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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum News Service, Published April 02 2013

Seniors vital in UND's season

GRAND FORKS – About two hours after the University of North Dakota’s season ended, the team still hadn’t left Van Andel Arena.

The seniors couldn’t bring themselves to take off their jerseys for the last time.

“That’s the toughest thing to accept is not preparing for a game next Thursday in Pittsburgh,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said on Tuesday afternoon as he looked back on his team’s season.

It was one of near-misses for UND, which finished 22-13-7 overall.

The team had a shot to share the MacNaughton Cup as Western Collegiate Hockey Association champions on the last day of the year, but ended up losing an overtime game to Minnesota State-Mankato.

The team also was eight minutes from a sixth trip to the NCAA Frozen Four in nine years, but watched as Yale University rallied for a 4-1 victory in the West Regional final.

“It was very difficult,” Hakstol said. “One of the toughest things I’ve seen, especially at the college level, is opening the locker room (to media) 10 minutes after a season ends. Every year, there are varying degrees of difficulty. This one was equal in difficulty to any I’ve been a part of.”

Hakstol said two things stand out about the 2012-13 season – the great contributions of the senior class and the outstanding support from fans both at home games and on the road.

The seniors were key figures in UND’s season.

Danny Kristo and Corban Knight are both Hobey Baker Award finalists. Carter Rowney reached the 25-point mark for a second straight season. Captain Andrew MacWilliam and Joe Gleason were regulars on the back end. And senior Tate Maris was a popular third-string goalie, who finally saw his first minutes in UND’s final home game.

“These guys mean and awful lot to the program and should be very proud of everything they’ve done, all the success they’ve had and what they’ve done to build the program,” Hakstol said. “These guys have been very important in moving it toward the future. For that, I’m really thankful to these guys.

“Now it’s up to the next group of leaders to pick up where they left off, to emerge as a real strong group and go out and attain the goals we weren’t able to attain this year.”

The seniors accounted for 43.7 percent of the team’s goals this season, which will leave a big hole for next year’s team to fill.

“They’ve had great careers,” Hakstol said. “They didn’t just show up this year and become good senior players. They’ve worked hard to improve their games. They’ve worked very hard to grow up as people and become good leaders. Those are some of the things that stand out. It’s not the individual goals or plays on the ice, it’s the overall body of work.”

As for the fans, UND led the nation in home attendance, averaging 11,592 per home game. Minnesota finished second at 9,950.

On the road, UND brought a huge crowd to Omaha, where the team played an outdoor game against the Mavericks at T.D. Ameritrade Field, home of the College World Series. Two weeks later, another huge UND contingent invaded Magness Arena in Denver.

“There are an awful lot of things to be proud of,” Hakstol said of the season. “At the end of the day, we didn’t reach our goal. That’s the reality of sports. You walk away from it for four or five more days, regain a focus and come back with a new energy beginning next Monday.”

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald