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  • Top dog UMD proved me wrong. Here's how.


    Last week, I wrote that I didn't expect the University of Minnesota Duluth to be much of a match for North Dakota. I wrote that article with the thought that North Dakota is a deeper and more experienced team, with better NHL-caliber talent. To some extent, those claims might still be true. Brock Boeser is hard to match and Cam Johnson has been good for UND all season.

    But in the end, I was totally wrong.

    UMD brought energy and rolled the Fighting Hawks two nights in a row, with freshman goalie Hunter Miska standing up tall two nights in a row against some of the most feared offense in the NCAA. On Friday night, 13 different Bulldogs recorded shots. The same number did on Saturday. Together, they put together a weekend in which Duluth never trailed the reigning national champs, and that's no fluke.

    The Bulldogs have shown that they're in it this season. This week, they'll take on the St. Cloud State Huskies, who swept the 2-7-1 University of Alabama Chargers last weekend. Their wins propelled them to the No. 8 slot in national rankings, which is probably deserved, but not for those wins. They took the Gophers to task the week prior and put Minnesota hockey on notice.

    It's hard to say how this matchup will play out, especially given my well-documented vendetta against the Bulldogs.

    For North Dakota, they'll end their two-week excursion into Minnesota against the Gophers, who went 1-0-1 in their New York trip against St. Lawrence and Clarkson. Altogether, it looks like the Gophers are settling into the middle of the Big Ten pack, but I don't know that that's where I'd expect them to end up. They've got more firepower than they're showing (which is to say a lot), and Eric Schierhorn has played tremendous hockey all season. This early inconsistency is a real problem, though, and it's on Don Lucia to set the record straight this weekend against a higher-ranked opponent.

    The real surprise in the Big Ten this season is the University of Wisconsin, who have a new culture and a new feel under head coach Tony Granato. He's reigned in a lot of the roughness that's surrounded the team in the past few years. The kind of reckless hockey that occasionally showed up on the ice over the past few years always took a backseat to the story of how a celebrated program could look so bad, but it was always present. Cheap shots during games rendered meaningless by early barrages of goals would be buried in stories about the mountain of pucks Badgers would be stuck digging out of the net. Questions about the type of team that allows headshots and checks from behind would be lost in stories about the dizzying spiral downward that has defined Badgers hockey recently.

    This year, they're profiting from a more mature mindset with a clearer system in place. Last weekend, they beat the same teams Minnesota played, and in compelling fashion. Luke Kunin's arrival as a strong, all-around Center was on full display, controlling pucks and dictating the pace of play. This weekend against Northern Michigan will be a good opportunity for the Badgers to build on their successes and to continue to learn a system that's been so absent in recent years.

    Elsewhere around the Midwest, Bemidji State takes on Alaska Fairbanks. After muddling through last season with a relatively ill-defined core, they're looking much better in 2016, with a 6-2-0 record on the season. They owe many of those wins to Michael Blitzer, whose play in goal has been outstanding early in the year, putting up WCHA-leading numbers across the board. It's tough to say if this can last for the Beavers, but for the moment, I think they're on much more solid ground than they've been in the past. That confidence has brought them to No. 18 in the most recent USCHO poll, and I have a feeling they'll continue to creep up over the next few weeks.

    Lastly, the No. 10 Minnesota State Mavericks will take their youth movement on tour to Michigan where they'll face off against the Lake Superior State Water Spirits Lakers. The Mavericks' freshman have contributed mightily to the 6-2-0 record they're defending. Look for that to continue against a more top-heavy but potent group from the Lakers. Their scoring is more focused but deeper in their top line, which could force some uneasy matchups for the Mavericks. All told, I think MSU is the better group, but then again, college hockey is full of surprises. Maybe there's one hiding around the corner this week.

    That's it for now; let me know what I'll get wrong this week in the comments below.

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