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Hockey East is dominating the NCAA Hockey Tournament so far as Vermont advanced to the Frozen Four and awaits the winner of the Northeast Region, which will be another Hockey East team.
BU and UNH each won their semis to set up an all Hockey East Regional Final on Sunday. Northeastern lost its Midwest Regional Semifinal and is the first and only Hockey East program to bow out of the tournament thus far.
The only order in the tournament so far is the complete disorder as upsets have become the norm with seven of 10 games going to the lower seed so far.
Third seen New Hampshire and second seeded North Dakota staged an unbelievable game as the “underdog” won this game. (With UNH playing a virtual home game, one might consider them the favorite here.)
UNH opened the scoring two minutes in, only to have the tally matched within a minute. North Dakota took the lead and could not hold it, only to see the Wildcats falter again. North Dakota led 5-4 with 5.9 seconds to go and a faceoff coming in their zone while New Hampshire had the extra attacker on the ice. UNH won the draw, pushed the puck past the net where Jerry Pollastrone directed it back in front of the net and Thomas Fortney tipped it past Sioux goaltender Brad Eidsness with 0.3 seconds to go to force overtime. After the 20-minute intermission, UNH needed only 45 seconds to score the game-winner, Peter LeBlanc’s second of the night.
BU proved they are the nation’s top team as they were the only team thus far that has controlled a game start to finish. BU scored three first period goals and added three more in the second before Ohio State knew what hit them on the way to an 8-3 win. Jason Lawrence and Zach Cohen each had two goals and Matt Gilroy added four helpers for the Terriers.
Northeastern tangled with Cornell and Louis Liotti and Steve Silva gave the Huskies a 2-0 lead midway through the second period. However, Cornell clawed back, scoring late second and late third period goals to knot the game with 18 ticks left, when Evan Barlow beat Brad Thiessen and won the game.
The loss ends a big turnaround season for Northeastern, one that also saw them falter down the stretch. They lost the regular season league title to BU on the season’s final day after leading the race from the start, lost an overtime Hockey East Tournament semifinal, and now exit the NCAAs in the opening round. The campaign is definitely a building block for next year.
Back in the East, Vermont and Air Force battled for 2009′s first Frozen Four berth. The Falcons tested Vermont goalie Rob Madore, peppering him with 48 shots, of which he stopped 46. Josh Burrows and Dan Lawson scored for the Catamounts in regulation as 60 minutes resulted in a 2-2 tie.
One 20-minute frame was not enough as Lawson finally tallied his second score of the game 14 minutes into the second overtime to send Vermont to Washington, D.C. The game-winner had to be reviewed as it appeared to go into the goal, but was still being played after the possible score. The replay showed the puck had gone through the back of the net, but was a good goal.
In other action, Midwest #4 Bemidji State was the third fourth seed to knock off a #1, beating Notre Dame 5-1 and will battle Cornell for a Frozen Four berth. To put this in perspective, this could be the biggest upset in college hockey history, certainly in recent memory. I would compare this to George Mason defeating UConn in the Elite Eight in basketball in terms of improbability.
Notre Dame was the major conference heavy favorite facing the mid-major conference underdog, and the Beavers were the tournament’s overall lowest seed. In the West, #4 seed Miami advanced to the Frozen Four, knocking out Minnesota-Duluth 2-1.
The tournament expanded to 16 in 2003 and it took four years for a fourth seed to win a game, going 0-12 over that span. Since then, however, they have become more and more prominent. in 2006, Holy Cross stunned overall top seed Minnesota in overtime and in 2007, UMass and Miami each won a game.
Notre Dame made history last year, by not only advancing to the Frozen Four, but actually making it to the Championship game before falling to Boston College. This year already has three winning the opening game with one already in the Frozen Four and another with a chance on Sunday.