gone 6-2-2 in the last ten meetings between the schools, outscoring UND 34-26 in those games.

Game News and Notes

Tonight’s game was announced over 27 months ago (July 26th, 2016). The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game is a regular-season game played each season to raise money for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and Museum (Evelyth, Minnesota); Ralph Engelstad Arena purchased the rights to this season’s event. For additional information about the game, please visit www.vegas18.com. The number eight is greater than the number five. In an effort to alleviate parking concerns, Minnesota fans are asked to park at Hoover Dam and walk to Orleans Arena.

Media Coverage

Tonight’s game can be seen on Midco Sports Network as well as on various cable outlets in Minnesota. The opening faceoff is set for 7:07 p.m. Pacific Time (9:07 p.m. Central Time). The games will also be streamed live in high definition via NCHC.tv. All UND men’s hockey games (home and away) can be heard on 96.1 FM and on stations across the UND Sports Network (as well as through the iHeart Radio app). Follow @UNDMHockey for real-time Twitter updates, or follow the action via live chat at UNDsports.com

The Prediction

There will certainly be a buzz at Orleans Arena tonight, with the crowd almost entirely in North Dakota’s favor. This rivalry has shown that whichever side handles the pressure and energy better will emerge victorious. I see UND coming out a bit too amped up for this one with the Gophers taking advantage early. The oddsmakers have Bob Motzko’s side as a fairly heavy favorite, but I see this game as a one-goal contest either way. College hockey is typically a race to three goals; however, this one will take more than that. The Fighting Hawks will overcome a slow start with a thrilling third-period comeback and some overtime heroics. North Dakota 4-3 (OT).

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

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