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Win or go home: UND takes business approach to Cincinnati

Rocco Grimaldi and UND face Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament tonight in Cincinnati. Eric Hylden Forum News Service

CINCINNATI — Drake Caggiula said that the UND men’s hockey team is here for one reason: business.

But that’s not keeping UND from staying loose at the NCAA Midwest Regional in Cincinnati’s U.S. Bank Arena.

There were some laughs when captain Dillon Simpson was kneeling on the ice, watching the weekly shootout and his stick randomly snapped under his weight.

There were some cheers when goalie coach Karl Goehring sniped a shot past one of his students. There were groans when the goaltenders ended up dominating the shootout.

And the defensemen even got into the act with a line celebration after they scored in a drill.

“We’re kind of loose right now, the day before the game,” UND defenseman Paul LaDue said. “Come tonight, you’ve got to get your good meal in and get your rest. Tomorrow is our work day. It’s do-or-die, so I think we’re pretty focused.”

Caggiula said: “Practice was good. We had a lot of fun and laughs out there. We stayed pretty loose. It’s still Thursday. You don’t want to get too uptight out there. Obviously, we’re here for business. We’re ready to get going.”

Small crowd expected

Last year, UND played its regional final game against Yale in front of the smallest crowd to watch a North Dakota hockey game in seven years. That was largely because the game was played in Grand Rapids, Mich., a long distance from any team participating in the regional.

It might be a similar situation this year.

“I think everybody has an understanding what it will be like,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “Every building is a little bit different. We’re playing in a big building and it might be a pretty quiet atmosphere. You have to be mentally ready for that. Our experience last year will help a little bit. At the end of the day, it’s the same for both teams.

“That being said, it’s unfortunate that, what I think will be a great game between two old rivals, is probably going to be played in front of very few people. That’s a shame.”

UND junior Mark MacMillan referenced last year’s experience.

“We didn’t have a lot of fans in Grand Rapids,” MacMillan said. “Sometimes, it’s tough for fans to make trips to places like that. Sometimes, the crowd isn’t into it as much. But you have to find a way to create your own energy. With the excitement of last weekend, I think we’ll be able to do that.”

Ice conditions decent

Although many regionals feature below-average ice conditions, UND players said it wasn’t bad in Cincinnati.

“Sometimes, you get to these tournaments where they take out the ice and put in logos and it’s a little choppy,” UND defenseman Nick Mattson said. “But the ice seemed really great today and the rink looks great. This town looks great and we’re really excited to be here. At this time of year, it doesn’t take a lot to get the competitive juices going.”

Wisconsin players said that the ice started to deteriorate a little bit during their practice, but they acknowledged that they were the fourth team to practice on that ice in a row.

“I think we were the last team to skate today, so there were a couple of odd bounces,” Wisconsin defenseman Jake McCabe said. “We got used to the boards and the way the puck bounces off of them. Everywhere has its weird bounces.”

Meant to be?

This year was the first time since 1968 that traditional rivals UND and Wisconsin were not scheduled to play. But as it turns out, they are meeting in the NCAA tournament, anyway.

Their rivalry will continue in the future with UND playing a nonconference series at Madison, Wis., next season. The Badgers will come to Grand Forks in 2015-16.

After a year off in 2016-17, the teams will play the two years after that as well.

“It’s kind of funny that this was the first year we have the Big Ten and the NCHC and we’re not scheduled to play each other,” McCabe said. “It’s almost as if the Hockey gods made sure it happened this year.”

Notes and quotes

r U.S. Bank Arena usually plays host to the Cincinnati Cyclones of the East Coast Hockey League. Former UND player Evan Trupp played for the Cyclones.

r There were no advertisements on the boards in U.S. Bank Arena. Miami University is hosting the regional so its logo is on the ice.

r Colgate coach Don Vaughn said: “We were picked to finish ninth in the ECAC and I don’t think a lot of guys expected us to be in this position come March. But this group kept working. We had a plan. We had a process we wanted to follow.”

r UND and Wisconsin have two of the top five winning percentages since Nov. 30. Wisconsin is 20-6-1 (.759). UND is 19-6-1 (.750).

r Ferris State is making its third NCAA tournament appearance. It beat UND in the first round in 2003 during its first appearance.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 12th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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