CHICAGO — Have you heard? It’s an all-NCHC final Saturday night. You know what that means? Lots of questions about how Minnesota Duluth thinks it’ll match up against Denver.
As it turns out, playing a team from the same conference may not matter as much as people would like to think. The Bulldogs and Pioneers met for two games this season, a split in Denver last December, with the Pioneers winning 4-3 and the Bulldogs taking the 3-1 game the following night.
“It was a little quirk in our scheduling,” said coach Scott Sandelin. “I think you take some of that [familiarity] for sure, but they’re a team right now that’s playing as well as they probably have.
“Our guys are familiar with their team, maybe not to the extent like that was talked about before where you played teams four or five times, but I know one thing. Our guys are looking forward to the opportunity.”
In Wednesday’s news conference, the day before Minnesota Duluth’s semifinal match with Harvard, the media seemed stuck on the fact that the Bulldogs were about to face the top offense in the nation, a team that averaged more than four goals per game.
In answering questions about how Duluth would react to Harvard, Sandelin brought a little of the talk back to his own team. “They do have some difference makers,” said Sandelin. “So do we.”
Now the Bulldogs are tasked with stopping a Denver team that has averaged 5.67 goals per game in the NCAA tournament. Again, there were questions about how to stop a powerful opponent. Again, the Bulldogs pushed back a little, as diplomatically as they could.
“We’re a team that can get up and down the ice too,” said senior defenseman Willie Raskob. “The games we played in Denver were two very good games. I think that’s going to be the type of game it’s going to be. We’re a good skating team, they’re a good skating team. I think it will be a fun game.”
“It’s one game,” said Sandelin, “and all you’re asking your players to do is go out there and play their best game. And one team’s going to probably play a little better or maybe it’s a bounce or a break, and that’s what’s going to decide the game.
“I think it’s going to be a great hockey game if both teams play up to their capabilities.”