View From The Other Side: Minnesota Duluth

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Minnesota heads to defending national champion and rival Minnesota Duluth this weekend to open WCHA play. We asked Minnesota Duluth's radio play-by-play voice Bruce Ciskie a few questions about the Bulldogs before this weekend's matchup. You can follow Ciskie on Twitter @bruceciskie.

GopherSports: Bruce, you know the Bulldogs as well as anyone. Can you give us a scouting report on the defending champs?

Bruce Ciskie: The defending national champions (man, that just doesn't get old) lost a good chunk of their offensive and defensive prowess from last year. Justin Fontaine (Houston) and Mike Connolly (Worcester) are in the AHL. Kyle Schmidt and Mike Montgomery graduated, while Justin Faulk signed with the Carolina Hurricanes and made the NHL out of training camp. But two-time All American Jack Connolly is back to serve as team captain, and he has sophomore J.T. Brown playing the right wing. Brown had a great game Friday against Notre Dame, flying up and down the ice. His speed is at "game-breaking" levels. On defense, Wade Bergman and Brady Lamb will be the leaders, but freshman Chris Casto (former Hill-Murray star) looks solid so far, and junior Drew Olson continues to progress. Senior Kenny Reiter returns between the pipes after starting the championship run with an incredible performance in a 2-0 shutout win over Union.

Connolly and Travis Oleksuk are the top two returning centers. Freshman Caleb Herbert is quickly emerging there, and among the wings, UMD is looking for big things out of sophomore Joe Basaraba and junior Jake Hendrickson. Another freshman to watch is Justin Crandall, younger brother of UMD goalie Aaron Crandall. Justin Crandall is a tenacious competitor and a very good skater with some scoring touch.

GS: You mentioned a lot of player there, but is there one player who Gopher fans should pay close attention to this weekend?

BC. I mentioned J.T. Brown, and he might end up being UMD's best player before the season is out. His speed makes him a factor whenever he is on the ice, and he seems to have learned how to harness his emotions and avoid the occasional undisciplined, retaliatory-type penalty. Brown manned a point on UMD's top power-play unit against Notre Dame, and while it might not be natural for him to work the point, he showed that he's more than capable.

If Brown decides to leave UMD, he will be one of the most sought-after free agents among NHL teams next spring. He's that good, and will prove it over the course of this season.

GS: The Gophers and Bulldogs played four pretty competitive games last season as the teams went 1-1-2. What does Minnesota Duluth have to do this weekend to beat their rival?

BC: Well, I didn't vote Kent Patterson on my Preseason All-WCHA ballot in the media poll, but it wasn't because I don't think he's any good. Patterson is a legit star goalie, and I respect his game tremendously. He's the kind of guy who doesn't suffer a lot of bad beats, and he certainly can carry the Gophers to victories when he's on his game. For UMD to get wins this weekend, Patterson has to be solved. The Gophers have firepower up front, including some recruits I think Don Lucia did a great job getting.

UMD also needs to get solid play from the goalie and defense in both games. The Gophers might not be as dynamic as Notre Dame, but they will work hard, they can win their share of faceoffs, and there are playmakers UMD has to be aware of.

I expect a great atmosphere at Amsoil Arena, and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if the series ended in a split.

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