After Minnesota Duluth had defeated Princeton with last-season heroics, and New Hampshire had beaten North Dakota with last-second heroics, Vermont had its own crazy, crazy finish to defeat Air Force last Saturday to advance to the NCAA Division I Frozen Four. The outcome involved WCHA referees Todd Anderson and Marco Hunt. Vermont faces Hockey East rival Boston University in the NCAA semifinals April 9 in Washington, D.C. Here’s a look from the Burlington Free Press:
One of the most memorable images for the University of Vermont’s controversial defeat by Colorado College in the 1996 Frozen Four in Cincinnati was the way in which Vermont coach Mike Gilligan handled the devastating situation.
Gilligan could have ranted about the incompetence of the referees, who missed the apparent hand pass that led directly to the winning goal in double overtime. He could have moaned about the unfairness of the fates. He could have unleashed his displeasure over the lack of instant replay.
Instead, Gilligan calmly addressed the media, deflecting criticism of the officials, expressing his disappointment in defeat but pride in team, and praised Colorado College. For that, Gilligan earned wide-spread admiration for his composure and class.
Thirteen years to the day of Vermont’s one and only Frozen Four game, the Catamounts again found themselves in double overtime of an NCAA tournament game against a Colorado team, this time in Saturday’s East Regional final in Bridgeport, Conn. This time, on a bizarre — not controversial — development, Vermont won, defeating the Air Force Academy 3-2 for a berth in its second Frozen Four.
It truly was bizarre, but it was never controversial, primarily because Air Force coach Frank Serratore exhibited the same composure and class Gilligan had displayed.
In a game in which Air Force executed its game plan much better than Vermont did its, the Catamounts won because the instant replay so sorely missing in 1996 worked to perfection 13 years later, an ironic payback for Vermont since the 1996 situation was much of the impetus for instant replay.
That video review convinced the referees that Dan Lawson’s slap shot of a few minutes earlier had legally entered the goal behind Air Force goalie Andre Volkening but passed through the back of the net. Only lengthy study of replays confirmed that referee Marco Hunt’s first if fleeting impression that the puck had indeed broken through the twine was correct.
Saturday night, addressing a packed media room postgame, Serratore never faltered in his support of referees Hunt and Todd Anderson. Not once did Serratore or the two Air Force players, Brett Nylander and Bertsch, hint that the result was unfair in any way. It was, they agreed, the correct call, even if it shattered their dreams.
Disappointed? Of course. Getting to the Frozen Four is big for any team; just ask Vermont, but it’s positively huge for a school like the Air Force Academy, which has nowhere near the recruiting pool of the sport’s big boys. Instead, Serratore and the players took pride in what they had accomplished, wish they had achieved more and praised the Catamounts.
The Catamounts, for their part, were elated but gracious winners, generous with their praise of Air Force and thankful that a break — one they earned — had gone their way.
Credit, too, is due referees Hunt and Anderson. Overall, they called a very good game, letting the players play. Twice, they took all the time they needed on video replays to make certain the call was the right call. It took nearly 13 minutes to officially make the call.
Said Vermont senior forward Corey Carlson, a Two Harbors native: “We tried to stay focused while waiting. We knew the call could go either way. “It’s great for the program and I think it sets the bar for the program in the years to come.”
In a college hockey weekend of wild results, some games might have been more dramatic — New Hampshire scoring with a 0.1 seconds left in regulation before winning in overtime; Minnesota Duluth netting two goals in the final 40 seconds with the tying goal coming with 0.8 seconds remaining to set up an OT win; three regional No. 1 seeds gone from tourney play by late Saturday night — but no outcome was more bizarre than Vermont vs. Air Force.
It was, truly, college sports at its finest, on the playing surface and during the emotional aftermath.