Series of the Week: No.21 North Dakota vs No.3 Minnesota-Duluth
This series of the week features a struggling traditional hockey power and a Pairwise ranked top five team looking to take care of business.
The University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs will travel to Grand Forks, North Dakota to take on North Dakota in a two-game series.
UMD is coming off of a hard-fought home split against No.4 (Pairwise) Denver. The Bulldogs’ leading scorer, Justin Richards, had a standout game on Saturday. Richards scored two goals, including the game-winner in the 5-2 final score.
The Saturday game was a battle of goaltending. Despite outshooting Denver 27-16, the one goal that junior goalie Hunter Shepard let in would prove to be enough, as UMD fell 1-0 in the second game of the series.
While the two prior national champions clashed in Duluth, North Dakota traveled to Kalamazoo to take on No.9 (Pairwise) Western Michigan. The Fighting Hawks also won Friday and dropped the Saturday game.
Scoring was spread out over three forward lines and two defensive pairing in the 5-3 Friday win, but the real story was goaltending. Freshman goaltender Adam Scheel has carried the majority of the load for the Fighting Hawks this season.
On Saturday, Scheel allowed Western Michigan only one goal on 33 shots. The young goaltender has had an up and down season, though, holding a modest 2.07 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. He’s either hot or he’s cold. Saturday seemed to be one of his colder days, giving up four goals on 23 shots in a game that North Dakota lost 4-2.
This weekend, North Dakota will have to play the way that they did on Friday for two full games. The Fighting Sioux don’t have the developed talent that UMD and many other National Collegiate Hockey Conference schools have. They’re a relatively young team, and until that talent really develops, they’ll have to rely on solid team wins to get past powerhouses like UMD.
The Bulldogs rely heavily on their top lines for point production. Their top two lines account for nearly half of the team’s goal scoring. If North Dakota can get all four lines rolling, they have a serious chance of pulling at least one, if not two, upset win out of this weekend. After splitting its series with Colorado College, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see North Dakota come away from this weekend happy.
This seemingly mundane series could have some serious implications on both the NCHC Tournament and even the NCAA tournament. North Dakota is currently sitting one spot outside of a first-round home game in the NCHC tournament, and a sweep this weekend could push them over Denver and into the number four spot in the conference.
Staring at the national picture, the Fighting Blades are on the outside looking in. They are ranked No.21 in the Pairwise, but once again, a sweep this weekend could push them up a few spots and put them in a better place going into their final two weekends of regular season play.
From UMD’s standpoint, this is an opportunity to put some distance between itself and third-place Western Michigan in the NCHC standings. In the Pairwise, the Bulldogs are sitting at No.3, and that looks unlikely to change this weekend. It seems to be more of a statement series for UMD after splitting their last two.
For North Dakota, it's "do or die," and for Minnesota-Duluth, it’s a way to get back on track. The Fighting Blades will not only need a full, four-line game, but they also might need a few lucky bounces to go their way.
Nathan Pullen is a freshman majoring in journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.