After a week off due to #lifeandstuff, we’re back with a preview of this weekend’s huge NCHC series against North Dakota in Grand Forks.
In what is shaping up as one of the biggest series of the season thus far, #7 Miami (7-3, 3-1 NCHC) visits second ranked North Dakota (7-1-1 , 2-0 NCHC) hoping to avenge last season’s dismal sweep at the hands of Gang Green. As you may recall, that series in February featured a 9-2 UND romp a night after Miami dropped a close 3-2 decision at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Miami trails the all-time series against North Dakota by a 2-5-1 margin and has never won at “the Ralph.” However, Miami did pick up the program’s first two wins over UND by beating them once in Oxford and also in Minneapolis in the league tournament semifinal 3-0 last season going 2-3 against the green and white.
In his 11th season behind the bench of his alma mater, UND head coach Dave Hakstol (260-133-40) has compiled
a resume that almost anyone would dream of. Hakstol has led UND to six Frozen Fours, has captured four WCHA Final Five playoff titles, two WCHA regular season championships and has taken UND to the NCAA tournament in each of his 10 previous seasons as head coach.
When you’re the head coach of the 7-time national champions with the largest and most vocal fan base in the nation, and that program hasn’t won a national title since 2000, the natives can be a little harsh on you. Hakstol has endured cat calls demanding his firing in seemingly every season that I can remember simply because he hasn’t won the big one…yet. As a Miami fan, I think we can all relate having been so close to a national title in 2009 and then returning to the Frozen Four a year later only to experience even more disappointment. As successful as Enrico Blasi has been at Miami, he like Hakstol, has yet been unable to get his program over the hump. With that sort of success, however, I think Hak deserves a break even if he can be one of the most childish fellas you’ll see behind the bench of a collegiate sports program.
Interestingly, Blasi will be speaking alongside Hakstol at UND’s Fan Luncheon tomorrow at noon CST. I’ve always sensed good competitive tidings between the two men and I think anything each can do to further the growth of college hockey and the NCHC can only be a good thing. Plus, they’re two Canadian boys so there’s that.
After dropping its first game of the season at home to Bemidji State, North Dakota has run off an eight game unbeaten streak including a sweep of Wisconsin (0-6) last weekend in Madison. In addition to the Badgers, who are awful (as is the Big 6), UND has beaten the likes of Bemidji State, Air Force (who just lost to UAH) and Colorado College (twice – sweeping them just like Miami did last weekend). The only quality win UND has to date is a 6-1 thrashing of Providence in Grand Forks. Interestingly, the Friars came back the next night to tie UND so their schedule has been light at best so far in the season.
And for Miami, if there ever was a weekend to face UND, it might be this one as the injury bug has really struck Gang Green.
Already without standout sophomore blueliner Paul LaDue (3-5-8) who injured a leg last Friday and did not suit up for Saturday’s game against Wisconsin, UND will also be without the services of uber freshman Nick Schmaltz (1-7-8) who was named the NCHC rookie of the month for October.
Adding to UND’s injury woes, Miami killer senior Mark MacMillan has been out of the lineup for the past four games but yesterday, UND beat reporter Brad Schlossman hinted that maybe MacMillian (5-2-7, 5 games) might be ready for Friday night’s game — and just in time if you’re a UND fan.
Aside from MacMillan and Schmaltz who were off to great starts, UND is led by elusive forwards, junior Drake Caggiula and senior Michael Parks, both 3-8-11 in 9 games. Gone are both Rocco Grimaldi and captain Dillon Simpson from last year’s Frozen Four squad while junior Jordan Schmaltz (1-4-5) leads the blueline taking over a leadership role for the green and white.
Overall, it’s a very deep and talented roster that Dave Hakstol has assembled. A glance at the roster shows this is not an overly big UND lineup, but most of the skaters hover around 6′ tall which will still be challenging for some of Miami’s smaller forwards like Anthony Louis, Alex Wideman and Cody Murphy. But, I think Miami matches up much better than last year with the additions of Andrew Schmit, Conor Lemirande and Scott Dornbrock. With those three plus Kevin Morris patrolling the ice, Miami should not go into the Ralph feeling intimidated one bit.
In net, UND returns junior Zane McIntyre (formerly Zane Gothberg) who has started right where he left off last year sporting a sterling 7-1-1 record with 1.94 GAA and .927 save percentage. But, Miami has gotten to McIntyre beating him in Oxford and also at the Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis. In fact, McIntyre’s GAA against the RedHawks is around 3.33 and he was rocked by the RedHawks early last year and again in the NCHC semifinals in March. That said, McIntyre is an outstanding goaltender and to beat him, Miami will have to continue to generate shots and quality chances from throughout the lineup as they have versus nearly every opponent so far this season.
These are two good teams. With UND’s injury situation, it’s hard to see them sweeping Miami, but if any team can dig deep and get it done on home ice, it would be the green and white. On the other hand, because of the injuries I really want to pick a Miami sweep. All that said, I’ll take a split with Miami picking up another NCHC road win.
Both games can be seen on NCHC.tv and Saturday’s game will be carried nationally on Fox College Sports. Greg Waddell will have the Miami audio call at Miami All-Access and he can also be heard via the Tune-in app on your smartphone. Twitter, smartphones and the interwebs have been godsends to college hockey.