When Colorado College completed a comeback from a three-goal deficit to win the Midwest Regional Saturday evening, a WCHA representative remarked that at least the league was guaranteed of having one team in the Frozen Four.
Twenty-four hours later, the WCHA had taken the other three spots, too.
Denver, North Dakota and Minnesota will join the Tigers in the Frozen Four April 7 and 9 in Columbus, Ohio, giving one league all four teams in the national semifinals for the first time in the 58-year history of the NCAA championship.
Even with the strength of his league in recent seasons, that’s something WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod could honestly say he never thought he would see happen.
“We always hoped,” McLeod said Sunday night. “The last few years when we’ve gotten five in the tournament, we’d always say, ‘Boy, I hope we can get in different [brackets] so we can have a shot at this thing.’ When it ended up this year that [the WCHA got] three of the top four seeds, I’m thinking to myself, we’re going to get in three brackets anyhow.
“Thinking that way was more hopes and dreams that maybe someday we’d have a shot at something like this.”
Minnesota completed the WCHA foursome with a 2-1 overtime victory over Cornell in the West Regional final in Minneapolis on Sunday. Earlier in the day, Denver dispatched New Hampshire 4-2 to win the Northeast Regional.
On Saturday, CC rallied for a 4-3 victory over Michigan in the Midwest Regional before North Dakota upset No. 1 overall seed Boston College 6-3 to win the East Regional.
Six of the eight games those four WCHA teams played in the regionals were decided by one goal, or two with an empty-net score. Three, including both of Minnesota’s victories, went to overtime.
The way the brackets shake out sets up a pair of big-time rivalry games in the Frozen Four. Colorado College and Denver, teams separated by a little more than 60 miles on Interstate 25, will square off in the first semifinal at 2 p.m. ET on Thursday, April 7. The Tigers and the Pioneers shared the MacNaugton Cup as WCHA regular-season champions after a series split on the final weekend, and Denver leads the season series 3-2 thanks to a 1-0 victory in the WCHA Final Five championship game on March 19.
Minnesota and North Dakota, who have held a fierce rivalry for years, will meet at 7 p.m. ET on semifinal Thursday. The teams split the regular-season series, with each claiming a victory in Grand Forks in October. But the Sioux have the advantage for the season thanks to a 4-2 victory over the Gophers in the WCHA third-place game.
The WCHA holding all the spots in the Frozen Four leaves the door open for some level of disinterest from other parts of the college hockey fan base. But McLeod hopes that will be outweighed by having four high-quality teams in Columbus.
“The point of all this is to get the four best teams at the tournament, so to me as far as the caliber of play or the competitive level that you’re going to see there or anything else, that hasn’t changed at all,” he said. “The east-west or the interconference rivalry thing might not be there, but if you’re a college hockey enthusiast and you want to see the best hockey in the country, you’re going to see it.”
McLeod said that’s not meaning to be gloating. “At the same time, we’re pretty darn proud,” he said.