I had the privilege of going to the immaculate Ralph Engelstad Arena this weekend to watch the University of North Dakota take on Nebraska Omaha. I was lucky to grow up in Grand Forks and see more games than I could possibly remember here. The best way I can describe the experience of going to a college hockey game at ‘The Ralph’ is out of this world. The best way to describe it is to tell you the first game I ever attended there made me forget I was in Grand Forks by the end of it. It feels like an NHL arena that was set down in the middle of the frozen tundra. It is truly a sight to behold. Everything from the marble floors to the gold Fighting Sioux logos on the end of each row make this an arena with its own special character that represent the respect and appreciation Grand Forks people show the Sioux logo. Now for those of you who have not been to this arena and are college hockey fans, I have one piece of advice for you… GO! NOW! Quit reading this post and start driving to Grand Forks and search for the most reasonably priced tickets you can find(good luck). They play Miami this coming weekend so start looking now because this place fills up quickly. You can read my post on your smart phone while cruising up Interstate 29 to the ‘Palace on the Prairie’. Now that we got rid of those readers, onto the weekend reactions…
North Dakota vs. Nebraska Omaha
The Friday night game was a sloppy game that had North Dakota and UNO trading punches in the 1st period that left the score at 1-1 going into the 2nd period. The scoreless 2nd period was one of the crazier that I’ve seen at The Ralph. Omaha absolutely beat UND to the puck on most occasions and peppered the goalie, Clarke Saunders, with multiple in close chances. One particular opportunity saw Clarke make 2 or 3 saves on a Maverick player that was essentially sharing the crease with him. However, Clarke stood tall and did not allow one goal in the period. This allowed the Sioux to get their legs back under them and pull away in the 3rd period behind goals of Michael Parks and Brendan O’Donnell. A Ryan Walters goal late in the 3rd for UNO made it interesting but Rocco Grimaldi cleared a backhand puck all the way down the ice with 30 seconds left to clinch the win. The final score was, as I predicted, 4-2 UND wins. I mention this because it’s the only prediction that went my way for the weekend.
Saturday Night for North Dakota started off similarly with a UNO goal by Tanner Lane. Then there was an interesting conversation between UNO’s head coach, Dean Blais, and the referee. The result was Blais being booted from behind the bench. Following this, Derek Rodwell scored a goal with 8 seconds left in the 1st to tie the game up. This carried over into the 2nd period where a couple more goals were scored by North Dakota, including a crazy goal that saw an Omaha defender attempting to play the puck run into his goaltender, resulting in the puck going into his own net. At this point, the Sioux seemed to be in full control of the game and on their way to a solid sweep. Then…the wheels came off. It started with Dominic Zombo scoring a goal from his back after a botched Clarke Saunders save followed by Josh Archibald scoring what had to be the worst natural hat trick ever recorded. The goal that tied the game up and Archibald’s first was a centering pass that deflected off UND’s Captain Dillon Simpson’s skate and into the open net. With 6 minutes left in the 2nd, Archibald was falling down to the ice and nearly fanned on a shot below the dots. Clarke seemed to fall over in slow motion and somehow manage to let the puck slide right underneath him as he was propped up by his elbow. Possibly the worst goal allowed I’ve seen let in, and I would know because my seat was about 20 feet behind the net. When the puck went in, I involuntarily stood up out of my seat with my hands on my head. I believe I may have been in hockey shock, we’ll call it ‘Shockey'(copyrighted by the University of Hockey Blog). Once that goal was allowed to somehow enter the net, I figured it was only a matter of time before Coach Dave Hakstol for UND would pull Saunders in favor of the Freshman goaltender Matt Hrynkiw to start the 3rd period. I mean, it couldn’t get any worse right? Saunders was visibly distraught(see:above picture) and had no confidence left in him for the night. However, the senior netminder was back in between the pipes for the 3rd period and was tested again when Josh Archibald seemed to sneak around UND’s defender Jordan Schmaltz but had the puck tipped off of his stick. Saunders overplayed the puck sliding with Zombo’s body movement and allowed it to trickle into the near side of the net to make it 5-3. An extra goal capped the score at 6-3 and made the Sioux supporters saunter into snow-covered sadness(aka Grand Forks in the winter). Now I don’t usually like to put such a huge blame on a goaltender as North Dakota’s defense was pretty pitiful at points as well. However, the way Clarke played may have cost his team the game on Saturday night. As great as he played on Friday to keep them in the game, he may have actually played worse on Saturday. My takeaway from all of this is that we need Zane Gothberg back in the net. I can only hope that his lower body injury is healed soon if North Dakota is looking to make a real run for the NCAA’s this year rather than depending on the hopes of winning the NCHC Final Faceoff conference tournament and the auto-bid that comes with it.
Wisconsin Sweeps Minnesota
The Gophers doubled up their season loss total after getting swept by the Wisconsin Badgers. This is a situation where I am ok with being incorrect in my predictions. No one likes to see the ‘Pride on Ice’ win(unless you’re an insufferable Gopher fan) so it was nice to see the Badgers take it to them in a low scoring affair. I wasn’t able to watch the Friday night game but Thursday night looked like a goaltending extravaganza with saves as far as the eye can see. Wilcox looked solid and Rumpel was just a little bit better making save after save and locking down rebounds. The fatal mistake was late in the 3rd period when Wisconsin defender Jake McCabe found himself all alone in the slot with most Minnesota defenders packed near the crease. He deked a few time and rifled a snipe above Wilcox’ shoulder. Saturday night had them beating the rival Big 10 school by a matching 2-1 score. Is this a chink in the Minnesota armor and will it affect Minnesota’s ego moving forward? The Gophers always seem like a school that operates on confidence so they seem to either play with a ton of confidence or with none. A sweep like this could have the team from the Twin Cities second guessing themselves and their ability to take it all the way this year. The 1-3 record in predictions for me this weekend drops my overall record to 10-8 on the year.
Other Weekend Notes:
– Upon further review, Boston College is really good and Johnny Gaudreau should be the Hobey Baker winner. I already gave up on the Hobey Baker being for the best overall hockey player but if it has any merit whatsoever left than Gaudreau should win this award. He’s clipping along at 2 points per game, which is unheard of, and is the best player on what is currently the best team in college hockey. In other words, can he please go to the pros already?
– There is some back and forth between USCHO.com and CHN.com on who has the correct Pairwise rankings that mimic the NCAA selection committee for the tournament. Jim Dahl, for siouxsports.com has recently stated that he has switched thinking from USCHO’s way of ranking to CHN’s. CHN has UND at 17 and USCHO has them at 18. So I’ll gladly root for CHN to be correct…for now. Also, I trust Jim Dahl and his ability to decipher numbers and equations that I can’t and don’t want to understand.
– 2 of the next 3 weekends come against the 2 teams that are currently ahead of North Dakota in the rankings. I can’t stress how important this team step it up and win the majority of these games. Going .500 from here on out will most likely not cut it and leave Sioux fans grasping at the possibility of winning the conference tournament. This is not a position I would like to be in.