NCAA: Clash of the Titans – Minnesota vs. North Dakota

By DJ Powers





NCAA: Clash of the Titans – Minnesota vs

It’s one of the most storied and fiercest rivalries in all
of college hockey. Two of the nation’s top teams in the Minnesota Golden
Gophers and the North Dakota Fighting Sioux will square off this weekend at
Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, ND in what is definitely a must-see
series. Sadly, this will be the only regular season meeting between the two
teams this year. It will mark the first time since the 1947-48 season that
these two WCHA powerhouses will not meet in Minnesota.

 

Despite the losses of top scorers Zach Parise and Brandon
Bochenski
as well as head coach Dean Blais all to the NHL, new UND head
coach Dave Hakstol has his team off to a roaring start this season after a
stunning sweep of host Maine at Alfond on opening weekend as well as a near
sweep (tie and win) of Minnesota State-Mankato last weekend. For Minnesota, the
loss of not only their seniors but also that of Thomas Vanek and Keith
Ballard
doesn’t look to have hurt them all that much thus far. They won in
convincing fashion over Denver in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame game on opening
weekend, then shutout UMass in the opening game of the Nye Frontier Classic
before losing to Alaska-Anchorage in the championship game. However, the
suddenly younger Minnesota Golden Gophers will be tested mightily this weekend.
Bragging rights and pairwise points are two things at stake in this always
entertaining series.

 

One area that is likely to be closely watched by everyone is
the officiating. This season the NCAA decided to start cracking down on the
obstructions to help “open up the game”. Not surprisingly, an exorbitant number
of penalties have been called throughout the league thus far as a result.

 

This year’s match-up will feature 20 current NHL prospects
and several 2005 NHL Draft eligible players. The game will see two 2004 NHL
first round draft selections and former Salmon Arm Silverbacks teammates in Travis Zajac (NJ) and Kris Chucko (CGY) facing off against
one another. While both players have been off to relatively slow starts thus
far, don’t expect them to stay that way for long. Zajac registered his first
collegiate goal on last Friday versus Minnesota State-Mankato. Chucko
registered his first collegiate point, an assist, in the opening game of the
Nye Frontier Classic versus UMass that also took place last Friday.

 

There are several head-to-head matchups to watch in this
series. One is the excellent defensive pairings of Minnesota’s Chris Harrington and Alex Goligoski (PIT) and North Dakota’s
Matt Greene (EDM) and Matt Jones (PHX). Both of these
pairings feature four of the WCHA’s best defensemen. While Greene, Harrington
and Jones are all established quality blueliners, the freshman Goligoski is
quickly establishing himself in that capacity as well. He has become the talk
of the twin cities with his stellar all-around play. In the Nye Frontier
Classic championship game versus Alaska-Anchorage, Goligoski recorded his first
collegiate goal.

 

Another matchup features two all-NHL prospects line
combinations of Drew Stafford (BUF),
Travis Zajac (NJ) and James Massen (NJ) for North Dakota and Ryan Potulny (PHI), Danny Irmen (MIN) and Kris Chucko (CGY) for Minnesota. Both
line combinations have been quite effective thus far into the season. The
Stafford-Zajac-Massen line has combined for five points (four goals, one
assist) thus far. The Potulny-Irmen-Chucko line (aka “the border line”) has
combined for nine points (four goals, five assists). Potulny has accounted for
all four of the line combination’s goals and currently leads Minnesota in scoring
with five points.

 

While there has been much talk surrounding Zajac prior to
his arrival at UND, it has been the sensational play of Rastislav Spirko that has become the buzz around Grand Forks these
days. The Slovakian-born freshman currently leads the Fighting Sioux in scoring
with seven points (two goals, five assists). His five-point outburst in UND’s
sweep over Maine in the regular season opening weekend earned him the WCHA’s
Rookie of the Week honor.

 

Those following the 2005 NHL Draft eligible players will
want to take a look at freshman defenseman Kyle
Radke
for North Dakota and freshman forwards Brent Borgen and Ben Gordon
as well as freshman defenseman Nate
Hagemo
for Minnesota. All are 1985-born players except Hagemo who is a
1986-born player. Radke made his collegiate debut last Saturday versus
Minnesota State-Mankato playing alongside senior Andy Schneider (PIT). Gordon has seen playing time on a line with
junior Gino Guyer (DAL) and senior Barry Tallackson (NJ) and has yet to
register a point this season. Borgen has seen playing time alongside seniors Jake Fleming and Garrett Smaagaard. He notched his first collegiate goal in the U.S.
Hockey Hall of Fame game versus Denver. Hagemo has seen playing time with team
captain Judd Stevens as well as
senior Peter Kennedy. He has yet to
register a point.

 

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editorial staff.