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The first game of the UMD-Miami of Ohio NCHC playoff series was dangling just out of reach of both teams much of the way. UMD had led 1-0, fell behind 2-1, got a 2-2 tie, and then fell behind 4-2 at the second intermission. A couple of penalties in a row set Miami back as the second period moved into the third, and the Bulldogs tried to rally around their power play.
Instead, Anthony Louis broke away short-handed, heading toward the other end of AMSOIL Arena. UMD goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo was playing OK, maybe not one of his sharpest games, but his adrenaline went to high as Louis came sailing in on his short-handed breakaway. Louis made his move, and Kaskisuo made a spectacular save, directing the puck wide to the left. Kaskisuo even jumped in a little celebratory jig in the crease.
Willie Corrin and Dominic Toninato got together to get the puck up ice to freshman Adam Johnson, who broke up the left side, and just as the power play expired, fired in a goal at 4:54. The goal came in what was about a 10-second turnabout of luck. UMD had the bad luck to give up a short-handed breakaway, but had the good luck to have Kaskisuo come up with the vital save, then more good luck led to a rapid reversal back to the other end of the rink, where Johnson snapped in his shot.
It only cut the deficit to 4-3, but Neal Pionk, another freshman, whistled in a power-play goal at 11:12 to tie it 4-4, and Carson Soucy moved up to grab a loose puck in the slot, pull it free from a defender with a deft toe-drag, and then rip a shot in off the left pipe to give UMD a 5-4 victory.
The next night, Miami came out more determined, but so did the Bulldogs. It was a remarkable night for the UMD penalty killers, starting with Kyle Osterberg, who got loose for a short-handed breakaway and beat goalie Jay Williams with a neat move after only 1:31 of the opening period.
UMD continued with its good fortune on penalty calls. Cal Decowski seemed to skate into Williams in the Miami crease at 13:10, but Grant Hutton was penalized instead for herding Decowski into the crease. Miami killed that one off, but at 15:27, Miami’s Anthony Louis was checked, and got hit cleanly in the jaw on the play. There was no call, and Louis, angry, slashed Dom Toninato’s stick and broke it. You guessed it, Louis was called for slashing. On that power play, Andy Welinski scored with a rocket from the right point at 16:51, and UMD led 2-0.
In the second period, Miami turned up its tempo, and got a power play at 11:26. Amazingly, a strange bounce off the side boards sprung Tony Cameranesi, and with enough time to deke, Cameranesi pulled the puck to the right and tucked it past Williams at 12:46. It was UMD’s second short-handed goal of the game, and it meant that UMD outscored Miami on Miami’s power play, which scored only once for the weekend. Miami broke Kaskisuo’s shutout with 2:48 remaining, but UMD won 3-1 to advance to the Frozen Faceoff.
The Frozen Faceoff will face a big battle for fans in the Twin Cities this weekend. UMD faces North Dakota in a 4 p.m. game Friday, followed by St. Cloud State against Denver. At exactly the same times, the Big Ten tournament semifinals will be held 10 miles away in Xcel Center – Michigan against the winner between Wisconsin and Penn State at 4, and Minnesota taking on the Ohio State-Michigan State winner right afterward.
For the season, the NCHC’s superiority is clear, with reasons beyond the fact that UMD and St. Cloud State both swept two games from Minnesota in Mariucci Arena. In the national Pairwise ratings, the NCHC has No. 1 North Dakota, No. 3 St. Cloud State, No. 6 Denver, and No. 13 UMD, while the Big Ten is represented only by Michigan in the top 16, at a tie with Denver for sixth and seventh. Minnesota ranks 17th, tied with Nebraska-Omaha, a fifth NCHC team. The Gophers will have to win the Big Ten tournament to make it to the NCAA tournament.
Meanwhile, the turnstile counts between Target Center and Xcel Center will be almost as intriguing as the on-ice results.