Looking For The Power
Gophers head coach Don Lucia looked all game Saturday for the right combination to spark the power play, which went 0-for-9.
After a couple of fruitless efforts, Lucia began changing up the power-play groups, then mix-and-matched players in an attempt to locate a combination that clicked. As a result, a number of Gopher youngsters saw time on the power play.
“You saw a lot of freshmen on our power play, and they were a little jittery,” said Lucia of the new groupings.
Doing It With Defense
Maine had been a notably defensive team all season, which didn’t change a bit in the regional semifinal. The Black Bears’ leading scorer coming into the weekend was Derek Damon, with a modest 27 points.
That left the Maine blueliners, led by Mike Lundin, and goaltender Jimmy Howard as the cornerstones of Maine’s success. With Howard’s 1.93 goals against average and .922 save percentage this season, Maine was fifth in the nation in goals against per game coming into Saturday.
Conversely, Minnesota’s offense ranked third in the WCHA and fifth in the nation, at 3.66 goals per game. The Gophers have three players with 40 or more points this season: Tyler Hirsch, Danny Irmen and Ryan Potulny — none of whom had a point in the Gophers’ 1-0 win Saturday.
Saturday, the Black Bears made their seventh consecutive NCAA appearance, the second-longest active streak among all teams. Minnesota’s current streak is five, good for third-best. Ohio State appeared for the third straight time, and Cornell was back after missing the tournament in 2004.
The longest current streak? Michigan, with 15 consecutive NCAA bids.
Settling It On The Ice
With its win versus Ohio State, Cornell earned a chance to prove that it deserved the No. 1 seed that Minnesota claimed, by beating Minnesota at Mariucci on its home ice.
The Lynah faithful were vocal in their displeasure over Cornell being passed up as a one seed. Now the fifth-overall seed Big Red will have a chance to settle it on the ice against the Gophers.
“The media all year long have questioned who we played and where we played,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer.
The Big Red is first in the nation in goals against per game, scoring margin, power-play conversion rate and penalty-killing success. Coincidentally, Cornell also sported the nation’s best winning percentage (.833) entering the weekend. Barring defensive meltdowns in its remaining games, Cornell’s scoring defense would be the best in college hockey in the post-Depression era.
The current record-holders are the 2000-01 Michigan State team, and Cornell’s own 2002-03 squad. Both allowed only 1.36 goals against per game, while the 2004-05 Big Red had permitted just 1.24 per game entering the weekend.
All Gone And One Remaining
With Cornell’s win over Ohio State, the CCHA has been eliminated from this year’s NCAA tournament. Cornell is the ECACHL’s lone remaining team.
“We came a long way,” said Ohio State senior captain JB Bittner, who played his last game in an OSU uniform Saturday. “With these guys they [the Buckeyes] have coming back, I see no reason they can’t make it to the Frozen Four [next year].”
First Things First
Cornell’s comeback win upped the Big Red’s record when its opponent scores first this season to 7-4-1. Conversely, the Big Red is 20-0-2 when scoring first.
Out Of The Box
The Buckeyes were among most-penalized teams in the nation this season, although their opponents often went into the sin bin with them. Saturday, though, OSU took just three penalties for six minutes.
Two key contributors missed the game for Minnesota. Defenseman Alex Goligoski is out with a wrist injury, while Tyler Hirsch was absent after his well-documented postgame display at the WCHA Final Five last weekend, in which Hirsch took a penalty-shot run at the net before crashing into the boards, dropping his stick at center ice and leaving for the locker room.
“I know Alex won’t play [Sunday]. We don’t know yet if Tyler will or will not,” said Lucia.
“It’s good for the game [of college hockey] when the one-four games are tight.” — Maine coach Tim Whitehead, on the near-upsets in the No. 1 seeds’ regional games this weekend.
“I’d rather be winning 9-0.” — Gopher netminder Kellen Briggs, after it was suggested that a defensive duel might play into a goaltender’s game plan.
“I think Detroit needs to sign him now.” — Lucia, with a quip on Jimmy Howard’s prospects after the junior’s sterling performance in net.
“I don’t think we did everything we could have done, because if we did everything we could have, we would have won.” — Bittner, on OSU’s loss.