Here’s a sampling of what interested us from this past weekend’s action and results.
SCSU’s extra attacker: cell phone
It occurred to St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko before Saturday’s game against Minnesota-Duluth that whatever happened in Omaha directly affected the Huskies, and that the timing between the games would be critical. So, Motzko made sure to find a way to know the situation in Omaha as it would happen.
SCSU entered the evening tied with Nebraska-Omaha at 27 points, needing to earn at least one more point than UNO to get home ice for the first round of the WCHA Playoffs. UNO had the tiebreaker after the Mavericks defeated and tied SCSU in November.
It looked as though UNO had the sixth and final home playoff spot locked up before Denver tied the Mavericks with 38 seconds left in the first period. Meanwhile, in St. Cloud, the Huskies were headed for overtime tied 3-3 with UMD.
Motzko had his graduate assistants on the phone with the UNO press box in the hallway behind the SCSU bench, receiving live updates from the UNO-Denver game and relaying them out to the bench.
Almost four minutes had gone by in overtime in St. Cloud and the Huskies failed to score the game-winner and hundreds of miles to the south, UNO was keeping pace with SCSU, tied at two apiece with half of overtime gone by.
Motzko called a timeout with 1:10 left and considered pulling goaltender Mike Lee to get an extra attacker on the ice to put more pressure on the UMD defense to try for the crucial two points, assuming UNO would tie.
Then, Denver scored the winner in overtime to freeze UNO at 27 points and all SCSU had to do was play back and hang on for the tie, but with the clock dipping below one minute left in OT, the Huskies’ top line was still gunning for a goal and the defensemen were pinching to keep the puck deep in the UMD zone.
When, word of UNO’s loss reached the SCSU bench, players and coaches erupted and yelled for the Huskies to retreat and play conservative. SCSU held on for the tie, finished with 28 points, leapfrogging UNO (27 points) and Michigan Tech (26) in the same weekend.
The Mavericks go to the National Hockey Center for the series opener Friday. Cell phones shouldn’t be a factor.
Momentum in Wisconsin’s favor heading into postseason. UNO? Not so much.
When Nebraska-Omaha ended Minnesota-Duluth’s 17 game unbeaten streak with a 3-1 win over the defending national champs on Jan. 14, it had all the makings of a signature win to spark the Mavericks to a strong finish over the season’s final six weeks.
Who could have known it would be the last time fans at CenturyLink Center would witness a UNO victory?
After beating the Bulldogs, Nebraska-Omaha went 3-7-2 in its final 12 games including an 0-5-1 home record. On Feb. 24 the Mavericks were the WCHA’s lone team to have their four remaining games at home, in a three-way tie for fourth place and were in control of their postseason home-ice destiny.
UNO lost all four and ended the season with 27 points, one behind St. Cloud State who will now host the Mavericks next weekend. Granted, those losses were at the hands of top-seeded Minnesota and third-seeded Denver with two of them coming in overtime. But with Nebraska-Omaha holding the tie-breaker advantage over SCSU, just one point in those games would have meant a reversal of travel plans for each team.
Mavericks coach Dean Blais’ post-game comments following Denver’s 3-2 overtime win over UNO on Saturday didn’t exactly inspire a lot of hope for the Mavs in the postseason.
“It’s going to be tough to even regroup and get our stuff together for the playoffs,” Blais told USCHO’s Matthew Semisch. “But it’s a new season and we’re going to have to go beat a very good team two of out three.”
Wisconsin, on the other hand, last skated on home ice on Feb. 18 after beating Denver 5-2 with the prospect of hitting the road for the rest of the season with 1-8-1 record away from the Kohl Center.
The Badgers probably played their best hockey all year, home or away, in winning three of four to close out the season. Unfortunately for the Badgers, their 2-1 loss to Minnesota on Saturday night coupled with Bemidji State’s win over Alaska-Anchorage a few hours later, left Wisconsin right where it started when the 3-1 road trip began: in 10th place and a date with the Pioneers in Denver awaiting it.
If the Badgers had even salvaged a tie on Saturday to tie BSU, the tie-breaker was in Wisconsin’s favor meaning the Badgers would have traveled to face North Dakota in Grand Forks instead of Denver.
But Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves’ focus was solely on the way his team won four of its last five to close out the season in strong fashion and offered no preference as to UW’s first-round opponent.
“This is the way we need to play no matter where we go,” said Eaves.
Congrats to the MacNaughton Cup Champs
From the season’s onset, Minnesota entered every weekend with at least a share of first place in the WCHA. That’s pretty impressive for a team picked to finish sixth in both the coaches and media preseason polls.
We had slightly more confidence in the Gophers heading into the season but not much as we had them picked to finish fourth (Brian) or fifth (Tyler) back in early October. Despite the lack of faith, Minnesota went on to win its first MacNaughton Cup since 2006-07 with a dramatic third-period comeback over Wisconsin.
Gopher defenseman Nate Schmidt scored the cup-winning goal just before the eight minute mark of the third period and it was no easy feat. After diving at the blue line to keep the puck in the Wisconsin zone, Schmidt rose to his feet, stepped around Ryan Little’s shot block attempt, and let go of a slap shot through traffic which Badgers goalie Joel Rumpel may have never seen.
Schmidt, who elected to not touch the cup, superstitiously deferring that opportunity to the Gopher seniors, offered his account of the play.
“I was in the right place and just kind of kept (the puck) in,” said Schmidt. “I went up to take the big hammer and the guy kind of slid down and I just pulled it around him. I saw we had a couple guys in front and I just thought, ‘Get the puck to the net and hopefully hit it.’
“It was all good things from there.”
Tough to argue with that from a Minnesota perspective.