NCAA Hockey: 2011 Frozen Four field is set with midwest flavor
In two weeks, St. Paul will be going wild with the Frozen Four and there’s a distinctive midwestern flavor to it all as well as a classic hockey school feel to it all. Heading off to the big dance in Minnesota will be North Dakota, Michigan, Notre Dame, and regional favorites Minnesota-Duluth. Michigan will face North Dakota in one semifinal while Notre Dame takes on UMD in the other.
North Dakota punched their ticket to the national semifinals by handing Denver University a 6-1 thumping in the Midwest Regional today. North Dakota steamrolled their way through the region outscoring RPI and Denver by a combined 12-1 score and saw goalie Aaron Dell earn the most outstanding player award for the regional. Considering all the offense the Fighting Sioux put up, Dell’s work in shutting out RPI and holding the Pioneers to just one goal was worthy of recognition. North Dakota will be seeking their eighth National Championship in the program’s history. Coach Dave Hakstol’s team is playing outstanding and considering the bevy of talent on the team, they have to be considered the favorites the rest of the way. It also helps that they’re the tournament’s last remaining number one seed.
Michigan used some good luck and hard-nosed play to make their way to the Frozen Four. The Wolverines beat Nebraska-Omaha in the first round in overtime thanks to a friendly review of Kevin Lynch’s game-winning goal. The play was originally ruled not a goal but after a 10 minute review of the play, officials declared it to be a good goal.
The momentum from that win paid off against the region’s number four seed Colorado College as Michigan held off a late rally to beat the Tigers 2-1 to win the West Region. Colorado College was hoping their upset of the region’s top seed Boston College would carry them through, but the Wolverines’ dedication to defense shut them down. Michigan will be gunning for their tenth National Championship and with legendary coach Red Berenson behind the bench, they’ve got an edge there.
Notre Dame earned their way to St. Paul as the three seed in the Northeast Region after beating Merrimack in overtime on Saturday and following through with a 2-1 win over the region’s other surprise team New Hampshire. UNH made their way into the final after upsetting the region’s top seed Miami, but weren’t able to get through Notre Dame thanks to the great play of goalie Mike Johnson who made 37 saves to pace the Fighting Irish. Billy Maday’s (pronounced “MAY-day”) second period goal proved to be the game winner as UNH would only manage a late goal from captain Mike Sislo to get the game to within one.
Notre Dame was last in the Frozen Four in 2008 and lost to Boston College in the championship game. Coach Jeff Jackson will be looking to give the Irish their first National Championship in hockey. Jackson has two National Championships of his own when he coached Lake Superior State to titles in 1992 and 1994.
Minnesota-Duluth this season was on a bit of a roller coaster. Early in the year they were the number one team in the polls and were getting killer play from Jack and Mike Connolly along with Justin Fontaine and goalie Kenny Reiter. During the year they hit a bit of a slump and then failed to beat Bemidji State in the WCHA Final Five. They entered the tournament as a three seed in the East and then promptly caught fire knocking off Union College in the first round 2-0 and then beat the tournament’s top seed Yale 5-3 in the East final.
For UMD it’s their chance to try and win the school’s first men’s hockey National Championship just a year after their women’s team took home the title. With the legacy they have at UMD with Brett Hull having played there in the mid-1980s, the one thing lacking on their resume is the big prize. For Jack Connolly, being a Duluth native helping lead the Bulldogs to their first title would make him a permanent hero in the small northern Minnesota city.
The Frozen Four gets back to action on Thursday, April 7 with the National Championship game on Saturday, April 9.