Frozen Four Preview: North Dakota
by Dane DeKrey/Staff Writer
2000: UND beats BC, 4-2, to win the national championship;
2001: BC beats UND, 3-2, in overtime, to win the national championship;
2005: UND beats BC, 6-3, to advance to the Frozen Four;
2006: BC beats UND, 6-5, to advance to the national championship game; and
2007: BC beats UND, 6-4, to advance to the national championship game.
Beginning to sense a pattern?
Not according to head coaches Jerry York and Dave Hakstol.
Despite 2007 being the third consecutive and sixth overall playoff meeting between the storied programs since the turn of the century, neither coach gave the idea of North Dakota-Boston College becoming college hockey's version of college basketball's Duke-North Carolina much play.
"My wife and I were kidding about that [the seemingly annual UND-BC playoff matchup] at supper time," said York, who has led his team to the Frozen Four in four of the last five years. "It seems like if we want to advance in the NCAA tournament, we have to go through the Sioux at some point."
Hakstol reiterated York's nonchalant, it-is-what-it-is attitude.
"Well, you can't pick your poison," Hakstol said of being matched against Boston College. "We are just happy to be playing at this time of year. It's been a season full of challenges, and this will be a great game for us and what has become a much respected but very heated rival."
Come Thursday evening, however, the tongue-and-cheekiness of Hakstol will likely subside, because for the fourth consecutive year he will try to lead his team to the one accomplishment that has eluded him since taking the reigns from Dean Blais in 2004: a national championship.
Sure Hakstol's resume is already brimming with accolades in his brief but storied tenure with the Fighting Sioux, including notching 100 wins in four seasons, appearing in four Frozen Fours in four years, and winning a McNaughton Cup in 2006. But without a national championship to his name, Hakstol's legacy still has an asterisk overshadowing his other accomplishments.
With the combination of firepower up front and Hobey Baker-caliber goaltending in back, 2007 just might be the year Hakstol gets to erase the asterisk from his resume.
Just don't expect to hear that come out of Hakstol's mouth.
What you will hear, in contrast, is a reiteration of his team's long and grueling season, a time highlighted by what seems to have become Hakstol's coaching trademark: lofty preseason predictions, disappointing early-season performances, then finally late-season surges that land the team far into the playoffs.
This time, when the dust settled after North Dakota's characteristic season-ending flurry, going 19-2-3, it found itself in an all-too-familiar position — playing Boston College for a spot in the national championship game.
The matchup comes as little surprise to senior goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux, who was in net for the Fighting Sioux in 2007 and the backup goaltender in 2006; in both games, UND lost. But Lamoureux articulated a policy of forward thinking when asked about Thursday night's game.
"This is a new year, this isn't last year or 2006," said Lamoureux, who leads the nation in all major goaltending categories. "We are approaching the game as we always do and preparing as best we can to play our best hockey; I don't think we're going to worry too much about what BC is going to do."
What Boston College is likely going to do is exactly what they have done in the teams' past two meetings — hit the ice flying with a prototypical run-and-gun mixture of torrent pace and speed. In 2006 and 2007, this style simply overshadowed the more defensively-minded, physical play of North Dakota, as in both contests BC widened a scoring gap in the first two periods that UND could never close.
This year might be a different story, however, according to York.
"When we played North Dakota, it's been a high octane game," York said. "At least from my vantage point, they are a very fast, very creative type of team. They are different than Gino Gasparini's [former UND head coach from the 1980s] when they won their national titles; they are an extremely quick, extremely fast team."
Moreover, Boston College also relied on the goaltending of Cory Schneider to help propel the Eagles to consecutive victories over the Fighting. But Schneider signed a professional contract with the Vancouver Canucks last offseason, and the goaltender who has been lights out coming into Thursday's game is UND's Lamoureux. He is looking to cap his career-year by winning a national championship, something his father Jean-Pierre did twice while playing at UND.
"I think for myself, I'm more of a leader on the ice; I lead by example and by executing and contributing on the scoreboard," said Lamoureux, a native of Grand Forks. "Off the ice, I lead by not adding pressure going into this weekend, just doing what I do every weekend. Us as a team, we're going to prepare the same way and when the puck drops our leaders will step up and make big plays for us."
Hakstol expanded on the team's core leadership.
"Certainly one of the great luxuries of the team this year is our tremendous team leadership in the locker room," Hakstol said. "As a coaching staff, we have tremendous confidence in our leaders and in our hockey team. As a group, we're going to be very well prepared for Thursday night."
When the puck does finally drop, it will be a chance for North Dakota to reverse its recent history and march on towards college hockey's Holy Grail: a national championship.
The only thing standing in the way just happens to be Boston College.