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There always is a huge build-up for any college hockey series involving UMD and Minnesota, or UMD and North Dakota, or UMD and St. Cloud State. But no games have had more significance during the past decade than when the Bulldogs take on Denver.
It happens this weekend at AMSOIL Arena, and the two games could go a long way toward determining who ultimately wins the National Collegiate Hockey Conference regular season. By winning the last two NCAA championships, UMD was ranked No. 1 through the first three weeks of play, but when the Bulldogs stumbled twice at Wisconsin, Denver soared right past them to take the No. 1 spot.
Ratings mean nothing compared to league standings, but the Pioneers have a big, experienced team that just happens to be undefeated at 8-0 and have outscored those eight foes 33-13. UMD is 3-3 and has scored 14 while giving up 15 goals. The Bulldogs, of course, are coming off a home-and-home sweep against Minnesota and then had a weekend off, while Denver swept Niagara.
The Bulldogs have Hunter Shepard in goal, while Denver counters with 6-foot-6 Magnus Chrona, who currently leads all NCHC goalies with a 1.86 goals-allowed average and a .925 save percentage.
The UMD women’s hockey team swept a series from winless St. Cloud State last weekend at AMSOIL, and have a week off before engaging a rugged four-game stretch of league games. The Bulldogs will face another touch challenge at Ohio State next week. The Buckeyes have set their sights on moving up to challenge Minnesota and Wisconsin at the top of the WCHA women’s race — right where the Bulldogs would like to be. Last weekend, Minnesota beat and tied No. 1 Wisconsin at Ridder Arena, and the Gophers gained the extra league point by winning the shootout, so Minnesota moved from No,. 2 to No.1 in the country, while the Badgers slipped to No. 2.
UMD comes away from the series at Ohio State to return home for a huge series against the Gophers Nov. 22-23.
With rare exceptions, whenever a UMD sports fan needs to be reassured that the world is spinning properly on its axis, it can turn to the women’s volleyball team. The Bulldogs beat Minnesota-Crookston in a 3-game sweep last Saturday, then topped Bemidji State 3-1 on Tuesday.
That sets the stage for Friday night, when the Bulldogs stay in Romano Gym to face onrushing Concordia Friday at 6 p.m., then take on MSU-Mankato at 2 p.m. in their regular season home finale. UMD improved to 14-2 in Northern Sun play and 21-3 overall, and coach Jim Boos has the Bulldogs displaying outstanding balance in scoring and defense, which could make Friday’s Concordia match one of the season’s highlights.
Kate Berg and Hanna Meyer came into the season as the most likely kill leaders for UMD, and they’ve been bolstered by Brooke Scheurer and the always-reliable Abby Thor, among others. But Berg and Meyer have come through in the last few matches to deliver huge hits when the Bulldogs need them most to suppress the opposition.
Speaking of upsets, the movie “Harriet” seems to have run its course and left Duluth, but if you get a chance to see it, you’ll find a riveting drama based on facts of Harriet Tubman’s fight to free slaves and make a case for freedom back in our nation’s history. I’m mentioning it because the usually reliable Minneapolis Star Tribune ran a review of the movie that pretty much ridiculed it for being tried and predicatable, and was strong enough that my wife Joan and I nearly passed it up. We finally saw it, and it was one of those movies that when it ended, the audience downstairs at Zinema burst into spontaneous applause. That doesn’t happen very often, but it was well deserved this time.