Frozen Four preview: North Dakota’s eyes squarely on semifinal matchup

With a Hobey Baker Award finalist, the WCHA’s best goaltender and depth in the lineup that goes unmatched, North Dakota easily has what it takes to be Frozen Four champions by late Saturday night.

But the Fighting Sioux coaching staff and its players aren’t thinking about Saturday’s title game. Instead, the focus is Thursday’s semifinal matchup with Michigan.

“I don’t think we have a preference [who the Sioux would play in the title game],” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. “You control the things you can control, and who you play is definitely something you don’t control.

“Michigan is a great hockey team and we’re just concentrated on preparing ourselves to play our game and the way we’ve played to be successful at this point in the year.”

The Sioux won the WCHA Final Five in mid-March and advanced to the Frozen Four with a 6-0 shutout of Rensselaer and a 6-1 win against Denver in the Midwest Regional.

For UND, it’s one game at a time.

“We really try not to think about who we’re going to play,” said Sioux captain Chay Genoway. “We’ll do our preparation on who we’re playing, and that’s Michigan.”

Genoway missed eight games from Jan. 29 to March 4 with a leg injury. He returned for last game of the regular season, and in the seven games since his return, Genoway has 12 points.

Danny Kristo also missed a lot of action, 10 games from Feb. 11 to March 12, because of frostbite. He scored a goal within the first five minutes of his first game back in the Final Five semis against Colorado College. Kristo has six points in the four games since he returned.

“We’ve had our challenges like anyone else,” Hakstol said. “Injuries have been a challenge for us.”

In the games Genoway and Kristo missed, UND didn’t lose once, and credit for that goes to the depth in the Sioux lineup.

“We really pride ourselves on our depth,” Genoway said. “We feel we can roll four lines and play six [defensemen] and two goalies that can play on any given night. We’re confident we can send a lot of lines and [defensive] pairings that can play in any situation.”

It’s not just depth, but also UND’s willingness to play a physical, smashmouth brand of hockey, and that includes the team’s top scorers.

Matt Frattin, the Hobey Baker Hat Trick finalist with 36 goals and 24 assists for 60 points, uses his 6-foot, 200-pound frame to drop opponents. Ben Blood and Brad Malone are another two top enforcers for UND.

The Sioux have five players with 40 or more points, including Frattin, Corban Knight (14-30–44), Jason Gregoire (25-18–43), Evan Trupp (17-24–41) and Malone (16-24–40).

Aaron Dell won the starting spot in goal early in the season after playing just five games last season. His .924 save percentage and 1.81 goals-against average earned him a spot on the All-WCHA first team.

The next stop is the Xcel Energy Center, which, as evident by the amount of Sioux fans in the building for the Final Five, is like a second home for UND.

“It’s going be an electric atmosphere in there and it will a great atmosphere for both teams to play in,” Hakstol said.