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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum News Service, Published January 30 2014

Rivals UND, Minnesota set for big women's hockey series

GRAND FORKS – University of North Dakota coach Brian Idalski isn’t going to worry too much about the fact that his team is missing three key players due to the Olympics.

He’s also not going to focus on injuries that may keep another regular or two out of the lineup this weekend.

“Let’s be honest. It’s a rivalry weekend,” Idalski said. “It has more to do with heart and determination and grit and compete than it does with some of the other things.”

UND hosts the University of Minnesota this weekend in a showdown between teams ranked No. 3 and No. 1 in the country, and Idalski hopes his team can, once again, find a way to beat the Gophers.

In November, UND knocked off Minnesota 3-2, ending the Gophers’ NCAA-record run of 62 consecutive victories – a run that started after Minnesota lost a 2-1 overtime game against UND at the end of the 2011-12 season.

UND is the only team to beat Minnesota in the Gophers’ last 85 games.

“Any time you have two teams ranked in the top three, it’s going to be a great series,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “Brian has done a great job turning that program around.”

Although Minnesota lost several key players off of last year’s undefeated national title team, including Olympians Amanda Kessel, Megan Bozek, Mira Jalosuo, Lee Stecklein and Noora Raty, it is right back in the mix. The Gophers are 24-1-1 and well on their way to another Western Collegiate Hockey Association title.

UND, meanwhile, is off to its best start in school history at 16-5-3, but it is in the process to adjusting to life without Michelle Karvinen, Susanna Tapani and Tanja Eisenschmid, who have departed for the Sochi Games.

“Obviously, their Finnish girls are a huge part of their team,” Frost said. “But they are a deep team. That’s what separates them from this year to last year is their depth, particularly on the blue line.”

UND hopes that a record crowd will be a factor in tonight’s series opener. The school is selling tickets for just $1 in order to try to break the program’s all-time attendance record of 3,200, which came in its first-ever home game on Oct. 26, 2002.

“It’s great that they are trying to get people to the game,” Idalski said. “When people come and watch, most of the time they leave saying, ‘Wow, I didn’t know it was that good and that fast.’

“To be honest with you, outside of the Olympics here in the next few weeks, I’d be hard-pressed to find a better game than us and Minnesota.”

The games between UND and Minnesota have typically been free-flowing and up-and-down with lots of scoring chances. But without some of the team’s best skaters, UND could decide to try to slow it down a little bit.

Idalski doesn’t plan to change too much, though.

“We like to skate,” he said. “We don’t want to change much. I don’t think (changing styles of play in January) is a wise thing to do. But honestly, missing some of our personnel, I don’t think it can be totally wide open. I don’t know if we can skate with them as much as we can at full strength.”

This weekend should also be a good test for the Gophers, who are 11-0-1 since losing to UND. The Gophers also haven’t played a ranked opponent since UND in November.

“I think we’re playing well,” Frost said. “We’re fairly healthy. We haven’t played anybody in the top half of our league for some time now, even prior to Christmas. We know this is the start of a real big push for us going into the playoffs.”

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald