Sioux Roll On
CHN Staff Report
GREEN BAY, Wis. One game is not going to make North Dakota feel satisfied, not for a team on a mission that can only be fulfilled by playing for a national title.
But for a team that lost its NCAA First Round game to an ECAC team last year, it was nonetheless a satisfying performance in many ways.
North Dakota took some time to get rolling, but when it did, it blitzed Rensselaer, playing in its first NCAA Tournament since 1995. Brad Malone scored twice, and Matt Frattin added his nation's-best 36th of the season as the Sioux defeated RPI, 6-0, to advance to Sunday's Midwest Regional Final.
"It was a big game for us," North Dakota forward Jason Gregoire said. "It's do or die. Thankfully, our guys came out flying and we were rolling four lines. It was a fun win.
"We really focused on the maturity aspect of our game. We had a lot of good leadership. Our seniors and Pony's (Malone's) line had a great game. We need them to play like that all the way through. It's a team thing at this point. It's one day at a time."
North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol acknowledged that RPI played against his team well early, but that was more about RPI than anything his team was doing wrong.
"I thought we had good focus," Hakstol said. "We had a good, solid effort against a good hockey team. RPI came out real hard in the first 10 minutes and competed extremely hard for 60 minutes. So, from our standpoint, it was very important to have everybody in the lineup contributing tonight and helping toward this win."
RPI was coming off a near three-week layoff since its last game. It lost in the first round of the ECAC playoffs, to last-place Colgate, after finishing first in the league. But after everything else shook down, RPI qualified as the last at-large team for the NCAAs.
RPI coach Seth Appert didn't think the layoff caused his teams problems — North Dakota did.
"I thought we were very good in the first period," RPI coach Seth Appert said. "The game was probably even, if not, we might have had the better chances in the first period. We hit a couple of posts, (Aaron) Dell made a couple of big saves and they really responded and gave a great push-back in the second period. They forced us into breakdowns and turned the tide in their favor."
Nevertheless, RPI is a program that's come a long way. A storied program, and winners of the 1985 national championship, the Engineers gradually faded from the scene over a 20-year period — with good moments sprinkled in — until Appert came in and started the rebuild again. He, of course, credited a strong senior class.
"They've meant everything to us," said Appert, who just signed a seven-year contract extension. "They came here when we were somewhere between 40th and 45th in the country. We had no renovation to the rink and the program had slipped. Through their hard work and their talents, and the kind of young men they are ... they are all going to graduate on time from one of the best schools in the United States. Three are engineering majors. It's been a special class and just a great group of young men.
"We're going to miss them as hockey players. We're probably going to miss them more as people. They've been great ambassadors for our program."
Captain John Kennedy is one of those seniors.
"We knew where the program was," captain John Kennedy said. "We knew what we wanted it to be. It's great for the school. The national recognition will help recruiting and everything else is just going to build from here. Seth Appert is a great coach. It's definitely going in the right direction and I see it continuing that way."
Meanwhile, North Dakota is there. The Sioux have all the pieces for a national title run, and those pieces are fitting together well right now.
Danny Kristo, who recently returned to the lineup after recovering from frostbite, scored again, his third in three games.
"I feel like I'm doing my job out there," Kristo said, "not just scoring, but working hard and making plays. Whether I'm scoring or not, I'm just trying to work hard and contribute to the team and wins."
Workmanlike. That sums it up. As workmanlike a 6-0 win can be. And it will be back to the grind Sunday.