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Going into the first season of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) it was obvious that the most potent collection of college hockey teams in the nation would produce a ferocious league, where every game would be played at playoff intensity.
After last weekend, nobody on the UMD team is about to question that theory. Denver came to AMSOIL Arena battling UMD, North Dakota, Nebraska-Omaha, and Western Michigan for second through sixth positions in the logjam. St. Cloud State was out in front with a little breathing room, while Colorado College and Miami of Ohio were trailing.
The Pioneers won 3-2 in Friday’s first game, and it was a strange game. Denver built a 3-0 lead, and UMD, which had been playing very competitive hockey, was seemingly out of it as the game trickled into its final five minutes. But Caleb Herbert scored with 4:01 left, and Tony Cameranesi scored exactly two minutes later to form a sudden 2-2 tie. It proved anticlimactic, though, when Quentin Shore picked off the puck and scored in the final minute of overtime to give Denver a 3-2 victory.
The next night, however, UMD gained what would seem to be a split, beating the Pioneers 3-2 in a battle that again was tied 2-2, withstood a scoreless overtime, and went UMD’s way only by a shootout. There were a number of standouts for the Bulldogs, starting with goaltender Aaron Crandall, and freshman winger Alex Iafallo, but also including captain Adam Krause.
In the first period Saturday night, Krause’s shot was blocked in the slot, but Iafallo grabbed possession, put a move on Denver senior goaltender Sam Brittain, and scored with a backhander from the right edge. At that point, with 7:29 elapsed, UMD was outshooting the Pioneers 10-0. It was 11-0 before UMD drew a penalty and Denver got its first shot. But the score remained 1-0 until 2:55 of the third period.
At that point, Denver tied it on a goal credited to Troy Loney, whose shot popped up over Crandall’s shoulder and landed just about directly on the goal line. With Crandall down, UMD’s Cal Decowski alertly tried to sweep the puck under Crandall. He appeared to succeed, but Crandall never fully got possession, and as he tried to cover it, he ended up knocking the puck in at the left post.
At first, the officials appeared to wave off the goal, and I thought sure I had heard a whistle. The refs reviewed the play on video at great length, although it was obvious the puck wound up across the line. Here is the catch: Breaking the play down in slow motion, it is evident the puck got knocked across the line, but on the slo-mo, you don’t hear the whistle. Because there were several seconds between the time Decowski slid the puck under Crandall and when it crossed the line, we cannot be sure precisely when the whistle blew. If it blew before the puck crossed the line, it would be no goal. The officials ruled it was a goal, and it was a 1-1 tie.
“The puck popped over my shoulder,” said Crandall. “I was trying to find it when he [Decowski] slid it under me. I knew it was there somewhere, but I also knew it was leaking.”
The 1-1 tie stood until 13:30 of the final period, when Krause raced a Denver defenseman up the right boards chasing the puck. Krause made a couple of moves, won the puck, then cut toward the net, passing across the crease where Iafallo one-timed the arriving puck into the net.
Just 1:18 later, Denver tied it 2-2 when Shore knocked in a loose puck in the crease. That time, the score stayed tied through the 5-minute overtime, which meant the teams would decide the outcome in a shootout.
Iafallo went first, appropriately enough, and the freshman drilled it past Brittain. That was the only goal until Nolan Zajac put one past Crandall on Denver’s third turn. That called for extra rounds, and Herbert zoomed in and beat Brittain with a shot that went in off the post.
“I think it hit both posts,” Herbert said afterward. Crandall came up with the save on Trevor Moore, and UMD had its victory. Trouble is, each team gets a point for the tie, and the shootout winner gets a second point. Otherwise, victories are worth three points, so the result leaves a point on the table. That could prove big in the final tally.
It was declared that the 6,889 fans who bought tickets made it the biggest crowd in AMSOIL Arena’s youthful history. Never mind that the attendance was first announced at 6,884 -- then revised in the third period as we were left to assume that five late-arriving souls bought tickets at the second intermission. If they did, they got their money’s worth.
This weekend, it may be difficult for the Bulldogs to feel that getting a break from the intensity of the NCHC -- where all five games involving league teams on Friday went into overtime -- will leave much emotion for them to spend Friday in the newly established North Star Challenge Cup at Saint Paul’s Xcel Energy Center. UMD plays Minnesota State-Mankato at 4 p.m. Friday, with Minnesota playing St. Cloud State at 7. The losers play at 4 on Saturday with the winners going at it at 7.