Friday morning reading

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Is the weather ever bad here?

This is my eighth trip to the Springs, and I can’t ever remember it being bad. Once again, it was in the upper 60s today and the forecast calls for it to be in that vicinity for the rest of the weekend.

The team practiced this afternoon at World Arena for about an hour. Former UND goalie Tate Maris stopped by to visit the old team.

The Tigers practiced after UND and I chatted with new coach Mike Haviland for a little bit. He talks about the challenges of stepping into the college game from the pro game and his thoughts on his team in this notebook.

When you think of Colorado College, you think about the high-flying offense and the dynamic forwards that the Tigers boasted for so many years. From Brian Swanson to Peter Sejna to Noah Clarke to Brett Sterling to Marty Sertich to Chad Rau to Jaden and Rylan Schwartz, the Tigers could score with anyone. But they weren’t great on the back end and that was usually their downfall.

What makes things strange is that the Tigers have been the opposite for the past two seasons. Up front, they don’t have anyone that really scares you, especially now that Alexander Krushelnyski is gone. But on the back end, the Tigers are very good. They have a group of older players who have developed through their careers mixed in with some very talented youngsters like Jaccob Slavin (Carolina pick), Teemu Kivihalme (Nashville pick) and Garrett Cecere.

Another Tiger blue liner to watch is Peter Stoykewych. He scored three goals during his first three years in college and two of them came against UND.

Look for the Tigers to lean on that group to help provide offense and to help transition the puck out of the zone, making it more difficult on UND to score goals.

For UND, I think it once again comes down to grinding and competing as hard as they did at the end of last season and Saturday night against Bemidji State. If they can find that in their game, I think they can make things hard on the Tigers this weekend.

UND also will hope to get a few more players on the scoresheet. One of those players is senior Michael Parks, who answered some random questions for our “get to know” segment.

For Thursday’s paper, I wrote a feature on the East Grand Forks and Grand Forks Central players on this team’s roster. There are five of them and they played against each other in a pretty intense high school rivalry. Now, they are not only teammates but they also all live together (the two freshmen in the dorms and the other three in an apartment). I can’t find it online at the moment.

This week’s NCHC picks….

UND at Colorado College: Vegas bookies say a split is likely. UND and CC have split 5 of their last 6 series here. UND has only swept once in the last 10 trips here. But I think the Tigers have too many questions both up front and in goal for me to confident in picking them. So I’m going with a UND sweep.

Omaha at Western Michigan: Omaha likes to get up and down the rink. Western Michigan likes to lock it down defensively. Should be a good matchup between contrasting styles. Split.

MSU-Mankato vs. Minnesota Duluth: Home-and-home series between old WCHA rivals. Should be highly entertaining. The Bulldogs have tons of skill up front. The Mavs have a deep, veteran team that could make an NCAA tournament run this season. Can’t see either team getting the upper hand here. Split.

Miami vs. Ohio State: Home-and-home series between old CCHA rivals. Ohio State has a lot to replace up front, which isn’t good news because the Buckeyes will need to score to keep up with the RedHawks. Miami win and tie.

RPI at Denver: RPI coach Seth Appert returns to DU, where he was an assistant coach on Denver’s national title teams. Denver was the only team off last weekend, so it’s hard to know a lot about the Pioneers. Split.

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On the women’s side, UND has a big rivalry series coming up against Minnesota Duluth.

Minnesota Duluth went 31-2 against UND in the first 33 meetings between the teams. So, it’s hard to believe that UND has totally flipped this series and will enter this weekend on an eight-game unbeaten streak against the Bulldogs.

There’s a story in the Herald about how UND ended the whole “Big Three” thing by finishing ahead of Duluth in the WCHA standings for each of the last three years. That story doesn’t appear to be online right now though.

Another big development for the women’s team is that sophomore defenseman Halli Krzyzaniak was named to the Four Nations team for Canada. This is the top National Team, which means she’s definitely making her way onto Hockey Canada’s radar for the 2018 Olympics. The Four Nations will be played next month.

It’s going to be a very interesting weekend on the women’s side in the WCHA with every team playing someone that they will be close to in the standings.

Minnesota is playing Wisconsin. Those teams should finish 1-2. UND and Duluth are playing while Ohio State and Bemidji State are playing. Those teams should finish 3-4-5-6. Then, Mankato is playing against St. Cloud in a battle of teams that should finish 7-8. This weekend will go a long way in separating out some of those teams (unless they are all splits).

I’m off to mentally prepare for how many spicy cajun dogs I’m going to destroy postgame on Tejon Street in downtown Springs.

Friday morning reading

Good morning and welcome to the regular-season opener. If you want to watch tonight’s game, it will be on Midco Sports Network (27, 622 HD) and NCHC.tv. No Fox College Sports tonight.

UND coach Dave Hakstol has been at the helm for a decade now, but I don’t think a lot of people know how he was raised, how he ended up at UND as a player and how he ended up in coaching.

So, I wrote a lengthy piece that’s hopefully sort of a behind-the-scenes look at what UND’s head coach is really like. The story started to get pretty long so I have a ton of info that didn’t get in.

Some of the random notes that didn’t get in the story:

1. Hakstol’s mother, Theresa, often follows UND hockey games through the live chat. I asked her about that and she said that she can always tell what’s happening in the games. “I read the comments, I disregard some of them, and I never tell Dave about them.” She also comes to Grand Forks about three times a year to watch weekend series and hang out with the grandchildren.

2. If Hakstol is on a road trip, he said that there’s a 70 percent chance he’s listening to NHL radio, a 20 percent chance he’s listening to news and a 10 percent chance he’s listening to music. He likes to turn up the tunes late at night.

3. Hakstol’s favorite movie is Last of the Mohicans. He enjoys action movies with a little bit of history or dumb, mindless comedy. His listens to a bit of every type of music outside of hip hop. And he’s been watching The Blacklist on TV lately.

I’ll find more and post it later.

The season opener is against Bemidji State, a team that UND earned a win and a tie against last season.

The Beavs have not played an exhibition game yet, so this will be their first action of the year. I’d expect UND to try to push the pace in the first period, especially. UND wasn’t real sharp in the first period against Manitoba as it got its bearings. I’m sure it would like to jump out to a lead while the Beavs do the same.

I think most UND fans will remember Cory Ward from last season. He scored two of BSU’s three goals on rocket shots. He’ll be a guy to watch. UND won’t want to give him time and space because of his outstanding release.

Bemidji State’s top defenseman will be Matt Prapavessis, who should be one of the WCHA’s best blue liners this season.

I’m also curious to watch some of Bemidji State’s freshmen. This is a highly touted class. Brett Beauvais was the BCHL defenseman of the year last season. He should be part of a D-corps that will be much improved.

The Beavs also are bringing in a set of triplets. The Fitzgeralds. They are famous for being in the movie Baby Geniuses. They will all play on the same line against UND. Myles and Gerry finished 2-3 in the BCHL in scoring last season.

The Bemidji Pioneer’s preview story notes that Moorhead’s Michael Bitzer will get the start tonight, while Andrew Walsh will play in Bemidji on Saturday.

This series has one different twist this year. Typically, the Friday night game has been in Bemidji and Saturday has been in Grand Forks. It is reversed this season.

Around the league….

Colgate at St. Cloud State: Perhaps the highlight series in the country as a very good Colgate team comes to St. Cloud. The Huskies swept Colgate last season. Both teams have a lot of players back and could make NCAA tournament runs. Split.

Minnesota Duluth at Ice Breaker: The Bulldogs open with Minnesota today, then will play either Notre Dame or RPI. The Bulldog-Gopher matchup should be a good one to watch — both sides with plenty of high-end forwards. Tie.

Miami at Bowling Green: A critical nonconference series for the NCHC. Miami’s Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber can start their Hobey campaigns. Miami sweep.

Western Michigan at Canisius: Again, another critical nonconference series for the league. It cannot start losing to Atlantic Hockey teams like it did last season. Broncos sweep.

Huntsville at Colorado College: The Tigers went 0-9 last year in nonconference play. They have a 14-game winless streak going in nonconference dating back to a 6-2 win over Air Force on Oct. 19, 2012. That should end tonight against a Charger team that went 2-35-1 last season. Tiger sweep.

MSU-Mankato at Nebraska Omaha: Speaking of teams that have struggled in nonconference, Omaha hosts Mankato in the Battle of the Mavs. Omaha went 3-7 in nonconference play last season, including a loss at home to Bentley. Mankato returns a huge portion of the roster, making this its year to try to make a run. Mankato win and tie.

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The UND women’s team travels to Mankato, where they’ve had a fair bit of success lately.

Coach Brian Idalski plans to continue playing both Shelby Amsley-Benzie and Lexie Shaw in goal. He talks a bit about both of their strengths in this story, which also points out how eerily similar their stats were last season.

The Mavs are in a bit of a rebuild this season after losing eight seniors, including four of the five top scorers. The one top scorer that returned is fifth-year senior Kathleen Rogan, who should lead them in offense this season. If UND can slow down Rogan, it would be big for this weekend.

After dropping a critical nonconference game against Vermont last weekend, UND needs to start working its way toward the NCAA tournament by having a good weekend in Mankato.

That’s it for now.

The first audition

(NOTE: Tonight’s game will be on Midco Sports Network. Before you ask, no, it will not be on FCS. Yes, UND, FCS and Midco are still working on an agreement so other games will be on FCS, but it is not done yet. I’m expecting something soon. Tonight’s game also will be on nchc.tv. Okay, so, let’s carry on….)

The six-month countdown to Manitoba has hit zero.

Finally, the UND men’s team returns to action at 5:07 p.m. tonight against the University of Manitoba. There’s a party on the plaza starting at 3 p.m. for those interested.

The game action figures to be an important audition for the players, who are preparing for Friday’s regular-season opener against Bemidji State. The fans and coaching staff will finally get a chance to see this team in action against an opponent.

Here are five items that I’ll be keeping my eye on tonight:

1. Who will earn a spot on the D-corps?

The most highlighted position battle comes at the blue line. There are eight proven guys. Only six will be in the lineup Friday night against Bemidji State. Will anyone set themselves apart tonight? Will anyone clinch a spot in the lineup against the Beavs? This is a big test for the blue liners.

2. Who will be the No. 2 goaltender?

We all know Zane McIntyre is the No. 1 goaltender, but we do not know who will be backing him up this season. I’m guessing that all three goalies will see some action tonight. Can either Matt Hrynkiw or Cam Johnson make a play for the backup role?

3. The Nick Schmaltz debut

The highly touted rookie is a skilled player who can create a lot of offensive chances. He’s most likely going to get an opportunity to center a scoring line with Drake Caggiula and Luke Johnson tonight. One highlight of the preseason exhibition is always getting the first look at the rookies and no rookie will have more eyes on him than Nick tonight.

4. Can Wade Murphy find a spot?

After a successful junior career in the BCHL, Murphy came to UND with expectations to produce right away. That didn’t happen, though, for the Nashville Predators draft pick. He did not score a goal last season and was not in the lineup by the end. It’s a new year, a fresh slate and Murphy will have his big audition tonight to try to get in the lineup for the Beaver series.

5. Who will be on the power play?

Stephane Pattyn was an out-of-the-box move on the power play last season that ended up working out great for UND. I think he’s back on that unit this season. There are many possibilities, especially on the back end. Austin Poganski is another guy who has excelled in front of the net in the past. Tucker Poolman was a power-play specialist with Omaha last season, so don’t be surprised if you see him out there, too.

Thursday morning reading

PHILADELPHIA — I just took a taxi cab back to the hotel, rode the elevator up to my room and plopped down in my chair with a cheese steak from Geno’s.

Well, what’s left of it, anyway.

It was quite a busy first day at the Frozen Four in Philadelphia. Every other Frozen Four that I’ve covered, we traveled on Tuesday. This time, we didn’t go until Wednesday, because we had the Forum’s plane.

We got in just in time for UND’s practice, which was rather routine. This seemed like the same, loose group that went to Minneapolis three weeks ago and Cincinnati two weeks ago.

Who knows what the end result will be, but this is clearly a team that is not up tight.

The most entertaining part of practice is always the shootout and there was some buzz when Michael Parks went three-for-three to win it, including a top-shelf backhand. Brad Berry also created a buzz by scoring on his first two attempts.

If you want to read a lot of content, we have two eight-page sections inserted into today’s Herald. I’m told that the stories are not going to be available on the web, so go pick up a Herald if you want a lot to read.

There are also a couple of stories that are on the Herald’s site, including a quick scene-setting piece on practice and a notebook, which tells you why The Voice, Tim Hennessy missed UND’s last Frozen Four.

There is a ton of good content all over the place (the media room was rather crowded today). Check the regulars, USCHO.com and collegehockeynews.com for some more features.

I did want to mention one CHN piece about UND’s team meeting that helped right the ship. There were some interesting quotes from Rocco Grimaldi in this one. Grimaldi said things got heated and personal in the meeting.

Now for my picks.

I will start by saying that it won’t surprise me in the least if any of the four teams win the national championship this weekend. That’s the way college hockey is these days.

UND vs. Minnesota

The Gophers are the more skilled team. They will try to play an up-and-down game and use their outstanding skating ability to beat UND. I’m guessing UND would like to play it a bit more close to the vest and rely on its strong D-corps and goaltending to knock off the Gophers.

In the end, I think Minnesota is the more complete team here. The Gophers are statistically better than UND in nearly every category. The big difference between this Gopher squad and past ones is that they defend much better. Ultimately, I think UND’s run ends in the semifinals.

Minnesota 4, UND 1

Union vs. Boston College

The Eagles will get all the hype. And why not? They have won four national titles since 2001.

But Union is the quiet monster of the group. The Dutchmen haven’t lost a game since January. Nobody has even been within a goal of them in about two months now. That’s incredible. Union’s worst loss this year? It was a one-goal game (excluding ENGs).

I think Union plays a tight defensive game, it slows down Boston College enough and the Dutchmen reach the title game.

Union 3, Boston College 2, OT

The final

Union keeps up its dominant play and becomes the third team in four years to win its first national title.

Union 3, Minnesota 2

And here are two photos from Philly. The first is the Forum Communications team heading to Philadelphia on the Forum’s plane. It features members from the Herald, the Forum and WDAZ TV. From left to right: Myself, Tom Miller, Michael Yoshida, Dan Corey, Lori Weber Menke. David Samson, our photog of course, is taking the photo.

And, the second, is myself, Matt Schill and Andy Parr making a trip to Geno’s and Pat’s. I tried Geno’s. Schill and Parr tried Pat’s. We hope to be back again tonight.

Check back through the day for any updates, a video blog and, as always, the live chat. For me, this 23 hour, 30 minute day is over. See ya.

Friday morning reading

CINCINNATI — There’s a different vibe around the NCAA tournament this year. UND is in a position it hasn’t been in probably 30-plus years.

It is the underdog to open the tournament.

That has not been the case lately. During the team’s current run of 12 straight NCAA tournaments, it has only been the lower seed twice prior to this season. And I don’t think UND or its fans saw itself as an underdog in those years.

In 2003, UND was the No. 3 seed taking on No. 2 seed Ferris State in the first round. The Bulldogs were making their first NCAA tournament appearance.

In 2007, UND was the No. 3 seed taking on No. 2 Michigan in the first round. Both teams were loaded, but UND was playing well with Jonathan Toews, T.J. Oshie and Ryan Duncan on the top line.

Outside of that, the last time UND was a lower seed in the first round was 1990, when UND was a fifth seed and Boston University was a fourth seed.

This time, UND is the underdog — the No. 4 seed. The Badgers, meanwhile, believe that this four-year cycle can end up like the last two (2006, 2010) with a national championship game berth. They are deep and veteran at every position.

“Legitimately so, we’re an underdog in this game against a really good veteran team,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “But we have the opportunity to play tomorrow and that’s exciting for our group of guys within our locker room. It’s a fairly confident, loose bunch within our locker room.”

It will be interesting to see if the underdog role helps, hurts or has no effect on UND. Around the rink today, I got a sense of a relaxed and confident group.

Today’s game is a do-or-die elimination game, which is nothing new for this time. It has faced that scenario twice.

It went into the Sunday night game against Colorado College knowing that it needed a win to keep its season alive. Same with the Saturday afternoon game against Western Michigan. UND passed the test both times.

In the last 17 years, I could only think of one other time where UND was on the bubble in the first round and needed to win to advance (not counting 2001-02. UND wasn’t on bubble that year).

That other year was 2003, when UND lost Game 1 to Denver. It came back to win the next two games in overtime and advance to the Final Five and lock up an NCAA tournament bid.

The tournament stay was short lived that year with No. 3 UND losing to No. 2 Ferris State in the first round. But one big difference is that in 2003, UND started 21-2-3 and went 5-9-2 in the 16 games before the NCAAs. This UND team started 4-7-2 and is entering the tournament 19-6-1 in the last 26.

If you want to check out some stories, there’s plenty in the Herald and Wisconsin State Journal.

NOTEBOOK: UND staying loose as NCAA tournament nears

BADGER VIEW: UW hopes four-year cycle strikes again

THE HISTORY: UND, Badgers have played classic postseason games

UND HOCKEY: Players feel rejuvenated

WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL: Questions linger about Rumpel

Now for the picks. The NCAA tournament has become such a crapshoot that I decided to do something different this year. I made my picks, then I decided to flip a coin using heads as the higher seed and tails as the lower seed. We can see who is more accurate at picking games: a quarter or myself.

My picks

Wisconsin over UND
Colgate over Ferris State
Wisconsin over Colgate

Union over Vermont
Providence over Quinnipiac
Providence over Union

Boston College over Denver
Lowell over Mankato
Boston College over Lowell

Minnesota over Robert Morris
Notre Dame over St. Cloud State
Minnesota over Notre Dame

My coin’s picks

UND over Wisconsin
Colgate over Ferris State
UND over Colgate

Vermont over Union
Providence over Quinnipiac
Vermont over Providence

Denver over Boston College
Mankato over Lowell
Denver over Mankato

Minnesota over Robert Morris
Notre Dame over St. Cloud State
Notre Dame over Minnesota

Friday morning reading

MINNEAPOLIS — The biggest buzz item from the first day of the conference tournaments — other than Penn State’s win over Michigan — was the attendance (or lack of) at the Big Ten tournament in the Xcel Energy Center.

The WCHA and the NCHC tournaments begin today. And while I’m expecting to see more fans than what attended Michigan-Penn State today, I think it will continue to hammer home the point that we all knew would be true: No tournament will be able to replicate the old Final Five.

UND fans have already started arriving in the Twin Cities. I’ve seen them all over our hotel and milling around downtown Minneapolis and more are expected to arrive today.

If the NCHC draws 8,000-10,000 paid attendance, I think it would have to consider that a successful start to the tournament. Obviously, North Dakota will have the largest fan base at the event.

That brings us to tonight’s semifinal between UND and Miami.

The big question: What Miami team will show up?

Will it be the one that went 2-12-1 in its first 15 games after Christmas? The one that got shelled 9-2 by UND a few weeks ago?

Or will it be the one that has won three games in a row, including a sweep at league champion St. Cloud State last weekend?

I think we’ll see more of the latter.

Why? The No. 1 reason is that Blake Coleman is back in the lineup for Miami, playing extremely well, and his presence completely changes the depth of that team. Earlier, they were throwing Riley Barber and Austin Czarnik on the same line. After that, there wasn’t much scoring.

Now, they have a line with Barber and Sean Kuraly (who has scored goals in 3 of the 4 games this season against UND and has points in all 4). Their second line has Coleman and Czarnik. So that gives the RedHawks two very explosive scoring lines up front instead of one.

The key for UND is to try to play in Miami’s end as much as possible. That’s probably easier said than done, but if UND plays in that end, it is attacking Miami’s weakness (the back end), while preventing Miami from playing to its strength (offensive zone).

UND did a terrific job of that in the first four meetings between the teams. It will be harder this time around with deeper lines thanks to the return of Coleman.

For today’s paper, I wrote a piece on Dillon Simpson, who came to UND as a 17-year-old and had some interesting times.

I also had a piece on what to watch in this weekend’s Frozen Faceoff.

For Thursday’s paper, I profiled the goaltenders. Despite their fierce competition on the ice, they have become each other’s biggest supporters off the ice. Read about that here.

USCHO has a preview on its site here.

College Hockey News also has a preview here.

So, what’s my pick for the weekend? Well, this is an unusually hard one. All of these teams have had their ups and downs. And I fully realize that any team I pick could very well end up taking fourth.

With that being said, you’re supposed to pick the hot goaltender at this time of the year, and nobody was hotter last weekend than Denver’s Sam Brittain. So, I’ll say that the NCHC goalie of the year carries the Pioneers back to the NCAAs.

Friday morning reading

The WCHA went to 10 teams in 1999-00, adding Mankato State.

And all we’ve ever known in that era is boring playoff series for the top seeds.

In the 14-year span from 1999-00 to present in the WCHA, No. 1 seeds are 14-0 in the first round, going an astounding 28-2 in games in that span. The only two losses by top seeds were Anchorage over Minnesota in 2007 and Duluth over North Dakota in 2001. Both top seeds ended up winning Game 3.

Furthermore, No. 2 seeds have gone 13-1. The lone second seed to lose was Denver in 2005-06, when it was upset by Duluth.

So, since Mankato was added to the WCHA, the top two seeds are 27-1 in the first round.

Now, it’s a new era.

This weekend, the NCHC playoffs begin with four intriguing matchups. The No. 1 seed is included in that. St. Cloud State, the regular season champion, takes on Miami, the league’s preseason champion and one of the nation’s top five programs over the last decade.

I can’t see the top two seeds going 27-1 in the next 14 years.

Here in Grand Forks, UND hosts Colorado College in an interesting matchup. The Tigers bounced UND from the Final Five a year ago, ending UND’s WCHA record playoff winning streak.

This time, it’s a series that will go a long way in determining whether UND will make the NCAA tournament. If UND loses this series, it will not be in a very comfortable spot while it waits for the NCAA selection show.

Curious where other teams are likely to end up in the Pairwise after this weekend? CollegeHockeyRanked.com has you covered here.

This was an interesting week in the NCHC offices trying to schedule flights to the host cities in five days notice. In a lot of cases, they weren’t able to, so there are some interesting travel schedules in the league. Read about that, and other notes about the NCHC tournament, in this notebook.

Earlier this week, I also wrote a feature on Derek Rodwell, who missed several games at the start of the season, but has earned his way into the lineup and will be there for the rest of the season.

The Colorado Springs Gazette has a story on goaltender Josh Thorimbert and his teammates, who are trying to extend their season this weekend.

The Gazette also has three storylines to watch this weekend.

I’ll add a few.

1. Watch the play of CC defenseman Gustav Olofsson. The Tigers gave the Minnesota Wild draft pick the night off on Saturday in order to try to re-charge his batteries for the playoffs. He was one of CC’s better players in REA earlier this season.

2. The penalties. CC scored three of its five goals earlier this season against UND on the power play. The Tigers struggle to score five-on-five, so UND will want to stay out of the box.

3. The blue liners. Both of these teams generate a lot of offense from the back end.

This week, we have NCHC playoff matchup boxes in the Herald on the Ice Time page. I have my predictions there. Check it out at this link.

It will be a busy day at UND with the women’s basketball team playing in the Big Sky semis at 5 p.m., the men’s basketball team playing in the Big Sky semis at 5:30 p.m. and hockey starting at 7:38 p.m.

There’s some good news here, too. All three of those games will be streamed for FREE. Check nchchockey.com for the free hockey games and Big Sky TV for the free basketball streams. Enjoy.

Friday morning reading

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.

Read the full story on Cichy here.

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.

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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.

Here’s a preview on the tournament from the Bemidji Pioneer.

That’s it for now. I’ll post if there are any updates this afternoon. Have a good one.

Friday morning reading

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.

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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.

Here’s a story that I wrote about Karvinen and her impact on the UND program.

That’s all for now – it is time for some sleep and a drive to St. Cloud in the morning/afternoon. Catch you then.

Friday morning reading

Since I’ve been on the college hockey beat, I have missed two series in Duluth.

In 2005-06, the Herald opted to use the Duluth News Tribune’s story (same company) and have me stay home and help out with UND football instead. Then, in 2007-08, I was very sick and couldn’t leave my apartment.

The only two times that UND has swept a series in Duluth in the last decade? Yep, 2005-06 and 2007-08.

So, I’m sure many of you are hoping that this winter storm strands me in Bemidji, Grand Rapids, or somewhere along the way to Duluth.

The team arrived early Thursday afternoon — before the storm started dumping snow — in preparation for a huge NCHC series that has implications on both the conference level and the national level.

As you will see with Jim Dahl’s latest Pairwise forecast, UND could end up anywhere from No. 7 to No. 21 in the Pairwise after this weekend.

A lot has changed since these teams played in Ralph Engelstad Arena in November. For starters, the Bulldogs will probably see Zane Gothberg in goal this weekend. Gothberg did not start the first time around.

Here’s my story this week about Gothberg, who said he feels pretty good.

Another difference is that the Bulldogs will contend with a healthy Mark MacMillan and Michael Parks. They were both banged up after the Omaha series in November. But lately, they’ve been a huge key to UND’s 12-2-1 run in the last 15.

The Bulldogs also have been significantly better in the second half of the season. After starting the year 6-8-1, the Bulldogs are 7-3-3 in the last 13. Last weekend, they were swept by St. Cloud State, but threw 81 shots on goal in two games.

While last weekend’s opponent, Miami, was top-heavy with its scoring. The Bulldogs present a lot more balance.

The team’s top two goal scorers, Kyle Osterberg and Alex Iafallo, are on different lines. The team’s overall leading scorer, Caleb Herbert, is on a third line. Their top three lines have combined for 21, 25 and 22 goals this season. So, it’s hard to say which is their top line and which is their third line.

Duluth charged up the Pairwise Rankings by losing just once in an 11-game span, but UND passed the Bulldogs after last weekend. So, these teams are jockeying for position.

The Duluth News Tribune has a short preview for the series here.

On to some predictions for the weekend…

Omaha at Western Michigan: Since getting swept by UND, the Broncos are 8-4-2. During that span, Lukas Hafner as actually been the better goalie, going 5-3-2 with a 2.51 GAA and a .914 SP. Frank Slubowski is 3-1 with a 3.32 and a .899 in that stretch. Goaltending remains an issue for Omaha. Split.

St. Cloud State at Miami: Rico Blasi made it sound like the return of Blake Coleman is a week away. And after last weekend, fans are questioning whether the RedHawks have mailed it in. St. Cloud State sweep.

Colorado College at Denver: Denver may be missing Joey LaLeggia this weekend, but I still like the Pioneers here. The Pioneers haven’t had a sweep since mid-November, but I think that stretch ends this weekend. Denver sweep.

North Dakota at Duluth: This is a matchup of the NCHC’s two best teams since the break. UND is 7-2-1. Duluth is 6-3-3. Both teams are showing some depth up front, and I don’t think either team has a huge advantage this weekend. Split.