Vermont had waited 13 years since appearing in the NCAA Division I Frozen Four, what would another 13 minutes matter.
But those extra minutes, during the second overtime of the NCAA East Regional final March 28 in Bridgeport, Conn., seemed like forever as game officials repeatedly viewed game video.
Did Dan Lawson’s slap shot go into the Air Force Academy net?
“We were pretty nervous because we really didn’t know what was happening,” said Vermont winger Corey Carlson, a senior from Two Harbors. “At first we thought they were deciding if Pete Lenes, my roommate, had scored, but they were actually looking at a play from five minutes before.
“We had never seen anything like that, and when they finally decided we had scored, we started celebrating. We all had tears in our eyes. It was the biggest win for any of us.”
Western Collegiate Hockey Association referees Marco Hunt and Todd Anderson ruled that Lawson’s shot went into and through the netting of the Air Force goal. Vermont won 3-2 and continued to celebrate during a seven-hour bus ride home to Burlington, Vt. The No. 9-ranked Catamounts (22-11-5) now face Hockey East fellow member and top-ranked Boston University (33-6-4) at 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2, WEBC 560 AM) today in the Frozen Four at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
It marks Vermont’s first Frozen Four appearance since 1996 in Cincinnati, when it lost to Colorado College 4-3 in double-overtime in the semifinals.
It’s been a long road for assistant captain Carlson, the second-oldest player on the team at 24. He led Minnesota’s high school scorers with 79 points as a Two Harbors sophomore in 2000-01, transferred to Greenway of Coleraine for his final two high school years and was named to the 2003 News Tribune all-area hockey first team as a senior. He played three years in the U.S. Hockey League and has been in 152 career games in four seasons at Vermont. He’s an A student who will earn a business administration degree May 8.
“Corey is one of our smarter forwards and a great two-way player, who excels in faceoffs,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “He’s been a great leader for us, on and off the ice.”
Carlson, with 19 points this season and 73 in his college career, says a number of relatives will be at the Frozen Four, including his mom, Sandy, and dad, Thomas, and grandfather, Henry Carlson, all of Two Harbors, and older brother, Shawn, an elementary school teacher in Belle Plaine, Minn. Former Minnesota Duluth athletic director Bob Corran has been in the same job at Vermont since 2003.
Streaking Boston University
If there’s a favorite in the Frozen Four it’s Boston University, the only No. 1 regional seed to survive. Freshman winger Chris Connolly of Duluth has seen his team lose just once the past 23 games (19-1-3) and just twice in the last 32 games (26-2-4).
“We have a freshman goalie [Kieran Millan] who has been phenomenal, we have the best defensive corps that any team could ask for, and we can roll four lines,” said Connolly. “We took a turn at being No. 1 early in the season and then lost a few games, and that brought us back to reality.”
The Terriers and legendary coach Jack Parker (814-412-101 in 36 seasons, all at Boston University) started 6-1 with one-sided wins over North Dakota, Michigan and Vermont. They went 1-3 the next four games, including two home losses to Vermont, for the only down moment of the past six months.
Vermont was the No. 3 seed in the East Regional, Bemidji State was No. 4 in the Midwest and Miami of Ohio No. 4 in the West. Bemidji State (20-15-1) plays Miami (22-12-5) in today’s 4 p.m. semifinal (ESPN2, WEBC 560 AM).
“We understand what our position is and we’re concentrating on playing like a No. 1 seed,” said Connolly, who has nine goals and 19 assists for 28 points in 43 games.
Media Darling Bemidji State
Shea Walters and Bemidji State got together at the right time. Walters, a forward from Hibbing, spent three years in junior hockey and joined the Beavers for a historic run as a 21-year-old freshman.
Bemidji State is 14-2-1 the past 17 games in getting to the Frozen Four for the first time in the program’s 10 years at the Division I level. Despite being seeded 16th in the 16-team NCAA field, the Beavers eliminated Notre Dame and Cornell in the Midwest Regional and are hockey’s feel-good story this week.
“Playing three years after high school was the best decision I’ve ever made,” said Walters, a 2005 News Tribune all-area first-team pick. “I gained more confidence, more maturity and was just better prepared for college. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation.”
He was with Green Bay in the U.S. Hockey League for two years and played for North Iowa in the North American Hockey League in 2007-08, producing 84 points in 57 games.
Walters has played at wing and center, and has four goals and 11 assists for 15 points in 33 games. He says practices at Bemidji State have been intense all season under coach Tom Serratore, which has paid off in four postseason victories (including the College Hockey America playoff title) and five wins in a row overall.
“We’ve heard from hockey fans from all over,” said Walters. “A lot of them are saying, ‘Who are you guys?’ They’re excited about seeing a fresh face in the NCAA tournament.”
Also on the team are sophomore forward Ryan Cramer of International Falls, and junior defenseman Kyle Hardwick of Warroad, Minn., a younger brother of former UMD defenseman Jay Hardwick. Former UMD captain Bert Gilling is in his 10th year as an assistant coach.
Also, Bruce Ciskie’s Frozen Four feature on Bemidji State appears at FanHouse here.