FARGO — I certainly never thought I’d see the day where UND was playing hockey in Fargo in a venue that seats about a fifth of the demand of tickets, but that’s what will occur tonight in Scheels Arena.
Believe it or not, it’s NCAA tournament time. And in less than 48 hours from now, UND’s season will be over or else it will be booking a flight to Boston.
This team has cruised through the season without any points of real hardship. It never had to dig down deep and try to right the ship (unless you count the first game of the season).
The most consistent team that I’ve ever covered had very, very few ebbs and flows this season. It just cruised through, dropping on occasional game, but nothing ever to get concerned about.
This team has finally hit a bump in the road for the first time since October 10. That night, UND lost to Bemidji State 5-1. The bad feelings lasted less than 24 hours as UND won the next night and proceeded to go on an eight-game unbeaten streak.
UND has hit its patch of adversity, going 0-2 last weekend at the Frozen Faceoff and losing three of its last five games.
How was this week of practice?
How do the players and coaches believe the team has responded to those defeats? Read that story here [plus photos of practice and video].
The only other time UND lost back-to-back games at the conference tournament before heading into the NCAAs under coach Dave Hakstol was 2009. That team ended up losing in the first round of the NCAAs to New Hampshire.
I actually thought that team came out of their funk and played fairly well in that game against UNH — and was a tenth of a second away from winning — but they still lost.
That’s the stat working against UND tonight.
The last five years that the old WCHA had a third-place game, the loser of that contest went on to lose in the first round of the NCAAs. And four of the five were higher seeds in the NCAAs.
It’s tough to win in the NCAAs when you don’t have momentum. But it’s not impossible. Two years ago, Yale got shutout in back-to-back games at the ECAC conference tournament, then ran off four in a row in the NCAAs.
UND will be playing an NCAA-experienced Quinnipiac team tonight that sure looks like it will have Sam Anas in the lineup.
UND will have Gage Aumsus in the lineup, which is different than last year. Ausmus had to watch the NCAA tournament a year ago and made a vow that it would never happen again.
If you need to know some facts about the teams in this West Regional, here are my capsules.
Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold says their new arena in 2007 vaulted the team’s recruiting, and they’ll bring several high-profile players to Scheels Arena tonight, including former DU and BC recruits.
For Thursday’s paper, I wrote a column about Michigan Tech and MSU-Mankato, two teams who were afterthoughts in the old WCHA and could become fixtures on the scene after realignment. A lot of Husky and Mav fans were upset about the creation of the NCHC when it happened, but that should probably end this weekend.
The Herald also put together an eight-page special section with some photos of the arena, a quick preview on each team in the West Regional and some ways to follow the game if you’re not going. If you want to check that out, pick up a copy on a newsstand somewhere.
Okay, okay, so I have to make my picks. It’s Year 2 of Schlossman vs. the Quarter. I came out victorious in Year 1 thanks to my pick of Union to win it all last year. We’ll give it another go this season.
MSU-Mankato vs. RIT
Comment: One of two games I feel comfortable about picking in the first round. If this was Robert Morris or Mercyhurst, I think an upset would be more of a possibility. But it’s not.
Omaha vs. Harvard
Comment: I really want to pick Omaha here, but I can’t until they win a playoff game. Just as I can’t pick UND over BC until they win one, I can’t do it for Omaha. 2-13 in the last 15 playoff games is too much to ignore.
Regional title game
Me: Mankato over Harvard
Quarter: RIT over Harvard
Comment: This Mavs teams is deep, veteran and explosive.
Miami vs. Providence
Comment: If Miami had its full complement of players, I’d pick them to make the national championship game. But losing Blake Coleman and possibly Riley Barber is too much to ignore, especially against a Friars team that hasn’t allowed more than two goals in a game since January.
Denver vs. Boston College
Me: Boston College
Quarter: Boston College
Comment: Real tough game to pick. I thought Denver looked significantly better this weekend than it did a month ago. But Boston College’s defensive corps is hard to ignore.
Regional title game
Me: Providence over Boston College
Quarter: Providence over Boston College
Comment: Jon Gillies playing at home. I’m saying Providence is this year’s No. 4 seed to reach the Frozen Four.
Boston University vs. Yale
Me: Boston University
Comment: OK, the quarter hasn’t picked a higher seed yet (heads for high seed, tails for lower seed). But this is the second first-round game I feel comfortable in picking. BU is too explosive.
Minnesota Duluth vs. Minnesota
Comment: Today, we’ll find out more about Minnesota. Did it turn the corner in the second half? Or did it rack up wins because it was playing against Big Ten teams? The Bulldogs are 3-1 against the Gophers this season. Two great offensive teams should put on a good show.
Regional title game
Me: BU over Duluth
Quarter: Duluth over Yale
Comment: I wouldn’t be surprised if BU, Duluth or Minnesota come out of this region, but I’ll give the Terriers the edge as they’ve been the most consistent of the three this season.
UND vs. Quinnipiac
Comment: I went back-and-forth on this one a few times. There’s the stat that says teams that lose third-place games lose in the first round. But UND also is playing in its home state, and as Hakstol said, this team doesn’t get too high when good things happen and doesn’t get too low when bad things happen.
Michigan Tech vs. St. Cloud State
Me: The Huskies. Okay, SCSU.
Comment: You could see that this nucleus of players was going to be good for Tech a few years ago as the WCHA came to an end. I like that team quite a bit. But SCSU is hot right now and is getting Kossila and Prochno back.
Regional title game
Me: SCSU over UND
Quarter: SCSU over UND
Comment: UND looked extremely impressive in sweeping SCSU in The Ralph a month ago. Since then, I’ve had some questions creep in, and that was highlighted last weekend. I wouldn’t be shocked to see UND win the regional, nor would I be shocked to see them lose to Quinnipiac. So, I’m going to compromise and say they win one and lose to a team that’s had their number the last couple years.
Me: Providence over Mankato; BU over SCSU
Quarter: Providence over RIT; SCSU over Duluth
Me: BU over Providence
Quarter: SCSU over Providence
Comment: It’s not just Jack Eichel. BU has a lot of firepower, a solid D-corps and a goalie that can dominate a game (UND knows that well). And it’s a hometown Frozen Four.