Well North Dakota, the No. 1 overall seed and favorites to win this year’s NCAA tournament, will get the opportunity “to beat the man” on Saturday at Scheels Arena in Fargo, North Dakota, after defeating American International 5-1 in the regional semifinals on Friday night.
The Fighting Hawks will face off against the defending back-to-back national champions from Minnesota Duluth at 6:30 p.m. in an NCAA regional final, with the winner advancing to the Frozen Four April 8-10 in Pittsburgh.
“We know they are a great team and we’re going to have to up our level of play,” said North Dakota junior forward Jasper Weatherby. “Their game was unfortunately canceled today, so they’re going to be coming off a little bit of rest. We were fortunate to play today and as a hockey player, you want to play games. So we’re feeling really good going into Duluth tomorrow.”
North Dakota’s Jasper Weatherby (14) celebrates after scoring the first goal of the game against American International during the NCAA Men’s Hockey Midwest Regional at Scheels Arena in Fargo, North Dakota Friday, March 26, 2021. (Clint Austin / email@example.com)
The third-seeded Bulldogs are playing in their sixth consecutive regional final after Friday’s regional semifinal against Michigan was ruled a no contest because the Wolverines were forced to withdraw from the tournament due to positive COVID-19 test results.
The cancelation of the game only added to the lengthy layoff for UMD, which last played 12 days ago, losing 3-2 to St. Cloud State in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals on March 15 in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
North Dakota, which followed up its NCHC regular season championship with a victory over the Huskies on March 16 in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship, has gotten in two games in now since UMD last played.
As has often been the case during a season played amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, North Dakota senior forward Collin Adams agreed with his teammate that playing is always better than not playing, especially at this time of year.
“Honestly, I think it was good for us to get a game in,” Adams said. “Our last game was St. Cloud about a week and a half ago, so there’s a little rust there, but we knocked it off. It was beneficial for us to get that first game in and get our boots on the ground.”
Friday was the first NCAA tournament victory for North Dakota since winning the national championship in Tampa, Florida, in 2016. The Fighting Hawks last played in an NCAA tournament in 2017 in Fargo when they lost 4-3 in double overtime to Boston University in the regional semifinals after a Hawks’ goal in the first overtime was overturned by a seven minute review for offside.
The Bulldogs currently hold the longest active streak for consecutive NCAA tournament appearances with six. They are also riding an eight-game NCAA tournament winning streak and have posted a 13-3 record in the national tournament dating back to 2015. Since coach Scott Sandelin took over in 2000, the Bulldogs are 21-6 in the NCAA tournament.
Minnesota Duluth assistant coach Derek Plante talks to players during practice at Scheels Arena in Fargo, North Dakota on Friday, March 26, 2021. (Clint Austin / firstname.lastname@example.org)
UMD has won three straight regional titles — the first of the three coming in 2017 in Fargo — to reach three straight Frozen Fours, and appeared in the last three national championship games, winning the NCAA title in St. Paul in 2018 and in Buffalo, New York, in 2019.
Asked if North Dakota likes the idea of having to go through the defending national champions from UMD in order to win another NCAA title of their own, Adams said his team isn’t going to look at it that way.
“They have a good team, they’re going to be well-coached and play their game plan,” Adams said. “If we stick to our game plan, get pucks behind their (defensemen) and make it hard for them to go 200 feet, I think we’ll have a good chance.”
North Dakota and Minnesota Duluth met just twice during the regular season, back in December in the NCHC Pod in Omaha, Nebraska. The Bulldogs and Fighting Hawks tied on Dec. 10 in their first meeting, with UMD winning a shootout. UMD junior forward Cole Koepke tied the game with 3:25 remaining to force overtime. In the rematch on Dec. 19, senior forward Grant Mismash scored with 48 seconds left to give the Hawks a 2-1 win.
The last time North Dakota and UMD met in the NCAA tournament was the semifinals of the 1984 Frozen Four in Lake Placid, New York. Sandelin and North Dakota coach Brad Berry were teammates at North Dakota that season. The Bulldogs won 2-1 in overtime to advance to the national championship, where they lost 5-4 to Bowling Green in four overtimes.
Follow, watch, listen
No. 1 North Dakota vs. No. 3 Minnesota Duluth
NCAA regional championship
6:30 p.m. Saturday
At Scheels Arena in Fargo, North Dakota
Live stats: Live updates from the NCAA
Online streaming: ESPN.com
Radio: KDAL 610 AM/103.9 FM