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By Brad E. Schlossman / Forum Communications Co., Published March 07 2012

Seniors key in Sioux run

GRAND FORKS – Mario Lamoureux’s statement was a bold one.

That’s especially the case considering the University of North Dakota was in 11th place, had been shut out three straight weekends, was ravaged by injuries and was three days removed from an uninspiring 1-0 loss at Bemidji State when he said it.

Lamoureux stood in the basement of Ralph Engelstad Arena on Nov. 23 and stated in a determined voice: “Not for a second do I think that our team doesn’t have the capability to be one of the best teams in the nation come March and April. Are we there now? No. But I strongly believe we’re going to get there.”

He may have had doubters then, but probably not anymore.

The Sioux, despite having a young, injury-riddled squad, have been the second-best team in the country since, going 16-5-2 post-Thanksgiving. They climbed from 11th to fourth in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings and enter the first round of the league playoffs in position to earn an NCAA tournament bid.

Maine (17-5-1) is the only team in the nation that has a better mark than UND since Thanksgiving.

In seven of those games, the Sioux didn’t have enough healthy bodies to fill out a full lineup. That may be the case again this weekend against Bemidji State (7:37 p.m. Friday, 7:07 p.m. Saturday, 7:07 p.m. Sunday, if necessary) – not that it matters to this group.

“I knew this team had what it took because of the character in the room,” Lamoureux said. “Look at a lot of guys. A guy like Steph Pattyn, you probably don’t notice a lot. But he comes out, shows up every game and competes. There are a lot of guys in the locker room who do that.

“I think they care about each other. Everyone genuinely cares about being part of a winning solution. I don’t think anyone really cares about themselves too much. Everyone is focused on one goal and that’s to win. That’s been our belief since Day One and that’s something I hope that’s always instilled in this program. That’s the main reason I felt like this team was definitely going to turn things around.”

UND coach Dave Hakstol said the senior class of Lamoureux, Ben Blood and Brad Eidsness – all of whom were a part of a team that went from ninth in December to first in March as rookies – played a large role.

“It’s the team that slowly scratched and clawed its way out and usually that comes back to the core leadership group and the captains,” Hakstol said. “These three (seniors) are a part of that core leadership group. That group, when you go through tough times, has to believe in themselves, their teammates and believe in the process. These three guys obviously have quite a strong will and have been a big part of this year’s team.”

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald