Minnesota looks to stop skid vs. Sioux

by Chris Lempesis

Last weekend, Minnesota’s men’s hockey team faced a Wisconsin team that was, stylistically, its exact opposite.

This weekend, the Gophers head on the road to take on another rival, this one much more similar, both stylistically and otherwise: North Dakota.

The two highly ranked, relatively offense-minded squads will face off in a two-game Western Collegiate Hockey Association set at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Game times are set for 7:37 p.m. Friday and 7:07 p.m. Saturday in Grand Forks, N.D.

In fact, the ability to put the puck in the net has been a big part of both teams’ success this season. No. 8 Minnesota (7-5-4, 6-4-2 WCHA) and No. 5 North Dakota (10-5-1, 6-4-0 WCHA) are tied for the top overall offense in the conference, as each team averages 3.5 goals per game.

While the Gophers’ offensive showings have not been surprising, the Fighting Sioux’s newfound offense was unexpected. In the past, North Dakota has been known for its defensive prowess ” especially its big, bruising defensemen.

“We’re used to the big D back there just trying to bang us and not give us any room,” said junior forward Ryan Potulny. “These guys got a little more offensive power than we’ve seen in the past.”

A big reason for the change in North Dakota’s style is its offensively talented incoming class, another area in which the teams are similar.

Four of the Sioux’s top eight scorers are newcomers, including the team’s second leading scorer, forward T.J. Oshie (six goals and nine assists for 15 points).

“They have the talent,” coach Don Lucia said of the North Dakota freshmen. “They’re just getting the experience right now hands-on.”

That experience has been hard-earned for the Sioux as they, like the Gophers, have experienced some ups-and-downs this season.

The Sioux might be experiencing a bit of a roller-coaster season, but the same cannot be said of their goaltender.

Junior Jordan Parise is continuing to build on his already stellar collegiate career with another strong campaign this season. He is posting a 9-2-1 record with a 2.16 goals against average and a save percentage of .935, good for second in the conference.

“When you got a guy that’s saving 93-plus percentage of the shots, that that’s what you need,” Lucia said. “That’s that backbone of their team right now, the way he’s playing.”

Goaltending seemingly is one of the only areas of difference between the Sioux and the Gophers. Whereas Minnesota uses the rotation of junior Kellen Briggs and freshman Jeff Frazee, North Dakota uses just one player.

North Dakota has won five of its past six while Minnesota is coming off a brutal weekend in which it was swept by the Badgers at home. The Gophers, for the most part, didn’t even look competitive in that series.

Even though the teams are heading in different directions coming into the series, a final similarity can be found in the fact that both need to come out of the weekend with some points.

“It’s a big statement weekend (for us),” freshman forward Ryan Stoa said. “Because we’re away ” and one of our biggest rivalries ” and it’d be big to win this. If we roll over and die like we did last weekend, it wouldn’t be good. It’s time to turn things around.”