In tonight’s 2021 NCAA Midwest Region final (Fargo, ND), top overall seed North Dakota (22-5-1) will square off against #3 seed Minnesota Duluth (14-10-2), which advanced over Michigan in a “no contest” due to a positive COVID-19 test in the Wolverines’ hockey program.
Earlier this week, Notre Dame withdrew from the NCAAs, advancing Boston College to its regional final.
Duluth has won the past two national titles (2018, 2019) and three in the past ten seasons. UMD claimed the 2011 championship with an overtime victory over those same Michigan Wolverines.
One of these two longtime rivals will advance to the 2021 NCAA Frozen Four in Pittsburgh, PA. This means that the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) will be represented on college hockey’s biggest stage for the seventh consecutive tourney (every season that the league has existed).
Here are the NCHC teams to appear in the Frozen Four since the NCHC began play in 2013-2014:
2014: North Dakota
2015: North Dakota, Omaha
2016: North Dakota (champion), Denver
2017: Denver (champion), Minnesota Duluth
2018: Minnesota Duluth (champion)
2019: Minnesota Duluth (champion), Denver
Omaha and St. Cloud State also have a chance to make it through to Pittsburgh; the Mavericks will face the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the first round of the West Regional (Loveland, CO) later tonight, while the SCSU Huskies and Boston University Terriers will square off in the opening game of the Northeast Regional (Albany, NY).
Another possibility is that four teams from Minnesota advance to the Frozen Four; all five current Division 1 men’s programs from the state of hockey are among the eleven teams still alive for the national title:
Northeast Regional semifinal:
St. Cloud State vs. Boston University (winner plays BC)
West Regional semifinals:
Minnesota vs. Omaha
Minnesota State vs. Quinnipiac
East Regional final:
Bemidji State vs. UMass
Midwest Regional final:
Minnesota Duluth vs. North Dakota
Minnesota will add a sixth team to that mix next season: St. John’s University (Collegeville, MN, about 20 miles west of St. Cloud) has competed at the Division III level (Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) since 1920. There is no Division II in the men’s college hockey landscape.
It has not been a great week for the Big Ten, and I’m not even talking about basketball. Notre Dame and Michigan had to exit the tournament due to COVID-19, and #1-seed Wisconsin dropped its first game of the tournament to Bemidji State (WCHA) by a final score of 6-3. Minnesota is the only team remaining in the NCAA tournament from the conference that ruined college hockey as we knew it.
With a 5-1 victory over Lake Superior State, UMass now owns the best winning percentage in Division I men’s college hockey tournament history at .714. That stat is a bit misleading, though, as the Minutemen have only played seven NCAA tourney games and have gone 5-2.
Incidentally, Duluth defeated UMass 3-0 for the 2018 NCAA title.
Among teams with more than three appearances in the NCAAs, Minnesota Duluth holds the best winning percentage (27-12, .692), with North Dakota right behind at .671 (53-26). Amazingly, the team that had to vacate the tournament – Michigan – is in third place at .639 (53-30).
The only team with more NCAA tournament victories than UND is Minnesota (55-38, .591).
The Bulldogs played ten games at the Division I level in the early 1930s but didn’t really get started until after World War II. Its first 19 seasons after the war were played as an independent before joining the WCHA in 1965. It would take 18 seasons – and a head coach named Mike Sertich – before UMD would make the NCAA tournament, and Sertich would take them there in three consecutive seasons:
1982-1983: National Quarterfinalist
1983-1984: 2nd Place (National Runner-Up)
1984-1985: 3rd Place (Consolation Champion)
In 1984, Duluth was tantalizingly close to winning its first title. The Bulldogs defeated North Dakota 2-1 in overtime (behind a goal by Bill Watson) to advance to the championship game, where they would face Bowling Green in the longest NCAA final in Division I men’s hockey history. Gino Cavallini scored for the Falcons in the fourth overtime session, ending a game that took over 97 minutes of game action to complete.
And, perhaps, fittingly, UMD would find themselves locked in overtime contests in 1985 as well. The Bulldogs took RPI to three overtimes in the national semis before falling 6-5. Back in those days, there was still a third-place game, and so Duluth faced Boston College (which had also played three overtimes in its semifinal) for no reason at all. Of course, that game also went to overtime, with UMD defeating the Eagles 7-6.
After that three-year splash on the national scene, Mike Sertich would manage just one more tournament appearance (1993) over the final fifteen years of his head coaching career before giving way to Scott Sandelin, who has guided the Bulldogs to the NCAAs ten times in his 21 seasons behind the Bulldog bench.
Even though UMD has been a more frequent participant over the past two decades than at any other point in team history, Duluth and North Dakota have not met in the national tournament since 1984. UND had a chance to meet the Bulldogs in the 2011 title game but fell to the Wolverines in the semifinals 2-0 (with an empty-net goal) despite outshooting Michigan 40-20.
Before the Wolverines were forced to withdraw, UMD and Michigan were set to square off in the national tournament for the first time since that overtime thriller in St. Paul.
With three national titles in a nine-year stretch, the Bulldogs could certainly be considered the best team of the 2010s; North Dakota’s eight national titles have been spread out across the decades: 1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000, and 2016.
The Wolverines have won nine NCAA titles but only two since 1964, those coming in 1996 and 1998. For that reason, I consider North Dakota (eight titles) and Denver (eight titles) the two best programs in NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey history.
With Michigan out of the tournament and Denver not in it to begin with, North Dakota has a chance to become the best college hockey program of all time with three more victories in the NCAAs.
Of the teams remaining in the tournament, Boston College (5 titles), Boston University (5), and Minnesota (5) can add to their impressive resumes. The other six teams in the field – Bemidji State, Massachusetts, Minnesota State, Omaha, Quinnipiac, and St. Cloud State – are all seeking their first national championship.
It is an interesting question whether UND benefits from getting a tournament game under its belt or whether Minnesota Duluth benefits from the rest. Given the fact that the Fighting Hawks were able to stay healthy and roll four lines, one could make the argument either way.
For me, it’s about more than just yesterday. Let’s take a closer look at the last seven weeks of the season….
Both teams played a full weekend of hockey back on February 12th and 13th. UND completed a home sweep of Denver that weekend (3-0, 5-2). The Bulldogs traveled to Kalamazoo, Michigan to take on WMU and lost both games (0-4, 1-4).
Since then, North Dakota has played eight games, going 7-1-0. Duluth has only played five games over that stretch, going 2-3-0.
The Fighting Hawks’ only loss in its last ten games was a 3-2 overtime defeat at the hands of the Omaha Mavericks.
One of UND’s “extra” games was due to some shuffling at the end of the regular season. Another was the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game against St. Cloud State, who had defeated Minnesota Duluth in the league playoff semifinals (there was no consolation game). And the third was last night’s 5-1 victory over American International.
Playing yesterday was also an advantage for the Fighting Hawks because no one on the current roster had ever appeared in an NCAA tournament game. The team must feel more comfortable heading into a rivalry game against a conference opponent with the “first one” out of the way.
Prior to the 2017-2018 campaign, North Dakota had made the national tournament in fifteen straight seasons (2003-2017).
After sputtering to records of 17-13-10 (.550) and 18-17-2 (.514) and missing the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons, UND head coach Brad Berry got his team on the right track last year, winning the program’s third Penrose Cup as NCHC champions and collecting an overall record of 26-5-4 (.800).
As another sign that Berry has righted the ship, UND is now 48-10-5 (.802) over the past two seasons.
North Dakota brought the top scoring offense in the country (3.96 goals scored/game) into yesterday’s contest and bettered that mark in the first period, potting four goals in under eight minutes in the opening frame. UND would add a late goal to bring its offensive production up to an even 4.00 goals scored per game this season (112 goals in 28 games).
Duluth checks in at a shade over three goals per game, good for 21st in the country overall and better than only Bemidji State among the eleven teams still alive in the tournament:
1. North Dakota (4.00)
2. Boston College (3.91)
3. Minnesota (3.79)
4. Minnesota State (3.52)
5. Massachusetts (3.50)
6. Quinnipiac (3.46)
7. Boston University (3.33)
8. Omaha (3.32)
9. St. Cloud State (3.19)
10. Minnesota Duluth (3.04)
11. Bemidji State (2.93)
UMD finds themselves in a bit better shape on the defensive side of things, landing squarely in the middle of the tournament field; North Dakota lowered its average goals allowed by giving up just a single goal last night:
1. Minnesota State (1.52)
2. Massachusetts (1.77)
3. North Dakota (1.93)
4. Quinnipiac (1.96)
5. Minnesota (2.00)
6. Boston College (2.35)
6. Minnesota Duluth (2.35)
8. Bemidji State (2.36)
9. Boston University (2.60)
10. St. Cloud State (2.67)
11. Omaha (2.96)
Including yesterday’s opening round win, North Dakota has a record of 8-3-1 against this season’s tournament field (AIC, Minnesota Duluth, Omaha, and St. Cloud State) and also went 5-2 against Denver, a team squarely on the bubble for the NCAAs before the field was announced on Sunday evening.
UMD sports an overall record of 3-6-2 against North Dakota, Omaha, and St. Cloud State but did defeat Denver twice in the Omaha pod back in December. Five of the Bulldogs’ six losses to tournament teams came at the hands of the Huskies (2-5-0).
Duluth and UND played to a 2-2 tie back on December 10th, with the Fighting Hawks claiming a 2-1 victory in the rematch nine days later. UMD had tied the game at one less than eight minutes into the third period before Grant Mismash buried his fourth goal of the pod for the game-winner with 48 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Bulldogs outshot North Dakota in both contests (32-28 and 24-19), although UND had the edge on specialty teams, with a power play goal in each game and seven successful penalty kills. It is worth noting that the Fighting Hawks were without the services of freshman defensemen Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven in both matchups against UMD, as the pair were competing for – and winning – gold at the 2021 World Junior Championships.
Scheels Arena can be considered familiar territory for North Dakota, as this is the third time that UND has played in the regional just 70 miles south of Grand Forks. The Fighting Hawks rolled through Quinnipiac (4-1) and St. Cloud State (4-1) in 2015 but fell to Boston University 4-3 in double overtime in 2017.
15 years ago this week, Holy Cross defeated Minnesota at Ralph Engelstad Arena, marking the first time a four-seed defeated a one-seed since the tournament expanded to 16 teams.
It has happened every year since then. Lots of #4-overall seeds have fallen: New Hampshire (2007 and 2008), Michigan (2009), Miami (2011 and 2015), Notre Dame (2013), Wisconsin (2014, 2021), Providence (2016) and Minnesota (2017) all lost as the “last #1 seed”.
Wisconsin’s 2014 defeat came at the hands of North Dakota, just days after UW’s victory over Ohio State in the Big Ten playoff title game got UND into the tournament.
#3-overall seeds have fared better, but Clarkson (2007), Denver (2009), Cornell (2018), and Minnesota State (2019) all lost their opening round game from that position.
Most people mistakenly believe that Minnesota was the top team in the country before falling to Holy Cross in 2006; the Golden Gophers were actually the #2-overall seed in that tourney (the top spot belonged to Wisconsin, and the Badgers rode their seeding all the way to a national title). Other #2-overall seeds to fall in their first game include Notre Dame (2009), Denver (2010), Michigan (2012), Minnesota (2013), and St. Cloud State (2016).
And, in the ultimate of disappointments, THREE of the past six top overall seeds in the NCAA tourney have gone down to 16-seeds:
RIT defeated top-seeded Minnesota State 2-1 in 2015.
Air Force dismantled top-seeded St. Cloud State 4-1 in 2018.
And the Huskies suffered the same fate AGAIN in 2019, losing to AIC by a final score of 2-1 despite outshooting the Yellow Jackets 34-13.
North Dakota has never lost in the first round as a #1 seed since the tournament expanded to 16 teams.
Former UND head coach Dean Blais famously said, “In the playoffs, you shouldn’t even call it ‘hockey’. Just call it ‘goalie’.” With that in mind, let’s take a look at the two players expected to be guarding the crease in today’s contest…
For UMD, Ryan Fanti (10-7-2, 2.40 goals-against average, and a save percentage of .905) should get the nod from Scott Sandelin after starting both of Duluth’s NCHC tournament games. Fanti was the netminder of record in both contests against North Dakota in the pod, making 43 of 47 saves in a tie and a loss. The sophomore from Thunder Bay, Ontario has lost three of his last four starts, allowing 12 goals on 106 shots on goal over that stretch.
Junior netminder Adam Scheel (20-3-1, 1.78 GAA, .929 SV%, 4 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (2-2-0, 2.83 GAA, .872 SV%) appearing in five games. In addition to his four shutouts, Scheel has allowed just a single goal in seven other victories this season (including the Frozen Faceoff semifinal against Denver and yesterday’s tourney opener vs. AIC). In February and March of this season, Scheel is 8-0 while allowing a total of 11 goals, giving him a goals-against average of 1.36 and a save percentage of .946 over the past two months.
The junior from Lakewood, Ohio was recently named NCHC Goaltender of the Year and a 2021 Mike Richter Award finalist (along with eight other goaltenders; Scheel was the only finalist from the NCHC). However, Scheel was not named to the “Hat Trick”; those honors went to Spencer Knight (Boston College), Jack Lafontaine (Minnesota), and Dryden McKay (Minnesota State). The winner of this year’s Richter will be announced in April during the NCAA Frozen Four.
A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and Scott Sandelin’s squad has just six regulars in the lineup who meet that threshold: senior forward Nick Swaney (13-14-27), junior forward Jackson Cates (10-16-26), senior forward Kobe Roth (13-10-23), junior forward Cole Koepke (13-8-21), senior forward Kobe Bender (7-12-19), and junior forward Noah Cates (5-13-18).
By that same measure, Brad Berry has ten players at a half point or better per game: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (15-15-30), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (9-26-35), senior forward Collin Adams (13-20-33), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (3-18-21), senior forward Grant Mismash (10-9-19 in 19 games), freshman forward Riese Gaber (11-10-21), junior forward Jasper Weatherby (14-9-23), junior forward Mark Senden (3-11-14), junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker (3-15-18), and freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (2-13-15 in 21 games). Pinto, Kawaguchi, Adams, and Mismash are all averaging a full point or better per contest.
Mismash had missed seven consecutive games before returning to the lineup yesterday and scoring a goal on three shots (six shot attempts). Bernard Docker also returned to the lineup, notched an assist, and anchored the top defensive pair along with Matt Kiersted. Mark Senden (upper body injury) did not suit up last night.
Riese Gaber was driven hard into the boards during last night’s game but did return to the ice; his eight shot attempts co-led the team (along with Shane Pinto).
Puck possession will be a key factor in tonight’s contest, and North Dakota should have an advantage in that area. UND clocks in as the third-best team remaining in the tournament in Corsi (55.5%); Duluth is 7th at 53.3%. Fenwick looks even better for the Fighting Hawks (56.7%, 2nd), while UMD is 6th in that area (53.6%).
Corsi measures the percentage of shots taken vs. opponents; Fenwick measures the percentage of unblocked shots taken vs. opponents.
North Dakota is averaging 31.8 shots on goal per game and allowing 24.9 shots on goal per game to opponents. Minnesota Duluth is averaging 31.6 shots on goal per game and allowing 25.7.
The Bulldogs have outscored opponents 79-61 this season. North Dakota’s eye-popping scoring margin is 112-54. Here’s how that compares to the tournament field:
1. North Dakota +58 (112-54 in 28 games)
2. Minnesota +52 (110-58 in 29 games)
3. Minnesota State +50 (88-38 in 25 games)
4. Massachusetts +45 (91-46 in 26 games)
5. Quinnipiac +42 (97-55 in 28 games)
6. Boston College +36 (90-54 in 23 games)
7. Minnesota Duluth +18 (79-61 in 26 games)
8. Bemidji State +16 (82-66 in 28 games)
9. St. Cloud State +14 (86-72 in 27 games)
10. Boston University +11 (50-39 in 15 games)
11. Omaha +9 (83-74 in 25 games)
One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot. The Fighting Hawks are tops in the nation in faceoff win percentage at 56.2 percent, while Minnesota Duluth is 39th (47.0%) among the 51 men’s college hockey teams to have played at least one game this season.
Leading the way in the faceoff circle for North Dakota have been Shane Pinto (61.7%), Jasper Weatherby (56.4%), and Collin Adams (54.6%). UMD will counter with Noah Cates (48.5%), Jackson Cates (49.2%), and Jesse Jacques (46.6%).
The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.6 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 2nd in the country. UMD is way down in the middle of the pack, lighting the lamp on just 9.6 percent of their shots on goal (27th).
Through 26 games, the Bulldogs have blocked 277 shots as a team, led by blueliners Wyatt Kaiser (36), Matt Anderson (32), and Matt Cairns (26).
North Dakota has blocked 359 shots in its 28 games, with defensemen Matt Kiersted (49), Jacob Bernard-Docker (33), Ethan Frisch (26), and Gabe Bast (22) and forward Mark Senden (24!) leading the way.
When North Dakota is at full strength on the back end, they enjoy a roster advantage against nearly every opponent, and that will be the case again tonight. UMD’s six most likely starters on defense have combined for just 4 goals and 30 assists in 153 combined games this season (0.22 points/game), while the six UND defenders expected in the lineup tonight have put together a line of 17 goals and 58 assists in 139 combined games (0.54 points/game). Matt Kiersted, Jacob Bernard Docker, Jake Sanderson, Ethan Frisch, Tyler Kleven, and Gabe Bast can all defend, move the puck, and score, and Brad Berry has the luxury of trusting all of his defensemen in all situations, much like he had during North Dakota’s run to the national title in 2016 (with Gage Ausmus, Paul LaDue, Tucker Poolman, Hayden Shaw, Troy Stecher, Keaton Thompson, and Christian Wolanin manning the back end).
To this point in the season, here is the specialty teams ledger:
Minnesota Duluth power play: 19 of 93, 20.4 percent (19th)
Minnesota Duluth penalty kill: 72 of 96, 75.0 percent (44th)
North Dakota power play: 29 of 122, 23.8 percent (8th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 97 of 113, 85.8 percent (8th)
North Dakota has scored four shorthanded goals this season without allowing one to opponents, while the Bulldogs have scored two and allowed two this season. That leaves UMD’s net specialty teams at a minus-5, while UND weighs in at plus-17.
UND doesn’t necessarily need to score first (although the team is 19-0-0 when they do), but I do think it’s important that they don’t fall behind by more than two if they hope to advance to the Frozen Four. In general, Duluth’s recipe for success in the past two national tournaments has been to get a lead and lock it down OR have the ability to come back late; here are the scores from its two most recent title runs:
3-2 (OT) vs. Minnesota State (came back with a goal in the 2nd and a goal in the 3rd)
2-1 vs. Air Force (scored twice in the first period)
2-1 vs. Ohio State (scored twice in the first three minutes of the game)
2-1 vs. Notre Dame (scored twice in the first period)
2-1 (OT) vs. Bowling Green (scored late in regulation to tie)
3-1 vs. Quinnipiac (built a 2-0 lead)
4-1 vs. Providence (grabbed a 1-0 lead in the 2nd and a 2-1 lead in the 3rd before two empty-netters)
3-0 vs. Massachusetts (scored less than four minutes into the hockey game)
Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs
Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (21st season at UMD, 405-331-91, .545)
National Rankings: #9/#9
This Season: 14-10-2 overall, 13-9-2 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 22-10-2 overall, 17-5-2-0 NCHC (2nd)
2020-2021 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 3.04 goals scored/game – 21st of 51 teams
Team Defense: 2.35 goals allowed/game – 12th of 51 teams
Power Play: 20.4% (19 of 93) – 19th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 75.0% (72 of 96) – 44th of 51 teams
Key players: Senior F Nick Swaney (13-14-27), Junior F Jackson Cates (10-16-26), Senior F Kobe Roth (13-10-23), Junior F Cole Koepke (13-8-21), Senior F Kobe Bender (7-12-19), Junior F Noah Cates (5-13-18), Freshman D Wyatt Kaiser (0-10-10), Senior D Matt Anderson (0-7-7), Senior D Matt Cairns (0-6-6), Sophomore G Ryan Fanti (10-7-2, 2.40 GAA, .905 SV%)
North Dakota Fighting Hawks
Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 138-62-24, .670)
National Rankings: #1/#1
This Season: 22-5-1 overall, 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)
2020-2021 Season Statistics:
Team Offense: 4.00 goals scored/game – 1st of 51 teams
Team Defense: 1.93 goals allowed/game – 3rd of 51 teams
Power Play: 23.8% (29 of 122) – 8th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 85.8% (97 of 113) – 8th of 51 teams
Key players: Sophomore F Shane Pinto (15-15-30), Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (9-26-35), Freshman F Riese Gaber (11-10-21), Senior F Collin Adams (13-20-33), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (14-9-23), Senior F Grant Mismash (10-9-19), Senior D Matt Kiersted (3-18-21), Junior D Jacob Bernard Docker (3-15-18), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (2-13-15 in 21 games), Junior G Adam Scheel (20-3-1. 1.78 GAA, .929 SV%, 4 SO)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: December 19, 2020 (Omaha, NE). It appeared to be yet another overtime tilt between these two teams, but North Dakota’s Grant Mismash had other ideas. The senior forward potted the game-winner with just 48 seconds remaining in regulation to break the 1-1 tie. Collin Adams scored the Fighting Hawks’ first goal at 13:15 of the second period, while UMD’s Noah Cate lit the lamp just over seven minutes into the third. The two teams skated to a 2-2 tie nine days earlier on the same sheet of ice.
Last Meeting in the NCAA tournament: March 22, 1984 (Lake Placid, NY) Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota met in the national semifinal game, with the Bulldogs defeating the Fighting Sioux 2-1 in overtime to advance to the championship. UND went on to defeat Michigan State 6-5 (OT) for third place, while Duluth fell to Bowling Green 5-4 in four overtimes, the longest championship game ever played.
The Meeting That Never Was: Both teams advanced to the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four at Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minnesota). UND could not get past Michigan, falling 2-0 despite outshooting the Wolverines 40-20. In the other national semifinal, Minnesota-Duluth defeated Notre Dame 4-3 and rode that momentum to the title game. The Bulldogs took the Wolverines to overtime before senior forward Kyle Schmidt scored the game winner and earned UMD their first national championship. North Dakota won two of the three games against Duluth that season, outscoring Scott Sandelin’s team 11-5.
All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 149-86-11 (.628). The teams first met in 1954, with North Dakota winning the first ten games between the schools by a combined score of 72-16. UMD’s first win over the Fighting Sioux (a 3-2 road victory on December 18th, 1959) did not sit well with the defending national champions. UND defeated Duluth 13-2 the following night.
Last Ten: North Dakota is 5-4-1 (.550) in the last ten games between the teams, although the Bulldogs have outscored the Hawks 28-25 over that stretch thanks to two five-goal performances in Duluth back in 2018 and a 7-4 home victory back in January of last year. Only two of the past ten UND-UMD games were played in Grand Forks.
Game News and Notes
UND is 19-0-0 when it scores the first goal and just 3-5-1 when its opponent lights the lamp first, although two of those comeback victories came in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. The Fighting Hawks have outscored opponents 41-17 in third periods and overtime this season, while the Bulldogs have scored 32 and allowed 23 in the same frames. UND is 3-1-1 in overtime this season; Duluth is 2-2-2. North Dakota head coach Brad Berry is now 5-1 in the NCAA tournament.
If my Twitter poll is any indication, North Dakota has an 82% chance of advancing to the NCAA Frozen Four. On ice, however, it’s a different story. For the second consecutive game, UND is facing a team with more NCAA tournament experience, although the Fighting Hawks got the first game under their collective belts yesterday and are playing perhaps their best hockey of the season. I firmly believe that it is harder to stay on top of the mountain than it is to get there, and part of it comes down to motivation – this current North Dakota roster is highly motivated after how last season ended and will do whatever it takes to survive and advance. Brad Berry’s squad does have last line change and that counts for something. If the Bulldogs have a weakness, it’s on the penalty kill, and although the Fighting Hawks don’t rely on the power play as much as some teams, it would help matters if they could get one to go. I’m expecting North Dakota to have their foot on the gas from the drop of the puck as Duluth adjusts to the ice surface, the officiating, the crowd, and a different Fighting Hawks team than they faced in the pod. I almost went with an overtime thriller and a Kawaguchi game-winner, but this Green and White squad has the depth and top-end talent to get it done in regulation. UND 4, Minnesota Duluth 2.
Tonight’s NCAA Midwest Regional Semifinal will be televised live on ESPNU and available on several streaming services, including YoutubeTV (a free trial is available); puck drop is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Central Time. Leah Hextall (play-by-play) and Dave Starman (color commentary) will handle the call from Fargo; Hextall’s uncle Dennis played at North Dakota for two seasons (31-56-87) and was the program’s first NHL player in 1968 (New York Rangers, and later with the Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Detroit Red Wings, and Washington Capitals). Furthermore, Leah Hextall’s second-cousin Brett played three years at UND (39-42-81 in 115 games) and helped the team make it all the way to the NCAA Frozen Four in 2011.
All UND men’s hockey games can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network as well as through the iHeart Radio app.
Keep up with the action live during all UND hockey games by following @UNDmhockey and @UNDInsider on Twitter. Fans can also read the action via Brad Schlossman’s live chat on the Grand Forks Herald website.
As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!