Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Road to the Frozen Four

Minnesota-Duluth, Michigan, North Dakota, and Notre Dame will battle in St. Paul April 7-9 to claim the NCAA college hockey championship title at the Frozen Four.  Michigan will meet North Dakota and UMD will meet Notre Dame to determine the final pair. The defending national champs Boston College were stunned by a sturdy Colorado College team, but that wasn’t the last shock as the No. 1 seed fell short of advancing in what many called the “dog fight.”
The University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs took on the top seeded Yale Bulldogs to move on for the first tourney spot. UMD looked like they had it all wrapped, 5-1. Yale took task and came within reach, 5-3, but couldn’t pull it off.  UMD (24–10–6) held on to be the first team to advance to the NCAA championship game. UMD have had 4 tournament appearances, the latest in 2004.

West Regional action took St. Louis by storm with the appearance of two vital St. Louis Blues personalities: Red Berenson and Jaden Schwartz.

Sixth-ranked Michigan (26-10-4) met Nebraska-Omaha (21-15-2) in the first round. UNO joined the WCHA last season and took on such notable tournament teams as Denver and North Dakota. The Wolverines made their 21st consecutive appearance in the West Regional held in St. Louis where Wolverine coach Red Berenson played then coached.  In a controversial call, the Wolverines took the win in overtime, 4-3.

Michigan faced Colorado College for the next slot. And it was tough. Scooter Vaughn scored first the Wolverines and stood with a 2-0 lead. Ryland Schwartz beat Wolverines goaltender Shawn Hunwick to up their chance 2-1 with just over 3 minutes left. With their 43 shots to 19 shots, the Wolverines kept it close but move on to St. Paul for their 24th tournament appearance.

Though the CC Tigers lost to Michigan, they played a phenomenal game against the defending champs. Colorado College faced Boston College with a 4-1 lead in the second, then leapt into an 8-4 victory knocking off the defending champs and No. 1 seed in the West. Boston’s star forward Cam Atkinson, a Hobey Baker finalist, met his match in Colorado College’s freshman, Jaden Schwartz, who is the first-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues.

Green Bay hosted the Midwest regional action. WCHA super teams, North Dakota and Denver graced the rink for a chance to move on.  For North Dakota, it was no contest as they denied Rensselaer 6-0.

Denver faced a tough Western Michigan team to advance. The Broncos, who have never won a championship and was last in the tourney in 1996, had control through the second period with a 2-0 lead, but Denver roared back to tie the game in the third pushing the challenge to OT. Then, another OT. Until Jason Zucker scored his 22nd goal of the year, for a 3-2 win. Zucker is a draft pick of the Minnesota Wild. Denver moved on for a rematch of the WCHA championship game with North Dakota, who won 3-2 in double overtime. North Dakota wanted another run at the title with a 6-1 victory over the Pioneers to advance to St. Paul. Both Denver and North Dakota have each won 7 national titles.

Notre Dame (23-13-5) beat New Hampshire, 2-1, to take the final slot in the Frozen Four for their second appearance. The last Frozen Four for both Notre Dame and Michigan was in Denver in 2008, and advanced beating Michigan but lost to Boston College. There is a possibility that Notre Dame and Michigan could face off for the NCAA title- awesome rivalry in college football, so the Frozen Four battle would be amazing.

It’s been a good showing for Colorado this season with Air Force, Colorado College and Denver competing in the ultimate college hockey experience. The Midwest will be abuzz with fans traveling to St. Paul, which means the Xcel Energy Center will be electrified with plenty of hockey loyal. Watch for Frozen Four updates April 7-9. Notre Dame will play Minnesota-Duluth  on Thursday, April 7 at 5pm EST in the early semifinal, followed by the Michigan-North Dakota semifinal.  Tune to ESPN  for Frozen Four games and coverage.

March Madness

Former Wisconsin Badger Blake Geoffrion scored his first NHL goal with the Nashville Predators this week.  Geoffrion’s Wisconsin Badgers lost 5-0 to the Eagles of Boston College last season in the Frozen Four. But it wasn’t all bad.  Geoffrion became the first Badgers player to win the Hobey Baker and only the 10th Wisconsin player to be named a finalist. In his college career, Blake led the WCHA in goals with 19, and was named to the All-WCHA First Team. He was the 56th pick in the 2006 NHL entry draft, selected by the Nashville Predators.

The Badgers had two Hobey Baker candidates last year, Blake Geoffrion and defenseman Brendan Smith, who has been playing for Detroit’s AHL affiliate the Grand Rapids Griffins. The road from college hockey to the NHL can be tough, and some never get the chance. Geoffrion’s goal reminded me that now is the season for March Madness- hockey, that is.

Tournaments are happening this weekend to determine who will play towards the Frozen Four April 7-9 in the Twin Cities. Minnesota puts more effort into hockey than any other state with an abundance of media coverage in high-school to NHL hockey. What else is there to do in Minnesota besides playing hockey?

Next to the Stanley Cup playoffs, this is the best time of the year to be a hockey fan. Both Michigan and Denver are tied in rank at No. 5, so I’ve  got two chances to get to the Frozen Four.

Since Red Berenson’s mighty Michigan Wolverines are one of my teams, notable players to look out for include Carl Hagelin who finished fourth in the CCHA scoring race (15-22-37. Rookie John Merrill became the first defensman to reach the 20-goal mark  since, now NHL Kings defenseman, Jack Johnson in 2005-06. Goaltender Shawn Hunwick ranked first in the CCHA in goals-against average (1.95) and save percentage (.931). Michigan’s energetic season, inlcuding the “Big Chill in the Big House” has prepared the team for the big stage heading into the divisional tournaments.

The Denver Pioneers have completely revamped this season losing many player to graduation or the NHL track. Despite being in the top-ten most of the season, the Pioneers have been under the radar. Expect the usual quiet analytical play by Denver. Denver’s top two scorers are sophomore Drew Shore and freshman Jason Zucker. George Gwozdecky can’t look at the year and expect to foretell the future. In previous years, the Pioneers have learned that once in the NCAA tournament, the regular season and conference tournaments mean nothing. Last year, the Pioneers won the MacNaughton Cup, stumbled a bit in the WCHA Final Five and lost in the first round of the NCAAs for third consecutive season as a No. 1 seed.

Many fans don’t take the time to watch college hockey, but it’s exciting if you are a hockey fan to realize you are watching the next great NHL stars.