They’re already good enough at neutral sites, but imagine what Duke might do if it played its first- and second-round games of the NCAA Tournament at Cameron Indoor Stadium, its home floor. It wouldn’t be a pretty sight.

Roshan Reddy
Goalie Noah Ruden and the Wolverines will take on North Dakota in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. (RODRIGO GAYA/DAILY)

This would never happen in the basketball tournament, but the hockey selection committee often puts teams in their own home for the regionals. And when the bracket came out, the 12th-ranked Wolverines drew the host. Michigan will face off against North Dakota in Grand Forks, N.D. tonight at 9:30 p.m.

The Fighting Sioux finished their league playoffs strong, winning the WCHA title over St. Cloud State after knocking off former No. 1 Wisconsin. North Dakota’s final record was 27-15-1, but the wins were loaded heavily in the latter part of the season.

“North Dakota has a big advantage in this scenario, coming off of a playoff championship,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “They’ve had a terrific run, they’re playing at home. We’re a three seed, and they could’ve been a No. 1 seed. They’re a top team right now, as good as anyone playing at home.”

But the responsibilities North Dakota faces by playing in its home arena might outweigh their obvious advantages.

“Let’s face it, there’s a lot of pressure on the home team,” Berenson said. “Home teams don’t always win regionals. But you never know how the home team is going to handle the pressure.”

Michigan does have history on its side. It defeated New Hampshire in Manchester, N.H. at the Northeast Regional in 2004. Captain Andrew Ebbett said he believes that, like they did in Manchester, the Wolverines must begin the game on the right foot to have any hopes of staying in the contest.

“We had a good start in the game, and that was huge for us,” Ebbett said. “We had two goals in the first couple of minutes, and that didn’t really give the crowd a chance to get in the game. It’s always huge on the road to keep the fans out of it.”

Quick starts have helped Michigan all year long. It’s 14-4-2 when scoring the first goal of the game. But when the Wolverines can’t knock one in first, they’re just 7-10-3.

Scoring won’t come easy during tonight’s game. The Fighting Sioux’s Jordan Parisi has established himself as one of nation’s premiere goaltenders. He went 22-8-1 with a 2.12 goals against average this season.

Leading the charge for Michigan will be Ebbett, who boasts a nine-game scoring streak. In that span, he has notched five goals and nine assists. Ebbett’s line, which also features fellow senior Brandon Kaleniecki, is the most experienced on the team, giving Ebbett the chance to continue his hot streak, even against the Fighting Sioux’s stingy defense.

Should the Wolverines knock off North Dakota in the first-round game, they will play the winner of tonight’s Minnesota-Holy Cross game. Barring a great upset, the Golden Gophers will win their first game, making a Michigan run to the Frozen Four almost inconceivable.

Minnesota defeated Michigan, 6-3, during the College Hockey Showcase in November behind Hobey Baker candidate Ryan Potulny’s hat trick and two goals from freshman Phil Kessel.

Although Minnesota’s shadow looms large, Michigan is focused solely on North Dakota.

“North Dakota is a pretty good team,” Ebbett said. “They’ve played well recently. We’re just going to focus on them for now. Once we get that game, we’ll move onto the next. The NCAA Tournament is just one game at a time. We’ll focus on that second one after, hopefully, having won the first one.”

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