Frozen Four preview: Getting back to work has been a theme for North Dakota

North Dakota responded to a poor weekend at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff with a pair of wins at the West Regional (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Immediately after getting crushed by Denver 5-1 in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff third-place game in Minneapolis on March 21, North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol projected an implacable air, saying simply, “I think we just get back to work; don’t overanalyze a whole lot here.”

North Dakota was true to Hakstol’s prediction and looked impressive in winning the West Regional with identical 4-1 triumphs over Quinnipiac and St. Cloud State.

2015 Frozen Four

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“We came through a really tough regional with Quinnipiac and St. Cloud,” said Hakstol. “We had our ups and downs with both teams but were able to find a way to get through the regional. We are excited to get preparing and go to Boston.”

In some ways, that has been the theme for North Dakota all year. Last year in the Frozen Four in Philadelphia, North Dakota lost a heartbreaker to Minnesota 2-1, with the game-winning goal literally coming in the last second of the game.

Right after that, the team, led by eight players who decided to return for their senior season, talked about what they needed to do to get back to the Frozen Four, and possibly win a national championship.

“I think it’s something that not only our class but our whole team expected,” said senior captain Stephane Pattyn. “We put pressure on ourselves, and there’s a lot of pressure playing at the University of North Dakota from our fans and our alumni. It’s a good pressure, and I think it’s what drove us during the season and kept us accountable. Our whole team was on board and committed to it.”

While the leadership from the seniors is a key component for North Dakota, Pattyn said that leaders are stepping up from the entire roster.

“I think that our leadership group is huge,” said Pattyn. “I don’t think it’s just the seniors; I think it’s all four classes. We have freshmen that are already stepping up and being leaders on our team, and that’s something that’s great to see. There are a few sophomores that have a huge key role in where we are, and obviously our upperclassmen have been through a lot in three or four years here and have grown up a lot, and I think that says a lot about our team.”

About North Dakota

Coach: Dave Hakstol, 11th season overall and at North Dakota

Record: 29-9-3 (18-8-2-0 NCHC, first)

How they got to the Frozen Four: Defeated Quinnipiac 4-1 and St. Cloud State 4-1 to win the West Regional

Regional seed: First

Last Frozen Four appearance: 2014

Best NCAA finish: Champion, 2000, 1997, 1987, 1982, 1980, 1963, 1958

Why they’ll win the national title: North Dakota regrouped impressively from a disappointing performance in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in which it lost two games in a row for the first time all year to win the West Regional with two impressive victories.

Why they’ll lose the national title: While North Dakota was essentially at home for the West Regional, the Frozen Four is in Boston, and UND faces Boston University. Six of UND’s nine losses were on the road.

— Candace Horgan

The semifinal with Boston University is interesting in that it will pit two of the Hobey Baker Award Hat Trick members against each other. The nation’s top scorer, BU freshman Jack Eichel, will match wits with one of the country’s top goaltenders, Zane McIntyre of North Dakota.

“Obviously, BU has had a tremendous year,” said Hakstol. “There’s not much more at this point in the season that they can accomplish. They have 27 wins, they’re regular season and playoff champions, they’re regional champions. They’re an outstanding group and have outstanding depth. They’ve got a couple of pretty good lines there. The Eichel line, they’re strong in all three zones and tremendously gifted.”

North Dakota knows that it will be facing not only a strong team but one that is familiar with the ice at TD Garden, treating it like a home away from home. The Terriers won the Beanpot at TD Garden in February and then won the Hockey East tournament there in March. However, North Dakota is concentrating mainly on its own preparation.

“It’s their home ice there,” said Pattyn. “This will be their third time there this year, so they’ll feel comfortable there, and it’s something we need to be prepared for. I think it’s something that has started this week already.”

Added Hakstol: “That’s hockey. I assume it will be a great home crowd, home-ice advantage for them, but as I said, that’s hockey. We’ll have a good mindset, good perspectives and be well-prepared for that entire scenario.”