Gophers take to the road to battle the Sioux

Lou Raguse

Minnesota men’s hockey captain Grant Potulny always looks forward to playing against North Dakota.

“That’s the series for me,” Potulny said. “It’s special.”

Unfortunately, last year he missed the series because of injury.

Tonight, when No. 10 Minnesota (2-4, 1-3 WCHA) takes on No. 2 North Dakota (4-1, 0-0) in Potulny’s hometown of Grand Forks, N.D., it will be the senior’s 12th career game against the Sioux.

The Gophers won eight of the last 10 meetings between the two teams and have yet to taste defeat in the new Ralph Engelstad Arena.

In October 2001, Minnesota ruined North Dakota’s arena opening by beating the Sioux 7-5. Four months later, the Gophers came back to Grand Forks and swept North Dakota in a weekend series.

Potulny said although the new arena is a treat to play in, the change cuts into North Dakota’s home rink advantage.

“I think for them it’s lost a lot of character and tradition,” Potulny said. “It’s not as tough to play there as the first rink was.”

However, with this weekend’s series, the Gophers have a difficult chore.

North Dakota leads all WCHA teams in scoring with 5.6 goals per game. The Sioux feature a strong crew of forwards, led by junior Brandon Bochenski and preseason Hobey Baker Award hopeful Zach Parise.

Minnesota coach Don Lucia thinks the key to this series is his own esteemed forwards’ play. Last weekend, they improved their play offensively, but now Lucia said they need to improve their play without the puck.

“Our forwards are going to have to play defensively,” Lucia said. “I think that’s what’s going to have to happen; we can’t give up the odd-numbered rushes, and it’s encumbered upon our forwards to have as good a weekend as anybody.”

And Potulny agrees.

“That’s why you play hockey, to play teams like UND,” Potulny said.

Absent on the blue line

Minnesota assistant captain Keith Ballard is still recovering from a knee injury suffered Oct. 24 and will not suit up against North Dakota.

Fellow defenseman Chris Harrington will keep him company, however, as he too is nursing a banged-up knee.

Harrington injured the knee in the Oct. 31 game against Denver when he collided with Thomas Vanek and goaltender Kellen Briggs.

After the game, Harrington was more concerned with his front teeth being knocked out on a check not long after the collision.

“The next morning when I woke up, it was in pretty bad shape,” Harrington said. “I guess it was just one of those things where you don’t think about it during the game.”

Harrington described the injury as a sprain and said he hopes to return for the Wisconsin series Nov. 14-15.

With Harrington out of the lineup, Lucia said he will use sophomore Andy Sertich on the blue line where he played in the Oct. 31 game.

Harrington’s injury puts an additional crimp on Minnesota’s specialty teams. Lucia said he will use Sertich, Judd Stevens, Mike Vannelli and “some of the other freshmen” on the power play.

“We’ve obviously had to make some huge adjustments there,” Lucia said. “That’s where (Ballard and Harrington’s injuries) have affected us the most, that our top two power-play pointmen are not available to us.”