It will be a clash of titans when the #1 ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers men’s hockey team heads northwestward to faceoff against the #5 North Dakota Fighting Hawks in a non-conference series this weekend in Grand Forks. It’s one of if not the best rivalry series in all of college hockey, and it once again is set to be a battle between two of the nation’s top teams. Minnesota will need to overcome some injuries to their defensive corps if they want to come away with at least one win in one of the most hostile places to play in all of college hockey, but it should be a great test for Minnesota’s young defensemen to see if they are up to the task.
The Gophers come into the weekend after a sweep of St. Thomas last weekend. The Gophers earned a 6-5 OT win at the Xcel Energy Center of Friday night when Jimmy Snuggerud put the team on his back going end to end for the game winner. Saturday was back home in the comfortable confines of 3M Arena at Mariucci, and the Gophers looked a bit more at ease earning a 3-0 shutout win with Snuggerud scoring another pair of goals and Justen Close earning his 10th career shutout. For his efforts scoring four gals and adding an assist, Snuggerud was named the Big Ten’s #1 star of the week.
North Dakota comes into the weekend also at 2-0 after co-hosting the 2023 Ice Breaker Tournament with Bemidji State last weekend. The Fighting Hawks opened play with a 7-2 win over Army before taking the title with a 2-0 shutout of Wisconsin on Saturday. MiamI, Ohio transfer Ludvig Person started both games in goal for the F’ing Hawks making just 11 saves in the win Friday before a 29 save shutout on Saturday over the Badgers. He will start both games this weekend against Minnesota. North Dakota was led in scoring by Lindenwood transfer Hunter Johannes who scored three goals on the weekend followed by Jackson Blake and Riese Gaber who each had a pair of goals and an assist. Johannes has scored on Minnesota before with one of Lindenwood’s four goals in a seasoning opening series in 2022 at Mariucci. Gaber leads the Fighting Hawks with three goals in four games against Minnesota.
The two teams faced off last season in Minneapolis with team team picking up a win in overtime. Mathew Knies played the hero with an amazing OT game winner on Friday night before the Fighting Hawks battled back to win 5-4 in OT on a Mark Senden game winner on Saturday. Since October of 2017 North Dakota holds a 6-2 edge in the series between the two teams, but the Gophers and Fighting Hawks have split the last four games in Grand Forks. This will be the first time since 2014—the 0.6 game that both teams have been ranked in the top five of the nation while they faced off against one another.
Minnesota will need to go into Grand Forks this weekend missing two of their top defensemen. Mike Koster is back skating but remains out for this weekend with his injury he suffered in preseason camp. Also out for sure will be forward Jackson Nevers as he recovers from the cheap hit he took in Minnesota’s exhibition game against Bemidji State.
Ryan Chesley was injured late in the game against St. Thomas last Saturday and was listed as questionable for this weekend by Gopher head coach Bob Motzko in his midweek press conference. Assuming he can’t go the Gophers will be starting three true freshmen of their six blueliners in just their third collegiate game. Could be a interesting weekend for Sam Rinzel, Axel Begley and Max Ruud.
Minnesota may need to outscore the Fighting Hawks if that’s the case. Can the Gophers get scoring from a line other than the Snuggerud/Brody Lamb/Oliver Moore line? It could be a key factor. Additionally Justen Close will need to be on his A-game.
It’s early, so if this weekend doesn’t go in Minnesota’s favor there is no panic button to be hit, but it could be a tough one for the Gophers. If Minnesota can play like they can and earn at least a split, that has to be a confidence building weekend into their Big Ten opener next week with their other hated rival—-the Wisconsin Badgers in town.
Both games in the series will be broadcast locally on TV for Gophers fans, which is thanks to Fox 9 picking up the local North Dakota feed—something that has been significantly complicated in past trips to Grand Forks. Friday night will air on the flagship Fox 9, while Saturday’s game will air on Fox9+. For those out of Minnesota, you will need to fork over $$ to NCHC.TV to pay for the stream. A reminder—road teams control the TV and streaming rights, so Minnesota has nothing to do with any of the broadcasts this weekend.
HOW TO WATCH:
#1 Minnesota Golden Gophers @ #5 North Dakota Fighting Hawks
When: 7 PM Friday; 6 PM Saturday
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, North Dakota
TV: Fox 9 (Fri); Fox 9+ (Sat)
Stream: NCHC.TV ($$$)