North Dakota is back in the Frozen Four for the seventh time under head coach Dave Hakstol in his 11 seasons at North Dakota. But North Dakota has just a 1-6 record in their six previous appearances under Hakstol, having never been able to win the national title. They'll try to change that on Thursday when they take on Boston University in the second Frozen Four semifinal, scheduled to start at 8:30pm EST in a game that can be seen on ESPN2. Here are three keys for North Dakota as they try to beat the Terriers and advance to Saturday's national title game.
1. Use Their Physical Advantage. Boston University is a very skilled team that can go up and down the ice with anyone, but where North Dakota has a huge edge over the very young Terriers is in their physical maturity. North Dakota is excellent at grinding along the boards and the more they can force the play to the outside and make the game a battle of brawn, the better their chances of having success are.
Additionally, North Dakota's offensive strategy relies on taking lots of shots from the perimeter, and then creating screens and battling for deflections and rebounds in front of the net. If North Dakota is winning those battles in front of the net and creating high-quality scoring chances, they should find offensive success.
2. Keep Jack Eichel Quiet. Boston University certainly didn't get to this stage by being a one-man team. They have a lot of different ways to hurt the opposition besides just Eichel. But there's little doubt that Eichel is the best player in college hockey this year, and his line is one in the sport this season. Shutting that line down should priority one for North Dakota. North Dakota has shuffled their lines around a bit since losing senior Mark MacMillan to injury, but generally like to match center Luke Johnson up against the opposition's top line, along with top defensive defenseman Paul LaDue and senior Nick Mattson on the blue line. If that pairing comes out of the game even with BU's top line, there's a good chance North Dakota's other lines outscore BU's other lines to win the game.
3. Play 5-on-5. Boston University has an outstanding power play, currently scoring on just a shade over one out of every four man advantage opportunities, ranking second overall in the nation in that category. North Dakota's penalty kill is just average--84.8%, 24th nationally. With goals at such a premium in what should be a low-scoring contest, staying out of the penalty box will be important for North Dakota.
Also, the more they play at even strength, the more North Dakota will be able to roll through their four lines and take advantage of their depth advantage, rather than getting bogged down in a game that is primarily played with specialty teams.