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:
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: