Breaking it down: Watch for net-front play in Michigan, North Dakota semifinal

In the history of the NCAA hockey tournament, few national semifinal matchups have ever had the cachet of this year’s clash between Michigan and North Dakota.

Together, the schools own 16 national championships, and since 1997 there has been only one year (2002) when both teams weren’t participants in the NCAA tournament.

But as far as winning championships in recent years, the cupboard has been bare for both programs.

27 Mar 11: The University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux and The Denver University Pioneers play in the NCAA Midwest Regional Final at the Resch Center in Green Bay, WI. (Jim Rosvold)
Seniors Brad Malone and Evan Trupp are prominent parts of North Dakota's veteran-laden lineup (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Therefore, the Fighting Sioux and Wolverines go in looking to add to their legendary pedigrees.

“I think North Dakota versus Michigan is going to be a great semifinal matchup for the Frozen Four and one of those games that could come down right to the wire,” Alaska coach Dallas Ferguson said. “Both teams are really well-coached and there is a lot of pride involved with both programs.”

Led by the nation’s leading goal scorer and Hobey Baker Award finalist Matt Frattin (36 goals, 60 points) and stalwart defenseman Chay Genoway, the Fighting Sioux, which last won a national title in 2000, will be the favorite in the heavyweight showdown.

Dean Blais, coach of North Dakota’s WCHA rival Nebraska-Omaha and a former Sioux coach, knows all about the matchup problems his former school presents.

“[The Fighting Sioux] roll three pretty strong lines, so I think their depth is their biggest strength,” said Blais, who guided North Dakota to two national championships during his 10-year tenure from 1994 to 2004. “But they might be more talented [than Michigan] because of players like Frattin and Genoway that can make a difference in a game.”

Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said Dave Hakstol’s Fighting Sioux lack weaknesses for Michigan to exploit.

“North Dakota’s a complete team that can beat you in many ways,” Eaves said. “They’re backstopped by a big goaltender [Aaron Dell] that makes the saves when they need him to, but the biggest factor they have going for them is that they are an upperclassman team that will be ready for the challenge of the Frozen Four.”

On the other side of the coin are the Wolverines, college hockey’s most accomplished program, which last won a title in 1998. Three gifted seniors — Carl Hagelin (the team’s leading scorer with 48 points), Louie Caporusso and Matt Rust — carry the load up front for Michigan. Veteran goaltender Shawn Hunwick has been working his magic between the pipes.

After coaching the Nanooks against both the Wolverines and Fighting Sioux this season, Ferguson sees plenty of similarities between the two teams.

“I think Michigan gets consistent contributions from everyone in their lineup,” Ferguson said. “Like North Dakota, they play at a really high skill level and really attack you offensively. Therefore, net-front play should prove crucial to the game’s outcome.”

Blais’ Mavericks came within an overtime goal of knocking off Michigan in the West Regional semifinals, so the Nebraska-Omaha coach is well-versed in the Wolverines’ brand of hockey.

“Michigan is playing confidently and got to the Frozen Four not by riding their tradition, but by engaging in hard work,” Blais said. “They have a physical top line that can match up with North Dakota, but they might not have the same amount of strength in all of their lines that the Fighting Sioux [possess].”

 (Candace Horgan)
Louie Caporusso and Michigan are out for the program's first national championship since 1998 (photo: Candace Horgan).

However, Blais predicts only a limited separation between the two semifinal combatants.

“It’s going to be a one- or two-goal contest that could go either way,” Blais said. “Neither team has a visible advantage because the matchup is that close.”

The Fighting Sioux-Wolverines victor will face off in Saturday’s championship game against either Minnesota-Duluth or Notre Dame, two schools pursuing a first NCAA title. However, whichever team that is crowned the 2011 champion will break Hockey East’s three-year winning streak.

The biggest beneficiary of the all-western Frozen Four might be the Fighting Irish, who are familiar with the Wolverines and Fighting Sioux after playing both during the regular season. But Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson knows that if his team knocks off Minnesota-Duluth, Michigan would present a difficult final game opponent.

“Red Berenson always coaches Michigan teams that are talented offensively, but this year’s team really improved defensively during the second half of season,” Jackson said. “A lot of that has to do with the emergence of Hunwick in goal, but they have a good blue line and a senior class that’s one of the best in the country.”

After playing two hard-fought contests at North Dakota during Thanksgiving weekend, Jackson walked away impressed with the Fighting Sioux.

“North Dakota might have been the best team we faced all season,” Jackson said. “They have a lot of weapons up front, a good back end and Dell is real formidable in goal. There is a lot of presence to that program, similar to Michigan, so it was a good learning experience for us to play against the Fighting Sioux in their building.”

Moving beyond just the anticipated matchups on the ice, the 2011 Frozen Four takes place during a crossroads for college hockey. In two years, the WCHA and CCHA, the only two leagues with representatives left in the Frozen Four, will lose five members to the newly formed Big Ten hockey conference — Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan.

However, Eaves does not believe there is extra pressure riding on the Wolverines as new league’s lone tournament representative.

“I can see where people would point that out,” Eaves said. “But the Big Ten is still a long ways away and there’s still a lot of work left to do to put it together, so I don’t think that has been much of a [burden] for Michigan to carry around.”

But for now, coaches like Ferguson are proud to see the four schools remaining restore pride in both western leagues, even if their makeups will change in the upcoming years.

“I think if anyone says they’re not looking ahead, they’d be crazy,” Ferguson said. “But this Frozen Four will be good for college hockey, having two of the top teams from both the CCHA and WCHA. That representation reinforces the strength of both leagues at this time.”


  1. While Michigan is a good team, this Frozen Four is the Sioux’s to lose. UND is simply too deep and too strong to even be compared to Michigan. If the game is played 10 times, Michigan would win 2. UND will lose only if Dell has a bad game, or if the refs get too involved and affect the game. Sorry Michigan fans, but it’s just the truth this year. I have seen Michigan play many times and they have one nice line. They struggle after that against good teams.

    • Where that is probably true, you can replace UND with Michigan in 1997 and this year’s Michigan team with BU in 1997 and you have the same scenario. But, BU ended up winning that day in one of their better performances of the season, only to lose to UND in the final.

    • @The48Car – I’m thankful today for three things. First, that they actually play these games instead of letting random fan pick the winner. Second, I’m thankful for the continued plethora of material available if UND loses. And third (and I’m really hoping this is as big a mismatch as you seem to think it is) I’m thankful for the “reverse lock theory” which has been providing stunned expressions and awkward silences for the entire history of organized sport.

    • North Dakota has lost 8 times this year. I don’t know why everyone thinks NoDak is invincible. On paper? Yeah they’d win the tourney. How many times has the “best” team actually won the tournament?
      Just look back to 2007-2008 when Michigan was #1 all year and still coughed one up to Notre Dame in the semis

      • GUYS THEY LOST 8 GAMES THEY’RE SO RUN OF THE MILL LOL quit hyping them up they’re just another team my god, stupid sioux fans running wild thinking they’re the best, i mean they lost 8 games this year. what are they thinking. yes they won 32 games, dominated their conference standings, won the wcha tournament, completely blew out their ncaa regional, have a hobey finalist, 4 lines deeper than most teams top 2 lines, and haven’t lost since mid-january, but guys, they lost 8 games, seriously, quit over looking notre dame and the others its getting really tiring

        • What is with this North Dakota inferiority complex? Yes, it’s completely possible that you could lose on Thursday. I’m sorry, you’re good, but you’re not invincible. That’s ok. It’s not insulting to be told you’re not perfect.

        • First off, I can tell that since you used “Butt Nugget” you’re probably graduating from the 5th grade this June and moving up to the 6th grade so congrats are certainly in order. Well done.

          Second, you are totally missing the point. Miami had probably the most dynamic first line in college hockey and they were on fire coming into the tourney. UNH promptly shut them down. Didn’t NoDak still have those same players and that same team when they lost 8-4 to UNO at home? Or 3-2 to Minnesota at home? I pointed out North Dakota’s 8 losses to show you that North Dakota can indeed lose. You’d think from the comments around here that North Dakota had never lost a game before. If the North Dakota players have a mindset like their fans then they’re setting themselves up to get run out of the building ala BC-CC

      • Of note: This is the first time in the history of UND hockey that the entire senior class has stayed together all four years. I’ve watched ND play hockey for a very long time and I’ve never seen a group of seniors like this. Good luck to both teams….just that Michigan is gonna need a helluva lot of it.

  2. Yep, it is going to be close. I predict Michigan scores first. I see the first period being fairly even or maybe a bit in favor of Michigan. I see the second as being a strong one for the Sioux. I see the equalizer fairly early in the period and later in the period I see the Sioux taking the lead. Going into the 3rd period with a one goal lead the Sioux will have to hang on for dear life. If the Sioux D play well I think they will win. Everybody is looking at the scoring up front (and maybe this will be a bigger factor than I am giving credience to) but I think the D will determine the outcome of this game. UND”s defense and Dell will be the difference. If they play well the Sioux win. If they don’t…..well, let’s not go there. There could be one other scenario…..Frattin, Gregoire, Nelson and Genoway score early and often. I think this is much, much less likely…..but I have seen this happen before this season. Anyway, should be a great game. Goodl luck to Michigan and let’s hope both teams play their best games of the year. See you all at the FF….yea baby…, fun, fun….:)

    • I disagree with you Suture1. I don’t think North Dakota is unbeatable. I think North Dakota is beatable. Michigan is a very good team. I think Michigan is going to win the National Championship. Go Michigan Wolverines! Go Blue!

        • Hey Jimbo – would you have preferred the refs make the wrong call? They reviewed the play and determined it was a goal, so lose the pompous attitude. The Wolverines are just as deserving to be in the FF as the Sioux, and maybe more since the Sioux beat two teams they were supposed to: a weak Rensselaer team and a tired Denver team.

          • A tired Denver team? These guys practice day in and day out for the fact that they’ll have to keep their legs under them… And Denver is the second best team in the country behind UND respectively.. If Denver was in any other bracket we would see them at the Frozen Four.. and for RPI, yea they were weak but UND still took out the second best team in the country 6-1, tired or not, that’s what they’re prepared to face in the playoffs.. Obviously you’ve never played playoff hockey..

          • Not sure how you figure Denver to be second best team in the country. Pairwise they finished sixth or seventh , and KRACH I think fifth. With that being said if you look these rankings up alot of the top teams are playing golf right now. At this point in the FF you can disregard stats. Good luck to your team.

          • I thought Denver looked tired, and I have a feeling (from experience) that it was probably related to the come-from-behind OT game they played the evening before. Do you disagree with me? Do you not agree that the Sioux had the easiest path to the FF? You dumb hick.

          • You are a complete idiot Siouxpoo!!!! Who’s fault was it Denver played an OT game?? That would be their problem. UND shut them down. In the Final Five Championship UND got out played from the 2nd Period on and pulled it out in double overtime. They also scored 2 goals from behind the goal line that game which was lucky. Fact is great teams always find a way to win and UND did that after beating a very good CC team the night before. So everything you said makes you sound like an idiot!!

          • Remember that time Denver was about to lose in the 1st round to Western Michigan and were only saved by an epic collapse by Western in the last 5 minutes? They played worse than a team with 10 ties for the vast majority of the game

          • Here’s the DEAL…….UMD will absolutely pound Notre Dame……the 2 freshies are gonna choke on a Di*!……….UND will get past Michigan in a hard faught game…..UND’s just too deep and Michigans 2-4 lines choke when they play great teams……then UMD will beat UND because of how tired UND will be….the thing is, is I don’t care which WCHA team wins it all…….all I know is Michigan is a bunch of cake eating gingers who shouldn’t be at the FF at all!!

          • if the sioux beat mich they wont be tired. reason is both semifinal victors have friday off before saturdays game. Duluth is good but notre dame has a better chance at beating the sioux. why? becuase they play solid team defense duluth does as well but the forwards lack the two way ability which will hurt them in the end

          • UMD has already beat NoDak this year and Notre Dame is 0-1-1 agianst them. So tell me how Notre Dame has a better chance at beating the Sioux again?

          • North Dakota went 2-1 against MN Duluth this year with a 5-0 blow out to open AMS Oil Arena.Good luck!!

          • Also, since when do the Duluth forwards lack two way ability? I’ve watched our forwards make fantastic backchecks all year.

        • Jim, I’m sorry but your comment is idiotic.

          First of all, THE PUCK WAS IN THE NET!!!

          Second, there are calls like that every year in college hockey. Its part of the game, and everyone has been helped or screwed by it at some point (See Michigan vs Miami 2010).

          Third, why do people act like Michigan would have lost for sure if they had disallowed that goal? UNO had not scored since the first period and Michigan had all the momentum. Michigan easily could have still won in overtime.

          Stop making silly comments and move on. I hope you’re still whining if Michigan wins out this weekend.

          Go Blue!!!

          • You want him to stop making silly comments and move on, but yet you hope he’s still whining if Michigan wins? Which is it? He can’t stop making silly comments and move on AND still be whining if Michigan wins…

          • how do you know that the puck was in the net? it was “determined” that it was. as of yet there is no conclusive video evidence. that being said the call was made, not much anyone can do now. Just hope for good games this weekend and hope for a Sioux championship

      • Whoa, slow down there fella. Where did I say the Sioux were unbeatable? To the contrary, I outlined a scenario where the Sioux COULD lose. So, please read my comments again tiger…I did not say the Sioux are unbeatable….:) I think the Sioux will win….this is true. But, the teams are so close that having an “edge” does not equate to a certain victory. I am all for letting the boys play the game and let’s just enjoy the action. My biggest problem is I can’t sleep worth a dang…lol.

        • Have a cold one after work. You must be driving your girlfriend as crazy, as I am my wife. Once again good luck , I think you will be in a complete frenzy by the time you hit the suite. LMAO ! One more thing go for a run before you board the flight, the flight attendants will not allow you to stand up or pace the whole time.

      • Nice vague, sweeping comments without presenting a reason why they are going to beat the Sioux? Michigan is capable of beating the Sioux but I’d probably give a reason if I were going to make this arguement.

    • I predict No Dak beats Michigan. Frattin gets arrested for a third time after celebrating his Hobey Baker win – spends the night in jail. No Dak loses to Notre Dame.

      See how irrelevant these fan “predictions” are?

  3. The article is factually incorrect: “Together, the schools own 16 national championships, and since 1997 there has been only one year (2002) when both teams weren’t participants in the NCAA tournament.”

    Michigan was in the NCAA tournament in 2002 – they lost to Minnesota in the national semifinal in St. Paul.

  4. UND scores goals. Period. They will steamroll Michigan like they’ve been doing to everyone in their way for weeks. And if you were at the WCHA Final Five, you know the Xcel will be Ralph Engelstad #2 again this weekend. Sioux fans will be at least 2/3 of the crowd, and with that, they won’t lose.

    • You are wrong Easy. Michigan is going to beat the Fighting Sioux and win the National Championship Saturday Night. I don’t think North Dakota is unbeatable. I think North Dakota is beatable. I am going to say it again Michigan is going to win the National Championship. Go Michigan Wolverines! Go Blue!

      • I think you are getting a little ahead of yourself there bud! Even if they do get past the Sioux, they would still have to play Duluth to win it all and thats not going to be any easier… No game is going to be easy. Good luck beating the Sioux. Your going to need a lot of it haha GO SIOUX~

        • Ihope the UMD team overlooks Notre Dame just like some other fans do, Surprise , surprise, suprise, the Irish in the Finals. It’s happened before!
          GO IRISH!!!

      • Again… another garbage comment… TELL US WHY?! Why are you so confident in the Wolverines…. convince me o’ teller of hockey

  5. I seriously doubt the thought of representing a yet unformed conference hasn’t crossed Michigan’s mind. This is the first time I’d thought about that. Michigan fans (and hopefully players) do not give a crap about how the other B1G teams are doing. WCHA fans seem to be the only ones who worry about conference supremacy or perceived conference strength

    • LOL get real. the whole reason they’re unanimously creating that pointless conference is their “conference supremacy” hahahah oh stupid mich fans. enjoy UND sending you home once again

  6. UND is definitely the favorite and I think they’ll win. Having said that, it is hard to win 17 games in a row and extremely good UND teams under coach Hakstol have had a bad habit of faltering in the playoffs…

  7. Anyone who comes on here and acts like they know what the result of these last 3 games will be is crazy.

    UND fans talk a big game, but if this tournament shows us anything each year its that single elimination hockey is totally unpredictable.

    On paper, UND is the better team and should win. But that puts all the pressure on them. Michigan has nothing to lose, and if I was a UND fan I would be nervous.

    Nervous that after the great hockey they have played the past few weeks they are due for a bad game. Michigan had theirs against WMU in the CCHA semis. It happens to every team at some point.

    All I’m saying is that anything can happen in this tournament, and I have no idea what to expect this weekend. I just hope it goes well for Blue.

    • I agree that with the one and done format that anything can happen, but to say that Michigan has nothing to lose is completely asinine. They are here for one reason… to win a national title. A team like Michigan has a pedigree that they expect to compete for a national title every year.

      Sioux fans are like any other fans. When they are good, they are going to let people know it. There is nothing wrong with a little confidence. That being said, nothing said on this discussion board is going to effect the game in any way.

      There’s also nothing wrong with putting out a prediction for these games. As fans, it’s our job to build up the hype and we have definitely done so. Gonna be a great game and an even better Frozen Four. Go Sioux!

    • nope, thats flawed logic. saying they’re due for a bad game is just invoking the law of averages which is a fallacy on its own.

      so only a loss counts as a bad game? the final 5 against DU was a bad game. but they still won. oops. they haven’t lost since january. and they’ve had bad games since then.

      ya anything can happen, but we all know what will happen. UND over UMD in the final. ship it.

  8. The reason UM can win is that unlike what you read in the press, they can roll 4 lines just like UND. The defense has shown they can shut down top lines (just ask CC) and scoring can come from at anytime. I have no idea who is going to win, but to claim UND will roll over UM is a bit of a reach. UM got rolled just once this year and that was against WMU in the CCHA playoffs, so they’ve had their wakeup call. Don’t think WMU is a good team? Just ask Denver. Red will have boys ready. UND would be wise to do the same. Go Blue!

  9. For all you Michigan fans, of course UND could lose the game, but the point is it would be an upset. UND is the best team by far left in the tourney. Don’t even try and compare the teams. That’s not to say Michigan doesn’t have a nice team, because they do. It’s just simply that UND has the better team on paper, on the ice, on the stat sheet, and anywhere else you want to compare the teams. Ofcourse UND can have a off night and lose, but like I said, it is the Sioux’s game to lose, not michigans to win.

  10. This is all silly. Everyone “predicts” their own favorite team to win, and everyone wants to believe that anyone rooting for another team is wrong and stupid. The fact is North Dakota is the #1 team in the country (polls), and the #1 team has won every national championship since 1842. NoDak hasn’t lost since January, has won every game since then by at least 6 goals, they roll 7 lines all of which could start on any NHL team, and they haven’t let in a goal in 3 years. They regularly sell out 53,000 seats, and will have at least 17 times as many fans at the XCel as any other team. They will be up 10-0 by the first TV timeout, and may falter a little in the final on Saturday only because they’ll be tired from scoring so many dozens of goals in Thursday’s late game. This has all basically already happened, so if you posit an alternative scenario, you are dumb, don’t uderstand hockey, and apparently like male genitalia.

    • It has actually been 3 years and 5 months since they were scored on, and their 8th line could play in the NHL as well…start doing some research, buddy.

    • WCHA guy, kind of sensitive aren’t ya? Apparently you agree that UND is the better team and have nothing positive to say about your own. You need to relax. Your team could win and score an upset. In the end it’s just a game. Some anger management classes may serve you well.

    • Dude that program will always be a disgrace if they maintain that biggoted disrespectful logo and name. Listening to, seeing, and reading postings from the NoDak fanbase epitomizes their prejudice. Just how many of you gulp cough syrup? Rolling 7 NHL lines … They couldn’t put a puck past a 5’7″ goalie. Their style of hockey & response to a hard fought game resembles nothing of what is needed for success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Do you know about those or not because how many miles is that wasteland from a respectful NHL franchise? The fighting hicks came out playing cheap & dirty, and Michigan played tough. Blatantly, biased officiating was largely responsible for Michigan’s limited time in the offensive end. Its rare that an NHL playoff game would have as much bs officiating that occured in that game. You scored a lot of goals vs. inferior teams came out and played cheap and chippy & got smacked in the face. I feel bad for whatever injury Nelson had ; I never like to see that. That being said, I think that put a scare into those dummies wearing that disgraceful jersey. Have your pretty boy coach remind the few players on your team who make the league that the refs don’t care about whatever winning reputation they had in the WCHA & protection from more beatings.

      Will Always Love when the boys in Blue take out that institution of disrespect to native poeple,

    • I see the Sioux finally gave up a goal. Wow 3+ years that must mean they have won 3 national titles in those years. I would fire your statistician.

  11. Of course N.Dakota can get beat. Look back in 97 when michigan was unbeatable,and the ff favorite.Look what happened there. Anyways i cant wait! GO SIOUX!!!

  12. Boy, such fun to read all these comments…some of you people need to learn how to spell and use proper grammar before posting a comment for the entire world to read. Anyway, regardless of who wins, the FF is a great tourney and yes, ‘M’ is there for the 24th time, winning nine of them…leading the country in National titles. Quite an accomplishment that no one else can claim. N Dakota is a great team as well and Duluth and ND are no slouches. Let’s all hope for close, exciting, hard fought games..maybe we can see more college hockey games on TV, not just cable.

    RG in Michigan

    • Agree ! It is great to see all the passion for college hockey, I hope to see three great games, good luck to all and can we please hurry up and drop the puck.

  13. Michigan fans apparently can’t accept the fact that they are under dogs. Here’s a simple fact-there’s not one category that Michigan holds over UND. Go look at all the stats. As an example, the Sioux have 5 players among the top 50 scorers, Michigan has 1. And they have done this playing a stronger schedule than Michigan (as usual, the WCHA is at the top of the SOS stat this year as it is every year). Just accept your role and move on. As someone said, it’s the Siouxs game to lose.



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