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TOM MILLER: CC gives UND everything it can handle

Last weekend, it wasn't tough to see why Niagara was No. 59 of 59 in the NCAA Division I men's hockey rankings. UND handed the Purple Eagles back-to-back blowouts.

Last weekend, it wasn’t tough to see why Niagara was No. 59 of 59 in the NCAA Division I men’s hockey rankings. UND handed the Purple Eagles back-to-back blowouts.

On Friday, though, no one left Ralph Engelstad Arena feeling like it was obvious Colorado College was in last place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

Far from it.

And that’s a credit to the depth and quality of the second-year league.

No. 2 UND was pushed to the limit by unranked Colorado College during a 2-1 victory.

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UND needed to scrap and claw for the win, including a final segment in which goalie Zane McIntyre turned away shots without a stick against an extra attacker for the Tigers. It was the second time in the game McIntyre stuffed a flurry of shots without a stick.

“It took everything tonight to get a one-goal win at home,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “And tomorrow is a new day. That’s just how this league is.”

The conference’s strength is clear in the league’s non-conference record. Minnesota Duluth is the only NCHC school with non-conference games left on the schedule. The Bulldogs have three non-conference matchups remaining, including Saturday’s showdown with Minnesota.

The NCHC has gone 50-25-4 (.658 winning percentage) in non-conference play, easily tops in the country. The next best league has been Hockey East, which has gone 60-42-9 (.581 winning percentage).

“From top to bottom, the league is close,” said UND forward Mark MacMillan, who scored UND’s first goal against Colorado College. “It’s never a night off in the NCHC. It was a battle all game, and it was no different than the NCHC all year.”

The league has no easy wins, and the Tigers proved that cliche to be true in the series opener.

The Tigers, who are 5-15-1, peppered McIntyre, who made 30 saves. McIntyre also needed the help of defenseman Andrew Panzarella to clear out a puck in the crease behind McIntyre during the third period.

“You saw how well (Colorado College) was coached, how well they played their system and how fast they played,” Hakstol said. “It’s only been a year and a half of this league, but this is something we’ve grown accustomed to. It’s hard to win games on any given night.”

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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