Hockey's explodo boys bury Seawolves
This is how it was supposed to be: the top-ranked team in the nation rolling over an upstart from the Frozen Tundra. On Saturday, that's roughly how it was: Minnesota 7, Alaska-Anchorage 1. But the Gophers played that game with memories of the narrowest escape of the year fresh in their minds, a Friday game won only in the final minute of play and only in the unlikeliest of scenarios: a second goal in the same major power play, in the final minute of regulation time.
Still, it was the first WCHA sweep of the season for the Maroon and Gold and a solid launching pad for the stretch drive, which is all-conference, all the way.
Gophers' Kyle Rau battles in a game last season against the Thunderbirds.Junior wing Kyle Rau led a vast scoring package with his first collegiate hat trick. Defenseman Nate Schmidt poured in four assists -- leaving Sam Warning to settle for only the game's third star with his three-assist performance. Normally, Warning's offensive output would have assured him a number one or two star. But not on a night filled with fireworks like those.
Rau's hat trick took the big Mariucci Arena crowd so much by surprise that only one hat sailed out onto the ice in celebration. Normally, a hat trick produces a shower of head gear. Maybe it was too cold outside to spare the toppers!
Tops in the land -- but not the league: The sweep positions Minnesota to take over the leadership of the WCHA but that will have to wait at least a week. In an oddity of scheduling, the Gophers haven't played -- or won -- enough conference games so far to earn the top spot.
It's an irony you'll only find in college hockey: Minnesota is the top-rated team in the country -- but going into last weekend was still in the middle of the pack in its own conference. Now it's at least close to the top.
Remember, this is the final season the McNaughton Cup will be awarded in a league we recognize. Yes, Virginia, there will still be a WCHA and yes, the hardware will still go to its winner. But after this season, it will never again be available to the Gophers, who move to the new Big Ten hockey league next season along with Wisconsin. Minnesota has a burning desire to win the Cup during its final season in the league. It's one goal on which every player is focused.
Erik Haula update: Head coach Don Lucia has high hopes that the team's top scorer and, arguably, its best player will be back for the upcoming series against North Dakota. Haula is recovering from a wrist injury sustained in the Boston College tilt and has not played the last three games.
When I asked Lucia following Saturday's game about Haula's situation he said, "We just don't know. We're hoping he'll be with us against North Dakota. But he's still mending and will have to be re-evaluated before we make our plans. We should know a lot more by the middle of this week."
Last look at the ex-Sioux: Playing without a nickname, North Dakota's hockey team makes its farewell appearance at Mariucci Arena for, apparently, the foreseeable future. NoDak isn't on the Gophers' schedule for at least the next few years. And in a travesty that should never have happened, the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo are gone, stripped by the NCAA in a fit of political correctness no one in North Dakota seems to have wanted.
I watched the North Dakota women's team play the Gopher women Saturday and the first thing that struck me was how bizarre the NoDak uniforms look without that long-familiar Indian head logo. Now they're just green, black and white with the words NORTH DAKOTA in white. And they don't look good.
Last I heard, the NCAA had forbidden any nickname for the North Dakota teams for another couple of years. Crazy. Some Gopher fans have begun calling them the Fighting Who.
Just don't call them the Flickertails. That's what they were before they honored the Sioux and no one wants that moniker again.
What is a flickertail, anyway? It's a name given to a species of ground squirrel known as Richardson's squirrel, a cute little rodent that was found in North Dakota. No one is seriously considering reverting to that nickname and for good reason: What self-respecting hockey player wants a squirrel on his sweater?
It's the greatest rivalry in all of college hockey, for my dough: Minnesota and North Dakota. Join us for the action Friday at 7:00 and again Saturday at 5:00 as part of Hockey Day Minnesota -- only on FOX Sports North!