Monday, March 17, 2014

College Hockey Round-Up, Week 18

The mighty have fallen.

Last week's one-two punch of Minnesota and Boston College along with St. Cloud suffered defeats over the last three days, leaving Union the lone program in the upper echelon of the national rankings not to suffer a surprising defeat as the conference playoff picture shakes out.

The new poll issued on Monday afternoon only reflected a few changes, but the one big alteration is that Union continues its inexorable climb, gaining a season-high 14 first-place votes (13 more than Ken Schott from last week) while Minnesota absconded with the remaining 36. BC failed to garner any mention for the top slot for the first time in a long time.

Don Lucia's Gophers finished off their regular-season slate by splitting a pair of games against the Michigan Wolverines at Yost Arena. Friday night, Kyle Rau scored at the 2:44 mark of overtime to give the hosts a 3-2 victory and extend their unbeaten string to seven games (6-0-1), while also wrapping up the inaugural Big Ten championship. One night later, with nothing left on the line, Luke Moffatt's two goals and one assist trumped Brady Skjei's markers as the hosts claimed a 6-2 victory.

Minnesota will take on the winner of the Michigan State/Ohio State contest in the semifinals at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul this coming Friday. Lucia was named Big Ten Coach of the Year hours after the rankings were revealed.

Boston College, the Hockey East champions, were overmatched in a best-of-three quarterfinal series at Conte Forum by Notre Dame. The eighth-seeded Irish walked into Conte Forum and won 7-2 Friday, then claimed a 4-2 victory on Sunday afternoon less than 24 hours after the Eagles rallied with a 4-2 triumph. In Sunday's defeat, Johnny Gaudreau's national-best 31-game scoring streak came to an end, forever linking him with Paul Kariya of Maine (1992-93) for the longest in conference lore.

With Boston University's loss in the opening round, it marks the first time since 1988 that neither BC nor BU will make it to the conference semifinals.

ND goaltender Stephen Summerhays allowed just seven goals in the three-game set, and his GAA barely ticked upward while still remaining below two-per-contest. 

Union took down Dartmouth in the quarterfinals of the ECAC tournament over the weekend, winning 3-0 and 4-2 on Friday and Saturday at Messa Rink to advance to Lake Placid for the conference semifinals and finals. The Dutchmen haven't lost in their last 11 games (10-0-1), and achieved a program record by blanking Yale, Brown, and the Big Green in consecutive games. They will take on Cornell, a 1-0 winner in overtime late Sunday against Clarkson, in an early semi.

Flyers defensive prospect Shayne Gostisbehere picked up two assists on Friday, but the series was won primarily on the backs of Daniel Carr (3G, 1A), Mike Vecchione (1G, 4A) and Colin Stevens (65 saves).

St. Cloud State also suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in the first-ever NCHC playoffs, taken out in two straight meetings by Miami-Ohio by scores of 5-4 in OT and 4-3. Wisconsin split in its regular-season finales at Michigan State (5-4 in OT, 4-3), but snagged the second seed and have a bye to open the Big Ten postseason.

The defending champion Yale Bulldogs didn't make it to upstate New York. Instead, they were taken out of the ECAC postseason by their NCAA title contest opponents and neighbors, the Quinnipiac Bobcats. It only took two games in Hamden, but the 2013 runners-up emerged with victories of 6-2 and 5-3, and will face Colgate in the other league semifinal.

Ferris State took down Matt Read's Bemidji State in the NCHC quarters, with results of 8-0 and 3-2 in double-OT, while UMass-Lowell made it to Boston by the skin of its teeth. The River Hawks needed three games to get past plucky Vermont (3-2, 2-3 OT, 2-1) and will take on the Irish in one Friday semifinal.
Thanks to College Hockey Inc.


Providence only needed two games to reach TD Garden next weekend, taking down the Black Bears -- stuck in an uncharacteristic down year -- with 3-1 and 4-2 decisions at Schneider Arena. The Friars and their hulking goaltender Jon Gillies have a date in Boston with the New Hampshire Wildcats. Dick Umile's team advanced to the final rounds for the first time in three years on the back of a Kevin Goumas hat trick in Sunday's clincher against Northeastern.

Michael Parks and the Fighting Sioux also gutted out their opening playoff series with Colorado College. The Fighting Sioux used the comforts of the Ralph to take a 4-3 victory in Sunday's clincher, after winning 3-2 on Friday and dropping a 3-2 OT contest on Saturday.

Parks was limited to a single point: one goal on the power play in the series opener. Up next for UND is Miami in the NCHC semis.

On the local scene

There will be no losers in the Big Ten this season.

Although the Penn State Nittany Lions finished sixth and last in the brand-new conference, they will see postseason action this weekend. It will be a one-game loser-goes-home contest against Michigan on Thursday at Xcel. Should the Nits somehow shock the world, Wisconsin as the #2 seed awaits on Friday.

Guy Gadowsky's club finished the regular season 7-25-2 and 3-16-1 in conference after splitting two at Pegula Ice Arena against the Buckeyes. Their losing streak reached six in a row as OSU opened the set with a 4-2 victory on Friday. Ryan Dzingel struck for the game's first two goals and P.J. Musico made 26 stops for the hosts, and though Mike Williamson and Jonathan Milley lit the lamp, it wasn't enough.

Things went much better in the home and season finale less than 24 hours later. Nate Jensen, Curtis Loik and Tommy Olczyk lit the lamp in the first period and PSU rode a 3-1 lead into a 4-2 victory. Taylor Holstrom added a third-period marker, Dylan Richard contributed two assists and Matt Skoff stopped 27 shots for the long-awaited victory. Jensen added two assists to post his first career three-point effort.

Once the Nits complete their season this weekend, look for Mary Clarke's season recap for the gents, as she did for the women's team.

One more thing...

Those of you who know me both inside and outside the business are aware of just how much I'm in the tank for my alma mater of Boston College when trophy season rolls around. BC was stung by the only team which could have beaten them in the Hockey East playoffs, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame -- who happened to be an eight seed and had to endure a first-round single-elimination game just to get to the quarterfinals at Conte this weekend.

With the expansion of the conference to include 12 teams as of next year with the inclusion of UConn, a playoff bracket where the top four seeds have a bye and five through 12 battle it out is a lot smoother than this year's 11-team morass. Nonetheless, even before #1 seed BC was taken down by a budding hockey rival on its home ice, I was against expanding the playoffs to include every single program regardless of record.

I feel that way across the board. Though the Big Ten is comprised of only six schools, there is no legitimate competitive reason that dead-last Penn State should be participating in the postseason, even if it is a single-elimination matchup. Except, of course, for money and exposure.

Here's a good piece from USCHO's Jim Connelly, whose entire opening section addresses Hockey East's conundrum as the lone major conference undergoing expansion as the rest of college hockey fragmented and reorganized.

There's a balance that needs to be struck between making the filthy lucre and providing more chances for more fans to integrate into the D-I experience, and unnecessarily stringing along bottom-feeding teams in any given conference while dragging out the postseason and risk tiring the players.

Under the old system which existed as far back as when I attended The Heights from 1996-2000, BC and Notre Dame would have met anyway as the 1-8 pairing in a best-of-three series. But there would have only been eight schools participating in the quarterfinals, no matter if there were nine, 10, 11 or 12 member teams.  Everyone that finished lower than that, tough luck.

Upsets were part and parcel, but few and far between, such as when defending national runners-up Boston University, led by senior Hobey Baker Award winner Chris Drury, were taken out by upstart Merrimack in the opening round in 1998. All you had to do was play slightly less worse than two teams below you and anything could happen.

Something rubs me the wrong way, even conceding that all sports in the Division I banner are going all out based on the NCAA's plan to take the student-athlete to larger stages, about simply including every team in the postseason regardless of how they performed in the regular season. It's not fair, it's not right, and any gains made in creating potential "upsets" will dilute the impact for fan bases expecting to pay good money to see only the best programs in competition.


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