Weekend Preview- ‘Shake It Off’

 

Photo Credit to gfherald.com

Photo Credit to gfherald.com

I can’t remember a more deflating season opener of a Sioux hockey season than last Friday night against the Bemidji State Beavers.  The 5-1 loss didn’t even feel as close as the score indicated.  The Beavers showed up to play a hockey game, while the home team seemed to think they would be able to skate on the ice and BSU would bow down to their #2 preseason ranking. 

What transpired, however, was a letdown of epic proportions that left the approximately 12,000 fans questioning if this team is as good as advertised… and this after the first game of the year.  Leaving the arena, I commented that this may have been in the top 3 worst Sioux hockey games I’ve ever been to.  The others that came to mind were 2011 Frozen Four semi-final and a home game against UNO a few years back where they hung 6 or 7 on us.  After the game, in a rare statement Hakstol took most of the blame for the loss stating that the team wasn’t prepared and “…that’s on me.” 

After a loss such as this, there’s only one thing you can do…

(Go ahead and pretend you don’t love this song, I dare you.)

Anyways…while I was extremely frustrated with the drubbing, my main takeaway was that the team better learn something from it and play a completely different game in Bemidji the following night or this will be a brutal season.  Now this could be jumping the gun, but if the team can’t at least split with a Bemidji team they’ve only lost to a couple of times in the last 30-40 years, there’s an intrinsic problem with our team because the talent level is there.  Thankfully, the team came out looking hungrier and playing a more physical game away from the comfortable confines of their own arena(Full Disclosure: I’m basing this off highlights).  It seemed that players were fighting for the puck and guys that weren’t in the lineup the previous night made a huge difference in this turnaround.  In the end, UND was able to hold on for a 2-1 win on the backs of a gritty goal by Colten St. Clair and a shorthand goal from Stephane Pattyn that resembled a hockey video game where a glitch freezes the goalie in place.  Myles Fitzgerald made it interesting scoring a quarter way into the 3rd period, but Bemidji could not find the equalizer in the remaining 15 minutes.

So, the team seemed to acquire a bit of their identity Saturday night.  The idea will be to carry this in to the series starting tonight in the city of my former alma mater, Colorado Springs.  The opponent, the Colorado College Tigers, have been known for a while as a high-flying team that plays a fast-paced style with skilled forwards with Scott Owens at the helm.  However, they will probably look a little different moving forward.  After firing Scott Owens, CC has brought in a coach with NHL experience in Mike Haviland.  This coupled with the fact that there is no longer the usual Rylan Schwartz-like skilled forward on the team leads me to believe CC may be looking to mimic UND’s style of play more than their former.  They squeaked by the perennial last place team, in Huntsville last week so it seems the Tigers may still be settling into their new system as they try to crawl out of the basement of the NCHC, where they found themselves to end last year.  So it seems that the main question will be whether North Dakota can play their “pro-style” system better than CC.  My money is on yes but it won’t be easy.

UND 3-2, UND 4-3(OT)

(Note: If you follow my twitter @UofHockeyBlog you saw my predictions as I neglected to put them in last week’s column. I went 1-1 last week.)

Around the NCHC

Nebraska-Omaha @ Western Michigan:  Both teams split last week however Omaha showed me something in their split with a solid Mankato team. I’m going with a split in Kalamazoo.

Miami @ Ohio State: Miami had a disappointing split with Bowling Green last week and Ohio State picked up an impressive split with Providence in a pair of one-goal games.  I think Miami is still trying to find their consistency early. Split.

Minnesota State @ Minnesota- Duluth: Minnesota State split with Omaha and UMD nearly completed a comeback against preseason #1 Minnesota then went on to stomp Notre Dame 3-0. UMD sweep.

RPI @ Denver: RPI narrowly beat Notre Dame then lost 3-0 to Minnesota in the icebreaker while Denver has only played an exhibition. I see Denver taking a little while to get their feet under them and Sam Brittain is not there to bail them out. SPLIT.

I’ll leave with this week’s episode of ‘Through These Doors':

 

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Preseason Predictions- ‘Clean Slate’

Luke Johnson scoring on a rebound

Luke Johnson scoring on a rebound in UND’s exhibition 4-0 win (Photo credit to gfherald.com)

Two wins away from the ultimate goal is where I left you at the end of last season.  It was a tough pill to swallow but undoubtedly added an extra fire to the team for the extra stride or extra rep in the weight room this summer.  There’s no doubt that last season ended on a sour note but that’s what makes this coming season so exciting.  We get to start all over and enjoy the roller coaster that is a Sioux hockey season. Let’s just hope that it ends up with a trophy being hoisted in Boston in early April.

Since the end of last season, the Sioux hockey team lost Sophomore Rocco Grimaldi via early signing to the Florida Panthers organization.  Rocco will definitely be missed and I would be interested to know the coaching staff’s unfiltered thoughts on him leaving early.  He was a dynamic forward that, in my opinion, did not ever reach the astronomical standard set after watching him score his first goal of his career, followed by a ‘Tebow’ on the ice of Mariucci Arena.  Rocco seemed to hit more posts and over-think more breakaway than any Sioux player in recent memory. However his unparalleled acceleration also created some highlight reel plays that will be replayed by Sioux fans for years to come.

In the gap left by Grimaldi, UND has welcomed a new freshman to campus, Nick Schmaltz, that seems to be as good as his 20th overall pick indicates. I draw this conclusion based on the game against the Manitoba Bisons last Sunday evening.  It started in the 2nd period with Nick receiving a rocket pass from Brendan O’Donnell at the front of the crease.  In this situation, the majority of players would jam this puck at the net hoping to find a seam in the goalie’s pads, however what Nick does with the puck got me out of my seat.  He managed to handle the pass, have the presence of mind and the quick hands to deke it to the backhand just hitting the post(See 4:24 at below video).  However, the result wasn’t necessarily what I was looking for. The fact that Nick looked as comfortable as anyone on the ice in his first ever collegiate game should have Sioux fans lining up to get into The Ralph to witness this talent develop over his career.  On top of that play, Nick also had a beautiful set up for his brother on the powerplay for a one time goal and later threaded a pass through the Bisons following a cycle to set up a Wade Murphy goal.  If Nick buys into the Sioux hockey team mentality, while continuing to grow as a player, I think the gap in scoring Rocco left could disappear very quickly.

North Dakota ended up winning the game against the Bisons 4-0, however the score isn’t what is important in these games.  What was encouraging to me is that the team seemed to improve in all aspects of the game as the game went along.  Cycles started to flow effortlessly, passes hit the tapes of sticks, and players were getting in the correct spots without the puck.

The Sioux kick-off their season tonight at The Ralph Engelstad Arena with a home and home series vs. the Bemidji State Beavers.  I decided to make the trip as I had a prior engagement scheduled in Grand Forks for today.  I can honestly say that I don’t know what to expect of the Beavers as they are no longer in our conference so I’ll go off my most recent experience.  I saw them play last year at The Sanford Center and UND outplayed Bemidji for about 58 minutes yet still only managed a tie.  I truly believe with our defense and Zane McIntyre(Side Note: Gothberg is a much better goalie name) in net, two goals will be enough to win the game judging by the team I saw last year.  I believe what we lost in Simpson will be taken over by the amazing freshmen defense with a Frozen Four and a year of experience under their belt.  The new captain or should I say General(I’ll stop beating that horse) Pattyn, will be exactly the type of leader this team needs to follow.  He truly will lead by example and set a presence of what Sioux hockey is supposed to represent.

To end, I will make my predictions for the 2nd season of the NCHC regular season rankings:

1. North Dakota

2. St. Cloud State

3. Denver

4. Miami

5. UMD

6. Western Michigan

7. Colorado College

8. Nebraska Omaha

 

Also, for the other leagues I will pick:

AHA: MercyHurst

Big 10: Minnesota

ECAC: Colgate

Hockey East: Boston University

WCHA: Ferris State

 

I’m sick of listening to myself talk/type so let’s drop the damn puck and as always…

LET’S GO SIOUX!

330und2

 

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Frozen Four Reactions- ‘Trying to Make Sense of it All’

I thought I had considered all of the possibilities leading up to the semifinal Frozen Four game between North Dakota and Minnesota.  I had dreams about the potential outcomes so I could mentally prepare myself for any possible situation.  However, what transpired did not look like any of my dreams because it wasn’t a dream, it was a nightmare scenario that left UND on the short end of a 2-1 loss.  I had considered the fact that we could get outplayed up and down the ice by the rodents and leave all of us disappointed, but knowing we made it farther than anyone gave the team credit for.  However, the way it transpired was far worse.

North Dakota came out looking the better of the two teams and took it to Minnesota for a better part of the game, including big chances by Michael Parks and Drake Caggiula that couldn’t be capitalized upon.  It was frustrating but I still had that feeling we’d get it done.  The first Minnesota goal came deep into the 3rd period made me slightly upset but 30 seconds later Connor “Hobey” Gaarder(who else?) came streaking down the far boards. Gaarder put a shot on Wilcox than crashing the side of the net, he batted the puck out of the air and off Wilcox’s pads into the net.  It gave me that feeling that we could make it happen… THIS could be the year… why not this team?

One and a half minutes left in the game and we go on the powerplay and it seems like, at worst, we’ll be heading to overtime but why not bury all of our PP demons in grand fashion while sending us to the title game?  Unfortunately, the extra man advantage once again could not bury the puck and Wilcox continued to stand on his head.  Then…the unthinkable happened. 

A faceoff in the Gopher zone led to Minnesota getting the puck and chip it into the neutral zone where Kyle Rau gained possession.  At this point, there wasn’t enough time on the clock left for UND to mount a counterattack and the entire Minnesota team committed to the rush.  Kyle Rau fired a simple enough wrister towards Gothberg but it bounced off of Jordan Schmaltz’ skate and into the skates of Justin Holl.  Holl kicked the puck to his stick and proceeded to wrist a seeing eye puck past the attempted blocks of multiple Sioux players….Gothberg never had a chance.  The puck hit the far post and bounced in for Holl’s first goal of the year and my heart sank to my feet.  The play had to be reviewed but I already knew, the puck made it across the goal line in time. 

I don’t remember ever being as distraught over a sporting event, maybe the 2011 Frozen Four in St. Paul, but only because I was there and had to listen to Michigan fans celebrating.  I know this sounds dramatic but it was as if I was going through the stages of grief.  I didn’t want to talk about the game and didn’t for 2-3 days as my family and friends can attest to.  I live and work in downtown Minneapolis so the following day I walked with my head down and earphones in an attempt to avoid any mention of the debacle from the night before.  Of course, the first thing I hear when I get to work is a coworker at a nearby desk cranking the play-by-play of the last goal.  Then a Gopher “fan” was asking other people what team they play in the title game.  It was like I had to feel the loss all over again.  A coworker, who was cheering for the Gophers, stopped by to talk about the game.  He’s a nice guy and wasn’t rubbing it in but I don’t think he quite understands the depth of my passion for Sioux hockey.  Needless to say, he received a lot of one word answers and little eye contact so safe to say he now understands.

I believe what hurt most about this game is that the team deserved better than the result.  As upset as I was over the result, I haven’t put an ounce of sweat into the success of this team (unless you count running from the Delta Tau Delta frat house parking lot to make the game in time for the player announcements).  I wasn’t puking on the bench during the Saturday night Omaha game and on the subsequent bus ride home.  I didn’t sacrifice my body in front of 100+ shots like Dillon Simpson.  I didn’t give the blood, sweat, and tears that the players on this team did.  That’s why when it came down to it, I realized I was upset for the guys on the team who were more disappointed and crushed than any fan could imagine.  They outplayed Minnesota for a good portion of the game but one bounce of the puck and none of that mattered.  The way I likened it a few days after was a combination between the Michigan loss in 2011 and the New Hampshire loss in 2009.

The only thing that could lessen the blow was if Minnesota, the filthy, no-good Gophers, could lose to Union College in the title game.  The alternative was a tough world to live in for me.  Any crap talking between UND and Gophers would end with “thanks for the boost on the way to UMN’s 6th title in 2014″ and I’d pretend it didn’t sting, but it would.  All I can say is thank you Union College.  You’ve made me a fan by taking down the self-appointed “Mecca” of college hockey.  The fact that some Gopher fans are downplaying the title loss makes me believe that Minnesota sports have began to believe they aren’t ready for a championship trophy that doesn’t have the word “Lynx” on it. 

This is not taking anything away from Union, they played like a pit bull on raw meat.  Every rebound seemed to cause Dutchmen(by the way I believe I’m partly Dutch and am somewhat offended) to swarm to the puck.  They were the deserving team to raise that trophy as they seemed possessed to win the title from the drop of the puck to the final horn.

When you recap the year, it was a great one filled with unbelievable moments that this team has given me.  They’ve given me another year of living my hockey aspirations vicariously through the Sioux(read about my hockey “career” here).  A couple of weekends that stick out for me this year are:

-St. Lawrence series in November that allowed a mental break, albeit short, from losing someone very important to me and even more important to my loved one.  This week/weekend put a ton in perspective about where college hockey ranks in the grand scheme of things, trust me it’s WAY down the list. 

-The Bemidji State game in Bemidji for my botched “surprise” birthday that many of my friends/family attended with me followed by a great weekend at the lake cabin. 

-The Miami 9-2 route that had me so happy I was pounding on my future mother-in-law’s floor. 

-The trip to Duluth to watch the boys continue their dominance in Amsoil Arena and experience Grandma’s Bar with good friends and watch Luke Johnson come into his own. 

- Sitting(actually standing) in a suite at The Ralph Engelstad Arena with my parents and 8-10 of my best friends for the 1st round of the NCHC Playoffs. One of the best parts was the electric Schmaltz game-tying goal on Saturday, despite the disappointing result in overtime.

- NCHC Frozen Faceoff watching the 5-0 win over WMU and then watching the boys make the tournament in dramatic fashion when the Badgers knocked off the Buckeyes in overtime.

- Watching the NCAA Regionals at Izzy’s Bar and Grill and being one of the only 2 people cheering when UND scored and going nuts when Gaarder sent us to the Frozen Four.

I guess my thesis is that no matter how the season ends it’s always a great ride with a lot to be thankful for and as always…

LET’S GO SIOUX!

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Gameday Predictions- ‘Sioux Gophers’

I made a comment on twitter that I have read so much literature on the Frozen Four that I could coach any of the four teams this weekend.  While this may be a bit of a stretch, as I couldn’t coach my way out of a paper bag, the information overload has become exhausting.  It seems every 10 minutes College Hockey News is pinging my phone with a new angle on the Sioux Gopher rival, which ends up being a tweak or rework of a story I already read.  This has made the 11 day break between games drag on for what seems like an eternity.  I may not remember our players numbers by the time the puck is dropped tonight.  Also, I can’t claim complete innocence in all of this, as I had my own trip down memory lane in the Sioux Gopher rivalry but tried not to overdue it. 

University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux vs. University of Minnesota Gophers (Philadelphia, PA @ Wells Fargo Center)

wpid-552040_655249149021_145412828_n.jpgI wish I had some statistic like ‘Everytime Grimaldi plays the Gophers they curl up in the fetal position and cry’ that I could point to that would assure you (and myself) that North Dakota is going to stomp Minnesota tonight.  However, a lot of the stats and experts don’t favor our chances.  They think Minnesota is too fast, too talented, too unbeatable.  However, I seem to remember this same storyline not more than 13 days ago when we had to play the Wisconsin Badgers…how’d that turn out for us?

When breaking down the different facets of the game I don’t see as one-sided of a matchup as others do.  On offense, I’m not going to  argue we have better forwards, as the Gophers have produced more consistently than our guys up front.  However, I do see Grimaldi as a player that will make plays in big games and has scored some pretty awesome goals against the maroon and gold, including the first of his career.  That being said, I’ll give the edge to UMN. 

In goaltending every Minnesota fan, including the unrelenting homer Lou Nanne, hails Adam Wilcox as the next coming of Patrick Roy.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very athletic goaltender and makes some nice saves but I’m starting to believe our guy Zane Gothberg is just as good and has a higher ceiling when it comes to future development.  Also, there are only 2 goalies going into the Frozen Four with GAA of under 2, Wilcox is not one of them and Gothberg is.  I’m going to call goaltending a wash. 

On the defensive blue line the Sioux have more points than anyone in the nation.  Our freshman play like seniors and are scoring at a ridiculous pace.  Both goals against Ferris State started on the stick of Paul Ladue, who made sure each puck got to the net through the traffic.  Minnesota, on the other hand, is more stingy giving up only 2 goals a game.  This is almost a role reversal to the typical Sioux Gopher matchup where UND would have the in-your-face, knock you on your ass defenders.  I personally (understanding I may have a conflict of interest) like our defensive setup more than Minnesota’s, who also has a good group.  So that leaves me with Minnesota having the edge with forwards, even in goaltending, and UND having the defensive edge.  Maybe a trip to the title game isn’t so crazy now, is it?

UND 4-2 w/ENG

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Frozen Four Preview- ‘Bigger than the Rivalry’

Mark Alt proving Gophers can fly with a little assistance.

Mark Alt proving Gophers can fly with a little assistance.

The words Sioux vs. Gophers bring a tidal wave of emotions to fans of each side of the rivalry.  These emotions are tied to all of the unbelievable games, goals, and fights the teams have treated the fans to on both sides of the best rivalry in college hockey.  These stories have been re-hashed repeatedly on siouxsports.com, uscho.com, college hockey news, and my favorite trip down memory lane at Daddy Dump and Chase.  At the risk of repeating one or multiple of these sources, a few of the most recent great memories I personally have are:

March 25, 2007: UND dished out some revenge from a Final Five loss a week earlier in this amazing Chris Porter wraparound to finish the Gopher’s season.  This is the one moment that I unfortunately did not attend in-person but the video is a great representation of the emotional win.  From the bewildered look on the Rodent’s faces to the awesome pileup on the boards by the ridiculously talented Sioux roster, this was one for the ages.

January 9-10, 2009: 6-3 6-1 sweep at the REA. I flew back into Grand Forks from Colorado Springs where I was attending school to attend this series and remember being nervous about how UND would play.  Those nerves were quickly replaced with the joy of watching the sieve, Alex Kangas, get pulled both nights and seeing Ryan “Hobey” Duncan score 3 goals in the series.  The student section was so appreciative of the opponent’s net-minder they even chanted “Thank you Kangas” over, and over, and over again just in case he missed it.  The Gophers were never a threat in the series and it was a weekend-long party at The Ralph with Kangas serving as the jester.

March 12-14, 2010: A ton of anticipation going into this unusual meeting of the Sioux and Gophers in the 1st round of the WCHA Playoffs.  I went with a friend that I’ve been going to Sioux hockey games with since we were toddlers at the Old Ralph.  The Sioux did not disappoint us.  The seats we were in had that bleacher material underneath rather than concrete.  The reason I mention this is because when Kristo turned the puck over in the Gopher D-Zone(the net we were sitting behind) 90 seconds into the game and buried the goal, those bleachers shook with rambunctious Sioux fans that sensed a big win on the horizon.  North Dakota made it interesting after a loss on Saturday, but a night later, ended Minnesota’s season, and it doesn’t get much better than that.  Oh yeah, this happened too…

I was on the opposite end of the rink and could feel the boards shake.  It was a fitting exclamation point on the superiority UND held over their lowly rivals from Dinkytown that year.

March 16th, 2012: Not a lot needs to be said besides ‘The Timeout Game’.  The Xcel Energy Center was packed to the brim for the WCHA Final Five semi-final.  The Gophers had the edge in talent and clearly a much healthier team, as the Sioux skated with less than a full roster for much of the season.  The thing I remember most about this game was following the 2nd and 3rd Minnesota goals, a Gopher fan about 15 rows above us was taunting all of the Sioux fans rubbing their faces in a seemingly one-sided game.  Boy… he shut up real quick when the 3rd period unfolded.  It seemed like everything was going in for the green and white, even Mario scored twice!  We wanted it more than they did and that’s all that mattered in that game.

So it’s quite obvious that North Dakota and Minnesota have a lot of history with some unforgettable moments that are a product of a great rivalry.  However, what I’m about to state may shock you… on Thursday, I don’t care about any of it.  I don’t care about the Minnesota connections.  I don’t care who gets knocked on their backside in the scrums.  I don’t care who lays the biggest hit on the ugly maroon and gold sweaters.  All that matters come Thursday, is the final score.  Not many things in college hockey are bigger than this rivalry.  A national championship, however, is one of those things.  The winner of this game gets a shot at adding the next national championship trophy to their case and the next banner to their rafters.

In the last 10 years, the Sioux have deserved much better fates with some very talented teams, only to come up a game or two short of the ultimate goal.  So it would only be fitting for a team that doesn’t come into the Frozen Four with any of those accolades to get done what the aforementioned groups couldn’t.  This team has been and will be an underdog in every game of the tournament and perhaps, it will make them hold their sticks a little looser and skate a little harder.  This group of guys does not have the weight of astronomical expectations pressing down on them on every shift and hanging over their heads with every scoring chance.  I believe this will be the difference that could make it North Dakota’s year.

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Weekend Reactions- ‘Five Hole to the Frozen Four’

Gaarder scoring the goal that sends UND to the Frozen Four (Photo Credit to USCHO.com)

Gaarder scoring the goal that sends UND to the Frozen Four (Photo Credit to USCHO.com)

If jubilation was the word I used to describe last weekend, I can’t think of a suitable phrase for the moment Connor Gaarder stuffed a Paul Ladue rebound through CJ Motte’s five-hole sending the Sioux to the Frozen Four in Philadelphia.  Possibly pandemonium, ecstasy, and relief combined would best describe my feelings of North Dakota’s 2-1 double overtime win against the Ferris State Bulldogs.  As Gaarder so eloquently put it “…rebound came right to me and I kinda slid ‘er in there”.  As a walk-on for a team that holds 14 draft picks the odds were against Connor getting the game winner but odds and favorites are not something this team seems to care about and continues to defy.

“Nobody expects them to be here. Some people say they backed in, but I don’t care how they got here. Whether they backed in, flew over the top or came out from underneath they are a hard team to beat and they’re a hard team to play.”  That was UND’s radio broadcaster, Tim Hennessey, almost giddy while, at the same time, seeming to be at a loss for words after North Dakota’s win.  The superb play-by-play radio broadcaster wasn’t the only person besides themselves with joy after the epic double overtime battle between UND and Ferris State came to a dramatic conclusion.  However, the point he makes while attempting to encapsulate the game is a valid one.  This team finds ways to win games and prolong their season, which has inevitably lead them to the Frozen Four and two wins away from the pinnacle of the college hockey world.  That ability to endure shifts, periods, and games that might not necessarily be going their way will prove to be useful moving forward in the pursuit of an NCAA title.

Celebration after the 2OT Win (Photo credit to grandforksherald.com)

Celebration after the Double OT Win (Photo credit to grandforksherald.com)

In comparing this team to previous ones that have reached the Frozen Four under Hakstol’s tenure, they don’t seem to have a whole lot in common.  Each of those teams had multiple players that you knew would go on to have significant NHL careers and succeed at the next level.  This team seems to be slightly different, as it does not have a DOT line(Duncan, Oshie, Toews), a Pony Express, or a 36 goal scorer in Matt Frattin.  What they may lack in the form of a Hobey candidate, they make up for in guts.  Twice last weekend, they faced a situation that lesser teams would’ve broken under.  The Wisconsin tying goal with halfway through the 3rd period of Friday night’s game might seem like it wasn’t the Sioux’s year but they persevered.  Also, the 3rd period onslaught from Ferris State attempting to get the go-ahead goal gave me flashbacks to the 2013 regional final in which Yale took a Frozen Four berth out of UND’s grip.  This team relinquished no such lead and I think you can look to the man between the pipes for a huge reason for this.

No matter how crazy the scramble in front of the net, Gothberg seemed poised and ready for any puck that was going to be thrown at him.  I feel as I cannot throw enough praise our goaltender’s way without giving the impression that he is the second coming of Ed Belfour.  If the Sioux are going to bring that 8th national championship back to Ralph Engelstad Arena, make no mistake, it will be on the back of #31.  If you want a positive stat to point to for UND’s chances in the Frozen Four, Zane hasn’t lost an NCAA tournament game in his career and is coming off a career-high 44 saves.

Despite letting in a softer wrist shot from inside the blue line to give Ferris State the 1-0 lead in the 2nd period, I had a feeling that Zane was going to shut it down from there on out as he often does.  That goal was followed 3 minutes later by a critical tip-in goal by Stephane Pattyn from a Paul Ladue slap shot to break the seal CJ Motte seemed to hold on the net.  The 3rd period and much of the overtime showed Ferris State bringing everything to Zane Gothberg’s doorstep and continually coming up empty. 

Per a Rocco Grimaldi interview, between the 1st and 2nd overtime UND teammates told Connor Gaarder to go be a hero and he must’ve taken it to heart.  It was apparent from the drop of the puck in the second overtime that the Sioux were back on their toes and it paid off quickly with a Paul Ladue slap shot that bounced off the pads of Motte to Gaarder.  Connor held the puck just long enough to open the goaltender’s leg and slid the puck into the back of the net, sending North Dakota to its 20th Frozen Four in program history.  And now, onto Philadelphia….

330und2

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NCAA Regional Pregame ‘2+2=#8′

 

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If you’re a college hockey fan like me, this is equivalent to Christmas Eve as a young kid.   The only difference is that Santa is either going to bring you that Red Rider BB gun you always wanted or absolutely nothing, and all you can do is hope it works out for the best.  Sioux fans across the country will be tuning into ESPNU at 7:00 PM CT to watch former WCHA rivals the UND Fighting Sioux take on the Wisconsin Badgers.  These fans will be hoping North Dakota can deliver a brand-new, shiny win down the chimney on this faux college hockey Christmas Eve.

In order to complete the task at hand, the green and white will need to get a complete effort from all lines.  Some games that come to mind that the Sioux should look to replicate are the 4-2 win @ Denver, the 9-2 win vs. Miami, the sweep @ Duluth, the 5-2 win @ SCSU, and the 5-0 win against Western Michigan last Saturday.  As you can see, there are plenty of positive second-half experiences for the team to draw upon going in to the matchup against a tough Badgers team.  If UND can play at the level of any of the aforementioned games, I believe they have a great shot to advance to the regional final.  However, they can’t have anything short of this type of effort as the Badgers seem to be geared up for a deep playoff run. 

Now the popular pick at face value would be that Wisconsin is going to win this game as they just came off winning the Big 10 Title.  However, when you look at the path Wisconsin took to get there, the win loses a bit of luster.  Wisconsin only had to beat Penn State and Ohio State to claim the title as it seemed Michigan wasn’t interested in extending their season against Penn State, and Minnesota just looked plain uninterested all together in their loss to Ohio State.  On top of that Wisconsin had to come from behind for a 1 goal victory against a team that had 8 total wins on the year in the Nittany Lions.  Then in the championship, to the delight of Sioux fans young and old, they had to come from behind for 2 goals in the final 6 minutes to force overtime against a middling Ohio State Sticker Squad jolting UND’s season back to life.   Speaking of 2 goal leads:

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcYokVS0QX8

Now, while this does show that Wisconsin can come back to win games against average and less than average teams it does show they are prone to getting down in games lately.  I’m not putting any possibilities out of the window(I saw the UNH NCAA game in 2009) but I would be absolutely ecstatic if North Dakota took a 2 goal lead with 6 minutes remaining.  If you can’t finish a game off with that lead, you probably don’t deserve to get a shot at the national championship.  

I go into every single postseason with extremely high expectations for my squad and often come away disappointed(See: 2001-2013), but I keep coming back for more every single time.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think UND could do it this year, because North Dakota has all of the potential in the world to rattle off 4 straight wins.  It will just be a matter of getting everyone to chip in and most importantly, get the outstanding goaltending that previous teams have lacked in crucial situations.  I believe Gothberg is the guy to do it and I’d be surprised if he leaves UND without a national championship under his belt.

Here’s to hoping I have a Frozen Four preview for you all in a couple of weeks…

Sioux 4 Wisconsin 3(Overtime)    Sioux 3 Colgate 1

Just in case you’re curious, here is my completely unbiased, neutral bracket:

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