We all know what day it is. To get a UND perspective on tonight's game I turned to Eric Burton (@goon48) of Goon's World. In an attempt to be neighborly, I tried to leave the door open for him to troll, but he pulled some crazy blogger jujitsu and took the high road.
TO THE Q&A!
The Daily Gopher: First off, is there anything you'd like to say to Mike Eaves and the Badgers besides "Thank you suckers"?
Eric Burton: Ha. Thanks for the giving us an opportunity to end your season. Honestly, I have a lot of respect for Mike Eaves (ed: strike one) and the Wisconsin Badger hockey program (ed: strike two...watch yourself Burton!). The man can definitely coach. I referred to Wisconsin as defense U, because of all of the NHL defensemen that they have produced over the course of his tenure. That's one thing that I miss about the new realignment. We are no longer in a league with Wisconsin and Minnesota, two of the best rival teams in all of college hockey. Boston University and Boston College have to be three and four. Wisconsin and Minnesota teams put butts in the seats at the Ralph. I am sure Wisconsin will return the favor, and beat UND in a big game soon enough.
TDG Frozen Four Central
Previewing North Dakota
I guess I can't call them the Fighting Sioux anymore, despite the fact that every fan who wears their jersey still has a huge portrait of a Sioux warrior on their chest.
TDG Frozen Four Central
TDG: How would you describe UND's season? Is there any reason the team didn't finish the year on a tear like they always seem to do following an early season slump? And did a large % of UND fans actually want Hakstol's head after this season up until UW helped you out?
EB: I would explain it in two words, emotionally draining. From October till November 30, 2013, the mood around the UND hockey team seemed pretty tense. Let's just say, this team has made a big transformation from the beginning of the season till now. I know it sounds cliché, but I think they grew up a lot this season.
When they were sitting at 4-7-2, many of the fans were starting to write them off. I don't think anyone was thinking about going to the Frozen Four. Home ice for the NCHC playoffs seemed like a distant possibility.
Then after losing 5-2 to St. Lawrence, the team had a players-only meeting and the guys seemed to respond. Let's put it this way, coach Hakstol has been in playoff mode since January. He's a very intense guy. I think that he's done a lot of "coaching" this season. This might be his best job so far.
True story, I went to a practice in November and things weren't going well, on the ice. I watched assistant coach Dane Jackson out skating a few of the players during drills. The coaches threw everyone one of the media members out of the arena and had a bag skate. I think that was the beginning of the transformation for this hockey team.
TDG: Gothberg looks to have had a pretty darn good season. Despite that, UND backed into the NCAA tournament. What contributed most to Zane getting more losses hung on him?
EB: Gothberg started the season slow, and on November 30, 2013, his record was 2-5-2. Since December 1, 2013, Gothbeg is 18-4-1, with an NCAA leading 1.71 GAA and a .934 save percentage. He's given up two goals or less in 19-of-23 starts. In the other four starts, he only gave up three goals. I think the problem at the beginning of the season was that Gothberg getting used to his D-corps. On the backend, UND has a senior, a junior and sophomore. There are four freshmen fighting for the other three spots in the defense parings. It took some time for the D-corps to gel.
TDG: One big downside to not seeing UND more this season is that I realized that outside of Grimaldi and Gothberg I'm not really up to speed on UND's individual players. Let's assume that the rest of the Gopher fan base is as poorly informed as me (yes, that was me teeing up a softball)...who should Minnesota fans be worried about and why?
EB: Well they would probably know more about UND if the NCHC had a better television package. Obviously, I was able to watch the Gophers and Boston College play quite a bit this season. The wonders of DirecTV, right. Much like the Gophers, UND will roll four lines. Everyone is chipping in on the score card. The forward line of Drake Caggiula (11g-13a-24pts), Mark MacMillan (10g-16a-26pts), Michael Parks (12g-18a-30pts) is as good as any second line in college hockey.
The top line of Stephane Pattyn (7g-9a-16pts), Rocco Grimaldi (17g-22a-39pts) Luke Johnson(8g-13a-21pts) is very good. Grimaldi has really taken it up another notch during the second half of the season. Since February 21, 2014, Grimaldi has (7g-10a-17pts).
In my opinion, UND and UMN are very similar teams. There are no bad teams this time of year. Bad teams don't make the Frozen Four. If anything, I think UND kind of flew under the radar this season.
TDG: What UND player(s) will be the most likely to get Gophers fans screaming GOON! on Twitter?
EB: I told Joe Gravellese of BC Interruption that North Dakota is no longer a bunch of knuckle dragging Neanderthal goons, as some opposition fans like to call them. They can get up and go. Over the last couple of years, the coaching staff has transformed UND from a pound you out of the arena type team, to a team that can skate. I think this is a reaction to being run out of the building against the B.C. Eagles, during previous Frozen Fours. I think former UND defenseman Joe Finley is still trying to find his cup.
Looking at the national stats, UND is 18th in the nation for penalty minutes. In my opinion, Minnesota-Duluth is a bunch of goons, they're third in the nation in penalty minutes. That being said, I am certain the Gopher fans will learn to hate assistant captain Stephane Pattyn. He's the team leader in penalty minutes for UND. I am sure Gopher fans will be calling him a goon, before the weekend is over.
TDG: If you were Coach Hakstol, what would your gameplan be to beat Minnesota? Is this a game you think UND can win 5 on 5 if the Gophers are playing defense like they did last weekend?
EB: Stay out of the penalty box, stay out of the penalty box, and stay out of the penalty box. Don't lose your wits. Play under control. Stay out of the box. Connor Gaarder had a good quote on media day and it's probably good advice for both teams.
"You can get too jacked up for it, because you might make stupid plays," Gaarder said. "You have to keep your emotions in check and play strong, smart hockey."
More than likely, our game will get Hockey East officials and the game will end up being a special team's game.
TDG: As we approach Thursday's game, do you feel like the rivalry has lost a little heat now that Minnesota and UND are no longer conference foes? Or does your HATE burn as strong as ever?
EB: No. I don't think so. With that in mind, there's too much on the line. I am going to go out on a limb, there will be no line brawls on Thursday night. Not a single one. I don't see any instant classics (scrums and fights) popping up on Youtube after this game is over. Don't worry, if there is one, I will have it up on Youtube, quickly.
At last Wednesday's media day, the topics of playing the Gophers came up with each and every player. To a man, they talked about playing under control and not letting their emotions get away from them. I suspect the Minnesota players will be taking the same approach.
TDG: First season of the NCHC. Your thoughts?
EB: You have a league that took the best of the remaining schools from two conferences and formed a really tough league. When they were talking about "like-minded" schools, I really wish they would have added Michigan Tech, Mankato and Bemidji State, also. Of course there were many of the same match-ups as before, so that was kind of cool. Every weekend was literally a war, there were no nights off. There were no easy match-ups this past season.
The Frozen Faceoff was actually really cool, but it's not the Final Five. I have to give props to the NCHC, they did a good job of running the league this past season. I really like how they ran their social media and if you need something their Director of Communications Michael Weisman was very accommodating. That was one of the aspects that I thought was awesome. I think the NCHC is run much better than the WCHA was.
TDG: Let's assume the worst...if UND beats Minnesota who would you want to face in the Championship?
EB: From watching Boston College, I don't think UND matches up that well with them. But UND is due against them. I picked Union to beat Boston College in the semifinals, so I am going to go with Union.
Thanks to Eric! If you're looking for rivalry talk, stop by Goon's World.