That headline is the classic exasperated utterance as the sheet on which any of my brackets were printed gets wadded into a ball and serves as yet another miss as it doinks off the rim of the wastebasket. Every year, I think the NCAA Hockey tournament can save my enjoyment of filling out brackets. Every year, I am FUCKING WRONG! Every year I sear I’m never filling out another bracket ever again, and every year I’m the moth the the college tournament bracket flame…because I’m an idiot.
As the Red/Green show above tells you, I gagged on three of the Frozen Four and have no shot at hitting the winner. The damn WCHA screwed me once again as out of the four teams the conference placed in the tournament, only the Minnesota Golden Gophers advanced to the Frozen Four. At least this is the last year that I need to worry about the WCHA as a factor in this tournament with the tectonic re-alignment that is coming to the college hockey world.
A while back, we here at Dubsism penned a primer comparing the members of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) to characters from The Simpsons to give you an insight into the best sports league you’ve never heard of. We even added the two newest members when the conference expanded. But now, with this league headed for obscurity, it may be time for the team that gave me a reason to watch this league to make a change.
As an alum of the University of North Dakota, I am required by law to be a college hockey fan. North Dakota prides itself on two things; that it is a leading research university, and that it is akin to the “New York Yankees” of college hockey. With seven national championships and 15 WCHA titles, the Fighting Sioux are amongst the old-school, traditional powers in the sport. With such a tradition of excellence, Sioux fans have become like Yankee fans; we expect championships on an annual basis, and when we don’t get them, we start screaming for heads to roll.
But there is another similarity the Sioux share with the boys from the Bronx; more often than not lately both sides don’t play to the level of their talent, and find themselves often living on reputation. You all can debate this point as far as the Yanks are concerned; I’m here to breakdown the Sioux.
Let me begin by saying that Sioux head coach Dave Hakstol is an enigma to me. Under his tutelage, his teams historically have had have some of the best talent in the country, but his teams play with a lack of discipline and interest for the front half of the season; during the back half they become the best team in the country, then lose in the playoffs because they revert to the style of the front half.
Last night’s NCAA West Regional Final was just another example. The Sioux spent large periods of that game playing some very stupid hockey. They gave away four power plays, at least two of two of which were just dumb penalties. They kept committing sloppy line changes, at times allowing the Gophers to roll through the Sioux zone like Von Runstedt’s panzers did through France. At times, the Sioux played very inattentive defense, letting the open man literally skate through the slot right up to the crease, and allowing them to enjoy a cup of coffee while waiting in front of the net for the puck. This helps explain how Minnesota had a 3-goal outburst in the second period that effectively ended all hope for the Sioux.
Nine days after erasing a 3-goal deficit against Minnesota in the WCHA Final Five title game to capture its 15th Broadmoor Cup, North Dakota found itself again needing to make a comeback. Behind 2-0 in the second period, North Dakota seemed to regain some momentum 1:43 in on Danny Kristo’s 19th goal of the season. That lasted about seven minutes, until the Gophers scored twice within five minutes. The first of those goals by Taylor Matson at 9:08 was the back-breaker. Matson scooped up a rebound on a Nate Schmidt breakaway, and went untouched through the center of the Sioux defense to make the game 3-1, a deficit from which Sioux would never recover.
As bad as the Matson goal was, it was worse that there was never a single coaching adjustment. The Sioux kept letting the Gophers camp in front of the crease. They spent two periods playing “dump-and-chase” on offense.
The bottom line is this. Once again, Sioux fans got a team that underperformed early in the season. Once again, Sioux fans had their hopes for that elusive national title dashed by a team that keeps shooting itself in the skate. Since Dean Blais led the Sioux to their last national championship in 2000, this most recent season under Dave Hakstol is a microcosm of the entirely of his career behind the Sioux bench; play well enough to get home ice in the conference tournament, win the conference tournament which gets either a #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA tournament, then blow it.
And of course, like a Yankee fan, all will be forgiven when the Sioux come home with their 8th national championship. But, the mercurial nature of Hakstol’s teams are begging the question how long will Sioux Nation wait.?