Looking through all the available information I'd have to call this weekends games a pretty decent looking college hockey matchup. Fans on both sides should anticipate two closely played games. UND has 4 significant upperclassmen, 3 quality sophomores and as many as 5 potentially impactful freshman on the roster. UAA's mix tends more toward experience.
I'd peg 7 upperclassmen into the same significant catergory as I put UND's 4. Both of UAA's 2 sophomores are quality and 5 or 6 freshman Seawolves look to be potentially impactful. I think the main difference might be that UND's freshman have contributed to their team's success (2g-10a) and the total output so far for Seawolves rookies is (1g-3a).
As a team the opponent has scored 15 goals in 4 games for a 3.75 average. The Seawolves have 12 goals in 4 games for an even 3 per game average. UND's power play is 24% (6 out of 25) and their penalty kill is 15 out of 15 for 100%. UAA's power play is 15.8% (3 of 19) and the penalty kill is 83.3% (20 of 24).
Going forward I'd give the nod to the Seawolves for their established abilities deep in the opponents zone. The Seawolves NHL sized forwards should be able to establish their possession game as per usual. UND's defenseman are a bit bigger than other teams UAA has faced this season but they're also relatively inexperienced except their two undersized upperclassmen.
We'll likely see no conscious effort from UND to maintain the puck deep in the Seawolves end via a cycle. They'll rely on transition and so far this season that's meant getting the puck on defenseman Chay Genoway's stick who has excellent offensive instincts. One line is capable of some cycling but more often than not offensive intrusions should be be short lived. However, since this is a team that relies on emotional play, if the Seawolves don't clear the puck efficiently they could be made to pay. When the UND forwards sense an opportunity they can swarm.
So the defensive side of the Seawolves game this weekend will have to be spot on to limit the UND opportunities. Perhaps the most important aspect though will be manning up against Genoway when he's on the ice. Seawolves forwards will need awareness for #5 and when possible give the kid another shadow. More than a couple of UAA forwards will need to come off the ice knowing what flavor of gum Chay is chewing to have done the job correctly. The closer the game is the more dangerous that kid seems to get.
As always, breaking the puck out efficiently and smartly is going to be important. The UND forwards will forecheck hard, early and often in order to try to create turnovers. Brains and execution should be the watchwords for Seawolves blueliners. Some of the Seawolves abilities to rush the puck will depend on whether or not Backstrom and/or Hunt are ready to go. Word has been that both wouldn't be returning for this series though. That leaves the transition game in the hands of Curtis Leinweber, Kane Lafranchise and to a lesser extent freshman Lee Baldwin.
Not to say other D-men aren't capable of bringing the puck in an offensive sense. Drew Darwitz seems to be coming along quickly. If Luka Vidmar is healthy he has historically shown that he can contribute going forward. Jared Tuton's calm consistent leadership on the backend is an asset but typically he doesn't move the puck forward with the same flair as Curtis.
There will be some expectation for the Seawolves 1st and 2nd line to produce this weekend. Clark, Haddad and Grant/Lunden, Bruijsten and Naslund will likely be the primary scoring threats. Portwood, Parkinson and Crowell look to be developing some chemistry and have looked dangerous. Craig is getting/taking more shots this season than in the past and he's my pick to click this weekend.
Rookies Mickey Spencer and Alex Gellert along with Sean Wiles are showing some gritty play and have been closer and closer to making significant contributions. They definitely aren't a typical 4th line/energy/checking combo. I don't know if we'll see Ken Selby and/or Tyler Currier in the lineup as Coach Shyiak seems to have settled on the above lineups. However, don't be surprised to see Selby play on any particular night.
UND's coach has apparently indicated that rookie goaltender Aaron Dell will get a start this weekend. Logically, I'd think that would mean he'll play on Friday. Strategically that would make sense. If a rookie got stoned on a Friday you've got the regular guy ready to go on Saturday. However, if the regular guy gets shelled on Friday ... do you come back with the rookie on Saturday? So I'm guessing Dell on Friday night, Eidsness on Saturday.
If all things have been even otherwise in practice then I'd expect Shyiak to rotate Olthuis and Christiansen this weekend. Shyiak gave the nod to Jonny O last Saturday following on his Friday night shutout. I'm guessing though that Bryce plays Friday night against UND. Just a guess. I'm historically shit with guesses regarding which goaltender plays on which night.
The key to home ice advantage for the Seawolves is to get the crowd into the game early. There'd be no reason to expect anything but a solid emotionally driven effort from the Seawolves coming out of the gate on Friday. It's the first WCHA series of the year. It's at home. Everything about that says they'll be pumped up to play and highly focused.
The last time UND was on the ice at the Sully the Seawolves took a couple of tough losses. No doubt they'll remember those two nights and be motivated to rectify them. All the talk coming out of the Seawolves program (not just here on this blog) is that the 09/10 edition is perhaps the best Seawolves team on paper since Shyiak took the helm. This weekend is the real first opportunity to prove that theory. UND is rated/ranked highly in any/every poll.
They are a legitimate top quality opponent by every traditional measuring stick. They got 9 NHL draft picks. Last Friday night they skated circles around a team with 10 NHL draft picks. This weekend is not only the 1st serious test of the Seawolves. It's likely to be the biggest test they face all season. I hope the fact that it comes so early is in the Seawolves favor.
Predictions: Friday UAA 4 - UND 2; Saturday UAA 2 - UND 0