Sunday, March 22, 2015

Familiar Foe Awaits UMD at NCAA Tournament

Well, didn't see that coming.

Going into the NCAA Selection Show on Sunday, most, I think, thought UMD would be matched up with Boston College in Manchester, N.H., to open the NCAA Tournament on Friday. I believe I even saw a speculative tweet that UMD would play Harvard if the selection committee danced a couple teams around to avoid conference matchups and try to boost attendance at regional sites.

We got the venue right, and the team horribly wrong.

Instead of playing No. 11 Boston College, as it would have in a true 16-team bracket, UMD matches up with No. 10 Minnesota Friday. It will be the fifth time the longtime rivals have played this season, and this will be the fifth different arena they've played in.

(Ice Breaker at South Bend, Ind, Mariucci Arena, Amsoil Arena, XCel Energy Center, and now Verizon Wireless Arena, in case you didn't believe me.)

At Amsoil Arena Sunday, the UMD players watched the show on ESPNU. It was obvious when the matchup was revealed on TV, because a loud cheer came from the players' lounge.

I'm sure there are some out there who don't like the teams meeting for a fifth time (UMD is 3-1 this season against Minnesota, making a bit of a dent in a huge Minnesota lead in the all-time series), but you aren't going to hear the players complaining. At least not UMD's.

"I think we're all pretty excited for this opportunity," senior forward Justin Crandall of Lakeville, one of 18 rostered UMD players from Minnesota. "I think there's a lot of hatred there, and obviously we respect them as a program. I'm really excited for the challenge."

Senior captain Adam Krause of Hermantown said he was checking Twitter on Saturday night, trying to keep up with everything going on. He laughed when I said everyone was wrong on Saturday.

"It'll be fun, emotional, a good matchup," Krause said.

The four meetings between UMD and Minnesota have been played at a tremendous pace, as you'd expect with two teams that love to get up and down the rink. But a 4-3 Gopher win Oct. 10 at the Ice Breaker was the outlier. Not just because the Gophers won, but because only three goals were scored in each of the other meetings (A 3-0 UMD win at Minnesota, followed by a pair of 2-1 UMD wins).

Adam Wilcox was great in virtually every game for Minnesota, while Kasimir Kaskisuo shut the Gophers down in that home-and-home sweep back in November, and Matt McNeely turned in one of his best performances as a Bulldog at the North Star College Cup against Minnesota.

"They get up and down the rink, got a lot of skill," head coach Scott Sandelin said. "We play the same way. The big difference anytime you play them is staying out of the box, because their power play is really good."

Of course, if the goalies are as good Friday as they were in November and January, it'll come down to things like special teams or puck management, just like it has between these two teams already.

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