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Hockey East is down to one team as the original field of 16 was whittled down to six after the second day of action. The Northeast and Midwest Regionals will send their members to the Frozen Four on Sunday to trim the field to four. BC skated past Alaska-Fairbanks 3-1 in the day’s first game while New Hampshire saw another offensive explosion, this time courtesy of their opponents, upstart RIT, in a 6-2 loss.
With RIT another four seed making the Frozen Four, history is being made again this season. Saint Cloud got its first tournament victory, RIT has its first two in the program’s first postseason appearance, and Alaska made their tournament debut, albeit a loss. Yale also recorded its first tournament victory since 1952.
BC opened the scoring against the Nanooks in their regional semifinal with a Matt Lombardi shorthanded goal 8:54 into the game. It was Lombardi’s fifth goal this season, all coming since the regular season ended. Alaska was not going down easily after a 12 hour flight across five time zones and their star Andy Taranto tied the game with 2:28 to go in the second period.
However, the Eagles would not have to wait too long to retake the lead, one they would not relinquish as Pat Mullane put a rebound into the open side of the net for the eventual game-winner. John Muse was stout again for the Eagles with 28 saves on 29 shots pushing his record to 5-0 in NCAA tournament games.
Matt Price put the game away in the waning seconds with an odd goal as the puck never actually entered the net, but it did not need to! Price was hooked at the blue line entering the Alaska zone with an empty net in front of him, drawing a delayed penalty. The Nanook defenseman hauled Price down as he closed on the net drawing a penalty shot and knocking the puck out of harm’s way. By rule, a penalty shot against called with an empty net is an automatic goal (credited as empty net, not penalty shot).
Eagle Nation may have wanted another playoff game with North Dakota, a team they have met in eight of the last 11 tournaments, winning with regular success. (Many Eagle fans may have also worried about meeting the very talented Sioux as well.) However, Yale prevented the dream (nightmare?) matchup from occurring by holding on for a 3-2 victory.
Denny Kearney (brother of Olympic skier Hannah) scored two goals, including the first just six minutes into the game to give the Bulldogs a 3-0 lead at the second intermission. Ryan Rondeau was the surprise starting netminder for Yale after he played just five games all season. Billy Blase disappointed in their upset loss to Brown in the ECAC first round and earned him the benching.
North Dakota put the pressure on immediately in the third period. They scored at the three and six minute marks to pull within one and put the heat on the largely untested backstop. Yale was able to hold the Sioux in check the rest of the game to advance to Sunday’s regional final and a date with BC.
The Midwest Region featured two matchups of CCHA and CHA teams. Top seed Miami beat Alabama-Huntsville 2-1 in a game that the score cannot describe. The RedHawks controlled the game while the Chargers spent chunks of it in the penalty box. Miami led 2-0 late in the game, but could not earn the shut out as UAH scored with 38 seconds to go.
Michigan, rolling for the past month with backup goalie Shawn Hunwick (brother of the Bruins’ Matt), set up the all-CCHA regional final with a 5-1 victory over Bemidji State. With both CHA teams out of the tournament, the conference is officially defunct. Michigan recently beat Miami in the CCHA semis, but Miami was the number one team in the country most of the season and the league’s regular season champion. The winner of this region plays the BC-Yale winner in the Frozen Four.
The Wildcats exploded Friday to run Cornell out of the tournament 6-2 and RIT treated them to the same unceremonious exit by the same score. The fourth seed Tigers are making the most of their first ever NCAA appearance as they will make the trip to Detroit. RIT broke open a 1-1 game in the second with three goals in 1:34. The first two were only separated by 13 seconds and UNH could not find an answer after that. Surprisingly, UNH’s six trips to the sin bin resulted in zero Tiger goals.
The WCHA assured itself at least one Frozen Four team (before North Dakota fell, ensuring it would be only one) Friday night when top seed Wisconsin and second seed St. Cloud State advanced to the regional final. Wisconsin downed St. Cloud 5-3 to become the second Frozen Four team.
The Frozen Four will be comrised of four different conferences with the WCHA out West, the AHA (RIT) from the East, the CCHA from the Midwest, and either Hockey East or the ECAC from the Northeast.