|The last time Quinnipiac and North Dakota played was the 2016 National Championship Game|
In anticipation of this weekends home opening massive series against North Dakota in which fans will be in the building for the first time in 601 days, I had a chance to do a Q&A with the University of Hockey Blog who focuses on all things North Dakota hockey. Thanks again to them for taking the time to do this and you can follow them on Twitter @UofHockeyBlog
@QHockeyBlog: What are your expectations for this weekends series between Quinnipiac and North Dakota especially with students being back in the building in Hamden for the first time in 601 Days.
@UofHockeyBlog: My expectations are that it’s going to be a tight, possibly lower scoring battle between two good teams. As far as the crowds go, North Dakota is no stranger to them as they played in front of reduced crowds of about 4,000 last season and a full building for their three home games and one exhibition so far this season. I’m sure Quinnipiac will come out fired up with the crowd behind them. This will make it important for North Dakota to handle the first push, because in their last game they gave up two goals in the first 90 seconds or so. It’s one thing to play from behind like that at home but on the road it could be too much to overcome.
@QHockeyBlog: North Dakota is coming off back to back 20 plus win seasons. What are the expectations like in Grand Forks this season for this North Dakota team. Is it national championship or bust?
@UofHockeyBlog: I’m not sure the expectations have been set because it’s tough to say how a team that turned over half their roster will gel together. They lost eight of their top nine scorers from last season and both goalies. Rather than bring a massive freshmen class, North Dakota hit the transfer portal and picked up two of the leading scorers from the WCHA, a very good starting goalie and some assistance on defense as well. That being said to replace guys that are already producing in the NHL is never an easy thing to do. This weekend, I think will be big in determining what sort of trajectory we expect North Dakota to take this year. If they get swept, it’ll be gut check time but if they split most sane Fighting Hawk fans would be happy with that. If they sweep convincingly, then North Dakota fans might start looking at Frozen Four tickets.
@QHockeyBlog: The team lost 60% of its goal production from last season to graduation/early departures. Tell us who are some of the players us as Quinnipiac fans need to watch out for in this series?
@UofHockeyBlog: Jake Sanderson on the back end, is the 5th overall pick from the 2020 draft by Ottawa, is someone I think will be a big variable in how this series goes. I’m looking at the scores from Quinnipiac's first few games and it appears they can really shut down teams defensively. North Dakota admittedly doesn’t have the firepower coming from the forwards like they did the past couple years. That being said, I think scoring will have to be supplemented from the talented players on the back end like Jake Sanderson. In the forward group, Riese Gaber, may be smaller in stature but he’s a pitbull on the ice and can beat any goalie in the country with his shot. As far as freshman go, Jake Schmaltz has been really good to start his North Dakota career. He’s scored goals and assisted on the game tying goal with 30 seconds left last Saturday, so he’s a gamer.
@QHockeyBlog: North Dakota has 9 NHL draft picks. How do you think this team compares talent wise to the 2015-2016 National Championship team which was the last time these two teams faced?
@UofHockeyBlog: I’m not sure many teams compare favorably with that 2015-16 national championship team. That team seemed to have the rare quality of having younger high draft picks (Boeser, Schmaltz) and skilled upperclassmen (Caggiula, Stecher) that developed later and held the younger talent accountable every day. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we under-performed the following season after those older guys were picked up by NHL teams.
@QHockeyBlog: So far four games into the season what do you think are the strengths of this North Dakota team?
@UofHockeyBlog: The strengths so far seem to be work ethic as I haven't seen guys taking shifts off along with the physicality and resiliency in the comebacks they’ve produced.
@QHockeyBlog:What would you say are the weaknesses so far in this young season?
@UofHockeyBlog: I think experience is the main weakness I see. We could see some growing pains as they figure out how to add 14 guys to their roster in the most effective manner. Whether it be on the power play, penalty kill, or in the line pairings, finding the guys that click together could take longer but a 3-0-1 start isn’t a terrible start all things considered.
@QHockeyBlog: What are you thoughts on how transfer goaltender Zach Driscoll from Bemidji State has played so far this season?
@UofHockeyBlog: Speaking as someone with no idea what to look for, I think he’s looked solid in most situations so far. He seems to be well positioned and stays calm under duress. I haven’t seen any weak goals yet. I know he’s a smaller goalie than North Dakota has had lately but he seems to fill the net fairly well.
@QHockeyBlog: The North Dakota fan base is one of the most passionate fan bases in all of college hockey if not number one. From you view do you think that the fan base respects Quinnipiac going into this series as it is a match-up of two top ten teams and I say that because North Dakota is 4-0 all time against Quinnipiac with two NCAA tournament wins?
@UofHockeyBlog: I think you have two types of North Dakota fans. Casual fans that go to games and don’t follow the team much past that. Then there are the diehards that follow every single press conference and re-watch all of the games and highlights. The casual fan may look at Quinnipiac and dismiss them as a school we’ve never lost to in the past so it should be an easy sweep. The diehard fans that follow college hockey understand that it will be a tough series and a road split would be a fine result as long as North Dakota is scoring goals and trending in the right direction. That being said, it sure would be nice to keep North Dakota's unbeaten streak against the Bobcats alive. Thanks for having me!
You can follow the BobcatsHockeyBlog on Twitter @QHockeyBlog.