The comments were complimentary but not overly deferential.

"Duluth's been on a nice run the last couple of years," Bob Motzko said, "especially at the end of the year."

"It's a structured team and well-coached," Scott Reedy offered. "They've had some great recruits the past couple of years, and they work well as a team."

"That first shift," Ryan Zuhlsdorf added, "you try extra hard to hit them."

Yes, you can tell it's a rivalry week for the Gophers men's hockey team, which plays Minnesota Duluth in a home-and-home series on Friday night at 3M Arena at Mariucci and Saturday night at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Though UMD might not be Minnesota's fiercest rival — North Dakota owns that status — the Bulldogs might be a close second and have recent success that the Gophers or any other college program would desire:

The reigning back-to-back NCAA champions. A team with three consecutive NCAA finals appearances. A program with three national championships in the past decade.

"When they get into the tournament, they've proven to be a great tournament team," said Motzko, in his second year as Gophers coach. "We haven't been in the tournament. It's a test for us. We're going to get back to that level."

A compliment, yes, but not a capitulation. There's hockey to be played, and no one's about to cede a win.

Motzko and his Gophers enter the series with a 3-1 record, while the veteran Bulldogs are surprisingly 1-3 after being swept at Wisconsin last weekend. Motzko is pleased with his young team's first two series but knows UMD is a step up from Colorado College and Niagara.

"The speed limit is going to go up," Motzko said, adding that he wished the Bulldogs would have won a game in Madison because, "you're going to get an ornery squad in here."

A businesslike UMD coach Scott Sandelin had no interest in talking about the rivalry during his weekly news conference.

"Hopefully, we'll see a better hockey team this weekend," Sandelin said of the Bulldogs. "Right now, that's the only focus I'm worried about. I don't care about Minnesota. I just worry about this group trying to find its identity and figuring out how we need to play to win hockey games."

Zuhlsdorf, a senior defenseman, is embracing one last go-round with the Bulldogs. He's faced UMD six times and won once — a 7-4 Gophers triumph at Mariucci last year that followed a 1-1 tie the night before in Duluth. Before that, the Bulldogs had won eight consecutive against what their press notes refer to as "the southern branch of the University system."

"When we actually get out there and get to play against them, get into a couple scrums and throw a couple punches, you're like, 'Wow, I like this. This is fun,' " Zuhlsdorf said.

The rivalry against UMD has been especially fun for Reedy, a junior forward who scored his first goal in his Gophers debut in the 2017-18 season opener against the Bulldogs and added two assists in last year's Minnesota win. Reedy plays a two-way role and has been valuable for the Gophers late in games. Motzko wouldn't mind tapping his hot hand against UMD.

"I believe in that stuff. Some guys light up certain teams," he said.

Reedy expects an intense series against a UMD team that features star power such as goalie Hunter Shepard, defenseman Scott Perunovich and forwards Justin Richards and Nick Swaney. Though the Bulldogs have been held to seven goals in four games, they remain a dangerous team that's built to succeed in March and April.

"It's like playoff hockey every time we play these guys," Reedy said.

That's just what Motzko expects from the Bulldogs and just what he wants his team and its 11 freshmen to experience.

"We've got different challenges this week — Number 7," he said, singling out Perunovich, a two-time All-America selection. "They've got some octane in their forward lines. … But we're ready for them. We've got to find out."