For North Dakota players who’ve endured Frozen Four heartbreaks, hope that third trip produces better result

Drake Caggiula (9) and North Dakota are headed to their third straight Frozen Four (photo: Shawn Conkle).

It could be heard echoing along the concrete corridors underneath Cincinnati’s U.S. Bank Arena. Young men’s voices, tinged with the ecstasy and an enthusiasm that accompanies a great triumph.

“Third time is the charm!”

2016 Frozen Four

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Saturday’s 5-2 triumph over the Michigan in the Midwest Regional final put North Dakota in familiar territory. The program has skated to 21 Frozen Four appearances before. Last weekend’s final horn brought the 22nd.

To everyone involved with the program in any capacity — especially players like alternate captain Paul LaDue — it’s hardly surprising that North Dakota is back in the thick of things in April.

“We didn’t expect anything less,” he said. “We haven’t won [a national championship] in a while and it’s about time to bring one back home.”

But it’s one thing to expect success. It’s quite another to achieve it, and 10 individuals on this roster have twice experienced the bitter sting of disappointment when only four teams remained.

First, it was a heartbreaking, 2-1 loss to rival Minnesota that came in the final second of regulation in 2014. History repeated itself in Boston one year later when North Dakota failed to best Boston University in a 5-3 barn-burner that came down to the wire.

Luke Johnson remembers it all too well.

“We expect excellence at this school and from this team,” he said. “It’s tough to lose those games in the Frozen Four. Both years I’ve been here I thought we played well and were the better team most of the games.”

So what makes this trip different? For starters, the team finally acquired a post-Fighting Sioux nickname. After three years without a moniker, North Dakota has part of a season under its belt as the “Fighting Hawks.”

The shift in identity extends to the roster, too: Freshmen like Brock Boeser have reloaded this squad, filling in for the holes left by players such as Michael Parks and Mark MacMillan.

Together with Drake Caggiula and Nick Schmaltz, Boeser helps form the “CBS line,” a trio that totals 143 points in 109 combined games played.

North Dakota also will be taking a new head coach to Tampa. Dave Hakstol’s tenure as the winningest college hockey coach of the past decade came to an end in May 2015 when he left for the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, but the athletic brass didn’t have to look very far for his replacement.

Assistant coach Brad Berry stepped up to become the bench boss and excelled in a big way his first year, leading the Fighting Hawks to a 32-6-4 record and the Frozen Four bid. Despite the new superior, players like sophomore Tucker Poolman haven’t missed a beat.

“We were all familiar with him,” Poolman said. “He was here when Coach Hakstol was here, and we know what we’re getting from him.”

And Berry knew what he was getting from his team, night in and night out: Nine players that have been claimed by professional organizations. A goaltender with just four losses on the season and a .934 save percentage in Cam Johnson. The nation’s seventh-best offense and second-best defense.

It’s a team that handed Northeastern its second loss in the last 24 games in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, then tamed the best offense in the country the next evening.

“It’s very humbling,” Berry said in the news conference following Saturday’s win. “We’re very grateful. I truly believe we have a special group in our locker room.”

So what is it that makes this Frozen Four team different from the two that have immediately preceded it? Who’s to say much is really different at all?

A few names on the back of the green and white jerseys have changed. The point totals and records and opponents aren’t the same. There’s a new coach and a new leading scorer in Boeser.

But the name on the front of the sweater still says North Dakota, and excellence is still expected. The process isn’t any different. This team knows what it takes to win. This group has exhibited a high level of play all year, and it bears the knowledge that it has what it takes to make a run for the program’s first national championship since 2000.

That’s why those voices could be heard reverberating in the tunnels beneath the arena on Saturday. It’s why those five words were repeated like the chorus to a song:

“Third time is the charm.”

58 COMMENTS

  1. First, I’ll say that I’m a North Dakota Alum and fan. This team is deep and hungry. Their defense is stifling when their game is on. It’s the closest thing to an NHL-style college team I’ve seen in quite a while. This should be the year they get number 8.

  2. Dave, we will take note of how awesome your team is. Deep, hungry and NHL style. That should do it, right? Gotta love the North Dakota fans!

      • Just making fun of North Dakota fans’ tendency to believe that their team’s destiny is entirely in their own team’s hands. They have been to what, 7 Frozen Fours recently, and haven’t won once? Perhaps the other teams had something to do with that. Have you ever had a conversation with an ND fan where they expressed any interest in talking about anything except their own team? Maybe you’ve had better luck than I have! Denver’s no slouch, neither is BC or Q. All four teams are “deep” and “hungry.” What an NHL style college team has to do with anything, I’m not sure. It ain’t about the number of draft picks this time of year.

        • I believe that one of those years they did actually get to the final but lost. Ironically, that was to Denver. Pretty much every other year its been a team from Boston and then that loss to Minnesota two years ago.

          • Gotta give them credit for making it so frequently, but it has to stink to not have any trophy to show for it. They really “should” be at about 9-10 titles by now. Maybe this will be their year…law of averages has to favor them at some point.

          • I guess I’d rather make it to the FF than be sitting on the couch when the tournament starts…..

          • I suppose that is true. It’s a tremendous record of making it the Frozen Four, no doubt. But I would think that for all the traveling fans, it would get annoying to not come home with the championship. Once, twice, three times, maybe is OK. But after that I gotta start questioning what’s up and getting a little ticked off. Hell, if i knew in advance that my team would lose, I’m not even sure I would make the trip. But thankfully we can’t see the future, and ND fans have contributed nicely to local economies and added to the attendance figures.

          • My sister-in-law started going to the FF in 05 and bought tickets and attended it for 10 straight years in hopes of witnessing #8 first hand. Last season she stayed away believing she had a hand in keeping them from it, lol. Gotta love her wisdom,

          • Annoying? Hell yeah. Was hard to believe I heard people thinking Hakstol needed to be replaced because he wasn’t getting it done. But as I have said, that level of success allows you the chance, and once you are there, you never know what bounce will go your way. If you don’t make it, you have 0% chance of winning it.

          • IMO Hakstol didn’t get enough top recruits and then didn’t give them enough freedom. Berry seems to be good at both while still emphasizing low-mistake and physical play. Hakstol may be a better NHL coach than college.

          • It’s hard to blame anything on Hakstol. He was an extremely successful coach.
            I know this is sort of an eye-roller, but you have to look at his body of work.
            Lots of wins, even if not The Big One.
            I mean the guy only coached 11 seasons, and he’s in the top 90 for all-time wins, with a .654 winning pct. That’s pretty incredible.

            Same thing with Mason, Parker, Lucia, Gwoz, Berenson, Umile (among others)… they all won (or have won) a ton of games over the course of their careers. All those guys have been (or were) very successful, though not in the NC column (and to his credit, Parker did win the whole thing 3 times).

            There just happens to be only one coach who has achieved tremendous overall success and won 5 NCs. That’s York. He’s in a class by himself. When he retires, the Coach-of-the-Year award should be called the “Jerry York Award”.

          • I’m sorry it just doesn’t wash. If you don’t win titles at North Dakota, you’re not doing well enough. There is no reason not to win titles at North Dakota. The only obstacle to getting great players at UND is to getting them to visit Grand Forks — that’s the coach’s job. The rest sells itself to the right athlete.

            Hakstol took over from a coach with a .733 winning percentage at UND. So Hakstol’s .653 doesn’t look as good now, does it? .653 puts Hakstol tied for 4th all time among UND coaches, and the one he’s tied with had a better WCHA record. Gasparini is behind him, but Gasparini won titles. So you can very easily make the case that Hakstol is the 6th best coach in UND history.

            Hak is basically Doug Woog — good regular season record, but didn’t get it done when it counted and doesn’t measure up because of that. If you’re the coach at North Dakota, Minnesota, BC…you win championships, period.

          • Annoying? Absolutely annoying, but I guess I’m not sure of a better alternative. I love that they have a chance every year and I guess I’m not sure if I’d rather them lose in the Frozen Four or in the regionals. Both are pretty painful.

          • Frattin had Hunwick beat clean, CLEAN, n that puck went about 12 rows up. I guess it really means something when a memory sticks with you like that. The Goofs buzzer beater just flat-out pissed me off. I literally started throwing stuff.

          • Over the last 13 years losses;
            BC 3 times, BU 1
            Denver, Yale and Minnesota 2 each
            Michigan and UNH 1 each.
            They have lost to the eventual NC 4 times. The three straight losses to BC in 06, 07 and 08 in the semis is what people remember most.

          • In general, one just shouldn’t get too worked up over losses in the FF.
            After all, only one team finishes the year with a win.
            But in the case of NoDak vs. BC, I think it’s time for NoDak to win.

        • PSCR you my man are being a little condescending. #1 you must not have had many talks with North Dakota fans outside of the bar. #2 Getting to 7 frozen fours recently is an accomplishment in itself. #3. North Dakota did not have the “best” or “most talented” team all of those years.. I can only think of two North Dakota teams in that time that were arguably the best in that respective year. Most of those teams over-achieved just to be there. #4. When this years team is at its best they can dismantle anyone. If they play their best it will take puck luck and/or a hot goalie to beat them. I will stand by that too.

        • The constant hate on UND fans is silly. Because of the volume and intensity of the forums and comment boards, Green and White fans are ripped the most, but the thing is, they do anything that any other fan does… they think their team is the best and cheer for them. Do fans of other teams not want to talk about their teams and not the others? What’s the crime? Pump the breaks on the tough guy talk. You don’t know UND fans very well if you think we are taking these three teams seriously. DU is a huge rival and BC has been the bane of UND’s NCAA existence over the last decade or so. We know and respect these teams. The guy never said anything slighting any of the other three teams, just stated why he believes UND will win. What’s the dang problem?

        • The discussion about NHL style teams is a little backward in my opinion. The talking heads scratch their heads as to why the Flyers are having late season success but it is pretty simple to sum up. The players have bought into Hak’s system and are now playing Sioux hockey. Our current team may or may not win the FF but I like their chances this year if they stay disciplined, stay out of the box, and keep faith with the system. With college kids, that is always a toss of the dice. Sure is more fun to have a dog in the fight each year though.

        • You’re funny. What do you think you’re going to tell UND fans about Denver that they don’t already know from having played them several times?

          I would say the NHL-style team is in reference to the depth, speed and defensive quality. They showed pretty clearly against Michigan the difference between a line and a team.

          • Ya know, “Ron”… you could have told me about your name earlier, All those times I’ve seen you at the market…I’m like “Hey, Ron, how’s it going?” And you always replied. I feel like a fool.

  3. Denver is what matters now. 5 games behind us now.
    March 19, 1-1, We outshot DU 27-17, no PP goals for either team
    February 13, 1-4, We outshot DU 35-25, no PP goals for either team
    February 12, 4-6, We outshot DU 41-35, 1 PP goal for UND
    December 5, 4-0, We outshot DU 37-18, 1 PP goal for UND
    December 4, 5-1, We were outshot 23-22, 1 PP goal for UND

    I predict we will outshoot DU, DU will not score any PP goals and we will win 3-2 or greater.

    • DU will answer for me i’m sure…but was the Pacific Rim line together in December? I don’t think it was yet.

      Looks like 4 goals will be needed to win.

        • You obviously have not followed DU. Line formed 2nd week in January, Q. Shore was center for Moore and Heinan before. Best not post “facts” you simply make up.

          • I swear I read something about Gambrell being on their line when UND played them at the REA. Wasn’t a matter of making something up, just incorrectly remembering something. Sorry, bub. And yes, I’ve followed DU plenty. Just a mistake.

          • No problem, just correcting the record. Quinten Shore centered line all last year, until after Christmas break, Gambrell was paired with Levin and Arnold on 3rd line. Montgomery made the change mainly due to first line not being productive. He moved Shore to 2nd line, Marcinew down to 3rd. Seemed to really improve both 2nd and 3rd lines.

          • Where does the name come from? Pacific Rim?

            Seems like they have a little Mich and UND envy…wanted to get their own name. haha. Just kidding

          • Gambrell from Washington State, Moore from California, and Heinen from British Columbia. Simply a geographical thing.

      • Pacific Rim Line formed 2nd week in January. Good thought, JMST. Just my opinion, SOG mean crap. Important thing is quality, not quantity, of SOG.

    • SOG is a meaningless stat. Quality over quantity. You can have 35 shots unscreened and bad angle. I will take 20 shots through screens and from the slot. Who will score more goals?

        • You proved my point with the last two DU/UND games. Two UND losses, one not even close game, UND out shot DU 76-60. DU final in regional over Ferris State another example. First period SOG, 15-3 in favor of DU, score 2-2. There is no correlation I can find anywhere. Can you tell me where you got your stat, or did you just make it up?

          • You honestly see no connection of SOG to wins? Well, it’s clearly not the only factor, but a quick look at the Four teams left playing suggest at least a little bit of a connection…. UND, most wins in NCAA, 15th best shots per game, QU, 2nd most wins, 4th most SOG, BC, 4th most wins, 14th most SOG, DU, 6th most wins, 25th best SOG.

          • We have been outshot most of the year, as proved by your stat ranking us 25th. This is barely in top half of all teams, even with PRL since January. Coach Montgomery stresses getting good chances, not taking shots with nobody to screen or rebound. According to your stats, remaining teams 4th/14th/15th/25th. I really wonder where the rest of top 10 in shots wound up with wins, do you know? Honestly, have witnessed many game, on TV and live, where SOG was not important.

          • collegehockeyinc.com …. Like I said, it’s clearly not the only factor and their are exceptions to the rule (Penn State, despite them winning plenty of games), generally, if you outshoot your opponent, you win more games. Top 10 in SOG/GP… 1) PSU, 2) Michigan (NCAAs), 3) RMU (lost in AHC title game), 4) Q (NCAAs), 5) UMD (NCAAs), 6) BU (NCAAs), 7) Yale (NCAAs), 8) Providence (NCAAs), 9) Minn State (lost in WCHA title game), 10) Tech, 11) RIT (NCAAs), 12) OSU, 13) Ferris State (NCAAs), 14) BC (NCAAs), 15) UND (NCAAs) …. So of the top 15 in SOG, 10 made the tournament with 3 in the Frozen Four, two lost in their league championship game, 3 missed. Again, not the only factor, certainly, but there is a trend.

  4. Sometimes you have to be grateful for what you already have too. I understand that not every team or fan base has the same standards, but besides maybe Boston College, 8 (?) frozen four appearances since 2000 is very impressive. Its hard to even MAKE it there. Plus you have the regular season and conference tournament trophies too, and the longest streak making the big dance. Hard to ask for anything more than long term success and consistency as a fan.

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