The North Dakota men’s hockey team has had some success over the years. The NoDaks have won 10 Western Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament championships, 15 WCHA regular season titles and seven NCAA Divisional championships. But the NoDaks have not beat Yale for a decade.
In 2010, the Elis upset North Dakota 3–2 to advance to the Northeastern regional championship game in the NCAA tournament, but fell to the eventual national champions, Boston College. The Bulldogs ran into the NoDaks a game later this year in the West Regional final and completed their second monumental upset over the WCHA powerhouse, this time by a score of 4–1.
“We have a good team and so do they, so going into the game we are just playing another good college hockey team, not the ‘giant’ that they are often described as,” captain Andrew Miller ’13 said.
While the Elis took both the 2010 game and this season’s most recent contest against North Dakota, each game was played very differently.
In 2010, Yale jumped out to a shocking 3–0 lead before allowing two goals early in the third period, but the team held off the NoDaks until the final buzzer sounded.
This season, the Bulldogs were held scoreless for the majority of the game, trailing 1–0 for over 52 minutes before an ebullient eight-minute offensive burst lifted the Bulldogs to a 4–1 victory and a trip to the Frozen Four.
Despite the polar opposite scoring patterns against North Dakota, the Bulldogs were able to take down the NoDaks through an explosive attack that knocks opposing defenses back on their heels.
“In 2010 the game was similar — a fast high-skilled game where both teams were going back and forth,” Miller said. “This year we weren’t up on the scoreboard, but during the second and third we showed that we could outplay them.”
Success in the playoffs and against other national powerhouses is not due only to on-ice performance — it is also the result of effective strategy and intelligent coaching. Head coach Keith Allain ’80 pushes a fast-paced style of play that wears down opponents and opens up doors for scoring opportunities.
The strategy is dependent on excellent conditioning, which the Elis have demonstrated time and again this season, going undefeated in overtime and coming from behind to win five times.
“I wasn’t on the team back in 2010, but I can attest to the way Coach Allain wants us to play,” NCAA West Regional MVP and forward Jesse Root ’14 said. “He wants to play an up tempo, puck control game, and I think we did that this past weekend.”
For teams like Minnesota and North Dakota that try to slow the game down and systematically set up their attacks, Yale’s in-your-face pressure is an effective neutralizer.
The Bulldogs were able to hold North Dakota to zero power play goals in both contests, forcing the NoDaks to go 0-for-4 in 2010 and 0-for-3 in 2013.
“I think the real dynamics for us are our work ethic and our compete level,” Allain said. “And you compound that with a team game, which is what we try to play, and I think it makes us a formidable opponent.”
The Bulldogs are 4–0 against WCHA opponents this season, including two back-to-back overtime victories against Denver and Colorado College in November, when the Elis traveled to Denver, Colo.