GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — It was strange wandering around downtown Grand Rapids tonight.
I hardly saw any UND fans.
Every other road trip this year, you could go anywhere in a downtown area, to just about any restaurant or pub, and find the place crawling with UND fans.
All day today, I saw a total of four UND fans, no Minnesota fans, no Niagara fans and no Yale fans. And one of the UND fans was leaving Grand Rapids at the airport.
We will find out tomorrow for sure, but the NCAA has to be worried about this regional being a disaster attendance-wise. Surely, they thought Michigan or Western Michigan — two teams ranked in the top 10 nationally at the start of the season — to be in the tournament and placed in the West Regional.
Alas, there are no Michigan teams in the NCAAs and attendance has to be a major concern for this one. Tom Miller wrote asking questions about the issue. Read that here.
As for the game itself, I’m thinking it will be a close one. I’m going with 3-2 UND. Why will it be close? History tells us so. Read about that, and what Niagara plans to do to keep Danny Kristo and Corban Knight at bay, in this story.
This is my eighth year covering college hockey and probably the first year where I’ve looked at the NCAA bracket with no expectations for anyone. I would be a little surprised if Canisius beat Quinnipiac. Other than that, it’s really up for grabs. This story details the wild world of college hockey in 2012-13.
UND and Boston College have traditionally been the best second-half teams in the nation. UND enters the national tournament with a 9-7-4 mark in the last 20 games. Boston College is 10-9-3 in the last 22 games.
But for UND, alarm bells are not going off. The team went back to work after the Final Five loss to Colorado College and its leaders say that they’ve refocused and they are eager to get back to work against Niagara.
Perhaps that’s this season feels so weird.
Every other year under ninth-year coach Dave Hakstol, UND entered the NCAA tournament on some sort of a ridiculous run. We all knew what the line combinations would be. We all knew who the goaltender would be.
Heading into today? Not so much.
It’s not like UND has had a bad year. The team was a post away from winning the MacNaughton Cup. It was just done in unfamiliar fashion. How will that translate to the NCAAs? It’s anybody’s guess.
In Friday’s Herald, there’s a full page of capsules, featuring all four teams in the West Regional and a key player for each team. I don’t see it online right now, but you can see it in the paper.
Jayson Hajdu and Matt Schill have been doing a travel blog here.
We will have a video blog coming this morning and more coverage of the West Regional as it unfolds in the afternoon.
Minnesota vs. Yale at 1 p.m. Central. UND vs. Niagara at 4:30 p.m. Central. Both games are on ESPNU. We’ll have a live chat going on the blog.