Hockey, Ice Hockey, Sports

Icedogs hope to scalp Sioux in opener

By Scott Lauber

The Terriers better have their pens ready when the University of North Dakota arrives in Boston for hockey’s season opener.

“We know they have a lot of talent,” North Dakota head coach Dean Blais said. “I just hope our players aren’t asking for autographs before game time.”

But if the Terriers don’t have their sticks ready, the preseason No. 11 Fighting Sioux will spoil the first night of BU’s campaign for a repeat championship.

Last weekend, North Dakota swept two road games against Western Collegiate Hockey Association rival Northern Michigan University at Lake View Arena. The sweep broke a long-time hex for the Fighting Sioux, who have had difficulty winning in that venue.

“We never expect to win going into Lake View Arena,” Blais said. “We were hoping for a split because I didn’t know if we had the conditioning to sweep them this early in the season.”

The quick start gives them an early lead in the WCHA and eases some concerns about the loss of star forward Landon Wilson, who signed with the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.

“We lost some good players like Landon Wilson, who added leadership and character to our team,” Blais said. “We really don’t know if a young team like ours can put it all together.”

All four lines get a lot of ice time for North Dakota every night, and they sport a balanced offense without dominant starts. Senior forward Teeder Wynne led the Fighting Sioux in scoring last season, and he is capable of carrying the burden on offense.

Freshmen forwards Brandon Carlson and Ian Kallay combined for three goals and three assists on the weekend in their college debuts.

Senior Nick Naumenko, the star of the defensive unit, reaches his 100th career point with an assist in last Saturday’s 5-2 win over Northern Michigan. Junior goaltender Toby Kvalevog started strong, getting both victories over the Wildcats, but Blais does not expect his goalie to carry the team this season.

“Toby is our No. 1 goaltender,” Blais said. “Goaltending is a game within itself though, and a lot of goaltenders have to get mentally prepared separately from the rest of the team.”

North Dakota controlled the puck all weekend, outshooting Northern Michigan, 79-48. However, fatigue may be a factor for the Fighting Sioux this weekend. They play their first four games on the road, and after a difficult pair of games in Michigan, they come east to play BU tonight and Northeastern University tomorrow.

“We bussed over [to Northern Michigan], and it was a 10-hour bus ride, so we have to try to regroup and get going again after a long flight on Friday,” Blais said.

Tonight will be emotional for the Terriers and their fans, as the national championship banner will be lifted to the rafters of Walter Brown Arena. Tickets for the contest quickly evaporated, and a sellout crowd is expected. No special plans have been made for the evening, but the banner-raising should prove to be an emotional ceremony.

Fathers of four of last year’s seniors will be on hand to hoist the three banners for the Beanpot. Hockey East and NCAA titles. In addition, some senior administrators will participate in the ceremony. But when the puck is dropped, BU’s focus will undoubtedly shift from last year’s championship to this season’s title defense.

“They played two good games over the weekend, so they must be doing pretty well,” BU head coach Jack Parker said. “Having played two games, they’re a little bit farther ahead than us, but we’re not too concerned about that.”

North Dakota’s opening weekend success may give them an early edge during tonight’s first period, while the Terriers try to re-familiarize themselves with game situations.

“It may play a role right in the beginning, but we’re ready to start the season,” Terrier caption Jay Pandolfo said. “We are more interested in concentrating on our game right now.”

The Terriers will be completely healthy for opening night. Defenseman Chris Kelleher makes his return, after a groin injury sidelined him during the University of Toronto exhibition game.

According to Parker, goaltender Tom Noble will make the start tonight. Noble made eight saves in the 12-0 shutout of Toronto last Saturday, but this will be his first regular game appearance since last April’s title game.

That day, Noble raised his arms in triumph when the buzzer sounded in last season’s finale. The Terriers hope that his reaction will be similar after this season’s opener.

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