In a unique way, the University of North Dakota owes Wisconsin a thank you. If the Badgers hadn’t won the Big Ten Championship game last weekend and secured a top-seed in the NCAA tournament, UND wouldn’t have made it in.
The former WCHA rivals will meet for the first time this season when No. 4 seed North Dakota (23-13-3) takes on No. 1 seed Wisconsin (24-10-2) in the NCAA Midwest Regional tournament Friday at the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“I have been watching them … they haven’t changed in the 12 years I’ve been here,” head coach Mike Eaves said. “You know they’re going to play hard, they’re going to play physical and they’re going to play a pace.”
The all-time series between the two teams is 86-65-12 in favor of Wisconsin. However, in the past 10 games UND leads 5-3-2. Additionally, UND won the past two NCAA post-season matchups between these programs.
“We’ve seen them a lot over the last three years and we’ve played them quite a bit,” senior forward Jefferson Dahl said. “So we know what they’re going to bring, and they know what we’re going to bring.”
The Badgers are fresh off a thrilling overtime win against Ohio State in which they erased a 4-2 deficit late in the third period, eventually beating the Buckeyes 5-4 in overtime. Along with being crowned inaugural Big Ten Champions, they also earned one of four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.
Wisconsin has secured a top spot on seven previous occasions, most recently in 2006 and 2010. Their trip to the finals in 2006 proved to be the ultimate success story, with the Badgers bringing back a national championship.
Whichever team comes out on top in Friday night’s game will go on to play the winner of Ferris State and Colgate.
The Badgers have taken on a new perspective the latter half of their season. They equate it to climbing a mountain, weathering the challenges that lie ahead. As they continue their steady journey to the top, opponents and games have only increased in difficulty. This weekend’s competition will prove to be no different.
“Getting matched up there with North Dakota tells me that the gauntlet starts right now,” Eaves said. “We’re starting with a foe that we have a history with, so it should be an awesome game.”