So many of college hockey’s great rivalries are, as one might expect, conference battles: BC-BU, Michigan-Michigan State, Harvard-Cornell, etc. But, as we’ll see this week on CSTV’s Friday Night Hockey, it doesn’t have to always be that way. Just take a look at the two teams we’ll see this week, North Dakota and Boston College.
Since 1998, the Sioux and the Eagles have met three times in the NCAA Tournament, each winning a championship game, and last year, they split a hard-fought series in Grand Forks. This year, the non-conference rivalry moves to Beantown, and the intensity will come right along with it. This will be the only regular-season meeting between these two teams, so both sides will be looking to make this game count. Here’s a look at how they can do that.
NO. 4 NORTH DAKOTA: 4-1-1 overall, 2-1-1 WCHA (2nd Place)
Since we last saw the Fighting Sioux on CSTV, Dave Hakstol’s team finished off a rare sweep of No. 7 Maine at Alfond Arena, added a three-point weekend against WCHA rival Minnesota State, and had their only real hiccup of the young season in the back end of a split with No. 6 Minnesota. This weekend in Boston – which will conclude with a Saturday night game at Northeastern – is the culmination of an extremely challenging first month of the season. North Dakota’s 4-1-1 mark proves that things are going pretty well for Dave Hakstol in his first year as head coach. The 6-0 loss to Minnesota left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth though, so expect North Dakota to be hungry when it skates into the Conte Forum. The Sioux could find themselves “chowing down” on the Eagles with a strong performance in these three areas:
Pure Intensity: While you can’t complain too much about a 4-1-1 record, there are a few aspects of North Dakota’s early performance that its coach is not happy about. Hakstol has said that he’s seen his team play with less intensity than he’d like, to the point of being overly cautious. That’s not a good way to play the game of ice hockey, and it’s an absolutely horrible way to play against Boston College. The Eagles have a lot of team speed, and will play aggressively, which means the Sioux flat-out cannot afford to play cautiously. One Sioux player who hasn’t been playing cautiously is centerman Rory McMahon, but he won’t be in action on Friday, thanks to a one-game suspension for fighting with Minnesota’s Mike Vanelli last Saturday. Combine that with several injury issues, and you see that the rest of the Sioux will need to pick up the effort for North Dakota to be successful.
Follow the Leaders: Two guys who have been stepping up for the Sioux all season long are freshman Rastislav Spirko and senior Colby Genoway. Hakstol feels that Genoway, who didn’t finish strong last season, is using his disappearance down the stretch as motivation for a good senior season. It’s certainly paid off, as the Manitoba native has been North Dakota’s most consistent performer all year. Genoway centers a line with Chris Porter and Drew Stafford, and that will be the key line for the Sioux Friday night. Porter (who has yet to notch a point this season) and Stafford (who has four) will need to pick up their play to alleviate the pressure on other forwards like Brady Murray and Travis Zajac. Spirko, for his part, seems to always be around the puck in the offensive zone, and is not afraid to play in traffic. If the rookie from Slovakia can continue that trend, it will be big for the Sioux.
Department of Defense: North Dakota is a team that has a big physical presence on the blue line, with big, bruising defensemen like 6-foot-3 Matt Greene and 6-5 Matt Smaby. Still, the Sioux defense hasn’t stepped up the way Hakstol would like. The resurgent play of Andy Schneider has been a big boon to the Sioux, as has the recent play of highly recruited freshman Kyle Radke. Schneider seems to have found the form he displayed in his sophomore year, when he tallied 41 points (11-30), which certainly doesn’t hurt North Dakota’s cause. For his part, Radke, with his offensive instincts, brings an element to the Sioux defense that hasn’t been there in a while. Look for Radke to be the quarterback on the North Dakota power play in the very near future.
NO. 2 BOSTON COLLEGE: 2-1-0 OVERALL, 1-0-0 HOCKEY EAST
Jerry York likes his team a lot this season, and is facing injury challenges in his own right, with top blue-liners Andrew Alberts and Peter Harrold out of the lineup. Still, York is happy with the way his Eagles have handled the adversity. Will he be happy with the way they handle North Dakota? Performing well in three key areas could make York very happy indeed.
Earning Your Keep: One constant when talking about BC has been the play in net. With these injuries, the Eagles’ goalkeeping becomes even more important. Freshman Cory Schneider has made a huge impression on York with his play thus far, and is challenging senior Matti Kaltiainen for the starting job. In fact, Schneider is scheduled to start on Friday, in what will be the youngster’s biggest test so far as an Eagle. Schneider will not be able to play like a freshman against the Sioux, and will need to show the great angle play and athleticism that has gotten him this far.
Firing Line: York will be looking for big things from his go-to line of captain Ryan Shannon flanked by left wing Patrick Eaves and right wing Dan Bertram. All three are excellent skaters and extremely creative with the puck. Eaves in particular has had an excellent start to the season, playing 28-30 minutes a game and taking some shifts as a blueliner to help compensate for the absence of Alberts and Harrold. Eaves has thrived under the pressure, picking up three goals and five assists, while playing with the edge of a legitimate power forward. This line will face North Dakota’s best defenders, and will have to battle through the “rough stuff” to get quality scoring chances, but if it succeeds in doing so, watch out.
Swimming in the Deep End: York has said that he thinks one of his team’s strengths is its depth, and he’s shown it by regularly playing 10 different Eagles up front. York is trying to get all 12 forwards involved regularly, as penalties allow. As the home team on Friday, BC will have the last change, and if York can use all his players to create favorable matchups, it could be a huge advantage for the Eagles.
Both the Eagles and the Fighting Sioux have been No. 1 in the rankings this season, and both would like to be again. Both teams are also coming off of upset losses, which should make them extra hungry when they hit the ice on Friday. All in all, this is yet another fantastic matchup. I can’t wait for them to drop the puck, and with the Curse of the Bambino dead and buried, “Red Sox Nation” will become “Eagles Nation” for what’s sure to be a dynamic edition of CSTV’s Friday Night Hockey!
Billy Jaffe serves as a hockey analyst for CSTV. He is a former college player at Michigan and has served as a broadcaster and an on-ice official for CCHA games.