Friday, March 21, 2014

I've Got That Old-Time Feeling

Different rink, different opponents, same playoff feeling.

The 2013-14 college hockey season all comes down to this weekend’s Frozen Faceoff from the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis.

Four teams remain in the race for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s inaugural tournament and for three of those teams, Western Michigan, Miami and Denver, it’s win, or go home. With PairWise rankings outside of the top 15, those three teams must win the Frozen Faceoff to advance to the NCAA.

For the University of North Dakota, there are still possibilities outside of winning the tournament title to make the NCAAs, but, to steal a quote from Major League’s Jake Taylor, “There’s only one thing left to do. Win the whole. *&%ing. Thing.”

UND needs, at minimum, one win this weekend to keep in the tightly-wound race to make the tourney, sitting currently at No. 11 with hoards of games left to play around the country.

The trek to a 12th consecutive NCAA tournament bid starts Friday against Miami. The RedHawks look to be playing like a completely different team over their last handful of games than the one that saw UND blow them out of the Ralph Engelstad Arena with a 3-2, 9-2 sweep in February.

The preseason pick to win the NCHC, Miami finished dead last in the 8-team conference, but knocked off the Penrose Cup regular season champion St. Cloud State Huskies in the first round of the playoffs in two games, winning 5-4 in OT on Friday and 4-3 on Saturday to advance to Minneapolis.

UND faced a game Colorado College team, and survived to the Target Center with a 4-3 win in a deciding game three this past Sunday.

Again, the rink may be different, but the crowd will still have the old WCHA Final Five feel as UND fans are expected to attend the Frozen Faceoff en masse.

The early game features two teams in Denver and WMU that know they are playing for their playoff lives.

Goaltender Sam Brittain, the NCHC’s goaltender of the year, leads the way for the 18-16-5 Pioneers. The junior is 17-13-6 with a stellar 2.06 goals against average and a .934 save percentage. Brittain is capable of stealing a tournament title for Denver.

Seniors Shane Berschbach (15 goals, 22 assists – 37 points) and Chase Balisy (13g, 24a – 37 pts), Western Michigan’s two leading scorers , will look to solve Brittain and advance.


Although they boast the NCHC’s goalie of the year in Brittain and the defenseman of the year, junior Joey LaLeggia, the Pioneers don’t have the scoring punch to back it up. The Broncos have solid defense and good goaltending to back up their top line of Berschbach, Balisy and junior Justin Kovacs. I think they make up the difference. WMU WINS 3-2.

 To steal a quote for the second time in the article, former Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals head coach Denny Green once said, “We are who they thought they were!” and I don’t think UND lets the RedHawks off the hook. Despite being very good in the scoring department up front and with their top two lines featuring four 25 plus point scorers in standout juniors Austin Czarnik, Blake Coleman and sophomores Riley Barber and Sean Kurlay, depth is the problem for Miami. This is where UND gets them. With a whopping 14 players tallying 10 or more points this season, the Green and White can roll four lines and have them all find the score sheet. UND will control play, slow down Miami’s top-two lines and take advantage of a weak RedHawk blue line and move on to Saturday’s title game. UND WINS 4-2.


Third-place game

With both teams out of NCAA tournament race, Miami shows it’s skill and knocks off Denver in a game that is for pride and pride only. MIAMI WINS 5-1.

All four games between these two defensive-minded teams this season have been just that, defensive. This suits UND greatly. Sophomore goaltender Zane Gothberg has been phenomenal since November and will lead the Green and White to the Frozen Faceoff title and a 12th straight NCAA bid. UND WINS 3-1.