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Even as underdogs, UND’s loss still hurts

The University of North Dakota men’s hockey team’s run to the Frozen Four in 2011 and 2014 were polar opposite storylines.

It was the dominant powerhouse in 2011 versus the plucky underdogs of 2014.

But these special groups will leave the same lasting memory from the national semifinals.

A gut punch.

There’s no other description after Minnesota clipped UND 2-1 on Justin Holl’s fluky short-handed goal at the buzzer Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

UND players and coaches were stunned. Fans in attendance were stunned. The media members were stunned. The national television audience was stunned.

If there’s a lesson here for UND fans it’s this: A loss can sting just as bad for an underdog as it does as a favorite.

Back in 2011, veteran Michigan coach Red Berenson sat in the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul after stealing a game from North Dakota and admitted that in hockey sometimes the better team doesn’t win.

Berenson said his goaltender made the difference against a dominant offense that featured Matt Frattin, Evan Trupp and Brad Malone.

That wasn’t great consolation for UND fans.

The 2011 team was national title or bust from the get-go. They didn’t celebrate any of the minor league accomplishments on the way to the Frozen Four.

But the 2014 team didn’t have much in the way of expectations. It was a group of hard workers who were able to stay loose during the Frozen Four run.

After all, they were pretty much playing with house money after sneaking into the NCAA tournament and later stealing a game from Ferris State on the back of Zane Gothberg.

So, in a way, UND and its fans should’ve been happy to even be in the position of the Frozen Four.

But as the game played out against the Gophers, it was evident UND was controlling the play and generating more of the quality chances.

After the teams traded goals in the third period, UND went on the power play for the final moments of the frame.

At that point, overtime looked like the worst-case scenario. UND should have its chances to finish it in overtime.

Instead, Minnesota landed the hockey version of the Hail Mary.

Just like in 2011, that placed UND head coach Dave Hakstol at the Frozen Four podium trying to digest a heart-breaker.

“I thought our guys did an excellent job,” Hakstol said. “That doesn’t bypass the fact that our season ends tonight.”

In other words, hockey can be a cruel sport.

Tom Miller
Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department for the past 10 years. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 
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