Dangerous Sioux team comes to town to take on top-ranked Minnesota

Mark Remme

In poker, the definition of “slow play” is initially making the opposition think a strong hand is weak before revealing its true strength.

Someone might need to tell North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol he’s in the wrong sport, because since he took over the Sioux’s bench in 2004, he’s worked that slow play notion to perfection.

It’s something top-ranked Minnesota is fully aware of, and the team hopes to put a damper on North Dakota’s red-hot, second-half play when the Sioux come to town for a two-game Western Collegiate Hockey Association series this weekend. Friday and Saturday’s games are set for 7:07 p.m.

North Dakota started the last two seasons hovering around .500 through its first 10 contests, only to find itself in back-to-back NCAA Frozen Fours, including one national championship game.

While it took them a little longer to turn the tides this season, the 15th-ranked Sioux (13-11-2 overall, 7-9-2 WCHA) are proving once again, the closer March comes, the more dangerous they are.

North Dakota is 6-1-1 in its last eight games and is currently on a five-game unbeaten streak.

Gophers senior netminder Kellen Briggs, a battle-tested veteran against the Sioux as a four-year starter, said North Dakota’s biggest strength is that its strong defensive play keeps scores low.

The Sioux often capitalize on turnovers during late-season, low-scoring affairs, Briggs said.

True to the cliché, defense does win championships.

And in March and April when close games and strong goaltending go hand-in-hand, North Dakota has found its niche year in and year out.

After netminder Jordan Parise bolted to the NHL after last season, much of the work between the pipes landed on junior goalie Philippe Lamoureux, despite missing time with an ankle injury.

Minnesota coach Don Lucia said Lamoureux’s injury, coupled with an offense that was barely missing its scoring chances, caused the Sioux to find themselves with an uncharacteristic record halfway through the season.

North Dakota’s talent prompted Lucia to pick it to win the WCHA this year, and the Sioux’s resurgence in the new year shows why.

“Now the pucks are going in,” Lucia said. “Lamoureux is playing the way everyone expected him to play before he was hurt, and now I think you’ll see them take off in the second half.”

Since Dec. 15, scoring goals against Lamoureux seems to be a tall order. He’s given up three goals or less in his last 10 games.

But, despite the recent success, North Dakota is still far from where it would like to be.

The Sioux are fifth in the conference and 13 points behind the Gophers (21-3-3, 13-2-3). North Dakota could put a chokehold on home-ice advantage in the WCHA playoffs with success this weekend. But if the Sioux sputter, they might slip to sixth or seventh.

Still, the Gophers recognize North Dakota’s potency regardless of game location come March.

“It seems at the end of the season they’re clicking on all the right cylinders,” junior defenseman Derek Peltier said. “We’re going to have to match that.”

Gordon out

Junior forward Ben Gordon will sit out Friday after receiving a fighting major and a game-misconduct last Saturday against Denver.