Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, N.D., Dec. 27-28
Brown vs. Wayne State, 4 CT Saturday
Findlay at North Dakota, 7 CT Saturday
Consolation, 1 CT Sunday
Championship, 4 CT Sunday
Television: North Dakota, local cable.
No. 12 Brown (6-2-2)
Players to Watch: F Brian Ihnacak, Fr. (6-9–15); G Yann Danis, Sr. (6-2-2, 1.50, .953).
Notable: Brown is back here for the second straight season, after coming in third place last year. This year, it does not have to face the hosts in the first round. … Brown started out red hot, going 6-1-1. Similar to last year, however, when the Bears started hot, they headed to Central New York for a weekend and did not fare as well, losing a two-goal lead in a 3-3 tie with Cornell, then losing 6-1 to Colgate. It was an improvement over last year, however, since they got the point. … Despite that weekend, senior goalie Yann Danis still leads the nation in goals against average (1.50). … Freshman Brian Ihnacak has been a find, leading the team in scoring (6-9–15). Of Czech descent, His father, Peter, played eight seasons in the NHL, and his uncle, Miroslav, played three. … Sixteen of the team’s 34 goals have come on the power play, which is ranked second in the nation (30.2 percent). … Roger Grillo was named American Hockey Coaches Association Coach of the Month for November.
Players to Watch: C Christian Olson, Sr. (6-6–12); RW Kris Wiebe, Jr. (7-1–8).
Notable: Pat Ford took over as the team’s head coach after the academic year had already started. … The Oilers are coming off a tough stretch of nonleague games, including consecutive 4-0 losses at Denver and Colorado College, and a 5-1 defeat to intrastate foe Bowling Green. Started the year with a shocking 4-3 win over Michigan State at the Icebreaker. … This will be the first ever meeting between Findlay and North Dakota. … Junior right wing Kris Wiebe leads the team with seven goals, including three on the power play and two shorthanded. Senior Christian Olson has six goals, all but one at even strength.
No. 1 North Dakota
Players to Watch: F Brandon Bochenski, Jr. (11-11–22); F Colby Genoway, Jr. (5-9–14).
Notable: The Fighting Sioux will be without the services of three of their top four scorers. Freshmen Brady Murray and Drew Stafford along with sophomore Zach Parise will all be in Helsinki, Finland playing for Team USA in the World Junior Championships. … Tyler Palmiscno and Brian Canady (back from injuries) and Erik Fabian likely will fill in the spots of the players lost to the WJC. … After years of goaltending turmoil, the Sioux have settled into a nice rotation of junior Jake Brandt and freshman Jordan Parise, the older brother of Zach. Brandt has better numbers, but Parise is 7-0. … North Dakota could very well go all the way, but has a team that features just two seniors that play regularly, forwards David Lundbohm and Ryan Hale, who account for only three of the team’s high-flying 68 goals. … North Dakota has been No. 1 for five straight weeks, and has won five straight games. The Sioux haven’t lost since Nov. 14, to St. Cloud State, who they came back and defeated the next night. North Dakota also lost to Boston College in the second of a two-game home series.
Wayne State (4-8-2)
Players to Watch: F Jason Baclig, Fr. (6-5–11); F Nate Higgins, Fr. (5-5–10).
Notable: Wayne State returns 10 players from the 2002-03 team that went 21-17-2 and won their third consecutive CHA tournament title. That earned the Warriors the CHA’s first-ever automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. … The defense has been porous, allowing 53 goals. There have been eight games where Wayne State has allowed four goals or more. … Like Findlay, the Warriors have also managed an upset win of Michigan State, 3-2 in overtime on Nov. 20. John Grubb scored the OT game winner. … Freshman Jason Baclig, the team’s leading scorer, had two goals and two assists in a weekend split with American International recently, and was named CHA Offensive Player of the Week. The win over AIC on Dec. 13 snapped a four-game losing streak.
North Dakota coach Dean Blais: “I think the challenge is playing without three of our best forwards in Zach Parise, Brady Murray and Drew Stafford. That’s a lot of offense that’s going to be playing in Helsinki. But it’s an opportunity for other guys to play and gives them a chance to step up.”
Brown coach Roger Grillo: “It’s a very impressive place [Engelstad Arena]. I think having been there last year, in that building, we’ve gotten over the shock of being in a building like that. It’s kind of over with. Now we’re just focused on playing hockey.”
Blais: “Our fans here are pretty knowledgeable. They track the top 15 teams because it’s printed every week, but they know Bill Wilkinson has done a great job at Wayne State and that Pat Ford has taken over Findlay and done a good job.”
Grill: “I’m pretty happy with the first half. We’ve had a couple bumps in the road, but overall we’ve done some good things. … I think those games for us before the break, against Colgate and Cornell, were real eye-openers for us. They were reality checks. I think they brought us back down to earth a little bit and brought our focus back.”
Analysis: Should they advance, and they should, it could be a fairly intriguing matchup in the final between Brown and North Dakota. The Sioux, featuring the high-powered offense, against the nation’s stingiest goaltender. North Dakota won’t be full guns a blazing, but that at least will give the Bears a fighting chance. A first-round win by either Wayne State or Findlay would be great for their program. But expect the Sioux to keep the hardware at home. Eat Fresh.