U hockey opens WCHA with Duluth

by Tim Nichols

It must be that time of the year.
When Gophers defenseman Nick Angell threw a nasty check on teammate Erik Wendell in practice Thursday, smearing him against the boards like a bug on a windshield, it didn’t take a look at the schedule to tell Minnesota-Duluth was coming to town.
The last time these two teams got together, a 5-4 overtime victory by the Bulldogs in the deciding game of a first-round playoff series, they committed 101 total penalties for 285 minutes.
“Whenever we play anyone in our geographical area, be it St. Cloud, Wisconsin, Duluth, North Dakota or Mankato, they’re all going to be high intensity,” coach Doug Woog said. “You can’t get away from it.”
Minnesota (1-1) lost its opener to St. Lawrence last weekend before rebounding against then-No. 4 Ohio State to take third place in the Icebreaker Invitational. This will be the opening series for Minnesota-Duluth.
And whenever Duluth is mentioned, Dave Spehar’s name soon follows.
Spehar originally committed to play for the Bulldogs, but then changed his mind to skate for Minnesota. In his career, Spehar has had his best games against the Bulldogs, scoring 9 goals and assisting on 3 others.
But the junior admits to getting a little annoyed with the constant Duluth questions.
“I’m pretty sick of them, to tell the truth,” Spehar said. “It’s two years old, it’s over and done with, it’s really not that big of a deal.”
But he did say this weekend is important.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a do-or-die deal,” Spehar said. “It’s a long season, but it’s important to go out and get two wins.”
To do so, the Gophers will have to get the puck past junior Brant Nicklin. Against almost any other team, he’s been a solid goaltender. But against Minnesota, Nicklin has posted an ugly 4.71 goals-against average with a 11-11 record.
The Bulldogs also have junior Jeff Scissons, who will try to improve on his 17 goals and 24 assists from last season. Scissons has been a one-man Minnesota wrecking crew, scoring his personal high of 4 goals against Minnesota on March 13th in game one of last year’s WCHA tournament.
Woog said losing to Minnesota-Duluth wasn’t as painful as being knocked out of the WCHA play-offs. Either way, when these two teams get together it makes for physical, aggressive hockey. It’s going to be very rough to play in, but it should be fun to watch.
“As long as we remain strong, you’re always going to be entertained,” Woog said. “And I do believe we’re going to entertain them this year.”