UND ready for important series against Tigers
GRAND FORKS — This weekend, the University of North Dakota is playing for the opportunity to reach the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Frozen Faceoff.
But it is much more than just that.
If UND loses the first-round series against Colorado College (6:38 tonight, 6:08 p.m. Saturday, and if necessary, 6:08 p.m. Sunday), chances are that UND would end up missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002, according to a probability chart compiled by Jim Dahl of CollegeHockeyRanked.com.
Dahl, an expert on the Pairwise Rankings and the NCAA selection process, said that UND would most likely end up between 14 and 16 in the Pairwise Rankings if it loses this weekend’s series in three games. If the Tigers sweep UND, the team would most likely drop to the 15 to 18 range.
The minimum spot needed in the Pairwise Rankings in order to receive an at-large bid is 15. And that’s if there are no upset winners in conference tournaments.
“But, far safer would be for UND to come out of this weekend with two wins,” Dahl said. “That still wouldn’t quite assure UND an at-large bid, but they would be on the inside.”
UND wants to keep moving forward after a strong 16-4-1 finish to the regular season that helped the team rise to No. 10 in the Pairwise Rankings and earn a second-place finish.
During that stretch, UND swept Colorado College with 5-3 and 3-2 wins in Ralph Engelstad Arena. The Tigers lost both games late.
“I think there’s four really tough series coming up in the NCHC playoffs, and I know we have one in front of us,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “I’ve watched a lot of CC’s games of late and they are playing extremely well. They are playing fast. They are playing aggressive. They are playing loose. That’s got them playing extremely well.”
The Tigers won just two of their first 22 games this season, but have started playing better as of late, going 4-6-2 in their last 12, including a sweep of rival Denver.
Colorado College went on a run last year in the playoffs — beating Denver on the road in the first round and taking out UND and Minnesota at the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five en route to the title game.
“Last year, we were excited and motivated,” said Colorado College coach Scott Owens, who rested goaltender Josh Thorimbert and defenseman Gustav Olofsson last Saturday to prepare for this weekend. “We had a good mindset going to St. Paul and we persevered through the early games. We saw the light, everyone played well and we got good goaltending.
“No doubt, this year is going to be a tough task, but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
UND will keep an eye on Colorado College’s blue liners, who accounted for four of the team’s five goals in the January series between the teams. They’ll also watch senior Alexander Krushelnyski, a 100-point scorer who has been a thorn in UND’s side throughout his career.
“I like what we’ve done over the last couple months,” Hakstol said about his team. “The biggest thing we have to move forward from is not resting on some of the good things we’ve done. We need to make sure our focus is on playing our best hockey. We’ve lacked in a couple of periods — and that’s all it is, a couple of periods — some of the pure consistency that’s given us success. We have to get back to that.”
Simpson leads award finalists
UND senior captain Dillon Simpson is a finalist for three major NCHC awards — player of the year, defenseman of the year and offensive defenseman of the year.
Simpson is up for player of the year along with Nebraska Omaha forward Josh Archibald, St. Cloud State forward Nic Dowd and Denver goaltender Sam Brittain.
UND sophomore Zane Gothberg is one of three finalists for NCHC goaltender of the year and Dave Hakstol is a finalist for the league’s coach of the year.
The major awards will be handed out on Thursday at a banquet preceding the Frozen Faceoff.