March 5, 2007
THE BIG STORY
Curtis Fraser scored his 19th goal of the season
in Alaska's 3-1 win at Western Michigan Sunday as
the Nanooks clinched a CCHA first-round series victory
over the Broncos.
Never mind that Alaska had won twice in
19 tries between Dec. 9 and the end of the regular season.
Block out that Lake Superior State hadn't won back-to-back
games at home since Jan. 27-28 of last season.
Forget that Northern Michigan had two road wins between
Veteran's Day and Valentine's Day.
It's playoff time. Anything can happen.
And though the deck appeared to be statistically
stacked against the Nanooks, Lakers, and Wildcats, each
of whom found their way into the deciding game in their
respective CCHA first-round playoff series, all three
advanced into this weekend's conference quarterfinals.
Of the trio, Alaska appeared to face the
longest odds. After all, the Nanooks, who slogged their
way to a 2-15-2 finish after going 7-4-4 in their first
15 games, entered their best-of-three series at Western
Michigan with two road wins all season. But Alaska battled
its way to a 3-2 overtime win in Friday's opener, extending
the game by scoring twice in the last 3:22 of regulation,
then followed a 6-2 loss to the Broncos with a 3-1 win
in the series finale. Now the Nanooks, who've packed
enough clothes to stay in the Lower 48 for an extended
postseason run, get regular-season champion Notre Dame
in this weekend's best-of-three quarterfinal series.
Northern Michigan, meanwhile, was the
enigma. So much talent, so little to show for it. It
looked like the Wildcats had packed it in for the year
after they were pummeled by Ohio State, 6-2, on Friday.
But behind 42 saves from little-used backup goalie Brian
Stewart Saturday, NMU forced a deciding game with a
3-2 overtime win, then once again rode Stewart (34 saves)
in a series-clinching 3-2 win Sunday. The Wildcats head
to Ann Arbor to face Michigan this weekend.
Lake Superior State was the sentimental
favorite. The once mighty Lakers, who hadn't won a CCHA
playoff series since 1996, drew a Ferris State team
that was 6-2-0 in Feburary as its first-round foe. LSSU,
meanwhile, ended the regular season with a 4-10-0 slide,
and opened the postseason with a 4-3 overtime loss to
the Bulldogs Friday. The Lakers answered with a 4-3
win of their own Saturday, and came away with a 3-2
triumph Sunday on the strength of a goal by freshman
forward Nik Sellers with 2:09 left in regulation. LSSU
draws Miami in its upcoming quarterfinal series.
Heading into the weekend, it appeared
Massachusetts would establish an identity as the unintentional
villain in the possible ouster of UMass Lowell as a
Hockey East member. A little more than 72 hours later,
the Minutemen are riding the momentum of a weekend sweep
of Maine at the Mullins Center to a fourth-place finish
in the conference standings — the second-best
regular-season showing in program history — and
a first-round playoff series against the very Black
Bears they just dumped twice.
What's more, UMass finds itself on the
doorstep of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The 3-1 and 5-3 wins over Maine (the latter in front
of a huge crowd of 8,221 fans at Mullins Center) give
the Minutemen four straight wins, a 5-1-1 mark in their
last seven games and a 10-4-2 record since dropping
a 2-1 decision at Merrimack on Jan. 5.
While sophomore goalie Jon Quick (2.22
GAA, .926 save pct.) has been a constant for UMass,
the team's offensive production has been on the uptick.
The Minutemen have scored three or more goals in 11
of their last 16 matches — they're 9-0-2 in those
games — via a scoring-by-committee approach. Eight
UMass skaters ended the regular season with 18 or more
points, but none recorded more than 31points.
From the This is the Only Way
This Season Could've Ended Dept.: Despite recent
wins against Michigan and Michigan State, it hasn't
been a pretty season for Bowling Green. The Falcons
finished the regular season last in the CCHA with a
5-22-1 league mark and a 7-29-2 overall record, and
drew fifth-place Nebraska-Omaha in the first round of
the league playoffs.
BGSU typically flies to Omaha, but since
the first-round playoff series are a best-of-three format
and scheduling a return trip via air was near impossible,
the team chose to travel via bus. But an intense winter
storm turned what's a 10-hour drive in good weather
into a 47-hour ordeal — all but seven hours of
the trek was spent trying cross Iowa.
The Falcons, who arrived in Omaha three
hours prior to Friday's faceoff, exteded the Mavericks
to overtime in the opener despite being outshot 39-18
in regulation, but lost 3-2 when UNO's Mick Lawrence
scored 4:24 into the extra session. BGSU was ousted
Saturday, losing 7-5 to UNO despite a school-record
four first-period goals from senior forward James Unger.
From the For The Love of God,
Protect Your Five-Hole Dept.: "We left
him nude." — Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon,
commenting on his team's defensive effort in front of
goaltender Mike Spillane to Ted Ryan of the Burlington
Free Press following his team's 3-3 tie with UMass Lowell
North Dakota continues its steady climb
from what was a 7-10-1 hole in mid-December to a likely
berth as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament later this
month. Following their three-point weekend at St. Cloud
State — the Fighting Sioux and Huskies tied by
a 3-3 count Friday and UND earned a 7-2 win Saturday
— coach Dave Hakstol's team has a 12-2-4 record
since Christmas, with the lone blemishes being one-goal
road losses at Colorado College and at Denver.
Making the showing against SCSU even more
impressive is that the Fighting Sioux got just one assist
from sophomore forward Ryan Duncan in the series. The
Hobey Baker Award candidate had scored 25 points in
his previous 12 outings. With the kind of balance North
Dakota had this past weekend (nine different players
scored goals against the Huskies), the team most had
written off halfway through the season appears to have
a third straight Frozen Four appearance in its sights.
IT HAPPENED IN ...
... Buffalo, N.Y. (Saturday):
Freshman forward Mike McMillan scored with
8:35 left in regulation to propel American International
to a 2-1 win over Canisius in an Atlantic Hockey first-round
playoff match. The Yellow Jackets, who also got 28 saves
from sophomore goalie Tom Fenton, meet top-seed Sacred
Heart in next Saturday's quarterfinals.
... Burlington, Vt. (Saturday):
UMass Lowell and Vermont skated to a 3-3 tie in the
regular-season finale for both teams. The River Hawks
and Catamounts combined for 104 minutes in penalties
in overtime, all part of an altercation that broke out
with 55 seconds left in the extra period.
... Princeton, N.J. (Sunday):
Sixth-seeded Princeton rallied from a 3-2 third-period
deficit and defeated Brown 4-3. Seniors Kevin Westgarth
and Grant Goeckner-Zoeller scored in the third period,
and the Tigers will play at Dartmouth this weekend.
... Hamilton, N.Y. (Saturday):
Colgate's Tom Riley scored twice — his second
and third goals of the weekend — as the Raiders
beat Rensselaer and advanced to the quarterfinals. They
will play at St. Lawrence this weekend.
... Colorado Springs, Colo.
(Saturday): Denver rallied from three-goal
deficits on three occasions and scored twice in the
last 36 seconds of regulation to salvage a 5-5 tie with
Colorado College. Junior forward Ryan Dingle evened
the game with four seconds left in regulation, 32 seconds
after freshman defenseman Keith Seabrook narrowed the
gap to 5-4.
... Huntsville, Ala. (Saturday):
Despite squandering a two-goal third period lead, Niagara
won the College Hockey America title outright with its
2-2 draw against Alabama-Huntsville. Sophomore forward
Ted Cook scored his 32nd goal -- tops in the nation
-- to give the Purple Eagles a two-goal lead with seven
minutes remaining in the second period. Seniors Grant
Selinger and Mike Salekin scored in the third for the
... Minneapolis (Friday):
Forwards Evan Kaufman and Tony Lucia scored goals 13
seconds apart late in the second period, breaking a
1-1 tie as Minnesota clinched its second straight WCHA
regular-season championship with a 3-1 win against Michigan
... Cambridge, Mass. (Friday):
Stalwart Harvard defenseman Dylan Reese had a natural
hat trick as the Crimson rallied for a 5-3 win over
Yale in the series opener. Harvard won the series and
will face Clarkson this weekend.
... Moon Township, Pa. (Friday-Saturday):
Wayne State extended its unbeaten streak to seven games
(5-0-2) by sweeping Robert Morris to close the College
Hockey America regular season. Senior forward Nate Higgins
tallied two goals and two assists to lead the Warriors
to a 5-2 win Friday, while freshman forward Jared Katz's
goal with 16:57 left in regulation provided the margin
of victory in Saturday's 5-4 triumph.