Fans help drive UND hockeyA sign hangs outside the locker room of the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team. It says “Through These Doors Walk Champions.” That sign expresses the pride, tradition, and high standards of North Dakota hockey. What went on this past weekend in Omaha made me think of that sign. Coach Dave Hakstol deserves a ton of credit.
By: Mark Schuttenhelm, For The Sun, The Jamestown Sun
A sign hangs outside the locker room of the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team. It says “Through These Doors Walk Champions.”
That sign expresses the pride, tradition, and high standards of North Dakota hockey. What went on this past weekend in Omaha made me think of that sign. Coach Dave Hakstol deserves a ton of credit. He had the team clearly focused on the job at hand. The players were able to ignore the distractions, delays, travel woes, and other assorted adversities and pull off a huge road sweep against Nebraska-Omaha.
If you’re a fan of UND, whether you made the trip down for the weekend, listened on the radio, or watched on TV, you know exactly how impressive this performance was. And the incredible fan support cannot be ignored. It’s no secret that UND hockey fans “travel well” but this turnout was quite impressive.
Coach Hakstol and many of the players were clearly moved by the fan support. A few quotes from the postgame press conferences … coach Hakstol called the fan turnout “phenomenal.” Danny Kristo called it “unbelievable,” “humbling,” and “felt like a home game.” Zane Gothberg described it as “absolutely incredible” and “something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.” Approximately 9,500 fans attended Friday night’s game in Omaha vs. UNO’s average home attendance of about 6,000. The attendance at Saturday’s outdoor game was 13,650. Those are some impressive numbers.
Friday’s 2-1 win was a gritty, hard-hitting, sacrifice-your-body type of game. It’s fitting that captain Andrew MacWilliams’ block/save with about six minutes left, preventing a game-tying goal, would turn out to be possibly the biggest play of the game. Goals by Rocco Grimaldi and Kristo were all the offense UND would need. Gothberg started his third game in a row in goal, and was solid once again.
Saturday afternoon’s outdoor game was delayed by about 2 1/2 hours waiting for the sun to set. The ice was just not playable during the warmth of the afternoon. The delay didn’t seem to bother North Dakota one bit, as it jumped out to a 3-0 lead on just eight shots in the first period. The start of the second period brought with it another short delay due to an anti-freeze leak. Again, the delay was no problem for the well prepared UND squad. Although UNO knocked the North Dakota lead down to 4-2 midway through the third period, the end result was really never in doubt. Gothberg played another fine game. With the questionable condition of the ice, grabbing a big lead early was huge. As usual, Corban Knight and Kristo led the way, scoring four points each on the weekend. Due to the Sunday blizzard, the team’s trip home was eventful, with a night spent in the team bus at a truck stop and another spent in a South Dakota motel.
A few closing thoughts on the weekend. I was listening in while a few of the Omaha media guys were attempting to answer a not so simple question. Which hockey team was the best they’ve faced this season? UNO split a pair at Minnesota, split a pair at St. Cloud, were swept at Quinnipiac, and were just swept at home by UND.
While the question was never really answered, the idea that it just might be North Dakota was getting a lot of traction. North Dakota is now 3-0-2 since that rather lackluster effort vs. St. Cloud State three Friday’s ago. Gothberg has played four in a row in goal, allowing a total of just five goals. UND is off this weekend, preparing for the big road trip to Denver on Feb. 22-23. UND is now sixth in the PairWise rankings.
Minnesota and St. Cloud State split a pair in St. Cloud. Saturday’s 4-3 Huskie win was one of the best games I’ve seen this year. Minnesota came out and pushed hard early in the first period, but St. Cloud withstood the Gopher barrage. After that, the play was up and down with a great pace that never slowed down. The Gophers rallied late, but the Huskies were able to hold them off. Minnesota had the better of the play on the weekend for sure, but the feisty St. Cloud team held their own. Minnesota is just 5-4-1 against the top half of the WCHA. “No autopsy, no foul.” That was how the Root Sports play by play man described the officiating in Friday’s Colorado College/Denver game. And I can’t disagree. Bodies were flying everywhere, infractions were being committed all over the ice, but for whatever reason, very few penalties were called. Other than that, the 1-1 tie was a great, fast-paced game, with plenty of good scoring chances. Saturdays’ 6-5 Colorado College OT win was even more entertaining. Denver took a 2-0 lead, CC then scored five unanswered goals to go up 5-2. Denver scored three times late in the third period to tie it. CC scored the winner with just 11 seconds left in the overtime. There’s never a dull moment when Colorado College and Denver get together. Minnesota State continued its turnaround with a pair of wins at Minnesota-Duluth. In a couple of low scoring games, Wisconsin took a win and a tie at home vs. Bemidji State.
With wins at Colgate and Cornell, Quinnipiac has taken over the top spot in all the polls and rankings. The Bobcats have been sitting atop the PairWise and KRACH rankings for weeks now, and the poll voters, a little late to the party in my opinion, have finally put them up top. Quinnipiac’s unbeaten streak is now at 21 games. Just like the Gophers, half of Quinnipiac’s remaining schedule is tough, and half is not so tough. Union College took it on the chin in upstate New York, beaten by both Clarkson and St. Lawrence. For the first time in years, Union is now unranked in the uscho.com poll.
Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson should probably be worried. Last season at the Christmas break, his team was ranked No. 5 in the country with a 12-6-3 record. They went on to put up a 7-12-0 second half and finish 19th in the country. This year Notre Dame was ranked No. 3 in the nation at Christmas with a 14-4-0 record. And even with a sweep last weekend against Michigan, the Irish are just 4-7-1 since and have slipped to No. 12 in the latest poll. Ferris State/Northern Michigan, Alaska/Ohio State, and WMU/Miami all split a pair of games last weekend. Miami still leads Western Michigan by one point atop the CCHA standings. And a TV alert, Notre Dame plays Miami on CBS Sports Network Friday at 6:30 p.m.
Hockey East Summary
Not very much to report from Hockey East, as Winter Storm Nemo postponed much of the action. On Sunday, New Hampshire and Providence played to a 3-3 tie, while Merrimack beat Massachusetts. Merrimack is now 6-1-1 in its last eight and just one point behind BC in the standings. The Warriors have also crept up to 20th in the PairWise. Boston University lost to Harvard in the Beanpot consolation game, while Boston College won its fourth straight Beanpot Title with an entertaining 6-3 win over Northeastern. It’s no secret in New England that BC coach Jerry York likes to use the Beanpot Tourney as a springboard for his team’s home stretch. “Trophy Time” is what he calls it. In the last three seasons combined, BC has put up an eye-opening 44-4-2 record after the Beanpot Tournament.
Other than Quinnipiac taking over the top spot, there wasn’t very much movement in the uscho.com poll this week. Alaska is back in, replacing slumping Union College. And my Frozen Dozen for this week includes five WCHA teams in the top ten. 1) Quinnipiac, 2) Minnesota, 3) Miami, 4) Boston College, 5) New Hampshire, 6) North Dakota, 7) St. Cloud State, 8) Minnesota State, 9) Western Michigan, 10) Denver, 11) Notre Dame, 12) Niagara.
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