Photo courtesy DU Athletics
In case it hasn’t been shoved down your throat enough this week, there’s a #1 vs #2 matchup in Denver this weekend. The #2 University of Denver Pioneers will do battle with the #1 University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs at Magness Arena on Friday and Saturday evenings (both games are at 7 PM).
First, if you don’t have plans this weekend (like your company holiday party or something extremely important like that), you should add one or both of these games to your weekend docket. You won’t want to miss it when these two teams take the ice with each other. Seriously. These are the two best teams (it’s not close) in the country going head-to-head at Magness Arena. When was the last time the #1 and #2 teams faced off in Denver, you ask? February of 2002. It may be another 14+ years before we see this kind of matchup in Denver again. Don’t miss it.
Both DU and UMD are coming into this weekend in interesting fashion. Denver hasn’t lost since the first weekend of the season when they lost to Ohio State and Boston College in the Ice Breaker Tournament. They’ve gone 11-0-3 since the 3-1 loss to BC.
Duluth hasn’t lost in a while. The last time they lost a game was at home against Western Michigan during the second weekend of November. What have they done lately, though? Well, nothing. The Bulldogs haven’t played since the weekend before Thanksgiving when they swept Omaha on the road. If you’re having a tough time doing the math, the Bulldogs haven’t played over the past two weekends.
So in short, this weekend’s matchup at Magness Arena is a team that’s rolling after sweeping its archrival in a home-and-home series against a team that will either be rested or rusty.
Looking at Denver, first, even though they’re on an incredible roll, they could still be in a precarious position. It appears an already anemic offense will be without its second-leading scorer in Henrik Borgström for a second straight weekend as he continues to try to recover from…a sickness (seriously, no one knows what he has).
The Pios are scoring just 2.81 goals per game. Even against a bad (like really really bad) Colorado College team, the Pios scored just 6 goals in two games. Two 3-goal performances were enough to sweep CC and keep the Gold Pan, but the lack of scoring this year is still a bit concerning.
If they’re not scoring, why aren’t they losing games? is a question that you should absolutely be asking. The good news is, there’s an easy, one-word answer: defense. DU has the 4th-ranked defense in the country giving up just 1.93 goals per game. When you consider DU’s strength of schedule to this point in the season, that 1.93 number is that much more impressive.
Duluth, on the other hand, has the 6th-ranked offense in the country, scoring an impressive 3.71 goals per game. The Bulldogs have impressive scoring depth from their top line to their fourth line. UMD’s depth essentially means their opponents can’t take a single shift off. As cliche as that is, it rings true for UMD’s opponents. The Bulldogs have eight players scoring in double-digits this year, led by Alex Iafallo with 9G-10A-19P.
UMD is an impressive team. Their offense is the first talking point, but it’d be extremely unwise to discount their defensive prowess. They’re ranked 10th in the country in team defense, giving up just 2.29 goals per game. What I’m trying to say is UMD is absolutely deserving of the #1 ranking. They have so few weaknesses that it’s difficult to figure out how exactly to beat them.
If there even is a weakness for the Bulldogs, it would be between the pipes (and honestly, it may be a reach to call it a weakness). After two years of incredible play by Kasimir Kaskisuo, UMD has turned to freshman Hunter Miska to play the bulk of the minutes between the pipes. He’s performed admirably with a .914 SV%, 2.37 GAA, and 9-1 record. For a freshman playing UMD’s schedule, that’s impressive. The only way to paint this as a weakness is to point to the lack of experience. Aside from that, UMD has no weaknesses. This team is for real.
This series is shaping up to be the series of the year. It’s only December, yet it’s not unreasonable to frame it this way already. These two teams are head and shoulders above the rest of the other 58 men’s college hockey teams and a competitive split would only solidify that fact.
Both teams are going to have their hands full in what will be an extremely competitive weekend of hockey at Magness Arena. Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on this.