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The predictable part of the UMD-St.Cloud State series to end the NCHC regular season was that it would be two tough, tense, and intense games. The unpredictable part was which team would win.
Turns out, St. Cloud State won both games, both bye 4-3 counts, and both with an edge of controversy. There was no question that the Huskies were the NHCH champs, and they have rolled up an incredible season — winning the league at 19-2-3 and 27-4-3 overall to rank NBo. 1 in the nation. UMD has had an excellent season also, finishing second at 14-9-1 and 21-11-2 overall.
But consider that while the Bulldogs lost nine games in league play, St. Cloud State lost only two, and of the Huskies four overall losses, none came at home at the Herb Brooks Arena.
All of that can be put away in the archives for now, because both the No. 1 ranked Huskies and UMD, which dropped from No. 3 to No. 4 with the two nail-biting losses, will make the NCAA’s field of 16 based on their PairWise ratings, regardless of this weekend’s first round of league playoffs, and even the league finals at Xcel Energy Center.
The UMD players are certain that a couple of questionable calls cost them at St. Cloud. The teams had split their earlier series in Duluth, which was the first loss of the season for Brett Larson, in his first year as coach at St. Cloud after leaving the UMD staff. Cynics and critics everywhere keep saying that when coach Bob Motzko left to take over the Gophers, he left a powerhouse behind. And there is some truth to that. But Larson has already put his stamp on the program, simply by refusing to let the Huskies lose. They will be at home this weekend to face last place Omaha in a best-ofd-three series.
UMD, meanwhile, faces Miami of Ohio at AMSOIL Arena Friday, Saturday and, if needed, Sunday.
At St. Cloud, the teams were 2-2 after one period and 3-3 after two, and when it went to overtime, Nick Prebix scored the winner, on a power play, and on what appeared to be a distinct kicking motion as the puck went in off his skate. Refs reviewed it, and let the goal stand.
The next night, UMD led 2-0 on goals by Jackson Cates in the first period and Riley Tufte in the second, but the Huskies stormed back and it took a Jade Miller goal to forge a 3-3 deadlock with 3:34 remaining, only to have Sam Hentges win it for St. Cloud with 1:11 left.
These two combatants might be the best two teams in the country, and what could be more fitting than for them to play twice more — once for the league playoff championship, and the other for the NCAA title. The games will be tense, and intense, and nobody can predict the winner. But it makes for highly entertaining hockey.
Badgers claim WCHA and National NO. 1
UMD women’s hockey coach Maura Crowell insisted her Bulldogs were ready for the challenge of taking down No. 1 Minnesota and the next day, if necessary, No. 2 Wisconsin at the WCHA Frozen Face-off at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis. Crowell also answered emphatically that she didn’t think there remained a gap between the Gophers and Badgers and then rest of the league.
When the Bulldogs took a 1-0 lead at 7:20 of the first period, it appeared she might be onto something. However, Kelly Pannek scored at 12:48 to tie the game 1-1, and the tie was a clear and present tribute to the goaltending of UMD star Maddie Rooney, because the Gophers had peppered Rooney with shots — outshooting the Bulldogs 17-1 in the opening period. Nicole Schammel scored early in the second period to gain the lead for Minnesota, and then UMD’s Maggie Flaherty was penalized and Grace Zumwinkle scored on the power play for a 3-1 Gopher lead.
Still, that wasn’t horrible, except that the Gophers shot margin reached 28-4 through two periods, and only Rooney stood in the way of something far worse than the 3-1 count. Rooney held on with an acrobatic performance in the third period, too, and Minnesota’s only goal was a 180-foot shot into the empty net after Rooney had gone to the security of the UMD bench with a couple minutes to go. A 4-1 loss, while being outshot 44-9, indicates there might still remain a gap between the top two and the bottom five, as UMD’s season ended 15-16-4 overall.
Wisconsin had to battle to subdue Ohio State in the other semifinal, then the Badgers put on a display of highly efficient defensive hockey to beat Minnesota 3-1, with an empty-net goal. The result vaulted Wisconsin back into the No. 1 spot in the PairWise and the WCHA playoff championship at 32-4-2, while Minnesota dropped to No. 2 nationally at 30-5-1.
Wisconsin is at home against Syracuse, a rogue seed that won the College Hockey America playoff with upsets over Lindenwood, Mercyhurst, and top-seeded Robert Morse — a 6-2 blowout that sends the Orange to their first
women’s hockey tournament despite a lowly 12-21-3 record. Minnesota is at home against Princeton, while the other two quarterfinals find Cornell at Northeastern and Boston College at Clarkson.
In the measurement of how far women’s college hockey has come on its torturous rise to validity, the WCHA women’s semifinals drew 2,688, while the Gophers men were beating Michigan next door at Mariucci Arena before an actual crowd of 1,835. The women’s final drew 2,452 to Ridder Arena, while the Gophers sweeper against Michigan drew 1,911. Without question, it is the first time women’s college hockey has outdrawn men’s college hockey on the same days at Minnesota.