Defining Moments: North Dakota
by Dane DeKrey/Staff Writer
In his four years as head coach of North Dakota, Dave Hakstol's teams' repertoires are becoming increasingly well known:
1) Be hyped in the preseason;
2) Underperform most of the regular;
3) Become unbeatable going into playoffs.
This season was no different, as Hakstol and company, thanks to a terrorizing 19-2-2 capstone to the season, find themselves (yet again) in the Frozen Four.
So, how did they get there?
Here are the four defining moments of North Dakota's 2007-08 season:
Saturday, October 13, 2007: Opening Night
Questions aplenty needed answered about North Dakota on opening night.
First, could the team rebound from the loss of two first-round draft picks in Jonathan Toews and Brian Lee, who signed NHL deals after the conclusion of the 2006-07 season?
Next, was the Fighting Sioux as good as their preseason consensus No. 1 ranking suggested? Moreover, was this finally Dave Hakstol's year to bring a national championship back to Grand Forks, ND., its first since 2000?
Finally, could Ryan Duncan replicate his Hobey Baker-winning campaign of 2006-07, or would it be T.J. Oshie who would emerge as the filler of the scoring gap left behind by Toews' exit?
With a 6-0 drubbing of defending national champions Michigan State on opening night, the answer to the above questions seemed to be emphatically, "Yes, yes and yes." In fact, North Dakota's performance on the evening was so dominant, whispers of an undefeated season began to float amongst Sioux fans.
The fervor was short lived, however, as post-Michigan State, North Dakota stalled during a string of series-splits, going 8-8-1 from Oct. 13, 2007 until Jan. 5, 2008.
Then, everything changed.
Friday, January 18, 2008: Kaip's Revenge
After a split with St. Cloud and a sweep of Michigan Tech, North Dakota took a three-game winning streak into the Midwest Wireless Civic Center to faceoff against Minnesota State.
To say there was unfinished business between the two teams would be an understatement. No more could this be true than between North Dakota's Rylan Kaip and Mankato's Trevor Bruess.
After a pseudo-scrum between the two last year, Kaip settled the score in what proved to be the transitional moment of North Dakota's season. After Kaip's drubbing of Bruess, the team embarked upon its ever-familiar playoff run.
Mankato head coach Troy Jutting, this season's WCHA coach of the year, remembers the night vividly.
"I think for both teams, it [the Kaip-Bruess fight] kind of sparked the benches," Jutting said. "It was a very intense series, and they're obviously a great team that's got some great veteran leadership, and I think their veteran leadership really stepped up in that series and kind of set the tone and temp for how the rest of the season was going to be like for them."
Saturday, March 15, 2008: The Streak Ends
Propelled by Kaip's scrap against Bruess, North Dakota ended the year perfect — literally. So perfect, in fact, that the Sioux rode a 18-game unbeaten streak into its first round of the WCHA playoffs against Michigan Tech.
North Dakota came away from the series the victor in two ways: The more obvious victory was that the team defeated Tech 2-1 in the series, but less obvious was the monkey that was lifted off of North Dakota's back by losing to the Huskies just before the brunt of postseason play began.
"We kind of saw that game against Tech as a blessing in disguise," North Dakota defenseman Taylor Chorney said. "While we hate losing in any game, it was kind of the best time to lose, not having to deal with all the talk of carrying a streak into the NCAAs."
Michigan Tech head coach Jamie Russell, whose team was one goal away from bouncing North Dakota from the WCHA playoffs, also remembered the streak-breaking win, as his team had done something similar to the Sioux earlier in the season.
"They certainly had a lot of momentum going into that weekend," Russell said. "[Our win] ended an 18-game streak for them, but we played them in the WCHA regular season in our rink in Houghton, Mich., and coming in they were undefeated and had not given up a goal, and we beat them 3-1 to end that streak, too."
Saturday, March 22, 2008: Coming Full Circle — Earning a No. 1
With the memory of their 18-game unbeaten streak gone, North Dakota entered the WCHA Final Five with just one goal — a Broadmoor Trophy. But with the parity of the conference, a conference which sent six teams to the NCAA tournament, the Sioux were beaten in its Friday night game against Denver, 3-1, thanks in large part to spectacular play by senior goaltender Peter Mannino.
Hopes of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament seemed dashed with the loss, but again showing the top-to-bottom strength of the WCHA, Minnesota upset regular-season champ Colorado College, thus pitting the Sioux and the Tigers in a third-place showdown with much more than the bronze medal on the line — specifically, the fourth and final one-seed in the NCAA tournament.
In arguably the team's best outing since its opening night thrashing of Michigan State, North Dakota outskated, outhit and outplayed Colorado College to a 4-2 victory. With the victory, and after some bureaucratic shuffling by the NCAA Selection Committee, the Sioux found itself placed in the Midwest regional as the third one-seed of the tournament.
And the rest, as they say, is history, as North Dakota set aside Princeton, 5-1, then Wisconsin, 3-2, in overtime, to earn what seems to have become commonplace for coach Dave Hakstol's team: a spot in the Frozen Four, and even more familiarly, an opponent in Boston College.