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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum Communications Co., Published March 30 2012

Sioux men's hockey found success in supposed rebuilding year of 2011-12

GRAND FORKS – The University of North Dakota men’s hockey team went 22-6-2 down the stretch with an undermanned squad, won the Broadmoor Trophy as Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff champions, earned a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament and made the regional final.

Still, that wasn’t enough to make a determined Sioux team feel good about what transpired during the 2011-12 – not even with a week off to reflect on the season.

“If you ask any of our players, it’s still a really hard fact for us to accept that our season did end and we’re not continuing to prepare for the next part of our season,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said Friday. “Hopefully, that can sum up what the mentality of our team became through this year. It was a year that began being defined by adversity and pretty significant disappointment and it came to a close with the mentality that I just described.”

The 2011-12 campaign was supposed to be a rebuilding one.

UND had lost a special senior class that featured Hobey Baker Award finalist Matt Frattin, Brad Malone, Evan Trupp and two-time All-American Chay Genoway. Two juniors, Jason Gregoire and Brett Hextall, then signed NHL contracts.

J.T. Miller, the highest-drafted recruit in college hockey, then bolted for Canadian major juniors without ever stepping foot on campus.

And a young Sioux team, which didn’t have the services of injured superstar recruit Rocco Grimaldi, sputtered to a 4-7-1 start.

“All of those things can have a way of snowballing,” Hakstol said, “and giving a group of guys every opportunity to say, ‘Well, it’s not our year.’ Yet guys like Ben Blood, Mario Lamoureux, Brad Eidsness and others weren’t willing to accept that. Instead, they helped pass along the expectations of this program. Regardless of circumstances, success is expected. Our leaders did an excellent job passing that on to a large group of you guys as well as everyone else.

“That torch was passed. The understanding of expectations of success was passed on to the next group.”

With the veterans showing the way, the young players quickly embraced UND’s brand of hockey – fast, physical and relentless hockey with the expectation of winning. The impact of the seniors passing the torch could be felt for years to come.

“If that chain is broken, it can take two to three years to build that mentality back,” Hakstol said. “There are no guarantees for the future, but I think it’s a huge contribution from the 2011-12 team to our program overall. Time will tell what the payoff and benefits are down the road, but I think that is a major contribution to the tradition of the program.

“They did it in such a prideful way. That’s what stands out to us as a staff and hopefully it does to our fans. I think we all understand and acknowledge and see that pride in a team that maybe was a little short in terms of on-ice talent, but made up for it with other talents in terms of selflessness, work ethic and sheer will power.”

The Sioux, who played a third of the season without enough guys to fill out a full lineup, made a remarkable charge down the stretch. It was highlighted by five consecutive victories in the WCHA playoffs and a third straight Broadmoor Trophy. UND became the first team ever to win three straight Broadmoors.

It also marked the ninth straight year that the Sioux have won either the Broadmoor Trophy, the MacNaughton Cup or been to the NCAA Frozen Four.

Several players stepped up during the stretch run.

The top line of Brock Nelson, Corban Knight and Danny Kristo picked up their play, which was strong all season long, while the second line of Mark MacMillan, Carter Rowney and Michael Parks came alive.

“A guy like Carter Rowney deserves a huge amount of credit for what we were able to do in the last two-thirds of the year,” Hakstol said. “He was given more opportunity and he took advantage of that opportunity. He was a major factor in our team’s success. I’m really excited to see what he can turn that into during his senior season.”

UND is now awaiting decisions from several players on whether they will turn pro early or come back to school for 2012-13. Among the players who have to decide are Nelson, Kristo, Andrew MacWilliam and goalie Aaron Dell.

After those decisions are made, the Sioux will finalize which players will come to campus as rookies in the fall.

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald