LAS VEGAS -- The University of North Dakota came across the numbers 7-7-7 while preparing for Saturday’s game against rival Minnesota in Las Vegas.
No, they weren’t hitting the jackpot at the slot machine.
That’s the number of goals Minnesota has scored in its last three outings.
One seven-goal outburst came against defending national champion and defensively stout Minnesota Duluth. Another came in an exhibition against a U.S. Under-18 Team that’s already beaten Notre Dame, Michigan and Harvard this season. And another came in an exhibition against Trinity Western.
Minnesota’s offense has been rolling early this season under first-year coach Bob Motzko, who frequently produced skilled teams during his 13-year tenure at St. Cloud State.
Slowing down the No. 5 Gophers will likely be the biggest challenge for No. 17 UND when the teams play at 9:07 p.m. Central on Saturday, Oct. 27, about a mile off the Vegas strip at Orleans Arena.
“Everyone has to be conscientious about who we’re playing against,” UND captain Colton Poolman said. “It’s about playing team ‘D,’ not one line or one set of D-men are going to shut down their best line, whoever that would be. Everyone has to be aware and do their own job, especially in our own end. That’s what leads to offense.
“It comes down to everyone tightening up, because we have been a little bit lax. We’ve give up a couple defensive errors and teams have been making us pay. We know the Gophers are a pretty opportunistic team. You have to be dialed in on every shift.”
Up front Minnesota has a combination of proven veterans and skilled rookies. The veterans include 100-career point scorer Tyler Sheehy, last year’s leading scorer Rem Pitlick and Minnesota’s top-career point producer against UND, Tommy Novak.
The rookies include Colorado Avalanche draft pick Sampo Ranta, Tampa Bay draft pick Sammy Walker and undrafted Garrett Wait.
UND will counter with two veteran shutdown centers in Rhett Gardner, the reigning National Collegiate Hockey Conference defensive forward of the year, and Nick Jones.
“Our centermen take charge of the lines out there,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “We have two seniors leading the way there. Having those guys out there, they bring leadership qualities in making sure we play a 60-minute game and talking about all the things we need to do to have success.
“We have to play hard against this team, but we have to have discipline and stay out of the penalty box and we will.”
UND’s team defense has been up and down early this season.
After holding Bemidji State to three goals in two games, the Fighting Hawks allowed 10 goals in a split with Minnesota State-Mankato last weekend.
Berry didn’t tip his hand on who he would start in goal Saturday. Sophomore Peter Thome and freshman Adam Scheel each have started two games this season.
Regardless of who is in goal, the Fighting Hawks say they’ll try to limit Minnesota’s time in the offensive zone.
“The biggest thing for us is to suck the life out of them early,” Gardner said, “smother them in the neutral zone. They’re a very opportunistic team. They like to score on the rush. Obviously, we have to take care of our own end. I know they have some guys who don’t like playing defense as much as they want to, so we have to make it hard on them through the neutral zone.”
Motzko became very familiar with UND’s style of play during his time at St. Cloud State. They played twice a year almost every year.
“They were our travel partner,” Motzko said. “They’re the same North Dakota team you always see, just different names on the backs of the jerseys. They don’t change. They play a very distinct style and you have to be prepared to play against them.”