NCAA Frozen Four: Minnesota Gophers vs North Dakota

NCAA Frozen Four: Minnesota Gophers vs North Dakota

The NCAA Frozen Four semi-finals will be played Thursday night, with North Dakota and the Minnesota Gophers squaring off against each other. For 67 years, Minnesota and North Dakota had a regular home in home series each season in hockey. Now that the power conferences are being formed, teams are moving conferences faster than an Alex Ovechkin slap shot. This has meant that the long-running rivalry between the two teams came to an end this season.

Not so fast however. The two teams were not able to meet in the regular season, but they will take the ice against each other in one of the Frozen Four semi-final games.

This is one of the oldest and most storied rivalries in all of college hockey. The meeting between the Minnesota Gophers and North Dakota in the NCAA Frozen Four will be No. 284 between the teams. Minnesota leads the series by a slim margin, 138-130-15, but it has been even tighter the last twenty plus seasons. The teams are dead even head-to-head, 22-22-4.

These are two of the dominant programs in all of college hockey. Minnesota has won five NCAA Championships, and North Dakota has bested them, winning seven. Combined they have been to 23 title games, and have actually faced each other once for the Championship. That was in 1979, when the Gophers, coached by hockey legend Herb Brooks, beat the former Fighting Sioux.  The teams last faced each in other in the Frozen Four in 2005, when North Dakota beat Minnesota in the semi-finals.

This is one of the most bitter rivalries in all of college sports. It may not get the attention that an Auburn-Alabama football game or a Duke-North Carolina basketball game receives, but these two schools literally hate each other. Because both programs have been highly successful and the schools are so close to one another, it is only natural that a high level of animosity would arise. The fact that both play each other so evenly has only added fuel to the fire.

North Dakota is led by sophomore forward Rocco Grimaldi, who led the team in most offensive categories, including goals (17), assists (22), and points (39). He is a solid two-way player, who knows how put the puck in the net. The three headed trio of defenseman Nick Mattson, Dillon Simpson, and Jordan Schmaltz are solid in their end, and also create great transition for North Dakota. Simpson, in particular, is a real threat from the point, leading the team with six power play goals.

Netminder Zane Gothbeg has been impressive all year for this team. He posted an awesome 1.99 goals against average and a .926 save percentage. He is extremely hot right now, and has shown that he can take over a game. In the Midwest Regional final, he endured a 26-8 run of shots on net during the end of the third period and into the first overtime. He nearly single-handedly kept his team in the game. A hot goalie like that can be incredibly frustrating to opponents.

The Gophers are one of the most well-rounded teams, where virtually thirteen different guys could be offensive heroes on any night. They are not a team of huge stars, but they play team hockey as well as any in the country. Forward Kyle Rau was the leading scorer for Minnesota, with 37 points, and Justin Kloos led with 15 goals. Defenseman Mike Reilly is a real play maker, collecting 23 assists on the season.

Between the pipes the Gophers are rock solid. Adam Wilcox is just a sophomore, but he plays with incredible skill and composure. He had a spectacular 1.89 goals against average, and a .934 save percentage. He is arguably the best of the four goalies in the Frozen Four.

Prediction: When the Minnesota Gophers and North Dakota meet in the NCAA Frozen Four Thursday night, expect a physical game that will be hotly contested between two bitter rivals. Minnesota has been the better team all season, while North Dakota got into the  Tournament by the skin of their teeth. If this game would have been Tuesday night, then it would have been smart to ride the hot goalie, and take North Dakota, but the few extra days off give Minnesota the advantage. Expect the Gophers to advance to the NCAA Championship game, 3-1.

Commentary by Robert Pannier
@RobertPannier

Sources:
Guardian Liberty Voice – North Dakota Preview
Guardian Liberty Voice – Minnesota Gopher Preview
SI.com
New York Times
Star-Telegram

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