This Week in the NCHA/MCHA

And now we’re down to two.

Between the NCHA and MCHA, only Superior and Stout remain in the conference playoffs. As many expected heading into the playoffs, the top two seeds will meet this Saturday in Superior for the Peters Cup.

The MCHA wrapped its season up last weekend with its own final four in Adrian, Mich. The host Bulldogs skated away with Harris Cup for the second year in a row.

This week also brought a new version of the West Region NCAA Rankings. Stout’s win over St. Scholastica in a NCHA semifinal was enough to boost the Blue Devils past the Saints and into second place. Aside from that, nothing changed.

This week’s rankings:

1. Superior
2. Stout
3. St. Scholastica
4. St. Norbert
5. St. Olaf
6. Gustavus Adolphus
7. Stevens Point

A quick look at things shows the West Region could get anywhere from three to five teams into The Big Skate. Gustavus Adolphus has already qualified as the Gusties won the MIAC tournament Wednesday night. They will be the lone MIAC team in the tournament.

Superior is a lock. Period. And Stout is a pretty safe bet even if the Blue Devils fall to the Yellowjackets in the Peters Cup final this weekend. From there it gets a bit tricky.

St. Scholastica is in good shape, but one scenario works against the Saints. That would be if Plattsburgh and Amherst fail to win their respective conference tournaments. They are the top two teams in the latest East Region rankings, and if both drop into the pool C mix, it might bump the Saints. If that happens, it looks like Plattsburgh, Amherst and Superior/Stout will claim the first three pool C bids.

That leaves the Saints to fight for the final spot against the likes of potentially Elmira, Oswego, Middlebury or perhaps Manhattanville. The Saints would still have a fighting chance against those four but it’s quite simply too close to be overly optimistic about.

One other Western team has a shot and, believe it or not, it’s St. Norbert. Despite dropping a NCHA semifinal contest 3-0 at Superior a week ago, all hopes are not lost for the defending national champions. They do need some help, and it centers on absolutely needing Plattsburgh and Amherst to win their conference tournaments.

Were the Cardinals and Lord Jeffs to hold court, it could potentially put the Green Knights up against Middlebury for the final pool C bid, and that comparison is firmly in the Green Knights’ favor.

Some of us at USCHO have a sneaking suspicion we might be in for one of the longest conference calls ever this Sunday, but for now, here is a quick shot at the West’s possibilities come the Sabbath. Not all-inclusive by any means, but without too much by way of numerical fanfare, this is the breakdown as I see it in the simplest form possible. Rely on it at your own risk.

1. Plattsburgh and Amherst win their automatic qualifiers. 6-5 East-West split with Superior, Stout, St. Scholastica, St. Norbert and Gustavus Adolphus all getting in.

2. Plattsburgh or Amherst lose this weekend. 7-4 East-West split with Superior, Stout, St. Scholastica and Gustavus Adolphus getting in.

3. Plattsburgh and Amherst lose this weekend. 8-3 East-West split with Superior, Stout and Gustavus Adolphus getting in.

As an aside, there is an 800 pound albino gorilla lurking that no one has been talking about that might develop into a major quandary for the national committee. Namely, how does the bracket get set up in a 7-4 split? Does the West get two quarterfinals and walk two teams to Lake Placid? Does the NCAA permit something it shot down last season and permit flights for the first or second round? Or does the West get two play-in games and once again take joy in playing down to one team before the Frozen Four?

If it’s a 7-4 split, I suspect the East will fall back on the financial angle to push for two play-in games out West. A setup such as that would have to certainly be unacceptable to the Western brass, but would they eventually sign off on it? I know I wouldn’t. Heck, I’d sit there until Easter if I had to instead of approve the abject travesty that would be two play-in games in the West.

The trick with a 7-4 split is that the only other options involve flying teams for early rounds or having every Eastern team not named Plattsburgh in a play-in game of their own.

As neither is overly appealing, a 7-4 split might be a real headache. Though we have no idea what will happen Sunday, it might be wise to get the caffeine at the ready in case of such a geographical allocation. It could be a long night. Heck, it might be no matter what.

One Timers

Both the MCHA and NCHA named their respective all-conference teams within the past couple of weeks. Adrian sophomore forward Shawn Skelly was named MCHA Player of the Year and headlines the MCHA squad. Superior senior goaltender Chad Beiswenger earned top-honors in the NCHA.

Adrian head coach Ron Fogarty landed MCHA Coach of the Year honors while St. Scholastica front man Mark Wick garnered the award in the NCHA.

Congratulations to all who received accolades this season. Full team selections are as follows:

MCHA

All-Conference Team

F, Sam Aide, sr., Concordia
F, Nick Jennette, sr., Lawrence
F, Adam Krug, sr., Adrian
F, Eric Miller, so., Adrian
F, Shawn Skelly, so., Adrian
F, Stephen Smiddy, jr., MSOE
D Quinn McIntosh, jr., Finlandia
D Chris Stansik, so., Adrian
D Quinn Waller, so., Adrian
D Jason Woll, sr., MSOE
G Brad Fogal, so., Adrian
G Evan Johnson, so., Lawrence

All-Freshman Team

F, Brock King, MSOE
F, Adam Freeman, Marian
F, James Neitsch, Finlandia
D, Jameson Raymond, Lawrence
D, Ryno Linder, MSOE
G, Connor Toomey, MSOE

Player of the Year: Shawn Skelly, Adrian

Coach of the Year: Ron Fogarty, Adrian

Also of note in the MCHA is the ironman streak of Lawrence senior forward Nick Jennette. He broke the all-time NCAA Division III record for consecutive games played in the Vikings’ second quarterfinal game against Concordia-WI. Jennette ran his streak to 111 games in Lawrence’s semifinal loss to MSOE, but the total is enough to have broken the old record of 109, previously set by Garret Strot of Bethel from 1984-87.

Jennette finished his career with 49 goals, most in the history of the Lawrence program, and his 103 career points are tied for most in school history.

NCHA

All-Conference Team

F, Braden Desmet, jr., Superior
F, A.J. Gale, jr., St. Norbert
F, Sean Garrity, sr., Eau Claire
F, Derek Hansberry, sr., River Falls
F, Derek Hanson, jr., Stout
F, A.J. Tucker, sr., St. Scholastica
D, Ryan Kuntz, sr., Superior
D, Greg Petersen, sr., Eau Claire
D, Nick Tabisz, so., St. Norbert
D, Jack Wolgemuth, sr., Stout
G, Chad Beiswenger, sr., Superior
G, Steve Bounds, sr., St. Scholastica

Honorable Mention

F, Talon Berlando, so., Superior
F, Joel Gaulrapp, jr., Stout
F, Kevin Huck, sr., Superior
F, Logan Isley, so., Superior
F, Nick Klaren, sr., Stout
F, Jon Madden, fr., Stevens Point
F, Joey Martini, sr., St. Scholastica
F, Chris Wilson, jr., Superior
D, Art Clark, jr., Superior
D, Dustin DeGagne, jr., St. Scholastica
D, Bobby Kuehl, jr., Stout
D, Garrett Suter, so., Stevens Point
D, Sam Tikka, jr., St. Norbert
G, Tyler Brigl, jr., Eau Claire
G, Matt Koenig, sr., Stout

Player of the Year: Chad Beiswenger, Superior

Coach of the Year: Mark Wick, St. Scholastica

Some other NCHA news trickled out this week. And it was big. It finally leaked that the conference will collectively host the 2010 Frozen Four at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis, Minn. Ridder Arena is a 3,000-plus seat arena that is home to the University of Minnesota women’s Hockey team. It opened in 2002 and features more than ample amenities to accommodate a Division III Frozen Four.

As details are sparse, USCHO will have more on this as it develops, but all D-III fans should be content with this venue selection. It’s perfect for a Division III Frozen Four. Kudos to the NCHA for stepping up to the plate and making what is sure to be a top-flight West Region Frozen Four a reality.

Bulldogs Claim Harris Cup…Again

Two years in the MCHA and now two Harris Cups for Adrian. The top-seeded and host Bulldogs claimed their second consecutive MCHA playoff championship last weekend by downing the Milwaukee School of Engineering, 7-1, in the title tilt.

In the semifinals, the Bulldogs, fueled by four points from sophomore forward Eric Miller, dropped Marian, 8-3.

Miller scored a minute until to game to put Adrian up 1-0, but Marian’s Todd Collins netted a shorthanded goal just over three minutes later to tie it up. The next 35 minutes would be all Bulldogs, however, as they tallied twice more in the first and took a 3-1 lead into the first intermission.

They extended the lead to 6-1 after two periods. Miller, Adam Krug and Kyle Watson all lit the lamp for the Bulldogs in the second frame.

Gregory Copeland and Jason Ford would convert on the power play for the Sabres in the final stanza, but Adrian also scored twice to round out the scoring.

As was somewhat expected, the other semifinal was a much closer affair, but in the end MSOE advanced to the finals with a 3-2 win over Lawrence.

The Raiders jumped out to a 1-0 lead after one period on Ryno Linder’s third goal of the season. The Vikings’ Ben DiMarco tallied his sixth of the season to knot things up just 2:36 into the second frame, but MSOE’s Mike Soik struck less than a minute later to reclaim the Raiders’ one goal advantage.

MSOE’s Steve Smiddy put the Raiders up 3-1 just 25 seconds into the third period, and though Lawrence’s Marc Howe cut the lead to 3-2 with 7:24 to play, it was not enough and the Raiders’ had a date with Adrian in Sunday’s final.

MSOE gave Adrian all it could handle in Milwaukee early in the season, despite being swept by the Bulldogs in two one-goal affairs. The Raiders didn’t fare as well later in the season in Adrian as they got swept by scores of 5-0 and 7-1.

The title game would resemble the latter moreso than the former as four first period goals in a 5:28 span paced the Bulldogs to another 7-1 win.

In its two seasons in the MCHA, Adrian has now won two regular season titles and two Harris Cup playoff championships. In the regular season the Bulldogs have posted a 39-1 record in the MCHA, and have posted an overall ledger of 53-4-1.

Though the chances of an invite to the NCAA tournament are beyond slim for Adrian, congratulations to the Bulldogs for its accomplishments in the MCHA this season. And congratulations to the MCHA as a whole for yet another fine season across the board.

Blue Devils Seeking NCHA Superiority

Two years ago, Stout traveled to the Cornerstone for a NCHA semifinal and was defeated, 4-1, by the Green Knights. Last season, the Blue Devils once again made the trip in the postseason, but this time it was for the NCHA championship game. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, they came out on the short end of a 4-3 (ot) decision to the Green Knights.

The Blue Devils now find themselves in the NCHA championship game yet again, and this season it presents a mix of good and bad news. The good news is that they don’t have to worry about traveling to St. Norbert this time; the bad is that they have to hit the road to face Superior, the team that eliminated the Green Knights last week.

This weekend marks the first time since 2001 that St. Norbert will not partake in the NCHA title game. And Superior is actually the only team other than St. Norbert to win the Peters Cup in the past decade: the Yellowjackets hoisted the hardware from 2000-02 and then again in 2006.

If Superior wishes to do it again in 2009, they will have to deal with a Stout team that just keeps on finding ways to win.

The Blue Devils did it again last weekend as they came from behind to defeat St. Scholastica, 3-2.

Aside from showcasing the top two playoff seeds, Saturday night will feature perhaps the two most offensively talented teams in the league. Both teams have averaged over four goals per game this season and have done it with balanced attacks.

Superior led the league with 4.46 goals per game, and features seven forwards with 26 points or more. Braden Desmet, Chris Wilson and Kevin Huck lead the way and have tallied 33, 32 and 31 points, respectively.

Meanwhile, the Blue Devils boast a 41 point scorer in Derek Hanson, and Joel Gaulrapp is right on his heels with 39. Scott Motz also broke the 30 point barrier this season while Nick Klaren, Matt Morin and Jeff Wheeler all registered over 20.

Despite the talented offensive casts, scoring might not be so easy this weekend as both bring superb senior goaltenders to the table.

Chad Beiswenger has played every minute of the season in goal for Superior and is 23-2-3 with a 1.94 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. Matt Koenig has seen nearly 1,500 minutes of ice time for the Blue Devils and is 19-4-2 with a 2.42 GAA and .923 save pct.

Overall, this is one of those that could go either way stylistically. If both goaltenders are up to task it could be a low scoring nail biter, but both teams bring enough firepower to the table to have it turn into a horse race.

No matter how it shakes out, reports indicate ticket sales have been through the roof and that Stout is bringing a large posse of fans up to Wessman. Though this Saturday’s Peters Cup final isn’t at the Cornerstone for the first time in years, it certainly shouldn’t be short on excitement.

End of an Era

I normally don’t include things like this in a column, but once again I must make an exception. As many are aware, I usually take in a lot of games every season. That requires a lot of time on the road, during which I’m fortunate enough to experience a variety of locales.

One of my favorite things to do is to find great “hole in the wall” places to eat along the way. After all, why settle for some chain dump when there are great local establishments all over the place?

One of these places is Fatzo’s Subs, which is just down the road from The Cornerstone, home of the St. Norbert Green Knights. I had passed it numerous times on trips dating back to the opening of the CCC, but had never eaten there despite noticing it every time I made the trip.

Finally last season, thanks to a recommendation from St. Norbert Sports Information Director Dan Lukes, I finally checked it out. It was absolutely fantastic. Since then, I always make it a point to stop there and usually find another fan or two to drag along. They have never issued anything but high praise for the place.

Fatzo’s had become a must-stop on the way to any St. Norbert game I attended, but I was recently made privy to the fact that Fatzo’s will soon be closing. Forever.

Talk about disappointment. A trip to the Cornerstone will never be quite the same.

I once read an article that said over 99% of visitors to our country’s national parks never get more than a quarter mile from a main road in the park. I’ve always thought that was foolish, as on a variety of vacations I’ve always found the best locations far off the beaten path. Numerous gems hide mere miles away from all the crowds.

Though it’s not a mountain, a prairie, or a hidden alpine meadow, Fatzo’s–and many other places in many other western D-III towns–are treats likewise located off the proverbial beaten path. All one has to do is ask around a bit and they will surface in bunches all the way from Adrian to Crookston.

It’s a shame to see one of them go.

So while I’ll miss Fatzo’s, as well as the ridiculous stacks of provolone they put on that thing they call a “Philly Cheesesteak,” I won’t miss this opportunity to suggest that any time you are on the road to ask around a bit.

Forget the chain places as there are plenty of locally owned diamonds in the rough out there. Not only will you leave with a full stomach, but you might learn a little bit about the place you traveled to for nothing more than a hockey game.

Wow, all that talk sort of makes me hungry for a burger at the Anchor Bar in Superior this weekend….

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