Yesterday happened. Instead of dwelling on it I've decided to focus on Whioux the Gopher Hockey team is playing tonight. As part of that preparation, I'm bringing you a couple of Q&A's. The first is with Nate Wells (@gopherstate). Nate writes for...well, I've seen his contributions all over the place. You can find his fine work at SB Nation Minnesota, Western College Hockey Blog, First Round Bust, and College Hockey News among others.
The Daily Gopher: Who is your all-time favorite Whioux goon? All time least favorite?
Nate Wells: Favorite would be Zach Parise and the least is tough. There are a few to choose from but Joe Finley stands out.
I also have to put Danny Kristo somewhere just for entertainment purposes on and off the ice. Those will be missed when he graduates.
TDG: What concerns you most about this year's UND team?
NW: North Dakota has the firepower and personnel to keep up with Minnesota. The team-formerly-known-as-the-Fighting-Sioux feature Hobey Baker candidate Corban Knight (31 points) and Danny Kristo (30), who both need to be contained. That's easier said than done - Knight is one of the better faceoff specialists in the WCHA and that's notwithstanding the fact he's on a 17-game scoring streak.
Minnesota does firepower of their own. One of the Gophers' biggest strengths is the scoring depth of their top-9 in addition to the fact the team leads college hockey in total offense. If they're going to be successful this weekend, Minnesota will need to contain Knight and Kristo.
The other battle I'm curious to see is Minnesota's puck possession versus North Dakota's physicality. UND will have to try to limit Minnesota's puck possession. The Gophers are at their best when they're able to dictate the pace and have been out-shot twice all year. For North Dakota to counter that, they'll have to get Minnesota off their game (one way being to play physical), limit their speed and test a freshman goalie in Adam Wilcox who is playing in his first UND-MN series.
That first goal - especially on the road - is very important for North Dakota.
TDS: What's your favorite memory (or memories) from the rivalry?
NW: There are plenty to choose from. The best part about the UND-MN series is the passion both fanbases have for their teams - it's one of the few things both have in common - while expecting something unexpected to happen.Unpredictability is a constant with Minnesota and North Dakota. No one should be surprised to see another line brawl or a 6-0 win by either team but we will when it happens.
More specific memories would be growing up watching the games with my dad and emulating Brian Bonin in my driveway, attending my first game and experiencing the atmosphere first-hand, the craziness of 2007 with Robbie Bina's 180 foot goal and Blake Wheeler's susbequent Final Five winner (Youtube both), Kyle Rau's winner last year with a minute left to sweep UND and every fight, hard hit and game in between.
TDG: If you were Dave Hakstol, what kind of gameplan would you bring with you to the U? Any Gopher weaknesses you think that UND is hoping they can exploit?
NW: If I'm Dave Hakstol for some strange reason, I tell no one body-switching technology exists until after Saturday night.
TDG: Would you rather be a UND fan or a Wisconsin fan? Your third choice is death by killer bees.
NW: Death by killer bees. I've been to games in Madison and Grand Forks (both iterations of The Ralph) and while I did look at Wisconsin for college, the Gophers have been the one hockey team I've grown up with. Anyone who has been a fan of a team for a long time and doesn't choose the bees over cheering for their rivals is someone I wouldn't want to associate with.
TDG: How do you feel about the rivalry going on break for a few seasons? While I think the Whioux claims of the U ducking them are overblown, Don Lucia does seem less than enthusiastic about resuming an every year series. Why do you think that is?
NW: I actually wrote about this subject over at College Hockey News. For my money Minnesota-North Dakota is the best college hockey rivalry and the series is easily the biggest loss for both teams with the new college hockey realignment. There isn't a fan, player or coach on both sides who wants to lose the rivalry. That comes through clear with every quote that comes out this week.
At the same time, I'm very happy the Gophers are keeping their in-state rivalries and get the chance to travel and see more teams out East with their expanded non-conference series. It's important to play the other Minnesota schools - if you imagine the people up in Grand Forks are pissed they aren't playing the Gophers, imagine it coming from Duluth, Mankato, Bemidji, St. Cloud and the State Capitol - for a multitude of reasons. While Minnesota has room, they also won't be Wisconsin with their NC series (when you add the MN schools there are only 2-3 series compared to Wisconsin trying to book big names to fill Kohl Center).
I'd like to think that absence will make the heart grow fonder about the UND rivalry, or even better any playoff game, and it'll just pick up when North Dakota gets scheduled as soon as possible. The combination of the Fighting Sioux nickname issue not being resolved until this year mixed with full non-conference schedules makes for a bad situation but I don't think it's the end.
TDG: In your opinion, what was the all time best fight in the rivalry?
NW: There are plenty of good ones to choose from but I have to go with the line brawl in 2008. The end of that game, which saw Darcy Zajac and Tony Lucia go at it, mixed with the feeling in the air that something was about to go down stands out.
TDG: Which Gophers do you think will have the best weekend?
NW: It's hard to ignore the top line's (Kyle Rau-Nick Bjugstad-Chrisitan Isackson) production over the last week. Rau scored his first collegiate hat trick against Alaska-Anchorage on Saturday while Bjugstad had a pair of goals Friday.
One thing to pay attention to is whether or not Erik Haula plays this weekend. Haula, who officially has an "upper body injury," practiced this week and is going to be a game time decision. Having him in the lineup allows for a couple different looks but most importantly balances out a first power play unit that features Bjugstad, Rau, Nate Schmidt and Zach Budish.
TDG: Ben Blood marries into your family. Are you civil to him at him family functions or do you ridicule him at every opportunity?
NW: Good question. For the sake of family peace I'd hold my tongue and avoid handshake lines.
TDG: Final predictions?
NW: Heart says Battle Hymn gets heard Saturday (a Gopher sweep) but my gut says the two teams split.
Thanks again to Nate! Stop by later today for another Q&A with Chad from the UND blog "A Tradition of Excellence", a game preview, and of course the WHIOUX HATES UND Open Thread.