Minnesota-Duluth comes to Ralph Engelstad Arena on a five-game winless streak — the program’s longest in four seasons — and the Bulldogs need a win tonight to avoid matching their longest winless streak in seven years.
Yes, the Bulldogs have hit a rough patch in the road. Maybe it’s not all that unexpected. Look at the players they lost from last year’s team — Hobey Baker winner Jack Connolly, skilled forward J.T. Brown, 100-point scorer Travis Oleksuk, top defenseman Brady Lamb and top goaltender Kenny Reiter. The Dogs lost their best player at every position and it’s impossible just to replace those guys like they were nothing.
There is something Duluth has going for it, though. It hauled in a very talented freshman class. Those who attended USHL games in Fargo know that Austin Farley is very dynamic. Defenseman Andy Welinski edged Jordan Schmaltz for the USHL’s defensive player of the year award. And Tony Cameranesi is a small, dynamic player who will create a lot of offense.
There are pieces in place for the Bulldogs to be successful, it’s just taking a while for some of them to adjust to the college game.
Duluth is expected to stack its top line this weekend with its top three scorers — Farley, Cameranesi and Mike Seidel. Those guys have scored more than half of Duluth’s goals this season (10 of 19), including four last weekend against Omaha.
It will be interesting to see if UND matches forward lines or defensive pairings against that group. UND also could expand options at forward if Michael Parks is able to play. Parks practiced this week and is getting close, but a final determination isn’t expected until this morning.
One option would be to return to last year’s successful line of Mark MacMillan, Carter Rowney and Parks. If UND opts to keep Rowney on the wing of the top line, UND may put Parks on a line with Rocco Grimaldi.
Regardless, the series should be a pretty good one. UND and Duluth have split the last two times they have met. And although UND won’t go to Duluth this season, there will be plenty of future meetings. Both teams will move into the NCHC together next year and will continue to meet every year.
The same can’t be said about UND’s biggest rival, Minnesota. After 65 consecutive years of meeting, the teams will not play against each other next year. UND coach Dave Hakstol has blocked off spots in the schedule for future meetings, and the ball appears to be in Minnesota’s court now. Read the details here.
In short: 2013-14 is out of the picture; 2014-15 is highly unlikely; 2015-16 is possible and the teams could perhaps meet in a tournament or a showcase; and Hakstol has blocked off spots for Minnesota in 2016-17 and 2017-18.
Hakstol seems adamant to keep scheduling top programs, whether Minnesota is part of that or not. Wisconsin and UND will meet every year from 2014-15 to 2017-18. UND also has two-series sets lined up against Michigan State and Vermont. Others may be in the works, too.
And for the fans of the regional rivalry between UND and Bemidji State, that relationship will continue. The teams will play home-and-homes (one night in GF, the other night in Bemidji) beginning right away next year (UND also will go to BU next season).
This week’s Thursday feature was on Dillon Simpson, who may be UND’s most improved player early this season. It’s easy to forget that he’s the third-youngest player on this year’s team.
My favorite Simpson story goes back to his freshman year. UND just finished sweeping Wisconsin in Kohl Center. I went out for some late night food and drinks with some friends and returned back to the hotel at 2 a.m. I took the stairs to my room. As I’m walking up the stairs, I turn the corner, and there’s Simpson sitting in the stairwell. Doing homework. His roommate was asleep and Simpson was busy studying away. I guess that’s how you get a 4.0 as a 17-year-old in college.
This week’s notes column features Mario Lamoureux’s outstanding run in the ECHL to start the season. Lamoureux is playing alongside Minnesota Wild forward Devin Setoguchi, and for the last three games, has outproduced him. There are a bunch of other college hockey notes in that column.
This week’s Q&A is with goalie Clarke Saunders, who talks about the communication process with his defensemen and his pedigree as an athlete playing sports other than hockey.
Duluth’s radio play-by-play voice Bruce Ciskie has a preview on the weekend series here.
The weekly USCHO column notes that Saturday nights have not been good this season for UND. The team is 4-0 on Fridays and 0-3-1 on Saturdays.
College Hockey Inc. put out a very interesting stat sheet here.
Elsewhere around the WCHA….
Wisconsin at Minnesota: It’s the Border Battle series. Minnesota coach Don Lucia says it’s a “healthy rivalry” and not “over the top.” He may not feel the same way about the UND rivalry. Wisconsin will play without stars Mark Zengerle (inj) and Nic Kerdiles (NCAA). Minnesota will be without Sam Warning (inj) and Michael Shibrowski (inj).
Denver vs. Colorado College: Home-and-home series. Tonight, it’s in Springs. Saturday, it’s in Denver. The Tigers currently have the Gold Pan and they hope to retain it. But it probably won’t happen this weekend. DU hasn’t been swept in a while.
Michigan Tech at Bemidji State: Since beating Minnesota, Michigan Tech has lost five straight games. Perhaps the most surprising part about that streak is that the Huskies have struggled offensively. Star freshman Jujhar Khaira has yet to score a goal. They will try to crack BSU goalie Andrew Walsh this weekend.
That’s all the games on the docket this weekend for the WCHA. Remember to return tonight to join the live chat during the men’s games. Catch you all then.