Saturday night rewind

CINCINNATI — After 81 minutes and 28 seconds, Connor Gaarder picked up a rebound, moved the puck to the top of the crease, patiently waiting for goalie C.J. Motte to open his pads, then slipped the puck five-hole to send UND to the Frozen Four.

After the goal, Gaarder slid on his back toward the boards, where his teammates piled on top of him.

On the bench, Stephane Pattyn turned and hugged trainer Mark Poolman. Right beside them, the three coaches embraced.

After exchanging hugs and handshakes on the ice, UND skated over to a section of UND fans, acknowledged them, then crowded in front of them for a team picture.

Gaarder is the improbable goal scorer and Philly is the improbable destination for the 2013-14 team.

There was plenty of coverage of the Midwest Regional. Here are some stories:

Grand Forks Herald gamer

Grand Forks Herald sidebar on Zane Gothberg

WDAZ’s breakdown with Dan Corey and myself

Big Rapids Pioneer

USCHO gamer

USCHO story on Gaarder

College Hockey News on Gothberg

College Hockey News on Gaarder

Some other thoughts and stats on the regional final:

  • This was the longest NCAA tournament game in UND history. It also was the first double overtime game since the 2011 Final Five title game against Denver. Matt Frattin scored the winner for UND in that game.
  • Gaarder will now go down in history along with Chris Porter and Andrew Kozek for scoring a dramatic overtime goal to send UND to the Frozen Four. One common theme among the three: All of them scored five-hole. Porter beat Minnesota’s Jeff Frazee five-hole on a wraparound. Kozek beat Wisconsin’s Shane Connolly on a rebound through traffic.
  • Saturday was also the birthday of Gaarder’s father, Tim. Solid birthday gift from his son.
  • On Twitter, I saw a photo of Gaarder’s grandparents (former Vikes coach Jerry Burns) watching the game from Montego Bay, Jamaica. Apparently, they made a restaurant open early so they could go watch.
  • UND has now reached the Frozen Four as a No. 1 (twice), No. 2 (twice), No. 3 (once) and No. 4 (once) seed under coach Dave Hakstol, who is 14-4 in NCAA regionals (six Frozen Fours, eight regional title games in 10 years).
  • I thought that the Cincinnati regional would be a flop. It wasn’t, though. I was very impressed by how many local hockey fans showed up. I saw lots of Cincinnati Cyclones jerseys. That was not the case last year in Grand Rapids. Someone told me at the hotel that they just talked to a father, who drove four hours with his son from Cleveland to introduce him to college hockey. They were treated with three great, down-to-the-wire games.
  • This doesn’t happen often at regionals, but UND’s fan base was probably the third largest there. Ferris State and Wisconsin both had good crowds. Ferris fans could drive there.
  • One other positive is that downtown Cincinnati really seemed to embrace the tournament. There were lots of signs around town. They had a member of the visitor’s bureau at our hotel to help people. Maybe that’s part of why they got locals to come out. Miami University hosted it and, not surprisingly, did a nice job.
  • The biggest downside was that the ice clearly was getting bad at the end of the UND-FSU game. Players were falling down all over the place when they tried to turn. It was one of those games where you hoped the game-winner wasn’t going to come when a player fell.
  • I thought Ferris State was outstanding in this game and probably deserved a better fate. I don’t expect any UND fans to be apologizing. They’ve been on the other end of these games multiple times.
  • Ferris was as advertised — they blocked a ton of shots and made it very difficult for UND to generate offense. In the third period and overtime, the Bulldogs really started to crank up the offense. That’s when Zane Gothberg was so clutch.
  • The all-tournament team certainly should have included Gothberg, but we have to vote on it with 10 minutes to go in the third period. Gothberg’s best play was after the ballots were already in. At the time of voting, Motte had allowed 1 goal in six periods.
  • Dillon Simpson now leads the nation with 107 blocked shots and nobody will catch him in that category this season. To illustrate how impressive that number is, Jordan Schmaltz is second on the team in blocked shots with 58.
  • And in case you were wondering, Skyline Chili > Gold Star Chili.

UND marches on

CINCINNATI — For the third week in a row, UND played a must-win game in order to keep its season alive. And for the third time, UND was able to do that thanks to a 5-2 win over Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA Midwest Regional. Game stories:

Grand Forks Herald

WDAZ (Dan Corey and I discuss the game)

Wisconsin State Journal

College Hockey News

USCHO

Cincinnati Enquirer

Other notes:

  • With the win, UND will play in its ninth regional final in 11 years, and its eighth in 10 years under coach Dave Hakstol.
  • UND’s last meeting against Ferris State was the 2003 regional. Ferris, with star forward Chris Kunitz, won that game 5-2. The Bulldogs are 5-2 all-time in the NCAAs.
  • Surprisingly, this was Rocco Grimaldi’s first multi-goal game at UND (two of his three goals were empty netters). He joked in the press conference afterwards about it. “Because the goalie was out, that really helped me. I guess that was my issue. There was a goalie in net for the last couple years.”
  • Mark MacMillan had a terrific game for UND with a goal and two assists. Linemate Michael Parks had a goal and an assist. Players complimented Parks’ zone entry on the GWG in the third period.
  • I thought that Wisconsin controlled the first period of the game and that Zane Gothberg kind of kept UND in it. But after Grimaldi scored to make it 2-1 at 6:45 of the second period, the game changed. UND outshot the Badgers 27-13 in the final two periods.
  • UND’s penalty killers did a terrific job on Wisconsin’s big first unit of Jake McCabe, Nic Kerdiles, Michael Mersch, Mark Zengerle and Tyler Barnes.
  • Mersch, Wisconsin’s top goal scorer and a guy who has hurt UND in the past, had a couple of Grade A chances, but missed the net, including one after Nick Mattson fell at the offensive blue line.
  • Faceoffs were 33-33, but MacMillan won a couple of key ones at the end. One led to Grimaldi’s first empty-net goal.
  • Dillon Simpson is tied for second nationally with 101 shot blocks. He’s only two behind the national leader now.
  • This was clearly a tough loss for the Wisconsin players. This was a year they had anticipated since 2011 being a great one, and they wanted to make a run at a national championship. They will lose nine seniors and possibly a couple to early to the NHL.

A writer’s perspective of Saturday night

MINNEAPOLIS — I have been covering college hockey for nine years now, and as a writer, game days are quite routine.

Get to the rink at a certain time. Watch the game/live blog/etc. Go get quotes. Write the game story. Go home.

Not the case Saturday night.

It ended up being the strangest process to filing a game story in my time at the Herald. So, I’ll take you through it from my perspective.

5:57 p.m. — UND game ends. Final score: UND 5, Western Michigan 0. I head downstairs for the press conference. Before Western Michigan takes the podium, Goon makes the gigantic journalist mistake of saying the ‘O’ word in reference to the night games. I immediately thank him for guaranteeing that Wisconsin and Ohio State would go into overtime (yes, that’s the O-word), and in turn, crush my deadline.

6:20 p.m. — UND takes the podium. It’s Dave Hakstol, Connor Gaarder and Stephane Pattyn. I get a few quotes about the game. But most are along the lines of: “We did our part, now it’s time to sit and wait and see if we get in.”

Obviously, I cannot use that type of a quote in my game story for Sunday morning’s paper, because by then, we’ll all know whether they got in or not. So, I knew I would have to try to track down quotes before the team left for Grand Forks. I knew they were going to stick around downtown for a while and I figured I would seek them out after the results of the Wisconsin and Lowell games.

6:32 p.m. — Pressers are over. I grab dinner at the Target Center and head back upstairs to the press box to start writing my story. I fill in details about the game at the bottom of my story, but leave the top completely blank. The angle of my story is whether the team is getting into the NCAAs or not and I have to wait for the results. By this time, Lowell takes a 2-0 lead on New Hampshire.

7:38 p.m. — By the start of the Denver-Miami game, I have my quotes transcribed and I start writing what I can. I’m also quite distracted by the game and the free Skittles in the press box. That slowed my progress considerably. I post something on the web saying that UND beat Western, the highlights of the game and that it is waiting for Lowell and Wisconsin to determine its fate. By this time, Lowell is in full control of the game and we all know it’s going to come down to the Badgers.

8:51 p.m. — Ohio State leads 3-2. I’ve done all that I can at the Target Center. I decide to leave the NCHC title game late in the second period go to back to the Marriott, where I hope to be in position to track down the coaches after the Badger game ends.

9:05 p.m. — I arrive at the Marriott, where the lobby is on the fifth floor. There’s a very large open lounge area there with lots of TVs. I see all of them are on the OSU-UW game and the lounge is filled with UND fans. I walk over there to watch a little bit of the game. Within a minute, the Buckeyes score to go up 4-2 with 6:52 left. I said, “That’s it,” and I turned to head back to my room and start writing the UND-misses-the-NCAA-tournament-for-the-first-time-in-12-years story. A UND fan nearby heard me and said with a disgusted look, “No, it’s not.” I turned and looked at him like he had three heads and said, “Yeah dude, it is.” He angrily interjects again, “No, it’s not!” I think he is delusional and I head to the elevators.

9:06 p.m. — I walk on the elevator. Dane Jackson happens to be on it. I inform him that Ohio State just scored again and it’s 4-2. He looks dejected knowing how close UND came to making the NCAAs.

9:07 p.m. — I get to the room, open up my laptop and prepare to write. But the first tweet I see says, “Wisconsin, Ohio State tied up 4-4.” What? Are you kidding? Wisconsin scored not once but twice during my 30-second elevator ride? No chance. I flip on Big Ten Network and sure enough, it’s tied. Crazy.

9:20 p.m. — Overtime. Thanks, Goon.

9:21 p.m. — It’s probably going to be a tight deadline, so I know I better start writing. Since I already looked up some good stats about UND missing the tournament — and how the team would have been in the NCAAs had Omaha beat Bentley in the opening game of the year or if CC won just a single nonconference game this season — I decided to start the UND-misses-the-NCAA-tournament-for-the-first-time-in-12-years story first.

9:36 p.m. — Overtime begins. My OSU-wins, UND-is-out story is complete. I just need to insert a couple of quotes from coach Dave Hakstol about things not working out.

9:50 p.m. — Zengerle scores. Control-A delete.

9:51 p.m. — I knew the lobby must be going nuts, so I went to check out the scene and try to find players/coaches for quotes, knowing the team is probably leaving pretty quick now. I get in the elevator on the 15th floor. I can hear the fans in the lobby. Yes, from the 15th floor.

A couple of Purdue women’s swimmers were on the elevator with me and looked a bit frightened. One said: “Oh my God, what is going on at this hotel right now?” As Chris Dilks tweeted, “The worst night of your life is happening right now, Purdue swimming girl.” They probably didn’t get much sleep.

9:52 p.m. — I reach the lobby. It is, indeed, chaos. The “Let’s Go Sioux” chants are ringing out. Fans are still cheering. A couple players watched the game with them in the lobby. Others starting coming down.

As each group of players reached the lobby, they embraced. Captain Dillon Simpson hugged just about everyone he saw with an excited, relieved look on his face, knowing he hasn’t played his last game yet. Senior Clarke Saunders sat alone in the corner, smiling from ear to ear, taking in the scene around him.

The lobby/lounge area is open there and you can see the elevator bank on the other side. When all the fans saw Hakstol walk out, they erupted and cheered again. Hakstol gave them a fist-pump.

Former UND coach Dean Blais happened to be standing nearby and walked up to Hakstol and said: “Cheering for Wisconsin? You’ve got to be (kidding) me!” They had a good laugh. You could tell that Blais was genuinely happy about UND getting in.

Amid their celebrations, I cut in to get some quotes. Simpson said the game took three years off his life. Pattyn held out his hands and said, “I’m still shaking.”

Our web/multimedia manager Lori Weber, who made the trip, finished up loading video and photos to the website at Target Center and headed back to the hotel, but missed the chaos by about 5 minutes. So, unfortunately, no video of it.

A group of about 20 players walked out of the hotel together. The fans saw them leaving and started chanting again.

I was told that at the Target Center, there wasn’t much happening on the ice, when all of the sudden, fans started cheering all over. They were following the games on their cell phones. A “Let’s Go Sioux” chant also erupted there during the middle of the third period of the Denver-Miami game.

Others tweeted at me that the same repeated at bars in downtown Minneapolis.

10:13 p.m. — I head back to the room to type the new, UND-is-in-the-NCAA-tournament-for-a-12th-straight-year story. I file that as quickly as possible to make deadline. Here was the end result.

10:32 p.m. — Story is filed. I double check to make sure I e-mailed the UND-is-in story and not the UND-misses-the-NCAA-tournament-for-the-first-time-in-12-years story. That would have been bad.

11:25 p.m. — Two blog posts complete. Bracket nerding is done. I can finally take a break from this chaotic night and relax. That means one thing. Pepperoni pizza in the lobby.

Midnight — The UND fan who heard me say, “It’s over,” stops by to remind me that the UW-OSU game was, indeed, not over. I concede.

Sunday night rewind

In what was one of the most challenging first-round series for UND in the last decade — and that probably shouldn’t be a surprise to close followers of the NCHC — UND emerged victorious with a 4-3 win over Colorado College in Sunday’s Game 3.

It’s the 10th straight first-round victory for UND, which I believe is second only to Michigan nationally. Miami is the only other NCHC team that has made multiple appearances at the conference tournament. The RedHawks are going to their fifth straight.

Stories:

Grand Forks Herald gamer

Grand Forks Herald sidebar on the decision to put the Pattyn-Gaarder-Rodwell line back

Colorado Springs Gazette

USCHO

UNDsports.com

Other notes:

  • UND moved to No. 13 in the Pairwise Rankings with the win. More analysis on that coming later.
  • I actually thought this was Colorado College’s best game of the weekend. It was really a toss up. The big difference? Goalie Josh Thorimbert, who was the No. 1 star and the difference in Saturday’s game, wasn’t nearly as sharp in the first period. He may want two of those back.
  • For good measure, Alexander Krushelnyski had to score once again against UND. He finished his outstanding career with 101 points. It felt like 89 of them were against UND. His line was tremendous in Game 3. He and Cody Bradley combined for 11 of CC’s 30 shots.
  • Jaccob Slavin ended up leading CC in scoring. He’s the first defenseman to lead the Tigers in scoring in at least a decade. On another note, can anyone remember a freshman defenseman leading any team in scoring?
  • Since Thanksgiving, Zane Gothberg has made 19 starts. He has only allowed more than two goals three times. Strangely enough, it was CC (one of the country’s lowest scoring teams) that did it all three times.
  • UND dominated in the faceoff circle again, going 45-26. Its leaders were Rocco Grimaldi (15-7), Mark MacMillan (11-4) and Colten St. Clair (8-1). Faceoff wins on the PK were big.
  • No matter what happens at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, coach Dave Hakstol has clinched at least a .600 winning percentage again. His worst season as head coach has been over .600.
  • I think Andrew Panzarella earned another start with his play. He added physicality. He was reliable. He made one great tip that nearly went in. And I had to double check the number on his jersey after he dangled a defenseman twice on that rush at the end.
  • After the game, Stephane Pattyn lamented the fact that he couldn’t score on one of his two breakaways at the end of the game and make it a three-goal game.
  • Every player in the lineup Sunday night registered at least one shot on goal except for St. Clair. Michael Parks and Keaton Thompson led the way with four.
  • UND heads to the Frozen Faceoff going 18-5-2 in the last 25 games.
  • Derek Rodwell registered the first multi-point game of his career (two assists). It came in his final game at The Ralph.

 

Saturday night rewind

Colorado College used an overtime goal by Alex Roos to extend the series and force a Game 3 tonight.

It continued UND’s recent struggles to win OT games at home. Of the last 10 games that have been decided in OT (not including ties), UND has won 3 and lost 7. The only three playoff games that have gone to OT in the first round in the past decade have all been UND losses.

UND’s OT-decided games at REA

L — vs. Colorado College (Alex Roos), 3-15-14
W — vs. Minnesota Duluth (Mark MacMillan), 11-17-12
L — vs. Nebraska Omaha (Ryan Walters), 12-9-11
L — vs. Minnesota Duluth (Justin Fontaine), 11-6-10
W — vs. Colorado College (Darcy Zajac), 3-1-09
W — vs. Bemidji State (Brett Hextall), 1-3-09
L — vs. Michigan Tech (Tyler Shelast), 3-15-08
L — vs. MSU-Mankato (Rob Rankin), 3-10-06
L — vs. St. Cloud State (Matt Stephenson), 1-28-06
L — vs. Colorado College (Brett Sterling), 11-5-04
W — vs. Michigan Tech (Drew Stafford), 3-13-04
W — vs. Denver (Nick Fuher), 3-16-03
W — vs. Denver (Brandon Bochenski), 3-15-03
L — vs. Denver (Kevin Doell), 3-1-02

Game stories from Friday:

Grand Forks Herald

Colorado Springs Gazette

USCHO

UNDsports.com

Other notes:

  • UND plummeted to No. 15 in the Pairwise Rankings after the loss. Not only will UND have to win tonight to extend its season, it will almost surely have to win at least one game in Minneapolis, too.
  • UND actually may have played better Saturday than Friday, but once again found itself playing from behind. The Tigers jumped to a 2-0 lead. UND eventually caught up and tied it on a Jordan Schmaltz goal and really dominated overtime, but couldn’t get another one by Tiger goalie Josh Thorimbert.
  • UND seemed to continue shooting at Thorimbert’s glove on Saturday, but it was significantly better. He made some real nice glove saves and both goals actually beat him on the stick side.
  • UND coach Dave Hakstol mentioned on Friday night that he wanted the team to do a better job blocking shots. That will be another key tonight. Three of Colorado College’s goals this weekend have been point shots that hit something and went in.
  • Drake Caggiula continued to be a big factor for UND. He had nine shots on goal, one goal and one assist.
  • Shot attempts for the game were 90-55 in favor of UND.
  • It was a very strange game in that there was only one power play. UND got it early in the game, but didn’t convert. Colorado College coach Scott Owens said he thought it was a clean game.
  • UND won the faceoff battle 39-30 and got better in the circle as the game progressed.
  • Obviously a big key will be not getting behind early. UND only generated five shots on goal in the first period, then launched 20 shots on goal in the second.

Friday night rewind

Just as we thought, the era of the gimmes in the playoffs is over.

Three of the four home teams lost Friday night. And UND, the lone home team to win, was feeling fortunate to do so after falling behind by two goals against Colorado College. Here’s a quick rundown on the NCHC playoffs:

DENVER 5, OMAHA 1 (Series tied 1-1)

One night after Omaha scored three power-play goals, the Pioneers only took one minor penalty and evened the series 1-1. Game 3 is today. According to the Omaha World Herald, Denver goalie Sam Brittain was sensational in this one.

MIAMI 5, ST. CLOUD STATE 4, OT (Miami leads 1-0)

Husky defenseman Kevin Gravel scored a game-tying goal with :00.1 left on the clock to force overtime, but Riley Barber scored on a rebound at 10:10 to end a see-saw battle. Barber entered the game with a season-long five-game point drought, but he broke that in a big way with a three-point game.

WESTERN MICHIGAN 3, MINNESOTA DULUTH 2 (Western leads 1-0)

Western Michigan goalie Lukas Hafner continued his outstanding play. In four March games, he’s now 3-1 with a .950 save percentage. In his previous four games, he was 0-2-1 with a .881. He stopped 31 of 33 on Friday. The Bulldogs actually scored both of their goals after the Broncos scored an empty-netter to go up 3-0.

NORTH DAKOTA 4, COLORADO COLLEGE 2 (UND leads 1-0)

Grand Forks Herald

Colorado Springs Gazette

USCHO

UNDsports.com

Other notes:

  • UND actually dropped one spot in the Pairwise on Friday to No. 11. As CollegeHockeyRanked.com pointed out this week, it’s a huge series for Pairwise purposes.
  • A lot of times, there are tiny details in the coaching staff’s preparation that none of us see. But one of them seemed to be glaring on Friday night: All four of UND’s goals were over the glove of Tiger netminder Josh Thorimbert. Clearly, UND picked up something there (Mark MacMillan also tried to go there on his breakaway).
  • UND turned a one-goal deficit into a one-goal lead in the second period. The Tigers are +1 in the first period and -28 in the second period and -16 in the third this season. UND, meanwhile, is +6 in the first, +19 in the second and -5 in the third. So, the second has been, by far, CC’s worst and UND’s best.
  • Earlier this season, I posted a detailed analysis of Michael Parks’ goals, showing that he doesn’t go top shelf to score. Parks is starting to ditch that trend. He went top shelf from in tight on Friday.
  • Speaking of Parks, is there anyone on the team with more poise around the net? I don’t think so. If he spots an opening, he will quickly shoot it there. But he also doesn’t panic when he does have time and he will out-wait a goalie.
  • Dillon Simpson blocked a game-high five shots and now has an NCHC-leading 86 blocks on the season. Nobody in the league is within 10 of him.
  • UND dominated faceoffs, going 42-25. Rocco Grimaldi led the way at 12-5. Cody Bradley had a tough night for CC, going 3-14.
  • Grimaldi’s seven-game point streak came to an end, but I thought he was a big factor in the game. He gave the Tigers some trouble with his speed, drawing one penalty. He also gave UND and the building energy when it needed it.
  • Bryn Chyzyk snapped a 15-game goal drought. Seems that he likes playing against Colorado College. He had three points in the series against the Tigers in early January. He had one point in the next 14 games.
  • Brendan O’Donnell was rewarded for his strong game with a goal. I thought his line with Colten St. Clair and Chyzyk was pretty good and might have been one of the better units in the first period when UND was struggling.
  • Gage Ausmus played his first game in a month. Difficult situation to step back into the lineup in a playoff game. I think we see Keaton Thompson back in tonight.
  • UND coach Dave Hakstol said that he thought it was “an even game,” and referenced the 22-22 shot totals. He also said he thought his team was fortunate to get out of the first period down just one goal, and he was happy that his team took advantage of that good fortune.
  • For Colorado College, it was more of the same. The Tigers didn’t play poorly, but like their first two games at The Ralph earlier this season, they found a way to lose. CC is now 1-14-2 on the road this season (lone win at Denver). And it needs to win two in a row now.
  • During UND’s current run of 11 straight first-round series victory wins, it has gone to Game 3 five times. It will try to avoid that fate in tonight’s series finale. A year ago, UND lost Game 2 to Michigan Tech and had to come back on Sunday.
  • Check out the shot charts below and look at Colorado College’s shot attempts from the prime scoring area below the dots. After getting some good looks in the first period, there’s almost nothing there in the second and third periods.

Saturday night (and preseason) rewind

The inaugural National Collegiate Hockey Conference regular season is over and the Penrose Cup went to St. Cloud State after the Huskies beat Colorado College on Saturday night and UND lost to Western Michigan in the regular-season finale.

Now that we know the final standings, I decided to go back and look the preseason poll that I e-mailed the league.

My preseason poll

1. Miami
2. Omaha
3. St. Cloud State
4. North Dakota
5. Duluth
6. Denver
7. Western Michigan
8. Colorado College

For starters, I completely botched the Miami pick (as did everyone else). Their goaltending was very good a year ago and shockingly struggled big-time this year. The defensive corps really struggled, too. Miami winning the league was the pick I was the most confident in at the start of the year. I never would have imagined the RedHawks would finish last.

While Omaha ended up getting voted last place by the media, this ended up being one of my better picks. I really liked a lot about this Omaha team. The only question was goaltending, which didn’t end up being very good. But the Mavs still finished third with lots of explosive offensive players and a solid D corps.

Prior to the season, I said that if Omaha finishes last as predicted, I won’t eat pizza for two weeks. Thankfully, it won’t come to that.

St. Cloud State did a great job overcoming the losses of Drew LeBlanc, Nick Jensen and Ben Hanowski to win the league. As I said in the preseason preview, the Huskies had a number of guys who were ready to for larger roles like Joey Benik and David Morley. I still didn’t think they would be able to win the league after losing such prominent players.

I underrated UND in the picks. UND’s young defensive corps ended up coming around faster than I thought it would. I also never imagined this team would go on a run like it did to close the season, especially in a deep league like this one. Like St. Cloud, UND was trying to overcome the loss of some very prominent players, like Hobey finalists Danny Kristo and Corban Knight, and it did that.

I was only one spot off with Duluth and Colorado College and right on with Denver, so those teams did exactly as I thought they would. There wasn’t much about those teams that surprised.

Western Michigan finished two spots higher than I thought. The emergence of Shane Berschbach, who tripled his goals from his junior season, was huge. Justin Kovacs and Nolan LaPorte also increased their production by quite a bit.

*************************************************************************************

So, now we’re headed toward the postseason.

As it stands, only St. Cloud State (No. 5) and North Dakota (No. 10) would make the NCAA tournament if it started today. I think St. Cloud State is in no matter what happens from here. I’m thinking that UND has to win the first-round series against Colorado College to get in, but I’ll wait for Jim Dahl’s weekly Pairwise predictor to make any definitive statements on that.

In past years in the old WCHA, the winner of the Final Five was always a team that was going to the NCAAs anyway (until last year). That’s where things could get interesting this year.

I would not be surprised in the least if a team other than UND or St. Cloud State won the Frozen Faceoff.

Right now, in the WCHA, the only team that would be in the NCAAs would be Ferris. Likewise, it would not surprise me in the least if Ferris did not win the Final Five.

That means you might have to finish higher in the Pairwise than years past in order to get an at-large bid.

Atlantic Hockey does not have a team in the top 30, therefore, it will take up one spot. So, at minimum, you need to be in the top 15 to get in. If we have “upset” winners in the NCHC and WCHA, which is very, very possible (not to mention the possibility in the ECAC), that would mean a top 13 spot is necessary.

So, as the conference tournaments start to play out over the next two weeks, keep an eye on that. If you finish No. 16, you are out. If you finish 14 or 15, I’d be nervous.

Nebraska Omaha and Colorado College’s combined nonconference record of 3-16-1 did not do the NCHC any favors in the Pairwise.

How much of an impact does that have?

If Omaha wouldn’t have lost to Bentley — and if it would have been able to gain splits against Cornell and New Hampshire instead of getting swept by both — then the NCHC would be in position to get four teams in: St. Cloud State would be 4, UND would be 7, Omaha would be 13, Duluth would be 15.

But as it stands, Omaha is 26 and Duluth is 19.

Friday night rewind

On the final night of the regular season, UND will get to play for an NCHC championship and the Penrose Cup. The team gave itself that chance thanks to a 2-0 win over Western Michigan in the series opener. Game stories:

Grand Forks Herald

USCHO

UNDsports.com

Kalamazoo Gazette

Playoff race notes

– UND has the tiebreaker over St. Cloud State, so a win guarantees UND the No. 1 seed and the league championship.

– Three teams have clinched home ice: UND, SCSU and Omaha.

– The final home ice spot will go to either Duluth or Denver. The Bulldogs are in the driver’s seat. Western Michigan was eliminated from home-ice contention tonight.

– UND and SCSU are guaranteed the top two spots, so UND’s first-round opponent will be either Colorado College or Miami.

Other notes

  • UND stayed at No. 9 in the Pairwise Rankings. Jim Dahl didn’t post a Pairwise predictor this week, but it appears that UND has built a little gap between itself and the tightly-packed group from Nos. 10-13. UND also is very much on the heels of teams at Nos. 7-8.
  • UND is now 16-3-1 in the last 20 games dating back to the St. Lawrence loss at home. UND is 10-1 in its 11 home games since that SLU loss as well.
  • UND’s 2-0 lead kind of felt more like 5-0 with the way it was limiting Western Michigan’s chances and with the way goalie Zane Gothberg is playing.
  • Since Thanksgiving, Gothberg is 13-1-1 with a .936 save percentage and a 1.59 goals-against average. We all knew he could be this good if he eliminated some of the soft goals. He hasn’t given up a soft one in a long time and this is the result. He has allowed six goals in his last five games.
  • Since UND made some subtle changes to the power play a few weeks ago, UND is converting at 25.8 percent (8 of 31). Prior to that, UND was at 16.8 percent. One of those new power-play pieces, Steph Pattyn, got the first power-play goal of his career on Friday.
  • Paul LaDue added another plus to his resume and is now an absurd +21 in the last 18 games.
  • The difference in UND from the start of this run until now looked pretty evident tonight. In December, Western Michigan outshot UND 38-24 and 25-16. Granted, UND was at home tonight, but it flipped the tables and outshot the Broncos 35-18.
  • Both the UND men and women reached the 20-win mark within hours of each other on Friday. For women’s coach Brian Idalski, it’s his fourth straight 20-win season. For men’s coach Dave Hakstol, it’s his 10th in 10 years as coach.
  • Student turnout was better on Friday, but I’m sure that they are still going to get some seats taken away from them for next season.
  • Shot charts are below. You can see how UND dominated the second period.

Saturday night rewind

One thing is for sure: The final weekend in the NCHC is going to be an interesting one. There’s home ice up for grabs, and after Saturday night’s 3-1 St. Cloud State win over UND, the Penrose Cup also is up for grabs. Game stories:

Grand Forks Herald

Grand Forks Herald column

St. Cloud Times

Other notes:

  •  UND moved stayed at No. 9 in the Pairwise Rankings after the loss. If you look at Jim Dahl’s latest Pairwise predictor, UND will need to win at least one against Western Michigan to stay in a good spot in the Pairwise heading into the playoffs.
  • The Cup dilemma. Where does it go this weekend? Well, as many of you found out two weeks ago when people were posting pictures from both Duluth and Denver with the Penrose Cup, there are two of them. So, I’m assuming they’ll have one ready to go in both Grand Forks and Colorado Springs. The interesting part is that Omaha still could creep into contention if things go its way.
  • Clearly, in the series finale, St. Cloud State did a much better job defensively. There were times in the opener where the Huskies didn’t seem too concerned to tie up players in front of the net. But that was much more difficult in the series finale. I thought Husky goalie Ryan Faragher left his share of rebounds again, but UND was unable to get to them this time.
  • I thought the best player on either team might have been Zane Gothberg. He made a couple of saves where Husky fans were already standing assuming a goal was about to be scored, including one on Jonny Brodzinski in the first period. Another very good performance by UND’s netminder.
  • UND wasn’t pleased with the number of penalties it took in the game. St. Cloud State had five power plays to UND’s two.
  • Saturday night’s game (nothing coming easy) should be good preparation for this weekend against Western Michigan. The Broncos are a hard-nosed, physical team. They may be as gritty and tenacious as anyone UND has faced in the league this season. UND swept the Broncos in Kalamazoo, but got outshot by 14 and 9. Gothberg was the difference.

Friday night rewind

Heads up: WDAY 970 AM (wday.com) has decided to bring back the Saturday Morning Sports Show from 9-11 a.m. with Dom Izzo and Jeff Kolpack. I will be joining them at 10:45 a.m. to talk college hockey. It sounds like that will be a regular spot for the rest of the season for those interested in tuning in.

Obviously the topic will be UND’s 5-2 win over St. Cloud State — and probably in larger part — the fact that coach Dave Hakstol once again has his team surging through the second half of the schedule. The stories from Friday:

Grand Forks Herald

Grand Forks Herald column on the offense

St. Cloud Times

UNDsports.com

Other notes and comments:

  •  UND moved up one spot in the Pairwise to No. 9. As per Jim Dahl’s prediction, UND can move up to the No. 5-7 range with a win Saturday, or else fall to No. 9-11 range with a loss.
  • UND has clinched a top-three finish now in the NCHC. If it wins in the series finale, it will clinch first.
  • Defenseman Paul LaDue is +20 in the last 16 games. He has the best plus-minus of any defenseman in the nation since Dec. 7 (next closest is +16). He was +3 on Friday.
  • Goalie Zane Gothberg is 12-0-2 in his last 14 games. He hasn’t lost a start since Nov. 9. He has only allowed more than two goals once in that stretch (5-3 win over Colorado College).
  • With one more win this season, Hakstol will become the only coach to have 20 wins in each of the past 10 seasons. It’s a feat that two of college hockey’s three winningest all-time coaches — Jerry York and Jack Parker — have never done.
  • A stat that displays how UND is getting scoring from everywhere in the lineup: Of the 18 players in the lineup Friday, 15 of them have scored goals in the last six games.
  • Since Nov. 30, UND ranks fourth nationally in scoring, only behind Boston College, MSU-Mankato and Quinnipiac.
  • UND has lost just one of its last nine road games (3-0 at Denver). And UND outshot Denver by 17 in that game. UND is going for its third road sweep of the season Saturday. It has only done that once in the Hakstol era — the 2010-11 team had four road sweeps (Bemidji State, Wisconsin, Mankato, Michigan Tech).
  • UND finally got to Ryan Faragher. The goaltender, who had a 6-3-1 record and a .940 career save percentage against UND, was yanked after allowing five goals in the second period.
  • UND has outscored its opponent 14-0 in the second period during the last four games — 4-0 vs. Miami, 1-0 vs. Duluth, 4-0 vs. Duluth, 5-0 vs. SCSU.
  • Remember when UND was involved in down-to-the-wire, hold-your-breath-til-the-last-second games every day? In the last 10 games, UND has not been within a goal of its opponent (up or down) at the 19:00 mark of the third period.
  • The last time UND swept a series in the National Hockey Center, Keaton Thompson was 3 years old.