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Success near and far

Fans of the North Dakota hockey program had a pretty good weekend.

At the Olympics, former UND standout T.J. Oshie took the spotlight and led Team USA to a shootout victory over Russia. Meanwhile, the Lamoureux twins are getting some well-deserved attention on the women’s side over in Sochi.

In addition to that, thousands of UND fans got a chance to ogle the Penrose Cup, which will go to the NCHC regular season champion and was on display for all to see at the Ralph. And of course, a 3-2 UND win on Friday followed by a 9-2 blowout on Saturday. Last week I called this series a “must sweep” for UND. Truth is, this Miami team is in such disarray right now, anything short of a sweep by North Dakota would have been a big disappointment.

UND fans were greeted by a few surprise line-up changes this weekend. The hard working Pattyn-Gaarder-Rodwell line was split up, as Pattyn was moved up to the Grimaldi-Johnson line, trading places with Brendan O’Donnell. In addition, Gage Ausmus was moved up from the blue line and played left wing on the fourth line with Bryn Chyzyk and Colten St. Clair. Clarke Saunders again got the start in goal, but Zane Gothberg was dressed for the first time since Jan. 18.

Mark MacMillan exploited Miami goalie Jay Williams twice in a 1 1/2-minute stretch of period one, first stealing the puck from the goalie and feeding a wide open Michael Parks in the slot, then scoring a power play goal himself on a wrist shot from the faceoff circle. It was UND’s first power play goal since Jan. 24 at Denver, and chased Williams in favor of Ryan McKay.

MacMillan scored another in the second period when he picked the pocket of a Miami defenseman and slammed the puck past McKay. Are we seeing a pattern here? Yes, the Miami defensive play and goaltending were pathetic. In spite of that, Miami managed to keep this one close, and it did take some good goaltending by Saunders to keep UND out front, as Miami outshot UND 11-4 in the third period and 33-30 for the game.

After the game, coach Dave Hakstol explained the line changes, saying “we have to continue to try to improve our team, that’s why you saw some of the lineup changes.” When asked about the struggling power play, Hakstol got a bit defensive, coming back with “you guys are making a big deal of it, not me. We had a bad weekend last weekend, that’s all.” Mark MacMillan commented on the team’s effort, saying “guys were ready to go, it was a good response after a not so good response on Saturday last weekend against Omaha.”

The only lineup change for Saturday was Zane Gothberg’s return in the net. The game was a good old fashioned blow out. The bizarre first period included an early goal disallowed when Mark MacMillan was penalized for elbowing the goalie after scoring on a breakaway, multiple official reviews, and four goals scored by UND (most in a period this season). The goals just kept coming for UND in the second, and it became apparent pretty quickly that the Miami team was counting the minutes until the final horn. Nick Mattson and Rocco Grimaldi were the offensive stars for UND, but it was a team effort, as 14 players scored at least a point for the green and white. In addition, UND blocked 18 shots, led by Jordan Schmaltz with five and Mattson with three.

After the game, Hakstol commented on the Olympics, saying “obviously, the representation we have at the Olympics with T.J. (Oshie), Zach (Parise), and Jonathan (Toews), there’s a lot of pride in that for our guys in the room.” Nick Mattson talked about the importance of every game going down the stretch when he said, “it’s that time of year, it’s put up or shut up time.”

Looking at some stats for the weekend, UND was 3-for-11 with the man advantage, while the penalty kill was just 4-of-6. North Dakota blocked a lot of shots, led by Schmaltz with eight and Dillon Simpson with seven. Scoring for the series was lead by Mark MacMillan with 2 goals/3 assists, Michael Parks and Rocco Grimaldi, each with 1 goal/3 assists, and defenseman Nick Mattson with two goals and an assist.

Stat of the Week

After last weekend’s scoring outburst, UND’s defensemen are averaging 2.79 points per game for the season, and that makes North Dakota’s blue line the most productive in the nation.

Andrew MacWilliam Update

I was able to catch a Toronto Marlies game on TV a week or so ago and I’m happy to report that ex-UND captain Andrew MacWilliam continues to make opposing players lives difficult, shift by shift. In fact, Andrew is an absolute animal out there, hitting just about everything in sight. The fact that he’s wearing the “A” on his sweater, as a rookie, is another feather in his cap. Needless to say, I’m very impressed with his first season as a pro.

NCHC Report

The UND sweep and a St. Cloud sweep over Duluth, coupled with the Denver/Omaha split, has opened up a bit of space in the league standings — St. Cloud 36, UND 33, Omaha 30, Denver 29, Duluth and WMU 28. St. Cloud has the easiest schedule coming in (Miami, UND, CC) and has to be the favorite to hold the lead and win that inaugural Penrose Cup. In my view, with a tough finishing stretch, UND should be aiming for no worse than second place, which would likely bring Colorado College to the Ralph (rather than WMU or Duluth) for the first round of the NCHC playoffs.

Big 10 Wrap

The Gophers bounced back from that lost weekend in Madison with a home sweep over Michigan. The Wolverines have lost three in a row but are hanging in at No. 10 in the Pairwise. Wisconsin has struggled on the road all season, but earned a split at Ohio State with a big Saturday win. Minnesota has a commanding lead in the league standings once again.

ECAC/Hockey East Capsule

Boston College visited Vermont and left “The Gut” with a sweep. “The Gut” is short for the Gutterson Field House, probably the nicest, old style “hockey barn” left in college hockey. More on BC in a moment. Clarkson lost a pair, severely hampering its NCAA tournament hopes, and Cornell did the same, although Cornell still has a decent chance of making the field.

Boston College — Déjà vu All Over Again?

Two years ago, when BC last won a national championship, the Eagles finished the regular season on an 11-game winning streak, blew through the Hockey East tournament with another four wins, and finished the season off with four more wins at the NCAA tournament. That’s 19 in a row. BC is now 16-0-1 in its last 17, and leads the nation in wins, win percentage, goals-per game, goal-margin-per game, and penalty killing (91.5 percent). It’s quite clear Jerry York’s team is poised for another trophy run.

Tournament Watch

Upside movers in the Pairwise rankings this week include UND (plus-5), Maine (plus4), and Minnesota State (plus-3). Slipping back were Clarkson (minus-6), Providence (minus-6), and Cornell (minus-4). Teams to watch: No. 6 Quinnipiac needs to be fourth or higher to get that No. 1 seed at the Bridgeport regional ... No. 18 Providence is winless in five, and badly needs a sweep vs. Massachusetts. Current Pairwise: 1.) BC, 2.) Minnesota, 3.) Union, 4.) St Cloud, 5.) Ferris St., 6.) Quinnipiac, 7.) Wisconsin, 8.) U Mass-Lowell, 9.) Northeastern, 10.) Michigan, 11.) Maine, 12.) UND, 13.) Vermont, 14.) Cornell, 15.) Notre Dame, 16.) Minnesota-Duluth, 17.) Colgate, 18.) Providence, 19.) Minnesota State, 20.) UNH.

UND/Minnesota-Duluth Preview

No. 11-ranked UND (16-9-3) visits 20th-ranked Minnesota-Duluth (13-11-4) this weekend. UMD, despite being swept at St. Cloud last weekend, has been playing well (6-3-3 in 2014). The teams split a pair earlier in the season at the Ralph. The Bulldogs have firepower — Iafallo, Osterberg, Cameranesi, Basaraba, Herbert, and Farley, are all dangerous. Aaron Crandall has been getting most of the goaltending work, although his numbers are not great. UMD is 12-3-2 when scoring first, but just 1-8-2 when its opponent scores first. But really, the numbers you need to know are these: Pairwise (UND 12, UMD 16). NCHC points: (UND 33, UMD 28). After the UND series, Duluth finishes up with Miami and Omaha. I’m sure up in Duluth they’re thinking, no worse than a split this weekend, coupled with a strong finish, might just get their Bulldogs into the NCAA tournament. Over here in North Dakota, I’m thinking, splits at Duluth and St. Cloud and a good closing weekend (sweep) against WMU should be enough to get the Fighting North Dakotans in the national tournament. We shall see.

Games to Watch

Cornell at Quinnpiac on Friday is huge and on TV (NESN). BC has a home/home with U Mass-Lowell. Maine visits Northeastern for a pair. Omaha heads east for a series at WMU, and Denver meets Colorado College in the always entertaining home/home battle. On the tube, Friday night doubleheaders are available on BTN and the CBS Sports Network.

Frozen Dozen

Absent since Oct. 31, North Dakota climbs back into my Frozen Dozen this week. 1.) Boston College, 2.) Minnesota, 3.) Union, 4.) Quinnipiac, 5.) St. Cloud State, 6.) Ferris State, 7.) Wisconsin, 8.) Northeastern, 9.) Notre Dame, 10.) Michigan, 11.) Vermont, 12.) North Dakota.

Sun sports contributor Mark Schuttenhelm can be reached at