Men's Hockey: Showdown with the Sioux

"We don't like them and they don't like us," said UND forward Brandon Bochenski. That sums it up. Plain and simple, this is the biggest weekend thus far this season for the Minnesota Gophers men's hockey team. The No. 5 Gophers host the No. 1 North Dakota Fighting Sioux Friday and Saturday at Mariucci Arena. Here's a look at that series.

WHAT: No. 5 Minnesota (13-8-3, 8-7-1 WCHA) vs. No. 1 North Dakota (17-2-2, 11-1-2)

WHEN: Friday and Saturday, 7:05 p.m. both nights

TV/RADIO: Both games will be broadcast on Fox Sports Net North and WCCO 830 AM.

QUICK FACTS: Minnesota is unbeaten in 13 of its last 14 games (11-1-2) and undefeated in their last eight games (6-0-2). North Dakota has not lost since a 2-1 defeat to St. Cloud State Nov. 14. Earlier this season, then-No. 2 UND swept Minnesota in Grand Forks with 7-3 and 5-3 wins. Last season, Minnesota split the lone series in Minneapolis, losing 4-2 on Friday night, before winning 6-3 the next night over then-No. 1 UND. In the last 10 meetings, Minnesota holds a 6-4-0 record against UND.

Neither team has posted a regular-season sweep at Mariucci Arena since Minnesota won twice in 1996-97 (Minnesota swept UND in the first round of the WCHA Playoffs in 2001-02 at Mariucci). Not long ago some Gophers hockey faithful were ready to give up on this talented Gophers team. The magical ride that produced two national titles the last two years seemed to have disappeared.

But you know better than that. With Don Lucia at the helm of this team, and with players like Thomas Vanek, Troy Riddle, Matt Koalska and Grant Potulny leading the way, it was just a matter of time before the Gophers found their groove.

With leadership from upperclassmen, steady play from freshman goalie Kellen Briggs, and finally, each player understanding his role, this Gophers team is ready to make another serious run the second of half the season.

But standing in the way this weekend are the powerful Sioux, the nation's top-ranked team and the Gophers' archrival. How big is this weekend series? Just ask a few UND players, who commented in the Fargo Forum.

"We don't like them and they don't like us," said UND forward Brandon Bochenski, who leads the nation in scoring with 37 points (20 goals, 17 assists). "The rivalry is as big as everyone makes it. It should be a battle."

UND junior forward Colby Genoway was a little more analytical.

"They have the most talent in the league," Genoway said of the Gophers.

"They have just been getting better and better and hopefully we can outwork them and beat them."

Both teams are playing well. UND upped its road mark to 5-0-1 with a weekend sweep (8-4, 4-0) at Michigan Tech last weekend. On Friday, Zach Parise (So., Faribault, Minn.) had two goals and two assists, and on Saturday, Parise added two goals and one assist. His brother, Jordan Parise (Fr., Faribault, Minn.), stopped 30 Huskies' shots on Saturday to post his first career shutout. Parise extended his unbeaten streak to 11 games (9-0-2) with that shutout, the first shutout of his career. Parise's unbeaten streak is the second-longest unbeaten streak ever by a Sioux goalie to start his career.

The latest wins in Minnesota's eight-game unbeaten streak came last weekend in Mankato, where the Gophers defeated Minnesota State 6-0 and 10-3 after sweeping Colorado College (2-1 and 3-0) the previous weekend (Jan. 9-10).

Minnesota is led offensively by Vanek, who ranks ninth in the nation with a 1.37 points per game average. Vanek has 17 goals, while teammates Troy Riddle and Grant Potulny have 13 and 10 goals, respectively.

As for goaltending, Briggs has a 7-5-1 record, .905 save percentage and 2.38 goals against average.

Lucia enters the game one victory away from 400 career wins. You can bet there's no place he'd rather get No. 400 than Friday night against Minnesota's biggest rival.

The Gophers have climbed back among the nation's elite. A strong showing this weekend will prove what Gophers faithful wanted to believe the entire year – a third straight national title is still within reach.

Game on!

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