“I’m going to Miami, welcome to Miami” is what the players are probably blaring over the charter plane’s speakers on the way to tropical Miami this weekend. I have to say I’m a bit jealous as the winter hasn’t relented even a bit in North Dakota. The town that’s famous for Heat fans leaving early from NBA Finals games and the lucrative Marlins franchise, Miami is… oh wait, what’s that?… I’ve just been informed that there is also a Miami of Ohio, but it’s actually in Oxford and that’s where the team is playing? I have to admit I’m quite embarrassed after rambling on about South Beach and texting friends that are on Spring Break to tell them they can catch a UND hockey game in Florida. Despite that mild disappointment, there should be some good hockey played between the #1 and #2 teams in the NCHC this weekend. One team(UND) has one hand on the trophy, they only need a single solitary point to rip it out of Miami’s grasp and send them back to Miami’s notoriously crazy club scene empty handed…er, crap I did it again.
SCSU @ UND
This series seemed like the make or break series for UND’s Penrose Cup aspirations. I was in the camp of either UND would keep the pedal down and sweep or have a lapse and get swept. St. Cloud has good forwards, solid goaltending and a dynamite powerplay and all were on display this weekend.
The fireworks started, literally, when Nick Schmaltz found himself in a 2 on 1 twelve minutes into the 1st period. Nick toe dragged around a St. Cloud defender but was stopped by SCSU’s goalie Charlie Lindgren. He stuck with the play and received the puck back out front. From there he deked a Husky defender, then did the exact same to the goalie and slid it into the short side of the net. It was an electric way to start the series and ended up on the Sportscenter’s Top 10 plays of the day.
Six minutes later UND found itself on the powerplay and Nick Mattson continued his phenomenal play on the point when he walked down the boards and slid a pass across the ice to Brendan O’Donnell. OD one-timed the puck past Lindgren before he was able to get over and set himself.
The 3rd goal Sioux goal came 6 minutes into the 2nd period with Poganski finding the puck on this stick after a broken play. He made a quick release to the net which deflected off senior forward Connor Gaarder to get out to a commanding 3 goal lead.
St. Cloud State needed a break and found it 8 minutes into the 2nd period when a Ben Storm slapshot deflected off Stephan Pattyn and into the top corner of the net. I was sitting directly behind the goal and I doubt there’s one goalie in the world who could have stopped it, but it got SCSU back into the game.
The Huskies got it to within one with a Joey Benik goal in the 3rd period but could not find the equalizer late. However, they seemed to find the spark that they needed to carry over into Saturday night.
Saturday night started much the same with an Austin Poganski goal early in the 1st period off a Connor Gaarder rebound. An unusual 5 on 3 was awarded to SCSU after this for a full 2 minutes. This led to the climatic moment of the weekend when shots were blocked by Drake Caggiula, Troy Stecher, and Mark McMillan. This brought the crowd to their feet in the most exuberant crowd reaction all season at The Ralph. Unfortunately it brought Mark McMillan to his knees as a Brodzinski slap shot hit him squarely in what appeared to be the knee.
The “4th line” delivered again in the 2nd period when Connor Gaarder scored his 2nd tally of the weekend. Then deja vu with a Nick Mattson slap shot in the 2nd to once again gain the 2nd three-goal lead on the weekend. St. Cloud scored an inconsequential goal to ruin Zane McIntyre’s shutout but it never felt as though the lead were in danger.
The scene after the game was a tough one that saw each of the seniors take turns assisting Mark McMillan around the ice in a stabilization boot while the crowd chanted “Sioux Forever” in tribute to the last class to have the privilege to wear the Fighting Sioux logo. It was a scene I will never forget and one of the coolest, while at the same time, saddest moments I’ve experienced in my 28 years of watching college hockey. The Fighting Sioux logo will always be a part of this community and this program, but to know that on April 10th we will not have one active player that knows what an honor it is to put that Sioux jersey is devastating, to put it mildly. The amount of pride and respect this city and state held the Fighting Sioux logo and it’s people in cannot be overstated and quite simply is indescribable. If you weren’t ever part of the Sioux family, explaining it is futile as words cannot adequately encapsulate the true meaning of something so engraved into the soul of a team, program, and a community.
#1 UND @ #4 Miami
The third time’s a charm, at least that’s what the Sioux hockey players are hoping. The last 2 seasons UND has had a chance to win a conference title only to see it slip through their fingers on the last weekend of the season. The first time was the last year of the old WCHA which saw St. Cloud State and Minnesota share the McNaughton Cup. The 2nd was in the inaugural NCHC season where St. Cloud won sole possession of the first Penrose Cup. This time UND already has guaranteed a share of the championship but with at least one point, which would require they either make it to the shootout or win a game, the Sioux could put all that in the past and claim the league championship for themselves.
If the season ended today, Miami and North Dakota would both be 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Miami comes into the weekend with the usual solid stable of forwards but similar to last year they have a question in goal. Jay Williams has been the most consistent of the 2 goalies but just last weekend was pulled in the Saturday game against Denver on the way to a 6-2 drubbing by the Pioneers. It will be interesting to see who Miami decides to start between the pipes, but I’d suspect it will be Williams.
While Miami is a respectable 10-4-0 at home, UND is an even better 10-3-0 on the road. While Miami does have potent scorers, North Dakota comes in significantly better in the GPG category with a 3.39 to 2.97 edge. North Dakota also holds the 2.09 edge to 2.28 GAA on the defensive side and also has a small edge in both PP and PK %. This does not mean that I think this will be an easy sweep for the green and white however. Miami will most likely be losing a lot of talent next year between Seniors graduating and players going pro who stayed one more year. This means Senior Night will hold a very special place on their schedules. UND does enough to get the Penrose Cup.
Sioux 5-2, 3-3(Miami wins shootout)
FIGHTING SIOUX FOREVER