North Dakota boarded its team bus in Bemidji on Nov. 20, following a 1-0 loss to the Beavers, carrying the weight of a tie for 10th in the WCHA standings and the burden of a 4-7-1 overall record with it on its trip home to Grand Forks. Ahead of them lie a date with Colorado College the following weekend.
Thoughts of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament was the least of their worries at that point. They were faced with all they could handle just earning an invitation to the dance in a few months.
But beginning with a couple of shootout wins over the Tigers at home (7-6, 4-3) a few days later, UND embarked on a 21-5-2 (.821) run leading them to where they are now: A No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament playing relatively close to home in a building in which the Sioux have won eight straight games.
It might be considered remarkable if accomplished anywhere else but, like any good pool hustler, North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol knows just when to play his best shots.
In Hakstol’s eight years guiding the Sioux his teams are 80-57-12 (.577) before Christmas and 131-57-12 (.711) after the break. The rate only picks up in March where North Dakota has won 15 in a row over the past two seasons and is 22-2 (.917) in its last 24 March games.
The knock on Hakstol, and unfairly so, has been that he has yet to cash in on that success for the elusive first national title he still seeks. The numbers don’t lie; Dave Hakstol is an elite coach no matter how many titles he wins.
A lot of great teams with outstanding coaches have left the Frozen Four empty-handed but it doesn’t make them any less great. Hakstol’s time will come and that monkey on his back may be looking for a ride elsewhere as soon as next month.
Proximity of participating teams to the X will make the West a lively regional
North Dakota fans would travel to watch their team play on the dark side of the moon if it was hosting a regional UND was to play in, plus the Xcel Energy Center is in Minnesota’s backyard. Fans from both UND and Minnesota made the atmosphere in Friday’s Final Five semifinal game so electric and, though the arena likely won’t fill up as much as it did this past weekend, having the Sioux and Gophers in the same building will help.
There’s a chance attendance at the regional will double the 2010 turnout when the X last hosted the West Region. The host Gophers didn’t qualify for the field of 16 and UND went out east. Wisconsin was the biggest draw, followed by St. Cloud State’s contingent. Vermont and Northern Michigan brought a minimal amount of fans and high ticket prices kept the casual hockey fan away.
The two-session total attendance that weekend was an ugly 14,463. Not predicting a sellout, but UND and Minnesota assure attendance will be much better this weekend.
One loss makes a difference
Denver was playing for the Final Five championship Saturday, and a shot at a No. 1 seed in the regional tournaments. The Pioneers’ loss to North Dakota dropped them to No. 11 overall in the PairWise Rankings and landed them a No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region.
A win Saturday night could’ve landed Denver a top spot, but the question, then, would be where to send the Pioneers. Denver’s fans aren’t well-represented anywhere outside of Colorado and would have to fly to any regional site.
The Pioneers last earned a top bid in 2010 when they drew the East Region in Albany, N.Y. and lost in the first round.