As I’m sitting here in an ice house 5 miles off the shore of Hockeytown USA(Warroad, MN), I am hoping to get a couple things out of today. A couple of trophy walleyes and a University of North Dakota hockey win. At least I know there is a decent chance to get one out of the two(full disclosure: I am not a skilled ice fisherman). Just as daunting of a task as I face in collecting my limit of fish, is the goal of the Fighting Sioux hockey team to finish out the season and win approximately 75% of their games against some of the best teams in the NCHC Conference in order to have the chance to play for the ultimate prize, a national title. As big as the following two weeks away from home (vs. St. Cloud State University and vs. Duluth) are to move up the rankings, this weekend is similarly as crucial to ensure the team does not plummet to an unrecoverable spot no matter the remaining games’ results.
I believe a main cog in the Sioux success wheel is the return of the main goalie, Zane Gothberg. Clarke Saunders has shown what he has to offer rounding out his senior season in college hockey, and that is a goalie who can steal the odd game but he’s approaching his ceiling of potential. I believe Zane on the other hand, has quite a lot of upside and given his age can continue to become a dependable every night starter for this team as he showed in the 10 game unbeaten streak in the middle of the year. Because of this fact, I am going to throw out a provisional pick depending on Zane’s availability for this weekend’s series against Miami.
#17 Univeristy of North Dakota vs. #35 University of Miami Redhawks
The season of the highly touted Redhawks and preseason pick for the NCHC league champions has not gone Enrico Blasi’s way. It would appear the team from Oxford, Ohio is feeling the effects of losing some players and competing in a highly competitive National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Those two factors coupled with injuries to a few key players, has made the season miserable for the Redhawks and left them in the basement of their new shiny conference. One of the aforementioned injuries is to Blake Coleman, who had a hat trick against the University of North Dakota on Saturday night in the season-opening series of the NCHC. I would not say I’m happy that he’s not healthy as that would be in bad taste, but I won’t lose any sleep over the fact that he’s not playing this weekend against my home team, in fact I may sleep better. Despite the peave of mind of not having to worry about a repeat hat-trick the University of Miami still have two of the most talented players in Riley Barber and Austin Czarnik, and trust me they are quite capable of scoring the 3 goals required to complete a hat trick. One would think that the University of Miami still has some pride left as well and wants to finish the season strong to create some momentum into what is, for them, a must-win NCHC Conference Tournament.
On the flip side of the coin, the University of North Dakota has had very mixed results in their last two series. Against Denver getting a split despite coming out looking like world-beaters and then laying an egg the following night. The last home series against Omaha had them pull out a tightly contested win on Friday followed by a blown 2 goal lead that resulted in a 6-3 win for the Mavericks. One thing I noticed about Saturday night’s game(besides the atrocious power play) while in attendance was the feel of the team in front of Saunders. When he plays well they are confident but when he started to struggle you could feel the wind sucked out of the team. Now this is probably the same to one level or another on any team but when it comes to this team I believe it is magnified. North Dakota knows, and players have stated in interviews, that they are not the type of team to blow the doors off of anyone and expect to score 5-6 goals on a given night. The Sioux are at their best when they have a solid goaltender that will make the saves he’s expected to make and maybe a few unexpected once in a while. This allows them to score their 3 goals and win most games. Zane is the goalie that has been the steadiest and the team looks most at ease when playing in front of. Because of this fact, I am going to pick a Sioux sweep if Gothberg can play one or both of the games and a split if Saunders is the goalie for the entire series so…
ZANE: UND 4 Miami 3, UND 3 Miami 1
CLARKE: Miami 3 UND 2, UND 4 Miami 1
NOTE: While typing this, I reeled in a 15 inch Walleye which for me, is a monster. Has to be a good sign, right?