Game Preview: North Dakota at Minnesota

The Gopher hockey team welcomes in their most hated rival, the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, to Mariucci Arena this weekend. Fans and players alike know the implications this series has for the rest of the year. With Minnesota soaring and North Dakota struggling, both teams need to perform well to set the tone for the WCHA season.

DATE: November 4 and 5, 2011
TIME: Friday, 7:00 p.m. (FSN), Saturday, 7:30 p.m. (BTN), (CST)
SITE: Minneapolis, Minnesota.
ARENA: Mariucci Arena
SERIES: The Gophers lead the all-time series by a tally of 140-128-14.
RECORD: Minnesota (5-1-0, 4-0 WCHA), North Dakota (3-4-1, 1-3 WCHA)
LAST MEETING: The last time these two rivals met in January, the Gophers left Grand Forks with a 3-3 and a resounding 5-1 victory.

KEYS TO THE GAME:
If the Gophers want to have a successful weekend against a tough Sioux squad they will need to stay out of the penalty box. Minnesota leads the WCHA in total penalty minutes, taking an average of 15.9 penalty minutes per contest. While North Dakota does not boast a prolific powerplay (seventh in WCHA, 20.5%) the Gophers cannot give the Sioux numerous chances with the man advantage. Minnesota's offense, who is leading the nation with 5.38 goals per game, should be able to put up enough goals to win. The struggle will be staying out of the box, limiting North Dakota's special teams opportunities.

Similar to years passed, North Dakota will bring a large lineup to take on the Gophers. The Sioux have a total of 10 players on their roster at a height of 6-foot-2 or above. While Minnesota should have a speed advantage on the Olympic-sized ice sheet, North Dakota's physical play will be difficult for the Maroon and Gold to deal with. The Sioux can have success in this series if they use their size to punish the smaller Gopher players. If North Dakota can initiate scrums, dominate in front of the net, and out-muscle Minnesota's skaters in the corners, they will give the fifth-ranked Gophers their first true test at home this season.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
GOPHERS:
-- F Erik Haula #19 – Finnish born Erik Haula has been off to an incredible start to the season. He has totaled seven goals and ten assists for a nation-leading 17 points. Haula is arguably the Gophers' most skilled passer but also has the ability to put the puck away if given the chance.

-- F Kyle Rau # 7 – Freshman Kyle Rau is another player who has had no trouble putting up points for the Gophers. A youngster who coach Don Lucia said, "has a nasty habit of scoring goals" has not disappointed fans thus far. He currently leads all freshmen in the country with 13 points (7g, 6a).

SIOUX:
-- F Danny Kristo #7 – Eden Prairie (Minn.) native Danny Kristo is one of the most dynamic players on this year's Sioux squad. So far this season he has totaled four goals and eight assists. Kristo is picking up where he left off last season where he had 20 assists on the year. Look for Kristo to set up a goal or two this weekend.

-- D Ben Blood # 24 – One of North Dakota's most imposing players is 6-foot-4, 226-pound defenseman Ben Blood. Originally from Plymouth (Minn.), Blood thrives on playing his hometown Gophers. Look for this physical defenseman to try and punish the smaller Gopher forwards in this series.


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