Analysis: Quick Minnesota offense matches up with tough North Dakota defense

Minnesota’s Justin Kloos and North Dakota’s Rocco Grimaldi meet in the second Frozen Four semifinal (photos: Jim Rosvold, Rachel Lewis).

When the second pair of Frozen Four participants take the ice Thursday night, an old rivalry will be rekindled between a pair of former WCHA opponents and a pair of the winningest schools in NCAA tournament history.

The Minnesota Golden Gophers will face North Dakota for the 291st time, with the Gophers appearing to be the better team on paper. Until the final buzzer sounds, however, anything can, and often does, happen when these teams are involved.

2014 Frozen Four

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Gophers coach Don Lucia is searching for his third NCAA title since taking over the program from Doug Woog in 1999. His team comes into the Frozen Four having won its last two games after dropping two in a row.

This might be the deepest team Lucia has fielded in several seasons, however, and that makes a difference when it comes to this time of year.

“They have great team speed,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves. “They play with great pace. They have a really good skill set.”

Juniors Kyle Rau and Sam Warning lead the way offensively for the Gophers. Rau has notched 37 points in 39 games, while Warning has 32 in 37.

Minnesota vs. North Dakota

What: A Frozen Four semifinal

When: 8:30 p.m. EDT Thursday

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia


The Gophers boast three freshmen who all play key roles in the offense as well. Justin Kloos, Hudson Fasching and Taylor Cammarata all have scored at least 25 points.

Much like Union, the Gophers’ defensive corps can push the pace, which helps drive that talented, high-octane offense. Mike Reilly leads the way with 23 assists and 32 points in 37 games.

“Mike Reilly is very mobile,” said Eaves. “He really plays well.”

Junior Ben Marshall and sophomore Brady Skjei both have improved their puck-moving skills this season.

Every great team needs a stalwart between the pipes, and the Gophers are no exception. Sophomore Adam Wilcox has helped them to the nation’s top seed thanks to his 25-5-6 record, which was good enough to win him the Big Ten goaltending title and player of the year award.

“Their goalie, Wilcox, won our league goaltending title,” said Eaves. “He acts as a solid backbone for that team.”

For all this great defense and balanced offense, it is not as though the Gophers are unbeatable. A key series in early February against Wisconsin shed some light on how to cause them trouble.

“When we beat them, we had to keep the games low-scoring,” said Eaves, whose team twice beat the Gophers 2-1. “You have to keep the pucks in the corners.”

Eaves had one last crucial bit of advice for opponents of the Gophers.

“You have to grind them out,” said Eaves. “You cannot let them wheel.”

The team tasked with keeping them under control is North Dakota, a team that nearly did not make the NCAA tournament.

With the Big Ten’s automatic berth on the line, the Badgers had to come from two goals down in the third period to beat fifth-seeded Ohio State in the playoff championship game, opening the door for Dave Hakstol’s North Dakota squad to return to the tournament for the 12th consecutive year, including 10 with Hakstol at the helm.

North Dakota boasts 15 NHL draft picks, but it was walk-on Connor Gaarder who scored the double-overtime goal that lifted it over Ferris State and into the Frozen Four.

North Dakota’s offense is full of similar stories, but that is what makes it an intriguing and difficult opponent.

“Their forwards have tremendous will,” said Eaves. “They may not be the most skilled, but they really have tremendous will.”

North Dakota’s top four scorers are all forwards with at least 24 points. While their offense lacks marquee names after sophomore Rocco Grimaldi, their defense has proven to be extremely effective this season.

“Their defense might be the best offensively in the country,” said Eaves. “You really have to be aware of where they are on the ice.”

Sophomore Jordan Schmaltz and junior Nick Mattson have both recorded 23 points. Senior Dillon Simpson has picked up 22, including a team-high six power-play goals.

Simpson’s point totals are even more impressive when you add in his nation-leading 107 blocked shots. Schmaltz has also made things tough for opposing forwards by blocking 58 shots.

However, where North Dakota’s defense has really shined has been between the pipes, where sophomore Zane Gothberg has stabilized the situation. After appearing in 17 games and going 9-4-3 as a freshman, Gothberg’s workload increased significantly as he appeared in 32 games this season and posted a 20-9-3 record.

Never this season was that more evident than his 44-save performance against Ferris State at the Midwest Regional.

“Their goaltending is outstanding,” said Eaves. “If you ask Ferris State, he really stole the game.”

North Dakota’s defense is strong enough and quick enough to attempt to neutralize the Gophers’ offense, but if allowed time and space, the Gophers will take both.

“Minnesota has to the use that incredible team speed,” said Eaves. “If they are allowed to skate, they will.”

This game features one of the nation’s most balanced and quickest offenses going up against a difficult and tough defense. No matter which team comes out of this semifinal, the winner should prove a capable opponent for the winner of the Boston College-Union game.


  1. I find it interesting that whenever people talk about the Gophers they talk about the offense and seemingly overlook the fact that their defense gave up only 78 goals (3rd fewest in the nation) and average 1.97 goals against per games (2nd fewest in the nation). This in addition to being extremely mobile. It is going to be a great game, that is for sure.

    • Someone earlier said that MN’s SOS is the highest in the nation. I have a hard time believing that.
      Is it just b/c of the non-conference games? I would think OSU, MSU, and PSU wouldn’t contribute much to the SOS
      Not that MN mopped the floor with them or anything, but they are still considered less-formidable opponents.
      Does the SOS change throughout the season, according to how each team performs?

      • You are correct, sir–it is not #1. Look at the KRACH ratings:
        Minnesota – #7 SOS
        North Dakota – #22 SOS
        Boston College – #6 SOS
        Union – #24 SOS
        UMD (Minnesota-Duluth) is #1 SOS.
        Yes, it does change throughout the year.

        • I think the people in the smoke-filled room don’t use the KRACH because they don’t quite understand it.
          And it has no subjectivity.
          People in power don’t like things they can’t control.

        • Any idea how well the top four in the KRACH have aligned with the FF over the years?
          I suppose there’s no way of looking back.

          • Nah, no real correlation – Michigan Tech used to have #1 SOS a lot just because they played UND, MN, Wisc., CC, Denver all the time. KRACH usually predicts at least 2 of the Frozen Four if I recall correctly. There’s always an oddball team like Holy Cross or Nigara that comes out of nowhere though.

        • When looking at the RPI, the Gophers have the #1 SOS. Union has the worst SOS of the four teams in KRACH, yet they are ranked first there. Hard to figure that one out.

    • It’s going to be a heck of a game! GO GOPHERS!!!!! And btw, it’s the University of North Dakota, not sure the the Sioux are?!?!?

        • Maybe you should stop referring to your team as the Sioux?? When you’re clearly the University of North Dakota….just a thought

          • Does it bug you that much? Obviously it does or you wouldnt comment on it. Maybe you should come up with better one liners than what 50 million people said before that, genius. Let me guess, next you will use whioux or sue? Original as well…..

          • Obviously it bugs you enough when we point out the fact that you’re not the Fighting Sioux anymore, you feel the need to comment on it…. Goes both ways genius

          • I never demanded to be called the Sioux. I was just pointing it out that you felt the need to use a stupid line that no one has ever heard before…….

          • Head on back down to momma’s basement and get yourself some lessons on geography and how to be less of a dbag.

          • Was a good game. But you were worked in all aspects of it and scored on a fluke of a goal. But you would never actually admit you were outplayed because thats how arrogant and cocky goophs fans actually are. And I never once said we would win so why would I come on here and whoop it up like a moron rodent fan? Nice riot by the way. Only fan base that destroys their city because of a win. Stay classy.

          • How Arrogant and cocky we are? Don’t make me laugh! I can only imagine what you and your fellow “Sioux” fans would be saying to us if you had won last night. It was a good game and the gophs were outplayed, I will admit, I was nervous. But a win is a win no matter if it was a highlight reel goal or a “fluke goal” as you call it. Giving up a 3 on 2 with a man advantage, scoring with under a second left…yeah I guess I’d be butt hurt if that happened to my team too.

          • You can honestly sit here and say if your team won last night, you wouldn’t be doing the same thing?

          • You are treating this as if I said we were going to win and just destroy them. If the roles were reversed, I would probably have the balls to say we were outplayed and lucky to get the win.

          • I admitted 2 posts ago that it was a good game, we were outplayed and I was nervous! Learn to take some heat or get off the site! Good luck next year. Should be interesting to see if Grimaldi turns pro.

          • It was an awesome game and the Sioux played very well. Also, they weren’t chippy which was a nice for a change. I think it’s petty that NoDak fans are calling the goal a “fluke.” The Gophers are notorious for being fancy and having to set up to put shots on goal and the one time they take a gut shot on the net in the final seconds of the game and it goes in it’s an undeserved goal (lucky). No. UND outplayed the Gophers most of the game, and they had their chances but didn’t capitalize. People fail to realize that it isn’t how well out skated the other team, it’s how many times you put the puck in the net. Usually the two go hand in hand but not always. What was Yale’s shot in the first 3 seconds of OT last year on the Gophers? It was a goal, nothing more, nothing less. I didn’t complain that it was a “fluke.” It was what it was and I cheered for Yale the rest of the way through the tourney. Just be happy UND made it as far as they did, they were an underdog team. Not a favorite. Good luck next year, Sioux have some good prospects.

          • I just can’t understand why gopher or badger fans (or whoever else) cares what the UND fans call the team? We all know the name isn’t used “officially” any longer but do you really think that is going to stop a fan base that has used that name proudly for generations? Just not sure why you all care.

            Should be a great game tomorrow.

          • I agree, it’s getting a bit old. However it’s not that Gopher fans (and Wisco#1) actually care what you call your team for the most part, I believe given the long history of MN/UND fans throwing useless crap at each other it’s just another source of ammo. And unfortunately until UND fans give up on the Holy Cross bit I have a feeling the “lack of mascot” trash talking is here to stay for a while. As much as I dislike UND I have major respect for them and I for one think they should still be the Sioux. Still I guess though….the more crap we can hurl at each other will help in some way keep the rivalry up, if at least for the fans! I think it’ll be one heck of a game tonight.

          • Unfortunately, since the Holy Cross game was at the Ralph, we will never hear the end of it. I bet if that game was played elsewhere, the references to it might be cut in half from NoDak fans.

          • Not sure about that. It doesn’t help it was in the Ralph that is for sure but most UND fans would probably not let that go any time soon and I can see getting on a program for losing a 1vs 16 seed game as that is hockey related.

            The name issue is an NCAA issue that the UND hockey team has about as much influence on as the next presidential election. There was nothing they could have done about it. MN vs HC – the MN players could have done something. But whatever, we all get to see a great game later today so that is all I care about. Just hope it lives up to the hype and they both play as well as they can and then we just see who comes out the other side.

          • MNGopherGuru are you jelous because all North Dakota fans still refer to the name Fighting Sioux! You clearly sound like a whinner! We will always out of true respect for the Sioux Native Americans be known as University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux!!!!

          • I just love seeing all of you Sue fans get worked up over something so small! I will always refer to ND as the Sue, most Gopher fans will. However I will never be jealous of North Dakota! Should be a good game tonight, don’t cry too much when your season ends tonight. GO GOPHERS!!! Rah!

      • From one Gopher fan to another, I would also urge you to maybe “pump the brakes” just a tad, MNGopherGuru. (I stole that line from a previous thread from a Sioux fan, liked it, and feel compelled to use it here.) The mascot thing is a bit worn-out, and we know it has no zero bearing on what matters – results on the ice. It just incites more bad blood and perceptions of Gopher fans :/ I for one loved the name and felt it had no disrespect, but, that is an entirely different subject. They will always be the Sioux, unofficially, so I propose Gopher Nation let one go and focus on how to solve Gothberg and shut down Grimaldi :) Go Gophs!

        • I dont think it all lies with Gothberg and Grimaldi, although they are big parts of it. We obviously don’t have a lot of stand out players, but with everyone working together, they are definitely a hard bunch. It is basically going to come down to who can give their opponent less time and space. Any team can beat another team, given enough space and time…..

          • This is why it is going to be a great great. Both teams are comprised of hard working blue collar players. No prima donna superstars on either side. Just good offense, stout defense and quality goaltending.

          • I agree, however, I don’t think this year’s Gophers can be accused of not working hard. They have played well all season. Also hard work can be talent, even when talent works hard. Hard work trumps everything. Go Gophers!

          • This is why it is going to be a great game. Both teams are comprised
            of hard working blue collar players. No prima donna superstars on
            either side. Just good offense, stout defense and quality goaltending.

          • Very good point.. (I think I was just trying to wrap up my point about focusing on the game and the name).. so I sorta picked a couple of UND’s more well-known weapons out of the hat of many talented players! It is definitely one of UND’s strengths that they have a cohesive team clicking and peaking right now, more than just stand-outs or superstars. Actually, I am probably by far the least sports knowledgeable on these posts, but I would submit that momentum and peaking at the right time is what wins championships. I know UND has it right now.. I just wonder if the Gophs have as much of that “magic” momentum, and if the young freshmen can respond to the most physical game they’ve ever seen and on a big stage. This time of year goes well beyond talent, which is why playoff hockey is simply the best!

          • Unfortunately, this game would probably have been even better if played closer to the regional games.
            No a lot of the “magic” may have been diminished.

          • Totally agree. I have been pondering the previously-suggested idea to have hockey/bball finals on same weekend. I hate this 2-week break. And I know most fan bases are fairly mutually exclusive, at least when it comes to travel. But would hockey get lost in the basketball mania that was last weekend? I dunno. Finally at least its here tomorrow already!

    • I think that the best chance UND has is to keep it lower scoring. I think you could be right with a 4-2 score for either but I think it will include an eng at the end for someone.

      • I wouldn’t be at all surprised if my squad lost. UND is more than capable, I just don’t think it happens this time. Other predictins: Union beats BC 5-3. I have a bad feeling about Gophers Vs Union… =0

        • Yeah, I agree.

          The issue that MN has is that Union is probably a better team that UND and they play that same style so MN is going to have a tough game.

          There is no question in my mind that MN has the best overall team in the nation but hockey can be a game of styles and their style is hard to get rolling if they play a team that has discipline and is willing to not take chances and just play that very tough defensive style. And that is Union from the few games I have seen them play.

          I also think that MN made a mistake way back when they decided to create the olympic size sheet for their home games. Just don’t really ever see that size ice in the playoffs so they are really a team that is set up to be this wide open skating and that is great when you have space but if they run into a team that can take that space away they are going to have a harder time.

          Should be a great championship game and as hard as this is for a die hard (been to hundreds of games at UND) fan to say, good luck to the Gophers tomorrow.


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