March 23, 2006
NCAA Tournament

West Regional Preview | Grand Forks, N.D.

 NCAA
WEST REGIONAL PREVIEW


Minnesota's Ryan Potulny leads the nation with 38 goals.

NCAA Tournament Bracket | Info
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Regional Preview Coverage
East: Capsules | Preview
Northeast: Capsules | Preview
Midwest: Capsules | Preview
West: Capsules

NCAA WEST REGIONAL
Ralph Engelstad Arena
Friday, March 24

6:30 p.m. ET: No. 1 Minnesota vs. No. 4 Holy Cross

9:30 p.m. ET: No. 2 North Dakota vs. No. 3 Michigan

Saturday, March 25

9 p.m. ET: Regional Final

By Nate Ewell

HOT TOPIC

Because of the lack of suitable neutral-site arenas in CCHA and WCHA country, the NCAA hasn’t even awarded its Midwest and West Regional bids beyond 2009. In the meantime, we’ll face the problem of a higher seed playing in hostile environs, as Minnesota will surely face this weekend.

It’s not something unfamiliar to Minnesota (which hosted regionals at Mariucci Arena in 2003 and ’05) or Michigan (which advanced out of Yost Arena in 1998, 2002 and '03). If they wanted to complain, those teams wouldn’t have a leg to stand on – wisely, Gopher head coach Don Lucia has no public complaints about the No. 2 seed hosting the event.

“They earned the right to be there," Lucia said. "They knew if they played their way into the NCAA tournament they would get to host a regional. They got it done, so all the credit to them."

But it still bears watching: if Holy Cross can put up a fight against Minnesota Friday, what kind of crowd support will they get from Sioux fans rooting against the Gophers? And how will the Gophers react on Saturday, when there should be a very large, very loud crowd supporting the Sioux?

BACK STORY

Thankfully, the NCAA legislation to ban the Fighting Sioux nickname has been tabled until April – thus avoiding what was certain to be a sideshow at the West Regional. Without that distraction, we can focus on the ice, where one of the secondary stories is what to expect from Michigan. It’s been a maddeningly inconsistent season in Ann Arbor, where at one point the Wolverines were in serious jeopardy of missing the NCAAs for the first time in 16 seasons. But if the young players display all their talents and Noah Ruden (most likely) puts in a good effort in goal, it’s not inconceivable that the Wolverines could advance to the Frozen Four, just as they did the last time they were a No. 3 seed, in 2003.

While You're There

Bonzers (old downtown Grand Forks; 420 Demers Ave.) is the best bet to catch out-of-town games on television. What’s more, a five-foot wooden Indian chief at the door and the old Chicago Blackhawks/UND hockey logo in neon above the bar likely ensures that you won’t be bothered by pushy NCAA types. Visitors should be sure to try the chili -- it's Grand Forks' best. Also, to add some extra local flavor, ask for ripple chips with your chili – it’s a Gino Gasparini favorite.

Another good call, also in old downtown (118 3rd Street), would be Joe Dimaggio's. This place is a large bar and grill with pool tables and video games (a little more kid-friendly). Try the Jordan Double Shot. It's the best – and largest – burger in town.
– Jayson Hron

You absolutely must visit the Red Pepper, a non-descript restaurant nestled in a residential area at 1011 University Ave. in Grand Forks, for its legendary grinders. Ordering is a snap -- your three choices are ham, turkey or salami. Whichever you choose, make sure you also get it with a scoop of taco meat. It sounds crazy, but it's a borderline religious experience.
– Mike Eidelbes

ON A ROLL

North Dakota’s suddenly 9-2-0 in its last 11, and those last two wins – against Wisconsin and St. Cloud State in the WCHA Final Five – were particularly impressive. Those brought the Broadmoor Trophy back to Grand Forks, along with a piece of revisionist history. A WCHA Final Five promotional poster which was designed to hype the tournament mistakenly listed the school as “North Dakota State University.” Understandably, that didn’t go over well in the Red River Valley, so the WCHA will bring corrected posters to Grand Forks this weekend.

MR. CLUTCH

We’re not sure if “clutch” can transfer through genes – check back in 20 years, once David “Big Papi” Ortiz’ kids are swinging a bat – but Ryan Potulny seems to have some of his brother’s knack for timing. Grant was the hero at the 2002 Frozen Four, quickly establishing himself as the man to see when Minnesota needed a goal. Ryan has inherited that role, as seen by his game-tying goal – his fourth of the game – with 14 seconds remaining against St. Cloud State Friday night. On the season, Potulny has five game-winner among his 38 goals.

SOMETHING TO PROVE

Holy Cross is making its second trip to the NCAA Tournament in the last three years – the same number as Michigan State, Boston University, Cornell and Denver. Appearances alone won’t buy the Crusaders respect, however, and you can bet head coach Paul Pearl’s team heard the snickers about the Crusaders possibly getting in even without the Atlantic Hockey automatic bid. They watched last year as Mercyhurst and Bemidji State put scares into superior opponents and earned a measure of respect. Holy Cross’ chance to do the same comes Friday evening.

ONE TO WATCH

You better catch Jack Johnson now, because if you think NCAA Regional tickets are expensive, they’re nothing compared to the NHL, where he could be playing as soon as Monday. The Michigan defenseman is a feared physical presence, but that’s only one part of his game. He can also move the puck, use his strength in front of the net and play solid positionally. And he’ll see a lot of Drew Stafford.

SATURDAY STORYLINE

One thing’s for sure: Minnesota and North Dakota can’t both return to the Frozen Four. And as special as the all-WCHA Frozen Four was for the conference, each team would probably like nothing better than to knock their rivals out of NCAA contention. While non-conference matchups carry a lot of appeal this time of year, pardon us if we enjoy this rivalry for a moment on the national stage.