Tuesday, March 30, 2010
THE OTHER MARCH MADNESS*
It was a crazy weekend of college hockey. The Frozen Four is now set and will play in two weeks time for the NCAA Championship at Ford Field in Detroit.
ROCHESTER INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
RIT was making their first tournament appearance ever, after dominating the lowly AHA with 28 wins, and sweeping through their conference tournament. But they were in a bracket with College Hockey Royalty: Denver, Cornell, and UNH. Combined these three have made 54 NCAA Tournaments, 29 Frozen Fours, and won 9 National Championships. Oh, and these teams boast 4 Hobey Baker Award (the Heisman of hockey) finalists. RIT was supposedly the pushover of the foursome, there to fill out the bracket. Their goalie to be used by Denver as target practice.
But playing in front of many of his team's fans in Albany, goalie Jared DeMichael stood on his head and stopped 39 of 40 Denver shots. The RIT Tigers won 2-1. But they weren't finished.
After dispatching Cornell 6-2, the UNH Wildcats probably felt like RIT had done them an immense favor, giving them an easy road to the Frozen Four. I'm sure some of their fans were already searching Priceline for hotel and flight packages to Detroit.
Then RIT woke them up and out of their dreams, won every battle along the boards, outmuscled and outhustled UNH, and crushed them 6-2. RIT outshot the Wildcats 33 to 26. #4 seeds have upset big teams before, but never in such dominating fashion.
Detroit's only a 5 hour drive from Rochester, a short 325 miles across southern Ontario.
Wisconsin will be gunning for their 7th National Championship as they make their 11th Froze Four appearance. They finished 2nd in the WCHA and 3rd in the WCHA Tournament. But on Saturday night they vanquished the team that knocked them out of that tournament: St. Cloud State. This was after coming from behind against Vermont. On paper, Wisconsin is a better team than RIT. But as RIT has proven, the game is not played on paper.
Think about this: RIT's three opponents have combined for 32 Frozen Fours and 16 National Championships.
BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES
BC's road to their 22nd Frozen Four was not a smooth one. Both Alaska and Yale gave them tough fights, and frankly the Eagles will have to improve if they want to claim their 3rd Championship of the decade.
But winning is winning is winning, and that's all BC has done lately. They're 15-2-1 since January 29th. They've scored 82 goals in that stretch or 4.56 goals per game. Their Achilles heel is their defense, as demonstrated in their 9-7 slugfest against Yale. A team that's fast like them, or physical yet clean, can expose them if they're not careful.
MIAMI (OHIO) REDHAWKS
Miami were the victims of BU's miraculous last minute comeback in last year's Championship Game, only 61 seconds away from their first National Championship in any sport, up 3-1, they gave up the lead then lost in OT. Most of that team is back, and are the only team from the '09 Four to return. But it was far from easy to get here.
Michigan - normally a powerhouse, this year a bit of a Cinderella (they needed to win the CCHA Tournament to gain admission to the NCAA) - almost pushed Miami over the edge. The Wolverines dominated all of the Redhawks except goaltender Connor Knapp (who's typically the backup behind Hobey Baker nominee Cody Reichard), stopped 55 Michigan shots, including 20 in the 1st OT, which Michigan controlled. Early in the 2nd OT, Alden Hirschfeld threw a token shot on net that slipped between Shawn Hunwick's (yes, that's Matt Hunwick's little brother, and I mean little, he's 5' 7" and 165 pounds) legs and the RedHawks won 3-2.
So it's Miami vs. BC, Wisconsin vs. RIT. Quite an eclectic mix. Two public schools, two private. One Catholic school, one technical school. Two teams that are in power conferences for other sports, one that's in the MAC, and one that's in D-III for everything but hockey. Two teams that are looking to expand their already busting college hockey trophy cases. Two teams looking to start new ones.
The Frozen Four starts a week from Thursday.