College men's hockey: UMD series has shades of 2004
Something-at-stake games, at home, late in the season. If this sounds like 2004 to Minnesota Duluth men's hockey fans, well, it's the next-best thing. No. 13-ranked Minnesota Duluth faces No. 7 Denver in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association se...
Something-at-stake games, at home, late in the season.
If this sounds like 2004 to Minnesota Duluth men's hockey fans, well, it's the next-best thing.
No. 13-ranked Minnesota Duluth faces No. 7 Denver in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series starting today at the DECC. Denver (16-8-3) leads the tightly packed league, while UMD (14-8-6) is tied for fourth, five points back. One month remains in the regular season.
On Feb. 27-28, 2004, in a regular-season finale at the DECC, second-place UMD met first-place North Dakota in front of standing-room-only crowds.
This weekend marks the most notable home series since then.
"Our main goal is to win the league title, and then, what's most important to us, is being home for the first round of the league playoffs," said UMD senior defenseman and tri-captain Josh Meyers. "None of us have had a home playoff series and we'd like to get that and give something back to the city of Duluth."
WCHA teams with the best records in December and January were: North Dakota at 11-3-2, Denver 7-3-2, UMD 8-4-2 and Wisconsin 7-4-1. Through the past 17 games, UMD is 10-4-3 and Denver 10-5-2.
That streak has pushed UMD to No. 13 in the PairWise Rankings, a predictor of the 16-team Division I tournament field, while Denver is tied at No. 7. That means the Bulldogs are serious contenders for an NCAA berth and Denver is all but assured of a berth.
"We didn't want to sell ourselves short this year; we set the bar high for our expectations," said UMD senior center MacGregor Sharp. "We realize we have a good team and we realize what's at stake the rest of the season. We've been concentrating on competing hard, with no letdowns."
Denver has finished no lower than fourth in the WCHA the past four years and is seeking its first league title since tying with Colorado College for the 2005 MacNaughton Cup. The Pioneers are just one point ahead of North Dakota and two points ahead of Wisconsin, with UMD tied for fourth with Colorado College and Minnesota.
It's the tightest race in the top half of the WCHA in more than a decade, since North Dakota and Minnesota tied for the 1997 championship when five points separated the top five teams.
"We've got as good a chance as anyone [to win the WCHA title], but I don't think there is a favorite," said Denver coach George Gwozdecky, a former Wisconsin player in his 15th season with the Pioneers.
Five of Denver's final eight games are on the road. UMD has four at home and four away.
In UMD's favor is a 9-1-3 record at the DECC, including a current nine-game unbeaten streak at home (7-0-2). UMD's players remarked that they couldn't remember the DECC being any louder than it was for the last home game, as the Bulldogs rallied for four third-period goals in a 7-4 win over Minnesota State-Mankato. The game marked the only sellout crowd of the season.
"These are the games you want at this time of the season. You want to play good teams that are going to force you to play your best hockey," UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. "If you win, you can make up some ground."
In 2004 at the DECC, North Dakota swept UMD 4-1 and 2-1 to win the league title, while UMD was second. At that point, both teams already were assured of making the NCAA field. North Dakota lost in the West Regional final and UMD won the Midwest Regional championship. In the Frozen Four semifinals, eventual champion Denver beat UMD 5-3.