For those of you who are checking your URL address to make sure you haven't stumbled upon a UND hockey blog; don't worry, section 216 is still here. I've been asked to share my insights as UND begins the quest for their 8th NCAA championship this afternoon.
Before I get into my preview, how about them Dogs??? Wow!! UMD is one WCHA team that I pull for and don't mind so it was nice to see them continue their postseason run last night. 1 week ago at that time in the Final Five semis may have been a different story though.
Speaking of the Final Five, some strange part of me thinks those first 5-7 minutes of the UND/UMD game last Friday night may have set the tone for the weekend. The Sioux came out flat and went down 0-2 right away. In the second and third periods, they came out flying but it seemed like someone forgot to freeze the pucks since they were bouncing right off and over the Sioux sticks. Then in the 3rd place game against Wisconsin, I think they forgot you play for 60 minutes and not 20. After taking a 1-0 lead heading into the 2nd period, UND was outshot 25-9 in the second period and were trailing 3-1. UGGGHH!!! It was hard to remember that this is the Sioux team that were on their traditional 2nd half surge (14-2-3 heading into the Final Five since January 1st). The only silver lining to going 0-2 at the Final Five was that those 2 losses hurt the Gopher's chances at getting into the tourney.
Fast forward a week and now we are to a point where you will go home after 1 bad period or a bad 5-7 minute stretch of play. UND was shipped out to New Hampshire and the Northeast regional. They had been in a position to play at Mariucci this weekend but last weekends debacle sent them to New Hampshire. UND opens up with essentially a road game against New Hampshire (USCHO #12). Should UND get past UNH, the will most likely have a date with the #1 overall seed Boston University. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, let's take a look at the UND/UNH matchup.
New Hampshire is coming of a similar conference tournament disappointment as they were swept in the first round by Boston College. These losses came two weeks ago in Hockey East's first round so there may be some rust on the tires. New Hampshire is led by James van Riemsdyk (17g 22a). The #2 overall draft pick in the NHL by the Flyers, this F was also a leader on the Team USA World Junior team this past winter. This big forward will more than likely be the difference maker in the game. F Mike Sislo (18g 10a) is the goal scoring leader for UNH. One of the leaders on New Hampshire's blue line is freshman Blake Kessel. Yes, that is former Gopher and current Boston Bruin Phil Kessel's younger brother.
UND will need to find a way to win at a neutral site venue (granted this is basically a home game from New Hampshire) as they are now 0-5 this year at neutral sites. The Sioux will also need to remember that they were the WCHA scoring leaders and find that scoring touch. Hakstol was saying that this week's practices were very physical and very good practices. Hopefully some of that time was spent working on the powerplay as UND was 0-14 last weekend. The one thing that concerns me is that they seemed to be calling alot more of the NHL style penalties (obstruction) in yesterday's NCAA games. The WCHA is a very physical league in comparison to the eastern leagues, and UND is one of the more physical WCHA teams. If UND finds themselves in the box, it could be a short trip out east. I've also noticed that freshie Brett Hextall has been going to the box more and more. He is an agitator and for the most part has been able to stay out of the box all year. I noticed it in Grand Forks with their series against Michigan Tech two weeks ago and also last weekend in Saint Paul that the refs are on to his antics and are giving him two minutes much more often now. I still think that kid is money though. I mean his dad is Ron Hextall so you know he has a little temper in him.
I am going with a Sioux win 4-1.