North Dakota Left Stunned
by Justin Magill/CHN Writer
ST. PAUL, Minn. They were the only No. 1 seed to survive the regional tournaments, had one of the finalists for the Hobey Baker award and hadn’t lost since Jan. 28. It won a WCHA regular-season title, and a WCHA playoff title. It rolled through the NCAA Midwest Regional.
North Dakota came into the Frozen Four regarded as the favorites to take home its eighth national title, for good reason.
However, Shawn Hunwick stopped all 40 shots that came his way and put Michigan in the national championship game against Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday.
Dave Hakstol has been the bench boss for North Dakota for seven seasons, taking his team to the Frozen Four in five of those seasons. This year was different though, because the Fighting Sioux had many believing that their opponent were the underdogs, even Michigan itself.
“We came in with our own expectations,” Hakstol said. “I don’t know what the expectations were in terms of you can label whoever you want as the favorite or an underdog.
“So regardless of any of the expectations or rankings from the external side, yeah, this is real tough.”
With all the championships and trophies that will sit in the case in Grand Forks, there will be one that is missing.
Littered with accomplishments from the 2010-11 season, the expectations North Dakota built up during the course of the season, the dominance it had in the Midwest Regional, makes the stunning 2-0 loss to Michigan a sour way to summarize the season.
“I’d honestly have to say no,” senior Derrick Lapoint said in answer to whether the season was a success. “We failed at what we were trying to do. We were trying to win a national championship and we didn’t do it.
“We can look at what we’ve done and yeah, it’s great, but this is the biggest stage and you want the biggest trophy.”
It didn't help that forward Brock Nelson was lost early in the game after he got hit hard into the boards by Michigan's Luke Glendening. Nelson struggled to get up and was taken to the hospital for precautionary x-rays on his lower back that proved to be negative.
He'd also gotten hurt in the first NCAA game this year against RPI, but he wasn't needed as much. His loss had an impact because of how well he'd played with linemate Danny Kristo since Kristo's return to the lineup.
"It wasn't quite as shocking," North Dakota assistant coach Cary Eades said, "but what it does is take a very good playmaker — him and Kristo, since Kristo returned, has been really dynamic and created a lot of offense. One less bullet in our gun, and we needed every bullet today, because Hunwick was stopping everything. And credit their defense, because we didn't get many second chances."
Down 1-0, North Dakota had its chances as the clocked continued to tick. Brad Malone was taken down by Wolverines defenseman John Merrill midway through the third.
Michigan blocked shots, cleared the puck out as soon as it possessed the puck and escaped danger at least for those two minutes.
“With that power play there, we thought we might have been able to capitalize, but got to give credit to their goalie,” North Dakota forward Corban Knight said. “He made some phenomenal saves there.”
With 68 seconds to play, Aaron Dell was pulled and the Fighting Sioux continued to pressure and attack Michigan. Evan Trupp got the puck on his stick, one of the top-line seniors for North Dakota, and got a couple cracks near the goal. It just wasn’t his night, similar to many of the Fighting Sioux stars.
If there is one person who can understand what North Dakota is going through, it is the coach it went up against on Thursday night.
Red Berenson has had his success as the Wolverines head coach, but has also dealt with the difficulties of tough losses.
He recalled the 1997 Michigan team that made it to the Frozen Four in Milwaukee.
The Wolverines were led by John Madden, Brendan Morrison and goalie Marty Turco. They were the No. 1 team coming into the Frozen Four, had all the momentum after winning the CCHA regular and postseason titles, just like what the Fighting Sioux did in the WCHA this year, but lost in an upset to Boston University 3-2 in the semifinals.
“I’ll tell you, they’ve got to be stunned,” Berenson said. “I know we were in '97. We were stunned. There’s so much momentum built up in your season. They rolled through the season, they rolled through their playoffs, they rolled their playoffs, they rolled through the first regional.
“But they’re stunned. They can’t believe it. They’re going to second guess themselves.”
Finishing the season with a 32-9-3 season, it was a solid season for North Dakota, but not what seven seniors had planned at the end.
Most of the seniors came back for one more season with plans of winning it all, even if professional contracts were already waiting for them.
“This is not the way the team envisioned things,” captain Chay Genoway said. “I am just proud of every guy in the locker room here. It was a special group of guys.”
If there is any consolation, there can still be one piece of hardware to be possibly won. Matt Frattin is one of the three finalists to win the Hober Baker award.
He finishes the season with 36 goals to lead the nation and 60 points, second in the NCAA.
Frattin was one of five North Dakota players to crack 40 points on the season and was a reason why it was the favorites coming to the Xcel Energy Center.
"That's the way hockey is," Eades said. "You gotta bury that puck. We can dissect it and analyze it a million ways, but Michigan did enough to win the hockey game."