SATURDAY ROUNDUP: Denver upsets No. 11 Omaha, pushing Mavericks to NCAA bubble; Army beats SHU in 9th-longest game; Bowling Green forces game three in WCHA

A Denver team shorthanded due to COVID pulled off the upset of No. 11 Omaha, 5-4, advancing the Pioneers to the NCHC semis and placing the Mavericks squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble (Photo: Russ Hons/NCHC)

Denver entered Saturday’s quarterfinal game against No. 11 Omaha as the underdog. Not just because the Pioneers had finished as the lower seed in the NCHC standings, but more so because the team only had nine healthy forward and a converted defenseman to comprise their lines.

By the time the game was over, though, Denver, behind two goals by Mike Benning and a goal and assist by Bobby Brink overcame a 3-1 deficit and knocked off the Mavericks, 5-4, to advance to the NCHC semifinals.

The Pioneers held leads of 1-0 and 4-3, but it was three goals in a span of just under 20 minutes from Jason Smallidge, Matt Miller and Tyler Weiss put Denver in a dangerously difficult hole in the second period, particularly considering the short bench.

But a late second period goal from Brink closed the gap to 3-2 and then two scores by Benning at 0:42 and 11:52 of the third gave the lead back to the Pioneers.

While Nate Knoepke tied the game at 13:10, Denver’s Bo Hanson had the winning goal answer with 5:03 remaining.

The victory keeps alive Denver’s hopes for an at-large bid. Though the Pioneers are below .500 and can’t reach that mark without winning the NCHC, which would give them an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, the NCAA has suspended the criteria requiring a club be .500 or higher to qualify for the tournament.

Simultaneously, Omaha, a team that was close to an NCAA lock, now sits squarely on the tournament bubble in a year where subjectivity will be involved in selections more than ever.

NCHC Quarterfinals (single elimination)

St. Cloud State 2, Colorado College 1 (Friday)
North Dakota 6, Miami 2 (Friday)
Minnesota Duluth 5, Western Michigan 4 (OT)

Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals

Army West Point 4, Sacred Heart 3 (3OT – Army sweeps series, 2-0)
Collin Bilek’s goal at 13:20 of the third overtime ended the ninth-longest game in Division I men’s hockey history and advance Army West Point to the Atlantic Hockey semifinals, 4-3.

Army sweeps the quarterfinals series, 2-0.

Sacred Heart goaltender Josh Benson finished the game with 68 saves, including 37 in overtime. Army’s Trevin Kozlowski made 42 saves to earn the victory.

After winning, 4-0, in the series opener on Friday, Army had to rally from a 2-0 deficit when the Pioneers netted power play tallies by Braeden Tuck and Austin Magera.

Army rallied to tie the game in the second on goals by Eric Butte and Mason Krueger, but Sacred Heart’s Patrick Dawson regained the lead at 18:54 of the second.

When Patrick Dawson evened the score at 12:21 of the third, no one could know the teams would play another complete 60 minutes before either team scored again.

Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals (best two-of-three)

Canisius 6, RIT 2 (Canisius wins series, 2-0)
Niagara 3, Robert Morris 2 (2OT – Series tied, 1-1)
AIC vs. Bentley (Canceled, AIC advances to AHA semifinals)

WCHA quarterfinals

No. 13 Bowling Green 5, Northern Michigan 0
A night after Bowling Green fell in the opener of the WCHA quarterfinals, Bowling Green responded in full force, shutting down Northern Michigan, 5-0, to force a third-and-deciding game on Sunday.

Evan Dougherty scored twice for the Falcons while Sam Craggs added three assists and both Max Johnson and Will Cullen each tallied two assists.

The victory takes Bowling Green, a seemingly safe NCAA tournament team, back into a safer area. The subjective NCAA tournament process this season could count a quarterfinal series loss, particularly by a sweep, heavily against the Falcons.

If the Falcons hope to shore those tournament hopes, a win in Sunday’s game three would go a long way.

WCHA quarterfinals (best two-of-three)

No. 3 Minnesota State 3, Ferris State 1 (MSU wins series, 2-0)
No. 18 Lake Superior 4, Alabama Huntsville 1 (LSSU wins series, 2-0)
No. 15 Bemidji State 4, Michigan Tech 1 (BSU wins series, 2-0)