Gophers begin regular season with road series at North Dakota

College hockey’s most played rivalry kicks off Minnesota’s season.

Gophers begin regular season with road series at North Dakota

Max Sanders

The most played rivalry in college hockey meets up again Friday, when the Minnesota menâÄôs hockey team travels to Engelstad Arena to face North Dakota. The 274th and 275th meeting between the schools marks the first time in the history of the Gophers hockey program that Minnesota has opened its season with a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series at North Dakota. The Gophers did open the season at North Dakota in 2001, but that game did not count in the conference standings. This game does, and sophomore Jordan Schroeder knows the importance of getting off to a good start from the first drop of the puck Friday night. âÄúItâÄôs key. We got to play simple, get pucks deep and not let the crowd get into the game,âÄù Schroeder said. Minnesota leads the all-time series standings between the two schools, but North Dakota has dominated the rivalry in recent years, going 7-2-1 in the previous 10 meetings between the schools. Last season, North Dakota swept the Gophers 6-3 and 6-1 in Grand Forks. While the players are looking forward to this season, last yearâÄôs defeats at the hands of the Sioux still remains in the minds of the players as they begin this yearâÄôs campaign. âÄúItâÄôs definitely in the back of our minds. We went up there last year, and they put a pretty good thumping on us,âÄù senior Tony Lucia said. âÄúWe want to remember that thereâÄôs a new team that we have, they have a new team and itâÄôs a new year, so we want to put our focus on starting off the year on a good foot.âÄù Despite the struggles recently against North Dakota, Minnesota has fared well on the road in the series, posting a winning record of 4-3 in the last seven games played at Engelstad Arena. Continuing that success on the road is something Lucia sees as a key to the season. âÄúGoing into a hostile environment like North Dakota, [thereâÄôs] definitely a big emphasis to win on Friday,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúAnytime you can go into someone elseâÄôs building and get two points, itâÄôs success in our league.âÄù Minnesota faces North Dakota 12 days after its first and only exhibition game, a 6-1 win over British Columbia. Despite the long layoff between games, Gophers head coach Don Lucia is confident his team is ready for the regular season opener. âÄúI think weâÄôve had a good week of practice; weâÄôve had some good preparation,âÄù Don Lucia said. âÄúWe just need to start playing some games to evaluate our team.âÄù This is the second series of the regular season for North Dakota. The Sioux began its season last weekend with a sweep over Hockey EastâÄôs Merrimack, winning by scores of 5-2 and 3-2. Led by reigning WCHA Defensive Player of the Year and preseason All-American Chay Genoway , North Dakota enters this year with an extremely talented and young roster, returning 16 letter-winners from last season. Minnesota enters this year with just four freshmen, the lowest amount of newcomers to the Gophers program since the 1984-85 season . With eight straight WCHA Conference games to begin the season, Don Lucia said his newcomers will have to get acclimated quickly to life in the WCHA. âÄúItâÄôs going to be a challenge, thereâÄôs no question,âÄù he said. âÄúWhen you play the team that won the MacNaughton Cup a year ago, then come back and play the team ranked No. 1 to start the season [Denver] âĦ welcome to the big time.âÄù The newcomers will have veteran leadership to rely on, as Minnesota returns 10 of its top 11 scorers and all but 60 of its total points scored last season . That veteran leadership will be needed as the Gophers enter Engelstad Arena, one of the nationâÄôs most hostile hockey arenas. As for when the bus pulls up in front of Engelstad Arena, Tony Lucia will have a simple message for the freshmen. âÄúItâÄôs a weekend for men only,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs definitely going to be a tough series. When our series gets dialed up, itâÄôs definitely in-your-face hockey, so they just need to be prepared for whatever gets handed their way.âÄù Minnesota has won its previous two season openers and is 6-4 in openers during Don LuciaâÄôs 10 seasons with the team; although he is quick to acknowledge those stats mean little come Friday. âÄúWhat happened two years ago or last year has no bearing,âÄù Don Lucia said. âÄúWeâÄôre just trying to do everything we can to prepare against a very good opponent on the road.âÄù The Friday game will start at 7:30 p.m., with SaturdayâÄôs contest starting at 7 p.m.