It seems to be the same story every year but like clockwork, Fighting Sioux head coach Dave Hakstol has North Dakota playing their best hockey entering the NCAA Tournament. Despite not having enough healthy forwards to fill out a lineup, they will be the number seed in the West Region this weekend after winning their third consecutive Broadmoor Trophy (awarded to the WCHA conference tournament winner) and look to make the Frozen Four for the sixth time since 2005.
Back in November, that didn't seem possible.
After losing to Bemidji State 1-0 November 20, the Sioux fell to 11th in the WCHA with a 2-6 record. That was their low point and UND clawed back to finish the regular season in fourth place. Entering the conference tournament not guaranteed a NCAA Tournament berth, North Dakota has now won seven straight games and face Western Michigan in the first round Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in St. Paul.
If they win, UND faces the winner of Minnesota-Boston University, which could mean a potential rematch with the Gophers. The Sioux beat them at the Xcel Energy Center last Friday 6-3 after scoring six consecutive goals.
A big reason for their success has been the high-powered first line of Brock Nelson (New York Islanders), Corban Knight (Florida Panthers) and Danny Kristo (Montreal Canadiens). Nelson has particularly shined as the season has gone on, scoring four goals in three games last weekend with another waived off, and 27 on the season.
In addition, Aaron Dell has been hot lately in goal. During the WCHA Final Five he out-dueled St. Cloud State's Mike Lee (Phoenix Coyotes), kept UND in the game against Minnesota when the offense was non-existent and shut out a powerful Denver team to earn most outstanding player for his efforts.
With the offense clicking as the season goes on and North Dakota once again getting solid goaltending, the Sioux are firing on all cylinders. They've come a long way since November in spite of all obstacles and if the last seven games are any indication, UND is not yet done.