To stay in the race for the NCHC’s Penrose Cup, second-place Minnesota Duluth will need to sweep league-leading North Dakota at 7:36 p.m. Friday and 7:07 p.m. Saturday at Amsoil Arena.
Two losses at St. Cloud State last weekend dropped the Bulldogs eight-points back of the Fighting Hawks in the NCHC standings. But two wins this weekend would keep the pressure on over the final 10 games.
“There’s a lot more points to go, we’ve got a lot more games left this season in the NCHC,” UMD senior co-captain Nick Wolff said Saturday in St. Cloud. “I wouldn’t say (the North Dakota series) is make or break, but it’s a big one.”
Two UMD wins would also open the door for Denver and even Western Michigan, who both have series remaining against North Dakota this season.
The Pioneers, who are at Miami this weekend, are nine points back of the Hawks in third. DU travels to Grand Forks Feb. 14-15, with a home series against the Bulldogs before that Jan. 31-Feb. 1. Denver picked up just three points in four games (0-2-2) against UMD and North Dakota back in November, though.
The Broncos remain a long shot for the league title in fourth at 12 points back, but that margin could be slashed in half with two home wins this week against St. Cloud State, combined with a pair of UMD wins.
Western travels to Grand Forks in late February, one week after hosting UMD. Like Denver, the Broncos struggled against the Hawks and Bulldogs in prior meetings this season, getting just two points in four games (0-3-1).
Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin — the Hibbing native who played at North Dakota from 1982-86 before serving as an assistant coach from 1994 until taking the UMD head job in 2000 — said the Hawks are “one of the best teams in the country right now” and one with something to prove after the previous two seasons.
“It's a proud program, it's a program that missed the tournament the last two years,” Sandelin said. “They've got a good coaching staff, they've got good players, and they're very motivated to change that. You're seeing what they're doing.
“They've become a real solid team early. They haven't had the injuries they had last year and they're getting some guys scoring goals, which is unlike last year where they didn't have the puck luck. Right now, they're firing on all cylinders.”
Wolff gets orders from mom
The last time North Dakota visited Amsoil Arena on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 2018, Wolff failed to finish both games. He didn’t even make it to the halfway point each night.
The veteran UMD defenseman was ejected 8:39 into the second period of Friday’s game for facemasking — as was UND’s Dixon Bowen — during a scrum that landed seven in the penalty box.
The next night, the Eagan, Minn.-native was tossed 5:14 into the second for a contact to the head penalty.
Wolff said his parents, Ron and Cyndi, will be at the games this weekend and his mother has already laid down the law.
“My mom told me, ‘Stay on the ice,’” Wolff said Wednesday. “I already heard it from her.”
The Bulldogs and Hawks combined for 119 penalty minutes during their last meeting at Amsoil Arena with four ejections. The rematches Feb. 22-23 in Grand Fork were much more, with just 42 penalty minutes and no ejections.
“It’s going to be a packed building, it’s going to be loud, it’s going to be a great atmosphere in here,” Wolff said of the series. “It’s always a fun series playing North Dakota. It always gets a little chippy.”
Tickets running low this weekend
Both of last season’s games against North Dakota were sellouts at Amsoil Arena, and it appears to be heading in that direction again this weekend.
According to the UMD athletic department, limited tickets remain for both nights, though more tickets may become available throughout the week. Standing room only tickets are already now being sold. Tickets can be purchased at UMDBulldogs.com/tickets, by calling 218-726-8595 or by visiting the Amsoil Arena or DECC box offices.
Friday and Saturday’s games are the priciest ticket of the season for UMD at $40. The Oct. 26 game against Minnesota was $45 per ticket.
Despite coming off back-to-back national championships, the Bulldogs have yet to sell out 6,726-seat Amsoil Arena this season with the 6,655 on Oct. 16 against the Gophers being the largest crowd to date.