UND prepares for Western MichiganST. PAUL, Minn. — The teams haven’t played against each other in 14 years, but they may look quite familiar to each other.
By: Brad Schlossman, The Dickinson Press
ST. PAUL, Minn. — The teams haven’t played against each other in 14 years, but they may look quite familiar to each other.
The University of North Dakota and Western Michigan University, who meet at 12:30 p.m. today in a first-round NCAA West Regional tournament game in the Xcel Energy Center, have scouting reports that look almost identical.
The Broncos have a big, strong defensive corps. All but one of them measure six feet tall. They are getting strong goaltending from a western Canadian. They get most of their scoring from a potent top line. And they won five straight games en route to a conference tournament title a week ago, beating two of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association’s powerhouse teams in the process.
The Sioux also have a big, strong defensive corps — all of them measuring at least six feet tall. They are getting strong goaltending from a western Canadian. They get most of their scoring from a potent top line. And they won five straight games en route to a conference title a week ago, beating two of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s top teams in the process.
“We both have good goaltending and good D-corps,” Sioux defenseman Ben Blood said. “We both kind of play the same way and win games the same way, I guess. We have to be tough defensively and play a hard-nosed game.”
The Broncos, 21-13-6, allow just 23.32 shots per game — best in the country. Their defense is anchored by NHL-ready Danny DeKeyser, NHL picks Luke Witkowski and Garrett Haar and prolific scorers Matt Tennyson and Dennis Brown.
Freshman goaltender Frank Slubowski hasn’t allowed an even-strength goal in 101 minutes, 50 seconds — a span of more than five periods.
Western Michigan’s top line of two-time United States Hockey League all-star Shane Berschbach, U.S. Under-18 team standout Chase Balisy and junior Dane Walters has accounted for 35 percent of the team’s offense this season.
The power play also has been key. The Broncos are converted at a CCHA-best clip of 20.8 percent.
“We like our team,” said Western Michigan coach Andy Murray, who was an NHL head coach for 11 years (Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues) and an assistant for eight. “Our team plays hard, just like the Sioux do. We’ll look like their little brothers out there. We’re a little smaller than they are. But we will compete and we’ll be there. The game starts at 12:30 and when they drop the puck, we’ll be there.”
UND coach Dave Hakstol acknowledged there are similarities between the teams.
“If you want to look at similarities, you’d have to say both are good teams,” Hakstol said. “There are probably some things we do the same way, but no two teams are alike. Each team has to go out and play to the best of their ability and within their own personality.”
UND also got an up-close look at Western Michigan at the regional last season in Green Bay, Wis. The Broncos led Denver 2-0 with less than five minutes left in the third period, but ended up losing in double overtime. Western Michigan players say they have learned from that experience.
“Just like last year, we’re excited to be here,” senior forward Greg Squires said. “I think being a No. 4 seed gives us a little more motivation. Last year was the first time we had been here in a really long time. This year, we are coming in a little more experienced.”
Walters said the Broncos have scouted UND.
“They are big and they are strong,” he said. “We have to do a good job of sticking to our game plan, use our speed and get a lot of shots on net with traffic, cause a lot of havoc… just do our job to get them off their game with our speed and get pucks to the net.”
Coach Murray is probably more familiar with UND than most. His son, Brady, played under Hakstol at UND from 2003-05.
“They’ve got a great team and they play Sioux hockey,” Murray said. “They come after you. You know they’re going to play hard and they’re going to play with energy and we’re going to have to match that if we’re going to be successful against them.”
Schlossman is a sports reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.