The final rankings

UND is ranked No. 4 in the final USCHO poll this season (for whatever it’s worth) and I decided to go and look up some past polls. Some of the findings were interesting.

Only five teams have been ranked in the final poll in each of the last five seasons (which tells you a little about the parity in the sport these days). Who are those five teams? North Dakota, Boston College, Michigan, Denver and Union.

So yes, Union has been having similar success to the nation’s best programs over the past five seasons. Its national championship did not exactly come out of thin air.

The other striking stat to me: UND is the only program that has been ranked in the top 16 for each of the past nine years. And the lowest UND has been in that span is No. 7. While UND hasn’t finished off a national championship in that span, that is rather remarkable.

If you go back the last decade, UND has been in the top 10 each season in the final USCHO poll.

Worst final rank of the last decade

10. North Dakota (2005)
17. Denver (2014)
20. Michigan (2013)
20. Boston College (2009)
NR. The rest of the country’s teams

*Of note, USCHO used to do its final ranking before the start of the NCAA tournament. The last four years, they have conducted a poll after the NCAA tournament.

It was interesting to me that UND’s worst season of the last decade — as ranked by the polls — was a year in which it played for the national championship.

Four-seed success

There’s a story on this going in Thursday’s special section, but there’s one interesting stat that pops out about the NCAA tournament recently: No. 4 seeds have had their fair share of success in reaching the Frozen Four.

Since 2009, No. 4 seeds have reached the Frozen Four at double the frequency of No. 2s or No. 3s. Top seeds have been the most successful at reaching the Frozen Four.

Why is that? It’s tough to peg any reason other than the increased parity in the game, which leads to uncertainty in the tournament.

You can see the change in the NCAA tournament if you look at Frozen Four participants by seed. Let’s start by looking at 2003, when the NCAA started going with the current, 16-team setup.

Frozen Four participants by seed from 2003-05

No. 1 seeds — 8
No. 2 seeds — 3
No. 3 seeds — 1
No. 4 seeds — 0

As you can see, at first, the higher seeds dominated as you would expect. Then, in 2007, things started to change.

Frozen Four participants by seed from 2006-08

No. 1 seeds — 3
No. 2 seeds — 3
No. 3 seeds — 5
No. 4 seeds — 1

Through the first six years of the current setup, only a single No. 4 seed reached the tournament. In the last six years, six have made it.

Frozen Four participants by seed since 2009

No. 1 seeds — 12
No. 2 seeds — 3
No. 3 seeds — 3
No. 4 seeds — 6

Departure day arrives

UND will head to Philadelphia today on a charter plane, bound for its sixth Frozen Four in the last 10 years.

The team will get settled in its hotel and practice at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday. That practice is free and open to the public. UND goes from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Minnesota goes from 2:45 to 3:45 p.m. Eastern Time.

After practices, there are press conferences.

I got a look at UND’s jerseys with the Frozen Four patches on them today. Because of the big NCHC patch on the chest area, the Frozen Four patches will be on the left arm sleeve. There’s also a sticker on the back of the helmets.

UND will only be packing the green and black jerseys for this trip. Because it is the lowest-seeded team left in the tournament, it has no chance to wear the home whites, no matter how it plays out.

The Forum Communications team featuring journalists from the Forum, Herald and WDAZ will leave early Wednesday morning.

The Herald is putting out a 16-page Frozen Four section in Thursday’s paper. The stories aren’t going to be online, so you’ll have to get a copy to read them. I’ll post some details on the blog later this afternoon on how to order a copy if you are from out of town and want one.

One other programming note: There will be NO live chat on Wednesday afternoon. We will be busy covering practices out there. I’ll try to have some blog updates. We’ll also have plenty of video coverage from Philly.

Comings and goings

There’s been a lot of action in the past few days on the early signing front, a couple of note for UND.

GOING: Wisconsin’s Nic Kerdiles signed with the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday morning, becoming the second player to leave early this offseason. Standout defenseman Jake McCabe was the first (and he’s already played in the NHL for the Sabres). The Badgers lose their top five scorers and seven of the top eight. UND goes to Madison for a series next season, but it will be a completely different-looking team.

STAYING: Providence star goalie Jon Gillies, who led the Friars to the NCAA tournament this season for the first time in more than a decade, announced on Twitter that he’s coming back for his junior year. Gillies has a career .931 save percentage. The Friars come to Ralph Engelstad Arena next season, so start sounding the Hot Goalie Alert.

GOING: UND doesn’t have any games lined up against UMass-Lowell, but the River Hawks lost star goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who signed with the Jets on Saturday. Hellebuyck finished his remarkable two-year college career with the same number of shutouts as losses (12), which is ridiculous. Lowell also recently lost free-agent defenseman Christian Folin — a kid who was cast off by the Fargo Force to the NAHL just three years ago.

STAYING: Worst to first? Miami University will try to do that next year in the NCHC as the RedHawks were able to keep Austin Czarnik, Riley Barber and Blake Coleman. All three announced on Twitter that they are coming back. With Sean Kuraly, Anthony Louis and a healthy Jimmy Mullin, the RedHawks will without question be the most explosive team in the league.

GOING: In case you didn’t see the earlier post, Omaha lost a second player early in Jaycob Megna. The Mavs will still have some skill up front, but they do have some considerable holes to fill with six seniors graduating.

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In other news, I talked to outgoing WCHA commish Bruce McLeod, who was in Cincinnati watching the Midwest Regional last weekend. McLeod said that the idea of retirement has grown on him and he will continue to work part time. He also said he doesn’t want to “be in charge of anything.” Read that story here.

I talked to former UND forward Drew Stafford when he was up in Winnipeg earlier this season and he seemed to be loving the change to Ted Nolan as his coach. Now, with his resurgence, he has been named Buffalo’s nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy, which goes to the NHL player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Read about that here.

UND recruit Nick Schmaltz was the forward of the week in the USHL last week for tallying six points.

The Poolman brothers played against each other in Fargo last night. Tucker, who plays for Omaha, got the best of the younger Colton, who plays for Fargo. Tucker had a goal in regulation and the game-winner in the shootout for the Lancers.

Matt Greene played his 500th NHL game this week for the Los Angeles Kings.

Grand Forks’ Monique and Jocelyne Lamoureux visited the White House this week with Team USA and even got to walk the president’s dog, Sunny.

Players chat with local media

The UND players had their final meeting with the local media of the season today, taking questions on their trip to the Frozen Four and the matchup with the University of Minnesota in the semifinals.

They are expected to depart Grand Forks on a charter flight to Philadelphia on Tuesday. They will hold a practice and a press conference on Wednesday, then, of course, the game is Thursday.

Among the players speaking at the press conference were Stephane Pattyn, Connor Gaarder, Rocco Grimaldi, Mark MacMillan and Dillon Simpson. Coach Dave Hakstol also spoke to the media.

The players seemed pretty excited about getting to play against the Gophers even though the matchup wasn’t on the regular-season schedule.

Hakstol said he understands that people won’t be picking them to win on Thursday, but says they are focused on trying to play their game.

At the Herald, we’re planning at least one special section to come out on game day and we’ll have stories leading up to then, so I won’t give too much away, but soon I’ll have one on the progress of the young defensive corps under the coaching of Brad Berry.

Also of note, UND defenseman Dillon Simpson was named first-team All-American by College Hockey News today. Nice honor for Simpson, who leads the nation in blocked shots with 107 (next closest shot block leader at the Frozen Four is BC’s Steve Santini with 62).

Big news in the NCHC today with Miami forwards Austin Czarnik and Blake Coleman both announcing that they will return for next season. Riley Barber was not included in the announcement, so I would assume he is still in the decision process.

Wisconsin lost standout defenseman Jake McCabe to the Buffalo Sabres today. The junior will report immediately to the NHL. It is also expected that the Badgers will lose Nic Kerdiles to the Anaheim Ducks this offseason.

Last note for now: The top four winning percentages in the nation since Nov. 30 are Union, Boston College, North Dakota and Minnesota. Seems fitting.

Off to Cincy

Checking out from Grand Forks here this morning.

I’m about to hop on a plane along with WDAZ’s Dan Corey as we head to Cincinnati for the Midwest Regional. Last year at this time, Dan went to the regional in Grand Rapids, making the first plane flight of his life.

Upon landing, our pilot got too close to another plane and had to quickly ascend. It was not kind on Dan’s stomach. Let’s hope this trip is a bit more smooth.

UND practices today at 1 p.m. Central time. We’ll be there with full coverage from U.S. Bank Arena, located on the banks of the Ohio River, right next to the Cincinnati Reds’ Great American Ballpark.

A press conference is scheduled to follow UND’s practice. After that, Wisconsin practices and has a press conference.

For now, here’s a story with quotes from some guys before they took off for Cincinnati on their charter flight today. It seems like there’s quite a bit of energy and enthusiasm around the team this week after the way they got into the NCAAs (and also with a lot of guys on the team going through this process for the first time).

Check out that story here.

On the other side, Wisconsin is a very veteran team. It only will have two first-year players in the lineup on Friday night — forth line winger Jedd Soleway and third-line winger Grant Besse.

So, nearly all of this year’s Badger team played in the NCAA tournament a year ago. Here’s a story from the Wisconsin State Journal talking about the lessons they learned from a 6-1 loss to UMass-Lowell.

UND heads to Minneapolis

UND and Denver are headed to Minneapolis today to meet up with Miami and Western Michigan — two teams that have been there all week.

After Miami defeated St. Cloud State first round and Western Michigan beat Duluth, both teams decided to stay in Minnesota for the week and prepare for the NCHC Frozen Faceoff.

Neither school is on spring break like UND. Western had spring break the weekend it came to Grand Forks. Miami’s spring break is next week.

The teams will hold their first practices at the rink Thursday. UND will go from 12:30 to about 1:30 p.m. It is open to fans. Miami goes after UND.

Not a lot of breaking news at today’s weekly presser. Not expecting to see any changes in the lineup for Friday night after a strong Sunday from Andrew Panzarella at forward.

I haven’t heard any updated numbers on ticket sales, but UND sports info director Jayson Hajdu tweeted earlier this week that all of the suites are sold for the event. I’m guessing that ticket sales picked up after UND clinched a spot in the tournament on Sunday night.

Two other quick notes:

  1. There’s an awards banquet tomorrow at about 5 p.m. in Minneapolis, where they will announce the major award winners for the league. I’m expecting UND senior Dillon Simpson to be named the defenseman of the year in the league. He also could win offensive defenseman of the year, but DU’s Joey LaLeggia is a prime candidate for that, too.
  2. The Hobey Baker Award top 10 will be announced at 9 a.m. Thursday. Not expecting any UND guys on the list. I think that Omaha’s Josh Archibald will make it. Miami should have at least one, too. Whether that’s Riley Barber, Austin Czarnik or both… I’m not sure. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see DU goalie Sam Brittain on it. Those have to be the NCHC’s top candidates.

UND still needs to win to get in

UND is at No. 13 in the Pairwise Rankings after the first round of the playoffs and will definitely need to win at least one game at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in order to make the NCAA tournament for a 12th straight year.

There’s a very good chance that UND will need to win both games to get in.

If the dominoes fall right, there is the possibility of UND getting in with just one win in Minneapolis, though (whether it be the semis or in the third-place game).

You can go to College Hockey News and play around with this and look at different scenarios.

If you want to do some scoreboard watching this weekend, here’s what you need to know (based on my calculations) if UND is to get into the NCAAs with only one win in Minneapolis:

1. Union and Quinnipiac in ECAC

The ECAC tournament will be the No. 1 follow. UND really needs Union and Quinnipiac to win in their semifinal games Friday. Union plays Cornell. Quinnipiac plays Colgate. If BOTH Union and Quinnipiac win, it would help UND. If even one of them loses, it’s a tough spot.

2. Bowling Green over Mankato

If Bowling Green beats Mankato… AND Ferris goes on to win the WCHA, it would open up some more doors for UND.

3. Penn State over Michigan

If Penn State knocks off Michigan on Thursday afternoon, it would be big for UND. Michigan has already lost to Penn State twice this season. I don’t see it happening a third time.

4. Anybody but New Hampshire (or Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State)

No reason really to follow Hockey East with the exception of needing New Hampshire to lose somewhere along the way so the Wildcats don’t take up a tourney spot. UND also doesn’t want to see the Buckeyes, Nittany Lions or Spartans winning Big 10. AHA doesn’t affect UND.

If you’re bored, check out the College Hockey News device and let me know if you come up with anything else interesting.

Western Michigan making early trip

Western Michigan is on spring break this week, so the Broncos have some unique travel plans for the trip to Grand Forks.

Western Michigan drove from Kalamazoo to Chicago on Tuesday night. Today, they are scheduled to fly from Chicago to Minneapolis. Then, they will bus from Minneapolis to Grand Forks.

They will skate on Wednesday and Thursday in The Ralph before Friday’s game day.

Broncos coach Andy Murray said that they couldn’t get the entire WMU team on one flight, so it was either take two flights from MSP to GFK or drive. They decided to drive.

Because of the spring break timing, Murray also said that he is able to take his entire team on this trip. He said it was nice not having to tell some kids that they aren’t coming on the trip.

I’ll have some more on his comments later in the week.

Stretch run begins

The stretch run begins this week in the NCHC and it should be quite the finish.

With five weeks to go in the season, every team has played the same number of league games. Every team plays only conference games from here on out. And no team has another week off.

If that doesn’t heat up the race enough, take a look at the standings.

Minnesota Duluth, which would be on the road in the first round if the NCHC playoffs started today, is only one game out of first place. There’s a three-way tie for second place, including UND and Nebraska Omaha, two teams that will face off in Ralph Engelstad Arena this weekend.

At this point, six of the eight teams could win the league title. Only Miami and Colorado College have taken themselves out of the race.

The other race that everyone will be watching is the Pairwise one. Right now, Duluth is surging and St. Cloud State is slipping. We’ll see where it goes from here.

Below, I posted the NCHC teams in the Pairwise alongside their record in nonconference play. You can see how if you screw up in nonconference like Omaha, even if you are in the race for the conference title (UNO is just one point out), it can kill you in the Pairwise.

NCHC in Pairwise Rankings

10. St. Cloud State (6-2-2)
11. Minnesota Duluth (5-3-2)
15. North Dakota (5-2-3)
22. Denver (6-3-3)
25. Western Michigan (6-3-3)
28. Miami (6-2-2)
30. Nebraska Omaha (3-7)
50. Colorado College (0-9-1)