Like clockwork, North Dakota Fighting Sioux head coach Dave Hakstol has his team playing their best hockey entering the NCAA Tournament.
The Sioux, who won the WCHA Final Five with a victory over regular-season champion Minnesota, were at one point 11th in the conference and struggling with both injuries and defections. Despite only suiting up 19 players late in the year, the Sioux finished fourth in the regular season and have now won seven straight games en route to their third consecutive Broadmoor Trophy.
Up front, North Dakota has relied on their high-powered first line of Brock Nelson (New York Islanders), Corban Knight (Florida Panthers) and Danny Kristo (Montreal Canadiens). Nelson has shined particularly bright as the season has gone on, scoring four goals in three games last weekend with another waived off, and 27 on the season.
Aaron Dell has been hot lately in goal. During the WCHA Final Five he out-dueled St. Cloud State's Mike Lee (Phoenix Coyotes), kept UND in the game against Minnesota when the offense was non-existent, and shut out a powerful Denver team to earn the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award. Between the offense clicking and solid goaltending, it could take an effort similar to the one Michigan goalie Shawn Hunwick put in last year against the Sioux to send them home.
Then again, it's safe to say the Fighting Sioux, as the fourth of four No. 1 seeds, have the toughest route to Tampa of the group -- even if the Twin Cities would be full of UND fans. Their reward for winning the WCHA conference tournament in St. Paul is more games at the Xcel Energy Center, with the chance to face both the CCHA winner and the host team, Minnesota, who will be looking for revenge.
It's not the first time a No. 1 seed has been sent to another team's home (Minnesota was sent to Grand Forks as the No. 2 overall seed in 2006, faced Air Force in 2007 in Denver as the No. 1 team and North Dakota faced Wisconsin in Madison as the No. 3 overall seed in 2008.)
If North Dakota gets to Tampa, they'll have proven themselves.
For more on the road to the Frozen Four in Tampa, stick with our 2012 NCAA hockey tournament StoryStream.