Sioux Thinking Bigger After Wrapping Up Series
by Timothy Boger/CHN Reporter
GRAND FORKS, N.D. Fans stuck around after North Dakota's 3-1 victory over Michigan Tech on Saturday night, anticipating a hearty celebration of UND's 15th WCHA Regular Season Championship and a hoisting of the MacNaughton Cup.
Instead, they watched as the team saluted the crowd, took a picture behind the large silver trophy and skated off the ice, being carefully not even to touch it.
It was a clear signal that in the minds of the No. 1 North Dakota Fighting Sioux, winning a regular season title was something for the backburner.
“That was just our feeling. We thought it was the right thing to do because we've got better places to go and bigger things to accomplish than the MacNaughton Cup,” said junior Brett Hextall.
Hextall was one of several players on this season's team that hoisted the same award in 2009, after sweeping these same Michigan Tech Huskies. The speakers played “We are the Champions” as the team paraded around the ice passing the Cup around to each player.
That team ended the season losing to New Hampshire in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Derrick LaPoint and his teammates haven't forgotten that, so this year, they shook things up. Former Sioux players from the 2009 team – Ryan Martens and Aaron Walski – brought out the Cup for the presentation from WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod. North Dakota's seven seniors came forward to accept the trophy, staying far away from its handles.
LaPoint said the decision to not touch the cup resulted from “a lot of talk between the senior group.”
“It didn't work last time, so we tried something different.”
The Fighting Sioux head to St. Paul for the WCHA Final Five, their ninth consecutive appearance at the conference championships. North Dakota will play Friday evening against the winner of Thursday's quarterfinal matchup between Alaska Anchorage and the Wisconsin/Colorado College winner – which will be determined on Sunday.
They did that thanks to a clean sweep of last-place Tech, including 8-0 Friday.
"To have the cup on the ice, to win in the fashion that we did tonight, is a tribute to our team and the way we play the game,” LaPoint said. I'm just proud of the guys and proud to be a part of it."
Down the stretch of this season, the No. 1 North Dakota Fighting Sioux have constantly preached consistency and rolling all four lines. And Saturday's game, more so than their 8-0 drubbing of the Huskies, showed off their depth and their ability to grind it out even when bounces don't go their way.
"I think that was good for us. Things weren't coming easy for us, we weren't getting many bounces,” senior captain Chay Genoway said. “I thought the guys responded well and we played well in the second period and had a really good third period.”
Genoway said it was a precursor of things to come. “Those are the types of games we'll be playing down the road."
Suiting up for the playoffs sounds cliché, but to Hextall and the Fighting Sioux, there is no other focus.
“It's a great tribute to what we've done so far this year but we've got a lot of hockey left ahead of us.”