Sioux have to show fighting spirit to reach the top of NCHC
North Dakota looked to have it all wired down the stretch last season.
Holding off St. Cloud State for the inaugural National Collegiate Hockey Conference regular-season title thanks to a six-game win streak, the Fighting Sioux were playing well enough that it wasn't out of the realm of possibility that they could win out through the conference tournament and gain a precious automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
But the Green and Black ran into trouble. They finished up a home-and-home with the rival Huskies on the road with a 3-1 loss, then returned to Ralph Englestad Arena and only salvaged a split with Western Michigan –- the final game a 2-1 defeat where a win and St. Cloud loss would have provided the desired result. Instead, the small Minnesota-based program finished up a sweep at Colorado College and took the crown, while UND ended up second.
North Dakota had to sweat out a three-game series against CC on home ice, with two one-goal margins including an overtime loss, and a two-goal difference in the set. Once in Minneapolis for the NCHC tourney, the Sioux offense went silent in a 3-0 loss to Miami of Ohio. Nonetheless, it was good enough to snag an at-large bid in the Midwest Regional.
That unexpected dismissal seemed to galvanize the Sioux, who went on to perfectly mirror their three opponents in the national tournament, and, but for a miracle play in the national semifinals, we could be talking about them as national runners-up.
In the Midwest opener, playing against a fast-and-loose Wisconsin squad, Rocco Grimaldi showed himself to the nation with his first career hat trick which fueled a 5-2 triumph. The region's final was a taut contest against a Ferris State team willing to sit and wait for a mistake to counterattack, but it was Conor Gaarder’s marker 2:28 into the second overtime which lifted his team past the Bulldogs and into the Frozen Four.
North Dakota’s dream to reach its first final since losing to Denver in 2005 was dashed with less than a second to play in regulation, as Justin Holl's desperation flip beat Zane Gothberg and the buzzer to send bitter rivals Minnesota to the championship contest.
(Full disclosure: As a Boston College graduate, fan and professional alumnus who experienced things like the 1998 national championship vs. Michigan, the 2000 Hockey East Final and the 2007 national title game, the way North Dakota lost was a pain I hope is never revisited on the team or its fans, or visited at all upon Eagles Nation)
This year, having only lost a trio of impactful seniors, Dave Hakstol only needs to tap into the painful memory of T.S. Eliot's cruelest month to keep the new leadership focused and in step. Hakstol’s team graced the preseason poll second in the nation, behind only Minnesota, and garnering a pair of first-place votes.
Carrying a 3-1-0 record into a weekend set at the Ralph against the Providence Friars, UND is holding steady at No. 3 in the country according to USCHO. Over the weekend, the Sioux swept Colorado College by margins of 3-1 and 7-2. It marked their first October sweep of an opponent in four years, and their 3-0-0 start on the road in the early going matched the 2002-03 team which featured current Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise as a freshman.
Highlighting the back-to-back wins was senior winger Mark MacMillan, who exploded for five goals –- two in the opener and a hat trick in the closer –- while fellow senior Michael Parks (Philadelphia, fifth round 2010) contributed four assists, including three in last Saturday’s rout.
With Grimaldi now gone to the Florida Panthers’ organization, offense has come from an unlikely source in sophomore blueliner Paul LaDue, who has picked up six points (2G, 4A) in the first four games after accumulating 21 points (6G, 15A) in 41 games during his freshman season.
Both McMillan and LaDue have distinguished themselves on special teams in the early going. The former has collected two goals each on the power play and while short-handed, and the latter is tied for the team lead in power-play points with four.
Parks, a 22-year-old native of St. Louis, did not attend any of the Flyers’ prospect events this Summer. As a low-round pick, someone not as flashy as a Shayne Gostisbehere, and an upperclassman counted on to be a team leader, concentrating on performing at his peak as a collegian and not entertaining any notions of a shot at the pros looked like the right choice.
One of the more interesting moves for the 2014-15 edition of the Team Without a Mascot occurred in the crease, and it’s not the change of starters.
The goalie formerly known as Zane Gothberg (20-10-3, 1.99 GAA, three shutouts, .926 save percentage), who was in the running for NCHC goalie of the year, is now Zane McIntyre thanks to a name change while resulted from some offseason family-related upheaval.
Whatever his surname ends up being, Zane will still be putting a cork in the opposition’s plans for scoring. Except for an opening-night blip in a 5-1 home loss to Bemidji State, the Minnesota native hasn’t allowed more than two goals in his other three appearances.
As for Hakstol, now in his 11th season at the helm of his alma mater, Saturday’s win gave him 263 with the program, passing Dean Blais for second on the school's all-time list. Gino Gasparini, who helped the Sioux claim three NCAA titles from 1978-94, ranks at the top with 392 victories.
In defense of the Nation
I've met former NCAA President, the late Dr. Myles Brand. Had the pleasure of interviewing him years ago at the University of Delaware when he was in the early stages of pitching a crazy idea: not permitting championships to be contested on campuses where the use of nicknames and mascots regarding Native Americans was considered “hostile and abusive.”
Though the spirit of the rule was intended to make a clean sweep of detrimental monikers like “Indians,” “Redmen,” “Redskins,” and the like, the letter of the law has caused some universities to have a crucial piece of their identity stripped away in the interest of greater sensitivity. UND has suffered that fate, though not without a fight.
North Dakota's mascot and Indian head logo came under fire as early as 1999, but a bill introduced in the state legislature was struck down. The following year, 21 Native American-related programs, as well as outside departments, and organizations at UND signed a statement opposing the continued use of the nickname and logo, but one year later, the above-mentioned Ralph Englestad donated $100 million to the construction of a new arena with the stipulation that the name and logo be retained.
To make a long story short: in 2012, after three years of legal wrangling which included the North Dakota Senate signing off on the university's defiance of the NCAA and Chief of the Sioux Nation making a plea on his people's behalf to the NCAA that the name and logo was not harmful, the North Dakota Board of Higher Education voted to permanently remove the name and logo. As a result, the university wasn’t allowed to adopt a new nickname until 2015.
While I don't have a true dog in the fight, and I recognize that there are those who support such a sweeping measure, it's ridiculous to censure a school and a program whose logo from a generation ago was a faithful reproduction of the Chicago Blackhawks' and whose recent re-imagining was crafted by a member of the Ojibwa.
All I can do is make a small stand. so right here, until a new nickname is revealed, UND will be referred to as the “Fighting Sioux.”