Schmaltz, Gothberg returning

Decision season is underway. So far, so good for UND.

Jordan Schmaltz and Zane Gothberg are among the players who have decided that they are returning to UND for their junior seasons, which means the strength of next year’s team will be from the blue line back.

Schmaltz will get the unique opportunity to play with his brother, Nick, who will be a freshman on next year’s team.

Schmaltz’s father, Mike, also had that opportunity at UND. He played football alongside his brother, Marc.

Gothberg had a terrific end to his sophomore season, going 18-5-1 with a .933 save percentage and a 1.72 goals-against average.

Michael Parks also confirmed that he will be back for his senior season. It appears that Rocco Grimaldi is the last remaining player to make a decision.

Mattson commits to UND

UND received a verbal commitment Tuesday from Grand Rapids sophomore forward Mitchell Mattson (no relation to Nick).

Mattson is a 6-foot-3 forward with good skills. He’s UND’s first 1998-born recruit. Mattson’s arrival date is still up in the air.

Mattson also had an offer from Minnesota Duluth and was planning to visit Minnesota, but after his trip to Grand Forks, he knew that’s where he wanted to play college hockey.

His older sister, Sidney, is a UND volleyball recruit.

Here’s the Herald story on Mattson’s commitment.

Nelson to play at Worlds

Former UND forward Brock Nelson just completed his rookie season in the NHL with 14 goals and 26 points. But he’s not done just yet.

Nelson was one of the first 15 players selected to Team USA’s World Championship roster on Tuesday.

Nelson, who played two seasons at UND and led the WCHA in goals as a sophomore, will head to Belarus next month to play in the tournament.

Three 2013-14 college players will join the roster, too, including UMass-Lowell’s Connor Hellebuyck, BC’s Johnny Gaudreau and Kevin Hayes, according to USA Today.

Seven chasing the Cup

Seven former UND players will be chasing the Cup this playoff season.

They are Jonathan Toews (Chicago), T.J. Oshie (St. Louis), Chris Porter (St. Louis), Zach Parise (Minnesota), Brad Malone (Colorado), Matt Greene (Los Angeles) and Matt Frattin (Columbus).

Also of note, Rick Wilson is an assistant coach for the Wild and James Patrick is an assistant coach for the Stars.

A couple of them will be going head-to-head: Parise vs. Malone; Toews vs. Oshie and Porter.

The playoffs start Wednesday. For a full schedule, including TV listings, check this site.

Union wins the title

Union won its first-ever national championship on Saturday night, downing Minnesota 7-4 in Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center. Union threw 49 shots on goal and 96 shot attempts at the Gophers.

The win completes a remarkable stretch of hockey for the Dutchmen, who went undefeated after January. Only once in about the last two months did an opponent come within a goal of Union — that was Boston College on Thursday (the Eagles scored with 4 seconds left to make it a one-goal game, too).

So, you won’t see many arguments that the Dutchmen weren’t the best team.

Shayne Gostisbehere put together a memorable performance in the final, scoring a goal, adding two assists and registering a ridiculous plus-7 rating.

A few final thoughts about the Frozen Four:

1. This was the seventh Frozen Four that I have covered and I thought that Wells Fargo Center was the worst venue of the group. It’s only four years older than the Xcel Energy Center, but it feels like it’s 20 years older. For the media, the facilities were really cramped. The building would massively fail fire codes. One person in the Herald group went in the staircase and got locked in and had to bang on the door until someone opened it. We also couldn’t get out of the building on the first day we were there. That’s not safe.

2. For spectators, Philly was probably a decent site. During off days, there’s plenty to do there. Lots of history. Lots of tourist attractions. Lots of food to try. Frozen Fest continues to be a success.

3. It was great to have Tim Hennessy back at this Frozen Four. When we found out that he wouldn’t be able to do the 2011 Frozen Four (read why here), immediately, things didn’t feel right at all. It felt a lot more normal this time to have him back broadcasting the game.

4. All three games were highly entertaining for the fans and the potential casual fans who were tuning in. It has been a while since we’ve had a Frozen Four that was this entertaining.

5. The makeup of Union’s team, I think, is pretty similar to what UND should look like next season: Prolific defensemen that lead the offense and veteran forwards.

Season comes to an end

PHILADELPHIA — UND’s season came to a close Thursday night in stunning fashion with Minnesota scoring a shorthanded goal with less than a second left in Wells Fargo Center.

It’s the fifth Frozen Four trip in a row that UND has lost a semifinal game. This one was like a few of the others, where UND played more than well enough to win.

Shots on goal were 37-28. Shot attempts were 83-52. In the decisive third period, UND outshot Minnesota 13-7 and had a 30-15 shot attempt advantage.

This seems to keep happening, doesn’t it?

After a fifth straight Frozen Four semifinal loss, you start looking back at the others for a pattern. What do they need to change? What’s going wrong? And that’s the baffling part.

Other than the obvious answer of “more goals,” what would anybody change about tonight’s game? I thought UND executed its game plan to a T.

UND had more zone time than Minnesota, which is a great puck possession team. UND had traffic in front of Adam Wilcox often. UND created some scrambles around the crease. The defense generated. UND did a great job of getting in passing lanes and making it tough for the Gophers to create offense (Dillon Simpson was terrific tonight, I thought).

In fact, here’s the shot chart in the period where UND lost the game:

Same thing with 2011 in St. Paul. I would take that performance against Michigan (40-20 shot advantage, 26-10 in the final two periods) every day of the week.

You could even go back to the 2005 title game loss (45-24 shot advantage) as another performance that you wouldn’t change anything.

The UND program certainly hasn’t caught many breaks in the Frozen Four lately, and on this night, it was a blocked shot that ended up on the stick of Minnesota’s Justin Holl for the game-winner.

UND may have been a No. 4 seed that managed to surprise everyone on its way to the Frozen Four, but after watching this game, I really do think that UND probably was one of the four best teams in the nation by the end of the season.

The progress of this team over the season was remarkable.

UND outshot Vermont 36-34 in the opening game of the season and got a win. Then, things got hard for UND. It won just two games in a 10-game stretch. When it did win, often times it was because of its goaltender.

In fact, after the season-opener against Vermont, UND won six games in the next two months, but got outshot in all six of them (four of them by double digits).

But slowly, this team turned into a very good team that finished the season 21-7-1 in its last 29 games, and it was outshooting even the best teams in the country (Wisconsin, Minnesota).

Yes, there’s a lot for UND fans to be excited about for next season. If everyone stays (and I think there’s a good chance of that), UND only loses Simpson and Derek Rodwell from tonight’s lineup.

I do think UND will be a better team next season. But here’s the truth: UND could have a better team and not make it to the Frozen Four.

It’s hard to get to the Frozen Four. Only 4 of 59 teams do it and far more teams are capable of it than a decade ago. The tournament is volatile and unpredictable. Getting there six times in 10 years is not normal.

UND overachieved this season and made it a lot further than most of us thought they would. But that’s what makes this loss tough for the team: When you get to the Frozen Four, you want to make the most of your opportunity, because you don’t know when you’ll be back.

UND has things set up pretty good for the future with this young D-corps and the stable of recruits lined up. But who knows what the future holds with the unpredictable NCAAs.

When you look at the season as a whole, it was quite a wild ride for this team.

Remember when we all went to The Ralph on a Sunday afternoon for Game 3 against Colorado College wondering if this was the last night of hockey for the season? Seems ages ago.

A lot has happened since then. The fans who I talked to today at McFadden’s said they really enjoyed watching this team turn into a lunch-pail group, led by guys like Connor Gaarder and Stephane Pattyn.

For me, this season blew by. It is hard to believe it is already April and the season is already over. Feels like it was just yesterday when I was scrambling to finish our annual preseason special section preview and it probably won’t be long before it’s time to start working on it again.

In the meantime, I think there will be plenty of interesting storylines around college hockey this summer for me to work on, starting with a season recap next week.

I’ll try to think of new ideas to make the Herald’s coverage of college hockey better next season. As always, if you have any ideas or suggestions, please, by all means, drop me an e-mail or leave a note in the comments.

Other than that, thanks a lot for reading the coverage this season, and thanks to the fans who introduced themselves this weekend in Philly (and elsewhere the rest of the season that matter).

Gameday final: Minnesota 2, UND 1

TONIGHT’S VIEWING: ESPN2. No webcast. Lineup notes: No surprises. Full lines and live chat are below.

First period

No scoring.

Second period

No scoring.

Third period

Minnesota 1, UND 0 — Sam Warning (Kyle Rau) 10:51. The Gophers get a puck to the slot area with traffic and it eventually goes to the side of the net, where Warning picks it up with his backhand and puts it behind Gothberg.

Minnesota 1, UND 1 — Connor Gaarder (Dillon Simpson, Jordan Schmaltz) 11:23. Gaarder skates the puck up the left wing on a rush and flips a backhand that Wilcox stops. The rebound is sitting next to the side of the net and Gaarder slaps at it. It goes off of Wilcox and in to tie the game.

Minnesota 2, UND 1 — Justin Holl (Kyle Rau, Brady Skjei) 19:59 (sh). UND losses in stunning fashion, giving up a shorthanded goal with less than a second left. The Gophers start a rush shorthanded. Rau’s shot is blocked by Schmaltz, it goes right to Holl, who puts it just inside the right post.

UND’s lines

9 Drake Caggiula–16 Mark MacMillan–15 Michael Parks
28 Stephane Pattyn–19 Rocco Grimaldi–27 Luke Johnson
21 Brendan O’Donnell–13 Connor Gaarder–11 Derek Rodwell
29 Bryn Chyzyk–17 Colten St. Clair–22 Andrew Panzarella

18 Dillon Simpson–24 Jordan Schmaltz
5 Nick Mattson–6 Paul LaDue
4 Keaton Thompson–2 Troy Stecher

31 Zane Gothberg
33 Clarke Saunders

Minnesota’s lines

11 Sam Warning–7 Kyle Rau–24 Hudson Fasching
16 Nate Condon–25 Justin Kloos–13 Taylor Cammarata
14 Tom Serratore–22 Travis Boyd–17 Seth Ambroz
21 Connor Reilly–27 Gabe Guertler–19 Vinni Lettieri

2 Brady Skjei–12 Justin Holl
5 Mike Reilly–6 Jake Parenteau
10 Ben Marshall–20 Michael Brodzinski

32 Adam Wilcox
1 Michael Shibrowski

Thursday morning reading

PHILADELPHIA — I just took a taxi cab back to the hotel, rode the elevator up to my room and plopped down in my chair with a cheese steak from Geno’s.

Well, what’s left of it, anyway.

It was quite a busy first day at the Frozen Four in Philadelphia. Every other Frozen Four that I’ve covered, we traveled on Tuesday. This time, we didn’t go until Wednesday, because we had the Forum’s plane.

We got in just in time for UND’s practice, which was rather routine. This seemed like the same, loose group that went to Minneapolis three weeks ago and Cincinnati two weeks ago.

Who knows what the end result will be, but this is clearly a team that is not up tight.

The most entertaining part of practice is always the shootout and there was some buzz when Michael Parks went three-for-three to win it, including a top-shelf backhand. Brad Berry also created a buzz by scoring on his first two attempts.

If you want to read a lot of content, we have two eight-page sections inserted into today’s Herald. I’m told that the stories are not going to be available on the web, so go pick up a Herald if you want a lot to read.

There are also a couple of stories that are on the Herald’s site, including a quick scene-setting piece on practice and a notebook, which tells you why The Voice, Tim Hennessy missed UND’s last Frozen Four.

There is a ton of good content all over the place (the media room was rather crowded today). Check the regulars, and for some more features.

I did want to mention one CHN piece about UND’s team meeting that helped right the ship. There were some interesting quotes from Rocco Grimaldi in this one. Grimaldi said things got heated and personal in the meeting.

Now for my picks.

I will start by saying that it won’t surprise me in the least if any of the four teams win the national championship this weekend. That’s the way college hockey is these days.

UND vs. Minnesota

The Gophers are the more skilled team. They will try to play an up-and-down game and use their outstanding skating ability to beat UND. I’m guessing UND would like to play it a bit more close to the vest and rely on its strong D-corps and goaltending to knock off the Gophers.

In the end, I think Minnesota is the more complete team here. The Gophers are statistically better than UND in nearly every category. The big difference between this Gopher squad and past ones is that they defend much better. Ultimately, I think UND’s run ends in the semifinals.

Minnesota 4, UND 1

Union vs. Boston College

The Eagles will get all the hype. And why not? They have won four national titles since 2001.

But Union is the quiet monster of the group. The Dutchmen haven’t lost a game since January. Nobody has even been within a goal of them in about two months now. That’s incredible. Union’s worst loss this year? It was a one-goal game (excluding ENGs).

I think Union plays a tight defensive game, it slows down Boston College enough and the Dutchmen reach the title game.

Union 3, Boston College 2, OT

The final

Union keeps up its dominant play and becomes the third team in four years to win its first national title.

Union 3, Minnesota 2

And here are two photos from Philly. The first is the Forum Communications team heading to Philadelphia on the Forum’s plane. It features members from the Herald, the Forum and WDAZ TV. From left to right: Myself, Tom Miller, Michael Yoshida, Dan Corey, Lori Weber Menke. David Samson, our photog of course, is taking the photo.

And, the second, is myself, Matt Schill and Andy Parr making a trip to Geno’s and Pat’s. I tried Geno’s. Schill and Parr tried Pat’s. We hope to be back again tonight.

Check back through the day for any updates, a video blog and, as always, the live chat. For me, this 23 hour, 30 minute day is over. See ya.