Photo Credit-Kelsey Lee Violet Turtle Photography
Tonight, the Bulldogs of Minnesota Duluth take on the Fighting Hawks of the University of North Dakota for a Frozen Four spot. Here are three things to watch for as a guide to how the game might progress.
Update: Tonight’s game will be officiated by an ECAC crew.
Who scores first
Well, as everyone watching the Fighting Hawks saw last night, this team is unbeaten when scoring first, so far. North Dakota plays a relentless forecheck and has goal scorers on all of its lines to compliment it. If the Bulldogs score first, then the Fighting Hawks will have to answer back, and show their resolve as they have all season. If the Fighting Hawks score first, then the system-driven Bulldogs will have to open their game up a bit, while staying responsible in their own end. As AIC Head Coach Eric Lang said “in this tournament there are 15 good teams, then there’s North Dakota.” The reality of this point could very well be the difference in the evening for the Bulldogs. As we said of them back in September of the Bulldogs:
“The Bulldogs under coach Scott Sandelin play a consistent game while rolling four quality lines, and their depth players have proven to be nearly as valuable as the stars. Although Minnesota-Duluth can deliver a reserved brand of hockey before transitioning to its counterattacking style, there are several notable prospects on the roster who are legitimate scoring threats no matter the situation or strength on the ice”
Trips to the box
UND outplayed AIC enough in an eight minute stretch to make the other 52 minutes not as impactful, they got quality goaltending and were superb on their penalty kill all night. With that said, UND gave AIC five power play chances, of which they converted on one. In a four goal game, that is not something that will resonate with people, however, in a game against a depth-heavy team like Minnesota Duluth, the chances that one of those penalties could prove costly to the season of the Fighting Hawks rises. The Bulldogs need to play clean as well, given the strength that both of these teams have on the power play.
Duluth sticking to their system vs. UND getting to theirs
In interviews over the season, Sandelin has noted how his group,at times, while still talented and skilled at playing a similar game to North Dakota, has strayed from what has won them the last two national championships. If the Bulldogs, a strong even strength team, can bottle up the Fighting Hawks in their own end and get to what makes them a challenge to play against then in a one game scenario the margin for error in UND gets even smaller. If the Fighting Hawks can get to their game first, and force UMD to defend all night, then the amount of goals they scored against AIC could be the low mark for goals they put home in a single game in Fargo this year.
Regardless of result, the NCHC will get another team in the Frozen Four, and could have as many as three representing it in Pittsburgh this year. This conference is always tough, and while UND is expected to win, and has all the tools to do so, Scott Sandelin’s group will not make their lives easy. Both teams will represent their conference well to a national audience tonight in what promises to be compelling hockey from Fargo, no matter who wins.
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