North Dakota Heating Up

North Dakota Goal at Minnesota Duluth - Matt Christians

They may not have a nickname, but they do have a strong history of playing damn good hockey towards the end of the season.

If you haven't figured out North Dakota has a strong tendency to "peak" after the Holidays when people tend to view the pairwise more often, you've either been sleeping or this might be your first College Hockey article you've ever read.

If that's the case, welcome!

If not, I briefly explained this in the midseason report I wrote back, well, around the midseason break. But since we're in the midst of all of it, why not relive a little history and see what North Dakota is up against this year.

History Lesson

Under head coach Dave Hakstol, North Dakota is 100-69-17 before the Holidays and 153-58-23 after the Holidays in the last five years, including this year. Last year was the lonely year among the last five in which UND was unable to find the bounce they needed to surpass their first-half record, although they still managed to win 61% of their games.

UND has found it's way into the NCAA tournament for the last 11 years in a row, and 16 of their last 17 seasons. Even with all their success in getting to the big tournament, it's been over 10 years since North Dakota has been crowned the king in college hockey.

That being said, Hakstol has yet to win a national championship, but does that make him a sub-par coach?

Behind the bench for the green and black team, Hakstol has sketched a 2nd place and four 3rd place entrees on his resume, which is rather impressive given he's never missed the tournament.

The 2013-2014 Season

North Dakota got a pretty jump on second half play this season, preloading their win column with five consecutive wins before hanging up the skates and waiting for Santa to come.

With those wins, UND is currently sporting a record of 14-2-1 since November 30th, 2013. The two losses were from Nebraska Omaha and Denver, while the tie was from a team just down the highway, Bemidji State.

It is mathematically impossible for this team to wind up with a losing record for second-half play, but they're remaining games are in no way going to be a walk in the park.

This weekend, North Dakota will head to St. Cloud State, the team they're tied with in the NCHC standings, before finishing regular season play on the road at Western Michigan.

Team Foundation: A Slab of Concrete

Last weekend, North Dakota swept a talented Minnesota Duluth team, and netminder Zane Gothberg, a Boston Bruins prospect, earned his first shutout of his collegiate career on that Friday night. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, UND's plan wasn't to simply slip by the Dogs, but they decided to make a statement instead by shutting out UMD 3-0 on Friday, followed by a 6-2 rout on Saturday.

Gothberg has stood strong between the posts. You build a house from the foundation up, much like Gothberg has provided a foundation for momentum to grow and thrive within the team.

North Dakota has something else going for them, though... Defense.

Senior captain and Edmonton Oilers prospect Dillon Simpson is a game changer. Not only does he lead UND in blocked shots, but he also leads the NCHC with 73.

Meaning - there has been 73 times Simpson has "taken one for the team". With a large number like that, it's safe to say he's contributed to the 2.63 goals against average in a positive manner.

North Dakota's D-core is also the most productive in the country, averaging just under three points per game. Simpson (20 points), along with St. Louis Blues prospect Jordan Schmaltz (19 points), Los Angeles Kings prospect Nick Mattson (15 points), and Los Angeles Kings prospect Paul LaDue (14 points) have compiled 68 points on their own throughout the season.

The Framework

With reliable goaltending in Gothberg and plenty of two-way defensemen among North Dakota's blue-liners, this gives forwards a chance to completely concentrate on what they do best, win battles and put the puck in the back of the net.

In the last 17 games, UND has outscored their opponents by a margin of 61 to 35. To make things a little bit more clear, they're averaging 3.59 goals per game, while allowing just 2.06. With that being said, may I remind you that UND is 10-0-0 this season when they've scored at least four goals.

With 29 points, scoring is led by Florida Panthers prospect Rocco Grimaldi - who isn't the biggest guy on the ice, but will be the quickest. Behind Grimaldi sits Philadelphia Flyers prospect Michael Parks who's tallied 26 points in 30 outings thus far this season.

This Weekend

#10 North Dakota (18-9-3) at #5 St. Cloud State (18-7-5)

North Dakota hit's the road this weekend in hopes of pushing their streak a little longer, and CBS Sports Network is going to do us all a favor and let us catch the action on Friday night in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

The Huskies have already swept North Dakota once this year, and it was at home, so I would imagine a little revenge would be cooking over in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

To make things even more interesting, both teams are tied at the top of the NCHC standings with 39 points, so I'd recommend watching.

But in the end, remember this:

I'm a statistics guy. And if I had to put my money on a team heading to the frozen four from the NCHC it'd be North Dakota. While under Hakstol, not only has North Dakota never missed the NCAA tournament, but they've punched their tickets to the frozen four 5 times in 9 years. They also hold the second best NCAA tourney record at 13-9, just behind Boston College's 19-5.

Friday's game is at 8:08 CT & Saturday's game starts at 7:07 CT.

Enjoy.

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