NCAA Tournament Preview: UND vs. Rensselaer

RPI head coach Seth Appert left the coaching staff at Denver University following the 2005-06 season, and in his first three years behind the bench for the Engineers, he collected 31 victories (31-68-14).

With a victory today, North Dakota would collect its 31st victory of the 2010-11 season.

To be fair, Appert has turned things around at Rensselaer. Last season, RPI finished above .500 (18-17-4), and this year, the Engineers are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995. Rensselaer won the ECAC playoff title that season, and has not collected any hardware since then, a span of 15 years.

Since 1995, North Dakota has won six WCHA regular season titles, four WCHA playoff championships, and two national titles among 13 NCAA tournament appearances and seven trips the Frozen Four.

RPI senior forward Chase Polacek is the two-time ECAC player of the year and a Hobey Baker finalist this season. 11 of his 21 goals have come with the man advantage, and he has nine game winners to his credit.

North Dakota boasts a Hobey finalist of their own in senior forward Matt Frattin, who netted both game winners last weekend at the WCHA Final Five. Frattin’s 35 goals lead the nation, and he is almost certain to find his name in the Hobey Hat Trick later this month.

Rensselaer hasn’t played since March 6th, when they were bounced by Colgate in double overtime in the first round of the ECAC playoffs. RPI has won only twice in the last nine games (2-6-1), with three of those losses coming in overtime. To be be fair, goaltender Allen York was sick or injured for the majority of that stretch.

UND is unbeaten in their last 13 games (12-0-1), outscoring opponents 66-19 in that span. It is worth noting that two of those victories came against Colorado College by scores of 6-0 and 4-3.

In one-goal games this season, North Dakota is 8-3-0, while RPI is a pedestrian 8-8-0. Away from home, the Engineers are 7-6-3, while the Fighting Sioux boast a 12-4-2 mark on the road.

Sioux junior forward Jason Gregoire (undisclosed injury) has been practicing with the team and is expected to be in the lineup this afternoon.

North Dakota should be able to roll four lines and play whichever style the Engineers bring to the ice today. Goaltending is the great equalizer in playoff hockey, however, and RPI’s Allen York is capable of keeping his team in any contest.

Rensselaer Team Profile

Head Coach: (Seth Appert, 5th season at RPI, 69-97-23, .426)
This Season: 20-12-5 overall, 11-9-2 ECAC (t-4th)
Last Season: 18-17-4 overall, 10-9-3 ECAC (t-5th)
Pairwise Ranking: t-13th
National Rankings: #16/#15
Team Offense: 2.97 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.27 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.3% (36 of 197)
Penalty Kill: 84.8% (162 of 191)
Key Players: Senior F Chase Polacek (21-27-48), Senior F Tyler Helfrich (14-24-38), Freshman F Brock Higgs (9-12-21), Sophomore D Nick Bailen (8-28-36), Junior D Mike Bergin (2-16-18), Junior G Allen York (18-10-4, 2.05 GAA, .927 SV%, 2 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (7th season at UND, 185-92-27, .653)
This Season: 30-8-3, 21-6-1 WCHA (1st)
Last Season: 25-13-5 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional semifinalist), 15-10-3 WCHA (t-4th)
Pairwise Ranking: 2nd
National Rankings: #1/#1
Team Offense: 4.05 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.22 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 23.0% (48 of 209)
Penalty Kill: 85.1% (160 of 188)
Key Players: Senior F Matt Frattin (35-22-57), Junior F Jason Gregoire (24-17-41), Sophomore F Corban Knight (13-29-42), Senior F Evan Trupp (16-21-37), Senior F/D Jake Marto (7-11-18), Freshman D Derek Forbort (0-15-15), Sophomore G Aaron Dell (28-6-2, 1.88 GAA, .921 SV%, 5 SO)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: January 13, 1990 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota completed the sweep of the visiting Engineers with a 5-3 victory after downing RPI 2-1 a night earlier. Current Sioux coaches Dave Hakstol and Dane Jackson were players on that UND team, while Cary Eades was an assistant on the coaching staff.

Most important meetings: March 16 and 17, 1984 (Troy, NY). The only previous NCAA tournament games between the schools came in March of 1984, when the Fighting Sioux swept the quarterfinal series, 5-4 and 4-2.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 7-1-0 (.875). Rensselaer’s only victory over North Dakota came on November 24, 1984, when RPI crushed the homestanding Sioux 8-2 in Grand Forks.

Game News and Notes

Before today’s matchup in the Midwest regional (Green Bay, WI), the Sioux and Engineers had only played in two locations: Troy, New York (1960, 1981, and 1984) and Grand Forks, ND (1984 and 1990). North Dakota is 17-3-1 (.833) since Christmas and enters the NCAA tournament on a season-long 13-game unbeaten streak (12-0-1).

The Prediction

Everything points to North Dakota in this one. UND has the experience, talent, depth, and tenacity to shut down the Engineers. The only question is how the games will be officiated, as the Fighting Sioux prefer to play fast and physical. If North Dakota gives Rensselaer five or more power plays, it could be a close one. UND 4-2.

Thank you for reading. As always, I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions.

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