College Hockey Update:  Well here we go, the big one,  the University of Minnesota at Duluth and the University of Denver, two teams that collectively occupied the #1 ranking for most of the season, have each earned a shot at the NCAA Championship and will meet up in Chicago tomorrow, Saturday, April 8th, at 5:00pm Pacific Time on ESPN.  The two played in not only two different types of games yesterday, but the two sets of three games that each team has played have been completely different from each other.  From viewing them it is hard to ascertain if the teams are really this different.  Is Denver really an unstoppable freight train on a roll down a steep mountain that will shred anything that gets in it’s path?  Has Minnesota-Duluth really survived on the luck of the bounce of the puck in its two OT wins, and yesterday’s somewhat buzzer-beater one goal close shave?

It’s amazing to see the difference in the seedings the two teams have faced in the tournament.  Denver, ranked #1 at the end of the season, opened the Tournament up agaisnt #19 ranked Michigan Tech; from there they faced #11 ranked Penn State (which knocked off #7 Union rather handily); and then yesterday they faced #12 ranked Notre Dame (which knocked off #5 Minnesota and #4 UMass-Lowell).  The table was well set for Denver to have faced higher ranked teams, but it didn’t happen.  One can wonder if it would have made a difference.

Minnesota-Duluth, ranked #3 at the end of the season, opened the Tournament up against #14 Ohio State; from there they faced #6 Boston University; and then yesterday they faced #2 ranked Harvard.  The difference in average ranking of opponents faced so far is pretty significant:  For Minnesota-Duluth, the average opponent ranking is 7.333; For Denver, the average opponent ranking is 14.0, nearly twice as far down the ranking list.  I don’t mean to speak badly about the teams that have played Denver so far, particularly Notre Dame, which knocked off two very hot teams.  In fact, Denver might have been (and to some extent I think they were) well served by the odd scheduling of the NCAA Hockey Tournament, which sends teams home and pauses for 11 days (12 days if the second NCAA game was played on Saturday instead of Sunday) until the semifinal games of the Frozen Four.

This is ridiculous scheduling.  It’s nearly two weeks off for the teams that end the first two rounds on Saturday.  Some feel that the logic is not to compete with the NCAA Basketball Tournament the following weekend.  That might be the case, and if it is, I suppose not competing with those Basketball semifinal games that following Saturday makes sense to some extent.  But is a near two-week break a good thing for the Tournament?  Every once in a while a lower-ranked team comes into the Tournament firing on all eight adrenaline-inspired cylinders and rips up the first two rounds.  Then they go home for a near eternity, and when they come back, they are not the same team.  The two that come to mind for me in the not-too-recent past are Bemidji State and Rochester Institute of Technology.  Would things have gone differently for them if they would have played the following Thursday instead of the following Thursday, plus a week?  We don’t know, but it would have been more exciting for them, and for us as spectators.

So what could happen instead of waiting the extra week?  The Basketball semifinals and final are on a Saturday/Monday schedule.  Why not have hockey on a Friday/Sunday schedule?  Or, if need be, start the entire season one week earlier, have it end one week earlier, the Tournament/s one week earlier, and the semifinals and the final one week earlier, so as to be finished before the Basketball semifinals tip off.  Either of those solutions would have to be better for everyone than this two week holiday currently in the schedule.  And yes, I know that lower ranked teams have come back to the Frozen Four and have won it all:  Michigan State a number of years ago was ranked #10 at the end of the season; both Yale and Providence tore it up as the #15 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.  But this scheduling needs to be fixed.  I’m not suggesting that Notre Dame would have been an automatic winner against Denver with this better scheduling, but one can only wonder if it would have made the game a very different game.

More Minnesota-Duluth Drama As They Squeak Their Way Into Championship Game

Minnesota Duluth senior forward Alex Iafallo, of Eden, NY, the leader and star of the Minnesota Duluth team, tipped in this game-winning goal with only 27 seconds left in the game, to make it 2-1 and to advance his team to the final championship game in Chicago tomorrow against Denver at 5:00pm Pacific Time on ESPN.

Minnesota Duluth senior forward Alex Iafallo, of Eden, NY, the leader and star of the Minnesota Duluth team, tipped in this game-winning goal with only twenty-seven seconds left in the third period, to give Minnesota-Duluth the 2-1 win, and to advance his team to the final championship game in Chicago tomorrow against Denver at 5:00pm Pacific Time on ESPN.

My headline is not intended to insinuate that I don’t feel Duluth is a talented team.  They have not gone out and out-scored their Tournament opponents to death; but they hammer on their opponents and keep winning anyway.  This was another Duluth game that seemed to be more about what was not happening on the ice than it was about what was happening on the ice.  Minnesota-Duluth played a stingy defensive game that made it hard for Harvard to find a good opening from which to score, and Harvard likewise did it to Duluth.  And this is the third win for Duluth under these circumstances.  One thing is for sure:  It makes for very exciting finishes!

In Act III of the Ongoing Drama of Duluth, the two teams managed to take 78 combined shots in the game, but it seemed that not many were from good positions offering a high quality shot at the goal.  On a power play opportunity, an Alexander Kerfoot pass across the ice found an uncontested Tyler Moy outside and near-even with the goal, who one-timed the pass and managed to bang it into the net through what became a sliver of space behind a quickly-adjusting goalie Hunter Miska, with five minutes remaining in the period.  The grinding play continued, and with time running out in the first period (remember that concept), a faceoff in the Harvard zone squirted the puck out to Joey Anderson, who walked it into the middle of the slot, and it looked like he just thought “Oh what the heck,” and he pulled the trigger.  Harvard goalie Merrick Madsen did not have his legs together, and the shot went right in between the small opening with only 36 seconds left on the clock.  And like that, the teams headed into the break knotted at one apiece.

The second was twenty more minutes in the grindathon, and so was the third, for about nineteen and a half minutes.  That is, until Alex Iafallo tipped in a shot from Willie Raksob that once again found Madsen with his legs not together, and like that, Duluth had the 2-1 lead with nearly no time on the clock.  Five seconds earlier there was probably a large proportion of the viewing public who were thinking about OT.  Harvard didn’t mess around, immediately pulling Madsen and adding an extra attacker.  Harvard controlled from the faceoff and immediately pressed in the Duluth zone.  It certainly looked as though Harvard had practiced this more than once.  They managed to get off three extremely good shots, two of which got by Hunter Miska, each hitting the pipe and bouncing out.  On the last one, with a couple of seconds left, Duluth got a stick on the puck and sent it down the ice to eternity, sealing their 2-1 win and berth in the final championship game.  This team is led by their clear star, senior Alex Iafallo, of Eden NY.  He and his teammates might have to find a way to score more goals tomorrow, or contain a fast and fluid Denver opponent that has not been contained in their first three NCAA Tournament games.

Denver Opens The Floodgates Again

Denver senior forward Emil Romig, of Vienna, Austria, scored the first goal of the game yesterday in his team's 6-1 win over Notre Dame, helping to send them to the final championship game tomorrow in Chicago against Minnesota-Duluth at 5:00pm Pacific Time on ESPN.

Denver senior forward Emil Romig, of Vienna, Austria, scored the game’s first goal last night in his team’s 6-1 win over Notre Dame, helping to send them to the final championship game tomorrow against Minnesota-Duluth at 5:00pm Pacific Time on ESPN.

Ok, let’s make no bones about it, these guys have really been scoring.  A lot.  Last night’s game in Chicago wasn’t any different; Notre Dame did manage to make it start out differently, for about eight minutes.  Emil Romig scored eight minutes into the first to put Denver up 1-0, and only seven minutes later Henrik Borgstrom scored to put Denver up 2-0.  But Notre Dame had not been playing badly at all.  There was so much time left; could they come out in the second and make a game of it?  They did, half-way so, for nearly the entire second.  In  the first fourteen minutes of the second they contained Denver.  But they were not able to score themselves.

Fourteen minutes into the period Tariq Hammond scored, and only two minutes later it was Dylan Gambrell who scored to put Denver up 4-0.  And with only two minutes left in the period it was a goal by Evan Ritt that made it 5-0.  And like that, in a four minute span, Denver turned a game that had been a battle into sort of an ugly game for Notre Dame.  In the third a Notre Dame goal by Cam Morrison made it 4-1 eleven minutes into the period.  Dylan Gambrell scored his second goal of the game with three minutes left to make the final score 6-1, Denver, as they advanced to the Championship Game.  Even when Notre Dame was able to prevent Denver from scoring, Denver was still running the show, badly out-shooting Notre Dame 13-3 in the first, 16-8 in the second, and 13-6 in the third.

So what will happen tomorrow?  Will Duluth manage to stay on top of Denver and slow them down, and produce yet another grinding drama, Act IV of the Ongoing Drama of Duluth?  Or will Denver continue on its way, flying up and down the ice, confounding Duluth both offensively and defensively?  Seems as though something has to give here, and it’ll be very interesting to find out which one it is.  I don’t think you’ll want to miss this game.

That’s all for now.  Stay tuned, and go Terriers!

— Tom