There is an insecurity that pervades the culture and environment that surrounds University of North Dakota hockey. We UAA fans are pretty familiar with opponents that suffer from insecurity since we play UA_ so often. Grand Forks and Fairbanks both have a lot in common. They both have descriptors in their names which are false. There is nothing "Fair" about the "banks" of the Chena River as it winds through that town just as there is nothing "Grand" about the "Forks" of the Red River. Apparently, the forefathers of each of these 'bergs knew that the towns would need something to make themselves feel better about themselves. When you start with that sort of insecurity, it is reasonable for it to continue I guess. It can all best be analogized by someone we've all seen; the guy that drives around in a big 4x4 with the gun rack in the back. When he steps out of his oversized rig we understand the problem. He is overcompensating for the fact that he is only 5'5" tall. It's the classic little guy syndrome. He's got a great big chip on his shoulder and feels like he has something to prove. Driving a big truck and shooting powerful guns makes him feel taller. And often as not he'll be wearing a Cowboy hat to improve his apparent height.
There's example after example of this psychological affliction in the area. When a group of students figured out that "Flickertails" was a wimpy name as compared to their rival at North Dakota State (the Bison), they rectified it by adopting the name of a group of humans who were masters at killing the Bison. Insecurity at work. When the University of Minnesota opened the finest college hockey rink in the nation Uncle Ralph came along and built a rink that an NHL franchise would be proud of just to outdo their rival. But let's face it; the state is completely and entirely nondescript. There's nothing of significance in the whole state. South Dakota has the Black Hills, Mt. Rushmore and Wall Drug. Minnesota has 10,000 lakes, 50 times more people, and the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Montana has Glacier National Park, the Big Sky and men who are fond of sheep. North Dakota has um ... what? The fewest number of trees per square mile on the western hemisphere of the planet? The ever-present unabated wind? A sense of insecurity is a natural reaction to all that overwhelming blandness. Their hockey fans obsession with all things UofM is a good example. Check the two fan forums next time something happens of significance at UofM. Siouxsports will have double the number of posts as GopherPuckLive. Watch how many "you don't know shit ... you live in an igloo ... go hunt some penguins" replies this post engenders. The folks down there just aren't comfortable with the reality of who they actually are. If ever a state collectively needed a double-dose of Viagra it is North Dakota.
When UND began playing hockey way back when they looked up the road to the University of Minnesota and knew they'd have to be something special to succeed against them. And they have been something special. 7 National Championships since 1959 under three different coaches. They've excelled. No other school can claim that much success in the last 50 years. No doubt the Short Man Syndrome has it's benefits when carried to the degree it has been in North Dakota.
This years version of the Fighting Sioux hockey team is no less insecure. They began the season as consensus #1 picks across the pundit landscape (excepting me of course). USCHO, INCH and CHN all proclaimed them the team to beat. Virtually everyone with an opinion (excepting me of course) picked them to dominate. Here's what I said:
I definitely underestimated UND last season. I guess what I really missed badly was the performance of Hobey Baker winner Ryan Duncan. I didn't even mention the guys name in my preview. I certainly wouldn't have pegged them as a Frozen Four participant. But there's definitely something to be said for their continued excellent 2nd half performances. It was a trait of the team under Dean Blais and it has continued under Dave Hakstol. Goaltending in my mind is a big question in Grand Forks. Lamoureux played 37 games last season and would have played more but for an early season injury. Consider me a Lammy skeptic. There'll be a lot of pressure on him to play a lot of games this coming season and while he had good numbers I'm attributing much of that to team defense and limiting quality shots. Lots of folks would disagree with me about Lammy. They have a bit of a tougher schedule this year as well, though that isn't reason enough to downplay their chances. This squad has the potential to finish in the top half of the league (lots of people expect them to win the league) but I believe last year was exceptional and unlikely repeatable. I'm not sure they'll be an NCAA participant. Sue me.I'd say that the goaltending question has mostly been answered. Lamoureux has performed well enough to erase the doubts so far. He has been the only goalie of record in their 23 games and has real nice numbers with .929 sv% and a 1.87 gaa. I've only seen UND play twice this year so I guess I can't say with surety that they're playing the team defense game as well as last year but there's every reason to expect that is the case. They currently sit in 3rd place and without a serious run from someone below or a complete meltdown on their part they should make the NCAA's. Nothing's guaranteed of course. Ryan Duncan isn't putting up Hobey-like numbers this season; 10 goals so far compared to 31 last season. Their other primary offensive talent T.J. Oshie seems more intent on whipping his "thingy" out on elevators than scoring goals on the ice though he is on pace to have a career best season with 10 goals so far this season. Sophomore Chris VandeVelde has 9 goals this season and Andrew Kozek has scored 8 without a single assist to round out the primary threats. The rest of the goal scoring is spread out with the only noteworthy exception being no-talent thug Rylan Kaip amassing an amazing 6 so far this season. Who'da thunk? The Sioux are the most likely WCHA team to be engaged in goonery this season without a doubt starting with their early season antics in Wisconsin, Hakstol sending nondressed players into the stands to silence an opposition MTU fan who was mocking him and now last weekends goonfest in Mankato with 12 roughing penalties in the series and one actual drop the gloves fight (it was a bit of a purse fight with dingleberry Kaip resorting to the jersey over the head tactic instead of squaring up like a man).
I'll be back tomorrow with an some analysis of what the Seawolves will need to do this weekend to come out of "Grand" Forks with some points. And oh yeah, best I can tell is there is no TV this weekend.