March 9, 2007 PRINT Bookmark and Share

On Fire Again

by Dane DeKrey/Staff Writer

Opposing teams take note: If you plan on beating the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux, a little advice — do it early.

Especially under head coach, Dave Hakstol.

Since taking over for Dean Blais in 2004, Hakstol-led UND teams have been eerily similar. From stellar starts to midseason doldrums, finally culminating with methodic postseason finales, the Fighting Sioux (whether on purpose or by accident) have typecast themselves as the proverbial fine wine — only getting better with time.

But don't try to convince Hakstol of this seemingly stereotypical play, because he isn't buying into the hype.

"There's no such thing as 'vintage-Hakstol-form'," said the third-year head coach, in reference to the peaks and troughs that have been prevalent during his time behind UND's bench. "We haven't peaked, and if we have peaked, then that isn't good enough for us."

If UND hasn't peaked, then the mountain must be pretty steep, as the team is currently the hottest in the nation, going 10-1-4 in its last 15.

The reason for the turnaround? Simple. Do the numbers 16, 9, and 7 mean anything to you? They should, since they belong to Ryan Duncan, Jonathan Toews, and T.J. Oshie — college hockey's new sheriffs in town.

To put into perspective the impact of the line Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting called "the nation's best," sink your teeth into this: Since the team's 15-game terror began January 6 against Colorado College, their respective stat lines are eye-popping.

Duncan has scored 13 and dished 13, for 26. Oshie has lit the lamp 8 times and added 12 helpers for 20. And Toews, not to be outdone, has tallied 9 goals and rang up 15 assists for 24.

With these kinds of numbers, you'd think the three would be tooting their respective horns as the nation's most dangerous threesome. You would be wrong.

"I think there's no doubt that I benefit from playing with T.J. and Jonny," said a modest Duncan, who, despite being the line's only non-first round draft choice, is making the most convincing case for the Hobey Baker. "Very few know how dangerous they are offensively and defensively; they create a lot of space for me, I just try to complement their skills."

And it's not just Duncan who is playing the modesty card, as the entire team views their recent success with caution, reiterating the fact that the season isn't over until it's over.

Further, it seems the club is keeping its hand close to its chest, perhaps because of the reverberating sting they are still feeling from the transgressions of Toews, Oshie, and junior defenseman Robbie Bina, whose run-in with Grand Forks police a month ago made national headlines.

Hakstol, though hush hush about Judy's-gate, was especially vocal about a policy of modesty as the team enters their WCHA first round playoffs against an ever-elusive Minnesota State squad.

"I don't care what the Pairwise says we are," said Hakstol, whose team is currently tied for sixth in the NCAA playoff system. "Our playoff lives are on the line here and now, and we need to put wins up to
guarantee ourselves a spot in the national tournament."

If years past are any indicator, such mentality seems sound for UND, who enter this Friday's series looking to claw their way back to the NCAA Frozen Four for an impressive third consecutive year.

Maybe then Hakstol will be comfortable calling his team's second half turnarounds 'vintage.'


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