OXFORD, Ohio — UND took the ice at Steve Cady Arena on Thursday afternoon for its weekly practice.
There was one notable absence.
Mark MacMillan was the only player on the team not to make the trip to Oxford this weekend after the senior had surgery Wednesday.
“It’s weird not seeing him skate on the green line with Parksy,” senior Brendan O’Donnell said.
With Andrew Panzarella practicing as a defenseman and Johnny Simonson likely out with an illness (even though he’s on the trip), it will likely be Trevor Olson or Coltyn Sanderson to get the call tonight. Neither have played since Christmas.
The depth is about to be tested, but it has worked out well recently for UND.
Last weekend, St. Cloud State held UND’s top four scorers — Drake Caggiula, Michael Parks, MacMillan and Jordan Schmaltz — all without a point. And the Huskies still got swept.
This weekend may be UND’s biggest road challenge of the season. Miami officials are expecting sold out crowds both nights. They will be fired up, knowing that the RedHawks have a chance to go from worst to first and win the Penrose Cup at home.
UND already has clinched a share of the title, but the players don’t want to be sharing it. They’ve lost league championships on the last day of the regular season each of the last two years and are determined to keep this one for themselves.
What’s the key? Getting pucks behind Miami’s D and making it hard for them to break out of the zone. If Miami plays in the offensive zone a lot, the RedHawks are going to score. They are too skilled up front. But if you force them to play a lot in the D-zone, they can make mistakes.
As you’ll read in Friday’s paper, the player to watch for North Dakota may not be Austin Czarnik (who, by the way, has the oddest scoring line I’ve ever seen by a forward: 2 goals, 30 assists) or Riley Barber. It’s been Sean Kuraly who has killed UND the last two years.
This week’s “Get to Know” feature is with defenseman Paul LaDue, who remembers his first varsity goal with Grand Forks Central. It’s a funny story. Read that here.
Also, if you didn’t see it on Thursday, I wrote a piece on how Mario Lamoureux shaped this year’s senior class and why its expectations won’t change without MacMillan. Read that one here.
There’s also an interesting story in the St. Cloud Times today with some quotes from Jonny Brodzinski, whose slap shot hurt the leg of MacMillan. Brodzinski, who first expressed his disappointment that MacMillan was injured, also said: “I figured if I hit them once, they might get out of the way, but they kept getting in front of them. They’re a gutty team.” Read more of his quotes here.
The NCHC league office broke down the possible finishes for the teams after this weekend. Miami could possibly win the league championship or be on the road in the first round. Crazy stuff.
Possible place finishes for each team entering this weekend
· North Dakota – 1,2 (needs just 1 point at Miami to clinch 1 seed/outright title, already has share of regular season title)
· Miami – 1,2,3,4,5 (needs 2 points to secure home for sure, needs sweep of UND to share regular season title and get 1 seed)
· Omaha – 2,3,4,5 (needs 4 points to secure home ice for sure)
· Denver – 2,3,4,5 (needs 5 points to secure home ice for sure)
· Minnesota Duluth – 2,3,4,5,6 (needs just 1 point to secure 5 seed, needs at least one team ahead of them to lose/tie to have a chance to get home ice)
· St. Cloud State – 5,6 (SCSU has to sweep DU and UMD has to get swept by WMU for SCSU to move up to 5 seed)
· Western Michigan – locked in to 7
· Colorado College – locked in to 8
On to my predictions for the weekend…..
Minnesota Duluth at Western Michigan: The Broncos took five of six points from Duluth in AmsOil earlier this season, but which Broncos team is going to show up tonight? Will it be the one that pushed UND to the limit on back-to-back nights two weeks ago? Or will it be the one that got blown out 5-0 by CC last Saturday? Duluth 3-2, 4-1.
Denver at St. Cloud State: The Pioneers have been really good at home (13-5) and really average on the road (5-6-2). They should be able to grab one game in the National Hockey Center, but probably not two. Denver 3-2, St. Cloud State 4-2.
Colorado College at Omaha: The Tigers have won 1 of 16 road games this season and 3 of the last 34 dating back to last season. They are playing an Omaha team that will be desperate to snap a skid in which it has one win in the last seven games. Omaha 4-1, 5-2.
UND at Miami: UND gets its first test without MacMillan. I don’t think it will be smooth sailing, but I say that UND does enough to win the Penrose outright. Miami 3-2, UND 2-1.