There's a common thread to No. 16-seed upset victories in the NCAA hockey tournament
In the last six years, the No. 16 seed has a winning record against the No. 1 seed in the NCAA hockey tournament.
It has been 15 years since Holy Cross stunned Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA men's hockey tournament, marking the first No. 4 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in the 16-team format.
Since then, it has become routine.
Not only has it happened every year since -- 14 tournaments in a row -- upsets have become so prevalent that the No. 16 overall seed has a winning record against the No. 1 overall seed in the last six years and five tournaments.
RIT stunned Minnesota State-Mankato in 2015; Air Force beat St. Cloud State in 2018; and American International knocked off St. Cloud State in 2019.
UND, the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, is familiar with that recent history as it prepares to take on American International in a first-round NCAA tournament game at 8:30 p.m. Friday in Fargo's Scheels Arena.
It marks just the second time the Fighting Hawks have carried the No. 1 overall seed into the tournament in the 16-team era (since 2002-03). In 2004, UND beat Holy Cross 3-0 before falling to Denver in the region final.
UND coach Brad Berry said his team briefly touched on the recent history of upsets in the tournament, but the Fighting Hawks didn't dwell on it.
"We did it at the selection show, we talked a little bit about it the next day," Berry said. "We've progressed to the point where we've turned the page on that and we're focusing on our team. We really respect the team we're playing against. There's a balance there as far as putting pressure on yourselves and looking in the past. It's duly noted, but I think it's a situation now where we have to focus on ourselves here and make sure that we don't get inundated with the past history and just try to create the future by doing the things we need to do."
So, what does UND need to do?
If recent history is any indication, getting off to a fast start and scoring the first goal of the game is key. The numbers show it:
A. The Fighting Hawks 18-0 when scoring the game's opening goal this season.
B. The first goal of the game has often dictated the result with Atlantic Hockey teams like American International in the NCAA tournament. Since 2010, Atlantic Hockey teams are 6-1 when scoring first, 0-10 when allowing the first goal in the NCAAs. The lone outlier was UND's 2-1 victory over Niagara in 2013, when Andrew MacWilliam and Danny Kristo scored in the third period to rally UND to victory.
In all three 16-over-1 upsets, the No. 16 seed scored first and kept shots relatively even early in the game.
In 2015, when RIT knocked off Minnesota State-Mankato 2-1, shots on goal were just 10-8 Mavericks in the opening period and RIT built a 1-0 lead. The Mavericks outshot the Tigers 16-5 in the third period, but it was too little, too late.
In 2018, when Air Force knocked off St. Cloud State 4-1, shots on goal were 10-8 Huskies in the opening period. The Falcons scored twice early in the second period to take the lead for good.
In 2019, when American International beat St. Cloud State 2-1, shots on goal were 6-6 after one period and the Yellow Jackets led 1-0. The Huskies pressed late and outshot American International 15-3 in the third, but again, it was too little, too late.
"We take the game in five-minute increments," American International coach Eric Lang said. "We've got four five-minute periods there in the first. We obviously want to get off to a good start, no self-inflicted wounds. You don't want to be turning pucks over early against these guys. Obviously, staying out of the penalty box is something that's really important to us.
"It's two-fold. You can't ease into this thing, either, not against this team. We'll have to have a push ready. The game has to go a certain way here. We will have a good plan here tomorrow."
For the Fighting Hawks, the game plan is simple.
"Just play our game," UND captain Jordan Kawaguchi said. "That's all it is. We're focused on Friday night, obviously, taking it shift by shift. It's about playing our game. We know they're a good team and there's not much else there."
No. 4 seed wins over No. 1 seed since 2003
American International 2, St. Cloud State 1 (Overall seed: 1)
Providence 6, Minnesota State-Mankato 3 (Overall seed: 3)
Air Force 4, St. Cloud State 1 (Overall seed: 1)
Boston University 3, Cornell 1 (Overall seed: 3)
Notre Dame 3, Minnesota 2 (Overall seed: 4)
Ferris State 5, St. Cloud State 4, OT (Overall seed: 2)
Minnesota Duluth 2, Providence 1, 2 OT (Overall seed: 4)
RIT 2, Minnesota State-Mankato 1 (Overall seed: 1)
Providence 7, Miami 5 (Overall seed: 4)
North Dakota 5, Wisconsin 2 (Overall seed: 4)
Yale 3, Minnesota 2, OT (Overall seed: 2)
St. Cloud State 5, Notre Dame 1 (Overall seed: 4)
Cornell 3, Michigan 2, OT (Overall seed: 2)
Colorado College 8, Boston College 4 (Overall seed: 3)
New Hampshire 3, Miami 1 (Overall seed: 4)
RIT 2, Denver 1 (Overall seed: 2)
Air Force 2, Michigan 0 (Overall seed: 4)
Miami 4, Denver 2 (Overall seed: 3)
Bemidji State 5, Notre Dame 1 (Overall seed: 2)
Notre Dame 7, New Hampshire 3 (Overall seed: 4)
UMass 1, Clarkson 0, OT (Overall seed: 3)
Miami 2, New Hampshire 1 (Overall seed: 4)
Holy Cross 4, Minnesota 3, OT (Overall seed: 2)