WCHA Final Five Weekend React

Well, here’s my attempt to summarize three days of hockey in one cohesive column. I’ll start with notes about each team and end with a few observations.

In order of their performance at the WCHA Final Five, here are the tournament participants from worst to first:

#5 Colorado College

The Tigers entered the weekend looking to claim their first ever Broadmoor trophy, and left with their collective tiger tails between their legs. Consecutive losses to Minnesota and North Dakota dropped CC to a #2 seed in its home regional.

Is it irony, coincidence, or bad luck that Colorado College has never hoisted the Broadmoor, named after their old building? It’s like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife….

Colorado College suffered from lapses in both games. The Tigers scored early in the second period against Minnesota, but gave up the tying goal less than a minute later. Against North Dakota, CC gave up three power play goals on seven UND opportunities. The Tigers came into Saturday’s semifinal with the nation’s best penalty kill (90.8%).

CC became just the second #1 seed in the 16-year history of the Final Five format to lose two tournament games. In 2006, #1 Minnesota lost 8-7 (OT) to #4 St. Cloud State and lost 4-0 to #2 Wisconsin in the third-place game.

The Tigers have the toughest of the four NCAA regional brackets, playing #3 Michigan State in the first round. #1 New Hampshire and #4 Notre Dame are also in the mix for a Frozen Four berth from the West Regional.

Head coach Scott Owens was frustrated by his team’s overall play and difficulty killing penalties, and will surely have his team’s attention this week in practice.

“I’m concerned about our inconsistent play going into next weekend,” Owens said.

#4 St. Cloud State

It’s difficult to judge SCSU, since we only saw them play in the Thursday play-in game against Minnesota, but they did not play particularly well. On a positive note, the Huskies and Gophers did play in front of a sold-out crowd of 19,232, smashing the play-in game record of 16,449.

“We’re not happy with the way we played tonight,” said St. Cloud head coach Bob Motzko. “(In the) first period we had a very poor period and it looked like we had stage-itis.”

The Huskies finished one for seven on the power play and never led in the hockey game. Next up for #2 seeded St. Cloud is a regional matchup against #3 Clarkson in Albany, NY. #1 Michigan and #4 Niagara are the other two teams in the East Regional.

#3 North Dakota

The Fighting Sioux followed up a lackluster performance against Denver with their best effort in a month, downing the Colorado College Tigers 4-2 to leapfrog CC and claim a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. For UND, it was important not only to win, but to play well and gain momentum for next weekend.

In the Friday semifinal, North Dakota was unable to score on either of two 5 on 3 situations, and that was the difference in the game. UND finished 0 for 4 on the power play, and T.J. Oshie and Ryan Duncan were held scoreless. The only bright spot for the Sioux was that there was another game to play on Saturday, a game with playoff implications (as Jim Dahl correctly pointed out here, it was important for North Dakota to play Colorado College head-to-head).

“Today was more about our performance than anything else,” said UND head coach Dave Hakstol about Saturday’s semifinal victory. “We didn’t feel very good last night about our performance. I thought we got back to the way we need to play.”

“Getting a win under us is going to build some confidence, and hopefully lead to a good week of practice,” agreed T.J. Oshie, who notched a goal and an assist.

North Dakota heads to Madison, Wisconsin as the #1 seed in a regional that includes two other WCHA teams. #2 Denver will play #3 Wisconsin, while UND entertains #4 Princeton in the Tiger’s second-ever NCAA tournament appearance.

#2 Denver

It’s hard not to put the Pioneers number one for the weekend, since they took home the Broadmoor trophy and moved their unbeaten streak in the Xcel Center to six games, but I gave the nod to Minnesota.

Denver played well in victories over North Dakota and Minnesota, allowing only a single goal to each team while scoring just enough to win. Both games went down to the wire and could have gone either way.

In Friday’s semifinal, Anthony Maiani broke a 1-1 tie with 80 seconds remaining and Matt Glasser added an empty-netter with 6 ticks left. The key for Denver was killing off all four UND power plays, including two extended 5 on 3’s.

In Saturday’s championship game, Denver responded with two second-period goals after Ryan Flynn staked Minnesota to a 1-0 lead, and held on in a furious third period. The Gophers outshot DU 14-4 in the final twenty minutes but could not solve Peter Mannino, who made 34 of 35 saves for the game.

As I mentioned above, Denver is headed to the Midwest Regional in Madison to take on the Badgers, who made the NCAA tournament despite a losing record (15-16-7).

#1 Minnesota

Yes, I know the Gophers lost in the championship game. But what this team accomplished after a marathon first-round series against MSU-Mankato was remarkable. Minnesota outplayed its opponents (St. Cloud State, Colorado College, Denver) for the better part of all three games and got great goaltending from freshman Alex Kangas (94 of 99 saves, 5 goals allowed). Kangas was named MVP of the tournament.

Minnesota played themselves up to #11 in the PairWise rankings and will travel to Worcester, Massachusetts this weekend. The #3 seeded Gophers will face #2 Boston College in the first round. If they advance, they will play the winner of #1 Miami (OH) and #4 Air Force in the Northeast Regional final.

And my final five observations of the weekend:

#5: I thought all three officials (Shepherd, Adam, and Anderson) did a good job throughout the tournament.

#4: I saw another #18 Hoogsteen jersey walking the concourses at the X. And I thought I was the only one…

#3: I didn’t think there would still be ducks at the Embassy Suites.

#2: Sioux fans, the Holy Cross references have to go. Yes, I understand that it was an upset, but get over it. Why not bring up the Sioux/Gopher regional final from last season? To celebrate another team’s victory over your rival instead of your team’s victory over your rival is weird to me.

#1: Sioux fans, celebrate this quote from Dave Hakstol: “It seemed like there were 7,000 to 8,000 UND fans (at the Xcel Center). Maybe some of that crew will make the journey (to Madison). It’d be great to have a strong contingent, and I’m sure we will.” North Dakota fans always travel well, and this weekend was no exception. It was great to see you all there.

Thank you for reading. I welcome your suggestions and comments, particularily if you attended the WCHA Final Five and have a story or observation to share.

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