Sunday Game React: UND vs. Bemidji State

In a battle of backup goaltenders, UND junior Aaron Walski outdid his Bemidji State counterpart, fellow junior Orlando Alamano.  Walski stopped all 13 shots he faced on the afternoon in his first career start for North Dakota.  The amount of action was a far cry from the legendary 73 shots he turned aside in a 2-1, triple overtime loss in the North Dakota state high school championship game exactly seven years earlier. 

Alamano made 31 of 32 saves for the Beavers, allowing only Andrew Kozek’s game winner with under five minutes to play.  The game was Alamano’s sixth start of the season.

Kozek’s game-winning goal was a product of T.J. Oshie’s effort behind the net.

 “(Oshie) is just a heck of a hockey player,” Bemidji head coach Tom Serratore noted.  “He had people draped all over him. I mean, what do you do? It’s just a heck of a play.”

Andrew Kozek also appreciated Oshie’s effort.

“T.J. just put it in a great spot for me to kind of step into it,” Kozek said. “He had three guys all over him, like he usually does. It was just a great play by him.”

Kozek leads the team with 14 goals. Oshie has 20 assists this season, second only to Robbie Bina’s 21.

North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol said Oshie’s play elevates his teammates.

“His play is at a very high level, and that has a tendency to bring the level of play of the team up,” he said. “It also has the effect of bringing up the confidence level of our hockey team. He did a tremendous job tonight with his effort and playmaking in all areas.”

The number 13 was lucky for Walski, as he turned aside all 13 shots he faced.  13 was also lucky for the entire North Dakota program, as the Sioux are now unbeaten in their last 13 games (12-0-1), a streak that leads the nation.  That stretch has seen North Dakota’s record go from 9-8-1 to a stellar 21-8-2.  UND also extended its home winning streak to eight games, the longest streak in the new Ralph Engelstad Arena.

UND senior goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux saw his string of 55 consecutive starts (a school record which ranks third all-time in NCAA history) come to an end.

North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol collected his 98th and 99th career victories against Bemidji State, and will look to hit the century mark when the Sioux travel to Duluth to take on the Bulldogs next weekend. Only three other coaches in UND history (Rube Bjorkman, John “Gino” Gasparini, and Dean Blais) have collected 100 wins.  Of those three, only Dean Blais (.679) holds a better career winning percentage than Hakstol’s .639 (99-53-13).

Thank you for reading. I welcome your comments and suggestions. For more on the matchup between the teams, click here. For reaction to Saturday’s series opener, click here.

Saturday Game React: UND vs. Bemidji State

North Dakota capitalized on a five minute major penalty midway through the first period, scoring three goals in a span of 91 seconds and all but burying the Beavers in the process.

The major penalty was assessed on Bemidji’s Matt Read for checking from behind. The freshman forward, who entered the game as the Beavers’ leading scorer, was sent to the locker room with a game misconduct.

“Obviously, after that, it really deflates you, it really demoralizes you,” noted BSU head coach Tom Serratore. “The kid that gets kicked out is our best player, so it’s a double whammy.”

The teams traded power play goals in the second period, and Brad Miller’s empty net goal with just over one minute remaining made the final score 5-1.

UND finished 4 of 10 with the man advantage and killed four of five Bemidji power plays.

“The key is not to waste power play time, and we didn’t,” Hakstol said. “We generated a lot of opportunities. The power play was absolutely the difference, and I don’t really recall the last time that it was,” he said. “We’ve had an overtime win. We’ve had a real good comeback win. We’ve had some one-goal wins. Tonight was a night when specialty teams separated us. When you’re playing well, you find different ways to win.”

North Dakota is now unbeaten in its last 12 games (11-0-1) and carries a seven-game home winning streak into Sunday’s series finale.

North Dakota senior netminder Jean-Philippe Lamoureux has now allowed one goal or less in 17 of 30 starts this season. His 20-8-2 record, 1.76 goals-against average, .931 save percentage, and four shoutouts are all Hobey Baker-caliber numbers.

Alright, one rant for today: the wave has NO place in a hockey arena. Even my seven-year old son could smell the pointlessness. “Dad, why are they doing that?”, he asked. “Exactly,” I said.

The two teams take to the ice Sunday afternoon. The UND coaches have hinted at the possibility of starting junior goaltender Aaron Walski between the pipes.

Thank you for reading. I welcome your comments and suggestions. For more on the matchup between the two teams, click here. Click here for reaction to Sunday’s series finale.

Game Preview: UND vs. Bemidji State

Bemidji State is perhaps North Dakota’s most familiar non-conference opponent. This weekend’s matchup will mark the fourth consecutive season in which the schools will play a two-game series. The Beavers have competed well over that span, but have only one tie to go along with five losses over the past six games.

BSU has fared better against the WCHA as a whole. After struggling to a 3-42-3 record against the WCHA in its first six seasons at the Division I level, the Beavers have posted a 10-14 mark in the last three seasons. This season, Bemidji State has a 1-7-0 record in two-game series against St. Cloud State, MSU-Mankato, and Minnesota-Duluth, and single games against Colorado College and Denver. Four of those seven losses were by a single goal. By contrast, UND has an 8-4-0 record against those teams.

The WCHA recently announced a scheduling agreement with Bemidji State (a member of College Hockey America), an agreement that has the team and school officials hopeful for more home games and as many as 12 games each year against WCHA teams beginning in 2010-11.

Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore believes that the partnership between the schools is not only good from a scheduling standpoint, but also for the development of his players.

“When you play North Dakota, I don’t care what the outcome of the games are,” Serratore said. “We’re going to be a better hockey team (after the series) Sunday night. (UND’s) kids play so hard, with such intensity, and they are so talented that it forces us to be mentally strong. That’s going to make us a better hockey team, I guarantee it.”

North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol had similar praise for the Beavers.

“We’ve had great games against them all the way through,” Hakstol noted. “Bemidji plays with a great deal of intensity. They play extremely hard and with speed. I think that makes for very exciting hockey games for fans to watch. That’s what we’ve seen game in and game out and it will be the same this weekend.”

On the national scene, Bemidji State will need to win the College Hockey America postseason championship to advance to the NCAA tournament. North Dakota is currently in fourth place in the PWR rankings and has locked up home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

Bemidji State Team Profile
National Rankings: -/-
Head Coach: Tom Serratore (7th season at BSU, 117-99-28, .537)
This Season: 14-13-3 Overall, 11-4-3 CHA
Special Teams: Power Play 20.4% (29 of 142), Penalty Kill 89.1% (139 of 156)
Last Season: 14-14-5 Overall, 9-6-5 CHA (3rd)
Key Players: Freshmen F Matt Read (8-15-23), Junior F Tyler Scofield (10-11-21), Senior F Matt Pope (12-8-20), Junior D Cody Bostock (6-10-16), Senior G Matt Climie (12-6-3, 1.95 GAA, .921 SV, 5 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile
National Rankings: #2/#2
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (4th season at UND, 97-53-13, .635)
This Season: 19-8-2 Overall, 16-7-1 WCHA
Specialty Teams: Power Play 18.0% (23 of 128), Penalty Kill 88.9% (120 of 135)
Last Season: 24-14-5 (Frozen Four semifinalist), 13-10-5 WCHA (3rd)
Key Players: Junior F Ryan Duncan (11-19-30), Junior F T.J. Oshie (13-16-29), Sophomore F Chris VandeVelde (11-12-23), Senior D Robbie Bina (2-20-22), Sophomore D Chay Genoway (6-15-21), Senior G Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (19-8-2, 1.78 GAA, .930 SV, 4 SO)

By The Numbers
Last Meeting: January 20, 2007 (Grand Forks, ND). UND fell behind 2-0 in the first period before storming back for a 6-3 victory, completing the non-conference sweep in a home-and-home series with BSU. T.J. Oshie’s goal and three assists were instrumental to North Dakota’s comeback.
Most Important Meeting: For Bemidji State, it would have to be its only victory against the Fighting Sioux – February 7, 1970. The Beavers downed North Dakota, 7-5.
All-time series: UND leads the all-time series, 13-1-1 (.900)

Game News and Notes
The afternoon games were scheduled to accommodate the North Dakota boys and girls state high school hockey tournaments, held this weekend at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. UND will also play a Saturday/Sunday afternoon series at Minnesota-Duluth next weekend. North Dakota carries an 11-game unbeaten streak (10-0-1) into this weekend’s games. The Sioux have won six consecutive home games, and have never won more than seven home games in a row at the new Ralph Engelstad Arena. The Beavers are 1-7-0 against WCHA opponents this season, but four of those losses were by a single goal. Two North Dakota players were honored by the WCHA league office after UND swept Denver University last weekend. Junior forward Andrew Kozek produced six points (4g, 2a) and was named co-offensive player of the week, and sophomore defenseman Chay Genoway was named the league’s defensive player of the week. Genoway scored two goals, added two assists, and played in all situations, anchoring a Sioux defense that held the Pioneers under twenty shots each game

The Prediction
As head coach Tom Serratore says, his Beavers will be a better team Sunday night after going through the experience of playing the Fighting Sioux. Better, yes, but with no more wins. Bemidji State will hang tough, but North Dakota is clicking on all cylinders. UND 3-1, 4-2.

Thank you for reading. I welcome your comments and suggestions. For reaction to Saturday’s game action, click here. Click here for analysis and commentary on Sunday’s game.

Saturday Game React: UND vs. Denver

North Dakota used a furious first period, great goaltending, and an outstanding penalty kill in a 4-1 victory over the Pioneers that completed the weekend sweep. A near-fight in the second period and a brawl at the conclusion of the middle frame punctuated the action and added another chapter to this storied rivalry.

The Fighting Sioux came out of the gate quickly, dominating puck possession and outshooting Denver 13-3 in the first twenty minutes. North Dakota’s first goal came at 13:04 of the first period, with the teams skating four on four. Chay Genoway’s blast from the point was turned aside by DU goaltender Peter Mannino, but Joe Finley’s slapshot found the back of the net.

UND has excelled in four on four situations all year long, outscoring opponents 7-2. It is critical for defensemen to move the puck and join the rush to create scoring chances while skating four on four, and North Dakota has plenty of blueliners who fit the bill. Robbie Bina (two assists), Chay Genoway (three assists), and Joe Finley (two goals), in particular, have been outstanding in 4 on 4 play.

UND’s second goal came less than two minutes later, a power play tally which stood as the eventual game-winner. Freshman Evan Trupp deflected Genoway’s blast past a helpless Mannino, and North Dakota led 2-0. Trupp has now collected 5 goals and 2 assists in his last ten games and leads all Sioux freshmen in scoring with 8 goals and 5 assists on the season.

After blowing a 4-1 lead and losing 5-4 the previous night, Gwozdecky admitted that North Dakota’s effort in the first period overwhelmed his Denver squad.

“Last night probably took more of an emotional toll on our team than I thought it did,” he said. “We really came out and struggled. We were very flat.”

Andrew Kozek and T.J. Oshie worked an offensive zone face-off play to perfection midway through the second period to give North Dakota a three goal cushion. Oshie won the draw forward to Kozek, who beat his man to the front of the goal crease and backhanded the puck past Mannino before the Denver netminder had time to react.

UND senior goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux was steady as usual, allowing only a second period goal by Brian Gifford and turning away 16 Denver shots. In addition to four shutouts on the season, Lamoureux has allowed a single goal in twelve games. Let me put this another way: North Dakota has played 29 games, and Lamoureux has allowed one goal or less 16 times.

Plenty has been written about the scuffle at the end of the second period. I will say only this: there are many teams in this league who like to start trouble; North Dakota players stand up for each other and know how to finish it. I agree that Radke should have received an additional game suspension for his actions in this game; I am somewhat surprised, however, that the suspension was levied for his earlier near-fight with Denver junior defenseman J.P. Testwuide. I would have been more ok with Radke serving an additional game for the flurry of punches once Brandon Vossberg hit the ice than I am with Radke serving a game suspension for a fight that barely took place and was not called a fighting major by Marco Hunt, the game referee.

T.J. Oshie completed the scoring with a tremendous individual effort. The Sioux junior raced down the puck carrier from behind, stole the puck, and backhanded it from his own blue line and into the center of the empty net. Oshie, who has season totals of 13 goals and 19 assists in 28 games, is among the frontrunners for league player of the year. Oshie and linemate Ryan Duncan have 27 points in WCHA games, and are tied with St. Cloud State sophomore forward Ryan Lasch in the race for the league scoring title.

Remarkably, North Dakota outscored Denver 8-1 in the final 81 minutes of the series after the Pioneers led UND 4-1 with one minute remaining in Friday’s contest.

UND’s penalty killers were spectacular yet again, killing off all four Denver power plays. The Sioux penalty kill is now clipping along at 88.9% (120 of 135). North Dakota’s power play percentage now stands at 18.0% (23 of 128).

Andrew Kozek has found a home on the top line with Duncan and Oshie, and has notched 6 goals and added 3 assists in the 8 games the three Sioux junior forwards have skated together.

North Dakota is now tied with Colorado College in the race for the McNaughton Cup. Both CC (16-5-1 WCHA) and UND (16-7-1) have collected 33 points in league play, and lead third-place Denver (13-8-1) by six points. The Tigers have six league games remaining (two at Duluth, two versus Mankato, home and home with Denver), while the Sioux have only four (two at Duluth, two versus St. Cloud State).

UND (19-8-2 overall, 16-7-1 WCHA) brings a six-game home winning streak into this weekend’s action against Bemidji State (14-13-3 overall, 11-4-3 CHA)

Friday Game React: UND vs. Denver

Simply put, this was the most exciting, most thrilling regular season comeback ever witnessed at the new Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Sioux junior forward Andrew Kozek netted the game-winner at 15:15 of the third period and collected his first collegiate hat trick. Skating on a line with fellow juniors T.J. Oshie (one assist) and Ryan Duncan (one goal, three assists), Kozek displayed an NHL-caliber wrist shot on his first two goals and banged home the rebound of a T.J. Oshie wraparound attempt to complete the UND comeback.

North Dakota trailed 4-1 with a minute to play in the second period. Denver was opportunistic in the middle frame, capitalizing on turnovers and rebounds to score three goals on four shots in the first nine minutes of the second period after the teams traded power play goals in the first period.

Enter Chay Genoway. The sophomore defenseman, who has elevated his offensive game, banged home a deflection with exactly one minute remaining in the second period to cut the deficit to 4-2. Genoway now has 6 goals and 13 assists for the Sioux in 25 games played, and has already equaled his point total from all of last season (5-14-19 in 43 games)

But the Sioux would not head to the locker room before adding another tally. Denver once again failed to clear the zone, and Kozek fed the puck to a streaking Ryan Duncan, who tipped the puck past DU netminder Peter Mannino with 27 seconds left to bring the Sioux to within one.

Kozek, who finished with four points on the night, has now scored 12 goals and 2 assists in 27 games this season. In his first two seasons, Kozek tallied 12 goals and 12 assists in 87 games.

North Dakota Jean-Phillppe Lamoureux (18-8-2, 1.81 GAA, .930 SV) allowed four goals on eight shots in the first 30 minutes of the hockey game, but shut down the Pioneer attack the rest of the way and finished with 14 saves. Denver goaltender Peter Mannino (18-9-1, 2.25 GAA, .917 SV) was solid in the first period, stopping 10 of 11 shots. He stopped 14 of 18 shots in the final two periods.

Acting head coach Cary Eades and the rest of the staff did a solid job behind the bench. Two key moments in the hockey game stand out:

On the faceoff in the Denver zone which led to Kozek’s game winner, Eades noted that Denver had sent out their all-freshmen line of Kyle Ostrow, Jesse Martin, and Anthony Maiani. The Sioux head coach, noting a possible mismatch, countered with his top line of Duncan, Oshie, and Kozek along with defensemen Genoway and Finley. The Sioux won the draw, Oshie won two puck battles behind the net, and Kozek banged home the rebound. It is worthwhile to note that Kozek and Duncan were both camped out in front, behind the Denver defense. UND won all of the battles in this sequence, and netted the game-winning goal as a result.

A second key coaching moment occurred during the Sioux penalty kill in the final two minutes of the hockey game. UND attempted to clear the zone, but the puck hit a microphone on its way down the boards. Initially, the referee brought the face-off back in the North Dakota end. Denver coach George Gwozdecky pulled Mannino, and UND was about to face a 6 on 4 situation. But Eades, correctly noting the rules, sent his captains to lobby for a face-off outside the zone. The drop of the puck was moved outside the Sioux blue line, Mannino went back to his goal crease, and it would be another 40 seconds before Denver could pull Mannino for the extra attacker.

These are items that will never appear in the box score, but were instrumental in the final outcome.

UND brings a ten-game unbeaten streak (9-0-1) into tonight’s rematch after beginning the year 9-8-1. Denver, on the other hand, is 2-5-1 in their last eight games after opening the season with a 17-4-0 record.

Thank you for reading. For more on the matchup between the two teams, click here. Check back after Saturday’s game for more reaction, commentary,and analysis.

Game Preview: UND vs. Denver

There’s no question that these two teams have history: bad blood, controversy, and postseason clashes. But rather than looking at the past, both schools are treating this weekend’s action as an important series that will affect the conference race and the national playoff picture.

After narrowly missing out on last year’s NCAA tournament (and the West Regional held at Pepsi Center in Denver), the Pioneers seem poised for a run toward this year’s Frozen Four, also held at Pepsi Center.

They will have to make that playoff run without their leading scorer. Sophomore Brock Trotter, who had amassed season totals of 13 goals and 18 assists in 24 games, signed a pro contract with the Montreal Canadiens. Trotter played his last game as a Pioneer on January 19th against Bemidji State.

It has been a tale of two seasons for Denver. The Pioneers opened the season with a sparkling record of 17-4-0, but have struggled recently, winning only twice in their last seven contests (2-4-1). UND, on the other hand, spent the first half of the season in “Splitsville”, splitting eight consecutive series. The Sioux have been red-hot lately, compiling an 8-1-1 record in the year 2008. North Dakota also holds the nation’s longest current unbeaten streak, bringing an 8-0-1 mark into this weekend’s series.

Denver Team Profile
National Rankings: #6/#6
Head Coach: George Gwozdecky (14th season at DU, 316-199-41, .605)
This Season: 19-8-1 Overall, 13-6-1 WCHA
Special Teams: Power Play 14.2% (19 of 134), Penalty Kill 89.3% (117 of 131)
Last Season: 21-15-4, 13-11-4 WCHA (4th)
Key Players: Freshman F Tyler Bozak (14-12-26), Sophomore F Rhett Rakhshani (10-11-21), Sophomore F Tyler Ruegsegger (10-10-20), Junior D Chris Butler (1-13-14), Senior G Peter Mannino (18-8-1, 2.15 GAA, .921 SV, 4 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile
National Rankings: #3/#3
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (4th season at UND, 95-53-13, .630)
This Season: 17-8-2 Overall, 14-7-1 WCHA
Specialty Teams: Power Play 17.5% (21 of 120), Penalty Kill 89.1% (115 of 129)
Last Season: 24-14-5 (Frozen Four semifinalist), 13-10-5 WCHA (3rd)
Key Players: Junior F Ryan Duncan (10-16-26), Junior F T.J. Oshie (12-14-26), Sophomore F Chris VandeVelde (11-12-23), Senior D Robbie Bina (2-20-22), Junior D Taylor Chorney (2-17-19), Senior G Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (17-8-2, 1.73 GAA, .934 SV, 4 SO)

By The Numbers
Last Meeting: December 1, 2007. UND wins 3-1 in Denver to salvage a split. The Pioneers won the first game, 1-0, on Tyler Bozak’s power play goal.
Last Meeting in Grand Forks: October 29, 2005. Denver wins 7-2 to split the two-game series. North Dakota won on Friday night, 3-1.
Most Important Meeting: It’s hard to pick just one game, as the two teams have played four times for the national title. Denver defeated UND for the national championship in 1958, 1968, and 2005, while the Sioux downed the Pioneers in 1963.
All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 126-109-7 (.535). North Dakota leads the series in Grand Forks, 76-39-4 (.655).

Game News and Notes
UND goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux enters the weekend leading the nation in both save percentage (.934) and goals-against average (1.73). The senior netminder has allowed only one goal in seven of his previous eight games. Both Lamoureux and Pioneer senior goaltender Peter Mannino have four shutouts on the season (tied for second among NCAA goalies) . North Dakota junior forward T.J. Oshie has 14 career game-winning goals, ranking third in school history. Freshman Evan Trupp, who scored in overtime to lift North Dakota past Minnesota, now has four game-winning goals this season. With the departure of Brock Trotter, Denver freshman forward Tyler Bozak is the team’s active scoring leader with 14 goals and 12 assists. Bozak could become the second consecutive Pioneer freshman to lead the team in scoring, a feat Brock Trotter pulled off last season. UND sophomore forward Chris VandeVelde has 16 points (7g, 9a) in his last 15 games. Both teams are coming off three-point weekends against Minnesota.

The Prediction
Both schools bring a great deal of talent to the ice. If UND has an edge, it’s on the blue line, both in terms of experience and offensive punch. These games will be tightly contested, and special teams will be key. North Dakota should be rested and ready, and the crowd will make a difference this weekend. UND 2-1, 3-2.

Thank you for reading. I welcome your comments and suggestions. For reaction to Friday’s game action, click here. Check back after Saturday’s game for more commentary and analysis.

Weekend React: UND vs. Minnesota

All of the talk surrounding this past weekend’s games has been focused on UND head coach Dave Hakstol’s finger and the 160 combined penalty minutes during Saturday’s contest. This has slowly degenerated into discussions about “class” and the difference between “dirty play” and “hard-nosed hockey”.

It should come as no surprise to any of you that I want to write about the hockey games. I am aware that all of the incidents and suspensions are a part of the game story, but it’s reached a point where the games themselves (and some outstanding player performances) have taken a backseat, and that’s a shame.

Let’s begin with two outstanding goaltenders, Minnesota’s Alex Kangas and North Dakota’s Jean-Philippe Lamoureux. While Lamoureux (17-8-2, 1.73 GAA, .934 SV, 4 SO) has been steady all season for the Fighting Sioux, Kangas (5-5-6, 2.16 GAA, .923 SV) has been a spark for the Gophers lately after taking over for Jeff Frazee on January 12th at St. Cloud State. In starting the last six games for Minnesota, the freshman Kangas has allowed only 10 goals.

Both goaltenders were phenomenal in Minneapolis last weekend, matching each other save-for-save. Lamoureux stopped 50 of 52 shots in the two-game series; Kangas, 59 of 62. If Alex Kangas can continue his solid play (equal parts steady and spectacular), the Gophers can make a run at a top-five conference finish and home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

Evan Trupp’s overtime winner on Friday night was nothing short of spectacular, and belongs in the top three Sioux/Gopher goals of all time, along with Blake Wheeler’s overtime winner in the 2007 Final Five championship game and Neal Broten’s game-winning goal in the 1979 national title game.

Either game could have gone either way last weekend. On Friday, the Sioux were fortunate to escape the first period with a 1-1 tie, despite being outshot 8-2. Throughout the remainder of the contest, UND built momentum and held a 32-14 edge in shots on goal. Even so, Minnesota held on until Trupp’s overtime winner made the final score 2-1.

And in Saturday’s opening frame, Minnesota outshot North Dakota 13-4, but the teams were scoreless after one. UND held a 24-17 edge over the final 45 minutes, but each squad could muster only one third-period tally, and after the aforementioned donnybrook and a heated handshake line, each team had earned a hard-fought point.

A word about shot totals: I understand that many find “shots on goal” to be an overrated stat, and it may be. But it is certainly an indicator of puck possession, time spent in the offensive zone, and scoring chances. After all, you can’t score if you don’t shoot, and you can’t shoot if you don’t have the puck. So along with other stats like faceoff wins, scoring chances, and penalty minutes, “shots on goal” can be a helpful tool. After all, we can’t measure “which team wants it more”, despite what our friends at FSN might think.

UND’s penalty kill continues to impress, as North Dakota skated off all seven Minnesota power plays on the weekend. For the season, the Fighting Sioux have killed over 89 percent (115 of 129) of short-handed situations.

The Sioux were held scoreless in 12 man advantage situations and saw their power play percentage drop to 17.5% (21 of 120). North Dakota has scored only one power play goal in its last 22 opportunities.

North Dakota (17-8-2, 14-7-1 WCHA) has this weekend off before hosting Denver University on February 15th and 16th. Minnesota (12-12-6, 6-10-4 WCHA) travels to face those same Pioneers in Denver this weekend.

Thank you for reading. I welcome your comments and suggestions. For more on the Sioux/Gopher rivalry, click here. For more information on the matchup between the two teams, click here.

Game Preview: UND vs. Minnesota

Friday, January 26, 2007. Minnesota (21-3-3, 13-2-3 WCHA) and North Dakota (13-11-2, 7-9-2 WCHA) face off at Mariucci Arena in the only regular-season series between the two teams. The Gophers jump out to a quick 2-0 lead in the opening period on goals by Ryan Stoa and Alex Goligoski, and appear to have taken away any hope the Sioux may have had of stealing points from the series.

Cue Robbie Bina. The junior defenseman scored a short-handed goal at 18:05 of the first period, and UND, despite being outshot 15 to 7 in the opening frame, went into the locker room trailing only 2-1. The Fighting Sioux would score the next four goals of the contest (including the only three goals of the second period) and win the opener, 5-3.

North Dakota laid claim to a 2-0 lead in the first period of Saturday’s contest, but Minnesota roared back, scoring three power play goals in a six minute span. Things went from bad to worse when North Dakota, having already given up five power play goals in the first 76 minutes of the series, found itself short-handed yet again.

And you know the rest. Robbie Bina’s 180 footer, the most-watched college hockey goal of all time (298,000 views on YouTube alone), knotted the score at 3-3 and sent Jeff Frazee packing and the Gophers reeling. North Dakota rattled off four more goals and won going away, 7-3.

North Dakota rode the momentum from that weekend sweep to a 14-3-3 record over its final 20 games and a third consecutive Frozen Four berth.

Minnesota, meanwhile, found itself in a bit of a second-half slump, faltering to a 12-9-0 finish after beginning the season 19-1-3.

This season, the roles are seemingly reversed. UND (16-8-1, 13-7-0 WCHA) appears to have righted the ship, winning seven consecutive games and sitting all alone in second place in the WCHA. Minnesota (12-11-5, 6-9-3 WCHA) has won only twice in its last seven contests (2-2-3) and sports a 5-6-5 mark since Thanksgiving. North Dakota, by comparison, is 11-5-0 over that same span.

The Golden Gophers find themselves in sixth place in the conference, one point ahead of Michigan Tech, MSU-Mankato, and St. Cloud State. Minnesota is hoping to avoid going on the road for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. North Dakota is all alone in second place, two points ahead of third-place Denver and nine points ahead of two fourth-place teams, Wisconsin and Minnesota-Duluth. The Fighting Sioux are hoping to stay in one of the top three positions, advance to the Final Five, and avoid the dreaded Thursday play-in game.

That being said, this weekend’s games are critical for league points, momentum, and the all-important Sioux-Gopher rivalry.

In the first two games of this season’s series, the Sioux and Gophers split a pair at Ralph Engelstad Arena, with UND winning 4-2 on Friday night and Minnesota winning 4-3 on Saturday night. North Dakota is 8-2-0 since that weekend split; the Gophers, 3-3-4.

Last season, North Dakota took three of four games from Minnesota, including the aformentioned series sweep at Mariucci Arena and an overtime victory in the NCAA West Regional Final which propelled the Sioux to the Frozen Four. Minnesota defeated North Dakota 3-2 in overtime to claim the WCHA Final Five Championship in St. Paul.

Minnesota Team Profile
National Rankings: #18/#15
Head Coach: Don Lucia (9th season at Minnesota, 232-107-34, .668)
This Season: 12-11-5 Overall, 6-9-3 WCHA (6th)
Special Teams: Power Play 12.6% (15 of 119), Penalty Kill 86.4% (95 of 110)
Last Season: 31-10-3 Overall, 18-7-3 WCHA (1st)
Key Players: Junior F Blake Wheeler (13-12-25), Senior F Ben Gordon (9-12-21), Sophomore F Jay Barriball (3-12-15), Junior D R.J. Anderson (4-7-11), Freshman G Alex Kangas (5-4-5, 2.28 GAA, .918 SV)

North Dakota Team Profile
National Rankings: #3/#3
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (4th season at UND, 94-53-12, .629)
This Season: 16-8-1 Overall, 13-7-0 WCHA (2nd)
Specialty Teams: Power Play 19.4% (21 of 108), Penalty Kill 88.5% (108 of 122)
Last Season: 24-14-5 (Frozen Four Semifinalist), 13-10-5 WCHA (3rd)
Key Players: Junior F Ryan Duncan (10-16-26), Junior F T.J. Oshie (12-14-26), Sophomore F Chris VandeVelde (10-12-22), Senior D Robbie Bina (2-19-21), Junior D Taylor Chorney (2-17-19), Senior G Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (16-8-1, 1.80 GAA, .932 SV, 4 SO)

By The Numbers
Last Meeting: December 8, 2007 (Grand Forks, ND). The Golden Gophers survive a furious two-goal rally in the final four minutes of the hockey game to prevail, 4-3. North Dakota won the opener, 4-2.
Last Meeting at Mariucci Arena: January 27, 2007. Robbie Bina singlehandedly ends Frazee’s night, deflates the Gophers, and earns himself the #1 play on SportsCenter. UND wins 7-3 to complete their first two-game sweep in Minneapolis since 1980.
Most Important Meeting: March 24, 1979. North Dakota and Minnesota meet to decide the national championship, and the Gophers prevail, 4-3.
All-time Series: Minnesota leads the all-time series, 130-121-11 (.517), including a 70-50-4 (.581) record in games played in Minneapolis.

Game News and Notes
UND and Minnesota have each won five of the previous ten meetings between the teams. North Dakota is 10-14-4 in games played at the new Mariucci since it opened in the fall of 1993, but has won the last three contests there. UND has won at least one game on 22 consecutive regular season weekends, the longest streak in the WCHA. Ryan Duncan and T.J. Oshie have each collected 11 points in 10 career games against Minnesota. North Dakota senior goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux started his 50th consecutive game last Saturday against Alaska-Anchorage, the longest streak in school history. UND junior defenseman Zach Jones has not been whistled for a penalty in 14 consecutive games. Fighting Sioux head coach Dave Hakstol is six victories away from 100 for his career.

The Prediction
A sweep is hard to come by at Mariucci Arena, particularly two years in a row. North Dakota has the edge in every category, but something tells me Minnesota will be ready to play. UM 2-1, UND 4-2.

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions. Click here for commentary on the weekend game action.

Game Preview: UND vs. Alaska-Anchorage

North Dakota’s power play is on fire, and that spells doom for the Seawolves this weekend.

UND comes into this weekend’s series riding a five-game winning streak. During that five game span, the Sioux have converted 39 percent (9 of 23) of power-play opportunities. Prior to their current winning streak, North Dakota’s success rate with the man advantage was 14.7 percent. For the season, Alaska-Anchorage has killed off less than 80 percent (87 of 109) of its shorthanded situations.

Special teams will definitely be a factor this weekend, as the two teams combine for over 34 penalty minutes per game (UND 19.43, UAA 15.18). The Seawolves have allowed 22 power play goals this season; the Sioux, 14.

Anchorage will need to strike quickly to stay in these games. For the season, North Dakota has outscored opponents 27-7 in the first period, and holds a record of 8-2-1 (.773) when scoring first. When opponents score first, North Dakota is 6-6-0 (.500).

Alaska-Anchorage Team Profile
National Rankings: -/-
Head Coach: Dave Shyiak (3rd season at UAA, 25-58-12, .326)
This Season: 6-10-6 Overall, 2-10-4 WCHA (10th)
Special Teams: Power Play 17.4% (16 of 92), Penalty Kill 79.8% (87 of 109)
Last Season: 13-21-3, 8-19-1 WCHA (10th)
Key Players: Sophomore F Kevin Clark (7-13-20), Sophomore F Paul Crowder (6-11-17), Sophomore F Josh Lunden (10-9-19), Junior D Mat Robinson (2-10-12), Sophomore G Jon Olthius (5-10-6, 3.11 GAA, .880 SV)

North Dakota Team Profile
National Rankings: #4/#4
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (4th season at UND, 92-53-12, .624)
This Season: 14-8-1 Overall, 11-7-0 WCHA (3rd)
Special Teams: Power Play 20.4% (20 of 98), Penalty Kill 87.6% (99 of 113)
Last Season: 24-14-5 (Frozen Four semifinalist), 13-10-5 WCHA (3rd)
Key Players: Junior F Ryan Duncan (10-13-23), Junior F T.J. Oshie (10-12-22), Sophomore F Chris VandeVelde (9-11-20), Senior D Robbie Bina (2-18-20), Junior D Taylor Chorney (2-16-18), Senior G Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (14-8-1, 1.87 GAA, .929 SV)

By The Numbers
Last Meeting: January 13, 2007 (Grand Forks, ND). The Fighting Sioux blank the Seawolves, 4-0, after skating to a 3-3 tie the previous night. A heated exchange during the pre-game warm-up carried over onto the ice, as North Dakota forward Rylan Kaip and Alaska-Anchorage captain Chad Anderson were ejected following their second-period fight. UND held UAA scoreless on 10 power-play opportunities for the weekend.
Most important meeting: March 19, 2004, St. Paul, MN (Final Five Semifinal). North Dakota defeats Alaska-Anchorage, 4-2, to advance to the championship game the following night. The Sioux outshoot the Seawolves, 45-24, and the two teams combine for 56 penalty minutes, 30 in the third period alone.
All-time: North Dakota leads the all-time series, 34-16-2 (.673).

Game News and Notes
UND has won at least one game on 21 consecutive regular-season weekends, tops among WCHA teams. UND senior netminder Jean-Phillippe Lamoureux has 92 career starts, and is now fourth all-time among Sioux goaltenders, behind only Toby Kvalevog (121 games played from 1993-97), Karl Goehring (118, 1997-2001), and Peter Waselovich (104, 1973-77). North Dakota forwards T.J. Oshie and Ryan Duncan are the top two active career point leaders in the WCHA. Oshie leads the way with 119 points in 108 career games, and Duncan is second with 116 points in 111 games. No other active WCHA player has more than 100 career points.

The Prediction
The Sioux are loaded with talent and hitting their stride. Barring a major letdown or a line brawl, North Dakota will pick up its second consecutive sweep this weekend and head to Mariucci riding a seven-game winning streak. UND 4-1, 4-2.

Thank you for reading. I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Game Preview: UND vs. MSU-Mankato

The second-half surge is upon us.

Looking at the 4-2-0 record that UND has posted in the past three weekends, the above point may be debatable. But watching the way this team has played in home series against New Hampshire and Michigan Tech and on the road at St. Cloud State, it is clear that the Sioux are poised and ready for another playoff run.

The second-half schedule is laid out nicely for North Dakota to hold on to a top-three spot in the conference, and perhaps push Denver for second place. Either way, UND is positioned nicely for the Final Five and an NCAA tournament run, thanks in no small part to their strength of schedule and non-conference record.

The Mavericks are the only WCHA team scoring under two goals per game in the conference, and that trend will continue against a much-improved defensive corps, one of the nation’s best goaltenders, and the country’s 5th best penalty kill.

MSU-Mankato Team Profile
National Rankings: #20/-
Head Coach: Troy Jutting (8th season at MSU-M, 117-137-38, .466)
This Season: 9-8-4 Overall, 3-7-4 WCHA (9th)
Specialty Teams: Power Play 10.8% (10 of 93), Penalty Kill 85.8% (97 of 113)
Last Season: 13-19-6, 10-13-5 WCHA (8th)
Key Players: Sophomore F Trevor Breuss (5-11-16), Senior F Joel Hanson (4-8-12), Junior F Mick Berge (10-2-12), Junior G Mike Zacharias (8-5-4, 1.94 GAA, .930 SV, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile
National Rankings: #6/#7
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (4th season at UND, 90-53-12, .619)
This Season: 12-8-1 Overall, 9-7-0 WCHA (3rd)
Specialty Teams: Power Play 17.4% (15 of 86), Penalty Kill 89.3% (92 of 103)
Last Season: 24-14-5 (Frozen Four semifinalist), 13-10-5 WCHA (3rd)
Key Players: Junior F Ryan Duncan (9-13-22), Junior F T.J. Oshie (10-10-20), Sophomore F Chris VandeVelde (8-11-19), Senior D Robbie Bina (1-17-18), Junior D Taylor Chorney (2-14-16), Senior G Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (12-8-1, 1.86 GAA, .929 SV)

By The Numbers
Last Meeting: March 10, 2007. (Grand Forks, ND) North Dakota defeats MSU-Mankato, 2-1, to complete a two-game sweep of the Mavericks in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs. The Sioux advance to the Final Five riding a 14-2-4 second-half record.
Last Meeting in Mankato: October 28, 2006. UND defeats the Mavs, 8-5, to complete a two game road sweep. North Dakota scored the only three goals of the third period for the victory.
All-time: UND leads the all-time series 26-9-7 (.702), including a 9-3-4 (.688) record in Mankato. Remarkably, 10 of the 42 games played between the two teams have come in the WCHA playoffs, with North Dakota winning eight of those ten games.

Game News and Notes
UND has won at least one game on 20 consecutive regular season weekends, tops among WCHA teams. The Mavericks have a six game home unbeaten streak (4-0-2). North Dakota is 5-0-1 in the last six games played at Mankato. UND senior netminder Jean-Phillippe Lamoureux has 90 career starts for North Dakota, and is tied with Scott Brower (1984-88) for fourth all-time among Sioux goaltenders. North Dakota forwards T.J. Oshie and Ryan Duncan are the top two active career point leaders in the WCHA. Oshie leads the way with 117 points in 107 career games, and Duncan is second with 115 points in 110 games. No other active WCHA player has more than 100 career points.

The Prediction
UND has the advantage in every category and every area of the ice. The only thing weighing against a North Dakota sweep is that Mankato has been playing well at home and the Sioux have not won a Friday road game. I think UND takes a small step in the right direction, and gains three points on the weekend. 2-2 tie, UND 3-0.

Thank you for reading. As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.