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TAMPA – The collegiate hockey season has concluded with the Quinnipiac Bobcats nipping the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the title game by a 3-2 score in OT to claim the Championship.
The tourney began on Thursday with the Gophers besting the Boston University Terriers by a 6-2 score and then in the evening tilt, the Bobcats ousted the Michigan Wolverines in what some viewed as an upset in a 5-2 win.
Prior to the National Semis I felt strongly that the Gophers would win versus the Terriers. I just felt they had a better team and game overall. And like many others I thought there was a very strong chance there would be a Big Ten National title game on Saturday.
But I also told my son William who was at the event with me that no one should overlook Quinnipiac or be surprised if they eliminated the Wolverines. And that is exactly what happened.
In the early game BU actually scored first versus the Gophers but I didn't think much of it. The Gophers were creating chances and I said to myself that it was only a matter of time before they got on the score sheet. They were up 2-1 at the end of the first.
But credit to BU, they played a hard second frame to tie it up at two going into the break. The Gophers took the game over in the third on two Luke Middlestadt tallies and Logan Cooley finished the scoring with two empty netters.
In the nightcap the Cats scored first, Michigan answered a minute and a half later, but Quinnipiac went into the intermission with a 2-1 lead on Jacob Quillan's second score of the period. This year's Hobey Baker award winner Adam Fantilli got the lone goal of the second for the Wolverines to tie it up entering the second break.
During the break I considered how this game was going to conclude. The Bobcats were all that I expected them to be and in my view I thought Michigan didn't really appear to be on their game. Passes and shots were missing and the normal flow of their game was being disrupted by a strong Cats defensive game. S
ure enough the Cats owned the third period with two goals and an empty netter to seal the deal setting up last night's showdown in the Sunshine State. Before the title game many observers felt that it would be the Gopher offense against the Bobcat defense. By game's end the Cats would outshoot the Gophers 30-15 which was bolstered by a 14-2 advantage in the 3rd frame.
The game commenced on an ominous note when just 21 seconds in the Cat's Skyler Brind'Amour leveled the Gopher's D-man Mike Koster with a vicious check to the head. He should have received a game misconduct for the shot and been done for the night. The referees only gave him a minor and the Cat's penalty kill prevailed.
I have seen this occur in many collegiate-level games in the past few seasons and the safety of the player normally takes precedence over any other potential game scenarios. I believe the officials erred in this situation. I've seen many ejections in the recent past that were not as egregious as this one seemed to be. Koster eventually returned to play.
Some media opinion felt like I did and that Brind'Amour should have been ejected from the tilt and that it may have changed the complexion of the game. I'm not so certain about that as they were, I just felt it would have been the correct call.
At any rate, the Cats were obviously the more physical of the two clubs and that definitely aided their effort in the game.
The Gophers would take a 1-0 lead in the first on a John Middlestadt goal and would make it 2-0 early in the second frame on a Jaxon Nelson score. The Cats would get one back on a Cristofe Tellier score a little over three minutes later.
Then, in a scenario I'm not sure I've seen at this level in a game of this magnitude, it looked as if the Gophers went into a "prevent defense" in the third in an attempt to seal the win. I can't speak to whether this was a purposeful decision by the coaching staff or if the players decided this is how they needed to play to secure the win, but if it's me and I have an offense with the talent and skill the Gophers exhibited all year, and I only had a one-goal lead, I would have told them to let it rip, with the necessary caution exercised to maintain it.
They didn't, and now are runners-up instead of being National Champions today.
The third frame was scoreless until late, just five seconds after the Gophers had killed a penalty call on Cooley, with the Cat's goal empty, they tied the game on a Collin Graf goal. The call on Cooley wasn't a mistake, that the officials didn't issue a minor to each side regarding the sequence was.
And then, in one of the most stunning endings to a sporting event I've ever seen in my 60 years plus of viewing, Quillan scored on a wide-open backdoor play just 10 seconds into the OT frame and that was that. The Cats won their first national title ever 3-2.
The first headline my son and I saw on Saturday morning was about the "Big Ten killer" Quinnipiac facing the Gophers for the title that night. After downing Ohio State in the Regional Final, and Michigan and Minnesota in the Frozen Four, you can't say otherwise, except that, yes they are.
Congrats to the new Champion on their first title ever. It was a great event and I have the sunburn to prove it! GOING INTO THE Stanley Cup tourney, the true contenders are fine-tuning their game and ramping it up in preparation.
What about our Minnesota Wild?
Not so much, and now they have a crucial injury to deal with on top of it. I know that just a few weeks ago I became optimistic about the club's chance at winning the Central division and if they really put on a push, the possibility of a conference title was available. Not anymore.
And worse yet is that one of the team's most important players is out injured and is week to week. Joel Eriksson Ek suffered a "lower-body injury" that is believed to involve a possible fibula or tibia fracture.
On the opposite side, Kirill Kaprizov and Gustav Nyquist returned to play Saturday eve versus the STL Blues. The boys didn't have a good week though. They lost a hard-fought game to the VGK at the 'X' (4-3 SO) before losing in PIT to the Pens 4-1.
Last night they beat STL by a 5-3 final that featured two SHGs. The team is 3rd best in the NHL in that category. COL is likely to win the Central at this time, DAL will finish 2nd, and the Wild will end up in the three spot. The Wild would face DAL in the playoffs without home ice, which I believe will make them another first-round casualty. I can only hope I am wrong! PEACE