FROZEN FOUR: Back to work for UNDIt’s still all business for the Sioux as they prepare for tonight's Frozen Four game against Michigan
On the bus ride down to St. Paul, the players were relaxed. When they got to their hotel rooms, they had fun and played some card games. When the clock hit 2:45 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, it became clear to all in the Xcel Energy Center that this is still a business trip.
By: Brad Elliott Schlossman, Grand Forks Herald
ST. PAUL — On the bus ride down here, the players were relaxed. When they got to their hotel rooms, they had fun and played some card games.
When the clock hit 2:45 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, it became clear to all in the Xcel Energy Center that this is still a business trip.
The Sioux ran through a high-paced practice that was noticeably more intense than the one the University of Michigan ran an hour earlier. It was the last bit of preparation for the two teams before they meet in the NCAA Frozen Four at 7:30 tonight (ESPN2 HD).
“Our guys have talked about it,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “Enjoy the day. Have a little fun. But when it’s time to work, go to work and do our jobs. So far, our guys have done a good job on all of those things and we’ll continue with our day.”
The Sioux, ranked No. 1 in the country, are the favorites against Central Collegiate Hockey Association champion and nine-time national champion Michigan. And that’s just fine with the Wolverines, who continued to pump the underdog role on Wednesday.
“We know they are a better team,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson, who is in his 27th year at the helm. “But we are going to come and play hard. Stranger things have happened. You need good goalkeeping, good penalty killing, good back-checking, good play coming out of your zone and you need to be opportunistic.”
Traditionally, the Wolverines are a high-flying team with a roster littered with NHL-bound players. This squad is a little bit different.
There are no Hobey Baker Award finalists on the team (although Louie Caporusso was a Hobey finalist a couple years ago) and no 20-goal scorers. But this Wolverines team, perhaps, has more depth, balance and a stronger-than-usual defensive corps.
Michigan ranks sixth nationally in team defense, allowing just 2.26 goals per game.
“Maybe this year we are more of a team than we were our freshman year,” said Michigan’s leading goal scorer, senior Carl Hagelin. “Back then, we had more of a core group of players scoring all the goals and this year we are better defensively. If we want to do better (than the last trip to the Frozen Four), that’s what it’s going to come down to.”
Berenson added: “We need to play our game. If we let them do what they are good at, they will do it. We need to stay on the ice, be responsible with the puck and be ultra responsible without the puck. If you give this team out-numbered rushes and power plays, they will take you right out of the game.”
Hakstol said that the Wolverines still can score like their high-powered teams of the past.
“They are a complete hockey team in every sense of the word, and a complete hockey team that’s playing very well,” Hakstol said. “I think there are a lot of stars on their hockey team. I think they are very deep and have a ton of good players throughout their lineup. They have a high skill level and they have a very competitive skill level.
“We’ve prepared ourselves to come out and play as well as we can play. We’re trying to prepare ourselves to play our best game of the season. That’s the way we’ve tried to prepare.”
UND, which hasn’t lost in two months, says it is still intensely focused on achieving the grandest of goals this season. And that was obvious during Wednesday’s practice.
“A big aspect of our team and our game lately is that no egos have crept in whatsoever,” junior forward Jason Gregoire said. “Whether that is individual awards or media attention, we are all focused on one goal. People might think we are just being cliché in saying that, but we actually believe it. We are just focusing on our job at hand and right now, that is playing Michigan.”
Reach Schlossman at (701) 780-1129; (800) 477-6572, ext. 129; or send e-mail to email@example.com.