In its 10th anniversary season, UND earned its first trip to the NCAA National Tournament ranked sixth in the nation after winning a program record 22 games, but saw its season come to an end in the quarterfinals to eventual national champion Minnesota.
Disappointed that UND couldn't make a run further in the tournament, sixth-year head coach Brian Idalski knows it was another step that needed to be taken in becoming the elite program he envisions.
"Every team has to make progressions," Idalski said. "I think people get caught up with the Cinderella story, coming out of nowhere, to win it all. Fact of the matter is, it was our first time in the NCAAs so we got a little taste of that. That's why it was so disappointing the year before when we weren't able to make it. Now the expectation is to get back there and now we have a little more knowledge of what to expect. We are looking forward to this season because we feel we can take that next step."
North Dakota was a dominant team at times last year, but lacked the consistency and depth that is needed to win championships. For the first time in program history UND wasn't a huge underdog heading into games against the nation's elite teams, but it was, and still is, figuring out its way of becoming favorites in those meetings and eventually hanging championship banners.
Competing in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association gives you plenty of opportunities throughout the regular season to gauge where you stand in hopes of a run to a championship, as all 13 national championships have been won by a league team.
"Wisconsin, Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth have a championship pedigree and a little swagger that we haven't had yet," Idalski said. "A lot of that comes from winning playoff games and being in playoff and championship situations. We feel we are getting to where, when we play those teams, they are NCAA championship type games every time we play, and success in those games will help us in the postseason."
North Dakota went 15-0 when scoring five or more goals last year, 17-2 when scoring first and 20-1 when leading after the second intermission, but part of that championship pedigree is overcoming adversity and winning close games when everything isn't going exactly as planned. UND struggled in those situations, going 5-9-3 when its opponent scored first, 1-10-3 when trailing after two periods of play and 1-2-3 in games decided by one goal.
Along those same lines, North Dakota was extraordinary playing at home in the Ralph Engelstad Arena, where it finished with a program-record 15 wins and outscored its opponents 102-36, but had a losing record on the road.
"We were not a very good road team," Idalski said. "That is a little bit of a mentality, maturity, and something we really look to improve upon, but obviously the home record at the Ralph is where we want it to be. With the fan support we have and not being a very nice place to play as an opponent, we want to keep that rolling because there is a great atmosphere at the Ralph."
UND will have strong captains leading the way in senior Patty Kazmaier Award top-3 finalist Jocelyne Lamoureux (Grand Forks, N.D.) serving as captain while senior Patty Kazmaier top-10 honoree Monique Lamoureux (Grand Forks, N.D.), junior defenseman Kayla Berg (Fargo, N.D.) and WCHA Rookie of the Year Michelle Karvinen (Rodovre, Denmark) will aid the way as alternate captains.
UND opens the season ranked fifth in both the USCHO.com/CBS College Sports poll and the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll, and was picked to finish second in the WCHA Pre-Season Coaches poll. All are program highs.
"It is going to be a little bit of an adjustment with the new players," Idalski said. "You talk about the depth and that is terrific, but you need to build some chemistry and figure out a way to rotate and use that depth with good line combinations. There is definitely going to be a feeling-it-out period early in the season. We would love to fast forward to the playoffs, but we have to go through the process and we need to grow and get better every week. So, for the start of the season, it is mostly going to be focusing on the little things."
The 2012-13 schedule features 34 regular season games, including 28 against Western Collegiate Hockey Association opponents and six non-conference tilts. UND's 18 regular-season home games match the most in program history and are its most since 2005-06.
With no exhibition games on this year's schedule, North Dakota will jump straight into conference play, opening the regular season Oct. 5-6 hosting Minnesota State University, Mankato.
After heading to Columbus, Ohio, the following weekend on its first road trip of the season to take on Ohio State (Oct. 12-13), UND returns to Grand Forks for the next three weekends hosting St. Cloud State (Oct. 19-20) and rival Minnesota (Oct. 27-28) before its first non-conference series against Clarkson (Nov. 2-3).
Twelve of UND's 18 games before the Christmas break are at home, adding Minnesota Duluth (Nov. 23-24) and Rochester Institute of Technology (Nov. 30-Dec. 1). North Dakota closes out 2012 action at Wisconsin (Dec. 8-9).
Opening 2013 will be UND's last non-conference series of the season as it heads to St. Charles, Mo., for a 2-game series against Lindenwood.
North Dakota's remaining 14 games consist of league play at Minnesota (Jan. 11-12), versus Wisconsin (Jan. 18-19), at St. Cloud State (Jan. 25-26), at Minnesota State (Feb. 1-2), versus Bemidji State (Feb. 8-9), versus Ohio State (Feb. 15-16) and complete their regular season campaign at Minnesota Duluth (Feb. 22-23).
The pursuit of the annual WCHA playoff championship will get underway the weekend of March 1-3 with four best-of-three playoff series. The four first-round conference playoff winners will advance to the 2013 WCHA Final Face-Off (March 8-9) to be held at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.
Following the league playoff championship, four NCAA Division I regional games will be contested the weekend of March 15-17 at sites to be determined. The four NCAA regional winners will then earn a trip to the 2013 NCAA Women's Frozen Four at Ridder Arena the weekend of March 22-24.
ON THE BLUE LINE
North Dakota's line chart on the blue line might be shaken up a lot in the early parts of the season with some question marks, but has plenty of talented options to step up and fill the roles.
"It is an area we want to improve on, not only with our core of defensemen, but as a team defensively," Idalski said. " I feel we gave up way too many goals last year. Being the elite team that we are trying to become, that is definitely something we need to improve upon. "
Senior Jordan Slavin (Erie, Colo.) returns to join the core of returners on the blue line of fellow senior Ashley Furia (Sedalia, Colo.), junior Kayla Berg (Fargo, N.D.) and sophomore Tori Williams (The Pas, Manitoba).
"Having Jordan back and healthy will go a long way, but it is also important that the rest of our returners improve," Idalski said.
The newcomers should make an immediate impact as they boast plenty of pre-collegiate experience internationally. LaShomb helped the U.S. to a silver medal in the IIHF U18 World Championship while Eisenschmid (Germany) and Fallman (Sweden) have each competed in the World Championship's top division tournaments, including this past April in Vermont.
"Those are kids that can step in and really should give us more talent and depth on the blue line," Idalski said. "There are going to be some ups and downs but that is a pretty good, and better core, then we have had defensively."
North Dakota was one of the highest scoring teams in the country last year. It could be even more dangerous in 2012-13 as it returns its top-four scorers. Jocelyne Lamoureux and Monique Lamoureux have each reached the 200 career-point milestone in three seasons as two of the most dynamic players in college hockey.
Michelle Karvinen (Rodovre, Denmark) earned WCHA Rookie of the Year honors after leading the nation in points by a first-year player with 61, including 24 goals and 37 assists, all new program records.
Josefine Jakobsen (Aalborg, Denmark) showed great improvement throughout her first year in collegiate play and concluded with 35 points off 13 goals and 22 assists.
Seniors Megan Gilbert (Andover, Minn.), Mary Loken (Roseau, Minn.) and Allison Parizek (Minot, N.D.), along with sophomore Andrea Dalen (Honefoss, Norway), will add depth and provide leadership for a large group of first-year players.
After a year of redshirting, local high school standouts Leah Jensen (East Grand Forks, Minn.), Layla Marvin (Warroad, Minn.) and Shannon Kaiser (Crookston, Minn.) are anxious to join the mix, while a pair of Canada's key contributors to its gold-medal winning U18 in Meghan Dufault (Winnipeg, Manitoba) and Becca Kohler (St. Thomas, Ontario), should make an immediate impact as well.
"We are returning a bulk of our scoring, and the young kids last year that did well for us, will have a year of maturity growth to take another step forward," Idalski said. "Our upperclassmen are very good and will look to continue being so. We added a couple of pieces that we are very high on that we think give us more depth than we have ever had."
BETWEEN THE PIPES
UND will be looking to fill the spot of its all-time wins leader Stephanie Ney, but feels it is in a good spot with senior Jorid Dagfinrud (Sarpsborg, Norway), redshirt freshman Shelby Amsley-Benzie (Warroad, Minn.) and sophomore
Michelle Bonapace-Potvin (Royn-Noranda, Quebec).
"We are going to compete back there and have faith that Jorid and Shelby both can play," Idalski said. "Early on we are going to give them both a shot with some time in net and hopefully one of them steps up to be our number-one kid and takes the reigns there. It is not going to be much different in my eyes than it has been in the past. We are going to have a little competition there and hope one of them steps forward.
"Jorid proved she can play with a couple big wins against Duluth and Minnesota with shutouts but needs to be more consistent. Shelby, with a redshirt year, is a kid that has a good pedigree and can push for playing time."