Monday, November 20, 2017

Roses and Thorns: Well, That was Interesting

It was No. 1 Denver versus No. 3 UND this past weekend from Magness Arena in Denver and what a series it was.

Storylines galore in this match up.

Friday night, the Fighting Hawks were stunned out of the gates and trailed the Pioneers 3-0 midway through the second when UND head coach Brad Berry took his team's timeout.

From there, it was pretty much a Green and White avalanche (see what DDC did there? Avalanche... Denver... NHL... get it? :D) as the Hawks stormed
to a 5-4 comeback win.

On Saturday, DU got the split in a 4-1 win on the back of three power play goals. 'Nuff said about that, right? Na. We'll get to that later.

Bear with DDC, but this is a wee bit longer than normal, but he swears, there's some entertainment involved.

Check out what stood out to DDC in his Roses and Thorns review of the Pios and UND.


No. 1 -- Passing the Test

Coming into this weekend, DDC opined that while UND has been impressive in may ways so far this season, this series against DU would be a true test that would show the college hockey landscape, largely, who the Fighting Hawks really are. Indeed, the Pioneers proved they are the real deal (albeit with some chinks in the armor) but the Green and White took one from No. 1 in stunning fashion at Magness Arena on Friday and if it weren't for some.... well... DDC will touch on this later... we'll say... interesting calls...., had a chance for the sweep despite a 4-1 loss on Saturday. The college hockey season is indeed a marathon, not a sprint, but UND staked its claim as a team that is going to continue to make noise as a contender the calendar turns to 2018.

No. 2 -- Testicular Fortitude

DDC is going to share a bit of a secret that his droves (😉) of fans may not know about him. DDC is proud to say he's a wrestling fan. He understands that no, it's not real, but indeed, it is scripted. You know what, he'll say it... IT'S STILL REAL TO HIM, DAMMNIT!  Annnnyway, DDC is going to steal a phrase from WWE legend Mick Foley (sorry for this, David Larson) and say one thing about this UND hockey team. They've got testicular fortitude.

Ok, so this video is talking about Bill Simmons getting fired from ESPN for this, phrase, but it's all DDC could find... but the point still stands.

At one point in the first period, the Hawks were being out shot 21-2 on the road against the No. 1 team in the country and after a second period shorthanded goal, UND trailed 3-0. But man, did this team show the guts and fight of a team that did not want to lose and rallied back for a ridiculous 5-4 victory, outshooting DU 34-13 after their horrendous start. This will be an important win for the Green and White to look back and know that in whatever situation they are in from here on out, they have the fight to get back and win hockey games.

Testicular fortitude for days, ladies and gentlemen. 

No. 3 -- Depth

It's been said several times this year, but UND is truly a product of its depth. In Friday night's stunning comeback, the Green and White saw 13 players tally points and got goals from Zach Yon and Joel Janatuinen, both of which was their first of the season and Johnny Simonson's game-winner with 2:31 left was just his second on the year. On Saturday, freshman Matt Kierstad, inserted into the lineup after an injury to Casey Johnson on Friday, opened the scoring with his first of the year. While the Hawks may lack a bit of top end scoring (DDC will touch on this later), the depth of this team to be able to roll four lines against any team and get scoring from all over the lineup is this team's identity at this point of the season. Couple that with a defense that is playing incredibly well, UND has the pieces in place to stay with anyone in the NCAA.


No. 1 -- Lack of True Top-End Scoring

DDC does believe that depth is a good thing and that definitely helped UND on Friday, its lack of top-end scoring is something this team lacked. The Fighting Hawks have just three players with double-digit points on the season as junior Nick Jones leads the team with five goals. In contrast, the top trio of Denver, Henrik Borgstrom, Troy Terry and Dylan Gambrell showed this weekend what top-end scoring looks like. The trio combined for 11 points on the weekend with Borgstrom and Terry both notching five-point weekends. Terry was particularly impressive, making plays all over the ice all weekend against UND. The Green and White need players who've shown scoring ability throughout their careers (ie. Shane Gersich and Austin Poganski) to step up and tally some points for UND to take the next step.

 No. 2 -- Officiating


Ugh, DDC really does hate being "this guy", but the referee crew in Denver certainly made a difference this weekend. He's going to do his best to make this quick, but it can't go without saying that officiating played a part all weekend long. On Friday night, the NCHC crew made it a point toss players from the faceoff circle in a torrid fashion. Ok, DDC gets, they were trying to prove a point about faceoff infractions, but this was ridiculous. At one point, DDC counted five-consecutive faceoff tosses. It's just too much. Then on Saturday, the officiating crew literally changed the game. With UND sporting a 1-0 lead in the first, Cole Smith was issued a five-minute major and was tossed from the game for a penalty that lead to an injury to DU defenseman Adam Plant. While the play was certainly interference, DDC believes the call to make it a major was, and he's being nice here, a stretch. Take a look at the hit in question (Credit to the Goonie!). DU tied the game at 1 on a Borgstrom goal. You make your call, but that hit, to DDC, wasn't malicious, high, nor did it come at high speed.

The big calls kept coming and after a Pioneers goal to make it 2-1 early in the third, UND appeared to tie it on a nifty passing play on a 2-1 rush when freshman Collin Adams fed fellow rookie Jordan Kawaguchi beating Tanner Jaillet. Just before the faceoff, however, the refs got together after some, shall we call it, "protesting" from Denver head coach Jim Montgomery. After review, the officials ruled Adams made enough contact with Jaillet to overturn the goal on goaltender interference. Check it out... the play in question starts at 2:42 in the clip:

Even further, here's a still shot of Adam's stick touching Jaillet's pad, but the point here, the pass to Kawaguchi has already been made.

In short, did that contact prevent Jaillet from making the play? DDC's take? Absolutely not. The shot comes an instant later... Jaillet is already beaten. How was this play even sent for review? That may be even the bigger mystery here. Montgomery told local media after the game he challenged the play, which would have put DU's timeout on the line. If that's the case, why did the crew stand around to talk about it for several minutes? It was also reported that the officials told the UND bench that the linesman called the interference. Is this the case? If indeed it was, that may the the first time DDC has ever heard of a linesman making that kind of call. This case was echoed by other media. And if it were the linesman, again, why was there a discussion before the review? It seemed to DDC that this play wasn't going to be reviewed until Denver made a case for it. Simply bizarre.

DU then went on to score two more goals, both on the power play, to pace a 4-1 win and a split.

The power play goals are the biggest note here. Remember the major penalty to tie the game at 1-1? Well, that was only the start. The final tally of penalties called on Saturday night? Denver -- 1 penalty for 2 minutes (UND had :33 seconds of power play time). UND -- 8 penalties for 27 minutes (per Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald, DU had 13:41 of power play time). That is absolutely ridiculous. The Hawks were certainly guilty of some poorly-times penalties in this game and warranted a big chunk of those calls, but are you meaning to tell DDC that DU did not commit a single penalty after the first period? Not a single stick in the skates? No hook around the waist? No interference? Nothing?

It was a sad state of affairs on Saturday that really overshadowed a wonderful weekend of hockey with No. 1 taking on No. 3, but what can you do?

Holy smokes, so much for keeping that short, eh? 

Moving on. Thanks for reading and come back later for DDC's take on UND vs. Union in a Turkey Day weekend tussle from the Ralph.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Friday Gameday: Time for a Test

Oh hey, Denver. Remember me? Nick Schmaltz celebrates his game-winning goal in the 2016 Frozen Four semifinals.
Sure, this has nothing to do with this weekend when No. 3 UND takes on No. 1 Denver at Magness Arena, but so be it.
Coming into the season, there was really one sure-fire hypothesis across the college hockey landscape -- the Denver Pioneers were going to be really good again after winning the national championship last season.

Sure the Pios lost 2017 Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher, but they returned five big stars from their title run -- the forward trio of Henrik Borgstrom, Troy Terry and Dylan Gambrell, All-American goaltender Tanner Jaillet and head coach Jim Montgomery. All five of those who returned spurned NHL offers to come back to DU for another run at college hockey glory.

The Pioneers had a hiccup two weekends ago when they were swept by Western Michigan in Kalamazoo, but after a convincing sweep of then No. 1 and undefeated St. Cloud State last weekend, all is right again in Denver with the Pios back on top of the polls.

So far, the hypothesis is still spot on -- DU is really good.

For the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks, the Green and White faithful had plenty of questions coming into the season. With the departures of three NHL players Tyson Jost, Brock Boeser and Tucker Poolman, who would pick up the slack for UND?

The Hawks sport the nation's third-best team defense allowing just 1.75 goals per game and all things considered, UND has had a heckuva start to their season. Going 7-2-3 with good weekends against Minnesota, Wisconsin and a five-point weekend last series against Miami, it has indeed been a good start, but this weekend is a different story. It's time for a test.

UND travels to the Rocky Mountain state to take on the Pioneers in a weekend that could very well show the Hawks where they stand in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and NCAA landscape in a match up of No. 1 vs. No. 3.

A rivalry rooted in history renews and DDC has his take and says what he's watching in this weekend's "Who? What? How?" series preview.


Players to Watch

DU So. F, Henrik Borgstrom
leads the NCAA with 11 goals.

University of Denver Pioneers

Jr. F, Troy Terry, 5 goals, 13 assists -- 18 points (second in NCAA); So. F, Henrik Borgstrom, 11g (leads NCAA), 6a -- 17 pts (leads NCAA in points per game); Jr F, Dylan Gambrell, 5g, 11a --16 pts; Jr. F, Jarid Lukoesevicius, 4g, 6a -- 10 pts; Jr. F, Colin Staub, 2g, 7a -- 9 pts; Sr G, Tanner Jaillet, 5-1-2, 2.46 goals against average; .911 save percentage.

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks:

Fr. F, Grant Mismash, 4g, 7a -- 11 pts; Jr. D, Christian Wolanin, 3g, 7a -- 10 pts; Jr. F, Nick Jones, 5g, 4a --9 pts; Jr. F, Shane Gersich, 4g, 4a -- 8 pts; Jr. F, Rhett Gardner, 3g, 4a -- 7 pts; Sr. G, Cam Johnson, 5-2-1, 1.63 GAA (5th in NCAA), .925 SV PCT; Fr. G, Peter Thome, 2-0-2, 1.92 GAA, .929 SV PCT (9th in NCAA).


Standout Stats


The Pioneers are 42nd in the NCAA in penalty killing at 77.8%, but are 4th in power play, clipping at 27.7%.

Denver is the nation's 2nd best scoring attack, netting 4.20 goals per game.

Sophomore sensation Henrik Borgstrom leads the NCAA in goals (11) and in goals per game (1.22). He's third in points (17). Teammate Troy Terry is second in points with 18 and Dylan Gambrell is tied for 7th with 16.


UND is tied for 3rd in team defense nationally, allowing just 1.75 goals per game and is second in the NCAA with a 95.8% penalty kill.

Senior netminder Cam Johnson is tied for 5th nationally with a 1.63 goals against average. Teammate Peter Thome is 10th with a 1.92 mark and 9th in save percentage at .929.

Freshman Grant Mismash is tied for 4th in the NCAA in rookie scoring with a 1.00 point per game mark. 


How’d they get here?

No. 1 Denver (6-2-2; 2-2-0 NCHC) swept then No. 1 SCSU at home 4-2, 5-1. Sophomore Henrik Borgstrom continued his early-season tear, notching two goals and an assist on Friday and added an assist on Saturday for a four-point weekend.

No. 3 UND (7-2-3, 2-1-1 NCHC) took five points last weekend at home against Miami, winning 4-1 on Friday and winning a shootout after a 3-3 tie on Saturday. Freshman goaltender Peter Thome started his third- and fourth-straight games for the Fighting Hawks as senior Cam Johnson nurses an injury.

The Pick

It's hard to not get nostalgic when UND vs. Denver faceoff.

One of DDC's fondest hockey memories, the Green and White's victory over the Pioneers in the 2016 Frozen Four semifinal capped by Nick Schmaltz's dramatic game-winner with just a minute to go in the game, will always come to mind when these two teams tussle.

Just for funsies, shall we?

What a memory.

Anyway, sure, Denver won it all last year, but UND actually served Denver its last loss before the Pios ran the table to a title last year, a 1-0 win in the NCHC semifinals last year.

Ok, back to the business at hand.

Again, Denver is really good. They sport a top trio in the aforementioned Borgstrom, Terry and Gambrell. They are good in net with Jaillet. The only question mark Denver had coming into this weekend was on the backend and after a leaky weekend against WMU, the Pioneers held an explosive St. Cloud team to just three goals last weekend.

For most of the season, Denver grouped their big three together and their offense was great, but the defense struggled a bit. Last weekend against the Huskies, Borgstrom, Terry and Gambrell were split up and that paid dividends.

Can UND slow DU's dynamic trio of Henrik Borgstrom (11 goals leads NCAA)
Troy Terry (17 points, second in NCAA) and Dylan Gambrell (16 points)
who've combined for a whopping 51 points in 10 games this season?
With last change against a UND team defense who's been really good this year against some good offenses, will Montgomery split the three up in hopes of spreading the offense around? Or will the trio be grouped together to avoid the Hawks top D-pairing of Christian Wolanin and Colton Poolman?

For UND, their scoring this season has been about depth. Against the Pioneers, DDC thinks the Green and White scoring punch needs to step up. Junior Shane Gersich and senior Austin Poganski have had slow starts to this season, but are more than capable of putting this team on their backs.

This weekend will come down to UND playing defense and picking their spots on offense. Expect to see bodies consistently hitting Borgstrom, the NCAA leader in goals (11) this weekend. If the Hawks can slow down Denver and get good goaltending from freshman Peter Thome, who has yet to lose in four starts, they should be able to keep up. Senior netminder Cam Johnson will miss his third-straight weekend due to injury.

Just in case he wasn't clear, for the third time, DU is really good. DDC also thinks UND is pretty good, too, but the question is how good? Will the Green and White score enough this weekend? DDC thinks the Hawks make a statement against the champs and leave Colorado with important early-season points.


Come back after the weekend to see if UND passed its test. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Roses and Thorns: It's Back and It's Still Fun

UND goalie Cam Johnson fights off Minnesota forward Brannon McManus during UND's 4-0 win over the Gophers
on Saturday in Grand Forks. Johnson earned his 10th-career shutout with the victory. (Photo: GF Herald)
Well, it's back and for all intents and purposes, this past weekend's series between UND and
Minnesota lived up to its billing.

The Green and White played incredibly well on Friday, outshooting the Gophers handily, allowing just 18 shots on goal, the first time Minnesota was held under 20 shots in a span of 110 games. However, the Gophers got two transition play goals, one in the first period and the other halfway into the third to pace a 2-0 lead late into the game. UND got a Rhett Gardner goal with just under seven minutes to play to make it 2-1, but that's all they could muster as Minnesota took the opener.

On Saturday night, Minnesota upped their game and played better overall, but a power play goal on a five-minute major penalty taken late in the first staked UND to a 2-0 first period lead. The Fighting Hawks tallied twice more on that power play in the early parts of the second and the 4-0 lead held up as UND earned the split.

While DDC certainly would have loved a sweep, he'll take a split in two good performances.

Here's what stood out to DDC in his Roses and Thorns recap of the series with the Gophers.


No. 1 -- The Rivalry is Back

Regardless of the scores, this weekend was flat out fun to watch. Midco Sports color commentator and former Sioux goaltender Jake Brandt noted a few times in the past handful of weeks that the Ralph Engelstad Arena had lost a bit of its mojo and hadn't been too tough a place to play recently. Well, that went out the window on Friday from the very first shift as UND pushed paced early on and the REA faithful responded. Down the stretch in the front end of the series as the Green and White tried to rally back to tie the game, the crowd was loud and fully involved. Then on Saturday, three goals on on a five-minute major kept the barn rocking. Two good paced games with high energy made things clear -- The Rivalry is back. Cheers to five more consecutive years of this series.

No. 2 -- Christian Wolanin

UND Jr. D, Christian Wolanin
leads the team in goals,
points and shots on goal

While UND fans certainly saw a glimpse of what was to come from the junior defenseman from Detroit down the stretch last season, particularly in the NCAA tournament game against BU, Wolanin has certainly lived up to his stature this season. Wolanin was dynamic against the Gophers with an assist on Friday and two goals in a span of four and half minutes with UND on a five-minute power play to pace the 4-0 win on Saturday. The junior now leads the Fighting Hawks in goals (3), points (6) and shots on goal (23). Quarterbacking the power play, Wolanin had lead UND to a stellar 22% mark. Known for his offensive prowess during his career, Wolanin has been solid defensively, as well as the Green and White lead the nation in goals against, allowing just 1.17 goals per game on the season. It's been a heckuva start for Wolanin.

No. 3 -- Defense and PK

UND lost a senior captain in Gage Ausmus and an All-American now playing in the NHL in Tucker Poolman from last year's blue line, so it was easy to think that the Fighting Hawks would struggle at the outset defensively, this year. However, this has simply not been the case. As previously mentioned, the Green and White lead the nation in goals against (1.17) is second in penalty kill (96.3%) and net special teams (+7). Minnesota has always been known for a dynamic power play that can move the puck and pepper the net with opportunities over the years, but UND simply shut the Gophers down this past weekend killing off all 11 chances down a man. Senior netminder Cam Johnson earned his 10th career shutout on Saturday and is now third in the nation in goals against average (1.16) and 10th in save percentage (.942). As the Fighting Hawks look to find more scoring punch, their blue line is holding up incredibly well. Adding freshman Gabe Bast to the lineup this past weekend proved to be a good experiment as Bast added a tremendous offensive presence. Great start for the blue liners and Cam.


No. 1 -- Don Lucia

Fr. F, Casey Mittelstadt
sat out Saturday night's
contest against UND

Alright, DDC is going to make this short, but Minnesota head coach Don Lucia is officially on this blogger's nerves. Lucia skipped a fan luncheon that has been attended by each visiting coach as long as DDC can remember. This can be dismissed easily as gamesmanship and so be it if that's the case. However, it did not end there. After a tough battle on Friday, Lucia decided to sit freshman star Casey Mittelstadt for Saturday night's game after the rookie took a shove in the lower back area on a net-front scrum. Lucia noted that Mittelstadt was sore and maybe he was just protecting his player. Again, this can be dismissed, but should it be? Lucia noted that Mittelstadt said he wanted to play, but the head coach held him out. To DDC, this is a disappointing move. What is this doing for Mittelstadt? Taking him out of probably the most heated game he's ever played isn't going to help the freshman as he's going to need to play in this type of environment at some point. Let the kid earn his stripes, coach. Well, that wasn't short, but so be it.

Thanks for reading, everybody! Comeback for a look at DDC's preview of UND's trip to Colorado Springs as National Collegiate Hockey Conference play beings against the Colorado College Tigers.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Friday Gameday: The Best College Hockey Has to Give

UND and Minnesota renew pleasantries this weekend in Grand Forks for the first time since 2013. (Photo: UND sports)
DDC has done the superlatives before.

It's memories of Matt Frattin steamrolling Kevin Wehrs. It's Blake Wheeler with an improbable diving goal for a Final Five Gophers victory. It's Chris Porter potting an overtime winner one week later to send the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four. It's Robbie Bina's 180-foot bouncing puck for a goal in Mariucci. It's 0.6.

It's in-game and postgame scrums. It's intensity. It's passion. It's the best college hockey has to give.

It's UND vs. Minnesota and simply put, it's The Rivalry.

No. 4 North Dakota and No. 7 Minnesota faceoff this weekend and for the first time since 2013, the Gophers travel up to Grand Forks to take on UND. Frankly, there's really not much else that needs to be said about it as all who read this know what this series is all about.

Strap it on, boys and girls. This one will be fun.

Here's what to watch for in DDC's weekly "Who? What? How?" series preview.


Players to Watch

Fr. F. Casey Mittelstadt
was the 8th-overall pick
in the 2017 NHL Draft
of the Buffalo Sabres.

Minnesota Golden Gophers:

Jr. F, Tommy Novak, 1 goal, 3 assists -- 4 points; So. F, Rem Pitlick, 1g, 3a -- 4 pts; Fr. F, Brannon McManus, 3g, 0a -- 3 pts; Fr. F, Casey Mittelstadt, 2g, 1a -- 3 pts; Jr. F, Tyler Sheehy and Fr. F. Scott Reedy both likely out this weekend due to injury; Jr. G, Eric Shierhorn, 2-2-0, 2.50 goals against average, .918 save percentage.

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks:

Jr. F, Rhett Gardner, 1g, 2a -- 3 pts; Jr. D, Christian Wolanin, 1g, 2a -- 3 pts; Jr. F, Joel Janautinen, 0g, 3a -- 3 pts; Jr. F, Shane Gersich, 1g, 1a -- 2 pts; Fr. F, Collin Adams, 2g, 0a -- 2 pts; Fr. F, Grant Mismash, 1g, 1a -- 2 pts; Sr. G, Cam Johnson, 3-0-1, 1.23 GAA, .938 SV PCT.


Standout Stats


The Gophers are averaging 19 penalty minutes per game, tied for 4th-most nationally.

Minnesota is tied for 13th in the nation in team scoring with a 3.00 goals per game average.

The Gophers have allowed six power play goals in 18 chances this season. The 66.7% penalty kill is tied for 50th out of 54 teams.


UND is tied for 4th in team defense, nationally allowing just 1.25 goals per game and are 7th in Penalty Kill at 93.8%.

Senior netminder Cam Johnson is tied for 8th nationally with a 1.23 goals against average.

The Fighting Hawks are allowing just 20.25 shots on goals per game, the best mark in the NCAA.


How’d they get here?

No. 7 Minnesota (2-2-0; 1-1-0 BTHC) split at home against Penn State last weekend, losing 3-1 on Friday and winning 6-3 on Sunday. Freshman Brannon McManus notched his first three career goals for his first collegiate hat trick in Sunday's win.

No. 4 UND (3-0-1) swept St. Lawrence last weekend at home, 2-1 and 6-1. The Green and White had six different scorers in Saturday night's win. Senior goalie Cam Johnson and Freshman forward Grant Mismash were tabbed as NCHC goaltender and rookie of the week with their performances against St. Lawrence.

Ranked 4th and 7th respectively, this will be UND and Minnesota's first meeting since January 18-19, 2013 in which the two teams faceoff as Top 10 teams in the polls. That was the last time the Gophers took on UND in Grand Forks. 

The Pick

DDC has so many memories of this beloved and historic rivalry. 
It started in his youth with players like Jay and Jeff Panzer rolling over Minnesota in the old REA. Through high school, DDC watched players like Grant Potulny, Thomas Vanek and Phil Kessel rip his heart out with crushing losses.
Moving into college, DDC experienced blowout wins behind the vaunted DOT and Pony Express lines and pure jubilation on the backs of Fighting Sioux sweeps in Mariucci and Chris Porter's OT winner in the 2007 West Regional final with a dozen of his closest friends.

Ok, that's better.
Post college, the historic tilts continued. The Timeout game in the WCHA Final Five semis. The Gopher win a week later at the X to send Minny to the Frozen Four. Then, of course, 0.6. 

Year after year, game after game, this Rivalry has brought out the best in both teams and DDC ultimately expects this weekend to be no different.

With this weekend continuing a 7-year run of these two teams facing off each year, will another name be added to UND vs. Minnesota legend? Paging Shane Gersich. Austin Poganski. Paging Casey Mittelstadt. Rem Pitlick. Rivalry legends Chris Porter, Matt Frattin, Justin Holl and Blake Wheeler are waiting to hear from you.

Let's. Frickin'. Go.
Both teams have started fairly well, with each ranked in the Top 10 in the country. While trends of Minnesota starting cold in special teams play and UND lacking scoring punch from expected team leaders in Shane Gersich and Austin Poganski have arisen, throw that out the window. Big players play big in big games. 

DDC fully expects to get Minnesota's best this weekend and the Gophers know the Ralph Engelstad Arena will be bedlam, this weekend. 

With how early this season is, DDC could just as well play it safe and pick a split between two good teams in a huge rivalry, but that wouldn't be DDC's style, would it?

This weekend, it comes down to not only who's on the ice, but who's in the stands. With junior captain Tyler Sheehy and dynamic freshman Scott Reedy out this weekend, UND has a bit of an advantage in depth. Couple that with about 12,000 rabid fans getting to watch The Rivalry at home for the first time since 2013, DDC sees the stands as a big difference maker. 



It's gonna be fun. Check back next week to see how it all went down and as always, thanks for reading!


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

UND/Minnesota -- What's a Rivalry?

Former UND captain Chris Porter's game-winning goal in the 2007 West Regional Final. (Photo: UND Sports)
Pardon DDC for being a little bit disconnected the past two weeks. 

With Baby DDC No. 2 growing and battling sleep regression and his favorite baseball team playing currently playing in the ALCS (thumbs down... if you don't know what this means, Google it) DDC has been a wee bit predisposed. 

In the midst of all of this, in case you didn't know, my guess is you did, but in case you don't, the Minnesota Gophers travel to Grand Forks to take on the University of North Dakota men's hockey team this Friday and Saturday for a renewal of pleasantries in what has apparently become a debatable topic -- Is UND vs. Minnesota still a rivalry? 

So, let's take a look, shall we? First, let's start with a simple definition

What's in a Sports Rivalry?

According to the Wikipedia entry on "List of sports rivalries", a sports rivalry is defined as an "intense competition between athletic teams or athletes, but not directly related to the formal sport and the practice thereof. This pressure of competition is felt by players, coaches, and management, but is perhaps felt strongest by the fans."

So, in summation in DDC's words, a sports rivalry isn't necessarily about the ins and outs of the history between two teams (of course this is a massive part of it), but more about the experience and how players, coaches, teams respond to how the FANS feel about the competition. 

With this considered, there are two obvious sides -- Side 1 says "since UND and Minnesota have stopped playing yearly, the game is big, but doesn't feel the same." Side 2 rebuts with "the rivalry is as strong as ever regardless of how often they play."

Most Recent Examples

DDC is strong on side 2 with the two previous match ups (2014 Frozen Four semifinals and last year's series in Minneapolis) between UND and Minnesota showing an incredible intensity on the ice and a tremendous community response. 

Two examples of this.... one important thing to note. Listen to the crowd. DDC understands the importance of the 2014 goal, but the ovations are incredible.

This makes DDC a bit sick to his stomach to show this, but it helps prove his point. Just a note, DDC didn't watch it, he just listened.

Insanity. Listen! 

So, if we're using the most recent example, this sounds like tremendous community support, correct? Well, let's take a look at how the teams feel about this "rivalry".

What do the Players and Coaches Think?

DDC's single-favorite picture ever taken in regards
to this rivalry. (Photo: John Stennes, GF Herald.)
Head coach Brad Berry before UND traveled to take on Minnesota last season -- "It's on our walls in our rink here. (The players) get it from there. To hit on that point, we had T.J. Oshie and Taylor Chorney come in and give their point of view on how special the weekend is. Not only for the players, but for alumni watching. Obviously we haven't played them in a few years, but the history and tradition resonates through this building and through our program." 

By the way, what does that say about this set of games that NHL players TRAVEL TO GRAND FORKS to talk about it on their day off?

UND forward Shane Gersich about the games against Minnesota -- "Everyone knows what this rivalry is about. We know what's at stake without even talking about."

Former Minnesota forward Jake Bischoff before last year's series -- "My dad used to love playing North Dakota. Watching as a kid, I remember it being super intense; all the players would be getting into it with each other, and all the games were really competitive. It was always fun as a fan. Now, getting to play it should be unbelievable."

Former Minnesota forward Justin Kloos before last year's series -- "These are the ones you highlight. These are the ones you dream about."

So, so far... fans? Check. Players, coaches and alumni? Check.  

DDC's Final Take

In short, when considering the parameters of how the FANS feel and how the teams respond, DDC thinks it's clear as day that UND vs. Minnesota is still as big as it comes when talking about a sports rivalry, particularly in college hockey. 

Outside of these stated parameters, consider the tickets to the actual games. The UND athletic department announced ticket prices for this weekend's series at the Ralph Engelstad Arena back in August at $99, this highest single-game price in REA history. Did this cause fans pause to buy these tickets? Absolutely not. In fact, the tickets sold out instantly back in September.

Even the NCAA has recognized this rivalry, recently naming UND vs. Minnesota its No. 2 best in college hockey in a Facebook video. While DDC disagrees with this being No. 2, it still helps cement the point. 

The rivalry, yes, it is a rivalry, is back and we're all ready to go. So, how about a few pump up memories? Let's go. 

Check back tomorrow for a series preview. Thanks for reading!