Those were the words UMD men's hockey coach Scott Sandelin used this week to describe the Bulldogs' weekend series against North Dakota.
While it's probably too early to overemphasize any games, there's no question that the next four are going to be huge for UMD.
At 9-4-1, and within striking distance of first place, the Bulldogs know they have a team that can contend in the WCHA. However, "can" and "will" are completely different animals. For UMD to legitimize themselves, they're going to have to take advantage of some fortunate scheduling. They get a (kind of) banged-up North Dakota team at home this weekend. Denver follows next week for their only two games against UMD this season. From there, the Bulldogs' next WCHA series will be against Colorado College in January, a team UMD needs to get three points from to claim the season series.
The pre-Thanksgiving sweep of Minnesota proved a few things to UMD:
- They can win on Olympic ice (they started the season 1-2-1 on the big sheet).
- They can win when they don't necessarily play their best hockey.
- They're capable of taking advantage of some fortunate bounces.
- This team isn't afraid of anything.
- It seems they will throw the puck on net as much as humanly possible.
- They don't need Justin Fontaine and the Connollies to do all the goal-scoring. They can always call on Cade Fairchild. Oops.
- Most importantly, they seem to have put their disciplinary issues behind them.
Now, the Bulldogs are charged with moving forward. The Gopher series is done and gone, almost like it was in a different season.
North Dakota is a different animal.
The Sioux like to get in your face. You'd think that task would be easier in our sardine can of a rink, but the Bulldogs don't mind it, and they're pretty good at it themselves.
Nothing is easy against UND. The Sioux press the play all over the rink, and they're especially tough on the penalty kill. UMD has to be at their best to win either game this weekend.
Don't be fooled. The absence of All-American defenseman Chay Genoway will hurt the Sioux, but it isn't a crippling loss. This is a strong and deep hockey team, and they're a tough defensive team even without Genoway. Where they might be hurt is their breakout, and that means UMD has to deploy a strong and persistent forecheck to fully take advantage of Genoway's absence.
This is a measuring stick, but it isn't the ultimate one. That said, fans at the DECC will see some very good hockey this weekend.