The top two hockey programs in NCAA history will square off today with a chance to advance to the 2011 national title game. The Michigan Wolverines are seeking their 10th NCAA championship, while North Dakota is looking to hoist banner number eight.
It is worth noting that Michigan collected six national championships by 1956. In the past 55 years, the Wolverines have three. During that same span (1957-2010), the Fighting Sioux have won seven national titles.
The Fighting Sioux enter the tournament on a 15-game unbeaten streak (14-0-1), and boast a win total (32) good for third place all-time among North Dakota hockey teams (the 1986-87 championship team collected 40 victories, while the 1981-82 championship team notched 35).
Much has been made of North Dakota’s familiarity with Xcel Energy Center, and that part is true: UND has won its last five games in St. Paul, including a recent WCHA Final Five tournament title. But it’s also important to remember that while the Fighting Sioux are 17-4-2 (.783) on the road this season, the Wolverines are a far more pedestrian 12-8-3 (.587).
Michigan rode a pair of one-goal victories over Nebraska-Omaha and Colorado College to advance to the Frozen Four, while North Dakota steamrolled Rensselaer and Denver by a combined score of 12-1.
UND’s Dave Hakstol has led North Dakota for seven seasons, capturing two WCHA regular season titles, three WCHA Final Five championships, and five Frozen Four appearances. Michigan’s Red Berenson won titles with the Wolverines in 1996 and 1998, and has his team in the Frozen Four for the second time since 2003.
The Maize and Blue have played in the NCAA tournament in each of the past 21 seasons. Incidentally, the next longest active streak belongs to New Hampshire (11). Before this current stretch, Michigan had appeared in the national tournament once between 1964 and 1991.
The winner of this game will advance to the 2011 Frozen Four championship game and face either Notre Dame or Minnesota-Duluth in the finals. The Fighting Irish and Bulldogs are each looking for their first national title.
Michigan Team Profile
Head Coach: Red Berenson (27th season at Michigan, 727-338-73, .671)
This Season: 28-10-4 overall, 20-7-1-0 CCHA (1st)
Last Season: 26-18-1 overall (NCAA Midwest Regional finalist), 14-13-1 CCHA (7th)
Pairwise Ranking: t-5th
National Rankings: #6/#2
Team Offense: 3.38 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.26 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 18.2% (33 of 181)
Penalty Kill: 83.1% (157 of 189)
Key Players: Senior F Carl Hagelin (18-30-48), Senior F Louie Caporusso (11-19-30), Senior F Matt Rust (5-20-25), Senior D Scooter Vaughan (13-10-23), Freshman D Jon Merrill (7-17-24), Senior G Shawn Hunwick (21-8-4, 2.26 GAA, .922 SV%, 3 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (7th season at UND, 187-92-27, .655)
This Season: 32-8-3 overall, 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: 4.14 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.14 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 23.3% (52 of 223)
Penalty Kill: 86.0% (172 of 200)
Key Players: Senior F Matt Frattin (36-24-60), Junior F Jason Gregoire (25-18-43), Sophomore F Corban Knight (14-30-44), Senior F Evan Trupp (17-24-41), Senior F/D Jake Marto (8-11-19), Freshman D Derek Forbort (0-15-15), Sophomore G Aaron Dell (30-6-2, 1.81 GAA, .924 SV%, 6 SO)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: March 24, 2007 (Denver, CO). In the semifinals of the NCAA West Regional, North Dakota scored five power play goals to defeat the Wolverines. The Maize and Blue scored two opening minute goals in the first period and matched that feat with two early markers in the middle frame, but the Fighting Sioux fought back to advance to the regional final.
Last Ten Games: North Dakota holds a record of 6-3-1 (.650) in the last ten meetings between the schools, and the Fighting Sioux are unbeaten in the series since 1998.
All-time Series: Michigan leads the series 45-40-4 (.528), but North Dakota has won two of the three NCAA tournament games between the schools.
Game News and Notes
Michigan last defeated North Dakota in March of 1998, handing that Fighting Sioux team just its eighth loss of the season. UND has outscored opponents 78-20 during its current 15-game unbeaten streak. The Fighting Sioux are 24-3-2 (.862) since Thanksgiving; Michigan, 20-7-1 (.732). Today’s semifinal game will be covered on ESPN2, with live coverage of the Frozen Four viewing party at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
UND has small edges in almost every area on the ice: specialty teams, goaltending, depth, experience, and top-end talent. Michigan needs to score first to keep the crowd out of the game. I think this one will be tied going into the third period, with North Dakota’s depth shining through. UND 4-2.
Bonus Frozen Four Prediction:
In the first semifinal, Minnesota Duluth will ride the goaltending of Kenny Reiter and the FCC line (Fontaine, Connolly, and Connolly) to their first national title game since 1984. UMD 3-1.
National Championship Prediction:
I have a sneaking suspicion that the all-WCHA final will go into overtime and perhaps even longer, with North Dakota topping the Bulldogs in a championship game for the ages. UND 5-4 (OT).
Thank you for reading. As always, I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.