Opinion Corner: Gopher, UNDThere’s been no shortage of commentary about the North Dakota-Minnesota hockey rivalry in the past week. By now, even a casual fan of college hockey knows the story.
By: Mark Schuttenhelm: Sun Contributer, The Jamestown Sun
There’s been no shortage of commentary about the North Dakota-Minnesota hockey rivalry in the past week. By now, even a casual fan of college hockey knows the story.
One of the greatest rivalries of college sports is coming to an end. Both teams are leaving the WCHA after this season, going their separate ways. No non-conference games have been scheduled between the two for at least the next few years, so barring a get together in this year’s WCHA Final Five or a meeting at the NCAA Tournament, this is the end of the road for UND-Gopher hockey, at least for now.
But one fact has been ignored in all the coverage. Why haven’t these teams scheduled each other for the next few years? The press coverage makes it sound like some mysterious force is keeping these two from getting together. Well, the simple fact is this. The one person primarily responsible for this travesty is none other than Gophers coach Don Lucia.
“The Don,” as his minions on Fox Sports North like to call him, appear to be avoiding North Dakota. You can’t blame UND coach Dave Hakstol. He has battled hard to preserve the tradition. Hakstol’s suggestion of a yearly home and home series has fallen on deaf ears. And Lucia has plenty of excuses. First, he said the rivalry was overheated, that it needed to cool down. Then he said it was Minnesota’s policy against playing schools with American Indian nicknames standing in the way. Never mind that Wisconsin has the same policy, and scheduled UND for the next four years as soon as the Fighting Sioux nickname went away.
Even the Godfather of Minnesota hockey, Lou Nanne, is urging the University of Minnesota to find a way to play UND every year. Making this even more preposterous is the fact the Minnesota is heading to a 6-team conference, the Big Ten. The teams are going to play a rather miniscule 20-game conference schedule. That leaves at least 14 games available for non-conference play. Is it somehow possible that Minnesota could not fit UND into that gaping 14-game space in their schedule? What is going on here? What is coach Lucia up to?
I’ve taken some shots at the Gophers this year for the weak schedule they’re playing, not only because it’s factually correct, but also because nobody else seems to want to bring it up. Do you think the lackeys on Fox SportsNorth or the Big Ten Network are going to talk about it? Not likely. And I urge you skeptics out there to check the schedule. Not content with simply playing a weak non-conference slate, Minnesota also managed to get their toughest games (Denver, UND, Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, Boston College, Notre Dame) on home ice this season, while their road schedule is filled with the Michigan Techs and the Vermonts of the world. It’s a ‘stacked’ schedule if I’ve ever seen one.
Is Lucia happy to avoid a tough home and home with UND? Is it possible Lucia is content to continue padding Minnesota’s win-loss record with a weak schedule? Why wouldn’t he? He doesn’t seem to take any heat for it. It’s a question that needs to be asked.
Considering that some fans paid as much as $400 per ticket this weekend, I’m not sure they got their money’s worth, on Friday at least. But Saturday’s game certainly more than made up for it. Of the 50-60 games I’ve seen this season, Saturday’s 4-4 tie was one of the best, in terms of intensity and pace of play.
Despite the 5-1 final score, Friday’s match was pretty evenly played. UND went out and played a good road game, keeping the wild crowd quiet for the better part of two periods. Obviously, the Gopher goal with 5 seconds left in the second period, making it 2-1, was a backbreaker. I thought the Gophers excelled in two areas.
One, they took better advantage of their scoring opportunities, and two, Adam Wilcox outplayed UND goalie Clarke Saunders. Was No. 2 the reason for No. 1? Yes. As a result, Zane Gothberg got the nod in goal for Saturday’s game. Goals by Kristo, Knight, Grimaldi, and Caggiula vaulted UND to a 4-2 lead with 13 minutes left, but North Dakota could not hold it. I do think Gothberg came up real big in goal, and I expect both goalies will be splitting the work in the upcoming weeks.
UND could have crumbled after Minnesota tied it with 3 minutes left, but the boys in black really toughed it out, actually getting the better of the play for the final 8 minutes, including the OT. When you consider North Dakota clanked two off the post in OT, they were an inch or so away from leaving Minneapolis with a split. Not a bad weekend, as I saw it. Saturday was also Hockey Day Minnesota. In Grand Rapids, top notch high school teams played outside in single digit temps with a 30-mph wind, while 4,000-plus dedicated hockey fans did their best to stay warm. Couple that with UND-Minnesota hockey and the return of the NHL, and it doesn’t get any better for lovers of this great game.
Around the WCHA
St. Cloud State got back on track with a huge sweep at home vs. Denver. Minnesota State grabbed 3 out of a possible 4 points at Alaska-Anchorage. Same goes for Michigan Tech at home vs. Bemidji State. Minnesota-Duluth and Colorado College split a pair out west. Wisconsin went toe to toe with top 10 Miami, splitting a pair of one goal games in Madison. The loss on Saturday broke the Badgers 11-game unbeaten streak.
Here’s a look at the top scoring duos in the WCHA. UND’s Corban Knight & Danny Kristo lead the way with 64 points combined. Colorado College pair Rylan Schwartz & William Rapuzzi have put up 63, while Nebraska-Omaha’s Ryan Walters & Josh Archibald have combined for 59.
UND will visit Omaha in early February. Pesky Kyle Rau of Minnesota leads the WCHA with 5-game winning goals. Nate Schmidt of the Gophers leads defensemen with 23 points, nearly a point a game. Three goalies in the league really stand out. Freshman Adam Wilcox of Minnesota has a 1.72 GAA /.923 save percentage. Also a freshman, Stephon Williams of Minnesota State comes in with 1.80 /.925, and Joel Rumpel of Wisconsin is right behind at 1.83/.933.
WCHA Power Rankings
1) Minnesota, 17-3-4, Strength of Schedule (SOS) minus-2.5. 2) UND, 13-7-4, SOS plus-5.5. 3) Denver, 13-8-4, SOS plus-5. 4) St. Cloud State, 14-10-0, SOS plus-5. 5) Minnesota State, 15-8-3, SOS minus-7.5. 6) Nebraska-Omaha, 13-9-2, SOS plus-.5. 7) Wisconsin, 9-8-5, SOS minus-1. 8) Colorado College, 10-14-2, SOS plus-5.5. 9) Minnesota Duluth, 10-11-3, SOS minus-4. 10) Michigan Tech, 7-12-4, SOS minus-3. 11) Bemidji State, 5-12-5, SOS minus-3. 12) Alaska-Anchorage, 3-14-5, SOS 0.
Around the Nation
There was a lot of carnage around the country last week, especially among the top 10 teams. New Hampshire, Notre Dame, UND, Denver, and Boston University were all winless, while 1-1 was the best Boston College, Miami, WMU, and Dartmouth could do. The only teams making any progress in the standings were Minnesota, Yale, and red hot UMass Lowell.
There are a few teams in the CCHA making moves that bear watching. Ferris State is 5-1 in their last six, Alaska is unbeaten in five, Northern Michigan is 5-0-1 in their last six, Lake Superior State is 6-2-1 in their last nine, and surprising Bowling Green is 5-1-1 in their last seven. Meanwhile, things are bleak in Ann Arbor. At 8-14-2, it’s likely the proud Michigan program will miss the NCAA Tournament after 22 straight appearances.
Big movers to the upside in this week’s national poll include Yale, UMass Lowell, and St. Cloud State. The split with Miami propels Wisconsin into the top 20, replacing Colgate.
Finally, my Frozen Dozen for this week. 1) Quinnipiac, 2) Minnesota, 3) New Hampshire, 4) Boston College, 5) North Dakota, 6) Yale, 7) Denver, 8) UMass Lowell, 9) Miami, 10) Notre Dame, 11) Boston University, 12) Dartmouth.
Mark Schuttenhelm’s column on college hockey runs each Thursday in the Sun