Friday, October 14, 2011

Intrastate Rivalry Heats Up Between Bulldogs and Gophers

Gophers Make Second Trip to AMSOIL

The season is young, but you can’t tell from the comments of players and fans from each side.

This is UMD’s big rivalry series and UMTC has always tried to down play it as a regular WCHA series. That has changed in recent years as UMD has taken the spotlight of the state sporting world. The Bulldogs are coming off of the men’s hockey national championship, two years removed from the women’s national championship and two of the last three D-II football national championships.

Has it really trickled to the players? Look at the quote dug up by Bruce Ciskie from Gophers captain Taylor Matson on UMD winning the championship, "It really bites you. We've beaten them ... twice last year, so it's really hard to take that in. Especially for a Minnesota team, you hate to see the spotlight go to them." No, Taylor, that would be one win, one loss and two ties last year, but it must sound better to say the Gophers beat the eventual National Champions twice. If anyone thinks that this rivalry is one way, they really should think again.

Last night at the Wild game, the highlights shown during the “State of Hockey” anthem had two scenes of UMD winning the national championship and no gopher puck scenes. A very telling tale of where we are in the State of Hockey.

So what does that all equal up to? The Gophers are in the role of having something to prove this year to the Bulldogs, role reversal from many years leading to this weekend. The Bulldogs in turn have to be ready to back up their body of work and keep the Gophers wanting the spotlight, a terrible feeling many Bulldogs from the past have felt.

Get the statistical breakdown in the HighHorse StatPack.

Got Defense? The Gopher defense is off to a remarkable start by giving up zero goals in their opening series last weekend. The opponent was Sacred Heart of the Atlantic Hockey Association, a conference that perennially has only the auto-bid representing in the NCAA tournament. In fact Sacred Heart is ranked at #56 in INCH’s Great 58 ranking of all D-I hockey teams. They come in just ahead of Alabama – Huntsville and American International.

If we take it back to the exhibition game, the Gophers have scored 18 goals and allowed zero. It is impressive, but nowhere near the level of competition they will face in the WCHA. The real question is what will happen to the team when they do give up a goal? It will be a mental test for the Gophers of how they respond.

Got Defense? Part II. Goaltending is setting up to be a challenge for the Bulldogs. A team 0.800 saves percentage is not acceptable for a top half WCHA team…not even a bottom tier team. The goalies, especially Crandall, need to pick it up now. There is not time to figure things out when you start with weekends against teams like Notre Dame and UMTC.

Brooms For, Not Against. The Bulldogs were one of two teams nationally not to be swept last season, Boston College being the other. Against the Gophers, UMD went 1-1-2 last season and are unbeaten in seven of their last nine match-ups. The Bulldogs are 1-0-1 against the Gophers at AMSOIL Arena.

Prediction. This weekend has all the makings of a late season marquee match-up. Instead, and unfortunately, it is early in the season when teams are still trying to find their legs for back to back games and their team chemistry.

The Gophers will not get out of Duluth without giving up goals, just how many will the Bulldogs score? Enough to take one game, but not both. This series will be a split. Which night will UMD win? I hate to say it, but the night Crandall is not in net, if the current goalie rotation is kept.

Around the WCHA. Two other conference series occur this weekend with plenty of quality non-conference match-ups.

Wisconsin at Michigan Tech: MTU has a habit of making early season runs and UW was not at all impressive last weekend at home against the green of Northern Michigan. Can Mel Pearson turn around the Huskies program? Not right away, but he something going UP there with two wins where Tech had to come back. This weekend Tech will see more positives by gaining a split with the Badgers.

Bemidji State at Colorado College: The Beavers pulled quite the upset last weekend winning at Miami. Don’t expect the same when they face the Tigers. CC sweep in Bemidji.

Maine at North Dakota: Last year this match-up proved to be interesting as the Black Bears swept the Sioux in Maine. It is a different year in a different venue. Some are questioning whether the Sioux have the scoring punch they traditionally have had. They will be put to the test this weekend that ends in a split.

Saint Cloud State at Northern Michigan: NMU showed their potential on the road in Madison last weekend with a closely contested split. This weekend the Wildcats are at home and the WCHA opponent is SCSU. NMU has shown their stuff and will sweep the Huskies.

Massachusetts – Lowell at Minnesota State – Mankato: Don’t expect too much from the Mavericks this season, but expect even less from Lowell. A home series for MSU equals a sweep for the Mavericks.

Denver at Boston College (Fri.) and Boston University (Sat.): A difficult undertaking for the Pioneers to travel to Boston. DU will gain a split, but who will they beat? Our staff is also split on the team the Pioneers beat.

Nebraska – Omaha and Alaska – Anchorage at Alaska Goal Rush Tournament: Other teams in this tourney are Alaska and Mercyhurst. Tournaments are difficult to pick, but what we do know is that both UNO and UAA will split their games.

Next weekend the WCHA schedule expands to four conference series as we start our way to the MacNaughton Cup.

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