Danny Kristo considers himself a fast healer, so when doctors told him that it might take four months for him to recover completely from severe frostbite on his toes last year, well, he had other ideas.

He had a hockey season to finish, after all.

Kristo, a junior forward for North Dakota, was back skating in nine weeks.

"He's got that drive as a person and player," said sophomore Brock Nelson, who plays with Kristo on North Dakota's top line.

That scary incident last winter briefly disrupted Kristo's promising hockey career, but luckily it didn't derail it. It's only a painful memory now, nothing more. His immediate focus is on trying to propel the Fighting Sioux to the NCAA Frozen Four.

Kristo notched one assist and was a plus-2 on Saturday as North Dakota advanced in the NCAA West Regional with a 3-1 victory over Western Michigan at Xcel Energy Center. He also logged lots of time on the penalty-killing unit, which became an important role for him this season.

"A simple maturity that is coming to his game," North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said.

Kristo, a Eden Prairie product, is in a different place this postseason compared with last season. He suffered frostbite on his right foot while walking across campus in January 2011. He reportedly lost his tennis shoe in deep snow with the wind-chill index at 33 below zero.

His condition was severe enough that he was admitted to Regions Hospital in St. Paul for nearly two weeks. Reports indicated doctors initially feared that Kristo's toes might need to be amputated.

"That was a little overblown, but they didn't think I was going to be skating for four months," he said Saturday in the postgame locker room.

Kristo missed 10 games, but he sped through his recovery and rejoined his team in time for the playoffs. He scored on his first shift and shot in the Final Five semifinals.

"That was definitely a relief," he said.

For him and his team.

"Obviously it's not an easy thing to go through," Hakstol said. "Danny is very mentally tough. I think a lot of people might have missed the remainder of the season. It's not just the healing process, but then being able to condition and fight through some of the discomfort. He did a good job of that and provided a big spark to our team coming back."

He did the same thing this season, setting career highs in points (43), goals (18) and assists (26) as a right winger on UND's top line. Kristo is extremely fast and has a quick release on his shot, but his game continued to evolve this season. He became more defensive-minded, earning the coaching staff's trust to play in all situations and circumstances.

"I think everyone knows he has the offensive skills that a lot of guys would like to have," Nelson said. "He's obviously got tremendous speed up the right side for our line. But he's worked himself into being more of a two-way player."

The biggest question for Kristo now is where he intends to play next season. The Montreal Canadiens selected him in the second round (56th overall) of the 2008 draft. Kristo said he hasn't made a decision about whether he'll turn pro or return for his senior season. Not that anyone really expected him to reveal his plans publicly anyway with his team still alive in the NCAA tournament.

"I'm just worried about our team right now," he said. "I haven't really thought too much about next year. When the time is right, I guess I'll have to make a decision. But it's not on my mind right now."

Kristo has lived a nomadic hockey lifestyle, so change is nothing new to him. He played one season for Eden Prairie's varsity team when the family moved back to the Twin Cities after living in Indiana for a few years. He then spent two seasons with the USA National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., one year in the USHL in Omaha and now three seasons at North Dakota.

"It's been a little bit of a roller coaster," he said. "But it's been fun."

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com