Commentary: Will the seventh time finally be the charm for North Dakota’s Hakstol?

Dave Hakstol has taken North Dakota to the NCAA tournament in all 11 of his seasons leading the team, and to the Frozen Four in seven (photo: Jim Rosvold).

In June 2004, Dean Blais stepped down after 10 seasons as North Dakota’s head coach, and Dave Hakstol, associate head coach to Blais, was named his replacement. Hakstol had big shoes to fill, and he has not disappointed. However, he is still missing one piece from his coaching legacy: a national championship.

Since Hakstol took over in 2004-05, North Dakota has not missed the NCAA tournament. This is Hakstol’s 11th season in charge, and he has taken North Dakota to the Frozen Four seven times, including this year. Let’s look back at his previous six:

2005: Columbus, Ohio

It was a great start to Hakstol’s tenure (he had spent 2000 through 2004 as the associate head coach to current Omaha coach Blais) in making the Frozen Four right away.

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This particular tournament is memorably for being the first in which the four semifinalists all came from the same conference (WCHA).

Hakstol began as a winner as North Dakota defeated Minnesota 4-2 in the semifinals, but UND lost to Denver 4-1 in the championship game.

2006: Milwaukee

With a roster loaded with talent such as future NHLers TJ Oshie and Jonathan Toews, UND took Hakstol to his second Frozen Four in as many years. However, North Dakota was bounced quickly this time, losing to Boston College 6-5 at the Bradley Center. BC ended up losing to Wisconsin in the championship game.

2007: St. Louis

After struggling midway through the season, North Dakota managed to bounce back to make Hakstol 3-for-3 in Frozen Four appearances. UND advanced to St. Louis after knocking off Minnesota in overtime in the West Regional final, avenging an OT loss to the Gophers in the WCHA Final Five championship the week before.

Once again, however, Boston College got the better of North Dakota. The Eagles won another high-scoring battle, this time 6-4. BC lost to Michigan State in the title game.

2008: Denver

After a 23-win regular season, North Dakota moved on to its fourth straight Frozen Four, this time in the Rockies. UND fell short of the national title game for the third straight year, however, as Boston College once again spoiled their plans, handing North Dakota a 6-1 drubbing at the Pepsi Center. The Eagles went on to beat Notre Dame in the title game.

2011: St. Paul, Minn.

After a couple of first-round knockouts in their last two NCAA tournaments, North Dakota, WCHA regular-season and playoff champion, was looking in great shape to win its first NCAA title in 11 years after breezing through the regional.

But UND fell short of the championship game again after being upset by Michigan 2-0 at the Xcel Energy Center. Michigan lost to Minnesota-Duluth in OT in the championship game, giving the Bulldogs their first title.

2014: Philadelphia

After a lackluster regular season finish and underwhelming playoff performance in their inaugural season in the NCHC, North Dakota was able to sneak into the NCAA tournament for the 12th straight season. In taking care of Wisconsin and Ferris State in the Midwest Regional, UND advanced to its sixth Frozen Four in 10 seasons.

But they were unable to advance to the title game once again, as this time it was old rival Minnesota getting in the way. The Gophers scored with 0.6 seconds remaining in regulation to send North Dakota home with a 2-1 loss. Minnesota lost to Union in the championship game.

Now let’s take a look at this year.

North Dakota won the NCHC regular season championship after coughing it up to St. Cloud State late last year. However, the loss of leading scorer Mark MacMillan seemed to take an emotional toll on the team, as they struggled to put away Colorado College in the first round and were humbled in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in losing to St. Cloud State and Denver.

But they didn’t let that performance affect them in a West Regional that they hosted in Fargo, N.D., last weekend, getting past Quinnipiac and St. Cloud State in a pair of 4-1 victories to advance to Boston. Goaltender Zane McIntyre, in particular, was terrific.

Dave Hakstol told me last week that his players never needed to bounce back after their weekend in Minneapolis; they simply turned the page.

There’s something about this team this year that I like. I think they’ll turn the page on their previous Frozen Fours as well and bring an eighth title to Grand Forks.

And that’ll bring Hakstol immortality in North Dakota hockey history.

18 COMMENTS

  1. Wouldn’t it be great to see Hackstol vs. Blais in a memorable championship game with the Sioux bringing home an 8th title to GF.

    • Never will happen… Hackstol sets a game plan and sticks to it even in a losing contest. We need to Jim Harbough him.. Maybe entice Blais back into the fold…

      • Really? You believe that Hak is not capable of making adjustments to the game plan during a game? I have seen him make changes all the time. You think that when the team starts out the game in one fore check and then changes to another that isn’t the coaches? Or the lines get changed up, what the players are making those calls? Simply don’t agree with what you are saying here at all.

          • So just tell me who you are going to go and get that can keep this going? Who can recruit the way he does and will be certain to bring in the kids that he does? It’s super easy to be a band wagon fan and jump all over one of the winningest coaches in the programs history but he has done something that I am not sure any one every has and gone to 7 FF’s in 11 seasons. Some of this is just plain bad luck running into hot goalies and that kind of thing. My guess it that you never played a single hockey game in your life and really don’t understand how hard it must be to win that game last night against a very good BU team. You think that BU was just going to lay down? How many coaches could have even gotten his players to believe they had a shot with 10 minutes left and being down 4-1 to a team that was the best in the country in the third period outscoring their opponents all year long. Do all UND fans a favor and go root for the gophers, we don’t need you or want you.

          • Excuses, excuses. Recruiting is mostly reputation. Unfortunately that rep. is slowly waning. We have lost several star recruits over the last few years. As for coachs, Gino Gasspirini and Dean Blais, did a better job of both recruiting and National championships. As for my knowledge of hockey. I was a coach in youth hockey for 10 years with a North Dakota state Bantam tourney win… So yes I do know hockey. And before you say collage hockey is a lot different than youth hockey you are wrong… Both are played the same… So no you can not use that is another excuses… Subject: Re: Comment on Commentary: Will the seventh time finally be the charm for North Dakota’ s Hakstol?

          • Yeah now the conversation is over because you just compared your bantam championship in ND to the NCAA Frozen Four. It is different. Very different. You don’t recruit players and Hak does. Maybe you should get the job sounds like you are totally ready and obviously you have all of the necessary experience. And no team gets every single recruit they go after. And if you think Gino was a better coach then we can just agree to disagree on that. Yeah he won two titles but that isn’t the only thing that matters. I was at UND from 1991-1995 and the team was fairly awful at that time. Gino couldn’t get a winning team on the ice his last three years and he only went to 6 NCAA tourneys in his 16 years. Winning a title isn’t solely on the coach. But you should send in your resume. I am guessing they will see that bantam championship and probably offer you the job right away.

          • Wrong… The game of hockey from Squirt level to Pro level is played the same… The only difference is experience… Yes Gino’s teams in that era where bad… He also got fired for it… You didn’t mention anything about Dean Blais… You know. The guy who brought a bunch of freshmen and sophomores to the frozen four and got just as far as Hakstol with his 17 drafted players. Yet Hakstol gets coach of the year and Blais gets nothing. And by the way… Hakstol very seldom goes out to recruit players, his assistance do. In conclusion. Despite all that has been said… I was right and you were wrong… Get over it..
            Subject: Re: Comment on Commentary: Will the seventh time finally be the charm for North Dakota’ s Hakstol?

  2. I’m sick to my stomach waiting for this Frozen Four! Come on Thursday am, on the jet drinking a ceasar with a beer chaser! Go Sioux! Hang8

  3. While there is an element of hilarity to the headline of this article:

    “Will the SEVENTH time be the charm for Hakstol?”, most schools would sell their souls to be in a position to even be able to pose such a question.

  4. I think Hakstol is a good coach, I just don’t know how good? He has more support at UND, in every way imaginable, than any other hockey program in the country. Most ppl in the state know just how much time, money, and support the program receives from the school, fans, super-alum, and friends. Since ND does not have a professional sports team, it was not surprising to see many in ND migrate to the state’s most successful sports program. Of course, Bison fans might have something to say about their FB team. The truth is, UND hockey will never relinquish its top billing in the state, no matter how many FCS championships the FB team from the Agriculture College might win.
    Here is my concern for Hak. UND has won a bunch of games, has been to the FF in all but 3 of Hak’s 12 years (or is it 4 years we have missed?), and have done better than average against our rivals (mostly MN and DU). But, come tourney time, we are losing to schools like BC, BU, and MN in the first game of the FF (I think DU beat us in the NC). Hak has been here 12 years and we do not have a NC, most fans consider this unacceptable…..as do I. Here is why: Given the amount of support this team receives, the great players that have come through the program (some staying only 1 or 2 years), and the fact we have not been able to reach the NC game, tells me it is time to at least consider a change. It is hard to fathom firing a HC like Hak, the level of success he has had is obvious. But, at the end of the day, what are we talking about? We are talking about NC’s. If UND places 2nd, 4th, 10th, 20th……it really does not matter….right? All any college hockey fan cares about is winning the NC, at least in the big picture. So, let’s say UND and UNO get into the NC game. If UNO (and Dean Blais) beat UND, you just gotta know what ppl will be saying. And, if they don’t say it, they will be thinking it. As unfair as this might be to Hak (Dean Blais beats most HC’s he faces…..he is one of the best coaches in college hockey….ever) If UND loses 5-1, things will be all that much worse for Hak.
    I like Hakstol, he is a good man and he is a good coach. But, I feel like a lot of other fans in that we need to win another NC.. The truth is, whether others want to agree with this or not, UND & company provides the HC with a Ferrari of a hockey program. If the HC can barely drive a Mustang, you can be assured the Ferrari will be taken away at some point. You can win some games driving a Ferrari like a Ford, but you won’t win the NC. Let’s hope Hak is now Ferrari-capable, just in time for the ’15 FF. If Hak gets #8 this year, the hoards will no longer be restless; all will be good with UND hockey.

    • You need to have a sit-down with Nebraska Cornhusker fans that were saying these same sorts of things about Tom Osborne along about 1992. Once he got it “figured” out, there was no beating the guy, Count your blessings.

      • Couldn’t agree more. I wouldn’t let Hak go at any cost. He gets the talent year in and year out and always gives him teams a chance to win the whole thing. He will get one eventually.

      • Can’t really compare football with hockey, especially when there was no playoff back then, a lot different then having to plan for four games. But none the less it will be interesting to see what happens come this weekend. Hoping for some good hockey, high scoring would be fun, and the Dean vs ND would be a good story too.

    • Hack is true to his name. Cheap shots and fighting impose 90% of opponents. True talent will triumph every time. This year UND has balanced talent and don’t rely on goons to take out top players of opponents. This is not typical Hack and scrum team that has a few good players and a bunch of neanderthals that waits till January to intimidate and wear down the other team and rely on goaltending and big dmen to save them. They have played well all year. This may be UND ‘ S best chance in the Hack master era. The only question is will they skate or try to take out Eichel and rely on McIntyre to bail them out.
      If they skate they win
      If they try to take out Eichel they lose.

  5. I would rather have my team in the Frozen four almost every year and not win it then having the season over and sitting at home watching it on TV like most golden choker fans. GO SIOUX! One of these years they will win it! SIOUX YEAH YEAH!

    • Totally agree. Most fans don’t know how good they have it until they lose it. Be grateful and appreciate it when it happens. All you can ask for is long term consitency.

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