This year, especially, it seems that talking heads and college hockey ‘experts’ are gravitating towards the polls prematurely, whether it be the USCHO, US Today, or the Pairwise Rankings that determine the national tournament teams come year-end. However, as you can see in this week’s ‘Through These Doors’ episode, the University of North Dakota doesn’t care much that they are the new #1 in the USCHO poll voters’ minds. A ranking of ping-pong players on the team is more concerning to them at this point in the year. It makes all of the debate and premature ‘Bracketology’ blogs seem pretty silly, which it should, as none of the aforementioned rankings mean much of anything this time of year. This year’s team knows that as well as any team because of previous years being at the bottom or even left out of the national rankings by the college hockey pundits. However, that hasn’t stopped them from making the NCAA tournament each year and even a Frozen Four last year despite an abysmal 4-7-2 start. The thesis of all of this little rant is to not get too excited about where any team is ranked, including our #1 Fighting Sioux. If you’d like a great breakdown on the volatility of the Pairwise Rankings, read guru Jim Dahl’s breakdown here.
Last weekend the UNO Mavericks came into Grand Forks unbeaten in their first 6 road games of the year. North Dakota looked to end that streak but fell a bit short Friday night coming away with a 2-2 tie and a disappointing shootout loss after all 3 UND skaters were shut down by UNO’s netminder, Ryan Massa. I agreed with all but one of the shooters that Coach Hakstol put on the ice. I was hoping that he would go with Caggiula, McMillan and Nick Schmaltz for the fact that they all seem like pure goal scorers with great hands. I understand going with Parks as he has a veteran presence on the team and is a beast when it’s time to play “real hockey” but unless they start letting players do the Diesel Wrap(see:wraparound) I think Parks should be the 4th or 5th option in a shootout.
After Friday’s game I was really down on Jordan Schmaltz. I know the kid has massive potential just seeing the type of ability he showed last year, but that same confidence and skating seems to have alluded him most of this year. At times, he looked uninterested in the game on Friday. Now part of me wants to believe this is his style, ala Ryan Suter, but some of the nonchalant attitude led to costly turnovers.
Mr. Schmaltz must be reading my twitter feed because 2 minutes into Saturday night’s game a great pass off the wall from Drake Caggiula found Jordan Schmaltz cutting into the slot and scoring in a Grade A area. This is more of the types of play I’d like to see him make to boost this team’s offensive production moving forward. Ten minutes later in the 3rd period, Mark McMillan was also a beneficiary of a beautiful move by Caggiula and floated a backhanded wrister over Ryan Massa’s shoulder to make it 2-0 UND. Period 2 was quiet(on the scoreboard at least) until Jake Randolph slapped a goal in near the paint. This was one of those times that UND needs to get better at clearing pucks out of the zone because it seemed to come back and bite them constantly in this series. However, the next goal and possibly play of the game was a thing of beauty. Michael Parks won a battle along the wall, passed it between his legs to the Captain Pattyn, who dragged it between his legs to stay onside, skate to the top of the dots and deliver a twisted wrister to beat Ryan Massa glove side(See above video at 4:35 mark). A 2nd goal by Omaha and a late push seemed like it may get the equalizer but multiple great saves by Zane McIntyre secured the 3-2 conference win for UND.
LSSU @ UND
Lake Superior State has a strong history as a hockey program but it has been a while since they’ve seen any notable success. The program was started in 1966 and were the NCAA tournament champions in 1988, 1992, and 1994 so it’s quite amazing that UND and LSSU have only faced off for one series in the history of each program. However, the Lakers have not made an NCAA tournament appearance since 1996, which is hard to fathom being a fan of UND, who is a lock to be playing in the national tournament in the last decade plus.
Now a member of the newly re-organized WCHA LSSU is 3-13-0 overall and 3-9-0 on their current season and at rock bottom after being outscored 10-0 over the course of two home games last weekend by the visiting MSU Mavericks. I think it would be fair to say that this team is at rock bottom.
North Dakota is the better team in nearly every category, almost doubling the Lakers up in Goals Per Game and cutting in half the goals allowed to other teams. LSSU is a pathetic 6.9% on the power play and 75% on the penalty kill. You can’t even say a key to the game for UND is to stay out of the box. North Dakota has scored 8 goals on the penalty this year while the Lakers have only scored 5 with the man advantage.
By all accounts this series looks like there is no reason to even tune in, because it will be a route in both games. But this is hockey and LSSU has absolutely no pressure on them coming into the best arena in college hockey to play the #1 ranked(for what it’s worth) team in the country. LSSU will be playing to win one of these games as if it was the early 90s again and they were competing for a national championship. On the other side, North Dakota is expected to win both of these games handily and move onto their foes Denver University next weekend.
Now I’m not saying that I think LSSU will pull it off, but crazier things have already happened in college hockey this year. I say Saturday night is closer than one might think.
UND 6-0, UND 3-2
Around the NCHC:
Denver @ Cornell: This series is being played in Ithaca, NY at Lynah Rink which I was told by a poster on siouxsports.com message boards, has a better atmosphere than the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Cornell must have the loudest 4,500 people in the world to top the 12,000 at REA. All of that aside, the NCHC has been extremely good in non-conference play and I believe it continues. DENVER SWEEPS
Omaha @ Miami: This in my opinion is the game of the week. I’d love to take this game in as it will be 2 fast paced high-octane offenses going at it. I do believe Miami has the better forwards by quite a bit but Omaha’s goaltending wins a game for them. Miami Wins, UNO Wins
CC @ UMD: You just start to feel bad for the Tigers after a while. Not only are they struggling to start the year but they play in the NCHC, which seems to be the strongest conference in the country at the moment. I don’t see them even sniffing a point up in the beautiful city of Duluth. Bulldogs Sweep