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On paper, it would appear that the NCAA Selection Committee gave UMD a large break by sending the Bulldogs to Allentown, Pa., to play in the Midwest Regional this weekend. The Bulldogs, seeded No. 2 in the country, face Bowling Green Saturday, and if they win that one, they face the winner between Quinnipiac and Arizona State on Sunday, with that winner going to Buffalo, N.Y., for the Frozen Four.
All reports were that the NCAA would go to great effort to protect the No. 1 overall seed, which is St. Cloud State, meaning the Huskies would get to stay close to home and play in the West Regional in Fargo, N.D. The Huskies will face American International College (AIC) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. AIC is the unranked season and playoff champion of the Atlantic Hockey Conference, winning the automatic berth. However, the other semifinal at Fargo has Denver facing Big Ten champion Ohio State, two teams ranked among the top 10 and both capable of being a major roadblock to St. Cloud State.
The NCAA also continued its trend for bunching NCHC teams against each other, despite their guidelines that call for avoiding such meetings. The East Regional in Providence, R.I., has No. 1 seed MSU-Mankato facing a Providence team that gets home-ice, despite being ranked No. 4 in the regional. Northeastern plays Cornell in the other semifinal of the Saturday-Sunday competition. In the Northeast Region at Manchester, N.H., University of Massachusetts is No. 1 seed and faces Harvard, while Notre Dame, a near-.500 team in the Big Ten, faces Clarkson in the other semifinal of the Friday-Saturday regional.
It seemed a simple prospect to send Denver out to the Northeast or East regionals to avoid the potential of a rematch with St. Cloud State in the West. Remarkably, No. 1 overall St. Cloud State seems to have the toughest path to the Frozen Four of any of the top four seeds. However, one veteran observer with a great perspective of the history offers a cautioning word for UMD.
“I’m not so sure Bowling Green is going to be an easy game for UMD,” said Mike Sertich. As 19-year coach at UMD before Scott Sandelin took over, Sertich led the Bulldogs to their first elite-level teams, and he has a special reason for remembering Bowling Green’s last trip to the NCAA tournament, out of the CCHA. UMD has an outstanding team in 1984 when the tournament was held at Lake Placid — 35 years ago.
“I remember walking in and seeing all the displays from the 1980 Olympics,” Sertich said. “Then we went into the rink area and all you could think of was the chanting ‘USA…USDA…USA…’ We had a heck of a team, including Tom Kurvers, Bill Watson, Norm Maciver, Bill Lakso, Tom Herzig, Skeeter Moore, Mark Baron, and our captain was Mark Odnokon, and our goaltender was Rick Kosti.”
UMD beat North Dakota 3-2 in overtime in the semifinals when Watson scored in overtime. That sent them against Bowling Green in the championship game. The Bulldogs seemed to take command, and led by two goals in the third period before the Falcons scored. That tightened things up, but the Bulldogs still seemed in control at the game headed into the final minute. Kosti, considered by some to be UMD’s best all-time goalie, never skated out of the net to tee up pucks shot around the boards, Sertich recalled. But when Bowling Green came down and shot the puck in on the right side, around the boards, it appeared to be an icing.
“I’m sure Kosti thought it was icing, so he went behind the net to stop the puck,” said Sertich. By chance, the puck hit a seam where the Zamboni door is, and took a crazy bounce, directly out in front of the UMD goal. Also by chance, the first player to it was wearing a Bowling Green uniform and put it into the open net, tying the game. Then the teams played on, and on…and on. Bowling Green finally won the game in the fourth overtime, crushing UMD’s chance at a first NCAA title.
Sertie — who just realized that “This is the first time in 50 years I haven’t been on the ice with a whistle around my neck. I had coached at some level from 1969 through 2018.” Yes, he will tune in anxiously to watch the Bulldogs face Bowling Green, but unlike a lot of UMD fans, Mike Sertich will not be taking anything for granted.
Denfeld Bantams Win State Consolation
Tim Kleiman figures that Denfeld’s high school hockey team this past season might be the best Hunters outfit in years. How many years? “Maybe 30,” said Kleiman. But he expects Denfeld to be on a distinct upswing in the next few years, building on this past season. And is reasoning is sound, because Kleimen is the coach of Denfeld’s Bantam A hockey team, which is fresh from completing an exceptional season by winning the consolation honors at the state bantam tournament in Moorhead.
The Denfeld team finished with a 44-10-1 record, one of its best records ever. In Bantam hockey, for age 13-14, teams with strong programs and large numbers have a Class AA team and a Class A. Smaller programs, such as Denfeld’s, has its best players in Class A because they don’t have the numbers to fill A and AA. However, this particular group of Denfeld players have played with, competed with, and beaten various AA teams.
“I’ve coached this group for four years, through Peewee and Bantam,” said Kleiman. “I would have to say that our talent is some of the best at either A or AA. The majority of our players are second-year Bantams, and I think they will make a great sophomore class at Denfeld next year. Dale Jago, who has done a great job coaching Denfeld for two years, has been watching, and he has been very good about encouraging all of them to stay down at the youth level.”
In recent years, when Denfeld didn’t have a lot of strong teams, some top players left to play at Marshall, or elsewhere. Kleiman thinks that may change. Among the top players are the McClure twins, Cooper and Connor, and Simon Davidson, a speedy playmaker who can score, and defensemen Nate Larson and John Bloomquist, while Andy Larson, Sam Kartch and Caden Postal are other top forwards, and Blake Imhoff emerged as the top goaltender. The players are scattered around from Morgan Park to Piedmont to Duluth Heights, but they fit together amazingly.
“The McClure twins are like dogs on a bone,” the coach added. “They are fast and skilled and it’s fun to just sit back and watch them play. The best thing is that these kids are all good friends, and they have a good time on and off the ice.”
An example is the “other” team picture the players arranged, where captain Postal had the idea of everybody getting shirts, suspenders and bow ties. Maybe it helped, because after a tough first game, Denfeld played some of its best hockey. Seeded opposite No. 1 ranked Warroad, which jumped ahead 3-0. Denfeld rallied to close the gap to 3-2 but lost 4-2. Warroad went on to win the state championship, beating Osseo-Maple Grove in an overtime final. Meanwhile, Denfeld went into consolation play and hammered a strong Delano team 7-1, and then beat Dodge County 7-3 in the consolation final.
Section 7A teams will need to take note when facing Denfeld next season, and in the future.