PHILADELPHIA — Two years ago, North Dakota saw its season end in the West Regional Final at the hands of Minnesota. Of the 11 upperclassmen on the roster leftover from that night in St. Paul, none are looking back at that game and using it for motivation as they get set to face the Golden Gophers in Thursday’s second Frozen Four semifinal.
“It’s so far in the past that we’re really focused on the team we have now,” said junior forward Stephane Pattyn. We have a completely different team than we did two years ago.”
North Dakota’s season has forced them to not look too far down the line and instead focus on more immediate goals. In a season that saw them start off with a 4-7-1 record, then flip a switch and go 21-6-1 down the stretch — including going two months without a loss — head coach Dave Hakstol has had his players building little by little.
“We've been a short‑term focused team all year, and that's been attributed a lot to our success,” said senior defenseman Dillon Simpson. “There's been no talk throughout the year of trying to play [Minnesota] or hoping to play them. I think for us it's a weekend by weekend kind of mindset.”
The rivalry between North Dakota and Minnesota is one of the best in college hockey with the Golden Gophers holding a 138-130-15 edge in the series. The two storied programs that have pumped out waves of NHLers over the years will battle for a berth into the national title game. Minnesota head coach Don Lucia likened the rivalry to North Carolina/Duke in college basketball, where fans get to see the best brought out on both sides.
While North Dakota may not have been hoping for another shot at Minnesota, the Golden Gophers are certainly looking forward to renewing acquaintances with their old conference foes.
“I think it's one game that when we moved to the Big Ten — it’s one game I was certainly going to miss, all the North Dakota guys are going to miss and all my teammates will miss too,” said junior forward Kyle Rau. “It's one of those games you see on the schedule and you kind of circle it. All games are important, but this one was the biggest one.”
“Being my senior year, I obviously wanted to go out against North Dakota and play them at least one last time,” said forward Nate Condon. “It kind of set up perfectly to play them in the Frozen Four, and this would be my last shot to play against them.”
A year after college hockey underwent a realignment, with Minnesota and North Dakota leaving the WCHA for the Big Ten and the NCHC, respectively, Hakstol sees Thursday’s matchup as fitting.
“In many ways with the break‑up of the WCHA, it probably is fitting that Minnesota and North Dakota play again this year, and if they were going to play, this had to be on the national stage of an NCAA Tournament.”
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