This week I am going to predict my standard UND series that I have each week, but I am going to add a little wrinkle. I’m going to pick an upset pick from a series that I see has a higher ranked team that is overrated compared to its competitor. Now there are people and/or sites that do this every week but picking an upset every week seems too redundant to me. If I look at all of the games and there is no a compelling upset game(a 45th ranked team beating a 42nd ranked team is not compelling), I won’t pick an upset for the sake of it. Now let’s look at the series this weekend…
#18 University of North Dakota vs #23 Denver University(Denver, CO at Magness Arena)
This rivalry goes back a long ways and has seen some incredibly heated games between the two squads. I’ve attended games between these two teams in Denver, Grand Forks, and at neutral sites and they all seem to live up to the billing. Denver and North Dakota hate each other nearly as much as any two schools in college hockey. When the Gophers were having their glorious stretch of missing the NCAA tournament 3 straight times a few years back, Denver was a more heated rivalry game because there was something on the line. From the Geoff Paukovich hit on Robbie Bina to the Brad Malone hit on Jesse Martin, this series has about as much bad history as the Montagues and the Capulets.
The main story going into this game is going to be Defense and Goaltending. Both teams lack heavy hitting scorers upfront and depend heavily on their defense to generate scoring. Denver has one of the better offensive defenseman in the country in my opinion with Joey LaLeggia. LaLeggia already has 9 goals on the year and I’ve seen the type of plays this guy can make firsthand. UND will need to make sure to keep guys on him at all times and try to prevent him from creating offense. However, depending on your defense to score goals means that there are a lot of defensemen jumping up into the offensive zone attempting to create offense which, if and when the puck is turned over, creates odd-man breaks the other way. This is where the goaltending for each team factors in.
Zane Gothberg has been North Dakota’s guy for the entire 9 game unbeaten streak that started in November. However, this week he was injured in practice and he will, at the very least, miss the crucial series this weekend. Gothberg was always prone to his one bad goal a game but was very solid otherwise over the past 9 games. Also, it seemed like the team really played well in front of him for whatever reason. Now that Gothberg is out, the senior transfer from Alabama-Huntsville, Clarke Saunders, will take his place. In the game that Saunders has started this year he has not played up to the level we saw last year although part of it may be contributed to an unhealthy UND squad in front of him. Depending on how long Saunders is out, the Sioux may need Clarke to step up and win some games for them. On the other end of the ice, DU has Sam Brittain, who is looking like the leading candidate for the NCHC Goaltender of the Year. The silver lining in all of this is at least his last name is not Olkinura. I have never seen a goalie have a team’s number quite as much as he did UND’s during his time as a Pioneer. I will never forget sitting behind the net when he left a gaping net open for a UND forward and then reached his stick out to swat the wrist shot away as if it were a gnat bothering his goal crease. Everyone from the fans to the traffic director outside the arena thought the puck was in. In other words, I will not miss that goaltender. All things considered in this series, I don’t see UND sweeping but I hope I’m dead wrong and they hang 7 goals up each night…
UND 3 DU 2, DU 4 UND 1
#1 University of Minnesota vs #8 St. Cloud State University(Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN)
So instead of choosing a 2nd series this weekend I have had a strong feeling about this game all week. Neither team has been “world-beaters” in the last few months. Minnesota lost to toothpaste(Colgate) in a shootout, barely snuck by Penn State University, and lost to Michigan State in a shootout. The rodents’ powerplay has looked pedestrian for most of the season at 16.5% and their Penalty Kill is nothing to brag about either, currently sitting at 82.9%.
On the other side of the coin, you have the St. Cloud State who started off the year quite strong and have slowed down a bit lately with only 1 win in their last 6 games. However, the powerplay is clipping along at a respectable 21.6% and I think given these 2 teams history and St. Cloud State’s tendency to be in the penalty box(Ranked 4th in the nation in penalties/game), I think those PP numbers will play a large part in deciding this game.
Other reasons I can think of to choose St. Cloud State to win this game:
- The game is at the Xcel Energy Center instead of Mariucci Arena, thus eliminating the “Minnesota Rule” that requires the Gophers get all the calls
- ‘Huskies’ beats ‘gophers’ much the same way that ‘rock’ beats ‘scissors’
- No one can provide a plausible reason as to why gophers are gold
- What is a “Hudson Fasching” and how do I get rid of it?
For the rest of the tournament I’m going to Predict St. Cloud State beats Duluth to claim the Minnesota Cup and the Gophers dispatch Minnesota State in the 3rd place game.
SCSU 4 Minnesota 2