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Road turns difficult for UND hockey

University of North Dakota forward Zach Yon (7) takes a shot on goal during the second period of FridayÕs game against Canisius at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)

Things haven't been real difficult for the UND men's hockey team so far this season.

The Fighting Hawks have won games by three, four and six goals. They've outshot their opponents, on average, by more than 25 per game. They haven't even allowed an opponent more than 17 shots on goal in a single game.

Its opponents thus far, Canisius and RPI, have a combined record of 1-6.

But we'll soon find out a lot more about this UND squad.

Its upcoming schedule: vs. No. 18 Bemidji State, at No. 2 Minnesota Duluth, at No. 7 Minnesota, vs. No. 6 Denver and then at St. Cloud State, a place UND hasn't swept in 18 years.

Its next four opponents have a combined record of 11-3-2. They will test UND in all sorts of ways.

The first test will come this weekend in Ralph Engelstad Arena against the Beavers (7:37 p.m. Friday, 7:07 p.m. Saturday).

Bemidji State is nationally ranked after a 4-0 start. The Beavers started the season by sweeping Western Collegiate Hockey Association preseason favorite Bowling Green 2-1 and 4-1 in Bemidji.

Last weekend, the Beavers swept Northern Michigan without allowing a goal. Bemidji State goaltender Michael Bitzer enters this weekend's series against UND on a shutout streak of 156 minutes, 20 seconds. Bitzer has allowed just one even-strength goal this season.

After that, it's off to Duluth.

On top of it being the first road trip for this squad, it will be challenged by the Bulldogs, who will likely enter the weekend with the nation's No. 1 or No. 2 ranking.

The Bulldogs will challenge UND's physicality—their coach played at UND and their style of game reflects that—as well as UND's discipline.

Duluth has always been tough to play against—and the Bulldogs figured things out at the end of last season, narrowly missing a trip to the NCAA Frozen Four. Since their trip to The Ralph in February, the Bulldogs are 11-3-2, including a 3-1-2 start to this season.

Then, it will be off to Mariucci Arena for the renewal of the rivalry with Minnesota.

The Gophers opened the season with a pair of wins in Alaska. They are ranked No. 7 nationally and are the heavy favorites to win a fourth consecutive Big Ten regular-season title.

Minnesota scored six goals in both games up in Alaska and put up a nine-spot on the U.S. Under-18 team last weekend.

Then, it's the NCAA Frozen Four semifinal rematch against Denver.

The Pioneers just finished a two-game sweep of No. 2 Boston University, despite not having their top player, forward Dylan Gambrell.

Denver is the only team that swept UND's national championship team a year ago.

And finally, UND will have to go to St. Cloud State, the defending National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoff champion. The Huskies are young up front but have a loaded defensive corps.

On top of that, the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center is never an easy place to play. UND hasn't swept a series there since 1998.

Then, it will be time for a Thanksgiving meal. And by then, we'll know a lot more about this team.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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