MEN'S HOCKEY: UND excited, rejuvenated as they enter NCAA tournament
The UND men’s hockey team arrived in Cincinnati on Wednesday afternoon, only to have their bus driver get lost.
Then, the bus somehow got stuck on the loading dock at U.S. Bank Arena, and they had to call a dozen taxis to get the team to the hotel. After a little more than two hours, they finally got checked in.
But hey, they’re not complaining.
They’re in the NCAA tournament.
UND is feeling excited and rejuvenated to be here for the 12th consecutive season after a strange Saturday night, where the team had to sweat out results of two other games before knowing it would be in the event once again.
“When the dominoes fell the way they did on Saturday night, absolutely, there was great energy and guys were excited,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “The look on our four seniors’ faces was pretty special, because they knew they had another opportunity to come back to the rink and get ready for another game.
“Our energy is excellent. It’s outstanding. We have a bit of a feeling of a young team that’s excited for the opportunity in front of them. It’s new for a lot of guys in our lineup. But it’s also a good, focused and positive energy.”
Hitting the ice
UND will have its first practice in Cincinnati at 1 p.m. Thursday in preparation for its Midwest Regional game against the University of Wisconsin — a team whose win Saturday helped UND get into the tournament. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday (ESPNU).
“We didn’t know if we would even make the tournament,” UND junior Mark MacMillan said. “It kind of gives you a different mindset on things when you have to sit and wait to see if another team would get us in. When that happened, there was a lot of relief on our team. There was a lot of excitement.
“It was pretty special at our hotel. I think you could hear everyone in the whole hotel erupt when Wisconsin scored. It gives you the mindset that we’re still alive here and we still have a chance to do big things.”
UND is entering the tournament as a No. 4 seed for the first time in school history. During the previous 11 years of the NCAA tournament streak, UND was only a No. 3 seed twice (2003 and 2007). It was a No. 1 or No. 2 seed the other nine years.
The players say the seeding shouldn’t matter and pointed to last year’s national champion, Yale, which was the final at-large team to earn a spot in the tournament. Yale knocked off three No. 1 seeds and a No. 2 seed en route to its first national championship.
“At this time of year, you really just want to get in the tournament,” UND junior defenseman Nick Mattson said. “Look at Yale last year. They were one of the last teams in and they took the tournament by force. It’s a one-game shot at this point. Whoever is coming in ready to go will take it. I could really care less how we got in. We’re in and we’ll be confident and ready to go.”
Hakstol said that he never felt his team was out of the NCAA tournament as Saturday played out.
“We didn’t sneak into this tournament,” Hakstol said. “We had 23 wins. That being said, our fate was not in our own hands for four or five hours. That’s a tough feeling. We were excited at the end of the night to have the opportunity to move on and play in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It’s an opportunity that this group has earned.”