Week in Review
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
This past weekend featured playoffs in three of the six D-I leagues, and regular seasons wrapping up in the other three. Four of the eight Best-of-3 playoff series went to three games, and two “underdogs” won.
There are national implications, too, of course. The ever-present "Pairwise" (the system the NCAA uses to determine which teams make the NCAA tournament) will flip through its machinations quite a bit this weekend. For more on what the Pairwise is, how it works, and the weekend implications, see our latest Bracket ABCs article.
And CHN's Tourney Watch page has all the scoop on the conference tournaments, including brackets, recaps, history and more.
The story of the postseason so far is being written by Northern Michigan goaltender Brian Stewart. The 6-foot-4 freshman played sparingly this season, and had a save percentage around .890 coming into the weekend. But when veteran Bill Zaniboni struggled Friday in the series opener against Ohio State, Stewart came on in relief. And then, with the Wildcats’ season on the line Saturday, coach Walt Kyle pulled the gambit and started Stewart, who played the game of his life with a 42-save overtime win. And then he played another "game of his life" Sunday with 34 saves as NMU knocked off Ohio State in three games.
For its part, Ohio State has to do a lot of soul searching after blowing this series. And Sunday, the Buckeyes allowed two shorthanded goals, including Darin Olver's midway through the third which proved to be the game winner. With Alaska's series win, NMU is the second-lowest seed left in the tournament, and will travel to Michigan. These were NMU’s first two wins in Columbus in 10 games since rejoining the CCHA.
Alaska also pulled off a series upset, winning Friday in overtime, losing Saturday to Western Michigan, then coming back with a 3-1 win Sunday. It was a good start to the season for the Nanooks, but things tailed off miserably starting around the holidays. With this win, Alaska plays fulfills some early-season promise. It will face top-seeded Notre Dame next, a rematch of last year's first-round series won by the Nanooks in two games.
Lake Superior was one home team that survived, dropping Game 1 then rallying with a pair of one-goal wins. Sunday, Mitch O'Keefe was back in net for the Bulldogs and stopped just 13 shots in 16 tries. LSSU took a 2-0 lead, then blew it in the second period. But Nik Sellers' goal came with just over two minutes left in regulation. Lake Superior advances to play Miami.
The only sweep of the weekend in the CCHA goes to Nebraska-Omaha, not surprising considering it was against last-place Bowling Green. But the way the Mavericks had to do it was far from easy. They won in overtime on Friday, and Saturday, it was absolutely wild, with seven goals scored in the first period. Bowling Green led after one, 4-3, with all four goals coming from James Unger — remarkable, especially when considering Unger only scored his third goal of the season to tie Friday's game late. So 71 percent of his season output came this weekend, 5 of 7 goals. Brandon Scero then scored twice in the second to give UNO the lead back, and after the Falcons tied it, Scero scored again, the game winner, midway through the third. Jeremie Dupont was pulled in this one for the Mavericks, and Jerad Kaufmann got the win.
Only one ECAC series went three games — not surprising given that it was Princeton-Brown. And following the ECAC trend, the home team won the series, doing so after losing Game 1 in overtime. Saturday’s OT win for Princeton was the sixth straight game between these two teams that went to overtime, and they also have an interesting playoff history.
Princeton rallied from down 3-2 Sunday to win 4-3, the first time all season the Tigers won a game when trailing after two periods. Brown had a number of PPs in the third period it couldn't cash in on, and its mistakes proved costly. The worst was a too many men on the ice penalty taken during a Princeton PP. The Tigers' Kevin Westgarth popped in a slapper to tie it during the 5-on-3, and Grant Goeckner-Zoeller scored the game winner. It's Princeton's first series win since 1999, and first in the three-year tenure of Guy Gadowsky, who had the 100th win of his career Saturday. Princeton will play Dartmouth.
Elsewhere, Quinnipiac advanced to play Cornell, winning Saturday over Union, 5-4, when Jamie Bates scored at 1:20 of overtime. Union got two goals from Josh Coyle late in regulation to tie it, but it wasn’t enough.
Harvard and Colgate both advanced rather easily, over Yale and Rensselaer, respectively. Both Yale and RPI were playing under first-year head coaches, Keith Allain and Seth Appert, so have reason to be optimistic despite the losses. Harvard will face Clarkson next weekend, and Colgate goes to St. Lawrence. Dylan Reese scored three power-play goals in Friday’s win for Harvard.
Colorado College took three points from rival Denver in a big regular-season-ending home-and-home series — but it should have been more. A bonehead play by CC’s Scott McCulloch opened the door for a remarkable comeback from Denver on Saturday. Ahead 5-3 with under a minute to go, skating 4-on-4 (plus the Denver goalie pulled), McCulloch tried a length-of-the-ice shot at the empty net, and missed, creating an icing. The faceoff, back in the CC zone, was won by Denver, and the Pioneers converted in what was essentially a power-play setup (because of the 4-on-4). Then, with it 5-4, Denver scored again with four seconds left in regulation when Ryan Dingle re-directed a pass from the corner. All five of CC's goals came on the power play, not good news for the Denver penalty kill, obviously. The tie allowed Denver to finish one point ahead of CC in fourth place, and help the Pioneers from a Pairwise freefall. It means Denver will host Wisconsin in a Best-of-3 next weekend, and CC will host Michigan Tech. "Our guys can feel a sense of accomplishment with their comeback," Denver coach George Gwozdecky said. "We got out-played in the first half of the game, but our team believed we could make a comeback and we did."
For as well as St. Cloud State has played down the stretch — and the whole season — it looks like the Sioux are gearing up for another postseason run. They took three points on the weekend, including Saturday’s 7-2 thrashing on SCSU’s Senior Night. It was 5-0 in this game before SCSU even got on the board. And the Sioux got goals from six different players, none of which were Ryan Duncan or Jonathan Toews. T.J. Oshie did manage to get his 12th of the year. Hobey candidate Bobby Goepfert did start in goal for senior year, but was pulled after 31 seconds and did not receive the brunt of the Sioux attack. Jase Weslosky got the loss. "That was a collaborated team effort of nothing. I feel bad for Jase," SCSU senior Grant Clafton told the St. Cloud Times. "We hung him out to dry. We didn't help him. We weren't ready. Whatever, the regular season is over. The playoffs are about to start. We've got to bear down and get back to work." ... Meanwhile, Toews told the paper: "We weren't too pretty. We crashed the net and got some rebound goals. We've been in playoff hockey mode for awhile now. It's exciting to get a big win like this and I'm happy with how we've progressed." ... Interesting note: The Huskies' great season comes despite finishing the year with the worst combined special teams numbers in the WCHA.
Maybe Michigan Tech didn’t get a weekend sweep of the Gophers, but a split is pretty darned good. And maybe it wasn't home ice in the first round of the playoffs, but sixth, just one spot shy, is pretty darned good too. Thanks to Wisconsin's scoreless tie with Duluth, Tech finished tied in points with the Badgers, and won the tiebreaker to take the No. 6 seed, its best finish in almost a decade.
Wisconsin and Duluth played a scoreless tie Saturday, with Shane Connelly getting his third shutout for the Badgers. It was Wisconsin's first scoreless tie in the modern era, which dates back to 1963. "I just had fun with it back there, seeing the other goalie play well," said Connelly, who had 38 saves, to the Capital Times. "I had to match him (Josh Johnson), because he wasn't really going to give up anything." The Badgers, as a result of this and losing the tiebreaker to Michigan Tech (which defeated Minnesota), finish the No. 7 seed. Tough sledding for the defending NCAA champs. It will play at Denver next week, and certainly anything can happen.
Boston College is flying high again as the season heads to the playoffs. It's the same thing seemingly every year. BC has won 9-of-10 now, with the only loss coming in the Beanpot final to BU, after the weekend sweep of New Hampshire. By contrast, UNH, which started Brian Foster in net instead of Kevin Regan on Saturday, limps into the playoffs at 4-5-1, despite having wrapped up first place. UNH now plays red-hot Providence, which clobbered the Cats, 7-1, last week; while BC takes on Northeastern. "I told the team it's been a bittersweet ending to the regular season after winning the regular season championship," UNH coach Dick Umile said. "We lost to a good team this weekend, but tonight I thought we got back to playing the way we're capable of playing. I can't justify losing 4-2 but pucks right now are finding a way in our net and we're having difficulty scoring." Jacob Micflikier returned from a one-game suspension, but UNH was without Josh Ciocco instead, who was nursing a hip injury.
UMass did itself proud this weekend, nailing down a home-ice spot in the Hockey East playoffs for just the second time, and doing it by sweeping a perennial power, Maine. And it came in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 8,221 at Mullins Center. The Minutemen also put themselves in good shape for the NCAAs, and now sit on the positive side of the NCAA bubble. UMass has never been in the NCAAs. Thing is, it now hosts Maine again in the playoffs. Another sweep would mean an almost certain NCAA bid. Two losses, and it means they'll probably slip off. They don't call it the most fun time of year for nothing. Remember, some of this program's biggest games have been against Maine — including the improbable two-game sweep in Orono in 2003, and the 3 OT loss in the HEA finals to Maine the next season.
Maine was without goalie Ben Bishop again, still with a groin injury. His status is shaky for this coming weekend.
Vermont missed out on a chance to move up this weekend, losing three points to Massachusetts-Lowell. But kudos, too, to Lowell, whose season was left for dead, but it rallied late in the year to make things respectable. And this weekend, it got three points despite being eliminated by Providence's late hot play, and amid the cloud of what's going on politically, with the idea floated to remove Lowell from Hockey East. ... On the Vermont side, the defensive breakdowns continue to be costly, a strange twist to its play, considering how solid it had been in the first half of the season defensively. It will now play BU in the Hockey East playoffs and those breakdowns won't fly.
A goal by Mike McMillan with 8:35 remaining proved to be the difference as American International defeated Canisius, 2-1, in the first round of the Atlantic Hockey playoffs. AIC advances to play Sacred Heart in a one-game quarterfinal next week.
Niagara jumped out to a 2-0 lead and held on for a road tie at Alabama-Huntsville in the regular-season finale. The tie gives the Purple Eagles 24 points and clinches first place for the second straight year. Niagara’s performance at the CHA tournament this weekend in Iowa will have implications throughout the NCAAs — especially for NCAA bubble team St. Lawrence. So people will be paying attention.
WHO'S HOT/WHO'S NOT
1. Brian Stewart, Northern Michigan — The freshman came in this weekend and saved NMU’s season with two career games. Can he keep it going?
2. Nathan Gerbe, Boston College — He’s 8-4—12 in his last eight games.
3. Mark Matheson, Massachusetts — The senior defenseman has shattered career highs this season. He also plays up front, providing coach Don Cahoon with great versatility.
1. Teddy Purcell, Maine — Just one goal in the last eight for the freshman phenom. His production has slipped. Is it weariness, or a temporary trend?
2. Glenn Fisher, Denver — The senior goalie has allowed 19 goals in his last five starts, well off the pace from earlier in the season, preventing coach George Gwozdecky from settling on a No. 1 guy, as he wanted to.
3. Alex Goligoski, Minnesota — Though as a defenseman, he’s supposed to do more than score, the junior hasn’t scored in nine games — after getting nine through the end of January. He has four assists in that span.
NCAA TOP 10
The Top 10 is by order of the KRACH Ranking.
1 Minnesota (26-8-3)
A split with Michigan Tech. Minnesota’s KRACH rating was once ungodly, but now it shows more vulnerability, which is true. The Gophers will need to play better to avoid a disaster like last year’s postseason.
2 St. Cloud State (20-7-7)
A loss and a tie was good enough to sit tight.
3 Notre Dame (27-6-3)
Moved up because New Hampshire moved down.
4 New Hampshire (23-9-2)
Dropped a spot after getting swept by Boston College
5 North Dakota (19-12-5)
The Sioux are making another charge, and they make a three-spot leap here.
6 Boston College (22-11-1)
The same can be said for the Eagles — another late-season charge — but they made a four-spot leap after sweeping New Hampshire.
7 Denver (21-13-4)
Solid in KRACH, but like last season, a first-round disaster could spell NCAA doom.
8 Boston University (18-7-9)
A mid-week loss to Northeastern ended the season on a sour note, and dropped the Terriers to third place in the league (which did have the benefit of avoiding Northeastern in the first round of the playoffs).
9 Clarkson (21-8-5)
10 Maine (21-12-2)
Three-spot drop after getting swept by UMass. Now the Black Bears must play the Minutemen again.
GAMES TO WATCH
Maine at Massachusetts
A rematch of last weekend, with even more at stake in this first-round series. UMass needs to win both, and get help, to get into the NCAAs at-large. Maine is probably in no matter what, but is stumbling to the finish line.
Michigan Tech at Colorado College
Colorado College is on the outside of the NCAAs looking in, but a weekend sweep would go a long way towards solving that problem.
Wisconsin at Denver
This is the last gasp for the defending national champs Wisconsin. Denver coach George Gwozdecky takes on his alma mater in a Best-of-3. A series win will clinch an NCAA bid.