Semifinal Preview: Clash of the Titans
by Justin Magill/CHN Writer
Two of the most storied college hockey programs will cap off the 2011 Frozen Four semifinals on Thursday night.
Despite the history, Michigan comes to St. Paul as underdogs.
“That is OK,” Michigan captain Luke Glendening said. “We’ll take that role and run with it. They’re the team that is expected to win, but we’re going to work hard and see what happens.”
How many times has Michigan ever been considered an underdog, especially in hockey?
“Not often, but, in this situation, we are,” Glendening said with a smile.
One reason Michigan may be considered underdogs is the Fighting Sioux come in winners of their last 11 and have not tasted defeat since Jan. 28 at Colorado College.
There is also Hobey Baker finalist Matt Frattin, who leads the nation with 36 goals, including some clutch ones; most notably on the same surface the Frozen Four is played at this year, when he tallied the WCHA Final Five double overtime game-winner against Denver.
“They’re the best team standing right now,” Michigan defenseman Chad Langlais said. “We know they have offensive dynamos. They have guys with 25 and a guy with 36 goals. We know they are going to be a powerhouse.”
With its top two forward lines, North Dakota can score almost at will, but Michigan coach Red Berenson is confident in his forwards' defensive capabilities.
“We have two or three lines that can play with the top line,” he said. “We’ll see how it works out. You definitely have to respect whoever you’re out there against, but their top two lines have scored 121 goals between the six of them so they are pretty good players.”
Michigan has been credited with playing a complete and competitive game, backed by a strong team defensive effort that has not gone unnoticed by North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol.
“Their competiveness defensively is excellent,” he said. “Their overall competiveness as a hockey team is pretty apparent.”
Goalie Shawn Hunwick is the backbone of the defensive effort for the Wolverines. His 21-8-4 record with a 2.26 goals-against and a .922 save-percentage gave him CCHA Goalie of the Year honors.
“Last year he did some big things for us,” Glendening said. “Took us to the regional final, didn’t quite make (the Frozen Four). This year he won CCHA goalie of the year. He’s done a great job for us all year, and we’re excited to see what he will do in the Frozen Four as well.”
To counter, North Dakota has Aaron Dell in net, with a daunting 30-6-2 record, 1.81 goals against, .924 save-percentage and WCHA Goalie of the Year honors.
“He’s a competitor,” Hakstol said. “He just competes for us every night and that is all we can ask for of Aaron. He will give us a chance to win every night.”
Depth and experience litter each roster.
Both Michigan and North Dakota were in the Frozen Four in 2008, but lost in the semifinals. That was the last year the two made it to college hockey’s grandest stage and its seniors know the importance of it.
“A lot of guys know what it was like,” Fighting Sioux captain Chay Genoway said. “Our program, along with theirs, are expected to be in the mix every year, but to get there and be so close makes you want it that much more.”
In terms of Michigan and North Dakota, the amount of time since its last national championships has been too long. North Dakota’s last championship was in 2000, when it beat Boston College in Providence. The Fighting Sioux lost in a revenge game the following year to the Eagles in the title game in Albany.
Since 2001, it has made it to the Frozen Four four times, only advancing to the championship game once, losing to WCHA rival Denver in 2005.
It has been 13 years since the Wolverines were last crowned champions of college hockey, with four Frozen Four berths since their last championship as well.
“There is a lot of history between the two schools and it should be a fun and exciting game,” Hakstol said. “We are just happy to be in St. Paul with a chance to advance.”
Regardless of the history, there is still a game to be played between two of college hockey’s elite programs.
CCHA regular season champions against the WCHA regular season and playoff champions.
Experienced teams will take to the ice in St. Paul in what is expected to be a great atmosphere.
Solidified goal scorers in Frattin and Jason Gregoire for the Fighting Sioux are expected to be imperative parts to the game.
Michigan will have attempt to counter with senior Carl Hagelin, who leads the team with 18 goals, but might have to rely on a solid defensive game to lock down the skill set North Dakota brings.
“They’re a very good team,” Louie Caporusso said. “They were the favorite coming into the tournament and will be going into the Frozen Four. We have our hands full.”
Even though North Dakota is labeled as the favorites not only to beat Michigan, but to take the title, Genoway said his team has to respect what the Wolverines can do as well.
“We have to beat a really good University of Michigan team,” he said. “They proved that they belong as well. They were conference champions and came out of a tough region and are a talented team.”
“They’re a good team,” Hakstol added. “Won the CCHA and came out of an extremely difficult regional tournament. They have veterans throughout their lineup. Very good hockey team.”