Opinion corner: UND, U should play yearlyLast week, I addressed the UND-Minnesota rivalry and Gopher coach Don Lucia’s apparent desire to avoid playing North Dakota.
By: Mark Schuttenhelm For The Sun, The Jamestown Sun
Last week, I addressed the UND-Minnesota rivalry and Gopher coach Don Lucia’s apparent desire to avoid playing North Dakota.
Lucia has been taking so much heat on this issue, he decided to come out and address the situation on his weekly radio show. Lucia again blamed the whole situation on the Fighting Sioux nickname, saying that Minnesota was not willing to wait for the nickname issue to be resolved to fill out their nonconference schedule, and according to University policy, could not schedule a team with an American Indian nickname. Fair enough. But Lucia’s most recent proposal, made just 2 weeks ago, called for the teams to play each other for 2 years, take 2 years off, and repeat the 2-on, 2-off cycle. This would start with the 2016-17 season. So even if you take Lucia at his word on the nickname thing, his own proposal still makes it clear he doesn’t wish to play UND every year.
Another aspect of this I found interesting were the comments made by many Gopher fans, that UND, for recruiting purposes, “needs’” the yearly match-up with Minnesota, while Minnesota has no such need. Now c’mon Gopher fans, I know you want to stand up for your guy behind the bench, but you have to come up with something more substantial than that. But let’s consider that allegation.
With seven national championships and a long tradition of excellence, the North Dakota hockey program is one of the most prestigious in the history of Division I hockey. In the last eight years alone, under coach Dave Hakstol, UND has made eight NCAA tournament appearances, five trips to the Frozen Four, and has four WCHA Final Five championships under its belt.
As of last year, some 50 products of UND’s program were playing professional hockey, 17 of them in the NHL.
Next year UND is moving to the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference, an 8-team “super conference.” Six of the teams heading to the NCHC (UND, Miami, WMU, Denver, Nebraska-Omaha, St Cloud State) are ranked 14th or better in this week’s USCHO national poll. Minnesota-Duluth won the national championship two years ago, and Colorado College is an elite program in its own right. There should be no weak links in the NCHC. And let’s not forget the most dedicated fan base in college hockey, 11,000-plus strong for every home game. Throw in the Ralph, the finest pro-style facility in college hockey, and you have quite an attractive package.
With all this laid out on the table in front of a potential recruit, I refuse to believe the lack of two games with Minnesota would be a deal-breaker for a young player seeking an excellent education and the chance to further his hockey career. On the other hand, the Gophers are heading to the Big Ten hockey conference, which I’m sure was envisioned as a super conference by the big shots that came up with the idea. But as it stands right now, it would be a pretty weak league.
Michigan and Michigan State are dead last in the CCHA, well under .500, while Ohio State and Penn State are more respectable, but still with losing records. We know Wisconsin and Minnesota are enjoying fine seasons. Still, you could make the case that Minnesota needs the games with UND to beef up its nonconference schedule, which would help its standing in the PairWise rankings. The bottom line on this is pretty simple: The UND-Minnesota rivalry, just like Boston College-Boston University and Michigan-Michigan State, is great for college hockey, the schools involved, and the fans. It should be continued on a yearly basis.
The Gophers certainly deserve credit for their play this weekend. I was carefully watching both UND and Minnesota last Friday for signs of a letdown coming off that big showdown. It is true Minnesota lost 2-1 at home to Minnesota State on Friday, but that was primarily due to the great play of Stephon Williams in goal for State. From the first drop of the puck, the Gophers played hard, skated hard, and competed hard … all the things that UND failed to do in its pathetic 3-1 loss to St. Cloud State on Friday.
I can’t sugar coat such a lackluster effort. Coach Hakstol nearly had steam coming out of his ears in the post-game press conference, and rightly so. With only 12 games left, it’s inexcusable for a team to come out and play with such a lack of intensity. UND was outshot 33-16, managing only eight shots on goal for the first two periods combined. Zane Gothberg got the call in goal, coming off a solid performance in the 4-4 tie with Minnesota. But he allowed a weak goal four minutes into the game, setting the stage for North Dakota’s poor night.
The goaltending situation has been inconsistent in recent weeks, with both goalies allowing the occasional weak goal. UND needs a goalie it can throw in there, and with 90-plus certainty, know he’s going to make all the saves he should, and even a few that he shouldn’t. Right now, it doesn’t have that. The lowlights included the end of Corban Knights’ 19-game point streak. In fact, it was the first game this season in which an opponent held both Knight and Danny Kristo without a point.
A few weeks ago the athletic department at UND issued media credentials to your humble columnist, and Saturday was my first trip up to Grand Forks since. Taking in my first game from the press box at the Ralph was an honor. The information that comes your way up there is invaluable … game notes, lineups, summaries after every period, faceoffs won, shot charts, etc. There was enough to keep a stat junkie like me completely satisfied.
On the ice, North Dakota needed to forget about Friday’s debacle and come out hard, which is exactly what they did. UND outplayed, outworked and outshot St. Cloud by a 36-18 margin, doing exactly what needed to be done. The only problem was Ryan Faragher, St. Cloud’s goalie, came up with yet another outstanding performance against UND, the result being a 2-2 tie. St. Cloud captain Ben Hanowski absolutely killed UND with three goals in the series. UND is now winless in its last 4 with red hot (10-1-3 in their last 14) Wisconsin coming in this weekend. One lineup note … on Saturday, Rocco Grimaldi skated on the No. 1 line with Knight and Kristo, as coach Hakstol continues to tweak his line combinations.
Around the WCHA
Minnesota came back on Saturday, beating Minnesota State down at Mankato to gain a split, while Nebraska-Omaha took a pair at Bemidji. UNO is 4-1-1 in its last six. Wisconsin continued its fine play by taking 2 at home vs. Alaska-Anchorage.
Hockey East Report
No. 3 New Hampshire split a home/home series with Merrimack. A reeling Boston College team was swept at home by Maine. BC has now lost 4-of-5. Boston University grabbed a win and tie vs. Providence, as did UMass Lowell vs. Northeastern.
Don’t look now but Alaska, now 12-8-4 and winners of six straight, swept Northern Michigan up in Fairbanks. Miami cooled off a hot Bowling Green squad by taking a pair at home. Notre Dame split a pair with Ferris State. The Irish are 1-5 in their last 6. Western Michigan took two from hapless Michigan.
Quinnipiac continues to hold the number one spot in both the PairWise and KRACH rankings with a win over Connecticut early in the week. Yale had a big overtime win over Cornell on national TV Friday, but then had its 5 game winning streak snapped by Colgate on Saturday.
Look at the polls
Upside movers in this week’s poll include St. Cloud State and WMU. Dartmouth drops four spots. Alaska joins the poll this week, replacing Cornell. In addition to the two subjective polls we use, the USCHO, which I generally refer to, and the USA Today, we also have two objective, numbers-based ranking systems used in college hockey. The PairWise rankings, which are used by the NCAA selection committee to fill out the tournament field, and the KRACH rankings. Both systems currently have Quinnipiac ranked first, Minnesota second and New Hampshire third. UND is now ranked 10th in both the PairWise and KRACH.
Finally, my Frozen Dozen for this week. 1) Quinnipiac, 2) Minnesota, 3) New Hampshire, 4) Miami, 5) Boston College, 6) UMass Lowell, 7) Yale, 8) St. Cloud State, 9) Denver, 10) Boston University, 11) North Dakota, 12) Western Michigan.
Mark Schuttenhelm’s column on college hockey runs each Thursday in the Sun