Friday, March 24, 2017

NCAA Tournament -- West Regional: It's Ours to Defend

UND's title defense starts Friday at 2 pm from Scheels Arena in Fargo versus the Boston University Terriers.
After all the ups and downs for the 2016-17 UND men's hockey team, they enter this weekend's NCAA West Regional right where they wanted to be at the start of the season -- 81 miles from home in Fargo with a chance to defend their 2015-16 national championship.

It's in our state and the title is ours to defend until someone takes it.

Joining the Green and White at Scheels Arena are three other teams who want to end UND's run at the top and move on to the Frozen Four in Chicago.

Semifinal 1 pits No. 3 seeded UND, the away team just an hour-plus from home, against the No. 2 seeded Boston University Terriers. In the other semifinal, the No. 1 seeded Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs faceoff with the No. 4 seeded Ohio State Buckeyes.

2017 NCAA West Regional -- Scheels Arena, Fargo

Semifinal 1 -- No. 2 BU vs. No. 3 UND, ESPN2, 2 p.m.
Semifinal 2 -- No. 1 UMD vs. No. 4 OSU, ESPNU, 5:30

UND/BU vs. UMD/OSU -- ESPNU, 5 p.m.

Loaded with nine players drafted in the first or second round in the NHL draft, the Terriers are a team chocked full of talent. Minnesota Duluth enters the West Regional as the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament and have beaten the Green and White five times in five opportunities this season, capped off by a wild 4-3 win in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game last weekend in Minneapolis. Ohio State features the best power play in the nation and the second-highest scoring offense.

Simply put, this is anybody's region to win.

When the brackets were announced this past Sunday, DDC called a friend when finding out UND would be taking on BU and had a potential looming battle with a foe in UMD that just locked the Green and White in a rough and tumble battle at the Target Center the night before and said, "Yikes."

DDC's first reaction was that he didn't want the Terriers in the first round. The response he got was simple -- "Well, no one wants to play us in the first round, either."

Think about it... The Green and White are playing this regional weekend having just beat the No. 1 overall seed Denver and took the No. 2 seeded Bulldogs down to the wire. UND is playing its best hockey of the season. Add that to the fact that the three other teams are headed to Fargo to play this weekend and the point is easy to make -- this region, this NCAA title, is ours until someone takes it.

Let's get it on.

Here's DDC's "Who? What? How?" breakdown of what will be a terrific weekend. Who will punch their ticket to Chicago?


Players to watch

BU Fr. F, Clayton Keller
leads all NCAA rookies
in points per game (1.45).

Boston University Terriers

Fr. F, Clayton Keller, 20 goals, 22 assists -- 42 points; Fr. F, Patrick Harper, 12g, 22a -- 34 pts; So. F, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, 13g, 19a -- 32 pts; So. F, Bobo Carpenter, 13g, 18a -- 31 pts; Fr. G, Jake Oettinger, 20-10-3, 2.09 goals against average, .927 save percentage.


So. F, Shane Gersich, 21g, 16a -- 37 pts; Fr. F, Tyson Jost, 16g, 19a -- 35 pts; So. F, Brock Boeser, 16g, 17a -- 33 pts; Jr. D, Tucker Poolman, 7g, 23a -- 30 pts (questionable with injury); Jr. G, Cam Johnson, 20-12-3, 2.38 GAA, .904 SV PCT.

OSU So. Mason Jobst
leads the nation's top
power play and second-
highest scoring offense.

Ohio State University Buckeyes

So. F, Mason Jobst, 19g, 36a -- 55 pts; Sr. F, Nick Schilkey, 27g, 14a -- 41 pts; Sr. F, David Gust, 18g, 23a -- 41 pts; So. F, Dakota Joshua, 12g, 22a -- 34 pts; Sr. G, Christian Frey, 9-7-3, .910 SV PCT, 3.07 GAA; Sr. G, Matt Tomkins, 12-4-3, .909 SV PCT, 2.48 GAA.

Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs

Sr. F, Alex Iafallo, 18g, 27a -- 46 pts; So. F, Adam Johnson, 17g, 19a -- 36 pts; So. D, Neal Pionk, 7g 25a -- 32 pts; Fr. F, Joey Anderson, 10g, 20a -- 30 pts; Fr. G., Hunter Miska, 24-4-5, 2.23 GAA, .917 SV PCT.


Standout Stats

Boston University

The Terriers are 18th in the NCAA in scoring, averaging 3.16 goals per game and 10th in goals allowed at 2.27.

Freshman Clayton Keller leads all NCAA rookies with a 1.45 points per game mark.

BU has four NHL first-round draft picks in Keller, Kieffer Bellows, Dante Fabbro and Charlie McAvoy and four second-round picks in Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Jordan Greenway, Chad Krys and John MacLeod. Netminder Jake Oettinger is expected to be drafted high in June's draft.


The Green and White are t-16 in NCAA in scoring (3.18) and 19th in goals against (2.56).

UND allows the second least amount of shots per game in the nation with 24.8.

North Dakota is 12-5-2 when scoring first this year and just 9-10-1 when not.

Freshman Tyson Jost is 6th in the nation in rookie points per game with 1.09.

Minnesota Duluth

The Bulldogs are 8th in the NCAA in scoring offense (3.42) and 11th in defense (2.29).

Minnesota Duluth netminder Hunter Miska is t-4 in the NCAA with five shutouts and 2nd in winning percentage .803.

Neal Pionk and Dom Toninato are tied for 10th nationally in plus/minus with a +22 rating.

UMD is 16-0-2 when leading after two periods, this season and 4-4-5 when trailing at that same point.

Ohio State

OSU is 2nd in the NCAA in scoring with 3.97 goals per game but are allowing a 31st-best 2.89. The Buckeyes are first in power play with a ridiculous 32.5%, nearly five percentage points better than No. 2 Northeastern.

Sophomore forward Mason Jobst is 8th in the NCAA in points per game with 1.45 and t-5th in assists per game with .95.

Senior forward Nick Schilkey leads the nation in power play goals with 16 and is 2nd in goals per game with .79.


How'd they get here?

No. 6 BU (23-11-3, At-Large Bid, 2nd in Hockey East) lost to Boston College in the Hockey East Tournament semifinals. The Terriers have won four out of their last six games. BU was rolled by Denver, 7-2, in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season.

No. 10 UND (21-15-3, At-Large Bid, 4th in NCHC) topped Denver 1-0 and lost to UMD 4-3 in the  NCHC Frozen Faceoff last weekend. The loss on Saturday snapped a five-game winning streak. The Green and White are the defending national champion and are playing in their 15th-consecutive NCAA tournament (2nd-best streak in history).

No. 3 UMD (25-6-7, NCHC tournament champion, 2nd in NCHC) topped UND 4-3 in the finals of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff last weekend. The Bulldogs have won five straight games. UMD lost to Boston College 3-2 in the Regional Final.

No. 14 Ohio State (21-11-6, At-Large Bid, 3rd in BTHC) lost to Wisconsin 2-1 in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. Before the loss, the Buckeyes had won four straight. OSU returns to the national tournament for the first time since 2009.

The Pick(s)

So now that you're all caught up on the ins and outs of these four teams, let's get to it.

West Regional Semifinal No. 1 -- UND vs. BU

What a juicy match up. These are two of college hockey's blue bloods taking the ice in an arena that will be packed to the rafters.

Boston University entered this season will all the accolades.

Picked by many fans and media as the favorites to raise the national championship trophy at the end of the year, the Terriers have wholly lived up to expectations. While their season hasn't been perfect, BU is a tremendously talented team that is stocked with players who know what it feels like to play in big-time situations. Seven players from this year's squad played in the World Junior Championship tournament with six winning gold for Team USA. The big stage won't scare the Terriers.

On the other side of the ice, the defending national champions know exactly how to play in this spot, having won the 2015 West Regional in Scheels Arena in front of a green-clad, tremendously partisan and raucous crowd.

While both teams won't be afraid of the bright lights, the crowd in Fargo will be jacked up for this one and an early edge will do one of two things depending on who nets the first tally on Friday. It will either blow the roof off the arena if it's the Green and White leading, while the silence will be deafening if it's the Terriers.

Boston University, with all its youth, hasn't exactly been world beaters away from home this season, going just 10-8-1 away from their home rink, Agganis Arena. Also, since the national tournament went to its current 16-team format in 2003, BU hasn't done well when having to fly to a regional, losing in the first round in three previous attempts.

The Terriers have also had a recent trend of falling behind early. In their last nine games, BU has allowed the first goal of the game and have gone 4-4-1 in those games.

So, being unfazed by the big stage is one thing in the WJC, falling behind UND in Fargo doesn't seem like a recipe for success for the Terriers.

Both teams have top end talent. Both teams can score. Both teams are serviceable defensively. Both teams have solid goaltending. What will be the decider?

Again, this one is in North Dakota and this rink is ours to defend.


West Regional Seminfinal No. 2 -- UMD vs. OSU

Ohio State reminds DDC a lot of UND's 2016 Midwest Regional final foe, Michigan. This is a team that can score quick, fast and in a hurry. However, that's not where the comparison ends. Much like the Wolverines last season, the Buckeyes are a bit leaky defensively, sporting the 31st-ranked team defense, allowing 2.89 goals per game.

Their opponent, the UMD Bulldogs are, top-to-bottom, one of the most well-rounded and skilled teams in the NCAA featuring the 8th-best scoring offense and 11th-ranked team defense. Goaltender Hunter Miska will be tested against a team the tries to fire the puck from everywhere, but UMD has been near the top of the NCAA polls all year for a reason.

In DDC's opinion, it's all about composure for the Bulldogs. In the Frozen Faceoff championship last weekend against UND, Minnesota Duluth was incredibly undisciplined, committing 15 penalties and allowing three power play goals. Against the best power play in the country in OSU, UMD has to stay out of the box.

While DDC thinks OSU will get their chances with the extra man, the Buckeyes don't look to be deep enough to hold the Bulldogs down for 60 minutes.


West Region Final -- UND vs. UMD

*Takes a deep breath*

The Bulldogs have beaten the Green and White five teams this season and have won the last six between the two teams, overall.
However, after UMD beat UND last weekend in Minneapolis, in a game that was as intense, chippy and wild as it comes, DDC realized one thing -- the Green and White can beat the Bulldogs.

Much like against BU, both of these teams can score, play defense and have good netminding. This time, UND finishes the job.

Forget Neal Pionk running over Cam Johnson. Forget all the questionable calls. Forget the late, heart-breaking goal in Minneapolis. Forget six losses in a row.

With sights set on Chicago and revenge in the cross hairs, North Dakota will take on one of its biggest rivals, but this time, it's to keep its title defense alive and it's in their backyard.

It's ours to defend.


Strap in, boys and girls. Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Roses and Thorns: Trying to Take the High Road

UND and Minnesota Duluth scuffle after UMD's Neal Pionk (4) ran over North Dakota goaltender Cam Johnson (33)
in the first period of the Bulldogs' 4-3 win over the Green and White in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff Championship game
from the Target Center in Minneapolis on Saturday. Pionk was issued a five-minute penalty for the play. (Photo: Eric Hylden, GF Herald)
This must be said ...

DDC isn't "that guy" to criticize officiating. He's truly not. Refereeing sports is incredibly hard, having it done it at the high school level, DDC knows it's a no-win job.

This must also be said ...

DDC has never been one to question a team's leadership and/or integrity (other than maybe the Gophers ;) ).

With those things said, there were some ... we'll call it... questionable ... calls and some ... questionable ... penalties committed this Saturday night when the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs topped the UND men's hockey team 4-3 in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference's Frozen Faceoff championship game from the Target Center in Minneapolis.

The Green and White used a 5-on-3 power play goal to tie the game with just under three minutes to go in the third period. However, UMD would have the last laugh, netting their own 5-on-3 goal with under a minute left in regulation to take the Frozen Faceoff tournament title.

Below are some video highlights from this wild game, thanks to Goon and his blog. There are a few points to note, well, more than a few, actually ... DDC is going to take the high road and let you make the calls:

1:15 -- Neal Pionk takes out Cam Johnson; 2:00 Commentary on Previous Hit; 4:00 -- Kyle Osterberg Falls After Clear Penalty by Johnny Simonson; 4:20 -- Willie Raskob Falls After Scuffle with Hayden Shaw; 5:10 -- Dom Toninato Reacts to Call; 7:00 -- Hunter Miska Falls Down; 7:45 -- Dan Molenaar Falls Down -- Note Commentary After Fall.

With all of that said, while the Green and White aren't back in Grand Forks with a new piece of hardware, they come back with a lot of reasons to be happy.

UND topped Denver 1-0 on Friday night, holding Denver to just 21 shots on goal, a season-low total for the Pioneers, and broke a 0-3 skid in the Frozen Faceoff semifinals. The win mathematically clinched North Dakota a spot in the NCAA tournament for the 15th-straight season.

However, DDC Baby No. 2's magic ran out on Saturday night, as Duluth took the NCHC's autobid.

But hey, 5-1 ain't so bad.

Here's what stood out to DDC in his Frozen Faceoff edition of his Roses and Thorns column.


No. 1 -- Breaking the Target Center Curse

Finally, UND faithful left the Target Center in Minneapolis on Friday with smiles on their faces and not gonna lie, that felt pretty darn good. After three years of lethargic play and bad bounces, the Green and White played with pace and passion against Denver and got a bounce off those lovely, springy end boards and got a win in the Frozen Faceoff semifinals. Fans in the Target Center saw a team that was hungry and their defensive effort was tremendous on Friday night. It was a good win against arguably the best team in the country. Coupled with another great effort the next night against UMD, the Green and White showed they can hang with (and outplay) anyone in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

UND Jr. F, Austin Poganski and Shane Gersich celebrate Poganski's goal in the third period
of the Green and White's 1-0 win over Denver on Friday (Photo: Eric Hylden, GF Herald)

No. 2 -- Offensive Creativity

While this weekend wasn't a dynamite offensive effort, it was a very good one. What's more important in the eyes of DDC were the chances UND created, particularly on the power play. Outshooting the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the PairWise on a particular weekend isn't a small feat, particularly since both Denver and UMD are among the defensive teams in the nation. In a game that was largely played with special teams on Saturday night, the Green and White scored all three of their goals on the power play. Sure, they had 10 chances, but even when they didn't score, UND moved the puck well and broke the Bulldog PK box with sharp passing and created loads of chances. The top power play unit has started to become something special with Boeser, Jost and Gersich consistently finding each other in soft spots for scoring chances. Outside of the power play, Jost and Boeser paired together at times and are showing once again why they are NHL first rounders. When UND gets this kind of effort from its top forwards, the bottom six becomes that harder to handle and those lines have been creating a lot, too (see: Trevor Olson). For the Green and White, it's all about effort and speed. They brought that game to the Target Center this weekend and it turned out two great performances.

No. 3 -- Defensive Effort

UND Fr. D, Colton Poolman

What would you have said if DDC told you UND would shutout Denver, the best offense in the nation since January 1st, on Friday? What would you have said if DDC told you the Green and White would lose the NCHC Defensive Defenseman of the Year in Tucker Poolman to injury in the first period on Saturday and that UND would hold Minnesota Duluth down for large chunks of the game and nearly win? Crazy on both accounts, right? Well, not this weekend. As mentioned previously, North Dakota's game is all about speed and effort right now and that is showing up. On Friday, the Green and White held DU to just 21 shots, a season low for the Pioneers. On Saturday, it took a goal off a teammate's skate during a 5-on-3 penalty kill to beat netminder Cam Johnson for the game winner. The D-corps' physicality was tremendous. Colton Poolman and Hayden Shaw played with an edge this blogger has rarely seen. While Tucker's injury looms large, UND's young blue line took a big step this weekend in Minneapolis.


No. 1 -- 27 Penalties and Four 5-on-3s

Simply put, this shouldn't happen. Like mentioned previously, DDC is going to take the high road and not overly criticize, but no way should a tournament championship be decided on a 5-on-3 power play. Nor should the game end up tied with less than 3 minutes to go on a 5-on-3 power play. The fact that the stripes reviewed Neal Pionk's contact with Cam Johnson and gave him a five minute penalty without tossing the sophomore defenseman is what, in DDC's opinion, let this game get away in terms of penalties. This was too good of a weekend for it to be hijacked by penalties. A bit of a shame, to say the least.

No. 2 -- An Injury and a Big One

Jr. D, Tucker Poolman
left Saturday's NCHC
Championship game
in the first period due
to injury and did not return

Tucker Poolman is a NHL defenseman. He has the frame, the offensive skill, the skating and the defensive prowess to be playing for the Winnipeg Jets, his draft team, as we speak. So, when he went down in the first period on Saturday against Duluth and did not return to action, a collective groan could be heard across NoDak nation. Head coach Brad Berry brought fans a little solace in the postgame presser, saying that Tucker is the toughest player in the NCHC and expects him to play on Friday when the NCAA tournament starts. It goes without saying that Tucker is invaluable to UND. Cheers to him hopefully being ready to go.

There you have it, hockey fans. Welp, the conference tournaments are over, the field is set and the NCAA Tournament starts in four days. UND will be in Fargo in a pretty eyebrow raising regional, considering history and this past weekend's event.

Check back on Friday as DDC previews the West Regional from Scheels Arena in Fargo -- Minnesota Duluth ( 😁 ) versus Ohio State and North Dakota vs. Boston University.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday Gameday: The Luck of the Babe and of The Timeout

It's Frozen Faceoff weekend 2017 and the Target Center again plays host, this time with some new equipment!
For this blogger, it's truly the most wonderful time of the year. Welcome to Frozen Faceoff weekend 2017!

Of the four teams skating for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference tournament trophy this Friday and Saturday at the newly-renovated Target Center in downtown Minneapolis (check out that scoreboard!), only one isn't assured to be playing past their time at the Frozen Faceoff.

Denver, Minnesota Duluth and Western Michigan have done enough to this point in the season to guarantee a spot in the NCAA tournament when it starts next week. The UND men's hockey hasn't gotten there quite yet.

However, as noted in Grand Forks Herald hockey writer extraordinaire Brad Schlossman's blog, the Green and White can lock up their 15th-straight NCAA tournament berth with a win this weekend. With all scenarios run, UND would get in 100% of the time with at least one win at the Frozen Faceoff, but two losses would still have them in the tournament in 90% of the scenarios.

With that being said, the Green and White don't want to take any chances. UND has had plenty of struggles in the Target Center since the berth of the NCHC and with another expected large gathering of Green and White (Hello, St. Patty's Day! We'll get back to what St. Patty's day weekend means to UND a bit later) in the stands, could this be the year North Dakota finally breaks through in Minneapolis?

While the other three teams have less to play for in terms of the season, clearly, no team wants to back into the national tournament with a loss and playing for a trophy is always a big deal in a conference like the NCHC.

This weekend has four of the best teams in college hockey, including three potential No. 1 seeds for the NCAA tournament and it will certainly be fun to watch. Can UND keep riding Baby DDC No. 2's magic with their four-game post birth winning-streak? What is DDC watching for this weekend? Check out his "Who? What? How?" Frozen Faceoff preview and see who he thinks will skate away from the Target Center hoisting some hardware.


DU Fr. F, Henrik Borgstrom
leads the NCAA's 10th-best
scoring offense with 38 points.

Players to Watch


Fr. F, Henrik Borgstrom, 21 goals, 17 assists -- 38 points; So. F, Dylan Gambrell, 11g, 26a -- 37 points; So. F, Troy Terry, 19g, 17a -- 36 pts; Sr. D, Will Butcher, 6g, 29a -- 35 pts; Sr. G., Tanner Jaillet, 24-4-4, 1.84 Goals Against Average, .929 Save Percentage.


So. F, Shane Gersich, 21g, 16a -- 37 pts; Fr. F, Tyson Jost, 15g, 16a -- 31 pts; So. F, Brock Boeser, 15g, 16a -- 31 pts; Jr. D, Tucker Poolman, 7g, 23a -- 30 pts; Jr. G, Cam Johnson, 19-11-3, 2.39 GAA, .904 SV PCT.

UMD Sr. F, Alex Iafallo

Minnesota Duluth

Sr. F, Alex Iafallo, 17g, 24a -- 41 pts; So. F, Adam Johnson, 16g, 15a -- 31 pts; So. D, Neal Pionk, 7g 22a -- 29 pts; Fr. F, Joey Anderson, 9g, 19a -- 28 pts; Fr. G., Hunter Miska, 22-4-5, 2.22 GAA, .917 SV PCT.

Western Michigan

So. F, Matheson Iacopelli, 20g, 14a -- 34 pts; Sr. F, Sheldon Dries, 15g, 14a -- 29 pts; So. F, Griffen Molino, 14g, 15a --29 pts; Fr. F, Wade Allison, 12g, 17a -- 29 pts; Fr. G, Ben Blacker, 17-5-2, 2.37 GAA, .922 SV PCT


Standout Stats


The Pioneers lead the NCAA in scoring defense, allowing just 1.84 goals per game and are 10th best scoring offense at 3.39 goals per game.

Freshman forward Henrik Borgstrom, the newly-minted NCHC Rookie of the Year, is tied for second in the NCAA with six game-winning goals.

Senior defenseman Will Butcher was named a Hobey Baker Finalist, the lone pick for the NCHC as well as the conference's Player of the Year.


The Green and White are 14th in scoring in the NCAA at 3.24 goals per game and are T-20 in scoring defense, allowing 2.59 goals per game.

During UND's four-game winning streak, junior forward Trevor Olson has the game-winning goal in three of those games.

Freshman forward Tyson Jost is one of six rookies in the NCAA averaging at least 1 point per game. Jost has a 1.03 point per game average.

Minnesota Duluth

The Bulldogs are 11th in the NCAA in scoring offense with 3.36 goals per game and are 10th in scoring defense, allowing 2.28 goals per game.

UMD has struggled to a paltry 80.4% penalty kill rate which slots them as No. 41 in the NCAA.

Freshman goaltender Hunter Miska is fourth in the NCAA in winning percentage at .790 and in shutouts with 5.

Western Michigan

The Broncos have the 8th-best scoring offense  (3.41 goals per game) in the NCAA and power play (21.8%).

Freshman goaltender Ben Blacker has the 6th-best winning percentage in the NCAA at .750.

WMU has struggled on the penalty kill, this season, stopping just 81.5% of opponents power plays. This ranks them 39th in the NCAA.


How'd they get here?

No. 1 Denver (PWR: 1, 28-6-4, No. 1 seed in NCHC tournament) swept Colorado College 4-1, 4-0 in the first round of the NCHC tournament. The Pioneers are on a NCAA best 13-game winning streak.

No. 11 UND (PWR: 11, 20-14-3, No. 4 seed in NCHC tournament) swept SCSU 5-2, 6-5 (OT) in the first round of the NCHC tournament. UND has won five of their last six games after winning just three of the previous 10.

UND Jr. F, Trevor Olson netted the series-winning goal past St. Cloud State goalie
 Jeff Smith on Saturday. The Green and White take on Denver in the NCHC
Tournament semifinals from the Target Center in Minneapolis
(photo cred: GF Herald)

No. 3 Minnesota Duluth (PWR: 2, 23-6-7, No. 2 seed in NCHC tournament) swept Miami 5-4 (OT) and 5-3 in the first round of the NCHC tournament. The Bulldogs are 6-1-3 in their last 10 games.

No. 8 Western Michigan (PWR: 4, 22-10-5, No. 3 seed in NCHC tournament) beat No. 6 seeded Omaha in three games at home during the NCHC first round. Won Saturday and Sunday after falling on Friday. Sunday's win came 34 seconds into overtime when Michael Rebry netted the game winner.

The Pick(s)

Semifinal No. 1 -- Minnesota Duluth vs. Western Michigan

DDC likes the Bulldogs in this one. UMD is loaded up front with senior Alex Iafallo and and sophomore Adam Johnson leading the way and defenseman Neal Pionk is a dynamic playmaker in front of freshman netminder Hunter Miska who is 4th in the country in shutouts.

The Bulldogs dominated UND in their four games this year and DDC is of the opinion that they are the best team in college hockey right along with Denver.

With that being said, Western Michigan is having a tremendous year with a power play that can break a game. If WMU can slow down UMD's depth, this could go the way of the Broncos, but DDC thinks the Dogs take this one.



Semifinal No. 2 -- Denver vs. UND

The stats scream Denver, but DDC is a homer and all of my readers know that. There are certainly many factors in this particular pick, but DDC just has a hunch here. That hunch comes from two things -- UND's Baby DDC No. 2 birth magic and their 4-0 current run and the luck of the Irish.

The luck of the Irish, you say, DDC? What do you mean?!

Well, think back, UND fans... when was the last time the Green and White took over the Twin Cities for a conference championship tournament during St. Patrick's Day weekend? 2012. You all remember what happened that weekend, don't you? Here's a hint that only needs two words ... The Timeout.

There is it. The luck of the Irish. The luck of the green. The 2012 WCHA Final Five is one of DDC's favorite tournaments he can remember. A special and incredibly memorable weekend. Is magic really in the air, this weekend in Minneapolis?

Let's look at this without bias, shall we? Denver is good. Really good, in fact. The Pioneers are No. 1 in the NCAA for a reason. They sport the NCAA's lowest goals against average (1.84) and are 10th in scoring. Freshman Henrik Borgstrom (NCHC rookie of the year) and sophomore Dylan Gambrell are two of the NCHC's best forwards and senior defenseman Will Butcher is the conference's only Hobey Baker finalist and was named the NCHC player of the year. Goaltender Tanner Jaillet was named the NCHC Goaltender of the Year, to boot. On paper, DU is the better team.

With all that said, DDC loves how UND is playing right now. They've found an effort level that has found them tough to beat, right now. Couple that with the play of their best players (Jost, Boeser, Gersich, T. Poolman and Poganski) over the last few weeks and the Green and White are poised for a big weekend. North Dakota knows they are one win away from the NCAA tournament and DDC expects them to play desperate.

Forget that the Green and White have yet to win a semifinal game at the Frozen Faceoff. Forget that DU has won a NCAA best 13 straight games. Forget that UND has been up and down this season. The Green and White need one win this weekend to clinch a berth into the NCAA tournament and rightfully defend their national championship.

The luck of the Green and of Baby DDC No. 2 continues in this one.



Championship Game -- UND vs. Minnesota Duluth

See all above. Note that UMD has beaten UND four times this season. Forget that.


There you have it, college hockey fans. Enjoy the weekend.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Roses and Thorns: UND's Newfound Weapons

UND Jr. F, Trevor Olson tips in the game-winning goal past SCSU netminder Jeff Smith for a wild 6-5 overtime win on
Saturday at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks. Olson netted the series-clinching goal and now has game-winning
goals in three of the last four games for UND. Photo Credit: Jesse Trelstad, Grand Forks Herald.
As mentioned in DDC's preview of the first round National Collegiate Hockey Conference series between the UND men's hockey team and St. Cloud State, DDC Baby No. 2 was born March 1st.

Since that wonderful day in DDC's life, the Green and White has seen two new heroes come to the forefront -- junior forward Trevor Olson and DDC Baby No. 2.

Following a 5-2 win on Friday, Olson netted the game-winning goal at 7:38 of the OT period in a wild and memorable game at Ralph Engelstad Arena as UND swept the Huskies to advance the Green and White to the Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis this coming weekend. Since DDC Baby No. 2's birth, UND was won four-straight games and Olson has the deciding tally in three of those games.

North Dakota handled St. Cloud fairly handily on Friday, but the old adage "it's hard to end a team's season" held true on Saturday as the Huskies brought a tremendous effort.

The game was tied 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4 and 5-5 before Olson potted the winner in OT. After a Shane Gersich goal made it 4-3 halfway through the third period, St. Cloud State continued to come at UND, tying the game just 1:02 later and took the lead just 1:44 after that.

But, the Green and White had the magic of Baby DDC No. 2 in their pocket as Christian Wolanin knotted the game at five with 4:02 to go.

During the intermission before the overtime period, fans at the REA were treated to bonus coverage of the UND men's basketball team's overtime winning effort in the Big Sky tournament finals that punched the Green and White's first-ever ticket to the NCAA tournament over Weber State, sending the fans into a frenzy that continued with Olson's winner in OT.

Baby DDC No. 2's magic was too strong for the Huskies and Weber State, for that matter.

Here's what stood out to DDC as UND notched wins No. 19 and 20 and moved one step closer to the NCAA tournament.


NCHC Playoffs First Round Results:

No. 1 Denver sweeps CC, 4-1, 4-0;
No. 2 UMD sweeps Miami, 5-4 (OT), 5-3;
No. 3 WMU in three over UNO, 2-1 (OT)
UNO, 5-2 WMU, 2-1 (OT) WMU;
No. 4 UND sweeps SCSU, 5-2, 6-5 (OT)

Frozen Faceoff semifinals -- Friday, times TBD:

No. 1 Denver vs. No. 4 UND
No. 2 UMD vs. No. 3 WMU

No. 1 -- Big Players Playing Big

While UND's depth has been a huge part of their last handful of games where they've won five-of-six, come playoff time, teams that compete for NCAA titles need to have their best players be their best players, each night. This was definitely the case this weekend for the Green and White. UND's top five point producers, Shane Gersich, Brock Boeser, Tyson Jost, Austin Poganski and Tucker Poolman all had multiple point weekends. Boeser returned to the lineup after missing the previous weekend in Miami and scored in both games. Gersich and Poganski also both scored in both. With the development of depth players increasing each game, having these five players rolling will prove large for UND as the look to continue to advance.

No. 2 -- Depth Goals Coming Up Large

As just mentioned, UND's depth players are turning dividends for the Green and White, of late. Along with Olson's game winner, junior Johnny Simonson and freshman Cole Smith both assisted on the game-tying goal by Christian Wolanin and did the same on Olson's series-clinching goal. Simonson fired the puck from the side boards toward the net and Olson got his stick on it to get the winner. The line of Smith, Simonson and Olson had a tremendous weekend, playing with edge and pace that St. Cloud had trouble containing. UND will be a tough out the rest of the way if this trend continues.

No. 3 -- A Memorable Day for UND Sports

DDC Baby No. 2's magic is pretty evident to this blogger. A wee bit biased, you say? No. You're wrong. DDC Baby No. 2 is clearly a UND sports Godsend.

Here's an awesome video of the ovation the REA crowd gave the UND men's basketball team's victory in the Big Sky Conference:

UND Men's Basketball Gets a Big Ovation at REA

You'll need a Facebook account to get to it and the video is about halfway down the page. Big props to the UND men's basketball team.


No. 1 -- Last Game at REA for 2016-17

While it was done in victorious fashion, it's always a sad moment each season to know that the Palace on the Prairie will be closed for games until October. While UND struggled at times at home this season, The Ralph is always a true home advantage for the Green and White. Senior Gage Ausmus and Matt Hrynkiw as well as any underclassmen that leave after the season, helped send the REA faithful happy one more time. Here's to hoping there's another ceremony at The Ralph in about three weeks.

Thanks for reading and check back later this week as DDC previews the Frozen Faceoff at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Friday Gameday: Baby, It's Time for the Playoffs

NCHC Tournament -- First Round Pairings:

No. 1 Denver vs. No. 8 Colorado College;
No. 2 Minnesota Duluth vs. No. 7 Miami
No. 3 Western Michigan vs. No. 6 Omaha
No. 4 North Dakota vs. No. 5 St. Cloud State

It's been awhile since DDC has brought you his Friday Gameday and for good reason. This blogger is happy to announce to the college hockey world that DDC baby No. 2, a happy and healthy, 8 lb, 6 oz boy, was born on March 1st.

DDC has had the opportunity over the past week to reflect on the roller coaster ride that has been this march to baby No. 2 and as he always does, he's found a way to compare it to his beloved UND men's hockey team.

Baby DDC No. 1's emergence into the world feels much like last year's NCAA championship run -- smooth sailing. Mrs. DDC had an easy pregnancy with a few minor hiccups (think last year's Frozen Faceoff), but ultimately, but the ride was a fairly easy one.

Baby DDC No. 2, much like this year's version of the Green and White, has been a bit more unpredictable. It started with a happy start and finding out that this baby was a boy (think UND's 5-0 start). Then came the morning sickness, food aversions and much less comfortable sleeping for Mrs. DDC than with baby No. 1 (think the Green and White's injuries, inconsistent play, games they dominated, but still lost).

With all of this considered, Baby No. 2 came into the world a happy camper and his first week in the world has found him on the right track. Seamlessly, with a sweep last week at Miami, much like DDC Baby No. 2, UND is right where they wanted to be at the start of the year (or their life), at home for the first round of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs with control of their own destiny to make the NCAA tournament for the 15th-straight year.

North Dakota, the No. 4 seed in the NCHC tournament, hosts St. Cloud State this weekend in a pivotal best 2-of-3 series that with a win will advance them to the Frozen Faceoff next weekend in Minneapolis and should see UND make the national tournament. However, a series loss may burst the Green and White's bubble. For SCSU, it's do-or-die, as well. They'll need a big run in the NCHC tournament to make the dance.

So, what'll it be for UND? Lots of spit up and no sleep and a long summer at home or a happy tummy and restful nights en route to the tournament? Wait, sorry, baby confusion... actually, that analogy seems to work, so let's go with that.

Here's what to watch for in DDC's "Who? What? How?" breakdown of a crucial first-round NCHC series in Grand Forks with a trip to the Target Center on the line.


Players to Watch

St. Cloud State:

SCSU So. F, Mikey Eyssimont
leads the Huskies with 29 points.

So. F, Mikey Eyssimont, 14 goals, 15 assists -- 29 points; Jr. F, Blake Winiecki, 12g, 11a -- 23 pts; So. F, Patrick Newell, 3g, 20a -- 23 pts; Fr. D, Jack Ahcan, 5g, 16a -- 21 pts; So. F, Jacob Benson, 10g, 10a -- 20 pts;  So. G, Jeff Smith, 10-11-0, 2.58 goals against average, .910 save percentage.


So. F, Shane Gersich, 19g, 15a -- 34 pts; Fr. F, Tyson Jost, 14g, 15a -- 29 pts; So. F, Brock Boeser, 13g, 15a -- 28 pts; Jr. D, Tucker Poolman, 7g, 21a -- 28 pts; Jr. F, Austin Poganski, 9g, 12a -- 21 pts; Jr. G, Cam Johnson, 17-11-3, 2.34 GAA, .905 SV PCT.


Standout Stats

St. Cloud State:

The Huskies are tied for 31st in both scoring and goals allowed with 2.88 goals per game for and 2.88 goals per game against.

St. Cloud State commits the least amount of penalty minutes per game in the NCAA, averaging just 9.1 and are 21st in the country in penalty kill at 83.9%.

Sophomore forward Jacob Benson and Freshman defenseman Jon Lizotte are Grand Forks natives.


UND is 23rd in the NCAA in goals per game (3.11) and 19th in goals allowed (2.54).

The Green and White lead the NCHC in penalty kill and are 15th nationally, killing 84.6% of the opposition's power plays.

Freshman forward Tyson Jost is 6th in the NCAA in rookie scoring, notching 1.04 points per game and is tied for 5th in rookie goals (14).

Jost was named to the NCHC all-rookie team and Junior defensman Tucker Poolman was named all-NCHC first team. Sophomore forward Shane Gersich was tabbed as an honorable mention.


How’d they get here?

No. 20 SCSU (PWR: 18, 16-17-1; 10-13-1 – 31 points, 5th Seed for NCHC tournament) split at home against Colorado College, winning 5-2 on Friday and losing 201 on Saturday. The Huskies have lost 3 of their last 4.

No. 14 UND (PWR: 12, 18-14-3; 11-12-1-1 – 35 points, 4th Seed for NCHC tournament) swept Miami last weekend in Oxford, Ohio, 3-2 and 5-2 . The sweep clinched home ice for the first round of the conference tournament for the 15th-straight season for the Green and White.

The Green and White won 3-of-4 against the Huskies this season, sweeping SCSU in St. Cloud in November and splitting in Grand Forks in February.

The Pick

UND Fr. F, Tyson Jost (center) has been the Green and White's most consistent
player in the second half of the season. Jost looks to lead North Dakota this
weekend against SCSU in a first-round NCHC tournament series at home.
Photo credit: North Dakota men's hockey/UND Sports
So much on the line. After all the ups-and-downs this season has brought, UND fully controls its destiny this weekend in Grand Forks. The same can be said for the Huskies, however. They can certainly find their way into the NCAA tournament and that run starts at the Ralph Engelstad Arena for them, as well.

For long stretches of this season, North Dakota has been inconsistent. In the same weekend, on many occasions, they've shown the ability to be a true contender in their pursuit of a back-to-back title run and then the next night, shown up as a team that wouldn't make the tournament.

After a dominant weekend in Oxford that saw UND sweep and hold Miami to just 27 shots on the weekend (including a season-low allowed 11 on Saturday), the Green and White have put themselves into position to make a run. Which team shows up this weekend?

UND had a couple of key injuries to note from last weekend as sophomore Brock Boeser did not play in the series and junior Austin Poganski exited Saturday's game. While Poganski is expected to play this weekend, Boeser, arguably North Dakota's best player, is questionable. St. Cloud State will be without sophomore defenseman Will Borgen for two games after an incident with an official last weekend and senior defenseman Niklas Nevalainen is also a question mark due to injury.

Much like Baby DDC No. 2's run into the world, DDC sees this weekend as roller coaster for UND. All things considered, the Green and White are a little bit better than the Huskies and ultimately, DDC thinks UND will prevail. However, SCSU has a lot to play for, too and certainly won't go quietly.

Tyson Jost needs to keep being the dynamic rookie he's been all season and UND desperately needs their third and fourth lines to keep scoring like they have of late. Junior Trevor Olson netted both game-winning goals at Miami last weekend and sophomore Chris Wilkie scored his first of the year on Saturday. If Boeser is back in the lineup, the top line of Boeser, Jost and Gersich have shown a streak of dominance. With that line in tact, secondary scoring would be massive.

Expect this one to go three and UND fans around the world have to sweat it out on Sunday, but see their team march on to Minneapolis and the Frozen Faceoff.


There you have it, hockey fans. Hopefully DDC will bring you good news after this weekend. Thanks for reading and enjoy the series!