Minnesota, North Dakota renew border battle

BY foxsports • January 13, 2012

Rivals Minnesota and North Dakota will meet for the 285th and 286th times when the Gophers play a regular-season series in Grand Forks, N.D., this weekend. Though Minnesota holds the all-time series lead with a 142-128-14 record, UND has the edge in its own building with a 76-64-8 home-ice record.

After splitting last year’s lone series at North Dakota, Minnesota earned its first regular-season home sweep against UND since 1996 back in early November, with 2-0 and 3-2 wins at Mariucci Arena. Neither team has completed a four-game regular-season series sweep in the rivalry since the Gophers accomplished the feat 20 years ago.

North Dakota got off to a slow start in defending its second MacNaughton Cup in three years in 2011-12. After winning WCHA regular-season and playoff titles and reaching the Frozen Four last year, UND began the year with a 4-7-1 mark and a 2-6-0 record in the conference. However, since Nov. 25, UND has gone 7-1-1 and has not lost a game in regulation.

North Dakota has also climbed six spots in the WCHA standings by winning five of its last six league contests. Sophomore Brock Nelson (15g-9a) and junior Danny Kristo (11g-13a) lead the team in scoring, with 24 points each.

Minnesota captain Taylor Matson knows what to expect from North Dakota this weekend.

"They are a very well-coached team," said Matson, "that always seems to play its best hockey in the second half of the season. Their building is always packed with rowdy fans who will be all over our team, so this weekend will be a great test for us."

The Gophers played Notre Dame in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game last Saturday and fell 4-3 to the Irish. The loss, on the heels of a New Year’s Eve loss to Northeastern, marks the first time this season Minnesota has lost back-to-back games.

Head coach Don Lucia is expecting a better effort this weekend.

"Because of the World Juniors," said Lucia, "our team has been a little disjointed lately. But Kyle (Rau) and Nick (Bjugstad) have been given plenty of rest, and we have had a great week of practice, so I'm hopeful we can get back on top of our game this weekend."

Bjugstad and Rau played respectably for the U.S. at the recent World Junior Championship. Bjugstad had six points (4g-2a), while Rau had five points (3g-2a) for Team USA. Both played for the Gophers against Notre Dame last Saturday and Bjugstad tallied a goal.

Minnesota played its last seven games at home (4-3-0), but heads to hostile territory in North Dakota this weekend. The Gophers have not played a road game since they traveled to Michigan State for games on Nov. 25-26, and have not played a league road game since they played at St. Cloud State on Nov. 18.

Through 23 games, the Gophers have scored 93 goals and allowed only 49. Minnesota has the second-best offense in the nation, averaging 4.04 goals per game. Minnesota’s defense, which yields only 2.13 goals-per-game, is the sixth-best in the country.

Senior goaltender Kent Patterson has played every minute in net for the Gophers this season. He is second in the country in minutes played, with 1,380 in 23 games with a record of 15-7-1 and an impressive .918 save percentage. North Dakota has a pair of solid options in net, with Aaron Dell and Brad Eidsness.

Fox Sports North will have all the action covered on Friday night with Gophers Live starting at 7 p.m.. Fox Sports North Plus will have all the festivities on Saturday night, with Gophers Live starting at 6:30 p.m.


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