Here we find ourselves for the lucky 13th straight year. A shot to attain the final goal that is the measuring stick of the Sioux program. That measuring stick is a national championship and nothing less. The sixteenth conference championship was a nice feather in the cap but it is merely a footnote to the footnote that is the NCAA championship, of which North Dakota holds seven of. This time of year will put fans, including yours truly, on the edge of their seats. It makes every fan become critical of the most minute details, breaking down every faceoff, puck battle, and pass. It’s because each missed connection, whiffed shot, or bobbled puck could be the small difference between glory or a debilitating letdown that leaves each of us waiting for October and the start of a new journey. The University of North Dakota had a disappointing conference tournament, no doubt, however tomorrow is a new day and a new tournament. To be honest, in UND fans’ eyes it is the only tournament that truly matters.
UND vs. Quinnipiac(Fargo, ND @ Scheels Arena)
The last time these two teams played a guy named Johnny Toews(you may have heard of him) scored 3 goals and assisted on a 4th. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but Mr. Toews will not be walking out of the UND locker room at 7:30pm tomorrow night. This Sioux team will not be depending on the skills of an all-world center, an Olympic shootout savant, or a Hobey Baker award winning goal scorer. This particular team will depend on all 4 lines scoring goals, the defense keeping players in front of them, and the forwards playing a strong 2 way game. The backbone of all of this is the goalie Zane McIntyre who has proven his worth time and time again over his 3 year career at UND.
Quinnipiac comes in to this game alleging that their top scorer will not play, to skating him with a no contact jersey, to not commenting on him in the press conference. This stinks highly of QU coach Pecknold playing possum as if to catch UND off guard. I wish someone would tell coach P that one player does not a team make. Coach Hakstol couldn’t care less if they found eligibility for Sidney Crosby through a loophole. UND is sound defensively with their schemes and one player sure as hell isn’t going to change anything. Perhaps Pecknold did this to annoy fans like me, well it’s working. I already don’t like the guy but apparently I’m not the first.
Onto the hockey side, QU brings in 13 players with double digit point production. They are lead by formerly mentioned, Sam Anas(if you don’t laugh you’re a better person than I), with 39 points. Matthew Peca is 2nd in scoring with 36 points. Peca was the Bobcat who received all of the recognition in QU’s 2013 run to the NCAA title game. That trip ended in a loss to the national champion Yale Bulldogs. Yale also ousted UND that year in the regional finals.
North Dakota enters the game touting 16 players in double digit scoring led by Junior centerman Drake Caggiula, followed closely by Senior Michael Parks. These two need to wake up out of their funk and start producing for the Sioux to have a shot at a title run. Despite leading the team in scoring, Parks and Caggiula have only combined for 1 assist in the last 4 games. They will most likely be paired together on the 1st line and North Dakota would benefit greatly from them producing like 1st line players.
The Poganski, O’Donnell, and Gaarder line have continued to tear up the score sheet despite the team’s recent letdowns in Minneapolis. They will need to continue their tear as well to assist in producing goals for the green and white to keep opponents off balance.
Both teams sport decent records coming in, UND with 27 wins and the Bobcats with 23. However, QU has the worst SOS of any team in the tournament according to KRACH. They have the 32nd easiest schedule while UND sits at 8th. Quinnipiac has not played a team as good as North Dakota all year and I believe it will show.
In the regional finals I predict UND will have a rematch with SCSU and come away victorious to punch their ticket to the 7th Frozen Four in the last 11 years.
As for the rest of the field, my picks are as follows:
NE Regional: BU over UMN
MW Regional: Mankato over Harvard
East Regional: Miami over Denver
National Championship Game: North Dakota over Miami
Just as I said last year, here’s to hoping I have a Frozen Four prediction column with UND in it next week.
LET’S GO SIOUX!