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).