No. 5 St. Cloud State University (17-16-5) vs. No. 4 University of North Dakota (22-12-3)
Time/TV: 7:07 p.m. on Fox Sports North
The Thursday night game features two teams which have made it to St. Paul in spite of everything. Both the Huskies and Fighting Sioux have seen their share of injuries, defections throughout the year yet are playing their best hockey when it matters the most.
St. Cloud State swept Nebraska-Omaha at home in the first round 4-0 Friday and 3-1 Saturday. They've been led by Ben Hanowski (Pittsburgh Penguins) all year as the junior forward has 42 points and 22 goals. He's stayed healthy while other forwards like Nick Oliver (Nashville Predators), Drew LeBlanc and Cam Reid have been injured (or in Reid's case, departed mid-season for the WHL) for good portions of the season.
Oliver is back as is goaltender Mike Lee (Phoenix Coyotes), who missed 20 games in the middle of the year because of hip surgery. Lee's one of the big reasons for St. Cloud's late run, going 6-3-1 since returning January 27th and has only allowed 5 goals on 122 shots in the Huskies' last four games. If North Dakota is going to win, they will have to find a way past Lee.
Fortunately for the Fighting Sioux, even without heralded freshmen J.T. Miller (defected to the OHL before the season started), Rocco Grimaldi (Florida Panthers) (out since November with a knee injury) and a slew of other injuries, they still have firepower. Sophomore Brock Nelson (New York Islanders) led UND with 23 goals and both Danny Kristo (Montreal Canadiens) and Carter Rowney has 17. Goalies Aaron Dell and Brad Eidsness (Buffalo Sabres) have split games this season and both have postseason experience.
North Dakota has made it a habit to play their best hockey in the second half of the season and this year is no different. After being in 11th place November 20th against Bemidji State, the Fighting Sioux finished the season fourth in the WCHA and 11th in the Pairwise rankings. Unlike the Huskies, who have to win the Final Five to get into the NCAA Tournament, UND is almost guaranteed an at-large bid; only a series of upsets in other conference tournaments can keep them out.
The two teams split four games against each other this season although Ryan Faragher was in net for St. Cloud State in all of the games. Tonight's winner faces Minnesota Friday night in the second WCHA semifinal at 7 p.m.