Before UMD played North Dakota at the DECC in December, we proclaimed the series as a "measuring stick" for a Bulldog team that was off to a surprising start.
They measured up quite nicely. UMD had to rally to get a weekend split, but it was a stirring comeback, and the Bulldogs were not blown off the ice by any stretch of the imagination in a Friday loss to North Dakota.
It was part of what we thought would be a difficult stretch of WCHA games for UMD. After routing Michigan Tech on Nov. 13, UMD played Minnesota (road), Denver, North Dakota, and Colorado College (all home) in their next four league series. The record of 6-2 shows that UMD is ready to contend in this league.
With that in mind, now the Bulldogs are in a position they haven't been in much since the Frozen Four run of 2004.
A team desperate to earn home ice in the WCHA playoffs is entering a home series against UMD in hopes of seeing where they measure up against league contenders.
The opponent is Minnesota State, Mankato. The Mavericks have been playing much better since UMD swept them at the DECC in mid-October. Included in that was a very impressive two-game sweep of Bemidji State before Christmas, and the Mavericks also went 3-0-1 in non-conference games against Nebraska-Omaha and RIT. MSU is 6-1-1 in non-league games this year, virtually assuring that they'll be in the NCAA Tournament discussion, even if they end up sixth or seventh in the WCHA standings.
Of course, they're in eighth right now, so that's a problem.
The Mavericks have seniors all over the ice, and by any measure, they should be a better team than they are. Watching them in October, it didn't seem like they were getting the kind of consistent effort out of those seniors that you would expect. That seems to have improved, even though it wasn't enough to prevent North Dakota from sweeping them last weekend in Grand Forks.
At 5-10-1 in league play, MSU is desperate for points. They also want to know what kind of team they have.
UMD should help test them. The second-place Bulldogs are hot. They can skate with anyone, and they played some serious defense last weekend, allowing just 38 shots in two games against Colorado College. Kenny Reiter has a .953 save percentage in his last three starts, and UMD has only briefly trailed over those three games.
It's been a good run, but the Bulldogs know that the biggest tests are yet to come. This weekend only gets us started ... or maybe it keeps us going.