The giant Penrose Cup was visible from the ice in Duluth this weekend and the glare of it must have been blinding the Duluth goalies. In addition, the chant that arose from the upper balcony late Saturday night of “THIS IS OUR HOUSE” may have rendered the Bulldogs short on hearing. The Fighting Sioux came into this weekend needing some crucial points in the NCHC league race and to solidify their ranking in the national picture. If there was any question as to which direction this team was heading, they were answered in resounding fashion with a 3-0 and a 6-2 win against, what was thought to be, a decent Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog team. The two wins coupled with a St. Cloud State split with Miami means that the teams are tied for first place in the NCHC league race and rights to the Penrose Cup. If UND were to sweep next weekend in St. Cloud(and I understand that’s a big IF), they would lock up at least a share of the cup and the #1 seed in the conference tournament. This is a result of the NCHC tie-breaker that counts conference wins over head-to-head record, which is different than the way the WCHA decided tie-breakers. A first place finish would leave them likely facing either Miami or Colorado College in the first round in Grand Forks, ND, which will not, by any means, be a guaranteed pass to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis.
However, the one thing I took out of my time in Duluth this weekend is that UND is the real deal. Last weekend there were plenty of detractors that stated Miami has quit on its season, but we saw that was not the case after they split in St. Cloud last weekend. But the real test would be to see how North Dakota would play in front of a “hostile” environment against a ranked team. Let’s just say their test results put them at the top of the Dean’s List of college hockey. The team looked extremely comfortable in their own skin and played aggressively, even with the lead. A great example of this was during the Saturday night’s game the kiss cam mockingly showed(for the 2nd straight night) players on the Sioux bench. Without skipping a beat, Drake wrapped his arm around Rodwell and planted a cage kiss on his helmet…UND made the game 5-2 shortly thereafter. That is the type of confidence this team is playing with and they look to be deadly heading towards the post-season.
The venue in Duluth is the brand new Amsoil Arena, parked right next to Lake Superior and in the middle of the downtown Duluth scene connected by skyways to almost anywhere you could want to go. The arena holds approximately 7,000 people, which isn’t huge, but just the right size for this town that seems to embrace college hockey, but isn’t absolutely bonkers over it. Parking was easy and myself and company gravitated towards Grandma’s Bar which is just a walk across the bridge to the home of the Bulldogs. One detraction from the experience was the entrance to the arena via the skyway route. Their was only one door open and 2 total ticket scanners for the entire hoard of non-student patrons. That along with the fact that we were all herded through standard size doors you would see at a high school gymnasium made us a minute late for the Saturday night game despite showing up 10 minutes early. Amsoil could learn a thing or two from other arenas in crowd control and possibly knock out a few walls on that entrance and hire more ticket scanners to improve the first impression fans receive upon entering their arena. On another note, Duluth fans could not be any nicer if they tried. No matter how hard I tried all of the UMD fans I ran into were impossible to dislike. They were polite and genuine with their assessment of the team.
Once inside the arena, the concourse is a sort of open concourse style that is conducive to watching the hockey game while walking to the
beer line concessions and provides a great view for standing room only tickets. The sarcastic comment in my last sentence brings me to my next point. Amsoil Arena does not serve beer or alcohol in their arena at games and I have been told that this has something to do with a Minnesota law. However, the Sanford Center in Bemidji does in fact serve alcohol which makes me think it may have something to do with the arena being owned by the school vs. privately or some explanation along those lines. I would welcome anyone that can help me understand the guidelines for this. Whatever the law is though, I find it to be quite ludicrous as we are all adults and should be able to decide if we want to enjoy our favorite drink at the game. It also improves atmosphere, crowd participation while not(in my opinion) making the place a nuthouse of drunk idiots. Amsoil’s solution to this is to have a bar “outside” the arena that requires you to scan your ticket out and file into a packed conference room area where you can wait in line for 20 minutes for one beer. As you can imagine, this will make you miss part of the hockey game(which is the primary reason you’re there) just to get a buzz, so in the end it’s really not worth it. I guess my main thesis is let’s end prohibition for Minnesota college hockey arenas. I understand that puts me at risk of sounding like a raging alcoholic, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take for the good of arenas across the ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes’.
Other Weekend Notes:
– UND jumped 2 spots to #10 in the Pairwise Rankings, I believe winning 2 out of their last 4 regular season games would put them in comfortable position but I would like to see at least 3 just for good measure.
– Mitch McMillan got to play both games for the first time in a while and he made good use of his time. On Friday he played an absolutely gorgeous sauce pass to a teammate streaking down the slot and on Saturday he banged home UND’s first goal. I predict we see him suit up again next weekend against his former team, the SCSU Huskies.
– Zane played extremely solid and made all of the saves he needed to and some you wouldn’t always expect. He had great lateral movement and anticipated many good passes across the zone that lead to grade A scoring chances. He is now an unconscious 11-0-1 in his last 12 starts. Look for him to be “The Guy” for the rest of the year.