For first time ever, no No. 1 seeds advance to Frozen Four

Mark Remme

>DENVER – It’s a funny thing, but it seems like this year was a terrible time to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Two regionals witnessed top teams fall in the first round: Clarkson lost to Massachusetts 1-0 in the East Regional and New Hampshire was upended by Miami (Ohio) 2-1 in the Northeast.

Meanwhile, the Midwest and West Regionals watched top-seeds Notre Dame and Minnesota lose in the second round, respectfully.

As a result, there won’t be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Frozen Four April 5-7 in St. Louis. That marks the first time in history such a feat transpired.

And it’s not just the absence of top-ranked teams that is jaw-dropping. Maine, Michigan State and North Dakota, all No. 3 seeds, will join the Northeast

Region’s No. 2 Boston College in St. Louis.

“I hope this year puts an end to speculation of if teams are good enough to play in this tournament,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said after his team narrowly escaped Air Force 4-3 in its first round game in Denver.

But with all the “Goliaths” falling (the top three ranked teams in the latest national poll – Notre Dame, Minnesota and New Hampshire – are no longer vying for the national championship), one fixture of recent Frozen Fours will still be heading for the Gateway Arch.

And judging by their play since Christmas, it’s no surprise.

North Dakota earned a trip to St. Louis after defeating Minnesota 3-2 in a tightly-played overtime affair last night in Denver, and in doing so the Sioux earned their third-consecutive trip to the final four tournament.

North Dakota is 17-3-4 since Dec. 25, making it difficult to deny it might be the hottest team in college hockey in that stretch.

Their ability to play their best hockey at the end of the season is a patented mark of Sioux coach Dave Hakstol’s tenure, who in his third year earned his third-straight Frozen Four.

“You have to give a lot of credit to our coaches for helping us develop throughout the year and getting us ready at the right point,” North Dakota sophomore forward Ryan Duncan said.

But Duncan also admits it’s a combination of coaching and strong upperclassman leadership.

“Another thing is we have a lot of core leaders who have a lot of character in our room,” Duncan said. “We had a rough first half and battled through a lot of adversity.

“I think that’s paid off and helped us down the stretch.”

If anyone is playing as well as the Sioux at this juncture of the season, it’s Boston College – so it’s fitting the two will play April 5 for a chance to go to the championship game.

Boston College is riding a 12-game winning streak and hasn’t lost since Feb. 12 against Boston University.

The matchup with the Eagles gives North Dakota a rematch of its Frozen Four meeting last year, which ended in a Boston College 6-5 win.

But for Hakstol and the Sioux players, nothing is on their mind at this point but excitement stemming from winning yet another regional.

“We came here with one thing in mind and that was to get back to Grand Forks with the opportunity to prepare for St. Louis,” Hakstol said. “That’s where we’re at, and all the credit goes to those guys’ tremendous leadership and tremendous respect for each other.”