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.