WCHA: Wisconsin Stands Alone

     Four Western Collegiate Hockey Association teams began NCAA tournament play Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday morning only one remains: Wisconsin. The Badgers are headed to the Frozen Four and face Rochester Institute of Technology in the semifinals April 8 at Ford Field in Detroit. League regular season champion Denver, playoff champion North Dakota, and St. Cloud State have completed play for 2009-10, along with soon-to-be WCHA member Bemidji State. On Saturday, Wisconsin defeated St. Cloud State 5-3 in the West Regional title game; Yale defeated North Dakota 3-2 in a Northeast Regional semifinal; and Michigan defeated Bemidji State 5-1 in a Midwest Regional semifinal. Denver lost to RIT 2-1 Friday in a East Regional semifinal.

     There are two regional title games Sunday on ESPNU: Yale vs. Boston College at 4:30 p.m., and Miami of Ohio vs. Michigan at 7 p.m. Here are Sunday newspaper accounts of WCHA-connected teams:

Andy Baggott, Wisconsin State Journal

ST. PAUL — It’s an important detail to be sure, but one probably obscured by a rare achievement by the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team.

For only the second time in program history, dating to 1921, the Badgers will go through an entire season without losing back-to-back games.

The precedent was set in 1976-77 when arguably the greatest club UW has ever had won the Western Collegiate Hockey Association title and the NCAA championship en route to finishing 37-7-1 overall.

Perhaps overlooked in the latest instance is that the Badgers have prevailed in every must-win moment, the latest coming Saturday night when they knocked off St. Cloud State 5-3 and secured a berth in the NCAA Frozen Four before an announced crowd of 7,182 at the Xcel Energy Center.

Fifth-ranked UW will continue on the road to what would be its seventh national title, and first since 2006, when it faces upstart Rochester Institute of Technology in the Frozen Four semifinals April 8 at Ford Field in Detroit.

“We really earned this opportunity,” junior defenseman Ryan McDonagh said.

Senior center Blake Geoffrion further enhanced his Hobey Baker Award stock, scoring his team-leading 27th goal, adding two assists and making huge plays on special teams to earn the regional MVP award. In six postseason games, he has six goals and five assists.

“You can see how this team follows his lead,” UW coach Mike Eaves said of Geoffrion, who defied conventional wisdom and returned for his fourth year instead of turning pro.

Senior left winger John Mitchell scored two goals — his first since January — sophomore defenseman Jake Gardiner and senior center Aaron Bendickson (empty net) added the others, and junior goaltender Scott Gudmandson was good when he had to be en route to 26 saves.

One night after dealing with one no-tomorrow moment, rallying to oust Vermont 3-2 in the regional semifinals, UW (27-10-4 overall) handled another beautifully.

In the sixth meeting of the season between these WCHA rivals, the Badgers started strong — jumping out to a 3-1 lead — had answers for adversity and never panicked. They were 7-for-7 killing penalties and physically dominated St. Cloud State (24-14-5) from start to finish.

“Our tank wasn’t full and theirs was,” Huskies coach Bob Motzko said, adding his power play was rendered useless because “we just couldn’t breathe” due to the pressure applied by UW.

The Badgers began this habit of rising to the occasion during the regular season when they faced three NCAA tournament qualifiers from the WCHA.

They lost regular-season series openers against St. Cloud State Nov. 20 and Jan. 19, struggling mightily in the process, but came back to win the second night in dominating fashion.

They rallied to win at third-ranked North Dakota Dec. 12, following up an overtime draw with a 4-3 decision that was a coming-out part for Gudmandson.

They held on to knock off top-ranked Denver Jan. 23, following up an overtime tie with a 4-3 triumph that ended a seven-game regular-season losing streak to the Pioneers at the Kohl Center.

With 55,031 fans on hand for the inaugural Camp Randall Hockey Classic outdoor game at Camp Randall Stadium Feb. 6, the Badgers scored twice in the final 6 minutes to topple Michigan 3-2.

Then, after dropping a lackluster 2-0 decision to St. Cloud State in the WCHA Final Five semifinals March 19, they rebounded with a 6-3 romp over top-ranked Denver in the consolation game that clinched a No. 1 seed in the NCAA field.

UW began the night in fifth gear physically and emotionally, traits that translated to an early lead from a long-lost source.

Mitchell scored his sixth goal of the season, but first in 16 games, when he rerouted a centering feed from senior left winger Andy Bohmbach (two assists) past goaltender Mike Lee at 2 minutes, 31 seconds into the first period.

Geoffrion hammered a rebound past Lee at 13:18 after Lee had denied a shot from the left point by McDonagh.

The Huskies got a breath of life at 14:48 when left winger Jared Festler slipped down the slot and one-timed a pass from right winger Ryan Lasch past Gudmandson.

But Gardiner had a huge response 33 seconds later. Lee made a stop on a rocket from the right circle by freshman right winger Craig Smith, but Gardiner found the rebound just below the left circle and made it 3-1.

“The great start was pivotal,” UW coach Mike Eaves said. “Responding like we did was pivotal.”

At that point, Motzko lifted Lee in favor of Dan Dunn, but the tempo was set.

The scoreless second period featured a subtle, critical bit of work by Geoffrion while on the penalty kill.

The Huskies, desperate for some inspiration, got some when they were handed a 5-on-3 power play for 24 seconds. But Geoffrion defused it, cleanly winning a defensive-zone faceoff against center Garrett Roe. The puck went back to McDonagh, who quickly cleared the zone as the two-man advantage evaporated. Geoffrion wound up winning 22 of 34 faceoffs on the night.

Every time St. Cloud State saw a flicker of light, it was blown out quickly.

Festler scored a short-handed goal to cut the deficit to 3-2 early in the third, but Mitchell came out of the penalty box and jammed a rebound past Dunn (31 saves).

With Dunn pulled for an extra attacker, left winger Tony Mosey beat Gudmandson to make it 4-3, but Bendickson scored into an empty net moments after pushing a similar opportunity wide.

“They did a nice job of answering everything we had,” Huskies defenseman Garrett Raboin said.

As such, UW has fulfilled its well-documented plan to get to the Frozen Four. Its seven seniors were either on board for the title in ’06 or were brought in the following year.

“I can’t find the words to describe it,” Geoffrion said. “But the job’s not done yet.”

Brad Elliott Schlossman, Grand Forks Herald

WORCESTER, Mass. — One week after reaching the pinnacle of this rollercoaster season, it all came to a frustrating end for the North Dakota men’s hockey team.

There will be no trip to the Frozen Four this year.

Those hopes, which seemed so realistic after the team’s run to the Broadmoor Trophy last weekend, were dashed by Yale in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The No. 8 Bulldogs, a third seed, jumped to a three-goal lead after two periods and survived a mad dash by the No. 4 Sioux in the third to win 3-2 at the Northeast Regional in Worcester’s DCU Center.

“We didn’t play our best game today and that’s painful,” North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said. “Twenty minutes against good hockey teams at this time of year isn’t going to be enough. We weren’t sharp enough through the first part of the game. Quite simply, we picked a bad time of the year to start poorly and we took a little too long to regain our style of game.”

North Dakota’s season ends at 25-13-5, while Yale (21-9-3) advances to Sunday’s region final to take on top-seeded Boston College, which beat Alaska earlier Saturday.

This is the second straight year that UND has lost a one-goal game in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Last year, it was New Hampshire that scored with one tenth of a second left to tie it before winning it in overtime.

This year, the Sioux hoped they would be the ones tying it up late.

Yale skated to a 3-0 lead on two goals by Denny Kearney and one by Mark Arcobello. Kearney tipped a shot with the shaft of his stick in the first, scored on a great deke in the second and Arcobello used a long rebound off the end wall to make it 3-0 late in the second.

That’s when the Sioux came charging back.

Brett Hextall scored on a wrist shot just 2 minutes, 59 seconds into the third and Matt Frattin blocked a shot, skated in on a breakaway and made it 3-2 with 14:02 remaining in the game. Yale coach Keith Allain called a timeout after that to settle his team down.

“If anybody in the building thought that we were going to come out, roll over and go away,” Hakstol said, “they don’t know our team very well. We didn’t play very well tonight, we didn’t start very well, but that doesn’t change how I feel about this team. We have a lot of good character in there.”

There were chances to tie the game, too.

UND had a power play with 5:21 remaining, but Ryan Rondeau was able to get his glove on a Frattin point shot and cover a rebound of a Ben Blood shot — UND’s two best chances during the two minutes.

In the waning moments, the Sioux pulled goalie Brad Eidsness (20 saves) and threw six forwards on the ice, looking for the tying goal. They had a goal-mouth scramble with 20 seconds left, but Rondeau covered it.

And although the Sioux outshot Yale 18-5 in the third, they couldn’t find the tying goal.

“We couldn’t get our legs going and we started off too slow,” said Frattin, who had nine shots on goal total and six in the third period. “That was not our best hockey in the first two periods. We came out flying in the third and we took it to them, but it was too little, too late.”

North Dakota left town late Saturday, having a hard time believing the season had ended.

The team that started the year with more freshmen and fewer seniors than anyone in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, ended the year as one of the most dangerous teams in the country. That made the loss to the Bulldogs harder to swallow.

“It hasn’t 100 percent sunk in yet that our season is done,” UND forward Jason Gregoire said. “When it’s one game and your done, it’s really frustrating to come out like that. It’s tough. A lot of guys know they are coming back, but for the seniors, it’s really unbelievable. I feel so much for them. It’s really a tough thing.”

Chris VandeVelde and Darcy Zajac played in their final game as members of the Sioux. UND’s only other senior, Chay Genoway, could apply for a medical redshirt. Genoway suffered a concussion in November and never returned.

“There has been ups and downs through my four years here,” Zajac said. “We had a great year. Yeah, we didn’t play as well as we wanted to today, but, you know, we won the Broadmoor, battled through adversity, I met a lot of friends and I had a lot of fun. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

John J. McRae, Bemidji Pioneer

Bemidji State’s dream of a return visit to the Frozen Four was shattered Saturday, as Michigan topped the Beavers 5-1 in the opening round of the NCAA Midwest Regional in Fort Wayne, Ind.

The old adage, “it’s not that you play a team, it’s when you play them” was the story for the Beavers who were making their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Michigan entered the tournament as one the hottest teams in Division I and proved it.

“Michigan is the hottest team in the country, and maybe the best team, right now,” said Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore. “That was a great hockey team we played tonight.”

Michigan led 1-0 after one period and 2-0 after the second. The Beavers came back to make it 2-1 with a power play goal near the midway point of the third.

But after that it was all Michigan.

The Wolverines responded two minutes after the Beavers scored and then added a shorthander at 16:03 to go ahead 4-1. Michigan concluded the scoring with an empty net goal at 18:02.

The final score was a bit misleading as the Beavers skated with Michigan on even terms for the first 50 minutes. The difference was Michigan was able to finish on its chances while the Beavers were not.

“That was a hard fought game,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “I don’t think it was a 5-1 game at all. Bemidji State was always in it. They scored that goal in the third to make it 2-1 and it felt like the momentum was going to change. Then we were able to respond quickly and the ice kind of tilted our way.”

Michigan took a 1-0 lead in the evenly played first period. The Wolverines scored seconds after the Beavers had killed their only penalty of the period.

Steve Kampfer corralled the puck at the blue line and slid it across the point to Chad Langlais, who ripped a slap shot. The shot was tipped in front by Luke Glendening at 6:14 past a screened BSU goalie Dan Bakala.

Michigan carried the early part of the period, holding a 6-0 shot advantage at the 8:00 mark. The Wolverines got into penalty trouble the rest of the period, as the Beavers had four straight power plays.

Bemidji State, however, was unable to get the tying goal. The BSU offense did start warming up a bit and generated five strong scoring chances. Darcy Findlay had a great chance with a shot in close and got a rebound chance as well. Emil Bilberg also had a rebound opportunity on the play. Freshman Jordan George was alone down low, staring at an empty net with about four minutes remaining. The pass looked on the mark, but the puck jumped his stick and George couldn’t connect.

Both goalies were more than solid. Bakala had no chance on the Michigan goal and came up with a huge save by quickly sliding across the crease to rob Glendening at 12:15. Michigan’s Shawn Hunwick also stood tall with the Wolverines on the penalty kill for eight minutes.

Shots were even in the first period with Michigan holding a 9-8 edge.

“We really needed to get a power play goal there in the first period,” Serratore said. “You’d like to connect and get momentum going. It was tough.”

Michigan went ahead 2-0 in the second period with a late goal. Michigan had a 4 on 3 power play for 23 seconds and worked the puck around well, but didn’t score. Seconds after the teams went 4 on 4 Chris Brown found Lou Caporusso on a back door play alone just off the side of the crease. Caporusso ripped a wrist shot shortside past Bakala with 38 seconds left in the period.

“(That goal) was huge for us,” Berenson said. “It was maybe a little lucky, but giving up those last second goals is tough.”

Caporusso said Brown was able to find a seam and get him the puck. “It was kind of a scramble play,” he said. “He got the puck to me and I just shot it as hard as I could.”

The goalies once again stole the show in the second. Bakala made a huge save sliding across the crease again, robbing Glendening who had the puck on his stick at point blank range at 6:30 of the period.

It was Hunwick’s turn three minutes later. George got the puck alone in front off a long pass from Matt Read. Hunwick robbed the BSU freshman with a major save at 9:30.

The Beavers had another great chance to score in the second. Ben Kinne took a pass from Shea Walters in stride in the high slot and went in alone on Hunwick. Kinne’s shot, however, sailed over the cross bar with 4:30 left in the period, tipped at the very last second by a Michigan defender.

The Beavers got back into the game at 10:24 of the third as Ian Lowe connected on a power play goal. Matt Read found Lowe at the far face off circles and Lowe ripped a patented one-timer past Hunwick.

Less then a minute before he scored, Lowe rang a rocket slap shot off the pipe, beating Hunwick cleanly.

“We got that goal and it felt like we starting to get some momentum going,” Lowe said. “We would have liked to get another one right away, but it didn’t happen.”

Michigan regained the two goal lead at 12:24 as Carl Hagelin scored on a back hand off a 2 on 1 rush. The scoring play started as the result of a bad defensive change for the Beavers at the Michigan blue line. That sprang Hagelin and Kevin Lynch, with Hagelin ending up with a tap in goal off a nice feed.

The Beavers looked to have a good chance to cut into the lead with about four minutes left, going on the power play.

But it was Michigan who cashed in as Hagelin scored again, this time off a pass from Matt Rust.

Bemidji State pulled Bakala with 3:08 remaining. Brian Lebler scored an empty netter to make the final 5-1.

“I thought we had a lot in the tank (Saturday),” Serratore reported. “But their speed was tremendous. They were one step ahead of us for most of the night. In the third we started to stretch things out a bit, trying to get the puck past their defenders by banking it off the glass. It helped, but they just took advantage of the misplays we made.”

Senior captain Chris McKelvie, who played in his last collegiate game, said, “I thought the effort was there, but some of the bounces just didn’t go our way. I don’t want to be making excuses. When you allow those goals late in the period like we did in the second, it’s tough.”

Michigan ended with a 31-27 shot advantage for the game. Hunwick got the win, making 26 saves in a big time performance. Bakala ended with 26 saves, at least two of them that denied what looked to be sure goals.

“Bemidji State is a good team that’s had a good season,” Berenson said. “I watched them more in the last week than I have in my lifetime and I’ve been so impressed by them. We knew we had to put pressure on them or they could take over the game.”

Serratore said he was impressed with the Beavers’ game Saturday and entire season.

“I am so proud of the guys,” he said. “They came to work every day. They have a tremendous work ethic and are all tremendous people. It’s pretty easy to coach when you have players like that.”

2 thoughts on “WCHA: Wisconsin Stands Alone

  1. It looks like Minnesotans are going to have to re-evaluate our hockey hertitage. Other places are producing hockey players. Maybe the WCHA was overrated this year. The Metro area hockey gurus are going to have to do their homework and evaluate all hockey players with a more critical eye.

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