East Regional Roundup
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. The East Regional was itense, surprising, dramatic, and everything in between — although, this year, that hardly makes it unique among the chaos that has been this NCAA tournament. Nevertheless, there are some closing thoughts from Bridgeport.
Air Force goalie Andrew Volkening was among the Falcons that shined, and announced himself onto the national stage as a goaltender legitimately worthy of being mentioned among the best in the nation. There were many players for whom you could say that — as players like Jacques Lamoureux and Matt Fairchild showed the naysayers, again, that these guys could play.
It was Volkening who was most impressive. After two shutouts at the Atlantic Hockey tournament, he carried that through against Michigan, stopping 43 shots, then through two periods against Vermont. A big goalie, at 6-foot-2, he does it so effortlessly, too, allowing his big frame and good positioning to make the stops. He's never out of control.
"(The defense) allowed me to play my game, play within myself and make stops I have to make, and they take care of the rest. It's made my life easy," Volkening said.
"If things don't go his way, he doesn't get rattled or anything," Lamoureux said. "His confdeicen gives the team confidence and we rally around that.
His demeanor also plays to his favor — always calm. Even in the face of defeat, with Saturday's long video review.
Vermont Review Redux
As if it weren't odd enough, winning an NCAA Regional after a 12-minute video review delay, it was 13 years to the day that Vermont was embroiled in a similar controversy. Except the lack of video replay at the time, prevented the possibility of Vermont reaching the NCAA championship game.
That was Vermont's best team to date, featuring Martin St. Louis, Eric Perrin and Tim Thomas. Forced to play in the infamous "swamp" in Cincinnati after a burst pipe caused watery ice conditions throughout, neutralizing Vermont's speed, the Catamounts took Colorado College to double overtime.
But CC scored the winning goal after the puck was knocked down from the air by a hand, over to another play, who put it in. The officials ruled that the puck hit Thomas' leg before being put in, thus nullifying the hand pass. But replays suggested that wasn't the case, in a play that remains highly controversial and discussed among Vermont fans to this day.
At least this one, they definitely got right.
Jacques Lamoureux had a nation's best 32 goals entering the weekend, but again, is this guy for real? Well, he scored against Michigan, and played well again Saturday.
It's interesting to note that Lamoureux wanted to go to Air Force originally, but was not accepted at first because of medical issues, including depression. He went to Northern Michigan first, and watched Air Force nearly defeat Minnesota in the 2007 NCAA tournament. From that, he decided again he really wanted to play for Air Force, so he re-applied and got in.
From the get go, he made his presence felt.
"At the start of the year, I was talking to my dad, and I said we have the makings to make a run in the tournament," Lamoureux said. "The kind of guy he is, he said, 'Worry about Day 1 and the the first day of practice.' He kind of took my head out of the clouds a bit. ... At the start of season, you set lofty goals because you want to work towards something. You don't want to set goals that are easy to attain.
Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon was on the receiving end of some good-natured ribbing a couple of times, and somewhat self-inflicted too.
Friday, when asked about the difference between playing in the NCAA tourament (as he did with Harvard, including winning a national title as a freshman in 1989), and coaching in it, he mentioned the pep talk he gave the players, which included some words of inspiration from former Harvard mentor Bill Cleary, who was known as a fiery guy. Sneddon is typically much less demonstrative.
"Did the players know you got that from Coach Cleary?" ... "Well, no," Sneddon said. "But he probably got it from someone else."
Then Saturday, a reporter innocently asked Sneddon if he'd ever done anything like Dan Lawson, putting a puck through the net as he did on the OT winning goal. Sneddon was — shall we say — a stay-at-home defenseman for the Crimson.
"No, I couldn't even break a pane of glass," Sneddon said.
Corona, Calif., native Derrick Burnett was hurt last week and wasn't going to play. Serratore had him scratched from Friday's lineup originally. But Burnett talked Serratore into allowing him to play.
Burnett scored the first goal against Michigan on Friday.
Forced, of course, to be a team of Americans in a sport filled with Canadians, and bound to a commitment to the armed services, Air Force is understandably handicapped when it comes to competing in hockey. Which only makes its success more remarkable. Of course, it also has some things going for it, such as the undeniable work ethic and determination of a cadet, something Serratore is usually quick to point out.
These are players that won't be playing pro hockey down the road, they will be serving the country.
"There's nothing that simulates battle better than athletic competition," Serratore said. "We're the underdog in most of our games, but the team our guys will be playing on a year from now will never be the underdog. This is where our guys learn to deal with adversity. Our country is in good hands with guys like this moving on, let me tell you."
Not that it should even have to, but Atlantic Hockey continues to show it belongs, and has a rightful place in this tournament.
"I think you need to look at history. Someone said yesterday, only two Atlantic teams have won in the NCAA. Well, we lost to Miami in overtime, Mercyhurst lost to BC in overtime a few years ago, Holy Cross lost at North Dakota in a two-goal game. Atlantic Hockey has nothing to apologize for.
"We qualify for this tournament, we're not playing 3 seeds, we're not playing late 2 seeds. We're playing the top two, top three teams in the country. And when you look at what Atlantic hockey teams have done, they have nothing to apologize for. To be honest, we've probably done a better job against the Goliaths than some of the teams that come from the 'Big Four' conferences that have earned at-large bids.
"When you go through a 28-game schedule and you win that league, and you go on and win that playoff championship, you're doing something right. We didn't back into this tournament. Three years in a row, we did it the old-fashioned way, we won our conference."