On Saturday night two of the biggest rivals in all of college hockey will play each other for the 296th time. You would think it would be a raucous affair in either Minneapolis or Grand Forks, right? Not so fast. The Gophers and the Fighting Hawks will face off in Sin City Saturday night on the Las Vegas Strip in the US Hockey Hall of Fame Game. Yes you read that right, Gophers, F’ing Hawks, Vegas.
The reason this game is being played in Las Vegas is all on North Dakota’s shoulders. UND likes to try and have a destination game for its fans every couple of seasons. They have played in New York City, and St. Louis, and have another game set up for Nashville in 2020. So the Fighting Hawks booked the arena, and then went to look for an opponent. Oh Hi Gophers.
Former Minnesota head Coach Don Lucia accepted North Dakota’s offer to play 2,000 miles from either school’s campus. I understand why, but it is still tough to swallow when North Dakota controls all of the tickets. They sold out the 9,000 seat Orleans Arena almost immediately and it will be a loud sea of green and black Saturday night. Additionally as we learned last year with the series in Grand Forks, North Dakota controls all of the TV rights for the game as well. While it is not as dreary as it appeared a few weeks ago when only Midco Cable would be broadcasting the game, it still remains that if you don’t have cable, you are SOL to watch this game on TV. It will not be available either over the air, or to DirectTV or Dish subscribers.
But, it is Minnesota and North Dakota. Gophers and Fighting Hawks. Maroon and Gold vs Green and Black. When these two teams get on the ice, well lets be honest quite often all hell breaks loose.
Minnesota comes into the game off of the rest of their weird October schedule. The Gophers won a tied against then #1 UMD the first weekend of the season, and then played single exhibition games the last two weekends. Minnesota had no problem with either the US Under-18 team or Canadian University Trinity Western winning by 7-4 and 7-1 scores respectively. The Gophers appear to be adapting to Bob Motzko’s offensive philosophy well so far, and they hope to continue that against a team that could help them considerably in the Pairwise later in the season.
It is expected that Mat Robson will get the nod in goal for the Gophers. He played in both of Minnesota’s actual games this season, and appears to have the #1 goalie spot locked down for the moment. He had never played against the Fighting Hawks as Eric Scherhorn helped the Gophers to a 2-1-1 record over UND the last two seasons.
North Dakota comes into the game as a team looking despirately for a big spark and a win. The Fighting Hawks have struggled to a 1-2-1 start this season tying and losing to Bemidji State and then splitting with Minnesota State last weekend both in Grand Forks.
North Dakota has split time with its two goalies this season. Both Adam Scheel and Peter Thome have started two games on the season with Scheel having the greater success. He is 1-1-1 on the season and has a good 2.23 goals against average but a dismal .878 save percentage. Thome has been even worse with a 4.51 GAA and a save percentage of just .786.
Offensively the Fighting Hawks have been led by Cole Smith and Nick Jones. Both players have four points on the season to lead the team. Smith, Gabe Bast, and Grant Mismash each have two goals on the year.
For either team’s overall record this game will not mean much, but it could be a big win for either team later in the season when looking at pairwise comparisons. If the Gophers can play like they did against UMD at home, they should have a good chance to get two big wins against the NCHC and feel very happy about the first month of the Bob Motzko era.
US Hockey Hall of Fame Game
#5 Minnesota Golden Gophers vs #17 North Dakota Fighting Hawks
When: Saturday 9:00 PM
Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada
TV: Various channels—Midco, Comcast, Mediacom, Charter Cable Providers
Stream: NCHC.TV ($$$)
Radio 1130 AM, 103.5 FM, I Heart Radio App