The road to the tourney

UND made the national tournament in unconventional fashion, waiting until the final pre-tournament game to find out whether it would be in or out.

In one sense, this team backed into the tournament, because it needed help from others in the end.

In another sense, it really didn’t.

UND went 19-6-1 in its last 26 games of the season, a winning percentage of .750. That’s not exactly a small sample size, either. That’s about four months worth.

The best winning percentages nationally since Nov. 30 are Union (.852), Boston College (.826), Wisconsin (.759), MSU-Mankato (.759) and North Dakota (.750). So, essentially, since that Friday night loss to St. Lawrence, UND has been one of the top five teams in the nation.

The biggest factor in UND’s tight battle to get to the NCAAs was the struggles of the league in nonconference play. For example, had Omaha not lost to Bentley in the season opener, UND would have been in the NCAAs no matter the result of the UW-Ohio State game. Same if Colorado College won just a single nonconference game instead of going 0-9-1.

Heading into the NCAA tournament, UND has a .628 winning percentage. During the current 12-year NCAA tournament streak, UND has been a No. 2 seed three times with a lower winning percentage than that. In past years, UND wouldn’t have been sweating it out with this type of record.

UND also has a better winning percentage than one No. 2 seed (Notre Dame) and one No. 3 seed (Colgate) in this year’s tournament. But Hockey East and the ECAC outperformed the NCHC in nonconference play.

One thing is for sure: If UND would have lost one more game this season — any game on the schedule — it would be done for the year. That made me go back and think of a few games that UND pulled out earlier this season, allowing for the team to still be alive.

Interestingly enough, two guys who had a big-time impact on keeping the team’s season alive probably won’t be in the lineup this weekend — Clarke Saunders and Gage Ausmus.

Three key games that allowed UND to continue

1. UND 5, Western Michigan 0. The third-place game is always highly debated. Should leagues have one or not? As it turns out, it worked out extremely well for the league to have one this season. Without it, UND probably wouldn’t have been in the NCAAs. That win was clutch.

2. UND 3, Omaha 2. Remember that game back in November when half the team got sick and a couple of guys were vomiting on the bench during the game? UND was down to four defensemen and Omaha outplayed UND for the majority of the game. But Saunders was outstanding and stole this one for UND. If not for his performance in this game, UND would be done.

3. UND 3, Northern Michigan 1. It was a major struggle for UND to get anything going. The Wildcats led 1-0 with less than 10 minutes to go when Ausmus made a heck of a one-time shot from an awkward position into the corner of the net. His goal got The Ralph going and UND soon scored the game-winner. A clutch goal by Ausmus saved this one.

19 thoughts on “The road to the tourney

  1. Its simply amazing how other teams non conference record weighs on your team. Especially with the record we had.

    • Nobody really wants to say it so I will, “With the record we had”. Well, if that record was padded with W’s against weak in-league competition then its not so amazing that other teams non-conference records have such an impact. Had SCSU not swept Colgate early in the season would UND have made it? Had SCSU split with UNION (vs a loss and tie) would UND have needed to win the 3rd place game? I think UMD beat Notre Dame in November to split that series, had they swept or been swept what would the outcome have been for the other teams?
      I want to think the NCHC is a very strong league and traditionally the teams in it have been strong but this year the numbers show that, at least in terms of wins and losses vs other leagues, the NCHC is at best the 3rd league. Hockey East and the ECAC, on paper, were better. Thankfully none of that means anything starting Friday, win 4 and hang a banner.

      • Whoa, settle down….I was just saying when you look at a record with no other information, and ours looks good, its just amazing what other teams do that effects you.

  2. I guess the question is about the strength of the NCHC. Are we a weak league overall, or did we just have an off season.

  3. Actually I think the NCHC is one of the toughest leagues to play in. Not to many series this year that a team could be predicted to sweep. If Miami would of been healthy all year they could of easily been the number one team in the conference. I think from top to bottom it is the most complete conference

    • It’s tough in the sense that all teams within the league are fairly even, however, the non-conference record leaves plenty of room for improvement next season.

  4. It’s always a shame that one goalie generally plays, while the others seemingly languish on the bench. Certainly Mr Gothberg has made his move for the starting nod count (amazing numbers/success),but its really great that you pointed out the all-important contribution of Mr Saunders towards the overall success of the team. Well-thought out coverage as always….

  5. Great research Schloss, especially the Bentley bit, very bizarre…. but let’s be fair, what it really comes down to is they couldn’t control their destiny against two unconscious teams, that were winning one game a month, at the moment it mattered most. That’s a pretty telling headline right there.

    Fortunately, they were bailed out by two teams that put away the trash when they see it. Unfortunately, one of those teams will reliably take out the trash again this Friday when UND shows up with their nonurgent uninspired play.

    Wisconsin 4-1. Heard it here first. #firehak #buckynationswagteam

  6. Brad,
    Excellent analysis. I was also thinking about that Friday game at Denver in late January when Clarke Saunders got the start after the injury to Zane. That was a key weekend for the team, and Saunders. He needed to be one of the differencemakers and I thought he played well, expecially in that first 20 minutes and allowed the team to get the lead and UND get an important split. This was one example of how different players contribute throughout the course of a season and sometimes it we as fans forget.

  7. Brad, you missed the obvious, the biggest win for North Dakota was the game 3 win over CC…without that victory, we would all be talking about the future of Hak!!!

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