by Justin Magill/CHN Writer
In the world of college hockey, an age difference of two years can be quite significant.
For North Dakota teammates Matt Frattin, senior, and sophomore Danny Kristo, age is about the only factor that separates them.
On and off the ice, Frattin and Kristo, both destined for good hockey futures, have shared some similar circumstances.
They have helped the Fighting Sioux advance to the Frozen Four this week in St. Paul, have garnered WCHA and national honors, but have also dealt with issues outside of the rink that are not related to hockey, but have affected the team. As friends, roommates and teammates, they have had some time to learn from one another and the issues each has faced.
Frattin's off-ice issues from the summer of 2009 are well documented. He was fined for tossing items from a garage into a street in July 2009. Later that summer, he was pulled over and, according to police reports, his blood-alcohol level was .12. He was found not guilty by a jury, but Fighting Sioux head coach Dave Hakstol's decision was slightly different than what the jury gave Frattin. He dismissed Frattin from the team just one day after he was arrested.
Instead of jumping ship and possibly prepare for professional hockey, Frattin dedicated himself to get back on the North Dakota hockey team.
"It was a second chance and I wanted to make the most of it," Frattin said. "Not too many times will someone give you that opportunity, so when it is there, you want to make the right choices to correct the wrong ones you did."
Kristo's circumstances were a little different, but nonetheless had some negative consequences.
While walking through campus in the extreme cold, on his way to see his girlfriend, Kristo lost his shoe in a pile of snow. He wasn't wearing socks. Kristo got severe frostbite, and went to a St. Paul hospital, where there was some talk about having to amputate toes.
He was out of the Fighting Sioux lineup from January all the way until the WCHA Final Five.
North Dakota did fine without him, only losing three games during that span and won the MacNaughton Cup as the WCHA regular season champions. But the 2010 WCHA Rookie of the Year was missed, nonetheless.
"It was good to see our team win, but at the same time tough," Kristo said. "A little bit of both. You want to be out there so bad to be a part of a winning team, but at the same time, while being out, it was always good to see us on the right side of the scoreboard."
Kristo came back just in time for the Final Five to begin where North Dakota took on Colorado College, a Fighting Sioux 4-3 victory. He scored a goal in his first game back.
With the attention the WCHA gets and the limelight that North Dakota is in, when Kristo's name popped up on the roster, he knew he was going to face some questions, but had a buddy to help him out.
"Matt (Frattin) is my roommate and a good friend of mine," Kristo said. "I learned a lot from him and what he had to experience in his comeback to the team. Having him so close was a big help to me, because he knows how to handle all of that."
"Matt has gone through it before, so it absolutely is a good thing for the both of them to be living together," Hakstol said. "The situations are totally different, but it is important, for both of them, to have somebody that knows how to handle what is about to be thrown at them."
It is easy to say both have done just that.
With 36 goals, Frattin leads the nation and his 60 points are second. He has been named as one of the three finalist for the Hobey Baker award, was the WCHA Player of the Year, the conference's scoring champion and recognized as CHN's Player of the Year.
"It's an honor to be in that class," Frattin said. "There have been only two guys from the Fighting Sioux who won the Hobey, so to possibly be with them is truly an honor."
Individual success has not changed the ego of Frattin. Hakstol has not noticed any change in his play or attitude with all the recognition he has received this season.
"He is so humble and is quick to deflect any compliments to his teammates," Hakstol said. "Matt has a good perspective on life right now. He has dealt with some issues the right way and that is all we could have asked of him."
"We are just really proud of him," Fighting Sioux captain Chay Genoway said. "He made some mistakes, but went at them head on and like a man. He did not hide, instead he showed how special of a player and a person he is to our team. All the accomplishments he has received are well deserving and we are glad he has done so well."
All Kristo did in his comeback was score North Dakota's first goal of the Final Five on his first shift and his first shot, roofing a quick wrister by Tigers goalie Joe Howe. He has been an important asset to the Fighting Sioux's run in the postseason, bringing the energy he had before being out of the lineup.
"Part of that is the buildup of being in a hospital bed for six weeks," Kristo said. "Judging me about my foot, I just wanted to go out there and show people that I was fine."
Almost a month ago, North Dakota was in St. Paul and won the Final Five for the second consecutive season. Kristo started the scoring and his teammate, roommate and friend, Frattin ended it in double overtime against Denver.
Similarities between them in hockey and life away from the ice are abundant, but they want one more comparison to add to the list: Another championship trophy at the Xcel Energy Center, which begins with Michigan on Thursday night.