Monday, November 8, 2010

Weekend at the Ralph

Left to Right: Ben Johnson, Dan Swangler, Alex Kriz
Last year we went out to Grand Forks to take in a Bulldogs-Sioux series and visit our buddies Duke and Swangler. It did not go well. We were swept, getting outscored 10-3, and I awoke Sunday morning duct-taped to the pool table and sporting a massive black eye. Kriz was several feet to my left, curled up in the fetal position on the floor, looking in even rougher shape than I was.

This year proved to be much different. After being outplayed in a 4-2 loss Friday, the Dogs bounced back with an exciting 3-2 OT victory on Saturday night. I awoke fairly comfortably on my buddy's futon, and Kriz awoke next to Swangler's cousin. Good times!

We hit Highway 2 early Friday afternoon. Let me tell you something about Highway 2: It blows. It seemed like every time I got my '94 Camry rattling up to 75 mph, we would hit one of the many tiny towns built along the highway, and be forced to reduce speed to 50, then 40, then 30 for a mile or so. Finally we would get out of town and the process of coaxing the Camry back to 75 would start all over again. Highlights of the drive included seeing a woman on horseback pull into a liquor store in Erskine and numerous gigantic pickups hauling big bucks.

Hunting Opener on Hwy 2:
Huge truck, 4-wheeler, deer carcass.
Friday's game was a disappointment. The Bulldogs played on their heels all game and couldn't carry the puck into the offensive zone at all. They were forced to dump and chase and the Sioux defense swallowed them up. The 4-2 final score, even with Corbin Knight's empty-netter with 11 seconds left, wasn't indicative to how lopsided the play was.

On Friday UND's depth really shone. They were missing Malone, Rowney, Forbot and MacWilliam, and still looked to be much deeper than UMD. The numbers support it: Our third and fourth lines have combined for 8 points on the season and the Sioux's have 15. Our top two lines are as good as any team's, but we may have trouble this season with squads like the Sioux or the Gophers, who both have 15+ draft picks, which allows them to stack talent all the way through the lineup.  Oleksuk scored on a rebound goal, Fontaine finished off a ridiculous tic-tac-toe from the Connollys, and Crandall was solid enough to keep the game interesting, but it was the Sioux who carried the play from start to finish.

Our seats were in the corner, three rows from the top of the arena.
Sightline was great still, the Ralph is a top-notch venue.
Saturday was much more even. UMD fell behind twice, but Mike Connolly and JT Brown both scored in the second period to leave it tied 2-2 going into the third. The third period might've been the most exciting period of the Bulldog's season, despite both teams going scoreless. Both teams had a bunch of chances but the goaltending was excellent, especially Reiter.

Then in OT, the play of the year (so far) happened. Justin Faulk connected on a beautiful 100-foot pass (top of our circle across rink to ND blue line) to Mike Connolly to give the Bulldogs a 2-on-1 breakaway. Then Mike made a absolutely dirty behind-the-back drop pass to Fontaine, who was left uncontested, point-blank in the slot to bury the game winner. 3-2 Dogs. We finally won one at the Ralph. Whew. You can see the goal for yourself here. (play starts around the 2:38 mark if you don't want to watch all of the highlights)
Post-game celebration

A couple of parting thoughts:
  • Places I was heckled: In the parking lot, the bathroom, stands, bar, well, pretty much everywhere we went we were mean-mugged or yelled at. I realize we were wearing the opposing team's jersey and this is to be expected, but the vitriol towards us was much more intense than last year. I don't think the Sioux fans like the "Gopher Rejects" coming into their arena ranked six spots higher than them.
  • As much as we were heckled, it was nothing compared to what the refs got Saturday night. Sioux fans hate Shepard. Wow. There was scarcely a moment during the second half of Saturday's game when I couldn't hear a Sioux fan crying about some call. Apparently every single call went against North Dakota and Shepard has a longstanding, personal vendetta against them. I was embarrassed for the Sioux faithful. 
  • We entered the weekend in first place and ranked #2 in the nation. Today we're still in first place and still ranked #2 in the nation. 
  • Hopefully we don't have to go back to the Ralph again this season. We're 3-16-2 there in the last 21 games. It was a hard-fought split between the two best teams in the WCHA. Until December 30th...
Nice to have Grand Forks in the rearview mirror.

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