West Regional | First
Kids Are All Right
Okposo, Johnson lead Minnesota back from
brink against Air Force
Air Force 3
Phillipich, M. Mayra
Fairchild, F. Schiavone
Okposo, E. Kaufmann
Johnson, D. Peltier
Goligoski, M. Vannelli
Andrew Volkening, 58:03, 33 saves, 4 GA
Kellen Briggs, 60:00, 28 saves, 3 GA
AF 4/8; MN 4/8
Plays: AF 1-4; MN 1-4
DENVER – On a team largely devoid of
seniors — defenseman Mike Vannelli and goalie Kellen
Briggs are the lone members of that lot — Minnesota
routinely looks to underclassmen to provide a spark.
But to have two freshmen playing in their
first NCAA Tournament game jump start a squad on the brink
of being eliminated by the Atlantic Hockey champion for
the second straight season? That's fairly uncommon. Not
unheard of, however.
Erik Johnson and Kyle Okposo filled that role
for Minnesota in the Gophers' 4-3 win over a tenacious Air
Force team in front of 11,161 fans at the Pepsi Center Saturday
afternoon. Granted, the pair aren't your garden-variety
rookies — both were among the top seven picks in last
year's NHL Entry Draft — but it was their commitment
to physical play and a warrior mentality that made the difference.
"When we got down 3-1, I tried to pick
up my physical game a little more and rush the puck a little
more," Johnson said.
Which he did. His shot from the point late
in the third period was deflected past Air Force goalie
Andrew Volkening by another freshman, Jim O'Brien, to pull
the Gophers even at 3-3.
O'Brien managed to hold off a Falcon defender
long enough to get his stick on the puck. It was a show
of strength that Air Force had seen from Okposo all game.
He set up a number of scoring chances by carrying the puck
out of the corner or from behind the net and muscling his
way into a more advantageous spot.
"I just try to do subtle things like
that," said Okposo, who set up forward Ryan Stoa's
power-play goal that cut the Falcons lead to 3-2 with 8:10
left in regulation.
"We knew they were a smaller team and
we had the size advantage," Johnson said, "so
we needed to grind the defensemen down low and hit their
forwards when they were in our zone. They eventually wore
down at the end."
Okposo's line, which included wings Stoa and
Evan Kaufmann, was also given the assignment of neutralizing
Air Force's high-scoring trio of Andrew Ramsey, Mike Phillipich,
and Hobey Baker Award finalist Eric Ehn. They were effective
in that role. Ehn was held scoreless, and while Ramsey scored
the Falcons' second goal off a rebound of a Phillipich shot,
it was during a 5-on-3 power play, and Okposo's unit was
not on the ice.
"That's kind of how it's been in the
playoffs," Okposo said. "We were matched up against
their top line for much of the game. They were playing all
the time so, in turn, we were playing all the time."
If Minnesota is to advance to the Frozen Four
by beating North Dakota, the Gophers would be wise to follow
Johnson's and Okposo's lead once again.
"We've gotta be go-to guys because we
don't have many upperclassmen," Johnson said. "We've
got to step into those roles and fill them nicely."
Dakota 8, Michigan 5
Hensick, J. Johnson
VandeVelde, C. Genoway
Rohlfs, J. Johnson
Miller, C. Genoway
Duncan, B. Lee
Bina, R. Duncan
Porter, M. Hunwick
Watkins, C. Porter
Bina, R. Duncan
P. Lamoureux, 60:00, 29 saves, 5 GA
Billy Sauer, 59:51, 19 saves, 7 GA
NDK 6/12; UM 10/28
Plays: NDK 5-8; UM 1-5
AN ELEPHANT NEVER FORGETS, BUT GOALIES
AND DEFENSEMEN DO
North Dakota goaltender Philippe Lamoureux
wasn't fighting the puck
through the first 21 minutes of his team's West Regional
first-round matchup against Michigan. The puck had his sweater
pulled over his head and was pummeling him.
"For a while there, I couldn't stop a
beach ball," the junior netminder said.
But goalies, like defensive backs and relief
pitchers, require a short-term memory deficiency. That mindset
helped Lamoureux and the Fighting Sioux recover from a pair
of two-goal deficits and a 5-4 disadvantage early in the
second period en route to a 8-5 win and a berth in Sunday's
regional final against Minnesota.
It doesn't matter about my personal stats,"
said Lamoureux. "It's [whether] I give my team a chance
to win the hockey game. I had to battle back and I had to
make big stops for my club. I really pride myself on never
Most goalies would've quit had they allowed
a goal like the one Lamoureux gave up 58 seconds into the
second period that made the score 5-4 in favor of the Wolverines.
He skated to the far corner to corral a puck that Michigan
had dumped into the North Dakota end and played it behind
his cage. But the Wolverines' Andrew Cogliano was waiting
to intercept the puck, wheeled to the front of the net,
and fired it into the empty goal.
Lamoureux's shot at redemption came later
in the second, when he stoned Michigan's T.J. Hensick on
a short-handed breakaway attempt. He also stopped Kevin
Porter on a quasi-break in the same period.
"Fortunately for me, I was able to make
some saves to change the momentum of the game," said
Lamoureux, who stopped 23 shots in the last two periods.
"The guys kept battling back for me, and I had to battle
back for them."
|North Dakota goalie
Philippe Lamoureux rebounded from a shaky start to play
better as the game progressed, including making this
stop on a short-handed breakaway by Kevin Porter in
the second period.
Michigan's Mark Mitera, a stay-at-home type
paired with jump-in-the-play Jack Johnson, had an experience
similar to Lamoureux, though his night ended with a loss.
"It's tough to play my role when you're
down two goals," Mitera said. "You get a little
antsy out there ... especially when I'm out there with a
guy like Jack. I tell him just go every time [and] I'll
cover your back.
"You can't get down on the goals that
you gave up. We had plenty of chances to come back. You've
gotta have a short memory and put it behind you."
SEEN AND HEARD AT THE PEPSI CENTER
• Lamoureux may only be 5-foot-8 and
156 pounds, but he's one feisty bugger. When Michigan's
T.J. Hensick looked like he was going to try and put the
puck into the Fighting Sioux net after the horn ending the
first period sounded, Lamoureux responded by taking a swipe
at Hensick with his stick — he was penalized for slashing,
and the Wolverines would score on the ensuing power play.
After Lamoureux thwarted Hensick's shorthanded
breakaway attempt in the second period by smothering the
puck against the outside of the post with his blocker hand,
the goalie picked up the puck and fired it Hensick's general
direction after the referee had blown the play dead.
"I like to play with an edge," Lamoureux
explained. "It gives me a bit of inner confidence.
I know I can stop anybody, no matter who it is."
|The Flynn brothers escaped the
disciplinary wrath of referee Scott Hansen following
a couple of skirmishes, but they might hear about it
from Mom on their next trip home.
• On a couple of occasions during the
Air Force-Minnesota game, Falcons sophomore defenseman Greg
Flynn mixed it up with Minnesota freshman forward Ryan Flynn.
Yeah, they're brothers.
Shortly before the horn sounded to end the
first period, the a maroon-clad Flynn lined up his older
brother for a body check in the Air Force zone. A more memorable
dust-up occurred in the third period, when the two briefly
tangled in front of AFA goaltender Andrew Volkening.
"We both know where we are on the ice
... and we both knew what was on the line," Greg Flynn
said. " I wouldn't expect him to play any less hard
because of me, and he wouldn't expect any less from me."
• Michigan had a lot of things to fume
about following its disastrous effort against North Dakota,
and the officiating was high on that list. Granted, the
crew led by ECAC Hockey League referee Dave Hansen had a
tough night, but then again, who didn't?
"It's important that everyone understand
what the standard is," Wolverines coach Red Berenson
said following the game.
INCH's Three Stars of the Night
Philippe Lamoureux, North Dakota
what you want about a goalie who gives up five goals
on 34 shots, but Lamoureux kept his poise, battled
hard, and made a number of big saves in the second
and third periods.
Air Force's third and fourth lines
With the Falcons' top line of Andrew Ramsey,
Eric Ehn, and Mike Phillipich held in check most of
the game, the team's third and fourth units did a
masterful job of playing a hard-skating, attacking
style that sparked Air Force to its 1-0 lead and set
the tone for the remainder of the game.
Kyle Okposo, Minnesota
He only shows up on the scoresheet just once,
but his strength in the corners and around the net
embodied the style of play the typically high-flying
Gophers would use to come back to beat Air Force.
Forward T.J. Hensick was frustrated with the
officiating, too, so frustrated that he was whistled for
a 10-minute misconduct with 12 minutes left in regulation.
"The ref was chirping at me more than
I was chirping at him," Hensick said. "But he
felt he needed to do what he did to take control of the
• North Dakota travels as well as —
if not better than — any fan base in the nation, and
the West Regional was no different. But the Fighting Sioux
band didn't make the trip. What gives?
• Air Force won't have to wait too long
to get another crack at a Minnesota team it thought (rightfully
so) it should've beaten. The Falcons are in the field for
the 2007 Dodge Holiday Tournament at Mariucci Arena.
• From the Let's Not Be Too Hasty Dept.:
A graphic superimposed over a shot of Minnesota's Mike Carman
on the Gopher bench with a little more than two minutes
left in regulation credited him with scoring the game-winning
• Best little-known uniform feature
in college hockey — the lightning bolts on both sides
of Air Force's pants. Very cool in a San Diego Chargers
• No fewer than 10 members of the Pepsi
Center ice maintenance crew storm the ice during television
timeouts to remove snow buildup in front of the team benches,
beside and behind the nets, and in the slot from the face-off
circle hashmarks down to the top of the crease.
weather, along with the presence of one local team (Air
Force) and two fan bases that travel extremely well (Minnesota
and North Dakota) likely helped attendance here today. Still,
much of the lower two tiers of the Pepsi Center were full,
as were the middle sections of the third deck. And the crowds
were energetic right from the start. Announced attendance
for the first game was 11,161, while 11,171 saw game two.
"I was really surprised," Minnesota
forward Kyle Okposo said. "There was a great atmosphere
in the building. We didn't expect for the rink to be that
of atmosphere, Denver is proving itself to be an underrated
hockey town. From the large banner at the airport welcoming
people attending the West Regional to signs in the windows
of popular LoDo restaurants and pubs doing the same, this
community accustomed to hosting high-profile events is embracing
its role this weekend.
a former Denver resident, one of my go-to facts when discussing
the area is that the city sees more than 300 days of sunshine
annually. Highlights of the Saturday's drive to the rink
were low, grey clouds; a steady, cold rain; and a temperature
hovering around 30 degrees. Good day for a pair of hockey
games. The weather is supposed to improve markedly Sunday,
excellent news for fans looking to do some sightseeing prior
to tomorrow's 4 p.m. MDT faceoff.
lack of poise in key situations of its game with North Dakota
was especially disappointing. Defenseman Jack Johnson took
two ill-advised penalties, and forward T.J. Hensick was
hit with a 10-minute misconduct with 12 minutes left in
Another matchup between North Dakota and Minnesota
looms on Sunday, with both teams knowing they'll need to
play better than they did on Saturday to have a chance at
advancing to the Frozen Four. The Sioux swept a series against
the Gophers in Minneapolis in late January, but Minnesota
won the last meeting between the teams, on Blake Wheeler's
diving play to score in overtime of the Final Five Championship.