THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2014
5:17 p.m. – A little more than 24 hours from Friday’s showdown with St. Cloud State, North Dakota is on the ice for practice at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. The remodeled National Hockey Center, that is.
The bus pulled into St. Cloud early this afternoon and it was straight into the normal road routine of dropping the gear off at the rink, checking into the hotel, and grabbing lunch at the hotel before returning to the rink for practice.
Typical lunch fare at the hotel is soup, sandwiches, salads, etc., but today’s was so good that sophomore Zane Gothberg implored me to write about it, calling it “our best lunch on the road all season.”
Here’s hoping that hunger (see what I did there?) carries over to this weekend’s series, which is nearly sold out. St. Cloud State hockey media relations director Tom Nelson told me today that only a few seats remain available for Friday’s game, and that you can still find some standing room-only tickets for Saturday. It’s an understandably hot ticket as the two teams atop the NCHC standings jockey for the first-ever Penrose Cup.
Friday’s game is also a CBS Sports Network game, meaning the broadcast team of Ben Holden, Dave Starman and Shireen Saski are at the rink continuing their prep. They’ll chat with a handful of players before and after practice, with today’s group including Dillon Simpson, Rocco Grimaldi, Bryn Chyzyk, Michael Parks, Zane Gothberg and Drake Caggiula.
Following practice, we’re off to team dinner for what is essentially the final calm before the gameday storm.
5:50 p.m. -- UND boasts the most productive defensive unit in the nation, and today's practice was more of the same as junior rearguard Nick Mattson won the Thursday shootout competition, besting fellow blueliner Paul LaDue.
Mattson and LaDue combined for five points in last weekend's sweep at No. 20 Minnesota Duluth.
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2014
1:55 p.m. -- It's been a pretty uneventful 24 hours -- and that's a great thing on a road trip -- so just a brief post-morning skate update.
Last night on our way into the restaurant for team dinner, a UND fan introduced herself to Coach Hakstol. But not just any fan; a 90-something fan, originally from East Grand Forks, with a smile as wide as a Zamboni who has been rooting for UND hockey for 67 years. It was hard to tell who was enjoying the enounter more: the fan or Coach Hakstol.
This morning I got to chat a little more with CBS Sports Network announcer Ben Holden, who was back at the rink for UND's morning skate. I've said it many times, many ways, but the CBSSN announcers are rink rats at heart, and that's a compliment. Their combination of preparation and passion is unmatched, and it's always a treat to first work with them, and then to get home and watch their broadcast on DVR.
6:50 p.m. -- Game time is a little under 80 minutes away. UND is going with the same lineup it used in last weekend's sweep at Minnesota Duluth, with sophomore Zane Gothberg starting in goal.
Coach Hakstol has taken care of his pregame radio and TV interviews and all that's left now is the waiting.
SATURDAY, MARCH 1, 2014
9:20 a.m. -- With UND one win away from clinching at least a share of the Penrose Cup, all of the external talk surrounds possibility of that happening tonight, and rightfully so.
But it's interesting to see how the team's preparation does not change regardless of the stakes. The early part of today will include a team breakfast at the hotel, followed by a short and efficient morning skate, and then a brief team video session this afternoon.
In other words, the same routine as any other Saturday on the road.
And that's exactly the way Dave Hakstol and his staff want it. When they preach consistency all year long, they aren't just referring to what happens on the ice. Hakstol and his staff also want consistency off the ice, an ability to maintain tunnel vision on the task at hand regardless of the circumstances and the noise surrounding them.
Anything can -- and probably will -- happen tonight. It's a tall order if UND wants to clinch the Penrose tonight. After all, it hasn't swept here since November 1998. That was a team that went on to a 32-6-2 overall record (a jaw-dropping 24-2-2 WCHA mark), but lost in the first round of the NCAA playoffs.
What destiny awaits the 2013-14 team? Time will tell, but it's sure been a fun journey so far.