Opinion Corner: From 16 down to Frozen 4The NCAA men’s hockey regionals are history, and the Frozen Four participants are set. The majority of games at the regionals were tightly contested, decided by fewer than 2 goals. The quality of goaltending, across the board, was excellent. There were, however, a good deal of fluky goals, crazy bounces, and the like.
By: Mark Schuttenhelm , The Jamestown Sun
The NCAA men’s hockey regionals are history, and the Frozen Four participants are set.
The majority of games at the regionals were tightly contested, decided by fewer than 2 goals. The quality of goaltending, across the board, was excellent. There were, however, a good deal of fluky goals, crazy bounces, and the like.
You have to be impressed with Union College and Cornell, carrying the banner for ECAC hockey. These teams played like they had something to prove, and in fact, they did. More than a few college hockey commentators, myself included, questioned whether they could go toe to toe with the big boys from the ‘power conferences’, the WCHA, CCHA, and Hockey East. We stand corrected. Union beat Michigan State and UMass-Lowell to advance to the Frozen Four, while Cornell beat mighty Michigan before getting knocked out by Ferris State.
We’ll lead off our first round recap with the Sioux-Western Michigan game.
Well, the boys had the new ‘alternate’ uniforms on, dictated by the PC police at the NCAA. It’s probably better that I don’t comment on them. At least there were no rodents on the uniforms, right? It seemed odd, but for the first 10 minutes or so of the broadcast, I saw no Sioux sweaters in the crowd. For a moment there I thought maybe the NCAA had PC thugs at the entrance forcing Sioux fans to remove their shirts, but thankfully that wasn’t the case.
On the ice, Michael Parks led off the scoring for UND about 6 minutes into period 1, with a nice wraparound goal. When Corban Knight banged home a rebound early in the second period, North Dakota appeared to be in command. The Sioux were getting the best of the play, and had a great penalty kill mid-way thru the period. A few defensive lapses allowed WMU to get back into the game.
First, Derek Forbort got caught out of position, resulting in a breakaway and a goal for Western. A few minutes later UND had another lapse which resulted in a 3-on-1 break for WMU. They scored on the play but it was ruled no goal by the referee, and that call was confirmed by replay review. The WMU player knocked it in with his arm, and secondly, the net was moving around as the puck crossed the goal line. The Sioux were hanging on a bit here, and it seemed possible coach Dave Hakstol might use his timeout, but he didn’t. I thought if we could just get into the locker room ahead 2-1, we could regroup for the 3rd period, and that’s exactly what happened. UND had another good penalty kill early in the third, and had a few decent chances at an insurance goal.
First UND failed to convert a 2-on-1 opportunity. Then a turnover by WMU right in front of their net gave the Sioux a couple of great chances, with Carter Rowney and Connor Gaarder both taking a few whacks at the loose puck. Neither could get the puck by goalie Frank Slubowski. Incredibly, another defensive lapse by UND led to a 4-on-2 for Western with about 5 minutes to go, but Aaron Dell made the save. Western pulled the goalie with a minute and a half left. They sustained some pressure but got no real good scoring chances. Brock Nelson made a great play chipping the puck out of the defensive zone, chasing it down and putting it into the empty net, securing a 3-1 win. The repeated defensive breakdowns, while trying to protect a lead, were troubling. More defensive lapses would contribute to North Dakota’s loss to Minnesota on Sunday.
Elsewhere in the West, Minnesota beat Boston U 7-3, in a game where the momentum shifted back and forth many times. The Gophers came out flying in front of the home crowd and held the lead throughout. Every time the Terriers scored to get back in the game, Minnesota had an answer. Two empty net goals made for a lopsided final score in a game that was really quite close.
In the East, forward Jeremy Welsh and goalie Troy Grosenick were the stars as Union beat Michigan State 3-1. Miami and UMass-Lowell played the wildest game of the tourney so far. Lowell was in command and entered the third period with a 3-0 lead. Miami came out flying in the third, scoring 3 goals in 10 minutes to tie it. Miami had big time momentum and pressured Lowell the rest of the period, but couldn’t bury the game-winner. A few minutes into OT Lowell banged home a rebound shortly after Miami rang one off the goal post. Final score, UMass-Lowell 4, Miami 3.
In the Midwest, Ferris State beat Denver 2-1 in an evenly played game. Jason Zucker was able to play for Denver, but appeared to be hurting most of the time. Michigan was stunned in OT by Cornell. Cornell took a 2-1 lead into the third period thanks mostly to the goaltending of Andy Iles. Michigan tied it with 4 minutes to go, but like Miami, could not score a game-winner in the final minutes of regulation. Cornell sent the No. 2 team in the country home with a goal early in OT.
In the Northeast, Air Force was shut out by Boston College, 2-0. Minnesota-Duluth took advantage of a crazy bounce and beat Maine 5-2. The Black Bears were in control, leading 2-0 halfway thru the second period. Jack Connolly scored a power play goal to halve the lead, and a few minutes later the puck hit the glass behind Maine goalie Dan Sullivan, caromed over the top of the net, hit him in the back of the leg and dribbled into the goal for the game-tying score. A minute later a rallying Duluth team scored another, and that was it for Maine.
In the regional finals, North Dakota fell to Minnesota, 5-2. I must admit, as the week wore on, a rematch with the Gophers was looking less and less appealing to me. As a result, I was pulling hard for Boston U against the Gophers on Saturday.
I thought a UND-Minnesota rematch might result in a great game, but I also knew the Gophers wanted a piece of the Sioux in a big way after their collapse the previous week. In my opinion, the Sioux could not afford to fall behind in this game, as I didn’t think the Gophers would allow another comeback to happen.
After a pretty even first period, UND was soundly outplayed in Period 2. The defensive lapses that led to the first 3 Minnesota goals were inexcusable, given the situation. All things considered, though, it was a good year for UND hockey.
In the other finals, Union College earned a trip to their first Frozen Four with a 4-2 win over UMass-Lowell. Ferris St. also makes its’ first Frozen Four appearance with a 2-1 win over Cornell. Boston College, meanwhile, dominated last years’ national champion Minnesota-Duluth 4-0 and will head to Tampa.
There’s something for everybody in this year’s Frozen Four, and we’ll have a look at the matchups next week, as well as a review of the highlights, and yes, even some lowlights, of UND’s season.
Schuttenhelm’s column on college hockey runs each Wednesday in The Sun