Two top NHL goaltending prospects will duel it out this weekend at the Ralph Engelstad Arena when North Dakota hosts Providence College in a two-game nonconference series.
Providence junior goaltender Jon Gillies, a Calgary Flames draft pick, has been the backbone of the Friars since his arrival, but he stumbled some last season due to a groin injury. When he's healthy he's as good as any goalie in the nation. He's a big goaltender who is fundamentally sound. He squares up to shooters and does a good job of taking up a lot of the net.
His competition at the other end of the ice will be Boston Bruins prospect Zane McIntyre, who has been terrific for Dave Hakstol's squad. The hometown boy finished last season with a 1.99 goals against average and .926 save percentage as he helped UND to a spot in the Frozen Four.
Senior Mark MacMillan, a Montreal Canadiens prospect, is off to a hot start for North Dakota. He has five goals in four games. Hakstol's squad is loaded on paper with 15 NHL Draft picks, a crop of riches compared to just seven for the Friars.
One of those NHL Draft picks on Nate Leaman's squad won't even make the trip to North Dakota, according to Mark Divver of the Providence Journal. Calgary Flames 2012 NHL Draft pick Mark Jankowski is still recovering from an injury as is defenseman Tom Parisi.
The Friars are led offensively by undersized senior forward Ross Mauermann. PC's junior class is a large and talented group, but Leaman continues to stockpile talent. Freshman forward Brian Pinho has two goals including the overtime game-winner against Ohio State.
This weekend will be a good test for each team, but the Friars have more to prove. It's a road series, but Leaman's team wants to make the next jump from NCAA Tournament contender to Frozen Four contender. Even with injuries, Providence still has the ability to compete against a very good North Dakota squad.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.