One of the most fun parts of this job is interviewing players in the second half of their senior year.
You start interviewing them after they commit, often times as 16- or 17-year olds. You get to know them a little bit once they get on campus as freshmen. But it isn’t until later in their careers where they really come out of their shells, become comfortable around the media and show their personality.
By the time their careers are winding down, they usually gain a great perspective on everything and they are very interesting to talk to.
This weekend is Senior Weekend at UND, and next weekend, they will play their final games in Ralph Engelstad Arena during the first round of the NCHC playoffs. I will catch up some of the seniors at that time.
But this week, I caught up with one senior on Western Michigan who people around here know well — former Sioux Mike Cichy.
Cichy was always a good quote even when he was back here, but it was good to catch up with him, and in true senior form, he seems to have a great perspective on everything. While we always focus on what’s happening on the ice, Cichy will become the first member of his family to earn a college degree — a significant accomplishment.
Cichy has bounced from defensive lines to scoring lines this year, filling in wherever he is needed. Not sure where he will play this weekend.
There’s a lot on the line for both teams.
UND is playing for a chance to be the first winner of the Penrose Cup. With St. Cloud State playing at seventh-place Colorado College, UND may have to sweep in order to lift the Penrose.
Read a little bit of what the players are saying about the series here.
According to this USCHO story, it doesn’t sound like NCHC commish Josh Fenton knows exactly where he’s going to be at this weekend.
Western Michigan enters this series coming off of a 3-1 win over Denver — a contest that has Bronco coach Andy Murray confident heading into this weekend. He told the Kalamazoo Gazette that he sees some good signs.
I’ll be really curious to see how this series plays out.
The series in Kalamazoo was pretty much a toss-up both nights. If anything, the Broncos may have outplayed UND. But the two best players on the ice — both games — were Zane Gothberg and Rocco Grimaldi.
The series was pretty physical and I’d expect the same this weekend. Western Michigan may be the toughest team physically that UND plays against in the NCHC this season. It wasn’t easy for UND to get to the paint during last Saturday’s game against St. Cloud State, and that part probably won’t be any easier this weekend.
In the last three years, these teams have played three times. They have all been one-goal games if you take away empty-netters. UND has won all three.
On to this weekend’s picks….
St. Cloud State at Colorado College: Everyone will be keeping their eyes on this series. And yes, even though the Tigers are playing better as of late, I think that UND will need to sweep the Broncos to lift the Penrose. St. Cloud State sweep.
Omaha at Duluth: Forgotten in the Penrose race is that Omaha actually has a chance to get the Cup as well. The Mavs are only three points back of UND and SCSU. Armed with a 7-4 record in their last 11 games, they might just make this thing interesting. Omaha regulation win, Omaha shootout win.
Miami at Denver: The Pioneers are expected to get Joey LaLeggia back after he missed five games with an injury, but they will likely be without Quentin Shore and Josiah Didier. The return of Blake Coleman, meanwhile, has been a big factor for the RedHawks. Split.
Western Michigan at UND: I think we see two more close games this weekend. The difference last time was Gothberg and Grimaldi. The difference this time is Ralph Engelstad Arena. UND sweep.
For the women, it’s now or never.
They know they need to win the WCHA Final Faceoff in order to make the NCAA tournament because of their 1-6-1 record in the month without the Olympians.
Here’s my preview for today’s semifinal game against the University of Wisconsin.
UND has played Wisconsin four times this season, and actually, has probably been the better team overall in those games. But the Badgers have arguably the top goaltender in the nation in Alex Rigsby.
UND has only scored one goal in two games against Rigsby, who is aided by a strong defensive system and defensive corps.
The Badgers are patient, wait for opponent mistakes and capitalize.
UND has struggled a bit offensively lately, so it might not be easy to get that cranked back up against a team like the Badgers. But the Olympians are all back and have had some time to get their body clocks on to a normal schedule.
The fact that UND only had to travel to Bemidji also helps.
It appears that the WCHA wants to start moving the Final Faceoff around. Today, the league commish told the Bemidji Pioneer that next year’s event will be in Grand Forks.
Eight of the last 10 WCHA Final Faceoffs have been at Ridder Arena.
That’s it for now. I’ll post if there are any updates this afternoon. Have a good one.