ORONO — Robby Dee recalls attending games between the University of Minnesota and archrival North Dakota when he was a teenager growing up in Plymouth, Minn.
“I’ve seen them play so many times,” said Dee, the University of Maine’s senior center. “Back then, 10 years ago, North Dakota and Minnesota were the top teams in that league (WCHA). They were really fun games to watch.”
He also recalled North Dakota’s work ethic.
“They played really hard. They got after it,” said Dee.
Now he will get the opportunity to play the Fighting Sioux when the 1-1-2 Black Bears entertain the nation’s No. 2-ranked team (3-0-1) for a Friday-Saturday night series at Alfond Arena.
“For once I get to play against them. It’s really exciting. I’m looking forward to it,” said Dee, who will be facing North Dakota senior defenseman Ben Blood, who is also from Plymouth.
“I never played against him,” said Dee. “I’ve heard of him. He’s a good player. He’s done well.”
Blood said the only time they may have met was “during a training camp for the Omaha Lancers (of the United States Hockey League).”
Even though it is early in the season, the games take on added importance for the Black Bears because they have only two nonconference games remaining.
“It’s really important when it gets toward the end of the season and you look at the NCAA (tournament rankings). After losing and tying at Michigan State, it would look real good if we were able to get a couple of wins over a great team like North Dakota,” said Dee.
But the Fighting Sioux also view it as a marquee matchup.
“Both teams know how important the four points are,” said North Dakota senior defenseman and captain Chay Genoway.
There will some extra incentive for North Dakota senior center Brad Malone, who is from Miramichi, New Brunswick.
“There will be 40 people coming down from Miramichi,” said Malone, who is familiar with the area and has seen a game at the Alfond Arena.
“My cousin, Ryan Malone, played there (2001) when he was at St. Cloud State,” added Malone, whose cousin plays for the Tampa Bay Lightning with three former Black Bears: Brett Clark, Mike Lundin and Teddy Purcell.
He said he has told his teammates that they will have to be prepared for a loud and enthusiastic crowd at Alfond Arena.
“It’s going to be a hard-nosed battle,” said Malone.
North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol concurred.
“I’m very impressed with their team,” said Hakstol. “They’re a talented team and they’re experienced. It’s going to be a great series. It’s going to be one of those series early in the season that’s going to be a lot of fun to be a part of. It’s going to be really competitive. There will be a great atmosphere.”
Maine coach Tim Whitehead knows his Black Bears will have their hands full.
“They will be as good a team as we’ll play all year,” said Whitehead. “They don’t have any visible weaknesses. We’re going to have to play an exceptionally clean game offensively and defensively.”
“They have great depth, great size and a lot of skill,” said Maine sophomore right wing Joey Diamond. “They have some power forwards.”
For the Fighting Sioux, it will be their third straight road series.
They traveled to play in a tournament with Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska (Fairbanks), being tied by Alaska-Anchorage 5-5 after squandering a 5-1 lead, and then beating Alaska 3-1. Then they swept Bemidji State by identical 5-2 scores.
UND has outshot its opponents 124-74.
“We’ve used the crowds as extra motivation,” said Blood.
The North Dakota players said they will need to play with composure and be able to handle the adversity they expect to encounter.
Maine’s players said they have to get back to basics.
“We’ve got to get the puck to the net. We’ve lost focus the last couple of weekends. We’ve got to hit the net more (instead of shooting wide) and get (ourselves) to the net. We’ve got to do the little things: chip the puck off the wall, get in their zone and play great defense.”
“We’ve got to give them everything we have both nights,” said Maine junior left wing Spencer Abbott.
Maine will play a two-game set at North Dakota next season but the Fighting Sioux will have a new nickname. The school lost a four-year legal battle in April to keep the nickname.
The players said a new nickname won’t diminish the program’s tradition, which includes seven NCAA titles.
“We’re not thinking about that right now,” said Genoway, who is focusing on the weekend’s series.