The largest road crowd that Providence played in front of in the past two seasons is 7,884 in Boston College. Tonight, that number will jump by about 4,000.
Although there were limited tickets available when I checked Thursday afternoon, it will likely be a sold out Ralph Engelstad Arena by the time the puck drops at 7:37 p.m. for the No. 3 vs. No. 5 matchup.
This top-five matchup probably wasn’t what UND signed up for when it inked this series four years ago. The Friars were Hockey East bottom-feeders at that time but have evolved into the Hockey East frontrunners.
UND had a great crowd for the home-opener against Bemidji State. The arena was packed, the fans were revved up and ready to go and the atmosphere was good….. and then UND was down by five goals.
I thought one of the big keys for the Beavers in that game was getting through the first period, getting that first goal and letting the team (and its rookie goaltender) settle in. That’s something UND can’t let happen against the Friars.
I don’t think that goalie Jon Gillies is going to get rattled much. He has been around. He has been to the World Juniors. But this is a much larger crowd than the Friars are used to and UND may be able to make things uneasy if it has a strong start.
A lot of fans, media and scouts are going to have their eyes on the goaltending battle this weekend. Many thought that the 6-foot-5 Gillies would be Calgary-bound after last season, but he opted to return. Those in Grand Forks know what a pivotal role that Zane McIntyre has played for UND over the last two seasons.
Both are NHL prospects, but both are more focused on leading their college teams to special seasons this year. Read a little about the goalie matchup here.
I was trying to think of the last goalie of that size to play against UND. The only one who came to mind off hand was Maine’s Ben Bishop, who led the Black Bears to a sweep in The Ralph several years ago. Any others?
I posted the injury report a couple of days ago. The only question mark seems to be Providence forward Noel Acciari. He made the trip to Grand Forks, but coach Nate Leaman did not specifically say if he would play.
If Acciari does not play, it would be a hit to the Friars up the middle. Acciari is a centerman for Providence, as is Mark Jankowski, who will not play this weekend. The Friars returned all four of their regular centers from last season, but could be without two tonight. Expect veteran Nick Saracino to play center in Jankowski’s spot tonight.
The Providence Journal’s story today says that defenseman John Gilmour should return to the lineup tonight. The Calgary Flames pick hasn’t played yet this season.
Usually, you will be able to find a lot of players who were teammates in juniors on both sides of these nonconference matchups. There aren’t many in this one, though.
The ones I know of off hand: Nick Mattson played one year with Gillies with the Indiana Ice in the USHL. Also, UND’s Bryn Chyzyk played on a line with Providence’s Shane Luke for a year in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. Stephane Pattyn said his team played against Luke’s team in the playoffs and Pattyn’s job was to shut down Luke’s line. So those two should have quite a bit of familiarity.
Speaking of Mattson, he’s the subject of this week’s ‘Get to Know’ segment. What movie made Mattson ask his father to go pick him up a hockey stick? Find out here.
More wall decorations are going up at The Ralph in the team area. Here’s how UND is displaying all of its team awards and the current player bios:
On to this weekend’s picks….. the NCHC has the best nonconference record of all leagues at this point, going 11-2 since that dreadful 2-5 opening night. There’s one league game this weekend, otherwise, the rest of the teams will look to keep it going.
Denver at Minnesota Duluth: Denver allowed just one goal in sweeping RPI last weekend, but the new goaltenders will surely get a workout this weekend facing one of the country’s deepest groups of forwards. The Pios may be able to outscore the Dogs one night but not both. Split.
St. Cloud State at Union: The Dutchmen haven’t lost since January, but this is a good, veteran St. Cloud State team that should be up for the task. St. Cloud State win and tie.
St. Lawrence at Miami: Preseason Hobey candidate Austin Czarnik has three times as many minor penalties (6) as points (2). Unfortunately for the Saints, it’s not going to stay that way for long. Miami sweep.
Colorado College at Boston College/New Hampshire: For a Tigers team that’s licking its wounds after a bad loss to UND on Saturday night, this isn’t the best road trip to take. Boston College and UNH win.
Alaska at Western Michigan: The Nanooks are red hot, coming in with a 4-0-0 record and a No. 16 national ranking to boot. The Broncos should have a chip on their shoulder after getting swept by Omaha in Lawson. Split.
Providence at North Dakota: Gillies has never lost on consecutive nights in his career. It’s only happened to McIntyre once. This highly entertaining series in The Ralph should end in a…. split.
The UND women’s team is in Minneapolis, preparing for a showdown against No. 1 Minnesota.
It will be UND’s first game back at Ridder since it ended the Gophers’ 62-game winning streak last season.
Nobody has had much success at Ridder in the last five years. But if anybody can knock off the Gophers there, it’s UND. Going back to the 2010-11 season, UND is 4-7 at Ridder Arena, while the rest of the nation is 1-66-4. Yes, that includes Wisconsin and Minnesota Duluth.
UND coach Brian Idalski would like to make Ridder a frequent stop in the next few seasons as it will host the Frozen Four two of the next four years.
This Minnesota team is typical of ones past. There are a few forwards who can really get up-and-down the ice and score. The D-corps is as good as any in the country with three 2018 Olympic candidates there.
UND, meanwhile, is trying to get more consistent in producing offense. It has 14 goals on Friday nights and 3 on Saturday nights this season. Becca Kohler and Meghan Dufault have been big offensive scorers, but UND could use some more production from other forwards in the lineup, which is what happened during the upset win over Minnesota last season.
UND also will need a strong game from goaltender Shelby Amsley-Benzie, who has a .968 save percentage and a 0.75 goals-against average so far this season.
That’s about all for now. Catch you tonight with the live chat and I’ll check back in the afternoon if any news breaks. For now, I’ll leave you with this week’s Through These Doors.