Sunday, March 30, 2008

College Hockey Closer: The CCHA is Bound for Denver

Michigan 2, Clarkson 0
It was a tightly-fought game, and both goalies had some huge stops, but the Wolverines are headed to Denver as the first qualifier for the Frozen Four. In the first period, the teams traded power-play opportunities, and finally it was Aaron Palushaj who capitalized for Michigan at the 14:23 mark. Palushaj took a pass from Kevin Porter, skated in on Leggio, waited for him to commit, then skated behind the net for the wrap-around, the same play that Kolarik used on Northern last Friday. The period ended 1-0, but both teams had plenty of other opportunities. Clarkson was most dangerous close in, trying to get an ugly goal off a loose puck, but Sauer came up with key stops and the defense managed to get the puck out of danger before the Golden Knights could put it in. On the other end of the ice, Leggio stoned Kolarik on a breakaway.

Late in the first, the Wolverines began a parade to the penalty box, and continued it well into the second. From the 15:00 point of the first until the same mark in the second, Wolverine defensemen took 5 minors, while Clarkson only took 1. But the penalty kill unit proved to be up to the task. At the end of the period, Kolarik had another breakaway stopped, and then he and Porter had a two-on-none, but ran out of real estate before they could settle the puck. No matter. In the first minute of the third, Kolarik passed to Paciorretty, who found Porter down low all alone. Porter took a few steps and buried a backhand five-hole on Leggio to gain a little breathing room.

The Knights showed their growing frustration by taking four consecutive minors of their own. Michigan even had a stretch of over a minute of 5-on-3 action, but couldn't slip another one by Leggio. The powerplays served mainly as a way for Michigan to run some more time off the clock. Then, just so things could get really interesting, Steve Kampfer took his third penalty of the night with 3:01 left in the game, nullifying a Michigan powerplay. Then, Carl Hagelin surprisingly took a tripping call, leaving Michigan to fight off a 5-on-3 as Clarkson pulled their goalie, and then a 6-on-3 when Clarkson's initial penalty expired. Billy Sauer made his best stops of the night when they were needed most. He made about five saves in 7 seconds at one point to preserve the shutout, as the Wolverines ran out the clock to punch their ticket for the program's first Frozen Four since 2003. Highlights.

Notre Dame 3, Michigan State 1
In the all-CCHA, all-upset West Regional Final match-up, defending national champion Michigan State looked to return to the Frozen Four, while Notre Dame looked for its first Frozen Four in program history. After a first period that reflected a lulling phase, Notre Dame struck first in the second period, on a goal by Christian Hanson. Old time hockey at its best. Michigan State, however, dusted itself off and less than seven minutes later tied it up on a Justin Abdelkader goal. Notre Dame looked like it had grabbed some late momentum in the second period on an Evan Rankin goal, but it was called off when it was ruled that Kevin Deeth's presence in the crease prevented Jeff Lerg from playing the puck. A tense third period followed, with Irish captain Mark Van Guilder beat Lerg over his left shoulder to make it 2-1. An insurance marker by Teddy Ruth less than two minutes later, and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish were able to claim the West Regional Championship, a trip to Denver, and a national semi-final showdown with Michigan.

Miami 3, Air Force 2
Once again, the Falcons threaten a top seed, but can't hold on at the end. Miami scored just 19 seconds into the game, but then Air Force's Andrew Volkening stepped up huge to keep the Falcons in the game. The Falcons came back to score two goals in the second period, one by last year's Hobey Hat-Trick member Eric Ehn, while the RedHawks were frustrated by missed opportunities. Volkening made a phenomenal mid-air stick save early in the period, when, after going down to make the original save on a Ray Eichenlaub slap-shot, Jarod Palmer looked to have a wide-open net for the rebound. Instead, lying on his chest, Volkening managed to just barely lift his stick into the path of the puck, deflecting it in mid-air into the post. In the third, the RedHawks threw everything they had at Air Force. They seemed to have a slam-dunk on one, but the bouncing rebound jumped over not one but two sticks. Finally, with under 5:00 left in regulation, Carter Camper had a tap-in rebound land right on his stick to send the game to OT. The Falcons had a two-on-one in OT, but couldn't fool Jeff Zatkoff, when Justin Mercier froze a defender and got his shot past Volkening.

Boston College 5, Minnesota 2
The first NCAA matchup between the perennial hockey powers since 1990, the story of this game can be summed up in the strangeness of the last five minutes of the third period. With the Eagles leading 4-1 after third period goals from Pat Gannon and Joe Whitney, Minnesota scored what looked to be a power play goal to narrow the gap to 4-2, but while the goal light went on, CCHA referee Brian Aaron waved it off. 162 seconds ticked off the clock before a stoppage in play thanks to an empty net goal by BC. After review, however, it was determined that Ben Gordon's shot had, in fact, gone in the net and rebounded off the back of the goal and straight out. The goal counted, but it was too little, too late for the Gophers, as Boston College got an empty netter and the right to play #1 seeded Miami in the Northeast Regional Final today. The victory was the 800th in Boston College coach Jerry York's career.

Wisconsin 6, Denver 2
The Badgers came into the game against Denver facing long odds: They'd slipped into the tournament as a controversial at-large bid with a losing record, Denver was the WCHA tournament champion, and the Pioneers were an imposing 11-1-2 all-time at the Kohl Center. Playing in front of the big home crowd, the Badgers struck first as Michael Davies put home a rebound from Jamie McBain that caught Denver's Peter Mannino out of position. The Badgers pushed their lead to 2-0 when McBain deflected a shot from the point, but Denver got on the board when Dustin Jackson forced goalie Shane Connelly to commit low before going top shelf. The second stanza ended 2-1, setting the stage for a wild third. Cody Goloubef's one-timer 9:19 in hit the post, then deflected in off Mannino's back. Just a minute later, John Mitchell found himself on a breakaway and beat Mannino stick-side to stake the Badgers to a 4-1 lead. The Pioneers didn't go away quietly, as Tom May beat Shane Connelly to cut it to 4-2, but Davies took a cue from Mitchell and scored on his own breakaway at 14:38. The desperate Pioneers lifted Mannino with almost 4:00 left in the game, but Davis Drewiske capped the game with an empty-netter at 17:14 and Denver conceded the victory.

North Dakota 5, Princeton 1
The Fighting Sioux helped showcase their Hobey Baker finalist netminder Jean-Philippe Lamoureux while roaring past ECAC playoff champion Princeton 5-1 in their opening round NCAA Regional matchup in Madison. The Sioux, the national #3 seed took just 18 shots to 39 for the Tigers, but made the most of them, scoring five times, including a pair of empty netters, and a hat trick from Ryan Duncan. The Sioux looked like one of the best teams in the country; even as the Tigers gave them their best shots, they could not beat Lamoureux until there were 33 seconds left in the match. North Dakota now faces #3 seed Wisconsin, playing on their home ice at the Kohl Center, in the Midwest Regional Final today.

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