We are just two days away from the Frozen Four in Philadelphia, and both semifinal matchups should be tremendous. While our focus is on the BC-Union game, Minnesota vs. North Dakota in the nightcap should be a real treat. "Goon's World" is a long-running blog dedicated to North Dakota hockey, written by Eric Burton, who also contributes to SBNation's Minnesota Wild blog, Hockey Wilderness. Plus, he also follows the Bruins in addition to the Wild, so he and I manage to get along on Twitter. He took some time to chat with us about North Dakota in advance of the Frozen Four.
1. For many BC fans making the trip to the Frozen Four, part of the attraction is that no matter what happens in our game on Thursday at 5 PM, we'll have the pleasure of sitting back and watching the world burn in the nightcap between Minnesota and North Dakota. Tell me about your perspective on the matchup, why your side is better, why the other side sucks, etc. etc.
The University of North Dakota hockey team will enter this game as the "clear" underdog. There's no other way to spin this. I keep hearing how UND back into the NCAA playoffs and they're not very good. That being said, bad hockey teams don't win 25 games. But it is what it is. Also, the Gophers have had UND's number as of late. In the last 10 games against the Gophers, UND is 3-6-1.
2. Were you surprised by North Dakota's run through the regional and into the Frozen Four after barely making the tournament? Or did you think they had that run in them?
I was sitting in the press box of the Target Center watching the fate of UND's season unfold. They needed the Wisconsin Badgers to beat the Ohio State Buckeyes, to get into the NCAA tourney. At one point, it wasn't looking very good. Then the Badgers pushed back and won the B1G championship game. Denver was playing Miami in the championship game, and all of a sudden a "Let's Go Sioux" chant broke out in the Target Center. Ironically, after having Wisconsin save UND's season, UND got a chance to end theirs. One good turn deserves another.
Maybe not. In two previous NCAA match-ups, Wisconsin has never beaten UND in the NCAA playoffs. Actually, I thought UND matched up well against the Badgers. I thought if they could get past the Badgers, they would advance to the Frozen Four. Ferris State was enigma for UND fans. We just don't play them, at all.
Am I surprised that UND made the NCAA Frozen Four? Maybe just maybe a little bit. On November 30, 2013, after losing 5-2 to St. Lawrence, UND was 4-7-2 and going nowhere fast. No one was expecting UND to secure home ice for the NCHC playoffs, let alone a birth in the NCAA tourney.
In my opinion, UND is playing with house money. They have nothing to lose. They may have over achieved this season. I guess we should just enjoy the ride and let the chips fall where they may.
3. When looking at North Dakota I really get excited to watch two players - Rocco Grimaldi and Zane Gothberg. Grimaldi is an electrifying talent, sort of a Johnny Gaudreau-lite. What have you thought of his contributions this year and do you think he's poised to have a big Frozen Four?
Rocco Grimaldi and Zane Gothberg have been big down the stretch. Rocco was the Midwest Region MVP, but he said that he thought that Gothberg was more deserving.
Grimaldi is a really nice kid, who prides himself in working hard, every shift. He takes nothing for granted. He's also very modest and doesn't like to take credit for the team's success, even when credit is deserved. Now, while his numbers this season are career high (17g-22a-39pts), he's not the same kind of player that Johnny Hockey is. Not many are. That's not a slam on Rocco, that's a compliment for Gaudreau. However, Grimaldi is known for big game theatrics. As we know, he scored the game winning goal in the World Junior Championship against the Swedes. I know it sounds cliché, but anything is possible in the Frozen Four.
4. And what of Gothberg? He's a Bruins pick, so of particular interest to some of us 'round these parts. He's put up some good numbers - how has he looked between the pipes?
Wow, could you imagine if Zane Gothberg ends up in Boston some day? Oh yeah and props to the Bruins who are the number one seed in the East for the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.
Gothberg started the season slow, and on November 30, 2013, his record was 2-5-2, since then he been lights out. Since the slow start, Gothbeg is 18-4-1, with an NCAA leading 1.71 GAA and a .934 save percentage. He's given up two goals or less in 19-of-23 starts. In the other four starts, he only gave up three goals. No more. Gothberg really arrived on the national stage against the Ferris State Bulldogs. Without his big game against Ferris State, UND is at home watching the Frozen Four on television.
5. I know Minnesota and NoDak haven't met this year, but based on watching the teams play, what style of game do you expect to see? Is there a certain pace or style North Dakota would like to establish that would give them an edge in the game?
As you know, you can go on YouTube.com and find hours of video of UND and UMN beating the crap out of each other. I can tell you right now; this will not be that type of a game. Both teams will be on their best behavior. This could end up being like a slow deliberate title fight. You know the kind of game where both teams play cautious, waiting for the other team to make the first mistake, and then pouncing on them. I think game is going to have a hard time living up to the hype. But I might be wrong. If you ask my wife I am wrong all of the time.
Like I put on the blog yesterday, North Dakota is no longer a bunch of knuckle dragging Neanderthal goons, as some opposition fans like to call them. They can get up and go. Over the last couple of years, the coaching staff has transformed UND from a pound you out of the arena type team, to a team that can skate. I think this is a reaction to being run out of the building against the B.C. Eagles, during previous Frozen Fours. I think former UND defenseman Joe Finley is still trying to find his cup.
I could see Minnesota overlooking UND like others have this season. Again, nothing surprises me this time of year.
6. Tell us something about North Dakota we might not know, such as an under-the-radar contributor or something about the way they play.
Of UND's top-10 leading scorers, five of them are defensemen. UND has the highest scoring defense corps in college hockey with an average of 2.76 points per game. Second is the University of New Hampshire and St. Lawrence with 2.61
7. 14 years is a long time between national titles for a program like North Dakota, but they have still consistently been one of the winningest teams in college hockey. They also face the unchartered territory of the new NCHC going forward. How do North Dakota fans feel about the overall state of their program right now, big picture?
You know, that's the common thread around Sioux Sports right now. There are actually UND fans that want to fire UND head coach Dave Hakstol if he doesn't win a title, and soon. I kid you not. We have one of the most passionate fan bases in all of college hockey. They love the team very much, but much like the SEC football fans, it's about the titles. I actually had a well-known media member come up to me at the Final Five two years ago, and ask me if there were really fans that wanted Hak gone. I told him that there was.
I wrote this earlier in the season at the Hockey Writers. http://thehockeywriters.com/und-hockey-making-case-dave-hakstol/#sthash.ijo5Cyuk.dpuf
Coach Hakstol's numbers speak for themselves. His teams have a NCAA runner-up finish, four NCAA third place finishes, five regional titles, two regular season conference titles, four conference playoff titles. He's also the only active Division I hockey coach that has had a winning record in every season that he has coached.
Hakstol's only crime, his teams have never won a national title. Not a single one.
I don't think people realize that even the God Father of college hockey Jerry York didn't win a NCAA title right away. It took him 12 years before he won his first NCAA title game. It took him about 17 years to win a second one. It's very hard to win an NCAA title. Even for really good coaches like York. Like it or not, the Eagles coach is the standard bearer in college hockey right, and the standards are very high.
8. Two-part question: do you have a prediction for Thursday's games? And if North Dakota wins, who do you think would be a better matchup for them, Union or BC?
I don't like to do predictions. Seriously, I believe in Karma and I don't want to be blamed by the UND fan base for jinxing their favorite team. I am going with the political answer and say that this is going to be a very exciting Frozen Four.
On paper, I don't think UND matches up very well with either team, but that's why we play the games, right. The games are played on the ice and not on paper.
I think that UND fans would like to have another crack at B.C., but I am not sure that would be the best thing. In my brackets that I filled out on Sioux Sports I have the Dutchmen beating the Eagles, but that's probably going to come back to bite me in the butt. Honestly, I think that the Eagles are the favorites, but to quote former Michigan Wolverine forward Brendan Morrison, "the best team doesn't always win."