North Dakota vs. Minnesota: The show must go on (after 2013)

Before we go any further, obviously Minnesota and North Dakota will play next season and there’s potential for postseason meetings between now and the split-up of the WCHA in 2013, but college hockey’s best rivalry is taking a huge turn after next season.

This weekend’s series, in fact, was the last one in Grand Forks with the teams facing off as conference opponents. The 2012-13 matchup will take place in Minneapolis. The two programs need to find a way to make sure this series is played each and every single season, alternating the location every year.

Anyone who watched the series should agree. The body checks, the extracurricular activity, the animosity between the two benches and the hockey itself, make the rivalry worth the hype.

The cheap shots and the dirty hits can just as well be left behind but we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t acknowledge that they draw us in.

And on the topic of those particular hits, Danny Kristo’s hit on Minnesota’s Ben Marshall in Friday’s game was a filthy hit and the right Kristo threw across the back of Marshall’s head, to boot. One would think it would be hard to argue against a five-minute major but Kristo managed to do it. After pleading with officials, he ran down the tunnel, whacked his stick against the wall and returned to the bench to bark a little more.

Mark Alt’s check from behind on Michael Parks Saturday was your textbook check from behind and possibly the easiest call for Don Adam’s crew all weekend (easier for them to decide what is and isn’t icing and or when to blow the whistle when a goalie does or doesn’t cover up the puck). Alt’s illegal hit had a lot more potential for damage and injury than Kristo’s but Kristo’s hit (punch included) looked like it had more malicious intent.

Mario Lamoureux didn’t do his reputation any favors when he got on top of Joey Miller during the ensuing melee and threw a few punches to the face after Miller pulled him off of Alt, who skated from the penalty box to the tunnel without incident.

You could say UND assistant captain Ben Blood only wanted to cap off a wild weekend with a few more fireworks or that he plays intense to the final buzzer (and beyond), but it was plain to see he plain and simply lost his head and became unraveled after the Gophers won 6-2 Saturday.

He took a slapshot as time ran out that hit Seth Ambroz, the two got together at center ice and tripped backward when the refs went in to break it up. It seemed the 6-foot-4 Blood would take on any willing Gopher at the time, but waited until he got to 5-8 Kyle Rau in the handshake line to throw a sucker.

Now, Rau was lucky to have Ambroz right there to back him up, he’s a known chirper on the ice and it’s possible he said something suggestive about Blood’s dog, but Blood’s actions were classless.

There’s no room for donnybrooks in the handshake line, but that’s the kind of stuff that keeps all of us going to YouTube relive the memories.

Based on what’s been reported, UND coach Dave Hakstol seems more on board with the continuation of the rivalry. Hakstol told the Star Tribune he envisions a home-and-home series over a three-day span with a day for travel in between.

Minnesota coach Don Lucia also wants to continue the rivalry but said nonconference scheduling issues could keep the teams apart in competition. NCHC teams could play 28 conference games if they play the other seven NCHC teams twice. That leaves four weekends for nonconference action.

According to the Star Tribune’s Roman Augustoviz, UND  will play Wisconsin twice per season when the Badgers go to the Big Ten and Minnesota has locked in Notre Dame for four seasons.

But if these two programs consider everything that went on this weekend and the history of a rivalry that’s been hot for decades, they’ll do the right thing and keep it rolling.

Template set for beating Minnesota-Duluth

It was attempted 17 consecutive times by nine teams and all 17 efforts were met with failure. We’re speaking, of course, of Minnesota-Duluth’s 17-game unbeaten streak (14-0-3) which met its end on Saturday night at the hands of Nebraska-Omaha by a final score of 3-1.

To give you some perspective, UMD’s last loss came eight days before Tim Tebow’s first game as Denver’s starting quarterback in 2011.

UMD’s loss to the Mavericks was its first since falling to Minnesota 5-4 on Oct. 15.

Although the scores were unique to each game, enough similarities exist between the two which reveals a relatively simple formula to taking down UMD:

Hot goaltending, opportunistic scoring, and great penalty killing.

UNO freshman goaltender Ryan Massa stopped 43 of 44 UMD shots on Saturday while the Mavericks scored on three of their 15 shots on Kenny Reiter and held the Bulldogs scoreless on five power play opportunities.

Three months ago the Gophers’ Kent Patterson denied the Bulldogs 46 times on 50 attempts as his teammates were 5 for 16 in shooting against Reiter and killed five out of six UMD power plays.

It’s like we said. Simple.

On a series side note, UNO has been utilizing a trio of goaltenders this season in Massa, senior John Faulkner, and freshman Dayn Belfour, although Massa (12 games) and Faulkner (10) have received the bulk of the playing time. Nebraska-Omaha coach Dean Blais told us early last month that he would ride the hot hand down the stretch.

With the season beginning to wind down and with Faulkner not even dressing on Saturday after dropping Friday’s 6-2 decision, it seems plausible Blais would be inclined to turn over the keys to Massa at least for the foreseeable future.

Revitalized Zucker sparks Denver sweep

While we’re still not convinced Jason Zucker should not have been in Denver last weekend, it is hard to argue that the time off didn’t produce an invigorated effort from the Pioneers’ star forward over the weekend. Zucker registered five critical points (2 goals, 3 assists) in DU’s sweep (6-3, 3-2) of Bemidji State at Magness Arena.

“He’s just a great player; he’s one of the best players in the league, and maybe the most explosive player in college hockey,” BSU coachTom Serratore told USCHO’s Candace Horgan after the game. “You have to try to keep those guys in check, or at least only allow them one point or so.”

But not only were the Beavers unable to keep Zucker off the score sheet, he had two helpers on Friday, including the first assist on Drew Shore’s game winner. The following night, Zucker led his team back from a 2-1 third-period deficit as he set up Chris Knowlton’s goal to tie the game 2-2 and scored the winning goal on a power play with 8:10 to play.

Zucker’s Saturday performance was magnified by the absence of Denver’s leading scorer, Drew Shore, who was held of the series finale with a lower body injury suffered on Friday in a game he finished with five points (2-3=5).