There will be no “happy to be here” feeling for the North Dakota men’s hockey team when it arrives in Boston next week.
For a program that has reached the national semifinals in nearly one-third of the NCAA tournaments ever contested, merely making the Frozen Four is never a goal North Dakota strives for.
“I think it’s something that not only my class, but I think our whole team expected — or not expected, but maybe put on ourselves,” senior captain Stephane Pattyn said Tuesday on a conference call. “(We) put pressure on ourselves. There’s a lot of pressure playing at the University of North Dakota from our fans … I think that’s what drove us through the season a lot, and it kept us accountable, as well. I think that’s just main thing is just that our whole team is on board and everyone is committed to the one goal.”
North Dakota breezed through the West Regional in this year’s tournament, outscoring Quinnipiac and St. Cloud State 8-2 to punch to secure its 21st Frozen Four appearance, tied for third-most all-time. UND also ranks among the nation’s best in national championships (tied for second with seven) and overall tournament appearances (fifth with 30), but its current players were barely in elementary school the last time the program won it all.
North Dakota’s most recent national title came back in 2000. While the school has reached the NCAA tourney in 14 of the 15 years since — including eight Frozen Four bids and two appearances in the title game — it has left empty-handed each time.
Head coach Dave Hakstol’s club looks as formidable as ever this season, carrying a 29-9-3 record and a No. 1 national ranking into next Thursday’s semifinal. That lofty ranking will not buy them a pass into the finals, however, as No. 2 Boston University — playing on what amounts to home ice at TD Garden — stands in their way.
BU has raked in the hardware this season, winning the Hockey East regular-season and tournament titles before knocking off Yale and Minnesota-Duluth to win the Northeast Regional, and boasts the nation’s leading scorer in freshman Jack Eichel. Eichel is a near lock to be one of the top two players chosen in this summer’s NHL draft, and both of his linemates, Evan Rodrigues and Danny O’Regan, also rank among the top 10 in Division I in points scored.
“Obviously, BU has had a tremendous year,” Hakstol said. “There’s not much more to this point in the season that they could accomplish. They have 27 wins. They’re regular-season and (Hockey East) playoff champions. They’re regional champions. They’re a tremendous group. I think they have outstanding depth. … They’ve got a couple pretty good lines there with the Eichel line. Those guys, they’re a handful in all three zones and tremendously gifted.”
The 1-2 matchup has the makings of a classic — one that’s attracting attention even from the other side of the bracket.
“With BU and North Dakota playing in the Thursday night game,” said Nebraska-Omaha coach Dean Blais, whose team plays Providence in the other semifinal, “those two might be the most talented teams in the country.”
Thumbnail photo via Twitter/@NHLonNBCSports