Tuesday, September 20, 2016

New Blog Location

http://921thefan.com/category/ciskieblog/

The memory remains.

Because I might be back someday.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Monday Musings: Rally Falls Short and Season Ends in Worcester

Well, for a second straight season, UMD wrapped up its season with a heartbreaking 3-2 Northeast Regional final loss to a Boston school. This time, it was Boston College in Worcester, not nearly as controversial as last year's Boston University defeat in Manchester.

Instead, Saturday was a game UMD very well could have won were it not for the exploits of Thatcher Demko, the Mike Richter Award and Hobey Baker finalist who made some incredible saves and kept his team in the game at times where UMD was dominating play. Demko got backing from captain Teddy Doherty, who continued a huge senior season by scoring twice, and Ryan Fitzgerald, who put home his 23rd of the season for a 3-0 lead in the third period.

Wonder if anyone in the building or watching at home thought that would be the game-winning goal when it happened.

UMD got a power-play goal from Austin Farley, then a goal from Karson Kuhlman on a scramble in front to make it 3-2 with more than four minutes left. UMD buzzed on a late power play, but Willie Raskob's stick exploded in the left circle, and Tony Cameranesi's cross-slot pass hopped the stick of Farley on the goal line before BC cleared it to clinch the win.

Ugh. That close.

Demko really made a huge difference, and the Eagles got two timely goals from their captain to get going on the scoreboard and open up a lead. UMD still made it interesting, but BC's opportunism really burned the Bulldogs while Demko held them at bay just enough.

When you see a team put forth the kind of effort UMD did on Saturday, it really is hard to be down on them. A really good team lost by one goal to a really good team. It's truly as simple as that.

******

It could be a news-worthy offseason for UMD. First off, there's always the looming possibility of early departures in college hockey. Minnesota has already lost Hudson Fasching, Michael Brodzinski, and Nick Seeler one year early. Omaha lost Jake Guentzel. Michigan is going to lose like half its team. It happens.

For UMD, there could be a few. Drafted players like Dominic Toninati and Carson Soucy have decisions to make, and there are free agents on the roster who might decide to turn pro, too. Based on what we know about the Wild and Seeler, it's likely GM Chuck Fletcher will present the pros and cons of leaving early to Soucy, then let the player make an informed decision.

Oh, and head coach Scott Sandelin's contract will expire after the 2016-17 season. UMD is 95-77-23 (.546) since Sandelin signed his last extension after the 2011 NCAA title win. That's up 38 percentage points from his current career number of .508 (287-277-65). Coaches at this level rarely coach the final year of their contracts (yeah, I know Red Berenson did, but he's freaking 76), so it'll be interesting to see what happens there.

******

Lots of talk about the terrible regional attendance. This is not a recording.

It was not good in Worcester, especially after Providence was eliminated. You might not believe this, but Providence is basically as close to Worcester as Boston is, so the Friars fans were out in full force on Friday. Many more of them than Boston College fans in the building, and the place really emptied out after the UMD-Providence game ended.

Attendance in Cincinnati didn't look good. Attendance in Albany didn't look good. Attendance in St. Paul was embarrassing.

A few thoughts.
  • Whoever it was in the NCAA that decided the XCel Energy Center was a good place for an NCAA regional needs to rethink their philosophy. They've yet to have a well-attended regional there, regardless of Minnesota's involvement. This was deplorable and should end this "regionals in NHL-size buildings" bit forever.
  • The Cincinnati bit also needs to end. It doesn't work, even with Michigan and North Dakota playing there. Wait until Miami makes the tournament and has to play there and is joined by Notre Dame. It'll work about as well there as it did in Toledo.
  • Worcester is a bigger building, and they tarped off the upper deck with nearby Providence and Boston College playing. Nothing will ever draw better than that in that particular building.
  • Manchester gets another regional next year, which will be great if New Hampshire makes the tournament. Otherwise, ugh.
  • Anyway, ticket prices are insanely high. They price out all but the most dedicated fans of participating teams, especially when you factor in the cost of travel on short notice (oh and it was Easter weekend). $86 for all sessions in Worcester. $90 in St. Paul. $60ish for single sessions. It's too much. Obviously these regional hosts are making money, because otherwise they'd stop bidding on regionals. They don't, and places like Worcester, Manchester, and Bridgeport are hosting constantly. But if someone doesn't look at this problem, nothing else that is done will matter.
Sandelin was on Beyond The Pond on KFAN Saturday and said he likes the format of neutral-site regionals, but "you have to find the right ones." He referenced Fargo last year (they host again next year), and while that looked great on TV and received rave reviews, it's a rare building in the West that doesn't house a Division I program but is close enough to one to sell out when said team (North Dakota, duh) makes the tournament. Is Fargo close enough to St. Cloud, the Twin Cities, Duluth, etc. to draw well if North Dakota has a down year?

I'm in favor of letting home sites bid on regionals, but what happens to UMD if the Bulldogs host a regional at Amsoil Arena and miss the tournament? It's an issue here, too.

(How about buildings with actual press boxes first? Worcester doesn't have one, and neither does Manchester. I don't need an XCel Energy Center-size press box or anything, but it's nice to not be calling games from a makeshift press row set up in the nosebleed seats of an arena.)

In all seriousness, we're going to keep talking about this, and it's just not likely anything is done. There are no quick fixes, no easy answers.

(I've been in favor of letting top seeds host regionals before, but the problem with that is arranging transportation and lodging for three teams on very short notice. How tough would it be to find 100+ hotel rooms in, say, St. Cloud on three days notice? The answer is "very," and the benefits are outweighed by the logistical issues that would crop up.)

The discussion on Twitter is good, for the most part, and I hope someone can figure something out. Right now, what we have is just not acceptable.

******

Offseason is underway. I presume we will have a press conference with Sandelin at some point this week to wrap up the season. Might get a few more answers on potential departures at that point.

Keep following on Twitter for quick updates on departures, recruiting, and contracts. Always my favorite things to talk about!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Game 40: UMD vs Boston College (NCAA Northeast Regional Final)

WORCESTER, Mass. -- One more win, and UMD will have fulfilled a major goal it had coming into the season: A trip to the NCAA Frozen Four. It would be UMD's fifth in school history and the third under head coach Scott Sandelin.

All that stands in the way? A Boston College team that is seeking its 12th Frozen Four in 19 years. An Eagles squad that is 14-1 in regional games played in Worcester under Jerry York. That's all.

No big deal, right?

#JustWinBaby

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Iafallo - Toninato - Johnson
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Thomas - Young (Austyn)
Sampair - Decowski - Mackay

Welinski - Pionk
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely

BC
Doherty - Sanford - Gilmour
Fitzgerald (Ryan) - White - Tuch
Wood - Cangelosi - Calnan
Jeke - Brown - Dudek

McCoshen - Fitzgerald (Casey)
Kim - Santini
Couturier - Savage

Demko - Milosz

Friday, March 25, 2016

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Take Down Defending Champs in Double Overtime, #MarchOn

WORCESTER, Mass. -- In 1983, Providence College ruined UMD's first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament, sweeping the Bulldogs in the old two-game, total goals series format.

(Sidebar: I wish someone would find a way to bring that format back for something not quite as meaningful as the NCAA Tournament.)

Since then, UMD had made eight trips to the national tournament prior to this year without once losing in the first round. Now, you can make it nine.

Karson Kuhlman's tip at 57 seconds of the second overtime lifted UMD past top-seeded Providence 2-1 in the NCAA Northeast Regional here Friday evening.

"Both teams battled and what we expected was an awesome game," UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. "We got the last bounce, and we get to keep playing."

Certainly a lot of truth to those words. This was an entertaining hockey game with a ton of back and forth action, one of the better games I've seen in 11 years on the job (the national championship is in a category by itself and everything else is measured separately). Providence goalie Nick Ellis is definitely as good as advertised, and it's crazy he didn't make the final five for the Mike Richter Award.

It was one of those game that legitimately felt like either team could win. Providence certainly had its share of chances, including a short-handed breakaway for Nick Saracino that Kasimir Kaskisuo stopped when Saracino couldn't get the goalie to bite and ran out of real estate. Kaskisuo made a few great saves in this game, and he was dueling with Ellis on the other end. Offensive chances were coming, but the goalies weren't letting anything by.

"It brings the best out of you, Kaskisuo said of the duel with Ellis. "You know the other goalie is not going to give up any easy ones. You kind of have to raise your own level to match that. The big thing in overtime is to just stick to your own game, try not to think about it too much and stay calm—just stay confident."

UMD's regulation goal came from a one-timer by Tony Cameranesi after he picked off a clearing pass on the right-wing half wall. Cameranesi's shot went straight to the net as Ellis was trying to reset himself and he got caught up. The puck went under him before he could get back down on it.

Stephen McParland tied it for Providence four minutes and change later when a Ryan Tait shot was blocked by Willie Corrin and trickled to McParland at the front of the net. He had a tap-in goal that Kaskisuo had no shot at.

On the winner, Cameranesi whipped a pass from left to right for Willie Raskob, who threw a nifty shot-pass to the goalmouth, where Kuhlman won a battle and deflected the puck into the net. There was a bit of confusion after the goal, as it looked like the officials were possibly going to review it, but there was no need. There may have been some contact with Kuhlman and Ellis, but the puck was already by the goaltender and in the crease before the contact happened, and it didn't affect Ellis' ability to defend the goal. He was out high to challenge Raskob's shot and Kuhlman just got in behind him with great position and a great stick.

"In these tight games in playoffs here," Kuhlman said, "every goal is huge, but it’s something that you dream about as a kid -- scoring OT goals, so it’s a cool experience for sure."



Otherwise, the story of the game was the goaltending. Back and forth we went through the end of regulation and through a full 20-minute overtime. We marched into the third multiple-overtime NCAA Tournament game in UMD program history, its first since the 1985 third-place game (yes, they still had third-place games, and they allowed said third-place games to go multiple overtimes).

What was telling was how quickly the overtime flow changed. It was all Providence in the first minute or so, but once UMD started generating pressure, it really took some control over the proceedings. Ellis made some great stops and Friars skaters blocked shots and got in lanes. UMD missed 11 nets in the first overtime and had 19 shots blocked in the game out of over 100 attempted.

"I thought we were struggling at the end of every period," Providence coach Nate Leaman said. "I think we struggled to have our legs tonight and we had these little pushes at the beginning of periods and that’s when we played our best hockey because we had energy coming out of the room and we would get some chances."

UMD's win marks the 11th straight NCAA Tournament where a No. 4 seed has won a first-round game (RIT and Ferris State play No. 1 seeds Quinnipiac and St. Cloud State, respectively, on Saturday). Leaman made a great point Thursday when he said there really are no true seeds anymore. It's just a 16-team tournament where anyone can beat anyone and there are no real favorites.

Asked about it again after his team's win Friday, Sandelin said the following: "When you look at the field this year, I think you certainly have your traditional powers back in here but in one game shots, you don’t know. Hopefully you get the puck luck and it bounces and you find a way to win."

The Bulldogs are a win away from the Frozen Four. If UMD wins Saturday, it will also hit 20 wins for the eighth time in 16 years under Sandelin. To put that in perspective, UMD had ten 20-win seasons in history (didn't start playing 20-plus game schedules until 1961) before Sandelin arrived.

******

UMD will play Boston College -- a 4-1 opening-round winner over Harvard in Saturday's regional final here in Worcester. The Eagles' track record is damn impressive already, but all it does is become even more so if you look at what they've done when assigned to the regional in Worcester. In seven trips to the nearby rink for a regional, BC is 13-1 and has made six Frozen Fours. All four Boston College national championships won under 1,000-game winner Jerry York started with a regional in Worcester.

Boston College has been to 11 Frozen Fours in 18 years, and will try to make it 12 in 19 years against a UMD team it dispatched 4-0 in the Northeast Regional final in Worcester in 2012. That game was also for a trip to the Frozen Four in Tampa, just like this one is.

BC is led by impressive goalie Thatcher Demko, a Vancouver draft pick and Mike Richter Award finalist. Up front, Wild draft picks Alex Tuch (two goals Friday, now 17 on the season after a bit of a sluggish start) and Adam Gilmour (25 points) are joined by a host of drafted prospects. There's junior forward Ryan Fitzgerald (Boston) with 45 points, freshman forward and U.S. World Junior player Colin White (Ottawa) with 42 in just 35 games, sophomore forward Zach Sanford (Washington) at 38 points, and freshman Miles Wood (New Jersey) at 35 points.

So, yeah.

Pregame at 7:30 on 92.1 The Fan and along the network. Faceoff just a sconch after 8 Central time. Hope you can join us.

Game 39: UMD vs Providence (NCAA Northeast Regional)

WORCESTER, Mass. -- Scroll down on the blog to see the content I put up yesterday, including a game preview. I expect that UMD will try to play this game with pace. Providence is capable, but I do believe UMD has a slight speed advantage, and Providence is probably a stronger-structured team that keeps its goalie clean.

Test of wills? Maybe. I want to see the Bulldogs possess the puck and push the pace as much as possible. A grind-it-out game, in my view, does not favor UMD.

You'll see some #CrashTheParty references on Twitter. Brief explanation: There are Providence signs inside and outside our hotel (the No. 1 and No. 4 seeds are pre-assigned the same hotel for this regional). When I left to walk over, the Providence band was playing and the cheerleaders were lined up by the door, presumably to greet the players as they walked out. There's a Providence party going on here. It's time to crash it.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Iafallo - Toninato - Johnson
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Thomas - Young (Austyn)
Sampair - Decowski - Mackay

Welinski - Pionk
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely

Providence
Foley - Jankowski - Mingoia
Tanev - Pinho - Saracino
McParland - Rooney - Tait
MacPhee - Lemos - Gamez

McKenzie - Monk
Parisi - Florentino
Gilmour - Desharnais

Ellis - Hawkey - Leahy

Thursday, March 24, 2016

NCAA Northeast Regional Quotes: Harvard vs Boston College

WORCESTER, Mass. -- With the regional beginning on Friday, all four teams convened at DCU Center for practices and press conferences.

Here are the transcripts for the Harvard and Boston College pressers, as provided by the Holy Cross sports information staff.

Harvard was represented by head coach Ted Donato, forward Kyle Criscoulo, goalie Merrick Madsen, and forward Jimmy Vesey.

Opening Statement:
DONATO: “I would just like to say that we are very excited to be back in the NCAA tournament. We’re also very excited to be here in Worcester - it looks like a great place to have the Regional. Obviously, we have a great opponent in Boston College and I know our guys are excited about that challenge.”

On playing against Coach York and recruiting local kids:
DONATO: “I think there’s a lot of competition on that front. I think that each school is amazing in its own right and has some differences to them. I would say first and foremost, Coach York has been a first-class act - incredibly successful over the years and it’s really been a pleasure to watch him run that program both before I was coaching and now that I get to coach against him. There’s a lot of respect there and I think our players share that respect. Tomorrow night - it’s a different story. It’s a great opportunity for us, a great challenge for us. It’s pretty clear that over the last 15 years or so, there’s been nobody who’s done it better in the NCAA tournament in ice hockey than Boston College and that’s great but that’s also not right now. Just like the fact that we haven’t won a game in quite some time in the NCAA - that’s not really on our minds either. I
do think there’s a difference from us last year and this year coming into the game. Last year, we didn’t know we were going to be in the tournament. We won the ECAC and everything got turned around in a week - we had to get out to Notre Dame. This year is a little bit different mindset and I think the focus is very much on not just being in the tournament, but really trying to play our best to advance.”

On Alexander Kerfoot’s role on the team:
DONATO: “I think internally both teammates and coaches have incredible appreciation for what Alexander Kerfoot brings to the table every night. He’s got electric speed, really sees the ice. He’s good defensively and offensively, he’s got a sixth sense to be able to distribute the puck at the right time and he’s just a really clever hockey player that makes things go for his line-mates. He’s able to defend from down low and get us on offense. He’s an excellent penalty killer - a lot of our power play runs through him as well. He’s a great player and does so many little things that he’s very appreciated inside the locker room.”

On supporting Jimmy Vesey for the Hobey Baker Award:
DONATO: “I think this is another back-to-back, incredible year for him. Led our league in goals, led our league in points - I think second in the league in assists as well. He’s up at the top of national ranks as far as game-winning goals. I think he’s performed well under a lot of scrutiny and under a lot of pressure and has really been targeted by other teams trying to shut him down. We play in a league that is very sound defensively, very disciplined in the fact that there are not a lot of penalties. I think of some of the top 15 teams in the country, and the top three least penalized teams are all in our league so he doesn’t have that same amount of opportunities, whether it’s on the power play or have the game open up. So, I really think his numbers have come the hard way and I think he’s been an outstanding player. I think there are plenty of guys who have had great years, but I think to have had the year that he’s had under the pressure and scrutiny that he’s been under - I think that makes him a great candidate.

On Kyle Criscuolo’s role as a two-year captain and leader:
DONATO: “I think that Kyle has, as far as my time at Harvard, reset the bar for what a captain can be. I think he’s incredibly humble, very well respected by his teammates, coaches, trainers, strength coaches. He’s just a first-class guy. While’s he’s very humble, intelligent, great community leader - he also brings that grit and toughness that we like our players to have and he is a guy that leads by example first and I think he’s such a role model for our players and a great teammate as well. I can’t say enough about what Kyle has meant to us as a captain this year.”

On Jimmy Vesey’s article in “The Player’s Tribune”:
DONATO: “I think it certainly is an interesting forum. To hear from somebody in their own words and to see very clearly that there are great, warm feelings about his experience with his teammates, with the program, with the University. I think it was a great insight into what college athletics should be all about. I think Jimmy certainly wants to be a professional hockey player. He has put in all the time and effort; his compete level is that level; his talent level is that level. But I think he also has a great respect for the educational opportunity he has at Harvard and has taken advantage of it, so he really is a special guy not only for Harvard but across college athletics. The article that he offered was, I think, something that was very well received.”

On what Paul Pearl has added to the staff:
DONATO: “I think Paul has been tremendous. If you just took a snapshot of the other night when we’re playing in the ECAC Championship game with three defensemen that are two freshmen and a sophomore that have played a combined 29, 30 college hockey games. Paul has done a great job with our defense core. He’s done a great job with our power play, which has been amongst the tops in the country all year and I think, for me personally, I think he’s been a blessing in the sense that his experience not only in coaching, but all the personal aspects - the development of young men, balancing the academics and the hockey. I think Paul is a first-class person and a tremendous hockey coach. He’s made a major impact in a positive way and we feel very fortunate to have him with us.”

On it being the first time in history that all Beanpot teams are in the tournament and all are coached by teams they played for:
DONATO: “I think it’s neat. All four teams being coached by alums and I think that it just goes to show the caliber of play amongst those Boston schools and the competition amongst each other. It really is a great sign for college hockey in this area and in the East that all four teams make the NCAA tournament. We’ll all be pulling for each other, at least everybody likes Harvard on the outside - it’s interesting but I think each one of these programs deserves a lot of credit. BC, for being here year in and year out and BU with their performance last year and following it up right back with the tournament and Northeastern. I think a lot has been said about their kind of tale of two seasons, but as a coach and a former player, you really have to respect what it would take to make that kind of turn around and win the Hockey East Championship. They deserve a ton of credit and I think everything they’ve received since winning has been well earned so, good luck to them.”

On playing another first round game:
CRISCUOLO: “Yeah I mean I think that even last weekend we learned a little bit about the one and done scenario, I think we obviously need to stay out of the box when we can but I think we are ready to play Boston College. We know what it is like to play with our backs against the wall like last weekend and I think we are really excited about the opportunity.”

On their Beanpot game against BC earlier this season:
CRISCUOLO: “Yeah I think it is a similar story, they scored on the power play against us and Demko played pretty well. I don’t think we got to the net as often as we would have liked to. I think we need to put pucks in the net, and I think in a smaller arena I think we need to get bodies in front of the net. It is a little bit of a different set up on the ice than we are used to [here]. I think the zones are a little bigger, but there’s not as much space behind the net, so everything we have to be putting towards their goal.”

On playing close to home:
VESEY: “Yeah I think we are excited to be in Worcester, like coach said, it’s not too far from both schools actually. So, I know there is going to be probably a lot of support from both sides. I know we have one or two student buses coming from Harvard and I think it should be a pretty big alumni event as well, so I think it’s going to be a great atmosphere and a really fun game to play in and we are looking forward to tomorrow night.”

On playing in net after earning consistent starts:
MADSEN: “Yeah obviously there was a battle at the beginning of this year, but I mean I look at it even like last year pushing Steve and that kind of competition all last year with having someone that you’re battling for that job, it forces both of you to play better. I think obviously the competition and having the job somewhat up in the air pushed both of us a little bit and I just tried to take advantage of the opportunities I had early in the season and I tried to do the best I could.”

On continuity on the line:
VESEY: “It has been really special I think to play with the same two line mates for the last two seasons. Every game we have been healthy we have played together and I think that we kind of just developed a strong chemistry as a group. Sometimes it seems like we don’t even need to look to see where the other guys are, we kind of know exactly where they are going to be. It has been really fun to play with those two guys, they work so hard and create so much for me that it has been a blessing to play with them.”

CRISCUOLO: Yeah I agree. I think we all bring a little bit of different styles to the table and working together I think we open up different things for each other and I think we just work off each other well.”

Boston College had coach Jerry York, goalie Thatcher Demko, and forward Teddy Doherty at the podium.

Opening Statement:
YORK: “We like all the other 15 schools involved are very excited. I think it is something we all look forward to are NCAA tournaments. You know you see the excitement with watching the basketball the last few weeks and the same thing permeates in the hockey world, to be part of a group coming in to Worcester and having Harvard as an opponent, it’s pretty exciting for our team and for our coaches and I’m just genuinely proud of our team this year to make it to the NCAA Tournament and now our sights are set to see if we can get by Harvard who has an awful lot of problems for us.”

On the strength and parity within NCAA hockey which makes the tournament wide open:
YORK: “I think the level of hockey throughout the United States and the collegiate rankings is not A-Z anymore it’s a lot tighter. You might perceive some upsets, but just like in basketball, it’s who’s the best team that particular night. In hockey, there are 50-plus teams that play, but it’s not a wide disparity among the league’s now and even the bottom parts of leagues are strong and you see some upsets. Look at RIT upset Robert Morris, I think the field is very balanced. Ferris certainly wasn’t a lock to come out of the WCHA, I just think it’s a lot closer the really top end teams and what we generally consider 16 and below is extremely close now.”

On playing in Worcester (Last 5 regionals held in Worcester, BC has advanced to the Frozen Four, 3 Nat’l Titles):
YORK: “The venue is close to home so it’s good for our student body and our alumni who live in the area to come join us, but other than that it’s a hockey game, it’s a hockey rink and you can’t say we won here this particular year so we will win tomorrow night. It’s a brand new situation for us each year and if we won that many times then we’ve played very very well when we won. Nobody just lets you advance to the final Championship Game. It’s comfortable because it’s close, but I don’t think because we won here in the past we will win again, you have to earn it.”

On Teddy Doherty:
YORK: “He’s been a good player for us. He’s bounced back-and-forth from defense and forward and never complained about it. He’s worked on his strength since day one and he’s always been a terrific leader, but his skill level has shown constant improvement. We are glad he’s with us now, one of only two seniors who dress for us. He’s had a nice career here at BC.”

On familiarity playing Harvard, a common opponent, as opposed to a new team you are seeing for the first time:
YORK: “We drill our film preparation no matter who we play. We are pretty familiar with the NCHC and Big Ten we follow it very closely with a lot of televised games. We follow college hockey very closely at BC. I think this is Teddy’s [Donato] best team he’s had, certainly Criscuolo, Kerfoot and Vesey are top end players and form an outstanding line, but whoever we would have played would have had comparable players like that. We are a little more familiar because we see them on a more regular basis. The comfort level is never up or down, we are always uncomfortable going into a game because we respect the other opponents. So, whether we would have played Duluth, Providence or Harvard we would be uncomfortable.”

On the continuity of Harvard’s first line:
YORK: “I think you can tell watching them play they move pucks well. They present a lot of creative offensive chances by moving the puck and Thatcher [Demko] needs to be aware when they are on the ice and our teams aware also, but they are deeper than just that line. They have an outstanding line, but like I said this is his [Ted Donato] best collection of players he’s had.”

On high penalty minutes per game / penalty kill success:
YORK: “Sometimes the top end teams, it’s just human nature, we get more calls against. We go into most games as a favorite and I think it’s human nature to protect the underdog and that’s part of it. Whether it’s basketball or football or hockey we see some of that. The majority of it is we just need to defend by moving our feet and not reaching. When you reach, you cause problems if it’s a hooking penalty or tripping penalty, moving our feet will help with that. It’s nice getting to the national tournament because everyone is considered a good team and you don’t have that ‘Hey we got to protect the underdogs’.”

On local recruiting battles for Massachusetts players between Beanpot schools:
YORK: “We are always competing against Harvard, BU and Northeastern, the Beanpot schools, they are all difficult to recruit against, no one just walks in the door. We also have Michigan coming in and Notre Dame and North Dakota when we go west. So, it’s not easy to get the top top end players to your school, but the Beanpot schools with Boston kids we run into that a little more and it’s never easy recruiting players.”

On Northeastern’s late season surge to win Hockey East Championship:
YORK: “Never from a 1-11 start or 1-10 start [have I seen a team make such a run to close out a season] I’ve seen teams go on runs, the really good clubs, but generally it’s they’ve been very good and all of a sudden they go on a run, but what Jim [Madigan] did is remarkable. A team that looked like they were in disarray lost a couple games real early to Bentley and just never could put it together, and all-of-a-sudden to achieve what they’ve done is remarkable. If I had a vote for coach of the year, and I will later on, he is certainly my favorite. I thought they were a pretty good club, they competed very hard, but in my wildest dreams I never thought they would run off 22-23 games and play as well as they have. They haven’t upset anyone their play has been outstanding.”

On Notre Dame’s departure from Hockey East to join Big Ten in 2017-18
YORK: “I thought they really added a lot to our league, especially the BC/Notre Dame Rivalry. The two are major Division I schools battling each other in different sports. We would have liked to have seen them stay, but I can also understand the footprint with the Big Ten, they can bus to Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State it’s going to be a lot easier for their travel situation. We are going to miss the Irish for sure. In the long run it is better for them and we wish them the very best of luck. We will still play them, ND/BC we will still play.”

On teams from the Northeast in the tournament:
DOHERTY: “This is really good for our conference. We had a really strong conference this year and it’s evident by all the teams we got in. With Northeastern winning the Hockey East Tournament it speaks to how deep our league is. They were the sixth seed and with the top five teams, all of us could have easily won that tournament. It’s something to be very proud of, it’s a very deep conference, we go to war every weekend with any team we play against. It’s something that we’re very proud of here at Boston College.”

On his experience at Boston College:
DOHERTY: “It’s been a great four years here, hopefully we can extend it a few more weeks. It’s been everything I ever thought it would be. My teammates made it so special for me, we got to the Frozen Four in Philadelphia, that’s probably been the highlight of my career for sure along with the Beanpots. Hopefully we can get down to Tampa this year, but it’s been an incredible four years and I can’t thank my teammates and my coaches enough.”

On Boston College’s success on defense:
DOHERTY: “Thatcher [Demko] has backstopped a pretty good defensive core we’ve got here. I think we’ve been a little lackadaisical in our defensive zone lately, and it’s been a point of emphasis for us this week. Bearing down in the d-zone and eliminating the other team’s chances, and versus a team like Harvard that’s going to be critical. If we’re going to win this game, we’ve got to limit their offensive zone time. Of course, Thatcher has a lot to do with it, he’s been playing great. We expect the same out of him, and he has high expectations for himself.”

DEMKO: “Like Teddy said, we’ve been trying to emphasize it a little bit. We’ve been having some good defensive numbers this year, but we all think that we can still be better. This week in practice we really worked on it and our compete level in the d-zone was really high. That’s something we’re looking to do and carry it into this weekend.”

On preparing for Harvard:
DOHERTY: “I guess I’d say that we prepare the same way for every team that we face. The fact that it’s a Beanpot opponent that we’re playing and that we’ve seen them, it benefits us because we know what we’re getting ourselves into. We know how good their offense is, it’s high octane and they have a lot of strengths that we need to be ready for. Playing a team like Harvard, it helps us a lot, there’s a little bit of change from when we played them in February but not much, so we’re ready to go with that.”

On growing up in the area/his nature as a teammate:
DOHERTY: “Being from Hopkinton, I always went to BC games, my uncle played for Coach [Jerry York] when they won the national championship in 2001 in Albany. Ever since I saw them win that game, I wanted to go to Boston College. Being able to be recruited by Coach York, it was almost indescribable, unrealistic. I’m just so happy with the decision to come to Boston College. As far as contributing, I’ll play goalie if I have to. If Thatcher got hurt, I’d step in the net for sure. I just do whatever I can to help the team win. Be a superstar in your role, that’s what Coach has been preaching since day one when I got there freshman year. Just doing the best I can, playing wing or defense or whatever I do.”

On Teddy Doherty’s play:
DEMKO: “I love this kid. He’s one of my best friends on the team, along with everyone else. He’s been an incredible leader this year. He keeps things light, but at the same time, there’s that level of focus in the room. It’s just been a lot of fun, he makes it fun coming to the rink every day. It can be a grind mid-season coming to the rink every day, working hard and getting on the ice for practice, but he makes it fun somehow every single day. All the guys look up to him and he’ll definitely be missed next year.”

NCAA Northeast Regional Quotes: UMD vs Providence

WORCESTER, Mass -- With the regional beginning on Friday, all four teams convened at DCU Center for practices and press conferences.

Here are the transcripts for the UMD and Providence College pressers, as provided by the Holy Cross sports information staff.

UMD was represented by head coach Scott Sandelin, senior forward Cal Decowski, and senior defenseman/captain Andy Welinski.

Opening Statement:
SANDELIN: “It’s exciting to be here and be one of the teams playing, it’s a great regional. The whole 16-team field is going to be a real battle, it’s pretty wide open. Our guys are excited to get back into the tournament and we are excited to get going tomorrow.”

On NCAA tournament experience:
SANDELIN: “It helps knowing what you are getting into, as far as the games that isn’t a lot different, you prepare for your opponent like you do every week. Last week, we saw a team in Minnesota that we had played four times already so you see a lot of teams. Our first year guys, in the conference tournament have been playing against 10 or 12 thousand people, and we could get here and be playing with four or five thousand, sometimes for them to understand from the older guys that it might not be like your conference tournament is important. Little things like that help what is to be expected, but when the game starts, it’s pretty much the same. You have to play and you have to play close to your best hockey every game to continue to play.”

On the unpredictability of the NCAA Tournament:
SANDELIN: “We can look at a lot of first time winners in the past five years, the whole game has become very even, there are still the great teams, but a lot of teams have made college hockey a lot better. There are no easy games in college hockey at any point of the year and as a coach, we need to make sure the guys understand that. It’s been great for our game.”

On the motivation of the NCAA tournament:
SANDELIN: “I certainly hope the NCAA tournament is motivation enough, when you look at the college hockey season, you’ve got three seasons. You try to get to the third, and that’s what we are in right now. You have the regular season, your conference championship and the NCAA tournament. The goal of every team is to be one of the 16 starting this tournament. If you’re not motivated you probably won’t be along very long. Some teams have had time off, some teams have won conference championships, and obviously we lost in our final, but we need to re-group our guys, refocus, reset and understand that this is hopefully a four-game season now.”

On seedings being irrelevant in the tournament and coming from the back of the bracket:
DECOWSKI: “Yeah, I think they’re irrelevant. I think that all 16 teams that are still out there are good teams, and I think that’s kind of up for grabs. We don’t really think much about the seedings, we’re just going to go out there and win it.”

WELINSKI: “Definitely on the same note, I think teams are confident this time of the year. They’ve obviously won some games to get into this position in the top 16. And coach touched upon as well that any team could win this thing, and it’s pretty wide open. There’s a lot of good teams, and it’s going to take good hockey to win.”

On Welinski being from Duluth, Minnesota and attending a college in his hometown:
WELINSKI: “No, I have no regrets at all. I was able to play junior hockey in Green Bay, so I was out of town for a couple years, but had the opportunity at a young age to commit to the University of Minnesota Duluth. I really like where I grew up, and the hockey program there was on its way up for sure, so I’m very happy with that decision in staying, and it’s been a memorable four years for sure. I think from a life standpoint, I’ve had a great time there, met a lot of great people and I’ll be able to leave with a degree in the spring. Hockey wise, I think development has been fantastic there, and I’ve had a really good time doing it.”

On Welinski growing up a big Minnesota Duluth fan:
WELINSKI: “Yes, all the way up—season tickets, and I kind of jumped at the opportunity when I had a chance to play here.”

On a different feel for the second tournament appearance for the players:
DECOWSKI: “I think it’s kind of nice knowing the set up and what’s going on here. I think just having that little bit of experience from last year, instead of just jumping into it blindly—we have a lot of guys who have been here and know what’s going on. So, with the big stage you get used to it.”

WELINSKI: “Yeah, I think obviously every team that’s here, their confidence is high, playing wise. I think that is a big thing for us. Having a lot of our team go through what we’ve gone through before is obviously big. Everybody is going to have to play every game to win playoff hockey, and I think just knowing the background of (like Cal said) having been here before and experiencing the surroundings a little bit is good.”

On Minnesota Duluth’s perception and respect for Hockey East:
WELINSKI: “Absolutely, they produce good teams every year. I think they know we’re happy with the league we’re in, in terms of competition wise. I know the competition out here is great too. They produce good teams, and I think absolutely there’s some respect for them. They’ve kind of proved it—especially the past two years here. They’ve got the competition and the ability to win.”

Providence had coach Nate Leaman, joined by forward Brandon Tanev and defenseman Tom Parisi, both seniors.

Opening Statement:
LEAMAN: “We are really excited to be here. We are excited to get back to this stage. It was one of the challenges that we put in front of our team at the beginning of the year, that out of the past 10 national champions, only four of them had made it back to the tournament. We realized that it was going to be a tough year and we were going to have to get everyone’s A-game to get back to this spot. We are very excited to be here and very happy to be here and are looking forward to playing tomorrow night.”

Responding to Tom’s reply for what the team learned from last year’s experience:
LEAMAN: “If you remember also last year, Tom was the guy after our first game that was held for two and a half hours by the NCAA to do the drug testing. (To Tom) So you should probably remember to not drink as many fluids.”

On the ice conditions:
LEAMAN: “I thought the ice was good. The guys could maybe speak better about the ice. I thought the ice was okay. The pucks weren’t frozen so they were bouncing a little bit, but the boards were live, so its going to be a fast game. The boards are very live here.”

On being defending national champions but not being picked to win the league:
LEAMAN: “That’s a good question. Well again, basically after we won the National Championship last year, about two weeks after we won it, we sat down and had a pretty good meeting and pulled some video of some of our practices and pulled some video of some of our weight training just to kind of show the guys and remind the guys all of the work that goes into the season. We wanted to leave the guys with the message basically of how hard they are going to have to work this summer. Then as soon as they got back to campus we put the challenge right away to them that out of about the last 10 national champions only four of them have been back and of the four that made it back, I believe only one of them had won a game. So, just to let them know that this is going to be difficult. What we are going into is going to be difficult and it’s unchartered for us and to set the tone. We are fortunate that we have nine seniors on the team and they kind of took that challenge and it made them hungry, so I think that is really the tone for our team this year. You know, we don’t control what we get in the preseason polls. We don’t control that stuff, we’ve never controlled that stuff and we don’t worry about that stuff either, it is what it is. Last season, our season was very much like Duluth’s where they were preseason number one in their league and they were learning to fulfill those expectations. This year, we were a preseason pick number four and obviously when you have an All-American goaltender sign early, I think we had holes to replace. We had an All-American goalie and we have a center man that’s in the NHL right now, but we had guys step in and fill those holes for us.”

On goaltender Nick Ellis and how he has stepped up this season:
LEAMAN: “Well, the story about Nick Ellis is his freshman and sophomore year. That is the real story about Nick Ellis is how he handled being behind Jon Gillies, how he worked so hard every day and how his practices
were and his games. I mean Nick was our hardest working player for his freshman and his sophomore years without a doubt and when he got his opportunity, he made the most of it. He’s had a terrific year. The guys like playing in front of him and he’s a terrific teammate. It is a fun story as a coach to see someone when they
weren’t playing and he didn’t put his head down, he didn’t pout, he didn’t come see the coach for four differen meetings. He just kept getting better and better and now he’s got his opportunity and he’s run with it.”

On practice today:
LEAMAN: “We just want to get the guys used to the rink. Get used to the boards, get used to the rink and feel the puck a little bit. And then you also want to get some banging in there and some contact in there because I think this is going to be an effort game. I think there is going to be contact in this game. I think it is going to be a physical game and a heavy game and so we wanted to get a little bit of that in there also and kind of set the tone for the guys with what to expect and get them as familiar with the rink as they can be.”

On the teams that are in playoff mode:
LEAMAN: “I think there is a lot to be said for that. The seeds in this tournament don’t mean anything and it is something we have talked about as a team. When you get to this tournament, there is no such thing as an underdog and there is no such thing as a favorite. I think the teams that are successful at this time of year are the teams that improve the most. Sometimes when you go through a lot of struggles throughout the year, it forces you to improve and improve and improve. So I think there is something to be said for the teams that maybe have to play their way in or really have to finish strong because those teams are improving so, we were the exact opposite this year, we were a team where we pretty much knew we were in. But we set the tone with our players at the beginning of February that we have to improve, we have to keep improving. I was very happy we played Merrimack in the playoffs and Lowell, because they are two very tough teams. Two really tough playoff teams and those games made us better, so yeah there is a lot to be said for that."

On the change in perception from being a 16 seed coming in and this year’s reigning national champions:
PARISI: “I really don’t think it means too much, to be honest with you. It’s the best 16 teams in the country. Last year, we were a four seed and this year we are a one seed. To us, it’s irrelevant. It’s just about getting the job done and all 16 teams here can win a National Championship, and we’re going to try to do that as well.”
TANEV: “As Tom (Parisi) mentioned, I think it’s a great opportunity to be back in the NCAA tournament and you don’t think about all that stuff. All you think about is who you’re playing again Friday night and you think about what you can do to win that game against Minnesota Duluth on Friday, and everything else we just push to the side and think about what we can do.”

On applying last years’ experience to this season’s tournament:
PARISI: “I think just how to handle ourselves physically, how to take care of our bodies and just being through the whole experience. It was a tremendous experience and we were very fortunate to be there and now we have that experience to take and learn from and maybe do some things differently this year around.”

On some of the things that can be done differently/lessons learned from last year:
PARISI: “I don’t know necessarily differently, but just overall focus and just preparation - learning some tips here and there and how to handle ourselves.”

On the conditions of the ice:
PARISI: “It was good. The boards are live, like Coach said so a lot of bouncing pucks and behind the net. It was good though.”

Battle-Tested Champs Await Test From UMD

WORCESTER, Mass. -- What Providence has done this season is not common, and it shouldn't be looked upon as easy.

The Friars limped into last year's NCAA Tournament as the "last team in," and ended up winning the national championship out of the fourth seed in the East Regional.

Not only are the Friars back in the tournament, but they've built off a national championship. Who does that?

(What I mean by that is look at Providence last season and this season. This is a better team than one that won the title last year -- I won't even argue the point, it's that obvious to me. Think about that. How often do you see a team in any sport at any level win a major championship, then field a better team the following season? It doesn't guarantee Providence anything in this tournament, but it's an incredible thing to ponder and nothing that happens this weekend or in Florida should take away from what these players and coaches have accomplished in the last year and change.)

Well, not many teams in college hockey do, in case you were wondering.

Head coach Nate Leaman might have turned a few heads at his press conference here Thursday, when he declared "out of the past ten national champions, only four of them had made it back to the tournament."

2006 national champion Wisconsin missed the 2007 tournament.
2007 champ Michigan State qualified in 2008 and was knocked out in the regional final after winning one game.
2008 champion Boston College didn't make it in 2009.
2009 winner Boston University didn't qualify in 2010.
2010 champion Boston College made it in 2011, but as a No. 1 seed lost to No. 4 Colorado College.
2011's champion was UMD, and the Bulldogs made the tourney in 2012 and lost to BC in the regional final here in Worcester.
2012 national champion Boston College was one and done in 2013.
2013 champ Yale and 2014 winner Union failed to qualify for the tourney in their "title defense" seasons.

History was actually against Providence, and not only did it make the tournament, but it thrived throughout the season.

Leaman says he set the tone with his team right away in the offseason.

"We wanted to leave the guys with the message basically of how hard they are going to have to work this summer," he said. "Then as soon as they got back to campus we put the challenge right away to them ... just to let them know that this is going to be difficult. What we are going into is going to be difficult and it’s unchartered for us and to set the tone. We are fortunate that we have nine seniors on the team and they kind of took that challenge and it made them hungry, so I think that is really the tone for our team this year."

Leaman had a great line when I interviewed him and asked him about going from being the hunter to being the hunted. He noted how difficult it can be to prepare for teams because of how differently they were coming at his squad.

"You get everyone's A-game," he said. "You can't watch tape on teams, because when you watch tape on teams, it wasn't the team you were going to see Friday or Saturday when you played them. You were going to see a much better game out of that team. It forces you to show up every game. It forced us to make sure we were disciplined. I think there was a growth in our team this year because of the challenges."

UMD coach Scott Sandelin called Providence "driven" and "focused" this week, and that certainly appears to be the case. Facing the best everyone can give, the Friars rolled out of the gates and hit the Christmas break at 12-0-3. Providence stumbled a bit after Christmas, going 6-5-1 from Dec. 28 through Jan. 30, but then ripped off ten straight wins heading into last Friday's game against UMass-Lowell in the Hockey East semifinals. Lowell got the money in triple overtime, but Providence was deservedly on the No. 1 seed line when regional pairings came out Sunday.

This is a focused, structured team. I am really impressed watching the Friars play, and they pose a lot of challenges for UMD. In some respects, the teams are very much alike. I think they can both play with pace, play a bit heavier game when needed, and both have strong senior classes and are backed by great goaltending.

That's a story in and of itself for this Providence squad. I don't put much stock in preseason polls, and neither should anyone, but it struck me that Providence returned a nine-man senior class for this season off a national title and was rated seventh. In all honesty, it's a defensible vote, because among the losses from last season were a great goaltender in Jon Gillies and a soon-to-be NHL player in Noel Acciari.

But junior goalie Nick Ellis has taken the proverbial ball and run away hiding it.

“Well, the story about Nick Ellis," Leaman says, "is his freshman and sophomore year. That is the real story about Nick Ellis is how he handled being behind Jon Gillies, how he worked so hard every day and how his practices were and his games. I mean Nick was our hardest working player for his freshman and his sophomore years without a doubt and when he got his opportunity, he made the most of it. He’s had a terrific year."

He's shown it this season, with a 1.82 goals against and .935 save percentage. He's been great when his team has needed him. His team has also been of great help, making sure that Ellis can see pucks and doesn't have to worry about contact. Football guys like to talk about linemen giving a quarterback a clean pocket to throw from. To borrow that a bit here, Providence is one of the better teams in the country at keeping the goaltender clean. He can see the puck, which usually means he's going to stop it. And driving the net against Providence can be quite the task. The Friars defend the front exceptionally well.

The other way, I feel like UMD can give Providence fits with its speed and forward depth. I'm not saying it's necessarily a big advantage, but I do think UMD has a slight edge in overall speed. Like in many cases, I feel like UMD's ability to play the game with pace is a huge key. The Bulldogs have shown an ability to grind games out when necessary, but the bread and butter is still pace and puck possession. It's also probably the best chance to draw a strong structure team away from what it does best, and making the Friars uncomfortable, especially in their own zone, could go a long way for UMD.

Ten Years After Holy Cross, the NCAA Tournament Yields No True Upsets Anymore

WORCESTER, Mass. -- When you look at the history of the NCAA Hockey Tournament, things changed on March 24, 2006, ten years ago to this day.

It wasn't a moment that Minnesota Gopher fans want to remember, but it might be one of the more significant happenings in the history of college hockey.

(Justin Holl's buzzer-beater against North Dakota in 2014 is also significant, guys, so don't think we're trying to make you feel bad here.)

It was that night at Ralph Engelstad Arena that Holy Cross became the first No. 4 regional seed to beat a No. 1 since the tournament went from 12 teams to 16 (and from two six-team regionals to four four-team regionals) in 2003. The Crusaders' run ended the next night at the hands of regional host North Dakota, but that's not why this is significant.

Holy Cross' win, while maybe not directly starting the storm, led us to a sea change in the college hockey world that makes us look differently on this tournament than we ever have before.

Since that fateful Tyler McGregor shot eluded Kellen Briggs and sent all those North Dakota fans in attendance into delirium, No. 4 regional seeds have made quite the impact on the tournament.

(By the way, Brad Schlossman has a great story up on the Holy Cross win, which is arguably the most memorable moment to date at The Ralph. Talked to McGregor and some others on the impact of the win.)

In the nine tournaments since 2006, No. 4 regional seeds are 15-21 in opening round games against No. 1 seeds, with at least one team winning at least one game every year. In 2008, Notre Dame became the first No. 4 seed to reach a Frozen Four, falling to Boston College in the championship game. At least one fourth seed has reached the Frozen Four in six of the last eight years (2009 and 2013 each had two). Four have played for national championships.

Oh, and two of the last three national champions (Yale in 2013 and Providence last year) were No. 4 regional seeds.

"It's the parity across college hockey," Providence coach Nate Leaman said. "To say that someone's a one seed or a four seed, when there's tens or thousandths of a point on the RPI that separates them, there's not a lot. Teams are good. These are one-game scenarios.

"There are no one-seeds and four-seeds anymore."

There's no question that the gap between No. 1 and No. 16 is as small as it's ever been. Part of it is structure. It used to be that college hockey was helter-skelter and there was a lot more free-wheeling in the game. Just like every other level, structure has taken over the game. Everyone has video. There are no secrets. And everyone is getting good players.

Not everyone has the depth that a team like Providence can brag about, but the gap between the top lines on most teams has shrunk considerably over the years. Now, you look at RIT's top line, for example, and you see dangerous players that have to be accounted for. And it seems all teams good enough to get here have good goaltending nowadays.

"Parity," UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. "You look at the last four or five years, all the first time (NCAA champions). It's made college hockey a lot better. There are no easy games in college hockey at any point of the year. It's hard sometimes as a coach. I think it's been great for our game."

"You might perceive some upsets," legendary Boston College coach Jerry York said, "but just like basketball, it's about who is the best team on that particular night. In hockey, there's not a wide disparity between the leagues now. Even the bottom parts of leagues are strong now.

"I think the field is very balanced. I think it's a lot closer from the really top end teams and what is generally considered 16 and below."

And it all started with plucky Holy Cross, one of those teams out of a one-bid league that had to win its conference tournament to get in. Minnesota, meanwhile, eased its way through a WCHA championship while posting 25 regular-season wins. After sweeping Alaska Anchorage in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, the Gophers were stunned at the Final Five, losing a crazy 8-7 overtime game to St. Cloud State in the semifinals before losing to Wisconsin 4-0 in the third-place game.

Despite those upsets, the Gophers were comfortably a No. 1 regional seed, second overall, and were placed in the closest regional to them, which was in Grand Forks. In North Dakota's building, the home of Minnesota's biggest rival.

We didn't know it at the time, but Minnesota was in a bad spot, and Holy Cross took full advantage.

I can't give the Crusaders all the credit. There had been close 1 vs 4 games prior, and there had been one-bid league champions making things very interesting against high-seeded teams. But Holy Cross was the first to get over the hump, and they've had a lot of company in that winner's circle since.

However, as the folks at BCInterruption have noted, there is a trend with the high seed teams that do survive the opening weekend muckedy muck: They're all close to home.

Since 2008, top regional seeds that are playing in-state are 11-1 in their regional games. Those that travel to their regional by bus are 17-3. The top seeds that fly to their regional site are just 7-13 (hi, North Dakota!).

It shouldn't matter, because the vast majority of teams are located within a two-hour flight of their regional (UMD flew two hours to Worcester for this round, going straight out of Duluth via a charter flight). But clearly it makes a difference.

(The same story shows No. 4 seeds are 16-19 when flying, versus 5-2 when playing in state, in case you were curious.)

Not making any predictions on this matchup, by the way. I have no idea how it will play out on Friday. What I do know is that both teams played well down the stretch. Providence won ten straight after an uneven 6-5-1 run from Christmas through a 3-1 loss to New Hampshire on Jan. 30. UMD won seven straight to shake off an 11-14-5 record and wiggle into the NCAA field as an at-large team.

And if UMD wins, it won't be a tremendous upset. Ten years ago, we would have looked at it differently. But Holy Cross vs Minnesota in Grand Forks changed that.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Monday Musings: UMD Returns to NCAA Tournament

In 16 years under head coach Scott Sandelin, the UMD men's hockey program has achieved things unheard of in school history. A national title (2011), four straight 20-win seasons, and now a fifth NCAA Tournament in a span of eight years. It's also UMD's fourth NCAA bid in six seasons, as the Bulldogs continue to build a consistent winner in a hyper-competitive Division I world.

This year's trip may be a bit more special than others, only because of how it was achieved.

11-14-5 after being swept in Grand Forks by North Dakota, UMD was far off the NCAA bubble, to the point that the Bulldogs weren't in the at-large conversation, outside of the great Jim Dahl basically saying they weren't dead yet.

From there, UMD ripped off seven straight wins, including a two-game sweep at St. Cloud State and an NCHC Frozen Faceoff win over North Dakota. Those wins, coupled with a schedule ranked by KRACH as the toughest in the country, were enough to lift UMD into the final available at-large spot for the NCAAs.

(This isn't new. UMD was No. 2 in schedule strength in 2014-15, per KRACH. Previous years show the Bulldogs also coming in second in 2013-14, so the NCHC has been kind to UMD's strength of schedule.)

SCSU got the money -- and the glitzy trophy -- Saturday night, beating UMD 3-1 in the NCHC title game behind two goals by freshman Mikey Eyssimont. By then, however, the Bulldogs were locked into the tournament, allowed that final at-large spot after Michigan beat Minnesota 5-3 in the Big Ten title game.

(By the way, juniors Dominic Toninato -- two goals in Friday's win -- and Willie Raskob -- three assists on the weekend -- were named to the All-Tournament Team.)

"We've had a really good run here," Sandelin said Sunday. "I'm really proud of our guys for staying the course."

Obviously, that record after the UND sweep looked bleak, but as I wrote at the time, UMD just hadn't played poorly enough to justify that mark. Senior Andy "Oh Captain My Captain" Welinski said the belief in the room never waned.

"I saw us going in the right direction," he said. "It's been a long month and a half, but the guys have really gotten done what we needed to get to this point."

UMD's reward for a great finish? The defending champs.

Providence is 27-6-4 after falling in triple overtime to UMass-Lowell in the Hockey East semifinals Friday. The Friars were in a similar position to UMD a year ago. Providence was knocked out of its league tournament, however, and had to watch helplessly as the weekend finished up to see where it landed in the final PairWise. When the smoke cleared, it was Minnesota's win over Michigan in the Big Ten title game that allowed the Friars to claim the last at-large spot. If Michigan had won, the Wolverines would have stolen PC's bid.

Turned out OK for Nate Leaman's team, I'd say, as Providence beat Miami, Denver, Omaha, and then Hockey East rival Boston Eichelversity in the title game.

Now, UMD tries to turn the tables on the Friars, who spent nearly the entire season among the nation's top-ranked teams and earned a No. 1 regional seed in Worcester at the Northeast Regional. This is a very good Providence club, keyed by a nine-man senior class. PC's top four scorers -- Mark Jankowski, Trevor Mingoia, Nick Saracino, and Brandon Tanev -- are all seniors with 558 combined games with the program. The four have 55 goals and 137 points between them, led by Jankowski with 15 goals and 40 points. Star goalie Jon Gillies left early for the pros after the Friars won it all last year, taking a .930 save percentage with him. No big deal. Junior Nick Ellis took over this year, posting a .935 save percentage entering the NCAA Tournament. Ellis isn't the prototypical 6-4 goalie that we're seeing nowadays, but instead he's a 6-1 goalie who is capable of looking like a guy who stands 6-6 at times with what little room it seems opponents have to shoot.

For those fans wondering, Friday's 3:30pm (Central) regional semifinal will not be televised live. ESPN has all rights to the tournament, and in the latest incarnation of the NCAA's TV package with the network, there was a compromise. In exchange for the rights to exclusive broadcasts through its cable channels and brilliant WatchESPN app, ESPN allowed for more live clearances through its networks than it had prior.

What am I saying? Well, not every game airs live on television. Of the four games Friday, three will be on ESPNU, starting with North Dakota and Northeastern from the Midwest Regional in Cincinnati. The UMD-Providence game will not be, instead relegated to online access via ESPN3 and the WatchESPN program. If you have the ESPN app and access to WatchESPN programming through your cable/satellite provider, you're gold. Just log in and you can watch on many devices (as an example, I set up our XBox One at home so my wife and son can watch).

I'll be busy this week trying to jam ten pounds of birdseed into a five-pound bag before leave Duluth, presumably Wednesday afternoon. Once in Worcester, look for plenty of preview content on the regional. Barring major news, you'll hear from me on Twitter constantly but next on the blog from Worcester later this week.