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College Hockey:
North Dakota/Minnesota: The show must go on

From now until the end of the 2015-16 season, North Dakota/Minnesota games will occur only if the teams play at this year’s WCHA Final Five or in the NCAA playoffs.

The rivalry is not dead. It is, however, on hold. The teams move to separate conferences and Minnesota has filled out its nonconference schedule for the next three seasons.

Talk to any coach, player, fan or media member and no one is glad to see the rivalry discontinue its consistent regular season meetings.

“It’s a hell of a rivalry and it’s fun to be part of,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said after Saturday’s game. “It needs to continue and it needs to continue often.

“The rest we have to leave behind closed doors. I’m not going to air that out in a public forum.”

Don Lucia said last week in an interview on KFAN Radio that once Minnesota’s scheduling contract with Notre Dame expires, UND will be back on the Gophers schedule.

Fans of this rivalry will always dispute the reasons for the temporary discontinuation of the series. Some think the Gophers are avoiding UND. Others believe Minnesota pulled the trigger too fast on completing its nonconference scheduling without North Dakota.

Minnesota can’t schedule nonconference opponents with Native American nicknames because of a policy set by the athletic department for all programs across the board.

Minnesota will play Notre Dame for three more years and signed on for a four-year Hockey East two-step with Boston College and Northeastern, according to Lucia.

“We had the chance to schedule Boston College and Northeastern or we could wait around and see what would happen (with the UND nickname),” Lucia said. “How long was that going to take? That had gone on for years and there was no end in sight. We don’t have a lot of room on the schedule.”

“Bottom line is we did what was best for the University of Minnesota and last time I checked, that’s where I work.”

It would’ve been nice to see Minnesota hold off as long as it would’ve taken to put UND on the future nonconference schedule. Maybe Lucia and Minnesota did.

The rivalry is the fiercest and most entertaining in Upper Midwest college hockey, possibly across the country and it has to be on each team’s slate every season starting in 2016.

And the race is on

Two teams are tied atop the WCHA with 22 points, three teams have 20 and two have 19. With seven more weekends left in the regular season, this race is gearing up to be a memorable one.

One win could shoot any given team up the standings but one bad weekend will result in half the league passing a team; just ask Minnesota State.

The Mavericks dropped from fifth place to eighth after a pair of overtime losses to Wisconsin at home, but could’ve been tied for first had they won both those games.

Wisconsin is back in the race thanks to those wins and proved, with a split against No. 8 Miami, that its defense will help the Badgers compete with anyone.

Like Wisconsin, Minnesota-Duluth is also looking to jump back in the fray after a slow start. The Bulldogs are 7-2-1 in their last 10 WCHA games but can’t gain ground this weekend with a bye.

Denver’s inability to salvage a split or tie at St. Cloud State also caused the Pioneers to lose ground going into a bye. The Pioneers could get passed by the Badgers, who host last-place Alaska-Anchorage this weekend.

Two match-ups this weekend could go either way and give the race a completely new complexion:

No. 1 and first-place Minnesota plays a home-and-home against sixth-place MSU and only three points separate the two. St. Cloud State, tied with the Gophers for first, plays at third-place North Dakota.

SCSU gets its groove back

That horrid 1-3 nonconference performance against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Northern Michigan at home in consecutive weekends after break could come back to haunt St. Cloud State in the PairWise rankings.

In the WCHA standings, SCSU is doing just fine.

The Huskies (14-10, 11-5) were in first place going into the Christmas break and after a home sweep of Denver following a bye, they’re back on top.

 

A sweep against Denver didn’t seem possible because a) no one sweeps Denver, at least not since 2008, and b) because of SCSU’s inconsistency.

“Those first two weeks after break, we were just unplugged,” SCSU coach Bob Motzko said after Friday’s win. “We just forgot about the Northern series and moved on. There was more emotion tonight, getting back in league play.”

Whatever works. The Huskies have now won five straight against WCHA opponents and things are looking up once again for the Huskies.

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