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NCAA Preview: North Dakota

North Dakota got off to a slow start this season, but really picked things up in the second half, and head into the NCAA tournament as a pretty trendy pick to win the whole thing.

What has been the difference for the Sioux? In my mind, it is three things:

1. The team got healthier. Jonathan Toews missed a couple games in the first half of the season due to a shoulder injury. T.J. Oshie was able to play through a hand injury, but it severely limited his production. Goalie Phillippe Lamoureux also missed some time in the first half of the season due to an injury. Once those guys got healthy, and started playing as expected, the Sioux were near unbeatable.

2. They got better goaltending. Like I mentioned, Lamoureux struggled with an injury in the first half of the season, and freshman Anthony Grieco was forced to see a lot of playing time. Lamoureux came back, and really played better in the second half. He's made some very timely saves that have helped the Sioux maintain leads in the second half. The Sioux might have won the Final Five if Lamoureux had not given up a soft goal to Erik Johnson in the second period of that game. He is absolutely critical to North Dakota's chances.

3. Their lower lines started producing. Freshman Chris Vandevelde came alive in the Final Five after not scoring at all in the first half of the season. Erik Fabian had two goals in North Dakota's sweep of Minnesota. Their top line will score enough to keep them in any game. Production from a lower line could be the difference between winning a close game and losing a close game.