Friday rundown: The changing and evolving UND-Minnesota rivalry
The Gophers have only made one trip to Grand Forks in the previous nine seasons.
UND and Minnesota will pack Ralph Engelstad Arena on Thanksgiving weekend with the students gone on holiday break.
They'll produce a raucous atmosphere that no two other teams can replicate in college hockey.
That's a clear sign that this rivalry has stood the test of time and survived the teams' moves into different conferences in 2013 — Minnesota to the Big Ten and UND to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
But there's also no question that the rivalry is different.
Think back to the three-year span from 2009-10 to 2011-12. UND and Minnesota played against each other 15 times in three seasons. They played five playoff games against each other — three in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association first round, one in the Final Five and one in the NCAA tournament.
Familiarity breeds contempt and that's why the rivalry has been so heated for so many years. Dave Hakstol, who coached in Maple Leafs-Canadiens games the last two seasons, said the UND-Minnesota is as intense as any rivalry in sport .
But there's not that familiarity today. Entering this weekend's meeting (7:07 p.m. Friday, 6:07 p.m. Saturday), there are some unthinkable statistics:
- Only four of 27 players on UND's roster have played in a North Dakota-Minnesota game (Mark Senden, Gavin Hain, Judd Caulfield and Ethan Frisch).
- Not a single player on either roster has ever played in the North Dakota-Minnesota rivalry in Grand Forks.
- Minnesota has only made one trip to Grand Forks in the previous nine seasons.
- It has been eight years since the two teams have met in the playoffs. That's the longest drought in more than 40 years (they also went eight years without a postseason meeting from 1971 to 1979).
"We talk about how big this rivalry is and the story of our rivalry with everyone and how deep it goes within our program," said Senden, whose uncle, Stuart, played at Minnesota. "We tell them what to expect. It's a really big weekend. Expect the best from them. We have to bring our best this weekend. The fans are going to get into it. It's just going to be an awesome experience."
Some players grew up watching these games.
"I never attended a game," said UND forward Griffin Ness, who went to Wayzata High. "But I definitely watched a lot on TV. I remember being in my basement with my little brother playing mini sticks watching the game.
"Growing up in the Cities area, you'd hear about how spirited the games are and the traditions of both programs. I just know it's going to be a battle this weekend. I'm excited for it."
Perhaps, the rivalry will be a bit more familiar on Minnesota's side.
Twelve players on Minnesota's roster played in the series in Mariucci Arena two seasons ago, when the Fighting Hawks crushed the Gophers 9-3 in the series opener and won a down-to-the-wire series finale 3-2. The Gophers will look to turn the tables this weekend, while UND will look to extend its current four-game winning streak against Minnesota.
"Two years ago, we had a mentality going down to Minneapolis, trying to do what we did," UND coach Brad Berry said. "The message is: It's nonconference, but to us, it's NCHC play. It's going to be a tough battle against a very good team, knowing we have to bring our best."
The players are looking forward to having the rivalry back in Grand Forks.
"I'm really excited about it," Senden said. "I'm really looking forward to playing them here now in The Ralph, especially this year. I can't wait to see all the fans in the stands and how loud it's going to be this weekend. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Here are 15 other notes about the upcoming rivalry series:
1. Minnesota, the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten, has been off to a slower-than-expected start at 8-6. The Gophers also have been playing without a couple of key players. Chaz Lucius, a first-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets, returned to the lineup last weekend, while Colorado College transfer Grant Cruikshank is expected to be back this weekend. Here's the full injury update for both teams .
2. Cruikshank is the only player on Minnesota's roster who has played in a college hockey game in The Ralph. Cruikshank did it twice as a freshman and twice as a sophomore. Last season, he did not play in Grand Forks. He missed Colorado College's regular-season series in Grand Forks due to appendicitis and he missed the Frozen Faceoff due to COVID-19 protocols.
3. Cruikshank made a visit to UND this summer while he was in the transfer portal, but ultimately picked Minnesota.
4. Berry has continued to emphasize discipline with the Fighting Hawks. That will especially be the case in the next two weeks, when UND will go against two of the top five power plays in the nation. Minnesota is ranked fifth nationally at 28.9 percent, while St. Cloud State is first at 33.9.
"Playing against good teams, you can't let it get away from you," Berry said. "They're very skilled teams with very good power plays."
5. There may be some familiar names on Minnesota's roster, because several of them had brothers who played in the NCHC. Matthew Knies is the brother of Phil (Miami); Bryce Brodzinski is the brother of Easton and Jonny (SCSU); and Jack Perbix is the brother of Nick (SCSU).
6. There will be a fan party in the Olympic Rink after both games. The postgame party is free of charge. Fans are asked to enter by Sections 108/109 in the main arena. There will be a live band each night and a cash bar. Last call is 11:30 p.m.
7. UND will have its third 'One More Shift' event on Saturday night with Miracle on Ice team member Dave Christian, who was UND's all-time leading NHL scorer until Zach Parise and Jonathan Toews recently passed him.
8. This weekend marks the first opportunity for UND to break out its new alternate home jerseys .
9. Last weekend, Minnesota equipment manager Lee Greseth was honored for working his 1,000th-career regular-season NCAA hockey game. Greseth's path to 1,000 included a stop at UND, where he worked as equipment manager.
10. There haven't been many sweeps either way between these teams in Grand Forks recently. The Gophers last swept in 2005-06. UND last swept in 2009-10. UND's home results against the Gophers since 2005-06 have been: split, sweep, win and tie, win three-game series, split, split, split.
11. The number of Olympic-sized ice sheets (100 feet wide) is dwindling in college hockey, so here's a stat you won't see too often: Through 14 games this season, the Gophers have only played one game on an NHL-sized sheet (85 feet wide). They've played 10 games at home, two at Wisconsin (Olympic hybrid) and one at St. Cloud State (Olympic). Their only game on an NHL-sized sheet was at Minnesota Duluth (2-1 Bulldog win). The Gophers practiced this week at Ridder Arena, which is NHL-sized.
12. Minnesota traveled a day earlier than normal to Grand Forks. The Gophers arrived Wednesday night and practiced in The Ralph on Thursday.
13. Being the home team, UND will have last line change, which means the coaching staff will have to decide which Gopher line to send use Senden's line against. Minnesota has several high-end offensive players, so the coaching staff may have a difficult choice, much like it did Saturday night against Denver.
14. There's been so much roster turnover in the last two seasons that UND does not have anyone who has ever scored a goal against Minnesota. The Fighting Hawks scored 12 in the two-game series in Mariucci two years ago, but everyone who scored that weekend is now gone.
15. There are still two more series left on the contract for UND and Minnesota. They'll play in Minneapolis next season and Grand Forks in 2023-24.
Tale of the tape
Power play: 25.5
Penalty kill: 81.1
Team goaltending: .890
Power play: 28.9
Penalty kill: 78.9
Team goaltending: .897
Minnesota fifth-year senior Jack LaFontaine won the Mike Richter Award as college hockey’s top goaltender in the nation last season, posting a .934 save percentage. This season, LaFontaine has been up and down. When he’s off, opponents have been able to get to him. But when he’s on, he’s capable of stealing a game. The third-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes will be one to watch this weekend.
The pick to click
The last time these teams met, Grand Forks native Judd Caulfield was outstanding in Mariucci Arena. He registered an assist each night as UND swept the Gophers in a two-game series in November 2019. Caulfield has played well so far this season, but the points haven't come the last two weekends. He enters the rivalry series on a four-game point drought. It wouldn't be a surprise to see that come to an end.
It has been a tale of two nights this season for Minnesota. The Gophers are 2-5 on Friday nights and 6-1 on Saturdays. They’ve allowed an average of 3.57 goals per game on Fridays and 1.86 goals per game on Saturdays. But when it comes to the North Dakota-Minnesota rivalry, you come to expect the unexpected. That would be a Gopher win Friday and a UND win Saturday.
Friday: Minnesota 2, UND 1
Saturday: UND 5, Minnesota 3