UND looks for its Rocky moment against Gophers
PHILADELPHIA – On Wednesday morning, the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team ran up the famed stairs from the Rocky movie and saw the statue of the boxer.
Today, UND will try to play the role.
Fourth-seeded UND, the last team to get an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament, will play the NCAA’s top seed, Minnesota, in a Frozen Four semifinal game at 7:30 tonight in Wells Fargo Center. The winner will play for the national championship on Saturday.
Like Rocky, UND is the big underdog in this game. Las Vegas odds say that the Gophers are twice as likely to win the semifinal game, but that’s OK with UND.
“People on the outside expect us to have a deer-in-the-headlights look playing the Gophers, the No. 1 overall team,” UND junior defenseman Nick Mattson said. “But we’re approaching this like we’re going to throw everything we’ve got against them and give them our best effort.”
UND arrived in Philadelphia on Tuesday afternoon and had a chance to knock out some tourist items. Many players went to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Others tried a Philly cheese steak.
The team started to get down to business Wednesday afternoon with its first practice at Wells Fargo Center. The hour-long session was routine for the day before a game, including a team shootout competition that Michael Parks won.
“We’re pretty loose,” freshman defenseman Paul LaDue said. “This team likes to stay loose. Obviously, game day will be a little more focused. We’ll be ready.”
The underdog role has helped keep UND loose. There haven’t been big expectations for this year’s team, which is a complete turnaround from its last trip to the Frozen Four in 2011.
There hasn’t been a lot of pressure. The other three teams in Philadelphia are No. 1 seeds. UND is a No. 4 seed. But it has a quiet confidence.
“We went into (regional) weekend feeling kind of disrespected,” Mattson said. “All of the analysts were picking Wisco in a landslide. We’ve put together a great year and we earned our way here. Minnesota is a great team, but we think we are, too. Hopefully we can show that.”
Much of the attention at Wednesday’s news conference surrounded the rivalry between UND and Minnesota. The players seem ready to push that aside and get going on the semifinal matchup.
“It’s been 10 days since we played now,” Parks said. “We’re getting a little antsy, but we’re excited. Everybody is ready to get going at it. Everyone is jacked up.”