MINNEAPOLIS -- No reason to hide from reality.
UMD head coach Scott Sandelin used the phrase "big challenge" multiple times this week in describing his team's home-and-home series against No. 1 Minnesota.
And rightfully so. Hate on the Gophers all you want, but there's no denying that you won't find a better team in the nation right now. Even with their depth tested by a couple key injuries -- forwards Travis Boyd and Vinni Lettieri and defenseman Brady Skjei are either definitely out this weekend or likely out -- Minnesota has enough high-end skill to overwhelm most opponents.
We hope this weekend's opponent isn't "most opponents," because at least on paper, UMD has the ability to beat Minnesota. It's shown that ability multiple times before, and it's not like this team has stunk so far this season.
So they lose Skjei, a first-round pick of the New York Rangers? OK, well Don Lucia is typically scratching two drafted defensmen every night. Because he has eight to pick from for a lineup that usually only has six in it.
Yes, eight drafted defensemen. And there aren't any obvious busts in a group that is unquestionably led right now by junior Mike Reilly -- a guy who, at least in my completely unqualified opinion, could be playing in the NHL right now. Michael Brodzinski (yup, Jonny's brother), Jake Bischoff, Ryan Collins, Jack Glover, and the list continues with the rambunctious Ben Marshall. It was Marshall, you might remember, who threw the illegal hit on UMD's Austin Farley that helped turn the North Star College Cup title game into a gong show last January.
(No, it wasn't a hit to the head as charged by the officials. But it was an illegal and unnecessary blow-up hit on a guy who didn't have the puck. A penalty, but probably not a major, and look how the third period/overtime played out. Makeup calls and missed embellishments both ways, and it took away from a fantastic game.)
Anyway, task at hand. The Gophers are really good. UMD has shown it can be, but if "being in the national conversation" is something that matters (I'm not sure it should and I'm not sure it does to this group, but that's a rant for a different day), the Bulldogs need to win at least once this weekend.
Iafallo - Toninato - Crandall
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Decowski - Young (Austyn)
Young (Blake) - Thomas - Sampair
Johnson - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Molenaar
Bristedt - Rau - Fasching
Warning - Kloos - Cammarata
Reilly (Connor) - Isackson - Ambroz
Hoglund - Michaelson - Reilly (Ryan)
Reilly - Collins
Marshall - Brodzinski
Johnson - Bischoff
Wilcox - Coyne - Lehr