Men’s hockey Pre-Game report: Gophers vs. (5) North Dakota

by Max Sanders

We are just under one hour away from the post-season edition of the most intense rivalry in college hockey. While this isn’t the dominant Minnesota team of years past, Don Lucia’s current squad enters the weekend playing some of its best hockey of the season, splitting last weekends series against the No. 3 Badgers; capping the regular season winners of four of their final six contests.

Minnesota is facing a North Dakota team that closed out the year winning seven straight games. Numbers and various statistics have been mentioned throughout the week about the matchup, including that both teams won and split in series at their home arena.

Those numbers mean nothing now, as playoff hockey is a different animal, especially at Ralph Engelstad Arena; arguably the toughest venue for opponents in college sports.

North Dakota’s success in the second half has completely hinged on one facet: defense. The Sioux simply don’t like giving up goals, surrendering less then two per game during their recent winning streak. For a Minnesota team that has struggled to score, they will have to take advantage of every opportunity they get, as each may be their last. While in series past the Gophers have managed to hit pipes or not get rebound shots on net, they simply have to convert those chances this weekend. Do that, and they have a shot to steal this series. Fail to capitalize, and the Gophers will see their season end in rather short fashion. Either way, buckle up hockey fans; this series promises to be, as Jacob Cepis so eloquently put it, "a hate fest".

Gophers Offensive First Line:

Left Wing-Jacob Cepis

Center-Jordan Schroeder

Right Wing-Zach Budish

Gophers Offensive Second Line:

Left Wing-Mike Hoeffel

Center-Mike Carman

Right Wing-Nick Larson

Gophers Offensive Third Line:

Left Wing-Tony Lucia

Center-Patrick White

Right Wing-Ryan Flynn

Gophers Offensive Fourth Line:

Left Wing-Josh Birkholz

Center-Nico Sacchetti

Right Wing-Jake Hansen

Notes: Taylor Matson not only is not in the lineup, the forward didn’t even make the trip north; so he will be out with an ankle injury for the series.

Gophers Defensive First Line:

Left-Nick Leddy

Right-David Fischer

Gophers Defensive Second Line:

Left-Aaron Ness

Right-Cade Fairchild

Gophers Defensive Third Line:

Left-Kevin Wehrs

Right-Brian Schack

Notes: Schack replaces freshman Seth Helgesonon the third line. Lucia must have liked how the senior played last weekend against Wisconsin. Helgeson talked Wednesday of looking forward to playing this weekend, so the benching undoubtedly came as a surprise to the defenseman. Look for Helgeson to receive the start tomorrow in place of Schack barring a strong performance by Schack tonight.

Goalie-Alex Kangas

Note: Simply put, the key to Minnesota’s hopes. The junior has had an overall strong season, but will have to take it to another level this weekend; a level not seen since his freshman year. North Dakota not only scores, but doesn’t allow goals. One mistake by Kangas or a defensive lapse could very well be the turning point tonight, so he will have to be on his "A" game for 60 minutes, or beyond.

North Dakota Offensive First Line:

Left Wing-Jason Gregoire

Center-Chris VandeVelde

Right Wing-Brett Hextall

North Dakota Offensive Second Line:

Left Wing-Evan Trupp

Center-Brad Malone

Right Wing-Matt Frattin

Note: Frattin missed the first half of the season after being charged with DUI in an incident with ex-Sioux defenseman Joe Finley. Since returining the junior has tallied 11 points on five goals and six assists in 18 games.

North Dakota Offensive Third Line:

Left Wing-Corban Knight

Center-Darcy Zajac

Right Wing-Danny Kristo

Note: A freshman, Kristo is a Minnesota native (from Eden Prairie).

North Dakota Offensive Fourth Line:

Left Wing-Mario Lamoureux

Center-Carter Rowney

Right Wing-David Toews

North Dakota Defensive First Line:

Left-Andrew MacWilliam

Right-Ben Blood

North Dakota Defensive Second Line:

Left-Derrick LaPoint

Right-Jake Marto

North Dakota Defensive Third Line:

Left-Brent Davidson

Right-Joe Gleason

Goalie:

Brad Eidsness