FROZEN FOUR LIVE | North Dakota aims for first title with first-year coach


North Dakota is making its eighth Frozen Four appearance in 12 years.

Its the first with first-year head coach Brad Berry, who tested the glass and the boards Wednesday at Amalie Arena in Tampa.

ASN-Frozen-Four-Coverage-Logo-“Whenever you go to a new venue we haven’t played in, we test out the boards for the bounces and the glass to see if there’s any different hops coming off it,” Berry said.

And his verdict?

“It’s a first-class facility, it’s state-of-the-art,” Berry said. “It’s a perfect arena to have a Frozen Four in.”

UND has been an imperfect 0-6 in its last six Frozen Four semifinal games, including 0-2 the past two years, and hasn’t won a national championship since 2000.

Six is a defining number for Thursday’s semifinal between UND (32-6-4) and Denver (25-9-6) because it will be their sixth meeting this season after splitting the first five (2-2-1). Overall, it will be the 236th meeting in the 66-year history of their rivalry.

“Everyone know it’s a rivalry game,” said senior forward Bryn Chyzyk.”We’ve played them so many times over my four-year career here, and every time it’s a great game and it’s a high-compete level. And it’s always very intense. So I expect nothing different here Thursday.”

“One of my great memories of of Denver and the University of North Dakota in as the Ralph (Engelstad Arena),” added junior defenseman Gage Ausmus. “Denver is in town and I don’t think (former coach George) Gwozdecky liked one of the calls, and he stepped out on the ice and got the fans pretty riled up. And that’s just one of the many examples in our series, why it’s a great rivalry. And every time we play it’s a battle, and I’m sure it will be a battle on Thursday night.”

A key battle will be UND’s Heavy Line of Luke Johnson (6-0, 194 pounds), Austin Poganski (6-2, 204) and Rhett Gardner (6-2, 215) against Denver’s Pacific Rim Line of Danton Heinen, Trevor and Dylan Gambrell.

Denver coach Jim Montgomery said early in the season he knew  Moore and Heinen had  great chemistry, but he wanted to use them on different lines to balance the offense. When the team struggled with scoring he decided to find a third to play with them and spark the offense. It worked.

So has UND’s Heavy Line, constructed to shut down opposing top lines. It’s worked.

In the region finals against Michigan, the Heavy Line helped UND held the vaunted CCM line of three Hobey Baker Award candidates to a minus-7 rating.

Berry said his team is ready for its third consecutive Frozen Four appearance.

“This is a very special group,” he said. “We’ve experienced a little disappointment in the last couple of years … They’re hungy. They’re focused. They’re committed. They’re dialed in right away.

“But at the same time, there’s a little bit of levity as far as being human and enjoying it. We’re all about that. Thursday’s game day, and they’ll be ready to go.”

Four more North Dakota fast facts:

  1. North Dakota’s Drake Caggiula and Quinnipiac’s Travis St. Denis — have played  the most games of any players in the Frozen Four with 160  each.
  2. UND’s Hobey Baker candidates Nick Schmaltz and Caggiula missed four games this season, and UND went 3-0-1 in those contests.
  3. Both teams held key players out of their last matchup in the 1-1 tie of the third place game of the NCHC tournament, butcUND held Denver to 17 shots on goal, its lowest total of the season and won the faceoff battle 34-21.
  4. In a Frozen Four loaded as goalie, UND’s Cam Johnson is one of the best with a 1.67 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.

Contributing: Mike Bambach
Above: Gage Ausmus expects another hard-hitting game Thursday night against Denver. (Courtesy UND Athletics)

Dave Dondoneau

Dave Dondoneau is a freelance writer based in Honolulu. Follow him on Twitter @DakotaHI.