by Bryan Vickroy
The NCAA hockey tournament has been the antithesis of what the men’s basketball tournament has been. For all the chalk (sorry Petey) of the Final Four, the top seeds in hockey got dusted immediately, save the favorite, Boston University. March may be over, but the madness continues with the Frozen Four next weekend in our nation’s capital. Warning: The following chaos is not for the faint of heart.
Everything kicked off Friday afternoon with #1 seed Michigan being outskated by Air Force, and ended with fellow four seed Bemidji State, the equivalent of the 64 seed on the hard court, manhandling its way to the Frozen Four and becoming the first non power conference team to make the national semifinals in tournament history.
In all, three #1’s lost their opening game, two #4’s made it to Washington, and the lower seed had an astounding record of 8-4. Here’s a look at the games, the players, the teams, and how they survived onward to DC, with a bit of jam session flair.
Best of What’s Around: All Regional Team
Forward: Tyler Scofield, Bemidji State: Quite possibly the fastest player on the ice in both Beaver wins. Threw his body around for the team, and tallied four goals and two assists in the tournament, including both game winners.
Forward: Justin Mercier, Miami Ohio: West Region MOP, scored three goals, including both in the 2-1 victory over Minnesota Duluth. A short hander and power play game winner sealed the Redhawks first ever Frozen Four.
Forward: Jason Lawrence, Boston U: The freshman, who was second in the nation in power play goals, added two more, including the game winning shot/pass/bank shot off a New Hampshire defenseman with 14 seconds left to squeak the Terriers into Washington.
Defenseman: Matt Gilroy, Boston U: The much sought after, soon to be NHL free agent since he went undrafted, showed how strong the BU defense is, laying out punishment and killing rushes all weekend. The captain also rang up four assists against THE Ohio State University.
Defenseman: Dan Lawson, Vermont: Had great two way play in shutting down Yale, then took over the scoring against Air Force. Scored two goals for the Catamounts, including the double overtime game winner, the one that went through the net. More on it later….
Goalie: Matt Dalton, Bemidji State: Midwest MOP, stopped 57 of 59 shots on the weekend against two attacking teams. Stone cold glove save from five feet with seconds left in the final showed his dominance, and that the Beavers belong.
Before we get into the teams, let me tilt the head skyward and to the left, and head into Dr. John Dorian Dreamland and reflect on some of the crazier moments of the opening weekend.
Big Eyed Fish: The tournament was powered by the big eyed freshman this year. From netminders to leading scorers, every team in the tournament had help from their first year players. Three of the Frozen Four teams start goaltenders in their first year of experience, and a handful of games were won by the clean faced youngsters. The experiences this year will help them grow that playoff beard next time around.
Diggin a Ditch: The first round of action saw two amazing comebacks. Minnesota Duluth came back from down three to tie the game with two goals in 40 seconds, the last with less than five to play, against Princeton. The Wildcats scored with 0.1 second left to tie North Dakota and force OT. Both teams went on to win in the extra session.
Break Free: Vermont won their regional in double overtime, but not after playing a bit of extra hockey. After close play in the Vermont goal, the referees went to video replay to look at the play. However, they were looking at a different play. About five minutes earlier, the Catamounts had a two on one against Air Force. Dan Lawson took a one time wrist shot from his teammate that appeared to go wide of the net. Looking at the replay, the puck was in front of the net, then behind it the next moment. When it was slowed down, it showed that the puck did indeed cross the goal line, and then forced through the twine and out of the net. You had to see it to believe it.
The Space Between: The officials made every opportunity to use the replay system available to them. After nearly every goal, and even after some penalties, deflections, and other plays, the official would skate over to the penalty box, throw on the headset, and watch the monitor available at the scorer’s table. Some of these where merited, as goals were awarded and taken off the board over mere centimeters. And yes, the entire puck must cross the goal line for a goal.
Steady As We Go: Boston University was the cream of the crop all year, and showed it in the throttling of THE Ohio State University 8-3 in the opening game. The final was a different story. After taking the lead near the end of the first period, they were thoroughly outplayed by New Hampshire the rest of the game, and gave up the tying goal. Goaltender Kieran Millan held the BU net shut despite the flurry of New Hampshire shots. Their trip to the Frozen Four was sealed when UNH was called for a penalty with only a minute to play. After a couple failed attempts to cycle the puck, the Terriers made a late rush, set up their overload, and the steadiest power play in the nation won the game. Jason Lawrence threw the puck towards the net, possibly a shot, possibly a pass, and it deflected off one player, then off a defenseman diving through the crease, and into the back of the net.
I Did It: Who would have thought Bemidji State would be the team who rolled into the nation’s capital with the least resistance? After annihilating many experts pick, Notre Dame, the Beavers laid the wood to Cornell as their regional final went on. In the end, the Beaver stood as tall as their hometown brethren: Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Bemidji flat out was faster and tougher than everyone else. Showing the true spirit of Minnesota hockey, they hustle to every puck, dug into the corners, and outskated the Irish and Big Red. On a side note, WCHA official are visiting town this week for further study of their potential conference affiliation. The first tournament win in school history, and the first Frozen Four appearance for a #16 seeded team in tournament history shows how deep the State of Hockey really is.
Typical Situation: Miami Ohio got to the Frozen Four doing what they’ve done all season long: putting pucks on the net. The Redhawks showered the net with shots in both games. The first game against Denver those shots were more than enough to outscore an injury depleted team 4-2. It was a matchup of teacher and pupil. Miami coach Enrico Blasi played for Denver coach George Gwozdecky when he was at Miami, and also was an assistant for him later in Denver. In the final, they needed every shot they could muster against Minnesota Duluth. When it was all over, Miami had managed to slip one more past the hottest goalie on the planet, Alex Stalock, and make it to their first Frozen Four in school history. Using their coach’s attack and shoot style, and relying on hot goaltending by freshman Cody Reichart, the Redhawks skate into DC with some confidence.
So Damn Lucky: Vermont showed it had recovered its defensive touch in its opening game, shutting down Yale 4-1 behind highly regarded pro prospect Viktor Stalberg. Their win pitted them against another underdog, Air Force, for the trip to Washington. After 60 minutes of hockey was proven insufficient, another session was played. And another. The action in the second OT was chaotic and thrilling, with end to end rushes and opportunities that seemed missed. After narrowly avoiding a loss, and a lengthy video review of at least 20 minutes, goal was signaled, and the Catamounts added a second team to the Frozen Four for Hockey East, showing itself as the true dominant conference of this season.
Next week brings a preview of the remaining games, which kickoff next Thursday with both semifinals. Also a look at some of the players who have already bolted school and signed contracts with professional teams. It’s time to march on Washington, and these teams have one thing on their minds: a national title.