Going into this weekend, UMass looked like perhaps the most vulnerable of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA hockey tournament. The Hockey East regular-season champs were coming off arguably their worst game of the season, an uninspiring 3-0 loss to an under-.500 Boston College team in the Hockey East semifinals.
Now? The Minutemen look like the best team in the country and are heading to their first-ever Frozen Four after a pair of dominant wins over Harvard and Notre Dame in the Northeast Regional in Manchester.
Two other No. 1 seeds couldn’t even get out of the first round, as St. Cloud State and Minnesota State got knocked off by American International College (read more about that stunning upset here) and Providence, respectively. The fourth No. 1 seed, Minnesota-Duluth, needed a late tying goal and an overtime winner to get past Bowling Green.
Meanwhile, the Minutemen just took care of business. They put last Friday’s dud behind them and reminded everyone why they were one of the top-ranked teams in the country all season long, beating Notre Dame 4-0 in Saturday night’s regional final after cruising to an identical 4-0 win over Harvard the day before.
Saturday’s game had more in common with Friday’s than just the final score. UMass once again came out flying and controlled play for the vast majority of the first period, but couldn’t break through on the scoreboard thanks in part to some hot goaltending at the other end.
Then it looked like maybe the Fighting Irish -- like the Crimson on Friday -- were starting to find their legs and even up play a little. Then came the breakthrough, then a couple more goals, and then the door was slammed shut.
On Friday, UMass finally got on the board late in the second and then put the game away with two goals 1:47 apart before the midway point of the third.
The sequence started with one great play and ended with another. Hobey Baker favorite Cale Makar flew down the ice as the lead forechecker (it’s worth noting here that he’s a defenseman) and turned what should’ve been an easily playable puck for Morris into a chaotic scramble.
The Minutemen will now get ready for the Frozen Four in Buffalo, which begins a week from Thursday. They’ll face the winner of Saturday night’s West Regional final between Denver and Pioneer Valley brethren AIC. (Update: Denver beat AIC 3-0. Read more on that game below.)
One night after pulling off one of the biggest upsets in college hockey history, American International College's Cinderella run came to an end with a 3-0 loss to Denver in the West Regional final in Fargo, North Dakota.
That score doesn't really do AIC justice, as the Yellow Jackets once again never looked intimidated or overmatched, and they had a chance until the final minutes of the game.
Denver looked like it was starting to take control of the game as the first period went on, but the Yellow Jackets responded and registered seven of the first 10 shots on goal in the second. The game opened up a bit in the middle of the period, but both goalies made some big saves to keep it scoreless. The Pioneers finally broke through with 4:15 left in the second on a nice setup from Ryan Barrow to Colin Staub, who finished with a nice shot over the right arm of AIC goalie Zackarias Skog.
The Yellow Jackets kept the deficit at one for much of the third period, but struggled to create dangerous chances. They didn't allow a shot on goal for the first 16 minutes of the period, but they also managed just five themselves despite getting two power plays to work with. Then a turnover in their own zone essentially ended any hopes of tying the game, as Liam Finlay pounced on the mistake and made it 2-0 with 3:30 to go. Jarid Lukosevicius added an empty-netter a couple minutes later.
Despite the loss Saturday night, AIC obviously has a lot to be proud of. The Yellow Jackets won their first Atlantic Hockey regular-season title and first Atlantic Hockey tournament title, made the NCAA tournament for the first time, and cemented their place in college hockey lore with an upset for the ages against St. Cloud State on Friday night.
**********************As mentioned above, Providence knocked off top-seeded Minnesota State with a 6-3 win in their opening round game in the East Regional in Providence Saturday afternoon. The Friars actually fell behind 3-0 midway through the first period and looked to be in dire straits, but then they scored a power-play goal a couple minutes after the Mavericks’ third, another goal early in the second, and another power-play goal midway through the second to turn a 3-0 deficit into a tie game in just 16 minutes of game action.