Friday morning reading

For as average as UND has been in the first half of seasons, December has not been part of that.

UND is 19-1-2 in December in the last five years (the lone loss being in overtime) and is 10-0-2 in the last 12 December games.

This year, UND is 2-0, but it has a huge test this weekend at Magness Arena, a place that UND has not swept since 2003. Nearly all of the series in Magness have been splits.

Traditionally, it has been a fan-friendly place for UND with tons of alums in the area. Denver ditched the ticket policy it had a year ago, where fans couldn’t purchase single-game tickets (they instead had to buy a group deal of 25+ or get tickets to three other weekends).

Many UND fans seemed to just get the 25 and distribute them among friends. It certainly didn’t keep the fans out.

I think this series is a great one for the NCHC.

A lot of in-conference rivalries have died off, but this is one that has been heated for the past decade, and it’s important to stay intact.

In fact, one Denver player told the Denver Post that North Dakota’s visit is his “favorite weekend of the year.”

For Thursday’s paper, I wrote about a few of the incidents that have happened in this rivalry, including George Gwozdecky’s infamous walk across the ice. Isn’t that what comes to everyone’s mind when thinking about this rivalry?

Speaking of Gwozdecky, I think his absence leaves a tiny void in this rivalry. His personality was great for it. I never got a sense that many UND fans hated Gwozdecky. I think they loved to hate him, and they were sad to see him go.

For today’s paper, I wrote a larger piece on goal scoring in college hockey hitting an all-time low this season. Is it a problem? Or are games entertaining enough as is? What say you?

There’s also a “Get to Know” segment with Austin Poganski. The freshman says that he hated hockey after his first day of practice as a kid and quit for that season. He gave it another try the next year, and that was a good decision.

What’s the scouting report on Denver?

UND can sort of look in the mirror. The Pioneers are getting outstanding goaltending from Evan Cowley, who took the reigns from Sam Brittain. Cowley is at .922 and 1.98. For UND, Zane McIntyre has been very good (.929, 1.94).

On the defensive corps, both teams are exceptionally skilled. UND fans are quite familiar with Joey LaLeggia and Nolan Zajac. Will Butcher also is turning into the standout he was projected to be when he committed.

UND will counter with a very good D-corps, but one that’s without Troy Stecher. Who replaces Stecher? That’s hard to say. Nick Mattson brings skill and power play ability to UND’s lineup. Andrew Panzarella brings the grit and the penalty killing ability. Those attributes may decide who plays.

The good news is that Bryn Chyzyk continued to practice this week and it’s likely that he’ll play in the series opener tonight. Chyzyk is off to a nice start to the season and will help UND’s penalty kill. That’s crucial because Denver has the league’s top power play.

Up front, I think DU is like UND. They are not as skilled as Miami or Duluth, but they have a lot of really good players, including Ty Loney, who is expected to return to the lineup tonight after missing four games. Loney has played some of his best hockey against UND, tallying six points in the last six games in the rivalry.

Predictions for this weekend…..

Colorado College at Western Michigan: Colorado College is 1-10 in its last 11 games and 0-8 on the road this season. It has been a disastrous start. Western Michigan is only 1-4-1 at home this season. I say the Tigers get a point but not a win. CC 2, WMU 2; WMU 5, CC 2.

Minnesota Duluth at Michigan Tech: Probably will be Tech’s most challenging opponent to this point in the season (yes, Mankato is good, too). But the Bulldogs have been getting my No. 1 vote in the polls, and I think they will prove why this weekend. Duluth 4-1, 3-2.

St. Cloud State at Omaha: The Huskies don’t have many breaks in the schedule this season, do they? Another weekend, another tough series in Omaha. The Huskies haven’t been able to gain any traction this season with a sweep yet, and I don’t see it coming against a good Mavs team. St. Cloud State 4-1, Omaha 4-2.

UND at Denver: Expecting a good crowd and very good entertainment between these teams. When has there ever been a boring game at Magness? Exciting games are the norm and so are splits. Denver 3-1, UND 4-2.

Lastly, I will leave you with the video that never gets old. Thanks to Pat Sweeney for the great call.

Friday morning reading

UND ends the second-longest opponent drought tonight as it meets up with Lake Superior State for the first time since 1973.

For me, it will be my first time seeing the Lakers play in person. They have never been at any showcases, tournaments or regionals with UND since I started at the Herald.

Longest opponent droughts

48 years — Army
41 years — Lake Superior State
31 years — Colgate
25 years — Alabama Huntsville
23 years — UMass-Lowell
22 years — Bowling Green

A little background on the Lakers: Their leading scorer is from Minot and is a kid who almost did not play college hockey. They have an extremely young team. Last Saturday, they played five freshman D-men and a freshman goalie. The Lakers started the season 0-9 but are 3-4 since then, playing a bit better, according to Schmitt.

This is a series that’s not going to give UND a huge Pairwise bump, but it does have potentially to be a Pairwise killer later in the year if UND loses. Speaking of the Pairwise, Jim Dahl has a great post that shows the fluctuation of the Pairwise based on dates. Check that out here.

Lake State took a sleeper bus to Grand Forks overnight Wednesday night. It’s a long, 12-hour drive, but that’s nothing unusual for the Lakers. They’ve already gone on trips to Pennsylvania, Alabama and Alaska this season.

For this morning’s paper, I wrote a little bit about the pitfalls of recent No. 1-ranked teams. They are 1-6 in the past three weeks. Read that story here.

If you haven’t seen the video, I had fun asking coach Dave Hakstol about the polls this week, and I think he knew it. See it here.

I do believe there’s a chance we will see Cam Johnson start a game in net this weekend. Since we don’t really know much about him, I decided to make him the subject of this week’s “Get to Know” segment, just in case he does play. Find out which teammate is “the most interesting guy” that Johnson has ever played with.

In case you missed the Wednesday update, Brendan O’Donnell is expected to play tonight. Bryn Chyzyk skated this week, but Hakstol did not think he would play tonight as of Wednesday. Tucker Poolman practiced at defense this week.

On to the picks…

Denver at Cornell: Another very interesting nonconference matchup at Lynah Rink for the NCHC. Omaha grabbed a win and a tie there and I see Denver doing the exact same. Denver 3-0, 1-1.

Omaha at Miami: Both of these teams recently showed up at The Ralph, and both had their moments. Miami had last week off, while Omaha played a tough series against UND. Omaha is back on the road and I think that works to Miami’s advantage. RedHawks 3-2, 3-3.

Colorado College at Duluth: Full disclosure here – I was one of the three who voted Duluth No. 1 in the polls this week. The Dogs have been very impressive lately. They lose Sammy Spurrell to an injury, but gain Adam Krause back. It’s tough to see the Tigers going to AmsOil and taking a game. Duluth 4-1, 3-0.

Lake Superior State at UND: Like many nonconference opponents, this is one that UND can either let settle into the game and the Ralph or make them uncomfortable right away. Early UND leads could be problems for Lake Superior State. And right now, I’m not sure if the Lakers are veteran enough to go on the road to a place like this and win. UND 4-2, 4-1.

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ESPN’s John Buccigross is expected to be in the house this afternoon as UND takes on Wisconsin in women’s hockey to open a Friday-Sunday series.

The Badgers enter the day on an incredible scoreless streak of 330:56. If anyone is going to finally break through on the Badgers, look for it to be the top line of Becca Kohler, Meghan Dufault and Amy Menke. Since they came together three games ago, they’ve been very good.

Kohler already has career highs in goals and points. She is heavily featured in this week’s preview story. Read that here.

The first time these teams played, UND was up by a goal in the final minute and turned a puck over in the neutral zone while going for an empty-netter. Seconds later, it ended up in the back of UND’s net and Wisconsin grabbed a tie.

This time, the teams will be different as the Badgers were missing two and UND one at the Four Nations Cup.

After going 2-36-1 against Wisconsin in the program’s first 39 games, UND is now 4-4-2 in the last 10 against the Badgers, including wins in each of the last two WCHA semifinal games.

UND also won a game in its last trip to LaBahn a year ago.

Since the team has Saturday off, they are planning on doing homework (finals are coming up and this team has one of the best groups of students I’ve ever covered) and going to a movie.

That’s it for now, here’s some Through These Doors action for you.

Friday morning reading

The last time coach Dean Blais returned to the building that he helped build, he was ejected from the game for not sending a player to the penalty box after a bench minor.

Blais was baffled by the call. The UND coaching staff was not happy that Blais was ejected. And perhaps the league wasn’t pleased with it, either.

The official who ejected Blais, Andy Thiessen, never worked another game in the NCHC and is no longer on the league’s roster of officials.

So far, this trip has been better for Blais. He was able to spend Thanksgiving with family in Grand Forks (his wife is from Starkweather, N.D., and has children in GF and Fargo) before heading to The Ralph for Thursday’s practice.

Blais seemed pretty relaxed Thursday and he has a couple of good reasons for that.

1. Barring an improbable Huntsville sweep, Omaha will finish with a winning record in nonconference play for the first time in five years (since 2009-10 in the CCHA, Blais’ first at the helm). The Mavs are 4-1-1, which will finally put them in good position in the national picture. Their nonconference has killed their Pairwise in recent years.

2. He finally has a goalie. Read this story for details on Ryan Massa’s remarkable turnaround in numbers.

That’s enough to get any coach to feel better.

Omaha is in the middle of a stretch where it plays 10 of 12 games on the road. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. The Mavs are undefeated on the road this season, going 5-0-1. After this weekend, the Mavs go to Miami.

The Omaha World Herald has a bunch of random info in this story, including Blais saying that his grandchildren were crying when he got ejected and that he believes it’s only a matter of time before Minnesota Duluth is the No. 1 team in the country.

Omaha split with the Bulldogs last weekend, but the Dogs outshot the Mavs 40-18 in the game that Omaha won.

For Thursday’s paper, I wrote about defenseman Troy Stecher, arguably UND’s most consistent early this season. Stecher said he knew almost nothing about college hockey until joining the Penticton Vees and meeting two kids named Mark MacMillan and Brendan O’Donnell. Stecher also talks about how he was once committed to Omaha.

This week’s ‘Get to Know’ segment is with Luke Johnson. He tells us the prank that he and cousin Paul LaDue play on each other at hotels all the time.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH THIS WEEKEND

1. Will Nick Schmaltz play? I think there’s a chance. He didn’t look 100 percent at practice, but that doesn’t always stop guys from playing. We’ll find out at about 5:30 p.m. today.

2. Duluth East linemate battle. UND’s Trevor Olson and Omaha’s Jake Randolph formed a prolific high school line along with Duluth’s Dom Toninato at Duluth East. Olson and Randolph will be going head-to-head now.

3. Fargo Force goalie battle. Four years ago, Ryan Massa and Zane McIntyre formed Fargo’s 1-2 goalie punch. Now they are going head-to-head.

4. Austin Ortega’s comment. I don’t think there’s much controversy behind it and I don’t think it was all that inflammatory, but at least it was good for a funny screenshot.

5. Zombo’s last trip to REA. There’s a flag hanging in the upper bowl of The Ralph with the Number 6 and the name Zombo above it. It’s for Rick Zombo, the father of Omaha forward Dom Zombo. This is Dom’s last trip to The Ralph. He had four points in last year’s series in Grand Forks.

On to this weekend’s predictions…

Western Michigan at Notre Dame’s Shillelagh Tournament: The Broncos open with Ohio State and then will play against either Union or the Irish. The NCHC is 11-2 against the Big Ten this season, so I’m going with Western to win the first game, but not finish the job. Western Michigan 3, Ohio State 1; Notre Dame 4, Western Michigan 0.

St. Cloud State at Bemidji State: The Beavers have lost six games in a row, nearly all of them by a single goal. Unfortunately for them, it doesn’t get any easier this weekend against a Husky team that has played top 10 competition nearly every single week. If the Huskies maintain their level, they get a sweep. St. Cloud State 4-2, 3-1.

Omaha at UND: Remember Black Friday last season? It truly was a dark day for UND. That’s when it lost to St. Lawrence in an uninspiring game, held a team meeting until midnight at the rink, and slowly started to turn around the season. I’m saying UND has another turkey hangover, but manages to get the split. Omaha 3-2, UND 3-2.

Finally, here’s this week’s episode of Through These Doors, which has an inside look at coach Brad Berry going through film with the players.

Friday morning reading

The Herb Brooks National Hockey Center looked a lot different last year after the renovation, but on the ice, it was the same old result. Yet another split for UND and St. Cloud State.

In recent years, that’s been the norm when these teams have gotten together in St. Cloud. The last time there was a sweep? 2001. The last time UND got the sweep? 1998.

As I wrote in my preview today, in 1998, Brad Berry was a Kalamazoo K-Wing, Dane Jackson was a New York Islander and Austin Poganski was 2 years old.

Here are the results of UND’s most recent trips to St. Cloud:

2013-14: Split.
2012-13: Split.
2011-12: Split.
2010-11: UND win and tie.
2009-10: Split.
2008-09: Split.
2007-08: Split.
2006-07: UND win and tie.
2005-06: Split.
2004-05: UND win and tie.
2003-04: UND win and tie.
2002-03: Split.
2001-02: SCSU sweep.
2000-01: Did not play in St. Cloud.
1999-00: SCSU win and tie.
1998-99: UND sweep.

So on one hand, UND hasn’t earned a sweep in the National Hockey Center in seemingly forever, yet it also has gone to St. Cloud for 12 consecutive years without losing a series.

Strangely enough, during those 12 years, there have been six sweeps in Grand Forks (four by UND, two by SCSU).

This weekend continues the very difficult early-season schedule for St. Cloud State, which has already played against Union, Colgate, Minnesota and Duluth. I’m guessing that when the Huskies signed the nonconference deals, they didn’t know Colgate was going to be this good.

Three things to watch on the St. Cloud State side this weekend:

1. The junior forwards. Jonny Brodzinski, Joey Benik, David Morley, Kalle Kossila and Jimmy Murray are the engines that make the Huskies go. Brodzinski, only a month past his sophomore season, has more career goals than anyone else in the NCHC.

2. Charlie Lindgren. St. Cloud State will give UND a different look with the right-hand catching goaltender. You don’t see many of them. The last one that UND faced that I can think of off hand is Jon Olthuis from Alaska Anchorage.

3. The power play. The Huskies are at 25 percent there and make a lot of plays. The junior class and senior D Andrew Prochno are key. UND continues to emphasize eliminating stick penalties.

Three things to watch on UND’s side:

1. The Schmaltz-less power play. Without Nick Schmaltz last weekend, the power play seemed to lose a little bit of its playmaking. The unit has had another week of practice under its belt without Nick. Will it improve?

2. The big ice surface. The Olympic ice helped UND against Colorado College because it was the faster and more skilled team (and CC gave UND too many power plays). St. Cloud State is built much better for the big sheet than CC. How will UND play on it this time?

3. Wade Murphy. The coaching staff is waiting for a breakthrough. He has come close to scoring the last couple of games. Does he get No. 1 in St. Cloud? Does he play well enough with and without the puck to help earn a more consistent spot in the lineup?

This week, I also wrote a feature on Bryn Chyzyk, who seems a lot more comfortable on and off the ice this season. He went through a tough time last season when he got suspended, but he seems to be taking the right approach since then. Read that story here.

This week’s Q&A is with Mark MacMillan. Find out what game was his most memorable in his career here.

The St. Cloud Times has its preview of the defending champ vs. the preseason favorite here.

On to the predictions….

Western Michigan at Miami: The Broncos brought a physical game against the RedHawks last season and it worked to perfection. Western swept all four games against Miami. Judging by what I saw last weekend, Miami can play the physical game better than last season, but I still think Western gets a game on the road. Miami 4-1, Western Michigan 3-2.

Minnesota Duluth at Nebraska Omaha: These two teams could very well be in Penrose Cup race at the end of the season. Both are off to great starts and this should be a great weekend between two teams that like to get up and down the ice. Omaha 4-3, Duluth 5-2.

Colorado College vs. Air Force/Wisconsin: The Tigers have lost seven in a row. More embarrassing, none of them have even been one-goal games. Luckily for the Tigers, they are playing a struggling Air Force team to close the weekend. Wisconsin 3, CC 0; CC 3, Air Force 2.

Denver vs. Air Force/Wisconsin: The Pioneers are playing like a deep, veteran team. The NCHC is having success out of league. Denver 5, Air Force 1; Denver 2, Wisconsin 0.

UND at St. Cloud State: You all read the results in the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center up there earlier. These teams love splitting in St. Cloud and I don’t see much of a reason why they shouldn’t once again this weekend. Should be a very entertaining one for fans. UND 3-2, St. Cloud State 4-2.

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On the women’s side, there’s really only one story to talk about right now and that’s what’s happening with forward Lisa Marvin.

In case you didn’t hear, read this story here.

I wrote that piece late Wednesday night. On Thursday morning, Marvin was scheduled for a quick, 30-minute surgery. It ended up being more than four hours. Her bones shifted when doctors moved one of the plates in her arm, and they had to open her arm back up again.

It’s going to be a long road ahead for Marvin. It’s hard to imagine that she’s ever going to play again, but at this point, the focus is just on getting her to the point where she can go back to having a normal, pain-free life.

Her UND team plays Ohio State this weekend in The Ralph. Her sister, Layla Marvin, will play.

I’ll pass along any further updates that I hear regarding Lisa.

Friday morning reading

You can bet that Miami University players have not forgotten about their last trip to Ralph Engelstad Arena.

It’s hard to forget a 9-2 beating — the program’s worst in 15 years. But that lopsided loss also marked the start of a turnaround for Miami.

The REA series ended a stretch where the RedHawks went 4-17-2.

The next weekend, standout forward Blake Coleman returned to the lineup and Miami’s fortunes started to turn. Coleman has scored a remarkable 15 goals in 18 game since returning. Team success has followed.

Miami ran to the NCHC title game last season and is now off to a 7-3 start this season.

Clearly, it’s not all Coleman, but he does help. And good news for Miami: After Coleman had to sit out last weekend with an undisclosed injury, he is available for this weekend’s series against UND.

The top three things to watch for Miami this weekend:

1. The high-end forwards. I don’t know if any team in the country can match Miami’s top six forwards. Austin Czarnik, Riley Barber, Blake Coleman, Sean Kuraly, Anthony Louis and Alex Wideman are all big-time players. Minnesota Duluth, you could argue, may have the deepest group of forwards in the league, but I don’t think anyone can match Miami’s top six.

I thought that Miami could lose as many as three of them in the offseason, but they all came back to write a different ending to their careers. Don’t be surprised if one or two of them are in the Hobey mix by the end of the season. These guys can really put up the points when they have…..

2. Puck possession, puck possession, puck possession. That’s the name of the game in hockey these days and nobody is doing it better than Miami right now. The RedHawks rank No. 1 nationally in shot margin (+15.2 per game).

When this team gets the puck in the offensive zone, they can do special things and generate a ton of offense. That’s Miami’s biggest strength.

On the flip side, Miami’s biggest weakness last season was defending. The RedHawks, at times, had a lot of difficultly playing in their own end. So, if you forced Miami to play in its own end, you exposed its weakness and didn’t allow the RedHawks to play to their strength.

UND did that very well in Grand Forks last season and it will be a key once again.

3. The new D. One reason why Miami’s defensive corps has been better so far this season is because they are simply a year older. The RedHawks had no seniors and only one junior on D last season.

Another reason is freshman Louie Belpedio. The standout recruit from the NTDP adds some offense to the back end, an element the RedHawks lacked last season.

Overall, it should be a showdown between two teams that like to possess the puck and two teams that like to transition. In the past, we’ve seen some very exciting-to-watch games because of that. I’d expect more of that this weekend.

Some reading for today:

Friday notebook – Rico Blasi talks about Miami’s turnaround; Josh Fenton touches on Arizona State

Thursday feature – While many try to peg the next stars at age 15, there are still the Tucker Poolman stories out there

Q&A – Troy Stecher tells us why his nickname used to be ‘The Human Zamboni’

Injury update – Nick Schmaltz out; MacMillan and LaDue questionable

Familiar faces – Jim Scanlan and Leah Jensen to see each other on opposite benches

UAA beatings – After Anchorage lost to Ferris State 10-2 on Thursday night, Doyle Woody recalled epic UAA beatings, including one issued by ‘a dude named Zach Parise,’ and an great quote from Justin Bourne asking, “This only counts as one loss, right?”

Predictions…..

Minnesota Duluth vs. Minnesota: The only nonconference series of the weekend for the NCHC will be a home-and-home series. The Gophers are unbeaten in 17 straight at Mariucci Arena (15-0-2). The last home loss was to… Minnesota Duluth on Nov. 24. I’m going to go against conventional wisdom and say that each team gets one on the road. Duluth 4-3; Minnesota 4-1.

St. Cloud State at Western Michigan: After going a year and a half without getting swept at home, the Huskies have now been swept in two of three series there and are 2-5 in their last seven games at NHC. But they hit the road this weekend and I think they get back on track. St. Cloud State 3-2, 3-2.

Colorado College at Denver: Just a single game will be played tonight. Things are not going well in Tigerland, where they’ve lost six straight, and I don’t anticipate them getting any better against the Pios. Denver 4-2.

Miami at UND: I think we’ll see an exciting brand of hockey at The Ralph this weekend. One night, UND contains the RedHawks’ top players, the other night, it does not. Miami 4-1, UND 3-2.

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The UND women’s hockey team  has gone through the heart of their schedule, facing off against Duluth, Minnesota and Wisconsin in back-to-back-to-back weekends.

Coach Brian Idalski said he was happy to get a breather after that with 13 days off to prepare for the next series. The players seemed to say that the time off was much-needed as well.

With a full roster, we’ll see how they regroup against Jim Scanlan’s group that just took five of six points against Minnesota. Bemidji State became the first team to win a series against Minnesota since the Badgers got a win and a tie in January 2011. They were the first team to win a series in Ridder since UND swept there in October 2010.

Both Bemidji State and UND have been getting outstanding goaltending this season, so this could be a low-scoring series.

That’s all for now.

Friday morning reading

UND has started the season 3-0 on the road for the first time since the Zach Parise era at UND.

That record will now be put to test in two of the most lively road venues on the schedule. It starts tonight with a game at the Kohl Center. In a couple of weeks, UND travels to the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center to take on St. Cloud State.

It’s really hard to predict what UND is going to see this weekend against a young Wisconsin team that hasn’t played anything other than a scrimmage in the last 20 days.

Because of that abnormally long layoff, Badger coach Mike Eaves said the first period is going to be the key. He went as far as saying that he’s even OK with his team being down by one goal after the first. Read that story here.

Wisconsin opened the season by playing Anchorage and Fairbanks in Alaska. Then, it got swept by Northern Michigan in Green Bay. Those opponents, who seemed to be very average teams before the season started, are actually a combined 14-5-3 right now.

Tonight’s game is the home opener for the Badgers. It is their latest home opener since 1972-73. That team ended up going 19-1 at home.

Offense has clearly been an issue for Wisconsin in the early going (three goals in four games). That’s not particularly a surprise when the Badgers lost 239 points from last year’s team.

What is surprising to me is that some of their veterans like Joseph LaBate and Grant Besse (if you can call a sophomore a veteran) haven’t got on the scoresheet yet. Look for them to change that this weekend.

Some of the rookies who the Badgers are high on include forward Adam Rockwood out of the BCHL, forward Cameron Hughes out of the AJHL and defenseman Jack Dougherty out of the NTDP.

Because of this team’s youth, it’s a team that you have to expect will be better come February than they were in October. UND just hopes that turnaround doesn’t start this weekend.

UND is unbeaten in its last five games against the Badgers (4-0-1), though none of those were played in the Kohl Center. The last trip to Madison was in October 2011 and UND got swept.

Mark MacMillan will continue to be out of the lineup this week as he recovers from wrist surgery. I think at some point this weekend, we’ll see Keaton Thompson back in on defense, but I’m not sure who the coaching staff takes out.

The two players who have perhaps made the largest strides from last season to this season have been Gage Ausmus and Bryn Chyzyk. Both were featured in the Herald this week.

Here’s the story on Ausmus, who talked about what it was like sitting out last season and whether he thought about leaving UND.

Fittingly, on the same day that story ran, Chris VandeVelde played on Philadelphia’s top line with Claude Giroux. Like Ausmus, things didn’t always come easy for VandeVelde at UND. He was a healthy scratch a handful of times as a rookie, but kept at it.

Chyzyk is the subject of this week’s ‘Get to Know’ feature. You can check that out here.

The Wisconsin State Journal also covered the Badgers’ quirky schedule this week. Check that out here.

Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, Andy Baggot wrote a really good piece on Morgan Zulinick, who is adjusting to life as a father.

This week’s NCHC predictions….

Omaha at Ohio State: The Mavs have struggled in nonconference and in net in the past few years. So far this season, they’ve been good out-of-conference and in goal. Who’d have thought? Omaha sweep.

Colorado College at Miami: The Tigers have given up 19 goals in their last three games. If that continues, this weekend could be one to get Austin Czarnik back on the Hobey train. Miami sweep.

Minnesota Duluth at St. Cloud State: This is a battle between the two best .500 teams in the country. The Huskies finally aren’t playing a top-5 team for the first time all year, but Duluth isn’t much of a break. The Bulldogs are 4-17-2 all-time at the NHC under Scott Sandelin, but I think they get one this weekend. Split.

Western Michigan at Denver: There hasn’t been a lot of buzz about the Pioneers, but they quietly played a great series against Boston College with a number of their top players ill. This will be a big challenge for the Broncos. Denver sweep.

UND at Wisconsin: The Badgers are 0-4. It’s hard to see them at 0-6. But this is a team that probably has to play a lot better than it did to start the season in order to get points. UND will look to push the pace against a young team that hasn’t played in nearly three weeks. UND sweep.

Friday morning reading

The largest road crowd that Providence played in front of in the past two seasons is 7,884 in Boston College. Tonight, that number will jump by about 4,000.

Although there were limited tickets available when I checked Thursday afternoon, it will likely be a sold out Ralph Engelstad Arena by the time the puck drops at 7:37 p.m. for the No. 3 vs. No. 5 matchup.

This top-five matchup probably wasn’t what UND signed up for when it inked this series four years ago. The Friars were Hockey East bottom-feeders at that time but have evolved into the Hockey East frontrunners.

UND had a great crowd for the home-opener against Bemidji State. The arena was packed, the fans were revved up and ready to go and the atmosphere was good….. and then UND was down by five goals.

I thought one of the big keys for the Beavers in that game was getting through the first period, getting that first goal and letting the team (and its rookie goaltender) settle in. That’s something UND can’t let happen against the Friars.

I don’t think that goalie Jon Gillies is going to get rattled much. He has been around. He has been to the World Juniors. But this is a much larger crowd than the Friars are used to and UND may be able to make things uneasy if it has a strong start.

A lot of fans, media and scouts are going to have their eyes on the goaltending battle this weekend. Many thought that the 6-foot-5 Gillies would be Calgary-bound after last season, but he opted to return. Those in Grand Forks know what a pivotal role that Zane McIntyre has played for UND over the last two seasons.

Both are NHL prospects, but both are more focused on leading their college teams to special seasons this year. Read a little about the goalie matchup here.

I was trying to think of the last goalie of that size to play against UND. The only one who came to mind off hand was Maine’s Ben Bishop, who led the Black Bears to a sweep in The Ralph several years ago. Any others?

I posted the injury report a couple of days ago. The only question mark seems to be Providence forward Noel Acciari. He made the trip to Grand Forks, but coach Nate Leaman did not specifically say if he would play.

If Acciari does not play, it would be a hit to the Friars up the middle. Acciari is a centerman for Providence, as is Mark Jankowski, who will not play this weekend. The Friars returned all four of their regular centers from last season, but could be without two tonight. Expect veteran Nick Saracino to play center in Jankowski’s spot tonight.

The Providence Journal’s story today says that defenseman John Gilmour should return to the lineup tonight. The Calgary Flames pick hasn’t played yet this season.

Usually, you will be able to find a lot of players who were teammates in juniors on both sides of these nonconference matchups. There aren’t many in this one, though.

The ones I know of off hand: Nick Mattson played one year with Gillies with the Indiana Ice in the USHL. Also, UND’s Bryn Chyzyk played on a line with Providence’s Shane Luke for a year in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. Stephane Pattyn said his team played against Luke’s team in the playoffs and Pattyn’s job was to shut down Luke’s line. So those two should have quite a bit of familiarity.

Speaking of Mattson, he’s the subject of this week’s ‘Get to Know’ segment. What movie made Mattson ask his father to go pick him up a hockey stick? Find out here.

More wall decorations are going up at The Ralph in the team area. Here’s how UND is displaying all of its team awards and the current player bios:

On to this weekend’s picks….. the NCHC has the best nonconference record of all leagues at this point, going 11-2 since that dreadful 2-5 opening night. There’s one league game this weekend, otherwise, the rest of the teams will look to keep it going.

Denver at Minnesota Duluth: Denver allowed just one goal in sweeping RPI last weekend, but the new goaltenders will surely get a workout this weekend facing one of the country’s deepest groups of forwards. The Pios may be able to outscore the Dogs one night but not both. Split.

St. Cloud State at Union: The Dutchmen haven’t lost since January, but this is a good, veteran St. Cloud State team that should be up for the task. St. Cloud State win and tie.

St. Lawrence at Miami: Preseason Hobey candidate Austin Czarnik has three times as many minor penalties (6) as points (2). Unfortunately for the Saints, it’s not going to stay that way for long. Miami sweep.

Colorado College at Boston College/New Hampshire: For a Tigers team that’s licking its wounds after a bad loss to UND on Saturday night, this isn’t the best road trip to take. Boston College and UNH win.

Alaska at Western Michigan: The Nanooks are red hot, coming in with a 4-0-0 record and a No. 16 national ranking to boot. The Broncos should have a chip on their shoulder after getting swept by Omaha in Lawson. Split.

Providence at North Dakota: Gillies has never lost on consecutive nights in his career. It’s only happened to McIntyre once. This highly entertaining series in The Ralph should end in a…. split.

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The UND women’s team is in Minneapolis, preparing for a showdown against No. 1 Minnesota.

It will be UND’s first game back at Ridder since it ended the Gophers’ 62-game winning streak last season.

Nobody has had much success at Ridder in the last five years. But if anybody can knock off the Gophers there, it’s UND. Going back to the 2010-11 season, UND is 4-7 at Ridder Arena, while the rest of the nation is 1-66-4. Yes, that includes Wisconsin and Minnesota Duluth.

Here’s a story that details some of UND’s success at Ridder.

UND coach Brian Idalski would like to make Ridder a frequent stop in the next few seasons as it will host the Frozen Four two of the next four years.

This Minnesota team is typical of ones past. There are a few forwards who can really get up-and-down the ice and score. The D-corps is as good as any in the country with three 2018 Olympic candidates there.

UND, meanwhile, is trying to get more consistent in producing offense. It has 14 goals on Friday nights and 3 on Saturday nights this season. Becca Kohler and Meghan Dufault have been big offensive scorers, but UND could use some more production from other forwards in the lineup, which is what happened during the upset win over Minnesota last season.

UND also will need a strong game from goaltender Shelby Amsley-Benzie, who has a .968 save percentage and a 0.75 goals-against average so far this season.

That’s about all for now. Catch you tonight with the live chat and I’ll check back in the afternoon if any news breaks. For now, I’ll leave you with this week’s Through These Doors.

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.