This past weekend, college hockey enjoyed the greatest three days of its season. The first and second round of the NCAA tournament took place from Friday to Sunday, and there was a tremendous amount of intrigue that surrounded each game.
There were some surprising upsets, dominant efforts, and a number of controversial calls that ended up playing a big factor in deciding games. Here are the biggest storylines that emerged from the twelve games this weekend:
#1 Minnesota State Loses to #38 Ranked RIT
The overwhelming #1 in both the Pairwise Rankings and Polls, the Mavericks were shocked by the worst “on paper” team in the tournament. RIT only made the tournament because they won the Atlantic Hockey Conference Tournament, which is universally regarded as the weakest conference.
Coming in, the Mavericks had never won an NCAA tournament game, and they left the tournament still searching for #1. They outshot the Tigers 34-19, but RIT senior Jordan Ruby held strong until RIT scored a controversial goal with six minutes remaining.
— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) March 28, 2015
It was originally ruled no goal due to goaltender interference, but upon further review it was allowed because the Minnesota State defenseman backed into his own goaltender.
Extra Attacker Proves Dangerous for Miami (OH)
Despite coming in as the #1 seed, Miami found itself in a 6-2 hole against #4 Providence in the third period. With their season on the line, Rico Blasi pulled his goalie with over 8 minutes remaining in the game. It seemed like insanity at the time, but Blais almost came out looking like a genius.
The Redhawks were able to score a shocking three goals with the goalie puled to make it a 6-5 game with 1:33 remaining. The Friars would finally pull it together and put in an empty netter to seal the 7-5, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort on the part of Louie Belpedio, who made an incredible individual effort to save a goal
— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) March 29, 2015
All in all, the Redhawks spent 8:35 of 20 minutes in the third period with their goalie pulled.
Jack Eichel Limited by Tight Checking
It was pretty clear from the start of both games that Yale and Minnesota Duluth had one approach to stop Jack Eichel: hit him every chance you get, and limit his space. On one hand, the approach did work. Eichel was limited to just one assist over two games as teams finished every check against him to throw him off his game.
His one point was a crucial one, a primary assist on BU’s overtime game winning goal in the first round against Yale. Eichel was covering for a pinching defenseman at the point, and fired a slapshot that created the rebound that led to the winner by Danny O’Regan.
The extra attention paid to Eichel also created significant open space for his linemates, who had a heck of a tournament. Evan Rodrigues and Danny O’Regan combined for 4 goals and 3 assists in two games, and Rodrigues was named the Northeast Regional MVP.
Even when Eichel producing on the scoresheet, his presence has a profound impact.
Defense Wins Championships
Each of the four remaining teams in the tournament (Boston University, North Dakota, Providence, and Nebraska-Omaha) ranked in the top 12 in the nation in goals against per game. It may be a saying as old as the game itself, but it still rings true today. Conversely, only BU and North Dakota ranked in the top 12 of goal for, with Providence and Omaha coming in at 21st and 28th respectively.
In fact, in the twelve games that took place, the team that allowed fewer goal per game in the regular season won eight times.
Experience vs. Upstarts in the Finals
On one side of the Frozen Four bracket are two classic college hockey powerhouses. Boston University and North Dakota (both #1 seeds) are synonymous with championships, winning a combined 12 National Championships and appearing in 43 Frozen Fours. They have 21 combined players who have already been drafted to the NHL.
On the other side of the bracket are Providence and Omaha, #4 and #2 respectively, have won zero National Championships, appeared in just 5 Frozen Fours, and have 14 players who have been drafted to the NHL.
Dean Blais of Omaha and Nate Leaman of Providence are two of the most respected coaches in hockey because they took their teams from mediocre programs to real contenders.
Blais got the Mavericks to the Frozen Four for the first time in program history in his 5th season, and Leaman brought the Friars to their first Frozen Four since 1985 in his fourth season.
That’s not to say Dave Hakstol of North Dakota and David Quinn aren’t fantastic coaches themselves, they certainly are. They’ve just done it in a very different environment with a deck stacked much more in their favor.
The Frozen Four will get underway on Thursday, April 9th when North Dakota faces Boston University, and Providence faces Nebraska-Omaha. The National Champion will be crowned that Saturday.