Frozen Four Notebook: North Dakota
by Avash Kalra/Senior Writer
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PHILADELPHIA North Dakota took to the ice at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday afternoon, practicing for the first time in the arena in which it will try to win its eighth national championship overall and first since 2000.
North Dakota takes on Minnesota on Thursday night (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2). The winner will face either Boston College or Union in Saturday’s championship game.
As anyone reading this knows by now, North Dakota’s matchup with Minnesota in Thursday’s national semifinal showdown serves as an early renewal of one of the most heated rivalries in college hockey history. It’s the 284th meeting all-time between UND and Minnesota, a series in which the Gophers hold a slim edge (137-129-15).
The teams are tied all-time in neutral-site games (8-8) and in NCAA tourney games (2-2). Philadelphia – a city that loves its rivalries – will get an up-close look on Thursday.
“This city has such a great tradition in hockey and pro hockey and the rivalries that the Flyers have built with a few other teams in the NHL,” said North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol. “They’re going to see one of the great college rivalries up close and personal tomorrow. Really, it’s what they’ve seen through their own Flyers and some of their own traditional rivalries.”
Thursday will mark the fifth time North Dakota and Minnesota have met in the NCAA tournament and the third time at the Frozen Four. The most notable of the previous four meetings was the 1979 national championship game in Detroit, when Minnesota topped North Dakota, 4-3. The teams didn’t meet again in the NCAA tournament until 2005, a North Dakota win in a Frozen Four semifinal game in Columbus. The teams then split West Regional final wins in 2007 and 2012.
“It’s been built like any good rivalry,” continued Hakstol, a UND alumnus who leads a staff of coaches (Brad Berry, Dane Jackson, Karl Goehring) who all played for North Dakota. “There have been some great regular season games, but also a lot of playoff games where there’s an awful lot at stake.
“You’ve got two proud programs that lay it all on the line. That’s what’s been done in the past, and I’m assuming that’s what will be done on Thursday night.”
TALKING ABOUT PRACTICE?
In the summer of 2002, after the Philadelphia 76ers – who also call the Wells Fargo Center their home – were eliminated from the playoffs by the Boston Celtics, former 11-time NBA All-Star Allen Iverson famously ranted about practice in the wake of criticism from his coach.
Wednesday at the Frozen Four, practice was the feature attraction of the day.
“We wanted to get in here, get our feet moving, get our skates moving, and get a feel for the venue,” said junior forward Stephane Pattyn, who has scored four goals in his last nine games. “As far as that goes, practice was great. Everyone was excited, everyone was high-speed and high-paced. That’s what we wanted. Great venue and great ice surface.
“We don’t want to get too high or too low, and today’s practice was a good balance for that.”
Wednesday was also the first opportunity for UND goaltender Zane Gothberg to become accustomed to the ice at the Wells Fargo Center.
“At this time of year we’re so ingrained, it’s second nature,” said the sophomore netminder, who made a career-high 44 saves in his most recent performance. “We’ll do the same type of drills, get into our routine. There were drills and stuff tailored toward certain situations in the game that we’ll see tomorrow. I think with those drills, they went really well. At the end of day, it was a good practice, a good sweat. I’m ready to go have some dinner tonight.”
PARKS AND REC
Quietly, junior forward Michael Parks – who owns the distinction of scoring the first-ever goal in NCHC conference play – enters the Frozen Four second in scoring for North Dakota, with his 30 points trailing only dynamic center Rocco Grimaldi’s 39.
Said Pattyn, “He’s a leader. He does what he does on the ice, and guys look at that and want to play for him. He’s not a loud guy in the locker room, not that kind of leader, but he definitely leaves it all on the ice and in the last few games he’s really led our team and helped us get here.”
Parks has understandably drawn extra attention this week as his NHL rights are owned by the Philadelphia Flyers, who selected the St. Louis, Mo., native in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. In North Dakota’s practice at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday afternoon, Parks outlasted his teammates by winning the shootout competition at the end of practice.
“He’s had a great week at practice,” said head coach Dave Hakstol. "He’s been relaxed, he’s been executing really well. No question, I’m sure there’s a little extra excitement for him as he steps on the ice today for practice. ... I’m sure Michael will do a good job keeping things in perspective.”
FINDING AN IDENTITY
North Dakota boasts 14 NHL draft picks, more than any other team in college hockey. But entering the Frozen Four the team has embraced an identity of a hard-working team with largely unheralded role-players.
No player on the team has averaged more than a point per game this season, and most notably, this North Dakota team is in stark contrast to its last Frozen Four team (2011), which featured players like Matt Frattin and Danny Kristo. That team lost in the national semifinals to Michigan.
“We didn't know how to go about our business,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol of this year’s campaign, which started with a rough 4-7-2 stretch to open the season. “We didn't know what our identity was, but the guys figured that out. It's maybe not the most talented team we've had, but work ethic is a talent.
“We've got to do the things we do well. Obviously we have to pay attention to them, but their depth and balance and approach to the game is such that you can't focus on one or two guys. We have to go out and play a tremendous team game. A lot of people didn't expect us to be here, but our guys have a strong will and a quiet confidence, and we have to play our best game. And if that's good enough to advance, we'll live with that, and if it's not, we'll live with that too.”
Since a now-infamous loss to St. Lawrence on Nov. 30 – a loss that sparked a season-defining players’ only closed-door meeting – North Dakota is 21-6-1.
“I don’t know if it’s really changed our mindset whatsoever. Maybe it reduces some of the outside chatter, but to be honest I don’t know if it’s had an effect on our team one way or the other.” – Dave Hakstol on whether his team, the only No. 4 seed among a remaining field of No. 1 seeds, has embraced an ‘underdog’ role.
“He’s a passionate guy, he’s a competitive guy, and he pushes everyone around him to get better.” – Dillon Simpson, on his goaltender Zane Gothberg.
“There's certainly a lot of similarities — obviously a big difference in size compared to myself. But I see a lot of myself in Zane in terms of how much he enjoys the game. He really cares a lot about contributing to his team. I think that's the neat thing about goaltenders, is for the most part guys really care about their teammates and how they can help them stay in games.” – Karl Goehring, North Dakota’s volunteer goaltending coach who, as a player, guided UND to the 2000 national championship.
“He kind of embodies what our team is. He shows up every single day. He’s a worker in the classroom, in and around the community, and at the rink. ... That workman like style paid off for him with that game-winning goal.” – Hakstol, on junior forward Connor Gaarder, who scored in double overtime last week against Ferris State to send North Dakota to its 20th Frozen Four since 1958.