Weekend Preview: UND vs. Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Badgers played in the national title game two seasons ago but missed the NCAA tournament last year. UW also fell to 7th in the WCHA after finishing in second place in 2009-10. For Mike Eaves’ squad, the single biggest problem has been early departures. The Badgers have had seven players (forwards Derek Stepan, Jordy Murray, and Craig Smith; and defensemen Cody Goloubef, Brendan Smith, Ryan McDonagh, and Jake Gardiner) give up college eligibility over the last two years.

North Dakota was hit harder than normal during the offseason as well. Sioux forwards Jason Gregoire and Brett Hextall left school early to play professional hockey, and their departures, coupled with a graduated class of seven high end players, left holes up and down the UND lineup. Injuries, particularly up front, have forced the Green and White to play without a full lineup for much of January.

Both of these schools have played well in their last ten games: Wisconsin has gone 7-2-1, while North Dakota is 6-3-1 over that same span. The teams boast similar top lines, with UND having a slight edge in combined power play and penalty kill proficiency.

This series comes down to venue, and which team has home ice. The Badgers have won only won game on the road this season (at MSU-Mankato), while North Dakota is 9-4-2 at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Down the stretch, both teams will struggle to gain home ice for the first round of the playoffs. After this weekend, UW hosts St. Cloud and Denver and travels to Bemidji and Minnesota. UND will host Michigan Tech and Mankato and travel to Duluth and Denver to close out the regular season. It is becoming more and more apparent that North Dakota will have to win at least seven of its last ten WCHA contests to be in position for an NCAA tournament berth in March.

Wisconsin Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Eaves (10th season at UW, 204-148-44, .571)
Pairwise Ranking: 23rd
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 12-10-2 overall, 7-9-2 WCHA (9th)
Last Season: 21-16-4 overall, 12-13-3 WCHA (7th)

Team Offense: 3.17 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.83 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.6% (25 of 116)
Penalty Kill: 76.3% (74 of 97)

Key Players: Sophomore F Mark Zengerle (10-28-38), Sophomore F Tyler Barnes (8-12-20), Freshman F Joseph LaBate (5-13-18), Junior D Justin Schultz (12-25-37), Sophomore D Frankie Simonelli (3-9-12), Freshman G Joel Rumpel (9-5-2, 2.54 GAA, .920 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (8th season at UND, 200-103-29, .646)
Pairwise Ranking: 19th
National Rankings: #18/NR
This Season: 13-10-2 overall, 9-9-0 WCHA (6th)
Last Season: 32-9-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four semifinalist), 21-6-1 WCHA (1st)

Team Offense: 2.92 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.80 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.5% (24 of 117)
Penalty Kill: 83.7% (87 of 104)

Key Players: Junior F Danny Kristo (12-15-27) Junior F Corban Knight (8-16-24), Sophomore F Brock Nelson (17-10-27), Freshman D Nick Mattson (5-8-13), Senior D Ben Blood (2-9-11), Junior G Aaron Dell (10-8-2, 2.80 GAA, .895 SV%, 1 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: October 22, 2011 (Madison, WI). North Dakota outshot the Badgers 42-15 but couldn’t solve goaltender Joel Rumpel often enough, falling 5-4 to homestanding Wisconsin. UW won the opener, 5-3.

Last Meeting in Grand Forks: December 12, 2009. Wisconsin scored three power play goals and downed North Dakota 4-3 to take three points on the weekend. The teams battled to a 3-3 draw on Friday night. UND had almost 90 seconds of 5 on 3 power play time in the first period and peppered netminder Scott Gudmandson with eight shots on goal but couldn’t get one to go.

Last Ten: The Badgers have had the better of it in recent history, going 6-3-1 (.650) over the last ten tilts.

Most Important Meeting: March 27, 1982. A 2-2 tie after two periods turns into a 5-2 Sioux victory, as Phil Sykes nets a hat trick and leads UND to its fourth National Championship.

All-time Series: Wisconsin leads the all-time series, 86-62-11 (.575), and holds a 36-30-8 (.541) edge in games played in Grand Forks.

Game News and Notes

Both head coaches in this weekend’s series notched their 200th career win this season. Wisconsin has two players (forward Mark Zengerle and defenseman Justin Schultz) in the top five of the national scoring race. Over the last twelve games, UND netminders Aaron Dell and Brad Eidsness have combined for an 8-3-1 record, a goals-against average of 2.23, and a save percentage of .917.

The Prediction

This feels like the weekend where UND stops splitting and starts sweeping. It won’t be easy, but North Dakota’s penalty kill will be big both nights. UND 4-2, 4-3.

Icebreaker Preview: UND vs. Air Force

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.

REA to cut beer sizes and raise prices for 2010-11 season

A Ralph Engelstad Arena official, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed that another beverage size and price adjustment was in the works for next season. The two tap beer sizes will change to 12 ounces and 8 ounces, with a price tag of 12 dollars and 8 dollars, respectively. “We’re not giving anyone a discount for drinking more beer,” he said. “It’ll be a buck an ounce, plain and simple.”

Sioux/Gopher Week

Do you remember….

Thomas Vanek over Zach Parise for WCHA Rookie of the Year

Robbie Bina’s 180 foot goal

Neal Broten’s sprawling goal in the ’79 title game and Blake Wheeler’s Neal Broten impression for the overtime winner at the Final Five

Chris Porter’s overtime winner at the 2007 West Regional

Joe Finley attempting to pull Blake Wheeler out of the handshake line

Evan Trupp’s dramatic mid-air overtime winner at Mariucci

Former coaches Dean Blais and Doug Woog playing bubble hockey to open a series in Grand Forks

The scrums and scraps and cheap shots (both ways), Judy’s and Blarney’s, Dave Hakstol’s favorite finger, and a host of other memories add up to this: two great programs, two great traditions, and two great games coming up this weekend.

I’d like to hear what you remember. What are your favorite memories and traditions from Sioux/Gopher week? Which games stand out to you? Which games would you like to forget? Feel free to add your comments here as we count down the days to Sioux/Gopher hockey.

Check back on Thursday for a complete preview of this weekend’s series.

WCHA 2009-10 Season Preview Part Two: The Middle Of The Pack

In this installment of my WCHA season preview, I will predict how the teams in the middle of the pack will fare this year. The teams in this bunch are very tight, and all four of these programs could finish in the top half of the league.

Here’s a reminder of how the teams finished last season:

WCHA 2008-09 Final Standings

Team Record Points
North Dakota 17-7-4 38
Denver 16-8-4 36
Wisconsin 14-11-3 31
Colorado College 12-9-7 31
Minnesota 12-11-5 29
St. Cloud 13-13-2 28
Minnesota-Duluth 10-11-7 27
MSU-Mankato 11-13-4 26
Alaska-Anchorage 9-14-5 23
Michigan Tech 2-19-7 11

In part one of my preview, I made the following predictions for the bottom of the league standings. For a complete season outlook for these three teams, click here.

#10: Michigan Tech University Huskies
#9: University of Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves
#8 Colorado College Tigers

And now, the middle four:

#7 University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs
Last year’s record: 22-13-8 overall, 10-11-7 WCHA (7th)
Last year’s statistics: 2.79 goals scored/game (8th), 2.57 goals allowed/game (2nd)
Key returning players: Junior F Justin Fontaine (15-33-48), Sophomore F Mike Connolly (13-29-42), Sophomore F Jack Connolly (10-19-29)
Early departures: D Evan Oberg (7-20-27), G Alex Stalock (21-13-8, 2.13 GAA, .924 SV%, 5 SO)
Key graduation losses: F MacGregor Sharp (26-24-50), D Josh Meyers (10-18-28)
The question marks: How will goaltender Brady Hjelle (two games of collegiate experience) handle the load for the Bulldogs after Stalock bolted for the pros?
The bottom line: Duluth will score in bunches this season, but their opponents will, too. The WCHA is not kind to freshman defensemen, but Dylan Olsen and Dan DeLisle will have to hold their own for UMD to secure home ice.

#6 Minnesota State University-Mankato Mavericks

Last year’s record: 15-17-6 overall, 11-13-4 WCHA (8th)
Last year’s statistics: 3.14 goals scored/game (4th), 3.21 goals allowed/game (8th)
Key returning players: Senior F Kael Mouillierat (17-13-30), Senior F Geoff Irwin (12-16-28), Junior Rylan Galiardi (8-20-28), Junior D Kurt Davis (6-25-31)
Early departure: F Trevor Breuss (12-5-17)
Key graduation losses: F Mick Berge (7-24-31), G Mike Zacharias (14-14-6, 2.99 GAA, .911 SV%)
The question marks: I could easily copy the question marks and bottom line from the Bulldogs (above), since the two programs will face similar tests this season. But I’ll come up with something else: How does head coach Troy Jutting get a four-year contract extension after only one winning season in his past six?
The bottom line: With a hot goaltender emerging from the mix (sophomore Austin Lee and freshmen Kevin Murdock and Phil Cook), the Mavs could contend for home ice.

#5 St. Cloud State University Huskies
Last year’s record: 18-17-3 overall, 13-13-2 WCHA (6th)
Last year’s statistics: 2.96 goals scored/game (6th), 2.89 goals allowed/game (5th)
Key returning players: Junior F Garrett Roe (17-31-48), Senior F Ryan Lasch (18-24-42), Junior F Aaron Marvin (10-17-27), Senior D Garrett Raboin (10-23-33)
Early departure: G Jase Weslosky (16-13-2, 2.70 GAA, .913 SV%, 2 SO)
Key graduation loss: F John Swanson (9-17-26)
The question marks: Will highly touted freshman goaltender Mike Lee win the job over Dan Dunn? Can the Huskies beat the Gophers this season after losing all six contests last year?
The bottom line: This is a team with talent all over the ice. The Huskies could very well be a top three team at season’s end.

#4 University of Wisconsin Badgers
Last year’s record: 20-16-4 overall, 14-11-3 WCHA (3rd)
Last year’s statistics: 3.29 goals scored/game (3rd), 2.79 goals allowed/game (4th)
Key returning players: Sophomore F Derek Stepan (9-24-33), Senior F Blake Geoffrion (15-13-28), Senior F John Mitchell (15-11-26)
Early departure: D Jamie McBain (7-30-37)
Key graduation losses: F Tom Gorowsky (12-18-30), G Shane Connelly (19-14-4, 2.51 GAA, .913 SV%, 3 SO)
The question marks: Will transfer Brett Bennett (from Boston University) work out between the pipes after sitting out last season?
The bottom line: The Badgers are talented and experienced. As with so many teams in the league, it comes down to goaltending. If Bennett works out or Scott Gudmandson is capable enough, Bucky could be hoisting the MacNaughton Cup in March.

Check back later this week for part three of my WCHA season preview, in which I predict how the top three teams will finish in the WCHA this year. As always, I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.

Weekend Preview: UND vs. St. Cloud State

The last time these teams played, St. Cloud State sat in 7th place in the conference while UND found itself in 9th.

Seven weeks later, the Huskies are still sitting in seventh, while North Dakota has surged to 2nd place.

Since being swept at North Dakota, SCSU has picked up just three victories and two ties. The Fighting Sioux have lost just twice in December and January (10-2-2) and are right in the middle of the race for the McNaughton Cup.

North Dakota has been getting great goaltending and balanced scoring for the better part of two months, while St. Cloud has been up and down. Over the past three weekends, the Huskies swept Duluth at home, suffered two losses against Minnesota, and took three of four points from the Tigers in Colorado Springs.

Garrett Roe (12 goals and 24 assists for 36 points) and Lasch (11-19-30) continue to lead the way for St. Cloud State. The Huskies continue to thrive on the power play (18.1%) but have struggled in close contests (1-5-0 in one goal games this season).

This weekend, the teams will be earning points for the UND/SCSU Challenge Cup. North Dakota swept two games from St. Cloud in Grand Forks, so the Huskies will need to win both games this weekend to share the trophy for the second consecutive year.

St. Cloud State Team Profile

Head Coach: Bob Motzko (4th season at SCSU, 76-54-18, .574)
This Season: 13-11-2 Overall, 8-9-1 WCHA (7th)
National Rankings: NR/NR
PairWise Ranking: 19th
Team Offense: 3.69 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.92 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.1% (30 of 166)
Penalty Kill: 79.8% (103 of 129)
Last Season: 19-16-5 Overall (NCAA East Regional Semifinalist), 12-12-4 WCHA (4th)
Key Players: Sophomore F Garrett Roe (12-24-36), Senior F John Swanson (8-15-23), Junior F Ryan Lasch (11-19-30), Junior D Garrett Raboin (8-16-24), Junior G Jase Weslosky (11-7-1, 2.87 GAA, .912 SV, 1 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (5th season at UND, 121-66-18, .634)
This Season: 15-10-3 Overall, 10-5-3 WCHA (2nd)
National Ranking: #12/#12
PairWise Ranking: 14th
Team Offense: 3.57 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.75 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.3% (37 of 192)
Penalty Kill: 84.4% (124 of 147)
Last Season: 28-11-4 Overall (NCAA Frozen Four semifinalist), 18-7-3 WCHA (2nd)
Key Players: Senior F Ryan Duncan (11-11-22), Junior F Chris VandeVelde (9-12-21), Senior F/D Brad Miller (4-19-23), Sophomore F Matt Frattin (12-7-19), Junior D Chay Genoway (2-23-25), Freshman G Brad Eidsness (15-7-3, 2.50 GAA, .910 SV)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: December 13, 2008 (Grand Forks, ND). Brett Hextall scored the game-winner with five seconds remaining in the second period as North Dakota defeated St. Cloud 7-4. UND won the opener, 3-2.

Last Meeting in St. Cloud: January 5, 2008. Ryan Duncan led the Fighting Sioux with two goals and an assist as UND downed the Huskies 6-2 to gain a split of the weekend series.

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.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 49-26-10 (.635), and holds a record of 19-14-5 (.566) in games played in St. Cloud.

Game News and Notes

UND freshman goaltender Brad Eidsness has appeared in 25 consecutive games (including 24 starts). The last freshman netminder to appear in a longer stretch of games was Peter Waselovich, who played in a school-record 32 straight games during UND’s 1973-74 season. North Dakota senior forward Ryan Duncan moved into the top 20 on UND’s career scoring list with a three point weekend against Denver. Duncan has notched 155 points in his Sioux career. St. Cloud holds a sparkling 10-3-0 record in home games.

The Prediction

This series has split written all over it. North Dakota will continue its solid play on Friday night, but the Huskies will not lose all four games in this season series. UND 5-3, SCSU 4-2.

On a Personal Note

The St. Cloud State University Center Ice Club will be hosting a pre-game social this Saturday, January 31st from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the St. Cloud Holiday Inn and Suites (Legends Bar). The Holiday Inn is located at the intersection of Highway 15 and Division Street (Highway 23).

They will provide food, prizes, and tremendous hospitality to fans of both teams. I encourage you to attend the social, take a look at the Challenge Cup, and meet some great fans on both sides of this hockey rivalry.

This event is free and open to all fans 21 and older.

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

Summer happenings in UND athletics

Though summer is always a slow time for college athletics, it’s been a busy time for the University of North Dakota as it undergoes numerous transitions. For those who haven’t been paying attention to UND athletics, like me, here’s a handy pocket guide to what’s been happening!

UND joins new D-I all-sports conference — Great West Conference
Scheduling is usually one of the most difficult parts of a transition to D-I, as the in-transition school doesn’t count as a D-I game for opponents. Securing a conference affiliation, before beginning its first day of D-I competition, is a tremendous achievement for UND and will be a boon to scheduling.

The Great West Conference’s core membership includes North Dakota, South Dakota, and four additional institutions that were not part of the Great West Football Conference. The remaining members of the former Great West Football Conference will remain football-only members of the new Great West Conference.

Great West Conference

All sports members:

  • Houston Baptist
  • Texas Pan-American
  • NJIT
  • Utah Valley University
  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota

Great West Football only members:

  • Cal Poly
  • Southern Utah University
  • UC Davis

However, fans shouldn’t confuse this with being accepted to an established conference. As a new conference, the Great West won’t have autobids to the big tournaments, so stability could be low as its members continue to evaluate and seek options that include autobids.

(forum discussion)

Football moves
UND football took a blow when Chappell was declared ineligible (forum discussion) and Stroup was dismissed from the team (forum discussion).

Hockey news
UND had the best hockey attendance in the nation, Chorney signed with the Oilers, and the official 2008-09 schedule was released.

Changes in leadership

  • President Kupchella retried on July 1 and President Kelley began (forum discussion)
  • Brian Faison began as Athletics Director

For Your Consideration: The Emeralds

Introducing The University of North Dakota Emeralds. The Emeralds. The UND Emeralds.

Let me be clear about something. I believe discussions and conversations about the Fighting Sioux nickname should continue between UND and leaders of the namesake tribes, but I also feel that it is wise to explore other possibilities, in the interest of generating public support for one or more new nickname ideas.

It is in that context that I offer for your consideration The Emeralds.

Any new name must pass muster in a number of different areas to make a final list. The guidelines which follow come directly from the task force charged with finding a new nickname at Arkansas State University. I’m not suggesting that the University of North Dakota will work under the same exact framework, but at this stage guidelines such as these will inform and direct our discussion.

The name selected must not conflict with the school colors.
This name fares very strongly here. The Emerald name would enhance the strong connection between UND and the color green.

The name selected must be suitable for use with both men’s and women’s teams (non-gender specific).
Check.

The name selected should not be one that invites derision, humor or double meaning.
Aside from the fact that emeralds are considered brittle, I couldn’t think of anything else to include here.

The name selected should be one that will stand the test of time.
As the 55th anniversary theme, I think it’s safe to say that emeralds are a symbol of longevity.

The name selected should be one that suggests pride, courage and a strong competitive spirit and one that inspires the creation of effective imagery and logos for use in promotion and marketing efforts.
I’m not sure about pride, courage, and competitive spirit. An emerald is typically something one would be proud to own or wear. Admittedly, the name Emeralds does not fare well on this particular issue.

In terms of effective imagery and logos, I feel it passes the test. The emerald can be effectively combined with the existing crossed “ND” logo or on its own as a primary or secondary logo . The marketing possibilities are nearly endless. The club sections can be the Emerald Isle, we could call Grand Forks (unofficially) the Emerald City, and fans 55 and older could belong to the Emerald Club.

The name selected will be distinctive and, if possible, unique to our conference, region and nation.
Distinctive, yes. It immediately evokes the color green, which many would argue must remain in any new nickname and logo design. It doesn’t make one think of North Dakota, but it is unique to our conference and region. There is an Emerald Bowl in the BCS (formerly 1-A),  but I found no collegiate or professional team with the “Emerald” nickname.

I recognize that no one name will resonate with all interested parties, and I expect that this idea will be no different. Please feel free to comment, dissect, offer alternatives, or avoid the discussion altogether. It’s up to you.