The Penrose Cup is in the house. The commissioner will be on hand. The NCHC is ready to present the league championship trophy this weekend if it has to.
The only way that can happen is if there’s a sweep — and that’s something we haven’t seen for a loooong time in the National Hockey Center.
The last time there was a sweep between these two teams in the NHC? That would be 2001-02, when the Huskies swept the only UND team of the last 17 years not to make an NCAA tournament.
Since then, St. Cloud State has ruled on Fridays (6-1-4) and UND has ruled on Saturdays (10-1). Last year marked the lone UND win on Friday and SCSU win on Saturday.
This will be a typical weekend in the NCHC — one where nobody knows quite what to expect.
UND has been hot lately, going 14-2-1 in the last 17 games. SCSU is just 7-6-3 since its blistering start.
But the Huskies have had UND’s number like nobody else in recent times. UND has just one win in its last six games against St. Cloud State, including the Husky sweep in Ralph Engelstad Arena earlier this season.
That all starts with SCSU goalie Ryan Faragher. The junior made a surprise first-career start in the Ralph two years ago because of an injury to starter Mike Lee. Faragher ended up posting a 44-save shutout in that game and he hasn’t slowed down much since then.
For his career, Faragher has a .940 save percentage against UND and a 6-3-1 record.
A side story to watch is the absence of SCSU defenseman Andrew Prochno. The biggest thing that has allowed the Huskies to turn the tide against UND in recent years, in my opinion, has been the improved play of their D. A few years ago, they had a very explosive offense, but a soft defensive corps. Not anymore.
The guy replacing Prochno on the back end played in the Frozen Four last year, so it’s not like they are throwing an inexperienced guy back there. But even so, Prochno is very good and will be missed.
While we’re discussing goaltenders and defense, that’s probably been UND’s biggest strong suit recently.
Zane Gothberg hasn’t lost a start since early November and he was able to pick up right where he left off after his injury.
On the blue line, Brad Berry has helped mentor a young defensive corps into one of the league’s best. Their hands will be full this weekend against the NCHC’s top-scoring offense, one that goes three lines deep with big scorers.
Who has the hardest slap shot and wrist shot on the UND team? Who is the toughest to stop in breakaway/shootout situations? I talked to UND’s goalies this week (who are both well spoken and thoughtful guys). Here’s what they had to say.
For Friday’s paper, I have a short preview on the series with some notes.
The St. Cloud Times has its preview posted here.
UND captain Dillon Simpson appeared on The Pipeline Show this week. He talks about his recent scoring surge and more. Listen to it here.
Where will UND be in the Pairwise Rankings after this weekend? Check out Jim Dahl’s weekly forecast here.
On to this weekend’s picks….
Denver at Western Michigan: Two teams that have been pretty inconsistent as of late. Denver is trying to rebound from the sweep at the hands of its rival, Colorado College. I think the Pioneers get one on senior weekend for Western Michigan. Split.
Duluth at Miami: After climbing into NCAA contention, the Bulldogs have dropped four games in a row. Granted, those four came against the teams tied atop the standings — UND and SCSU. The Bulldogs get a win this weekend, but Blake Coleman’s return to the lineup for the RedHawks prevents the sweep. Split.
Colorado College at Omaha: Colorado College is feeling good after sweeping rival Denver. Omaha has had a hard week with eight players getting displaced from their dorm rooms and losing all of their possessions because of a fire. I think the Mavs have too much firepower for the Tigers and have a happy ending to the week. Omaha sweep.
North Dakota at St. Cloud State: With no sweeps either way in the last 11 years in this building, that’s not the smart-money bet this weekend. UND is the only team in the NCHC or Big Ten that has not participated in a single shootout this season. That ends sometime, right? UND regulation win, SCSU shootout win.
On the women’s side, it’s now or never for UND.
It needs to win the WCHA tournament in order to make the NCAAs for a third straight season, and it enters the postseason on a four-game losing streak and a 1-6-1 record in the last eight.
The good news is that the Olympians are back. Michelle Karvinen flew back from Columbus, Ohio, last weekend with the team. Susanna Tapani and Tanja Eisenschmid returned on Tuesday.
The big question is whether UND can mentally turn the corner and not let this slide continue. Coach Brian Idalski said the team hasn’t been playing terrible or anything, it just hasn’t been able to finish off plays and build leads.
Having a few Olympians back should help in that department.
The other interesting note is that this weekend will mark the first time all year that UND has a full roster. Prior to the Olympics, Leah Jensen wasn’t healthy. Now, they have the Olympians and Jensen back. That could be interesting.
It sounds like UND is going to appeal to the NCAA to try to get a fourth year of eligibility for Karvinen, but I wouldn’t bank on it happening. So, Karvinen will be recognized on Saturday after the game for her Senior Day (she missed the regularly scheduled Senior Day because of the Olympics).
Karvinen’s parents are going to be in the house, making the trip from Denmark.
That’s all for now – it is time for some sleep and a drive to St. Cloud in the morning/afternoon. Catch you then.