The semifinals for the Frozen Faceoff are set. Given how competitive play between teams in the NCHC has been this season, perhaps the most surprising thing about the quarterfinal round is that three teams swept their series. There was only one upset, as the 1, 2, and 4 seeds advanced in North Dakota, Miami, and Denver, while No. 6 St. Cloud bedeviled No. 3 Omaha once again, sweeping the series in Omaha.
In the semis, North Dakota will face St. Cloud and Miami will face Denver.
Here are three things we learned.
Omaha fades again
There had been signs, yes. After finishing January in first place after splitting two overtime decisions against North Dakota, Omaha started February with a loss to Western Michigan. The Mavericks went 1-3-2 in February, and 1-0-1 against Colorado College to close the regular season on a 2-3-3 run in the regular season.
Yes, Omaha looked vulnerable. Slightly. Yet they were hosting St. Cloud, a team they’d swept at home and gotten swept by on the road. You would have thought home ice would matter. However, the Mavericks lost again, continuing a stretch in which they have not won a playoff series over the last four years.
Injuries didn’t help necessarily, as starting goalie Ryan Massa was injured in the first period Friday. However, Kirk Thompson came on strong, stopping 30 shots in a 2-1 loss in the second overtime. The game-winning goal seemed a fluke, as David Morley sent a wrist shot on net and it bounced high in the air, falling behind Thompson at 9:49.
Saturday’s game saw the Huskies jump out to a 2-0 lead after two periods. Omaha pulled its goalie with almost four minutes left, and it paid off when Grant Gallo scored to pull Omaha within one, but Joey Benik scored less than a minute later to seal the sweep for St. Cloud.
Omaha is likely high enough in the PairWise that it will qualify for the NCAA tournament, but after going 1-4-3 in its last seven, time is running out for the Mavericks to make a push.
Top line lifts Denver
“I’m sitting back in my net in awe of the plays they do,” said Denver goalie Evan Cowley of Denver’s top line of Danton Heinen, Trevor Moore, and Daniel Doremus, after Denver defeated Minnesota-Duluth 4-0 to sweep the series between the two.
DU’s top line, in particular Heinen, was key to the sweep. Heinen scored in both games, including a highlight-reel goal in the second game where he froze the defenseman, deked around him and then went top shelf in one smooth move.
Moore got Denver’s first goal, a great effort that ended with a spin-around shot that hit the post, then goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo’s leg, then went over the goal line.
In addition to the top line, Denver got balanced scoring, as Ty Loney had a hat trick in the first game, and Hobey Baker candidate Joey LaLeggia had two assists and a goal on the weekend.
Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin also praised DU’s top line, saying of Heinen, “He’s had a great year, and it’s probably one of the best lines I’ve seen. Certainly the way they’ve been playing right now the last month and a half, they’ve really caught fire, and we knew that coming in.”
Western Michigan challenges Miami
The only series to go three games pitted Miami against Western Michigan. Both teams had opportunities to sweep. The Broncos held a 3-2 lead in the first game after Kyle Novak’s goal at 1:44 of the third period, but Miami rallied with three goals, one on a power play and one into an empty net. Blake Coleman netted the game-winner.
On Saturday, Miami held the early lead after a goal by Riley Barber at 2:24 of the first, but Frederik Tiffels scored a short-handed goal to tie it, and then Tiffels gave the Broncos a lead they would never relinquish with a goal at 1:33 of the second.
In the deciding game, Scott Dornbrock put the RedHawks up in the first, Barber and Austin Czarnik scored in the second, and Coleman scored an empty-netter to seal the win.
Though Western’s season is over, the Broncos did beat every team in the conference except for North Dakota.