Holy Cross. Those two words evoke emotion, memories, laughter, and knowing glances. In my 30 years of watching UND hockey, there are a handful of “remember when” games; as in, “I will always remember where I was when….”

Holy Cross versus Minnesota (and subsequently, versus UND) during the 2006 West Regional held at Ralph Engelstad Arena fits the bill as one of those games (or, rather, one of those weekends) I will always remember. In the first NCAA regional hosted in Grand Forks under the current format, fans were pleased (and perhaps a little concerned) that Minnesota was placed in the same regional as the host, North Dakota. Also making an appearance would be the storied Michigan hockey team, and rounding out the bill would be… Holy Cross? A team UND had faced only once before? From Atlantic Hockey? Did they belong? Could they compete?

Holy Cross versus Minnesota wasn’t just a #1 vs. #4 matchup. Across all brackets, this was #2 vs. #15. Minnesota came in boasting a 27-8-5 record against the best competition in the country, while Holy Cross had collected 26 victories against the rest of Atlantic Hockey. The Crusaders knocked off American International, Connecticut, and Bentley (ever heard of them?) to earn an NCAA berth, while Minnesota had spent the previous weekend battling in the WCHA Final Five. It was clearly a Cinderella story, and the boys in purple blew the lid off Ralph Engelstad Arena with their performance.

But this current version of Holy Cross cannot be characterized as a young upstart any more. Head coach Paul Pearl has been behind the bench for the past 18 seasons, and his team is deep, experienced, and talented. The Crusaders’ top six forwards are upperclassmen, and they’re scoring in bunches. Holy Cross has scored four or more goals in a game seven times (out of sixteen contests) this season.

Pearl has his team playing smart hockey as well: Holy Cross averages just 8.4 penalty minutes per game, the fewest in the NCAA. The Crusaders are undefeated (5-0-0) when leading after two periods of play.

North Dakota’s number one forward line (Corban Knight centering Danny Kristo and Mark MacMillan) combined for 15 points in its last weekend of action at Michigan Tech, and Knight is riding a thirteen game point streak. It’s unclear whether UND head coach Dave Hakstol will shuffle the lines to pair Mark MacMillan with his older brother Mitch, who is finally eligible to suit up for the Green and White after transferring from St. Cloud State. The two had more than a little success the last time they played together, notching 87 goals and adding 86 assists in 59 games when both played for the Alberni Valley Bulldogs (BCHL).

UND will be without the services of freshman forward Rocco Grimaldi (7-9-16), who is representing Team USA at the IIHF World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia this weekend. That loss is offset by the arrival of the aforementioned Mitch MacMillan (transfer) as well as the return of sophomore forward Michael Parks (injury). Last season, Parks scored twelve goals and added ten assists while providing strength in the corners and an ability to get the puck to the net from anywhere on the ice.

Holy Cross Team Profile

Head Coach: Paul Pearl (18th season at Holy Cross, 273-261-65, .510)
Pairwise Ranking: 19th
National Ranking: #20
This Season: 10-4-2 overall, 6-3-2 Atlantic Hockey (t-2nd)
Last Season: 20-15-4 overall, 15-8-4 Atlantic Hockey (t-3rd)

Team Offense: 3.50 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.06 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.8% (15 of 80)
Penalty Kill: 79.0% (49 of 62)

Key Players: Senior F Kyle Fletcher (7-9-16), Junior F Adam Schmidt (9-5-14), Senior F Brandon Nunn (7-5-12 in 8 games), Senior D Evan Zych (0-12-12), Sophomore D Nilan Nagy (1-5-6), Sophomore G Matt Ginn (9-3-2, 2.90 GAA, .909 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (9th season at UND, 223-111-33, .653)
Pairwise Ranking: 8th
National Ranking: #7
This Season: 10-5-3 overall, 7-2-3 WCHA (t-2nd)
Last Season: 26-13-3 overall (NCAA West Regional Finalist), 16-11-1 WCHA (4th)

Team Offense: 3.33 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.44 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 16.0% (12 of 75)
Penalty Kill: 85.3% (58 of 68)

Key Players: Senior F Danny Kristo (8-13-21), Sophomore F Mark MacMillan (7-8-15), Senior F Corban Knight (8-15-23), Senior F Carter Rowney (5-6-11), Junior D Derek Forbort (4-6-10), Sophomore D Nick Mattson (1-7-8), Junior G Clarke Saunders (8-3-3, 2.19 GAA, .925 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: March 25, 2006 (Grand Forks, ND). In Dave Hakstol’s second year as head coach, UND advanced to its second consecutive Frozen Four with a 5-2 NCAA West Regional victory over the Holy Cross Crusaders. One night earlier, the Green and White handled Michigan 5-1 while the Crusaders toppled Minnesota in overtime. North Dakota forward Jonathan Toews notched a goal and two assists against Holy Cross and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

Most Important Meeting: Both meetings between the teams have been important. In addition to the regional final at the Ralph in 2006, the teams also met in the NCAA regionals in 2004 (Colorado Springs, CO). This time, it was Dean Blais (in his final season) coaching North Dakota, and UND scored once in each period to dispatch the Crusaders 3-0. Zach Parise and Brandon Bochenski lead the charge for the Green and White, who would fall to Denver 1-0 one night later, one game short of the Frozen Four.

All-time Series: The teams have only met twice, with North Dakota winning both games by a combined score of 8-2. And how’s that for curious? Holy Cross has made the NCAA tournament twice in program history, and both times came up against UND.

Game News and Notes

Despite coaching only nine seasons to Paul Pearl’s eighteen behind the Holy Cross bench, North Dakota’s Dave Hakstol is only 50 victories behind Pearl in the win column. Holy Cross sophomore netminder Matt Ginn has started all but two of the Crusaders’ games this season. During UND forward Corban Knight’s current thirteen game point streak, the senior has potted six goals and notched fifteen assists. Linemate Danny Kristo is tied for the active scoring lead among all men’s Division 1 hockey players with 130 points, with Knight close behind with 120.

The Prediction

UND should win both games this weekend, but it won’t be easy. Saturday’s rematch will be particularly difficult, as half of the North Dakota fans will be wearing (or at least thinking) purple in honor of the Minnesota Vikings playoff rematch with the Green Bay Packers. Both sides might get confused at the (seemingly) random cheering, as most in attendance will be just as excited about touchdowns as lamp-lighters. In any event, North Dakota carries the day, with Saturday’s contest going down to the wire. UND 4-2, 4-3.