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The first round of this year’s NHL Draft is tonight, and it should be a banger for fans of American hockey. One of the best classes to ever come through the NTDP program should

Here are a few of my thoughts on what I’ll be watching in tonight’s draft.

-Jack Hughes is going first overall to New Jersey. It’s a testament to Hughes’ ability that even with a strong push this year from Kaapo Kakko, there wasn’t a whole lot of “Who’s going number one?” drama that the media tends to push. Hughes is a special player, and thankfully, he won’t be going to a Canadian market to waste away like of the league’s other superstar talents have.

-The real drama doesn’t pick up until the third overall pick. Currently, Wisconsin commit Alex Turcotte is the betting favorite to the be Chicago’s pick at third overall:

Alex Turcotte is the betting favorite to go third overall tomorrow: pic.twitter.com/dkZtRpabwx

— Chris Dilks (@ChrisDilks) June 20, 2019

I’ve always been a huge fan of Turcotte’s skill, though I feel he can be a bit streaky at times. I also wonder how much of that is media pushing a good narrative of Chicago taking a home-grown product, which would be cool, but is something that I don’t think draft tables take into account all that much.

-Looking at various draft rankings throughout the year, picks 3-10 have felt like kind of a toss-up. It usually broke down based on the scout’s personal preference(or more accurately, where they were located and who they saw more) for the ultra-talented group of WHLers—Byram, Dach, Cozens—or the really talented group from the NTDP—Turcotte, Caufield, Boldy, Zegras. I don’t know if we’ll get a definitive answer on which group was valued more, since it will be eight independent organizations making those decisions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they viewed things differently, but that is one story to watch.

-Speaking of the NTDP guys, online gambling site Bovada set the over/under at 7.5 players from the Program being taken in the first round. This is a bet that has traditionally hit the over(not a recommendation), even when it has seemed near impossible.

With that in mind: Hughes, Turcotte, Caufield, Zegras, Boldy, and Knight are probably locks. Cam York is pretty close to a lock. That leaves just one more player in those final ten picks to hit the over(Bobby Brink playing for the US at the U18s doesn’t count).

Alex Vlasic is the most likely candidate, but by the time you get that deep into the first round, it’s crapshoot territory, so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see someone like John Beecher or a different defensemen get selected. That over bet paid off a couple years ago after Boston took Trent Frederic late in the first round after nearly every projection had him as a late-second, early third round pick.

-It’s kind of a down year for defensemen in this draft. There seems to be consensus that Byram is a top-five pick, but after that, there is a whole run of projected forwards before you get to a couple defensemen in the 16-20 range. It will be interesting to see if that holds true, or if teams will get locked in on a need and reach for a couple defensemen early. The 2014 Draft springs to mind where Haydn Fleury ended up going 7th overall, many spots higher than he probably should have just because he was the second-best defenseman available after Aaron Ekblad went first overall. That’s probably a pick Carolina wants a mulligan on, especially after William Nylander and Nikolaj Ehlers went with the next two picks.

-My personal rooting interest here would be to see Egor Afanasyev and Ryan Johnson somehow sneak into the late-first round. They’re two very different players, but two guys I absolutely loved in their USHL Draft years even though the general consensus on them was fairly tepid. It’s been fun to see them really come on in the past year, and hopefully that continues in their careers.

-Two other Americans I really like and think are a bit underrated are Bobby Brink and Nick Robertson. I could almost put Brink in the above category, but even I didn’t see this rise coming. His hockey sense is exceptional and I think he’ll be a big scorer in years to come. Same goes for Robertson. I think he’ll put up points where ever he goes, and is worth a first round pick.

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Player: Bryce Brodzinski, Forward, Blaine High School(MN), Omaha Lancers(USHL)

Measurables: 6’0” 197 lbs., Right Shot

2018-2019 stats: Blaine: 23 games, 32 goals 44 assists, 76 points, Omaha: 19 games, 7 goals, 10 assists, 17 points.

The Narrative

Brodzinski is the youngest of four brothers, and is set to become the fourth to play Division I college hockey and third to be drafted into the NHL. His eldest brother Jonny broke in with the Los Angeles Kings this past season, the next brother Michael is in the San Jose Sharks minor league system, and his other brother Easton recently completed a successful sophomore season at St. Cloud State. But after an impressive NHL Draft year, Bryce could be poised to be the best of the bunch.

Brodzinski was a bit of an off-the-radar recruit when he committed to St. Cloud State in the fall of 2016. He was not selected as one of the top 100 players in the state of Minnesota to attend Minnesota Hockey’s Select 15s camp earlier that summer. But St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko had a close connection to the Brodzinski family and was willing to take a chance on Bryce. Early this fall, Brodzinski chose to follow Motzko to the University of Minnesota, switching his commitment to the Gophers. That kicked off an incredible senior season of high school hockey that saw Brodzinski surpass multiple other good prospects to be named this year’s Minnesota Mr. Hockey and solidify him as an NHL Draft prospect, despite being passed over in his first year of eligibility last season.

What I like:

-Finishing Ability

The one consistent theme among the four Brodzinski brothers, and Bryce is no exception, is that they are all exceptional at shooting the puck. Brodzinski’s 32 goals in 23 high school games weren’t merely the product of high school goaltending. He has a plus-level shot with a good release that makes him a scoring threat from nearly anywhere in the offensive zone.

-Thinks the game well

A more underrated aspect of Brodzinski’s game is his quick decision-making in the offensive zone. He sees the ice well and knows where the puck should be going next before he gets it on his stick. He has the ability to slow the game down with the puck on his stick and uses deception well to create space for himself. Even though his shot is a huge weapon, he was equally effective at distributing the puck and picking up assists this past year, showing a lot of maturity to his offensive game.

-Strong play in juniors

Judging a player based solely on high school hockey can be tricky. The lower level of play can lead to a lot of false positives where a player may dominate at that level, but can’t translate his skills to a higher level of play. So it is worth noting that Brodzinski was effective in his limited time in the USHL before and after the high school season, scoring 17 points in 19 games for a team that didn’t score a ton of goals on the whole. So there’s at least some evidence that Brodzinski’s skills will translate to higher levels.

What I don’t like:

-Skating ability

Brodzinski’s skating ability isn’t necessarily a huge weakness, but it’s not a real area of strength either. He’s got a strong, stockier build, and will likely have to rely on good positioning to make up for some of his athletic deficiencies when he reaches the pro level.

-Second year eligibile

Brodzinski is an August, 2000 birthdate, which means he just barely qualified for the 2018 Draft, in which he went unselected, making this technically his second time up for the draft. It’s worth considering that he is an older player whose reputation was largely built on beating up high school competition, and that is probably enough to scare teams off using a top-60 draft pick on him.

Pro Projection

Brodzinski is so intriguing because of his potential as a scorer. He played at center this past year because that’s just where most elite prospects get moved to, but he most likely projects as a wing at the pro level. But when you combine his shooting with his offensive playmaking ability, he’s a player that could hold his own at 5-on-5 and be a legitimate weapon on the power play. He has the upside to a be a scoring line forward in the NHL.

Draft Projection

It feels like there has been a bit of inertia in Brodzinski’s draft projections all season because he started the year so far off the radar after not getting a serious look in his first year of eligibility. He jumped 28 spots on the Central Scouting draft list from mid-terms to their final rankings, up to 89th among NA skaters, and even that might still be too low. General consensus seems to be around the fourth, maybe fifth round for Brodzinski, but I think that with the upside he showed this year, he should probably be closer to a third round pick.

Timeline

Brodzinski will join the University of Minnesota next season, where he should get ample opportunity to step into a scoring role right away. Minnesota lost about half of the goals off a team that was fairly average offensively. Brodzinski should get the chance to show what he can do on the power play right away next season, and hopefully produce points. A best-case scenario is that Brodzinski acclimates right away to the college game, and would be ready for the pros in two to three years.

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Player: Ryder Donovan, Forward, Duluth East(MN) High School/Dubuque Fighting Saints(USHL)

Measurables: 6’3” 183 lbs., Right shot, 97th among NA Skaters on NHL Central Scouting Final List

2018-2019 stats: MN HS: 23 games, 12 goals, 25 assists, 37 points; USHL: 9 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point

The Narrative

Donovan burst onto the scene as a prospect-to-follow in the summer of 2017 with an impressive performance at USA Hockey’s Select 17 Festival. He drew the attention of multiple big college programs and made a commitment to play for North Dakota. With his combination of size and skill, he came into his draft year projected as high as an early second rounder by some analysts. But for all of his raw tools, a lack of offensive production after returning to high school hockey for his senior season, and not scoring in his limited time in the USHL has dampened the enthusiasm for Donovan’s pro prospects considerably in the past 12 months. Prior to the high school season, Donovan re-opened his recruitment, and this winter, pledged to play for the University of Wisconsin next year.

What I like:

-Super quick for his size

The biggest things that stands out about Donovan is his tremendous athleticism. For a bigger kid, he has great first step agility and can really fly down the ice when he gets moving. His skating ability is an elite-level skill that by itself, makes him a serious draft candidate.

-Soft hands, good passer

Donovan is an above-average passer that handles the puck really smoothly. Those passes didn’t always turn into goals during the high school season this year, but he is very effective at moving the puck to teammates in tight spaces. He sometimes becomes a little too tentative, opting to making a pass rather than trying to create an opportunity for himself. But he should have no trouble moving the puck around the ice at the next level.

What I don’t like:

-Low scoring totals

The first thing that is going to stick about Donovan is that he only scored 37 points in 23 high school games, and registered just two assists over 14 regular season/playoff games in the USHL. Frankly, it’s a testament to his physical abilities that he’s even being talked about as a draft prospect with those numbers.

There is a little bit of context that doesn’t make those numbers look so bad. Duluth East plays a tougher than average schedule for a high school team. He didn’t have the same pick-how-many-points-you-want opportunities that some other high schoolers get. Duluth East also plays a much more structured, defense-first style of play that tends to keep their games more low-scoring. And while he was surrounded by decent talent, there wasn’t another NCAA-caliber prospect on his team, which made it tough for Donovan, who is a pass-first forward. He wasn’t lighting up the stat sheet, but I generally came away from his games thinking he had a pretty good game regardless.

The USHL numbers should be taken with a grain of salt too. Aside from a the very small sample size, it’s a tough situation for a kid to drive in on the weekends and join a team that has already played together all season and develop any real chemistry. It would have been nice if he could have worked through that and still produced, and it’s a slight cause for concern that his talent didn’t overwhelm at that level, but it’s not necessarily disqualifying.

-Lack of aggression and physicality

This is the biggest concern for me. Donovan’s size and speed stand out, but neither tool means much if it can’t be used effectively. There were a number of times this year he brought the puck into the zone with tremendous speed, but instead of lowering his shoulder and cutting in towards the net to make a play, he skated around the net to avoid contact. He’s going to have to show that he can use his size as asset by being more aggressive.

Pro Projection:

The most immediate comparison people have tended to make over this draft cycle has been to Dallas 2016 first rounder Riley Tufte. Both are big, athletic players that opted to stay in high school hockey for their senior season and had questions about their scoring ability. I see some differences though. Tufte, to his credit, has re-invented himself over the course of his collegiate career to become a more physical, two-way forward. Tufte may not hit the high-side of his pre-draft projections, but should be a reliable bottom six forward that ends up being value for a late first round pick.

I haven’t, to this point, seem that same willingness to develop a more physical side of the game with Donovan. But I also think he has more of an offensive toolbox to work with than Tufte did. So even though Tufte was considered a bit of a boom-or-bust type pick, Donovan potentially comes with both a higher ceiling and much lower floor.

Best case scenario is that Donovan flourishes once he starts playing regularly with equally talented teammates and develops into a scoring line winger, or possibly even center with the way he can move. But there’s just as much of a chance, if not more so, that the scoring touch doesn’t come along and he’s never heard from again.

Draft Projection:

There’s enough uncertainty here that I can’t see Donovan being picked that high. I would not be shocked if there were multiple teams that saw enough negatives that they won’t consider drafting him at all. But even if the total package isn’t there yet, Donovan has some really unique physical traits that few other players available in this draft possess. To me, it’s absolutely worth a pick fifth round or later pick to take the gamble on whatever the missing piece is somehow developing over the next few years. I can’t see anybody going higher than the fourth round just because of his production this year, but he should be picked somewhere later in the draft.

Timeline:

Donovan is enrolled at the University of Wisconsin and will be a freshman next fall. With college hockey trending older, that is becoming increasingly rare for true 18-year-old freshmen unless they are extremely high draft picks. It’s a risky move for Donovan, especially after his struggles to score at the junior level this past season. The chance of him being overwhelmed by the college game, especially early, and potentially getting buried in the line-up is a huge potential risk factor.

But at the same time, being in a collegiate weight training program and the day-in/day-out grind of the college game may develop him into a more physical player at a faster rate. And the potential to possibly play with guys like Alex Turcotte and Cole Caufield could be a huge boost to his numbers.

Even in the best case scenario, Donovan will need two, if not three, years at Wisconsin before it will be time to think about an NHL contract.

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Player: Ben Brinkman, Defenseman, University of Minnesota(NCAA)

Measurables: 6-1, 210 lbs, left shot

2018-2019 stats: 38 games played, 1 goal, 6 assists, 7 points

The Narrative

Ben Brinkman is a player that has been on the radar for a while. A big and naturally-gifted athlete, Brinkman committed to the University of Minnesota as a ninth-grader with an agreement that he could potentially join the Gophers a year early if he finished high school in three years. Though Minnesota made a head coaching change in the interval, Brinkman did graduate from high school a year early, and spent last season as the youngest player in college hockey. Playing against players as much as six years older meant a quiet draft year for Brinkman, but he remains an extremely viable NHL Draft candidate.

What I Like:

-Size and athleticism

Minnesota listed Brinkman at 6-1 210 lbs., which seems slightly exaggerated by my eye test, but regardless, he’s a strong, solidly-built kid that is going to have no problem holding up physically against anyone in the NHL. Prior to focusing on hockey full-time as a junior in high school, Brinkman was also a good high school football player, playing safety and running back for Edina High School. He’s a smooth, fluid athlete with good agility.

-Advanced level of play

As a late-2000 birthdate, Brinkman was the youngest player in men’s college hockey this season. And while he was by no means a dominant force, he more than held his own against competition that was, in some cases, as much as five or six years older than him. He deserves to be graded on a much different curve than players playing a level below him in junior hockey, or multiple levels below him still in high school.

-Physical edge

Brinkman brings some of his football instincts to the rink. He’s not a big open-ice hitter, but definitely does not shy away from contact

-Quietly effective

Brinkman’s scoring line doesn’t jump off the page, but the one notable stat from his freshman season at Minnesota was a +11 +/- rating on a team with an overall +/- of -1. Next highest on the team was Tampa Bay draft pick Sammy Walker, who had a sensational freshman season. Everyone knows +/- is a deeply imperfect, even flawed stat, but it’s tough to believe it got it that wrong. You could factor in a pretty wide margin for error and Brinkman still comes out looking pretty good. He wasn’t shouldering top pairing responsibility, but Minnesota also wasn’t sheltering him with match-ups either.

What I Don’t Like

-Lack of offensive production

Brinkman finished his freshman season with a 1-6-7 scoring line. For some players, especially one in Brinkman’s situation, this can be explained away by a lack of opportunity as the youngest player on an older, more experienced roster. But that really isn’t the case here. Minnesota was in desperate need of an offensive defenseman to drive their scoring attack, especially on the power play this year, and nobody, Brinkman included, was able to step up.

Brinkman has all the physical tools, but there is significant, legitimate concern that he may not have the ice vision and hockey sense to play at the NHL level.

Draft Projection

As a draft prospect, Brinkman’s timing could not be worse. At nearly any other point in the NHL Draft’s history, Brinkman’s combination of strength and athleticism would have had teams fighting to get him, possibly even in the first round. But in this current moment, when everyone is still trying to draft the next Erik Karlsson, the excitement over Brinkman is considerably subdued. As it stands now, Brinkman is likely to be picked somewhere between the third round on the high end to fifth/sixth round on the low end. I’d personally lean more towards the high-end, depending on who else was still available in the third round, but can also understand why some other teams may be more cautious.

Pro Projection

I tend to take a more optimisitc view of Brinkman than the general consensus. Yes, he’s never going to be a 60-70 point guy like Erik Karlsson. But not every NHL defenseman is going to be that, nor do they necessarily need to be. There’s considerable room between that and ‘effective NHL defenseman’ and I believe Brinkman will one day fall into that range, though closer to a 5th/6th defenseman than a top pairing guy. I think he has the athletic upside to be a dependable, physically imposing defense-first defenseman at the pro level.

Timeline

Brinkman will return to the University of Minnesota for his sophomore season, where he will likely handle an increased role on the Gopher blue line. If his development continues, he could become a top pairing, shutdown defenseman, and also play a valuable role providing cover for some of the talented offensive-minded defensemen Minnesota will bring in next season.

Because he has already played college hockey, and because he is already physically developed, Brinkman should be on a more compressed timeline than many other draft prospects, especially in the later rounds of the draft. Assuming things progress as hoped, Brinkman would most likely be ready for a pro contract in two years, after completing his junior season.

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BUFFALO – Is it safe to say Minnesota Duluth is a rare college hockey dynasty?

It’s pretty hard to think otherwise at this point. The usual method of lockdown defense, outstanding forecheck and stellar goaltending came through yet again for the Bulldogs, and they are heading back home with their third national championship.

UMD completed yet another unbelievable run in the NCAA Tournament, frustrating the Massachusetts Minutemen from start to finish in a 3-0 victory on Saturday night at KeyBank Center to claim their second straight title.

“Couldn’t be more proud of this group. They went through some different challenges this year. They really grew together as a team. I’m just really excited for them to be national champions again,” said Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin, who joined elite company by becoming just the 10th head coach to win at least three national championships.

When asked about his accomplishment, Sandelin said, “I’m blessed to be around a lot of great people. Coaches do get the credit, but there’s a lot of people that do a lot of work besides myself, assistant coaches, trainers, strength people. We’ve got some team managers. At the end of the day, the players go out and play. I’m just fortunate that they listen. It’s been pretty special. Again, I never take anything for granted because in this game it can change. I just want to enjoy it with these guys. I know they’ll enjoy it the rest of their lives.

Parker Mackay scored the first goal of the game for UMD, which proved to be the winner. Mackay later added an assist and earned the Most Outstanding Player award for the Frozen Four. The senior forward completes his collegiate career with three straight national championship appearances and two straight titles.

“Yeah, it’s incredible, obviously. Obviously you can’t write it any better than that. So fortunate to be able to make the regionals all four years, let alone three Frozen Fours, winning two national championships. So happy to do it with some incredible friends in there,” Mackay said.

“Again, the coaching staff, to have the coaching staff that I had for four years, it’s no shock that we were here for three times in a row. I’m looking forward to obviously watching this group in the future.”

The Bulldogs became the first team to repeat as national champions since the Denver Pioneers won the 2004 and 2005 titles. In addition, not only as the NCHC sent at least one team to the Frozen Four every season since they began play in 2013-14, but they have also become the first conference to claim four straight titles (North Dakota in 2016, Denver in 2017 and Minnesota Duluth in 2018-2019) since the WCHA had five straight between 2002 and 2006 (Minnesota in 2002 and 2003, Denver in 2004 and 2005, Wisconsin in 2006).

Two nights after lighting the Pioneers up with three first-period power play goals, UMass failed on all four of their opportunities on Saturday. They were stifled in every way offensively by Duluth, and the most successful season in program history fell short of a national title. Still, there’s something to be said for finishing with 31 wins two years after getting just five.

“We definitely brought respect to UMass hockey this year. I think the group’s in great hands moving forward,” said forward Kurt Keats.

Sophomore defenseman Cale Makar was a big part of the success this year for the Minutemen, and the Hobey Baker winner finished the season with 16 goals and 33 assists. Head coach Greg Carvel doesn’t expect Makar, the #4 overall draft pick by the Colorado Avalanche two years ago, to return next season. Makar is expected to sign with the Avalanche and join them in their NHL playoff series against the Calgary Flames.

“He came back this year. He didn’t have to do that. I think he’s a kid that he sees the group ahead of himself, he wanted to help take the program to another level, and he did that along the way. He did it with complete class every step of the way,” Carvel said.

“He’s an elite hockey player. But when we think about Cale, personally when I think about Cale, first thing that comes to my mind is how good of a kid he is. He’s unbelievable. I feel very fortunate that I got to coach him. I don’t expect him back.”

UMD dominated the first period, getting a dominant forecheck established early and forcing UMass to play from behind, drawing an interference penalty on Thursday’s overtime hero, Marc Del Gaizo. On the ensuing power play, Mackay got the scoring started by burying a beautiful backhand shot over the left shoulder of Filip Lindberg, giving the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead less than four minutes in.

On the other end of the ice, UMass struggled mightily setting up offensively, and on the lone power play they did have, they didn’t get a single shot on net. The Minutemen were held to just five first-period shots, while Duluth had 14. By the time UMass had their first shot on goal, UMD had seven shots and one goal.

The Bulldogs continued to frustrate UMass throughout the second period. Clean zone entry proved difficult for the Minutemen, and the few chances they did have were snuffed out by Hunter Shepard. UMD then went up 2-0 in the final minutes as Mackay threaded a beautiful pass between two UMass skaters to Mikey Anderson all alone in the slot, and he fired it home.

Two more power play opportunities came up for the Minutemen in the third period, but they just couldn’t get anything going and managed just two shots on those opportunities. In fact, those were the only two shots they had on all four of their power plays. Shortly after missing on the last one, Jackson Cates delivered the dagger with under three minutes to go.

“They pressured us really hard,” Makar said. “But ultimately we just couldn’t make plays.”

Shepard, who only allowed three goals all tournament long, made 18 saves and picked up his 29th victory of the season in another outstanding performance, earning all-Frozen Four honors. Lindberg was solid for UMass, making 28 saves.

Minnesota Duluth was swept at St. Cloud State on March 8-9 before finishing the season by winning their final eight games. And according to Sandelin, they saved their best for last.

“Tonight was probably one of our best games we played for sure in the NCAA tournament, probably from our league tournament as well. It couldn’t have come at a better time,” he said.

Scoring summary:

First period:

UMD power-play goal at 3:51: Parker Mackay (16). Assisted by Mikey Anderson (20) and Riley Tufte (10).

Second period:

UMD goal at 15:48: Anderson (6). Assisted by Mackay (17) and Justin Richards (20).

Third period:

UMD goal at 17:18: Jackson Cates (8). Assisted by Tanner Laderoute (5) and Anderson (21).

Power plays: UMass 0-4, UMD 1-4.

Shots on goal: UMass 18, UMD 31.

All-Frozen Four Team:

Forwards: Parker Mackay (Minnesota Duluth), Justin Richards (Minnesota Duluth), Billy Exell (Minnesota Duluth)

Defensemen: Marc Del Gaizo (Massachusetts), Mikey Anderson (Minnesota Duluth).

Goaltender: Hunter Shepard (Minnesota Duluth)

Most Outstanding Player: Parker Mackay (Minnesota Duluth)

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BUFFALO – The dream season for UMass will end with a national championship game appearance, thanks to overtime heroics from a reliable defenseman.

Marc Del Gaizo, the linemate of Hobey Baker hat trick finalist Cale Makar, scored on a blast from the left circle to help the Minutemen outlast the Denver Pioneers 4-3 in overtime on Thursday night at KeyBank Center, sending UMass to the national championship game for the first time in program history.

“This team, all year long they’ve impressed everybody. Tonight was just the next chapter of how resilient they are,” Massachusetts head coach Nate Leaman said. “I guess at some point I think tonight in overtime I just felt they were going to find a way, and they did.”

Colin Staub got things started for the Pioneers by scoring a rare power-play goal, but Denver wasn’t much of a threat offensively after that until the last ten minutes of regulation and most of the overtime period. Still, the defense and goaltending kept the deficit from increasing until they rallied.

“I don’t think we got down on ourselves. We didn’t,” Denver head coach David Carle said. “[We] stuck with our game plan in the second and third. Really proud of our effort to be able to fight back [and] get it to overtime.”

After Massachusetts fell behind early, the Minutemen promptly took advantage of some poor discipline shown by the Pioneers, scoring three power-play goals in a span of 1:41 to get the mostly pro-UMass crowd electrified. Both teams lost at least one player to a major and a misconduct in the contest, and two of the three (Niko Hildenbrand of UMass and Ryan Barrow of Denver, both for contact to the head) were gone in the first 12 and a half minutes of the game.

With the struggling power play unit holding the Pioneers back once again, they relied on better even-strength play to tie the game in the third period. After their fourth straight power play on the night came up short, forward Cole Guttman scored twice in a span of 5:43. Denver was re-energized with the sudden spurt, and UMass looked shellshocked as regulation time was winding down.

“We thought we were winning the game,” Staub said. “We were resilient.”

With both teams threatening to score repeatedly in the first 15 minutes of overtime, the Minutemen called a timeout with 5:47 left. About a minute later, UMass won a couple offensive battles and Oliver Chau found Marc Del Gaizo waiting at the top of the left circle, and his sniper beat Filip Larsson over his glove and just inside the post.

Marc was still in disbelief after the game.

“I mean, probably the coolest moment of my life. Right now [it] seems like I’m dreaming. But, I mean, we’re off to the national championship, so that’s all that matters,” he said.

As far as the timeout that preceded it, he said, “It was a smart move calling a timeout there. I think it was just guys tired. It was effective, so it was a good move.”

Discipline and staying out of the box is likely going to be a key factor for the Minutemen as they try to deny Minnesota Duluth a second straight title. Another factor will be fatigue, according to Carvel.

“All I’m concerned about right now is recovery. These guys will reset; we’ll be ready for Saturday night. We’ll come out, flow through. I’m sure some guys are banged up. I don’t know Duluth well. We’re going to have to spend some time watching them,” he said.

Filip Lindberg made 37 saves for UMass, including 18 in the third period and overtime during Denver’s rally. Larsson finished with 24 for the Pioneers.

Scoring summary:

First period:

DU power-play goal at 8:29: Colin Staub (8). Assisted by Kohen Olichefski (6) and Cole Guttman (12).

UMass power-play goal at 11:41: Bobby Trivigno (13). Assisted by Jacob Pritchard (30) and Marc Del Gaizo (16).

UMass power-play goal at 13:04: Mitchell Chaffee (18). Assisted by Cale Makar (33) and Pritchard (31).

UMass power-play goal at 13:22: John Leonard (16). Assisted by Mario Ferraro (12) and Jake Gaudet (14).

Second period:

No scoring.

Third period:

DU goal at 10:32: Guttman (13). Assisted by Tyler Ward (10) and Jake Durflinger (4).

DU goal at 16:14: Guttman (14). Assisted by Tyson McLellan (10) and Les Lancaster (6).

Overtime:

UMass goal at 15:18: Marc Del Gaizo (13). Assisted by Oliver Chau (5) and Gaudet (15).

Power plays: DU 1-5, UMass 3-5.

Shots on goal: DU 40, UMass 28.

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BUFFALO – The only difference over the last three years for Minnesota Duluth has been a few different players suiting up every night.

Other than that, their formula of relentless defense and outstanding goaltending has carried them far. And this year, it has carried them to a third straight national championship game appearance.

Billy Exell had a rare goal to break a third-period tie and give the Bulldogs the lead for good, then a pair of late insurance empty-net goals put the Providence Friars away as UMD won 4-1 on Thursday night at KeyBank Center.

Bulldogs head coach Scott Sandelin knew they were in for a tough challenge against Providence, and two disallowed goals by his team in the first period made things more challenging.

“Tonight’s game was a very, very hard hockey game. I can’t say enough about our players,” Sandelin said.

After finding their stride offensively during the East Regional, particularly on the power play and after falling behind Minnesota State 3-0 in the first game out there, the Friars only managed one goal against UMD’s tough defense. It was a tight battle after 40 minutes that saw the teams tied at a goal apiece, and Providence even had a 5-on-3 advantage in the early stages of the third with a chance to take the lead. Not being able to cash in likely was their downfall.

“As a team we expect to score on those 5-on-3’s,” defenseman Jacob Bryson said. “We work on those in practice.”

Friars head coach Nate Leaman thought that missed power play gave the Bulldogs the boost they needed. And in his eyes, it came down to one crucial stat.

“It did swing momentum. I’m not going to lie to you. It did,” Leaman said. “On the 5-on-3, we didn’t win the faceoffs. We were chasing the puck too much, particularly in the third.”

The first period was mostly back-and-forth, but UMD had those two goals waved off, and the second one came with controversy. A Mikey Anderson shot from the slot rebounded off PC goaltender Hayden Hawkey, and it was knocked in by Cole Koepke in front. The replay appeared to show Koepke making minimal contact, if any, with Hawkey. The goal was waved off after a lengthy review.

As has been the case these last few years during this postseason success, however, UMD kept their cool.

“Any time you get a goal disallowed, you don’t want to give them momentum again,” Exell said. “You think you’re getting the momentum. You just have to have a good shift after that, stick with it.”

No review was necessary on the next puck off a Duluth stick to go in. Justin Richards let one go from the right circle, and it snuck in through the five-hole of Hawkey after getting deflected.

It didn’t take long for Providence to respond. Their power-play unit, which has been outstanding in the NCAA Tournament, converted for the sixth time in ten tries as a Bryson shot rebounded to Brandon Duhaime in front, and he fed Josh Wilkins on the back door for a beautiful tying goal.

Exell put Duluth up 2-1 6:39 into the third period by pouncing on a rebound off a Kobe Roth shot to the left of Hawkey. For a fourth-line forward who doesn’t score a lot of goals, the senior sure got a timely one there.

“I decided just to go to the net. I knew he was going to shoot,” Exell said. “The rebound came to me and happened to go in.”

That huge sequence by UMD may never have happened had they not come up with their biggest penalty kill of the season just a few minutes before. A tripping call on Tanner Laderoute and a slash on Exell 42 seconds apart early in the third gave the Friars 1:18 of a 5-on-3 advantage, but the Bulldogs managed to kill it off. Being able to pull off that feat against an outstanding Providence power-play unit just may have saved their season.

“I can tell you I was nervous as hell,” Sandelin said. “To be able to do that at that time of the game was a big-time moment. Those are changing turning points in games.”

Richards agreed with his coach.

“We knew how dangerous they were. So, I mean, like when we got that five-on-three, we knew this could be the turning point of the game,” Richards said. “We ended up killing it off. I think we got a ton of momentum off that.

“Bill got his goal pretty quickly after that. We sealed the game from there.”

And UMD did just that with empty-net goals from Dylan Samberg and Richards with under a minute left.

Hunter Shepard made 28 saves for the Bulldogs, and Hawkey finished with 32.

The Bulldogs will take on Massachusetts Amherst in the championship game on Saturday night. The Minutemen kept their dream season alive by outlasting the Denver Pioneers 4-3 in overtime in the other semifinal.

Scoring summary:

First period:

No scoring.

Second period:

UMD goal at 6:39: Justin Richards (11). Assisted by Parker Mackay (16) and Matt Anderson (6).

PC power-play goal at 11:17: Josh Wilkins (20). Assisted by Brandon Duhaime (2) and Jacob Bryson (24).

Third period:

UMD goal at 10:07: Billy Exell (3). Assisted by Kobe Roth (7) and Dylan Samberg (12)

UMD empty-net goal at 19:27: Samberg (7). Unassisted.

UMD empty-net goal at 19:54: Richards (12). Assisted by Noah Cates (14).

Power plays: PC 1-3, UMD 0-2.

Shots on goal: PC 29, UMD 36.

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FARGO – So much for a rebuilding year in Denver.

With many key players gone from last year and a new coach behind the bench, the Pioneers made sure everyone knew they’re still one of the best teams in the country.

After all, there’s not much use arguing another trip to the Frozen Four.

Relying on their defense and goaltending once again, the Denver Pioneers withstood a tough challenge from upset-minded American International College and won 3-0 on Saturday night at Scheels Arena to win the West Regional championship.

DU head coach David Carle knew his team would have their hands full after the Yellow Jackets executed a perfect game plan to upend a powerful St. Cloud State team on Friday night.

“I’d like to say congratulations to [AIC head coach Eric Lang] and his staff, their program,” Carle said. “We beat a really good hockey team tonight.

“Very proud of our group. Excited for our program to be heading back to the Frozen Four again.”

The Yellow Jackets showed their victory over the Huskies was no fluke from start to finish on Saturday night. They played well on both ends of the ice, but ultimately couldn’t get the goals they needed as they saw their most successful season in school history come to an end.

“I thought our guys didn’t back down one inch,” AIC head coach Eric Lang said. “Proud of this group. I think they changed the landscape of AIC hockey.

“These guys made a bunch of memories this season for each other. They made a bunch of memories for me and my family, and I’ll be forever grateful to them.”

With both teams showing some outstanding defense and goaltending for the first 34 minutes of game clock, it was the Pioneers with another late second-period goal as Staub beat AIC goaltender Zackarias Skog over his right shoulder with a wrist shot out front.

“It kind of started with a scrum at the net,” Staub said. “I didn’t even look at the net; I just tried to get it off as quick as I could and I was lucky enough for it to go in.”

Once again, a late second-period goal gave Denver all the offense it needed to win. The real nail in the coffin, however, was Liam Finlay adding a huge insurance goal with 3:30 left in the game. He caused a turnover in the AIC zone and beat Skog with a wrister from the slot, putting the Pioneers up 2-0 with an outstanding individual effort.

Jarid Lukosevicius scored an empty-net goal with 1:23 left, sending the DU players on the ice and bench into a celebration frenzy.

Oddly enough, the goals by Finlay and Lukosevicius were the only two shots the Pioneers had for the whole third period. Their lone third-period shot on Friday was also an empty-net goal.

“That’s how we draw it up,” Carle joked. “I told our staff we doubled our shot output in the third period from tonight to last night. If we can get to four the next one, we’ll be happy.”

The Pioneers, who played in their fifth straight regional championship game, are in the Frozen Four for the third time in the last four seasons and the first time since 2017 when they won their eighth title in Chicago. Denver will take on the Massachusetts Amherst Minutemen, who beat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 4-0 in the Northeast Regional championship, in one of the Frozen Four semifinals. Both teams have yet to allow a goal in the NCAA Tournament.

Scoring summary:

First period:

No scoring.

Second period:

DU goal at 15:45: Colin Staub (7). Assisted by Ryan Barrow (9).

Third period:

DU goal at 16:30: Liam Finlay (16). Unassisted.

DU empty-net goal at 18:37: Jarid Lukosevicius (19). Unassisted.

Power plays: AIC 0-5, DU 0-3.

Shots on goal: AIC 26, DU 24.

All-West Regional Tournament Team

Forwards: Joel Kocur (AIC), Liam Finlay (DU), Colin Staub (DU).

Defensemen: Les Lancaster (DU), Brennan Kapcheck (AIC).

Goaltender: Filip Larsson (DU).

Most Outstanding Player: Filip Larsson (DU).

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FARGO – It’s pretty safe to say American International College was going to remember their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance no matter what happened.

AIC can now say they’re unbeaten all-time in college hockey’s biggest event. At least for now.

The Yellow Jackets disrupted the offensive flow of top overall seed St. Cloud State all night long, and they survived a late flurry to stun the Huskies 2-1 on Friday night in the second West Regional semifinal.

“Excited for our group. We had a script this game had to go a certain way. Sometimes that’s a tough pill to swallow,” AIC head coach Eric Lang said. “Extremely delighted for these guys right here that I get to spend another day with them.”

Zackarias Skog stopped 33 out of 34 SCSU shots, including 28 over the final two periods. AIC is within one win of an improbable Frozen Four berth after pulling off what may be the biggest upset all-time in college hockey history. Was there any doubt about how this would go down in the mind of Lang?

“Honestly, no,” he said. “We’re not here to win one hockey game; we’re trying to get out of this bracket here and that’s our mindset.”

As for St. Cloud State, it’s an all-too-familiar feeling. They won 30 games in the regular season, won their second consecutive NCHC regular-season championship and played very well in the conference tournament. Yet another season ends far too soon for this talented team after they went through the same thing as the top-seeded team last year in a 4-1 loss to Air Force.

“Congrats to AIC. They played a heck of a game tonight, and they did a great job,” SCSU head coach Brett Larson said after the game. “It’s honestly one of the best groups I’ve ever been around. I feel for them. They certainly left it all out there at the end.”

As has been the case in recent NCAA Tournament appearances, SCSU looked out of sorts coming out of the gates. AIC made them pay as Joel Kocur banked one in off goaltender David Hrenak from the left side of the net, giving the Yellow Jackets a quick lead.

“That was a big first goal,” Kocur said of his fortunate bounce. “I think we stressed having a good start. I wasn’t sure it was in off the start, but I was super excited.”

The Huskies pushed more offensively as the period went on, but AIC nearly doubled their lead in the final seconds as a shot from the point went in just after the horn sounded.

AIC withstood another push from SCSU to open the second, and they increased their lead to two goals after a Brennan Kapcheck shot from the right circle trickled through Hrenak’s five-hole after winning a faceoff.

“I came down the wall on the right side; got a drop pass from Blake [Christensen],” Kapcheck said. “I pulled it in quick, snapped it and it went off the goalie and went in.”

It took a funky bounce for the Huskies to finally get on the board. On their fourth power play of the night, Easton Brodzinski was credited for a goal after his shot deflected off a Yellow Jackets player and in with 10:33 left.

SCSU pulled Hrenak with under two minutes left, and as they made their final desperate push, the puck seemed to go everywhere but inside the net – on top of it, in the netting behind the zone, off the pipe, you name it. As the final seconds came off the clock, the celebration began for the Yellow Jackets.

American International College will tangle with the Denver Pioneers on Saturday night in the West Regional final as they look to continue the dream season and advance to the Frozen Four.

As for St. Cloud State, they’re left wondering what could have been as nine seniors graduate and other players such as forward Ryan Poehling could be on their way out too. Despite the season ending in heartbreak, Larson wouldn’t trade away his first season in charge at SCSU for anything.

“Number one, I told the guys I love them,” he said. “They worked so hard all year.”

Scoring summary:

First period:

AIC goal at 6:01: Joel Kocur (11). Assisted by Kyle Stephan (16).

Second period:

AIC goal at 7:32: Brennan Kapcheck (5). Assisted by Blake Christensen (31) and Tobias Fladeby (8).

Third period:

SCSU power-play goal at 9:27: Easton Brodzinski (16). Assisted by Blake Lizotte (28) and Jimmy Schuldt (25).

Power plays: AIC 0-2, SCSU 1-4.

Shots on goal: AIC 13, SCSU 34.

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FARGO – Denver’s formula of strong defense and goaltending came through at an opportune time once again.

Filip Larsson delivered a strong performance in net with 24 saves, and a late second-period goal by Les Lancaster provided all the offense necessary as the #2 seed Pioneers defeated the #3 seed Ohio State Buckeyes 2-0 on Friday afternoon in the first West Regional semifinal.

“I thought it was a really tightly contested game,” head coach David Carle said as he earned his first NCAA Tournament win. “Not a lot of open ice for either team, to be expected. Really liked how we defended as the game went on.”

Colin Staub put the game away with a late empty-net goal to help Denver avenge a 5-1 loss to Ohio State in the Midwest Regional final last season. The Pioneers are now just one win away from making their third Frozen Four trip in four years.

The Buckeyes played well defensively themselves, and offensively they showed no signs of rust after playing just three games in March prior to Friday’s game. But every decent chance Ohio State had was snuffed out by Denver’s terrific defense, and the Big Ten regular-season champions closed the season with a 1-6-1 record and are one-and-done for the second time in their three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances after reaching their second Frozen Four last year.

“Obviously a disappointing result for us. I’m proud of our team,” Buckeyes head coach Steve Rohlik said. “I thought we came into tonight and played the exact game we wanted to play. We knew the team that scored first was probably going to get the upper hand, and we certainly had our chances there. Just didn’t work out the way we wanted it to.”

Senior forward Mason Jobst and his teammates knew what they were in for from the start of the game.

“Going into the game, obviously we know the style [Denver is] playing was gonna be mainly defensive,” Jobst said. “Credit to them. It was tough to play against.”

While neither team was able to crack the scoreboard in the first period, Ohio State showed no signs of rust offensively, generating a handful of offensive chances and keeping the Denver defense and goaltender Filip Larsson busy. But the Pioneers held tough on their end.

“Filip Larsson was a stud in net in the first period when we needed him to be,” Carle said.

Denver finally broke through first in the closing seconds of the second period. Emilio Pettersen caught three Ohio State skaters napping in their own end as he threaded a beautiful pass to Les Lancaster closing in on the net.

“That was a heck of a pass by [Pettersen]. He has some great vision,” Lancaster said.

With 1:45 of power-play time to start the third, Ohio State quickly skated into the Denver zone and managed to catch Larsson out of position. But with the net empty and a bunch of players tangled up in the crease, the Buckeyes missed out on their best chance to tie the game. They kept the pressure going while holding the Pioneers to one shot over the final 20 minutes, but that one shot went in for Staub’s empty-netter from center ice with 58 seconds left.

Denver is in their 5th consecutive regional final, and Carle is off to a good start in his first year as the bench boss. He credits his predecessors for building the tremendous program he now leads.

“I think it speaks to the stability of our program, and what we try and do at Denver,” Carle said. “I just think there’s a really great foundation of quality people that have come before us and allowed us to have the success that we have today.”

After the final handshake at center ice, some Ohio State skaters faced their fans and gave a respectful stick tap as a final salute for their season.

“It’s a little bit of a goodbye, I guess,” senior defenseman Sasha Larocque said. “It’s tough to accept the best four years of your life are behind you. It’s not easy to accept, but at the end of the day, everyone’s got a future.”

To reach Buffalo, the Pioneers will have to get past the American International College Yellow Jackets, who stunned top overall seed St. Cloud State 2-1 later on Friday night in their NCAA Tournament debut.

Scoring summary:

First period:

No scoring.

Second period:

DU goal at 19:20: Les Lancaster (5). Assisted by Emilio Pettersen (24) and Michael Davies (11).

Third period:

DU empty-net goal at 19:02: Colin Staub (6). Assisted by Davies (12).

Power plays: OSU 0-4, DU 0-3.

Shots on goal: OSU 24, DU 13.

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