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By Brad E. Schlossman, Published March 22 2009

WCHA men's hockey tournament: UND’s slide continues

ST. PAUL – The University of North Dakota men’s hockey is heading home with two more losses at a neutral-site tournament. It has one week to regroup and figure out how not to do the same thing when it really counts next weekend.

Wisconsin’s 4-1 win over the Sioux in the third-place game of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five on Saturday dropped UND’s record to 0-6 in tournaments this season, with previous back-to-back losses coming at Boston’s Ice Breaker Invitational and Detroit’s Great Lakes Invitational.

The outcomes weren’t any different in the league’s premier showcase in the Xcel Energy Center. The Sioux only managed one goal on the weekend and enter the NCAA tournament with losses in three of their last five games.

“Coming into this weekend, we had high hopes, being a No. 1 seed and everything,” Sioux forward Ryan Martens said. “Everyone expected a lot out of us. There’s no need to hit the panic button – it’s not that time of year. We just have to regroup and get ready to play next weekend. I don’t believe there is any reason for concern as of now.”

If there was any solace to the large UND fan base that had traveled to St. Paul for the Final Five, it was that the pair of losses by the Sioux ruined its biggest rival’s hopes of an NCAA tournament bid. Bracket experts at the Final Five said that Minnesota’s chances of getting into the NCAAs largely hinged on UND beating Wisconsin.

Shortly after the game turned final, the experts declared Minnesota dead and speculated that UND may be in a regional in the Gophers’ Mariucci Arena next weekend.

The Sioux won’t know anything for sure until 10:30 a.m. today, when the 16-team field is revealed on ESPN2.

“I think the positive is that we do have a tomorrow,” UND defenseman Chay Genoway said. “We just need to regroup and have a real good week of practice. Obviously, we’re excited about the NCAA tournament.”

The Sioux likely will be without one of their key cogs when the regionals begin. Alternate captain Matt Watkins suffered an injury on a knee-to-knee collision with Minnesota-Duluth’s Brady Lamb on Friday night. Watkins returned for a couple of shifts on Friday but didn’t play Saturday afternoon.

Hakstol said the team would “work like hell” to get Watkins ready but admitted that “with what we’re dealing with, I would say he’s quite doubtful.”

In Watkins’ absence, UND juggled three of its four lines and switched up its penalty-killing units. The lines will be reevaluated this week in practice, too.

“The next four or five days will be good for that,” Hakstol said.

FIRST PERIOD: 1, UND, Duncan (Gregoire, Hextall) 7:45.

SECOND PERIOD: 2, W, Bohmbach (Grotting, Johnson) 3:37. 3, W, Murray (Davies) 8:28. 4, W, Smith (Geoffrion, McBain) 19:15 (pp).

THIRD PERIOD: 5, W, Murray (Bohmbach, Smith) 17:04 (pp).

SAVES: W, Connolly 16-9-10–35. UND, Eidsness 6-22-6–34.

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