Saturday, 9 April 2016

National Champions

Only two teams remained from the field that opened the season in the American collegiate hockey system as the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux Hawks squared off with the Quinnipiac University Bobcats in the NCAA Men's Hockey Championship. Only one would emerge victorious and be able to call themselves "National Champions". North Dakota was looking for that right for the eighth time in the school's history while Quinnipiac was attempting to make it the first time their school could claim that title. Who would take the title and claim supremacy in Tampa Bay tonight?

I only need one image to give you that answer.
North Dakota score three third-period goals to take the NCAA Frozen Four Championship by a 5-1 score over Quinnipiac! We saw some amazing performances tonight as Drake Caggiula put on another show, Brad Boeser had helpers all over the place tonight, and Cam Johnson was a wall in between the UND pipes once more. Head coach Brad Berry - a former assistant coach with the Manitoba Moose - finally was able to get this UND squad over the hump after heartbreaking losses in the last few seasons, and he deserves some kudos for his effort and his coaching staff's efforts this season as well!

The unfortunate part is that there has to be a loser in an event like this, and Quinnipiac was on the wrong end of the result on this day. In saying that, there is no reason to hand their heads as they had an outstanding season and beat some very good teams to get to the championship game. Yes, they fell short on what they wanted to accomplish, but they gave Bobcat fans a ride this season that should have them excited for next season already. There's a standard that has been set, and it will be up to the players on future Quinnipiac teams to take that final step.

If the adage of "you have to learn how to lose before you can win" is true, Quinnipiac found that lesson tonight. Their players were humble in the loss, but still had that pride in the logo on their jerseys. That is the sign of a winner, and while they may not have the banner to show for it they showed more in the loss about the character of the team than any win would have shown. I expect Quinnipiac to be back in future seasons after this fantastic campaign.

Saturday night, however, belongs to the University of North Dakota. For the first time since 2000, UND sits atop the NCAA men's hockey world, led there by senior and the Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player Drake Caggiula. Brad Berry became the first rookie head coach to direct his team to a championship, and became just the second head coach in NCAA history to do so in his first year with a program. Brad Boeser's 60 points on the season made him the third highest-scoring freshman this season.

Eight times since 2000 saw UND reach the Frozen Four only to fall short of the big prize. This team adopted the motto of "Believe it. Earn it. Raise it." in an effort to achieve what hadn't been done in fifteen seasons. They downed Northeastern and Michigan in the Midwest Regional before advancing to play Denver in Tampa in their semifinal game. Even when trailing, there was a sense that this team wasn't going to stop working and was willing to put in any amount of effort to get the job done. Defenceman Troy Stecher spoke about the team's work ethic.

"Some people may think The Ralph is a curse and that we're too spoiled," Stecher told Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald. "But we're not spoiled. We go to work every single day. There's no harder working team than us. I can bet you anything on that."

Tonight, there was no doubt of that as all of North Dakota can celebrate the victory. "This trophy is bigger than just for our team," goaltender Cam Johnson said "It's for the whole community and the whole University of North Dakota."

They can relish in the championship over the summer before a number of these young men will return to campus in September and start work on a title defence. They earned it by working hard and never slowing down, and a number of very good men's hockey teams found out exactly what colours hard work wore this season: green, white, and black.

Regardless of what name they have chosen for themselves, there was no doubt that the fans in Amalie Arena were cheering for the Sioux. As much as they're the Fighting Hawks officially, perhaps Drake Caggiula said it best tonight after the victory, "Fighting Sioux all the way."

Either way, they're champions. A rose by any other name, if you will.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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