The first game of the 2012 NCAA West Regionals features a team that has made a strong second-half run, winning its conference playoffs with the tournament MVP in goal.

And the other team is North Dakota.

UND fans may not know much about the Western Michigan Broncos, as the teams haven’t played in 14 years and have faced off only four times in college hockey history. But the Broncos, led by first-year head coach Andy Murray (Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues) has his team on a run similar to the Fighting Sioux.

Since the calendar turned to 2012, WMU has gone 11-8-1, but more impressively, they’re unbeaten in their last six games and boast playoff wins over Miami and Michigan en route to the CCHA playoff championship.

For UND, it’s just another second half surge. Dave Hakstol’s club is 15-4-1 in 2012 and has won seven games in a row, including wins over Minnesota and Denver at the WCHA Final Five. Of North Dakota’s four second half losses, only one came at the hands of a team that did not make the NCAA tournament (St. Cloud State).

The difference in this one could come down to experience between the pipes. Western Michigan’s Frank Slubowski is good, but he’s a freshman and hadn’t been playoff tested until last weekend.

North Dakota’s Aaron Dell, a junior, has never lost a game in March, boasting a record of 12-0-0 with a goals-against average of 1.21 and a save percentage of .950.

Western Michigan Team Profile

Head Coach: (Andy Murray, 1st season at WMU, 21-13-6 .600)
Pairwise Ranking: 14th
National Rankings: #12/#12
This Season: 21-13-6 overall, 14-10-4-4 CCHA (t-2nd)
Last Season: 19-13-10 overall (NCAA Midwest Regional semifinalist), 10-9-9-5 CCHA (4th)

Team Offense: 2.83 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.23 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.8% (36 of 173)
Penalty Kill: 84.9% (135 of 159)

Key Players: Sophomore F Chase Balisy (13-24-37), Sophomore F Shane Berschbach (10-22-32), Junior F Dane Walters (16-13-29), Junior D Matt Tennyson (11-13-24), Sophomore D Danny DeKeyser (5-11-16), Freshman G Frank Slubowski (17-10-4, 2.03 GAA, .910 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (8th season at UND, 212-105-30, .654)
Pairwise Ranking: 4th
National Rankings: #4/#4
This Season: 25-12-3 overall, 16-11-1 WCHA (4th)
Last Season: 32-9-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four semifinalist), 21-6-1 WCHA (1st)

Team Offense: 3.25 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.55 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 22.6% (40 of 177)
Penalty Kill: 80.9% (131 of 162)

Key Players: Junior F Danny Kristo (18-25-43) Junior F Corban Knight (15-24-39), Sophomore F Brock Nelson (27-17-44), Freshman D Nick Mattson (6-13-19), Senior D Ben Blood (3-17-20), Junior G Aaron Dell (17-9-2, 2.64 GAA, .901 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 3, 1998 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota steamrolled the visiting Broncos 5-1 after taking Friday’s opener by the score of 12-5. UND had traveled to Kalamazoo, Michigan the previous season and swept WMU by scores of 6-3 and 5-3.

Most Important Meeting: The two teams have never met in the playoffs, so I will go with Saturday’s regional semifinal as the most important meeting between the two teams.

All-time Series: UND has won all four meetings between the schools. The teams last met during the 1997-98 season.

Game News and Notes

UND head coach Dave Hakstol has a 10-2 record in NCAA regionals and has 41 total playoff wins in his career at North Dakota. WMU head coach Andy Murray is in his first season behind the Bronco bench; Murray’s son, Brady, played for the Fighting Sioux from 2003-05. Both team’s goaltenders (Frank Slubowski, WMU, and Aaron Dell, UND) were named the MVP of their respective conference tournaments last weekend.

The Prediction

This game will be tighter than many fans are suggesting. If the Broncos come out of the gates flying, expect Minnesota fans in attendance to adopt WMU as their own. North Dakota will survive this one, but it won’t be easy. UND 3, WMU 2.

Bonus Prediction:

In the late game on Saturday, Minnesota and Boston University will lock horns for the right to advance to the West Regional final. The Golden Gophers will falter early but find their legs late. I see this one going to overtime, with the Maroon and Gold edging the Terriers. MN 4, BU 3 (OT).