Road to the Frozen Four begins on Friday
After a wild final weekend of the season, the field of 16 is set for the 2014 NCAA tournament. It's time to decide on a champion. Minnesota, Boston College, Union and Wisconsin all procured No. 1 seeds, but all will have difficult roads to make it to the Frozen Four in Philadelphia.
There were celebrations and broken hearts during the most joyous and painful weekend of the college hockey season. Here are some of the best and worst moments from the final weekend before the Big Dance begins.
The top things that happened in college hockey this weekend.
1. Connor Hellebuyck at TD Garden
The UMass Lowell goalie just has a knack for elevating his game in the home of the Boston Bruins. Over the span of four games over the last two years in the Hockey East tournament, the 6-foot-4 netminder has given up one goal and extended his scoreless streak in the Garden to 230 minutes. UML's 4-0 wins over Notre Dame and New Hampshire were the first time a goalie put up double doughnuts on two straight opponents in a Hockey East semifinal and championship game. Hellebuyck also became the first player ever to win back-to-back tournament MVP awards.
2. The "other" lockdown goalie
Hellebuyck wasn't the only zero-posting goalie setting records this weekend. Minnesota State's Cole Huggins was spectacular in the crease as well, holding Bowling Green and Ferris State to one goal in a pair of games. Huggins made 61 saves in the two games and helped propel the Mavericks from the NCAA tournament bubble to an automatic selection after winning the WCHA championship.
3. The NCHC championship game: Denver 4, Miami 3
This was the best game of the final weekend and a true white-knuckler. It had both fan bases breathless from nearly the first shift until the sound of the final horn. Denver, left for dead as the No. 6 seed going into the NCHC tournament, saw Miami pull within a single goal at the 18:27 mark of the third period. But Pioneers goalie Sam Brittain withstood a manic last-minute flurry from the RedHawks and carried DU into the NCAA tournament with the one-goal win. This win kept alive Denver's seven-year string of making the NCAA postseason, and first under head coach Jim Montgomery.
3. Wisconsin's ascension to a No. 1 Seed
No team helped itself more this weekend than the Badgers, who won the Big Ten championship with wins over Penn State and Ohio State. The Buckeyes, needing a win to make the NCAA tournament, took a 4-2 lead at the 13:08 mark of the third period, only to see the Badgers rally with two goals in the next 48 seconds to tie the game. Wisconsin would win it in overtime, 5-4, securing the first-ever Big Ten title and moving from No. 5 up to No. 4 in the PairWise rankings, which allowed the Badgers to lock down their No. 1 seed.
Off the crossbar
The bottom things that happened in college hockey this weekend.
The Wolverines entered the weekend at No. 11 in PairWise but somehow dropped their third game of the year to gutty, young Penn State team, this time by a 2-1 count in double OT in the Big Ten tournament. That caused the Maize & Blue to drop down to No. 15. Of course, the other problem which sunk their hopes was Denver's Cinderella run in the NCHC tournament, causing them to gain a Big Dance berth of their own while bursting Michigan's bubble at the same time.
Tough way to end the season for the Winged Helmets.
The Lakers led the Atlantic Hockey conference all season long and had only one Achilles' heel: Canisius. Somehow, Mercyhurst had lost twice to the Griffins before their matchup in the AHA tournament. Sure enough, it had to happen again, right? Canisius pulled out a scintillating 5-4 win in overtime to eliminate Mercyhurst one game into the tournament. Griffin blue-liner Stephen Farrell ended things with a shot from the point, through traffic, finding the back of the net. Mercyhurst ends its season 21-13-7 and 6-1-2 in its final nine games.
After starting the season as the No. 1-ranked team in the country, then face-planting due to youth and some bumps and bruises, nobody expected the RedHawks to be within a single goal of making the NCAA tournament field, but there they were. The RedHawks, as the No. 8 seed, put up such an amazing performance in the NCHC tournament, including eliminating top-10 St. Cloud State on its home ice, the college hockey community had believed this team was finally playing up to its potential despite a last place finish in the NCHC standings. Alas, they fell one goal short in Saturday's NCHC title game vs. Denver and will miss the NCAA tournament. Too bad they couldn't get this type of performance all season long.