It’s No. 1 vs. No. 5 in the polls.
It’s No. 2 vs. No. 4 in the Pairwise.
It’s No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the NCHC standings.
Whatever way you slice it, a lot of eyes will be on this weekend’s two-game series in the CenturyLink Center in Omaha. It’s not a surprise that some are calling this the biggest home series ever for Omaha hockey.
It’s also not a surprise that Omaha fans are doing everything they can to try to give themselves a home-ice advantage — something that hasn’t always been the case for games between these teams in Omaha.
The first time these teams played this season, UND earned a win and a tie (UND lost the shootout, which is the difference in the NCHC standings right now).
One thing I noticed from that series — and also from the Duluth series — is that the three NCHC teams that are coached by former Sioux players all play with a bit of an edge. You can tell that Dean Blais and Scott Sandelin brought that same brand of hockey to their new schools.
Blais, speaking to ESPN Radio on Thursday afternoon, had an interesting assessment of UND. He said: “North Dakota is a team that can beat you any way they have to, whether it’s being chippy, being physical or moving the puck.”
Blais went on to say that the Mavs can’t control what UND is going to do, but his team needs to be tenacious. He also insinuated that he doesn’t want to get in a run-and-gun game with UND, saying that Omaha could be “in trouble” if they get into “exchanging opportunities” with UND.
One reason UND will want to take advantage in tonight’s series opener: Omaha will be without solid defenseman Brian O’Rourke, who has to serve one more game of a suspension for an illegal check against Colorado College.
Meanwhile, there’s a possibility that UND could get Troy Stecher back tonight, which would be a huge boost.
For Thursday’s paper, I wrote about UND’s altered travel plans to Omaha this season. If you haven’t heard about what happened on the last two trips home, read this piece.
This week’s “Get to Know” segment is with forward Colten St. Clair, who returned to the lineup last Saturday and registered an assist. Find out what Arizona high school record his father held by reading this piece.
The Omaha World Herald had a second preview on the series here as well.
On to the picks…
St. Cloud State at Colorado College: Although the Tigers have just one win in 13 conference games, anyone who saw them last weekend knows that they are on the right track. The Huskies, meanwhile, continue to struggle to make up ground. St. Cloud State 4-1, Colorado College 3-2.
Minnesota Duluth at Denver: The Bulldogs looked great Jan. 9, handling UND 4-1 in Ralph Engelstad Arena. But they haven’t been the same team since. They are 1-3-1 since, and the lone win came against Minnesota on a third-period goal. The Dogs had only two shots that period. Denver continues to build a strong season. This one has split written all over it. Duluth 3-1, Denver 3-2.
Miami at Western Michigan (Saturday only): Miami is only 5-5 in the last 10 games and Lawson isn’t an easy road trip. Western Michigan 4-3.
UND at Nebraska Omaha: Okay, okay, people are bored with my split predictions. So, I’ll go out on a limb with this one. I think if UND gets Troy Stecher back, it could be a game-changer, especially against Omaha’s prolific offensive attack. I’ll say UND grabs another series win in two down-to-the-wire games. UND 3-2, 3-2.
The UND women’s hockey team has started to find its way. It is 7-1 in the last eight games and is coming off of arguably its best performances of the year in sweeping Bemidji State at home.
Now, it’s off to Duluth for another key series in the battle for home ice in the playoffs.
For UND, this series is business as usual. For Duluth, it’s been anything but that.
I’ve talked to many people in Duluth and there is, not surprisingly, a major divide between the athletic department and the women’s hockey team. National attention has been focused on the fact that the school fired a five-time national champion coach due to finances.
That’s hardly the whole story as Miller has run afoul of NCAA regulations before, has alienated nearly the entire department and has won just 1 of the last 29 games against UND, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The women’s games will be on the radio in Grand Forks on 1440 AM as Darrin Looker made the trip to Duluth.