Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tamer Opening Weekend of NCAA Hockey Tourney

The breaking news last Friday regarding Frank Mazzocco’s firing from FSN North’s Gopher hockey broadcasts trumped NCAA Tournament coverage. However, the weekend featured several intriguing matchups, some wild finishes, and one shocker. However, in comparison to the craziness that was the 2009 NCAA Tournament, this year’s version seemed somewhat tame.

In the East Regional, top-seeded Denver seemed poised for a virtual cakewalk to the Frozen Four, but ran into the freight train that was Rochester Institute of Technology. RIT scored first and never let the Pios in the game and bounced George Gwozdecky’s club from the tournament with a 2-1 victory. The Tourney’s first game provided the first shocker, and Denver was bounced from the Tournament for the third-consecutive season in the first round – all the while DU held its bracket’s top seed. Third-seeded New Hampshire throttled Cornell 6-2 with four third-period goals setting up an RIT/New Hampshire regional. In a matchup nobody expected to see, RIT controlled the play for much of the night and notched three goals within 1:34 of the second period to take the regional 6-2. In just the squad’s fifth season of Division I play, RIT was headed to the Frozen Four and became the first Atlantic Hockey club to qualify for the final group.

In the West Regional, St. Cloud State and Northern Michigan met in the first matchup and the Huskies were looking for their first NCAA Tournament victory in the program’s Division I history. In seven prior appearances, St. Cloud compiled an 0-8 mark. Northern didn’t make it easy on SCSU, coming back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game on a goal with 3:49 remaining in the third period, and St. Cloud needed two overtimes to beat Northern Michigan 4-3 on a goal by Tony Mosey. Top-seeded Wisconsin held off Vermont in the nightcap 3-2 to set up an all-WCHA Regional Final the next night. Red-hot Sconnie avenged the defeat by St. Cloud a week prior in the WCHA Final Five to take the Regional with a 5-3 victory, returning to the Frozen Four for the first time since winning it all in 2006.

In the Midwest Regional, #1 overall Tournament seed Miami (OH) matched up against plucky Alabama-Huntsville in the first game. UAH was quite a story; playing in a lame-duck conference and being the only school which did not find a conference home for the 2010-11 season (they’ll play as an independent). Huntsville was also looking to become the first team to win an NCAA Tournament game despite fashioning a losing regular season record, and they gave the RedHawks all they could handle before Miami held them off for a 2-1 victory. In the second semi-final, third-seeded Michigan continued its hot streak with a 5-1 drubbing of Bemidji State. The Wolverines stretched their winning streak to seven games – all with walk-on goaltender Shawn Hunwick in the nets, replacing starter Bryan Hogan – with the victory over BSU and made the Tournament only because of that winning streak, stretching their incredible Tournament appearance mark to 20 consecutive seasons. An all-CCHA final ensued with Miami facing Michigan, and the battle was incredibly spirited. Save for a 10-minute stretch toward the end of regulation where Miami controlled play, Michigan buzzed all night long and put constant pressure on Miami goaltender Connor Knapp, but the netminder stood firm and turned aside 55 shots in the game which went into double OT. In the second extra session, Miami’s Alden Hirschfeld scored to send the RedHawks back to the Frozen Four for the second-consecutive season.

In the Northeast, top-seeded Boston College was not terribly impressive in beating Alaska in the opening game 3-1, but they got the ‘W.’ In the second semi-final, Yale started out fast and grabbed a 3-0 lead over North Dakota and survived a furious Sioux rally in the third period to hold on for the 3-2 win. That set up a wild Regional final which eventually saw BC survive 9-7. The Eagles put on an impressive offensive performance and opened up a 9-4 lead with less than 13 minutes remaining in the game. Yale actually played three goaltenders in an effort to stop the bleeding, but it was largely to no avail. Yale stormed back and netted three-consecutive tallies to cut the margin to 9-7, but the basketball game on ice finally ended and BC was headed to the Frozen Four.

So, three of the Tournament’s top seeds advanced to Ford Field in Detroit and the other spot was filled by a Cinderella team – RIT. Denver’s failure to advance was somewhat puzzling, as the Pioneers featured college hockey’s best goaltender and largely the country’s best overall talent. However, Denver's struggles in the Tourney continue for a third-straight season and only one WCHA team is left standing.

Hype week concludes this week, and it’s down to business starting on April 8, as Wisconsin faces RIT and Miami plays Boston College. A full preview will appear next weekend.

However, I’ll give you a quick hint: Rico Blasi.

1 comment:

  1. C'mon Joel- We need to bring Rico Blasi and his half-beard to Minneapolis now!