UND hockey team to play Niagara in NCAA tournament opener
GRAND FORKS - The University of North Dakota's last trip to a national championship started with a regional game against Niagara.
The team is hoping history will repeat itself.
UND will open the NCAA tournament with a first-round game against the Purple Eagles at 4:30 p.m. Friday in Grand Rapids, Mich. The winner will meet either Minnesota or Yale to go to the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh.
UND has now reached the NCAA tournament for 11 consecutive years -- the longest streak in the country. Miami has the second-longest streak at eight years.
Michigan previously had the longest streak of 22 years, but that came to an end when the Wolverines lost to Notre Dame in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association championship game Sunday.
"It's a four-game tournament and you only get one shot at the first game," UND coach Dave Hakstol said. "That's what we're focusing on and preparing ourselves for. It's exciting to be in. We're going to narrow our focus and get ready for a great game on Friday."
The Purple Eagles (23-9-5) are the first-ever Atlantic Hockey to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. They lost just twice in a 23-game stretch during the middle of the season, skyrocketing up the Pairwise Rankings and earning a No. 3 seed.
UND, which holds a 21-12-7 mark, is a No. 2 seed.
The matchup will be a battle of Hobey Baker Award contenders.
The Purple Eagles have senior goaltender Carsen Chubak, who will enter the weekend with a .938 save percentage and a 1.92 goals-against average. He was named the player of the year in Atlantic Hockey.
"All you need to know is the type of year he's having," Hakstol said. "Look at his numbers and the type of year he's put together. He's been a dominant goaltender throughout the entire season."
UND will counter with a pair of Hobey Baker finalists in Danny Kristo and Corban Knight, who both rank in the top eight nationally in scoring with 51 and 48 points, respectively.
UND last played against Niagara in January 2010 in the Shillelagh Tournament in suburban Chicago. UND won that game 3-1. Current UND players Knight, Carter Rowney, Joe Gleason and Andrew MacWilliam played in that game. Kristo was at the World Juniors and missed it.
"There are probably a few names on both sides that were part of that game," Hakstol said. "But I don't draw too much of a connection there."
The Eagles hope to continue Atlantic Hockey's recent run of NCAA success.
In 2010, league champion RIT reached the Frozen Four in Detroit. In 2009, league champ Air Force upset Michigan in the first round. In 2006, Holy Cross knocked off Minnesota in the first round in Grand Forks.
Only one time in the last nine years has an Atlantic Hockey team lost a game by more than one goal in the first round. That was last year when Boston College beat Air Force 2-0. It was Boston College's closest game of the national tournament.
"Niagara is a veteran squad, they are strong in goal and strong throughout their lineup," Hakstol said. "They had a great year."
In all, six Western Collegiate Hockey Association teams are in the NCAA tournament. In addition to Minnesota and North Dakota in the West Regional, St. Cloud State and Minnesota State-Mankato are in the Midwest Regional in Toledo, Ohio, and Wisconsin and Denver are in the Northeast Regional in Manchester, N.H.