Thursday, December 30, 2010

Amsoil Arena's Curtain Lifts

After years of political haggling, a referendum, and more planning and coordinating than any of us could probably imagine, Amsoil Arena is set to open Thursday night, as UMD hosts North Dakota for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.

The Bulldogs and Fighting Sioux are a combined 25-8-5 this season. However, they went into the break with different kinds of momentum. UMD took just one point in a series against an average Minnesota team, while North Dakota swept Minnesota State on the road. The Sioux are definitely rolling right now, but a 20-day break can do strange things to a team.

UMD is hoping that's true, because they didn't go into the break on the same kind of roll (1-2-1 last four games). Not only that, but you know the Bulldogs are going to focus a great deal on being able to put games away. The Bulldogs haven't had much success in that department, leaving them vulnerable to opponent comebacks and fluke bounces that can change games.

North Dakota might not be the best opponent to test your ability in that area, but it's a game UMD has to find a way to win. The teams are tied 1-1 in the season series, and barring a meeting in the WCHA playoffs, this will be their final get-together of the season. I don't think I need to remind you about the head-to-head component in the Pairwise, or of the fact that a season series win over North Dakota will help UMD in comparisions against virtually everyone North Dakota plays -- teams that are typically not fortunate enough to win a season series against North Dakota.

This isn't your run-of-the-mill "new arena/stadium opening game," because there's a ton of meaning attached to it, and we're not just guessing that these are two good teams. They've proven they're good over half the regular season.

Usually, when a new facility opens, it's at the start of a season. Even in a situation like this where the visiting team is hand-picked, there's no way of knowing if the matchup will be any good, or if the teams will amount to anything in the long run.

Here, all that is there, and we have the added zest of a new facility opening up for the masses.

The arena is the big star for a lot of people. This $80 million building is not going to be labeled the best in the country, or even the best in the WCHA, but it does automatically become the best college hockey facility in Minnesota once its doors open Thursday night (sorry, but XCel Energy Center is not a college hockey facility).

Some will argue its intimacy will make it better than The Ralph. Others will say that it's got more atmosphere than North Dakota's crown jewel, but until UMD has played a few games at Amsoil, I won't be ready to make that argument.

What I will say is that Amsoil Arena is a special building, and a lot of hard-working people deserve a lot of thanks for the work they put into the arena. The workers took a lot of pride in the job they were doing, and it shows in the final product.

Notes: For those who don't know, North Dakota's Brock Nelson and Derek Forbort, along with UMD's Dylan Olsen and Justin Faulk, will miss the game because they're at the World Junior Championships in Buffalo. UND's Jason Gregoire and Brett Hextall, along with UMD's Kyle Schmidt, will miss the game with injuries. Schmidt suffered an upper-body injury in practice Wednesday and is out indefinitely.

Aaron Crandall is expected to start in goal for UMD. With Cody Danberg already out, UMD is down to 12 healthy forwards with Schmidt's injury.

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