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Miller: Minnesota Duluth provides UND men's hockey needed adversity

MINNEAPOLIS -- This isn't Colorado College anymore.Or Western Michigan. Or even Nebraska Omaha.This is the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and the University of North Dakota wasn't quite prepared for it.Minnesota Duluth, behind second-period goals from Domin...

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University of North Dakota goalie Cam Johnson watches a shot slide into his goal during a NCHC semifinal game on Friday at Target Center in Minneapolis. (Photo by Brett Groehler / University of Minnesota-Duluth)

MINNEAPOLIS -- This isn’t Colorado College anymore.
Or Western Michigan. Or even Nebraska Omaha.
This is the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and the University of North Dakota wasn’t quite prepared for it.
Minnesota Duluth, behind second-period goals from Dominic Toninato, Alex Iafallo and Austin Farley, provided a wake-up call for the No. 1 team in the country with a 4-2 victory over the Fighting Hawks on Friday in the league semifinals at Target Center.
“There wasn’t a lot of time and space out there,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “That’s the way it’s going to be here on in. We knew that coming in.
“They’re an experienced, well-coached team. I saw a (Duluth) team that was committed to playing hard with and without the puck.
They didn’t give us time and space on the rush. There was a commitment and urgency there.”
UND didn’t capitalize on some chances against Duluth, but the Bulldogs weren’t handing them out very often, either.
“Give their ‘D’ corps props,” UND assistant captain Troy Stecher said. “They stuck on our forwards tight and there wasn’t a lot of time and space out there.”
It would have been easy for North Dakota to forget how difficult it is to beat elite teams. The Fighting Hawks entered the Frozen Faceoff scoring at least four goals in six straight games, including scoring seven goals in a game last weekend against Colorado College and eight goals the week before against Western Michigan.
The last three weeks, though, was misleading. UND was playing against the worst three defenses in the NCHC: Nebraska Omaha, Western Michigan and Colorado College.
That’s about a month’s worth of games where UND’s offense and the talented CBS Line of Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser and Nick Schmaltz could roam free and rack up the Youtube pageviews.
It was fun for North Dakota fans, who were pricing out flights to Tampa and the Frozen Four. The games against the bottom half of the league, however, didn’t sharpen the skills of a team hoping to build toward the national tournament.
Everything was coming a little too easy. Now, here’s some adversity for North Dakota. Duluth earned a convincing win and fans are wondering how the Frozen Faceoff failures are reoccuring.
But here’s a drink-half-full scenario to the infamously thirsty UND fans who travel annually to the conference tournament in the Twin Cities: Maybe adversity is exactly what this team needs. You get to learn lessons without derailing the ultimate goal. With the Fighting Hawks’ regular-season resume, there wasn’t a lot on the line against the Bulldogs.
If UND’s reintroduction to high-end opponents lends to a national title, Friday’s disappointment will all be worth it.

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