Youth Gone Wild
Freshmen Core Leads Sioux to WCHA Championship
by Derrik T. Sovak/CHN Correspondent
ST. PAUL, Minn. Most teams use a young, inexperienced freshman class to build up their programs. But the University of North Dakota has focused its play around a strong core of freshman to help pave its way deep into the postseason.
With a roster that includes 13 newcomers — three of those freshmen are in the top-five on the team in points — the Sioux have worked to make their young players a big part of their success this season. Freshman forward T.J. Oshie has amassed 39 points in 36 games (22-17) for the Sioux, while freshman Jonathan Toews tallied 29 points (18-11).
With scoring threats like that out on the ice, the Sioux have made it difficult for teams to defend. After losing top-scorer Drew Stafford to an injury in the opening round of the playoffs, the Sioux needed their young players to carry the brunt of the scoring load. UND has done just that, recently, as freshman made their mark truly known by acquiring four of the five North Dakota goals in the Final Five Championship on Saturday in St. Paul, Minn.
"Whenever one of your biggest offensive threat you need to find a way to make up for that," said freshman forward Ryan Duncan. "Scoring those goals was huge, and our team really feels comfortable letting younger players carry the scoring load."
Other teams can feel the threat that North Dakota's freshman bring to every game they play.
"You've got to congratulate the North Dakota coaching staff; four goals by freshman ... they deserve all the credit in the world," said St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko. "That's what is so scary about this North Dakota team. They are supposed to be freshman, but they are all just men out there."
March seems to be North Dakota's month. When many thought that the Sioux wouldn't even make the postseason, now they are hosting the NCAA West Regional on their home rink.
"You can look at our situation and say that it will be tough with such a young team," said UND coach Dave Hakstol. "Or you can hope that such a young hockey team can step up and compete with the best clubs in the nation — our team is doing that."
While most agree that North Dakota is coming along at the right time, some say that such an inexperienced team won't make it close to the NCAA Frozen Four Championship — where the Sioux were just last season. But UND is taking a familiar approach to each of these postseason games.
"We've taken things on a short-term basis all season," said Hakstol. "We talked about winning a championship (on Saturday) and we just focused on the little things that we'd need to work on to do that."
It's a formula that the Sioux have followed all season, and by not focusing on anything but the task at hand, UND has put themselves exactly where they want to be.
"It's important to be playing well at this time of year," Hakstol said. "This is the time when we will try to build momentum and start playing the best hockey of the season."
North Dakota veteran goaltender Jordan Parise, who was named the WCHA Final Five Most Valuable Player, thinks the Sioux have finally come together as a team and are now comfortable with the roles each player is encompassing.
"At the beginning of the season we had a bunch of new guys on the ice, so there was a lack of communication," Parise said. "But as we move along, we're getting more and more comfortable with how our team plays together."
North Dakota will face Michigan in the opening round of the NCAA West Regional in Grand Forks, N.D., on Friday night, while WCHA rival, Minnesota, will take on Holy Cross at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.