One of the longest running rivalries in all of college hockey returns to the ice sheet at 3M Arena at Mariucci this weekend when the #1 ranked Minnesota Gophers host the #7 ranked North Dakota Fighting Hawks. Meetings # 301 and 302 of the series between the Gophers and Fighting Hawks are once again set to be a good test case on where exactly these teams are early in the season.
The Gophers come into the series ranked #1 in the nation after a 3-1 start. Minnesota moved up to #1 this week after previous #1 Denver was swept by UMass last weekend. The team that Minnesota’s lone loss on the season is to in Minnesota State moved up to #2 in this weeks rankings. Minnesota got off to a big of a slow start in sweeping Lindenwood at home, but then looked really good in a 4-1 win on Friday night against the Mavericks. The return the following night in Mankato did not go as well as Minnesota would have hoped, but they have had a full two weeks of bye week practices to get their systems in better shape and ready for UND.
North Dakota enters the weekend after a tie and loss to then #8 Quinnipiac in Grand Forks last weekend. The Hawks showed they can score and quickly coming back from a 4-1 deficit in the third period against the Bobcats on Friday to score four goals in less than 8 minutes to take a 5-4 lead before Quinnipiac scored would would be the final and tying goal. Saturday the Bobcats controlled play and didn’t allow the UND comeback as they cruised to a 6-2 win.
Freshman scoring phenoms have been the story to start the season for both teams. Minnesota has several led by #3 NHL draft pick Logan Cooley. The Arizona Coyotes prospect leads the Gophers with five point through his first four games including a pair of goals in his first ever collegiate game against Lindenwood. Gopher legacy Jimmy Snuggerud came alive in the series against Minnesota State scoring four goals on the weekend including a hat trick in Minnesota’s Friday night win. Add another five points from another Gopher legacy in Rhett Pitlick and the young Gophers have come alive to start the season.
North Dakota also has a freshman legacy who is tearing up the ice. Eden Prairie’s Jackson Blake has recorded six points split between a trio of goals and assists in his first four games. The son of former UND and NHL star Jason Blake is the first UND player to score six points in his first four games since T.J. Oshie.
Both teams have veteran blue lines that have helped them get to the level they are at. Minnesota has a trio of Ryan Johnson, Jackson LaCombe and Brock Faber that are as steady as any three defensemen in the NCAA. All three have hit the score sheet early this season with four points each for Johnson and LaCombe and three for Faber including a gorgeous goal against Lindenwood. North Dakoka is anchored by 5th year D-man Chris Jandric. He leads the Hawks in points with 7 through the first four games.
The goalies may make or break this series for both teams. Minnesota probably feels better about their netminder then the Fighting Hawks do of their pair. Justen Close will once again see both games in net for the Gophers. Since taking over the starting job last January Close has gone 17-6 in net for Minnesota with a goals against average of less than two and a save percentage above .930. This weekend will be his first ever series against the Fighting Hawks.
UND has a pair of goalies who have split time, but neither looked good last weekend. Minnesota has a lot of experience against the Hawks supposed #1 goalie in Drew DeRidder. The Michigan State transfer has not been great against the Gophers going 1-6 with a 3.94 goals against average and a.894 save percentage in eight games with the Spartans. He started the game last Friday night against Quinnipiac and was pulled late in the first period after allowing three goals on seven shots. He did make a 17 save shutout of Holy Cross to start the season. The second UND goalie is Swedish sophomore Jakob Hellsten. Hellsten played in seven games a year ago for the Hawks and did not fair great last weekend when Quinnipac scored seven goals on him in five periods of play.
Special teams will of course also play a factor. Minnesota has five power play goals in their three wins, but were shut out on the man advantage in their loss to the Mavericks. Minnesota has allowed just two power play goals in 14 changes so far this season. They will have a test in North Dakota has seven power play goals through 22 chances so far. They have allowed just one power play goal through 13 kills, and more impressively have allowed just 10 shots on goal over those 13 penalty kills.
The intangibles of the Gopher crowd could also play a huge role this weekend. The arena is sold out for both games this weekend and the Minnesota student section has been full and extremely loud to start the season. North Dakota comes in on a 5-2 streak against the Gophers since 2017, but this will be the first UND/Minnesota series on the Gophers home ice with a full student section since a Gopher win and tie in 2016. It’s the first time one of the two schools have ranked #1 in the nation when the rivals have played since the infamous 0.6 NCAA semifinal in 2014.
This weekend pits two of the most recognizable teams in the country facing off yet again. Black and green vs maroon and gold. Toews and Oshie vs Broten and Wheeler. Wheeler and Broten’s flip goals, 0.6, Rau’s dice roll celly, handshake line fights, this rivalry has seen it all. We can only hope this weekend will bring two more games that will go down in lore between these two schools.
HOW TO WATCH:
#7 North Dakota Fighting Hawks @ #1 Minnesota Gophers
Where: 3M Arena at Mariucci, Minneapolis, MN
When: 7 PM Friday and Saturday
TV: Friday—Bally Sports North Extra; Saturday— Bally Sports North
Radio: 1130 AM/ 103.5 FM/ I Heart Radio App