March 22, 2003
WCHA Championship

Minnesota takes title, but talk is of NCAA tourney

Other Tournament Coverage

By Jess Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Legendary comic actor and director Woody Allen is renowned to be a fan of the New York Knicks, not the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. And in Allen's 1971 movie "Bananas," he wasn't talking about the NCAA hockey tournament's selection process when he said: "It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham."

But in the opinion of many who follow Minnesota's second-oldest D-I hockey program, Allen's rant certainly applies to the way the field of 16 is picked. That's because it's expected that Minnesota's third-oldest D-I hockey program, St. Cloud State, is headed to the NCAAs, while the Bulldogs are headed to a really nice year-end banquet. Even as Minnesota was claiming its Broadmoor Trophy (see box score, right, and story, below), the talk in St. Paul centered on the NCAA selection process.

Minnesota 4,
Colorado College 2

Grant Potulny continued his spectacular play at the Xcel Energy Center, recording two goals and an assist – all in the first 5:25 – to lead Minnesota to a 4-2 win over Colorado College in the WCHA Tournament championship game.

The victory gives the Gophers their fourth Broadmoor Trophy in the last 10 years, and a good shot at the No. 1 seed in the West Regional when the pairing are announced tomorrow.

Despite the early 3-0 deficit, Colorado College charged back, narrowing the gap to 4-2 on Peter Sejna's 35th goal of the year 6:41 into the third. Gopher goaltender Justin Johnson (36 saves) held strong from that point on, however, to secure the win.

Team Goal Str
Time Assists

First Period

1-UM Grant Potulny (11) EV
1:29 G. Guyer
2-UM Gino Guyer (12) EV
1:49 G. Potulny, B. Tallackson
3-UM Grant Potulny (12) EV
5:25 T. Vanek, M. Koalska
Second Period
1-CC Brett Sterling (24) PP
19:46 T. Preissing, A. Canzanello
Third Period
4-UM Jon Waibel (6) EV
5:13 G. Smaagaard
2-CC Peter Sejna (35) PP
6:41 N. Clarke, A. Canzanello
UM: Justin Johnson, 60:00, 36 saves, 2 GA
CC: Curtis McElhinney, 58:47, 21 saves, 4 GA
Penalties: UM 7/14; CC 5/10
Power Plays: UM 1-4; CC 2-6
Attendance: 16,668
All-Tournament Team

G: Justin Johnson, Minnesota
D: Keith Ballard, Minnesota
D: Tom Preissing, Colorado College
F: Shane Joseph, Minnesota State, Mankato
F: Junior Lessard, Minnesota-Duluth
F: Grant Potulny, Minnesota (MVP)

The Huskies, who have been to the NCAAs the past three years in a row (going 0-3) finished sixth in the WCHA regular season standings, and lost to the Bulldogs in the first round of the playoffs, seemingly ending SCSU's season with a 17-15-5 mark. But UMD, which improved to 22-15-5 on Saturday with a 6-4 win over Minnesota State, Mankato (the Bulldogs were lining up to kick the extra point when time expired), is being badly hurt in the NCAA's selection formula due to disparities in their strength of schedule.

The Huskies played non-conference series against Ferris State, Rensselaer and Providence, going 4-2 in those games. The Bulldogs had Notre Dame, Bemidji State, Union and Rensselaer on their non-conference slate, and went 4-3-1 versus the Irish, Beavers, Dutchmen and Engineers. And the way the system works, St. Cloud State's 6-3 loss to CCHA champion Ferris State may have helped the Huskies more than Minnesota-Duluth's 12-0 win at Bemidji State helped the Bulldogs.

So despite UMD's advancing to the Final Five and winning two of three there (losing after taking the nation's top team to overtime on 16 hours rest), and despite going 11-4-1 in their last 16 (while SCSU went 7-7-4 in the same stretch), the NCAA computer gives a thumbs-up to Craig Dahl's crew, and sends the Bulldogs home. (The NCAA removed the "record in the last 16" criteria for selection this season.)

It's not just the Bulldogs and their fans thinking there's something wrong with this picture.

"I've got to question whether you belong in the NCAAs if you don't finish in the top half of your league and you don't win the first round of the playoffs," said
MSU coach Troy Jutting. "I think Duluth has a very strong argument that they should be in the tournament. They definitely should be given more consideration than they probably will be."

Asked if he'd feel cheated if the Huskies play on and his team doesn't, Bulldogs freshman goalie Isaac Reichmuth had a concise one-word answer.

"Yep," he said, adding, "They're a good hockey team, so it's nothing against them, but us beating them in the playoffs and coming here and winning a couple of games should get us in ahead of them."

UMD coach Scott Sandelin seemed more resigned to his team's fate, saying that he came to St. Paul knowing the Bulldogs needed three wins to get in, and they only won two. Still, he thinks his team is playing some pretty good hockey – especially in the last six weeks – and admitted that not getting in the tourney is a disappointment.

"If someone is looking down on us from above and we get in, great, but it's out of our hands," he said.

The problem, most feel, is that it's not in anyone's hands. It's being decided in the circuits of a computer that will send MSU, North Dakota and St. Cloud State to the NCAAs, while leaving out the team that beat all of them in the past week. On behalf of the Bulldogs and their fans, Jutting is among those already saying "wait'll next year."

"If they don't get in, I think it'll provide a lot of impetus for a very talented young hockey team to be a force to be reckoned with next season," Jutting said.

It's just too bad they won't be reckoned with next week.

Minnesota-Duluth 6,
Minnesota State, Mankato 4
Team Goal Str
Time Assists

First Period

1-MD Tim Hambly (2) EV
3:20 Unassisted
2-MD Junior Lessard (21) EV
12:12 N. Petruic, T. Brosz
1-MS Cole Bassett (14) PP
19:04 G. Stevenson, S. Joseph
3-MD Tyler Brosz (7) EV
19:45 T.J. Caig
Second Period
4-MD Josh Miskovich (2) EV
2:22 S. Czech
2-MS S. Joseph (28) PP
12:19 C. Bassett, G. Stevenson
3-MS S. Joseph (29) PP
13:06 C. Bassett, B.J. Abel
Third Period
5-MD Steve Czech (3) EV
6:15 N. Anderson, J. Francisco
6-MD T.J. Caig (9) EV
12:05 J. Lessard
4-MS Adam Gerlach (13) EV
13:00 J. Dubel, S. Joseph
MD: Isaac Reichmuth, 60:00, 23 saves, 4 GA
MS: Jason Jensen, 20:00, 7 saves, 3 GA; Jon Volp, 37:46, 27 saves, 3 GA
Penalties: MD 6/12; MS 7/14
Power Plays: MD 0-5; MS 3-4
Attendance: 16,668


Perhaps the most shocking quote of WCHA Final Five weekend came not at any of the league's official press conferences, but in a pressbox conversation between a retired coach and a writer who rarely covers college hockey. On Friday, former Minnesota skipper Doug Woog told Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse that this year's Gopher team is better than the one that skated off with the NCAA title 49 weeks ago.

That opinion will clearly be put to the test in the coming weeks. But when asked about the comment after their 4-2 win over Colorado College for the WCHA playoff crown, the players and coach didn't shy away from the idea that they're a step ahead of last year – even without the likes of Jeff Taffe, Johnny Pohl and Jordan Leopold.

"We're a much different team that last year, and clearly we couldn't have done what we did last year without those superstars," said Grant Potulny. "But we've got 20 guys this year who are all on the same page and all working toward one goal. So maybe having 20 guys all pulling in the same direction is as good as having three superstars to lead the way."

Coach Don Lucia won't say if his '03 team is better than his '02 model, but he does stress that if the Gophers get back to the Frozen Four, it won't be just making another run with the same set of horses.

"We have one senior in our lineup this year, so it's like having a completely new team," he said. "When the playoffs started last week, we had eight guys in the lineup who had never skated in a playoff game. So we don't have the superstars like last year, but we're playing very well right now."

Tournament Three Stars
3. Justin Johnson, Minnesota
In 2000, North Dakota star goalie Karl Goehring got hurt right before the start of the playoffs, and backup Andy Kollar led the Fighting Sioux (who had finished second in the regular season) to the WCHA playoff title. A few weeks later, with Goehring back in the lineup, the Sioux won the Frozen Four. With Johnson filling in for the injured Travis Weber (who's expected to be back next week) this weekend, lots of WCHA followers are having déjà vu.
2. Peter Sejna, Colorado College
In the third period of the title game, with his team trailing 4-1, Sejna launched a bad angle shot that found a tiny, tiny gap between Johnson's shoulder and the goal post. It was Sejna's 35th goal of the year. Afterward, Don Lucia told the media he's instructed his players never to try that shot because you so rarely score when they goalie is giving up such a tiny opening by leaning toward the shooter. "Our guys will score on that shot maybe one out of 1,000 tries," said Lucia. "(Sejna) could probably score there on one out of five."
1. Grant Potulny, Minnesota
Two games, three goals, one assist, one game-winning goal, one game-tying goal, one championship banner, one MVP award, one top seeding in the regional. Any questions?


• St. Cloud State coach Craig Dahl took a break from prepping his team for their expected trip to the East Coast for the first round of the NCAAs and attended Saturday night's title game. Upon being congratulated for the Huskies apparent qualification for the tourney, he waxed philosophically about cosmic justice. "In two of the past six years, we've been good enough to go but have gotten knocked out by upsets in tournaments in the East, so maybe turnabout is fair play," he said.

• The biggest boo heard during the third place game came when a promo for an upcoming Dixie Chicks concert was show on the arena's video board. Apparently Chicks' lead singer Natalie Maines isn't making fans among the college hockey crowd with her recent rip on the President. (For those of you who haven't watched anything but your local Fox Sports Net affiliate in weeks, Maines said she was ashamed by be a Texan, because the state also produced Dubbya.)

• With the Detroit Red Wings in St. Paul to play the Wild on Sunday, WCHA public relations director Doug Spencer (a die-hard Wings fan since his formative days in Farmington, Mich.) had hoped to have Chris Chelios (Wisconsin), Brett Hull (Minnesota-Duluth) and Curtis Joseph (Wisconsin) perform the ceremonial puck drop prior to the tournament's title game. But Detroit's Saturday afternoon game in St. Louis ran long, and the team didn't arrive in Minnesota in time for the players to get to the rink before the faceoff. Chelios arrived in the second period with Steve Yzerman and the pair watched the game in the press box.

• Colorado College's tiger mascot, Prowler, didn't make the trip to St. Paul. But the Tigers had a mascot of sorts in the building anyway. With Kellogg's serving as title sponsor for the Final Five, fans got to shake hands and get their picture taken with the Keebler Elf and Tony the Tiger (of Frosted Flakes fame) throughout the weekend. And instead of bronze medals after winning the third place game, Minnesota-Duluth's players were rewarded with boxes of Kellogg's cereal.

• Scott Owens noted that due to an NCAA rule change this season, a host team at an NCAA Regional (like Michigan and Minnesota this year) will no longer have to give up its own locker room to make way for the No. 1 seed. But from the Tigers' perspective, no rule change was necessary. Owens said moving the Wolverines or the Gophers out of their rooms next weekend wouldn't have been worth the distraction.


To the designers of the Xcel Energy Center who decided to make the west side of the building all glass. When you've essentially been inside an arena for three straight days (even an arena as nice as this one) you start to miss the outside world a little bit. The fact that during those quiet moments between games on Saturday afternoon/evening, writers in the pressbox were able to see the setting sun through the arena windows was a really nice unexpected bonus.

To Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin for his candor and sense of humor throughout the weekend. The low-key Sandelin, who admitted that he doesn't like being at the podium during press conferences, was friendly and provided funny stuff all weekend. When asked about his team's standings in the Pairwise rankings on Friday, he gave a self-deprecating grin and said, "I don't understand all of the math. I just know we have to win." And when his time on the stage was done on Saturday, he nodded to the media with a smile and said, "Its been nice seeing all of you here the past three days." Nice to see you too, Sandy. Maybe we'll see you back here next year at this time.

To fans of non-participating teams who go a little overboard in the "gameday apparel" department. Hey, if you're a Sioux fan, be proud. And if you want to wear your UND sweater to the third place game between Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State, Mankato, more power to you. But to wear the sweater, the green and white Zubas, the green Cat-In-The-Hat lid and the three strings of shiny green beads when your team was on a bus back to Grand Forks more than a day ago just looks silly. (What, no face paint?) Save it for the NCAAs.

To the Gopher fans behind the arena's west goal with the big sign that read "SIV." Apparently you can no longer minor in Spelling at the U.

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