The most common question I got at the office today was completely unoriginal but totally expected and understandable.
Do you have any voice left?
It was unoriginal because I knew it was coming. I was hearing about it prior to Saturday. I knew I was going to be calling four hockey games on Saturday, and it wasn't really a secret to anyone. And knowing how worked up I can get during games, I had assumed I would lose my voice. I didn't, but I figured I would, and so did everyone else.
It was expected and understandable because, well, what else are you going to say?
Anyway, I had a few quick thoughts on games as I had time to type. But not only do I have time to type now, but I've had time to reflect on a whirlwind day.
Cloquet/Esko/Carlton vs Duluth East
When CEC got four in the second, I really thought it was over. Duluth East's top line of Jacob Boese, Max Tardy, and the vastly underrated Rob Johnson had done very little, thanks in large part to Cloquet's ability to pressure East's defensemen and slow down their breakouts. East looked frustrated, and out of sorts in a way. Yeah, Brent Olson got the rebound goal off a great play by Derek Forbort at the end of the second, but then the Lumberjacks got it right back on the delayed penalty goal in the final five seconds. At 4-2, East's goose looked cooked.
But that top line that was struggling through two periods hit another gear in the third. CEC couldn't match it. Johnson got one to cut the lead in half, and then he made a great rush down the left wing to set up Boese's rebound goal to tie the game. That line was responsible for the go-ahead goal, too, as Tardy jammed in a loose puck early in an East power play.
At that point, it was CEC's goose that looked cooked. They gave up three in a row, fell behind 5-4, and looked like they just couldn't slow that top line down. With East up a goal, Cloquet got a break. A turnover led to David Brown's third goal of the game, and the 'Jacks had tied it back up. After a controversial penalty call on East in the final seconds, Brown's fourth goal won it for CEC with :11.7 on the clock.
First off, both teams had calls go against them that led to goals. CEC's Justin Jokinen picked up a bogus interference call that turned into Tardy's power-play goal. The penalty on East's Boese that set up the game-winner was no more or less bogus, only more unfortunate in its timing. If East were searching for a culprit, they should look at two things:
1. The penalty kill. East allowed two power-play goals in two chances. Those power plays lasted 19 and 26 seconds, respectively. That just doesn't fly for me. Good work by CEC on the power play, but Mike Randolph just flat-out needed a bit more out of that penalty kill.
2. The second period. Ouch. Four goals, including a couple that came off sloppy work by East in their defensive zone. It left East with an uphill battle in the third, and while they did get the lead back, it turned out not to be enough in the end.
The other games
Sorry, none of them were nearly as good or as riveting. There was East/Cloquet, and there were the other three. It's a good thing in a way, because three more games like that one would have sent me for throat surgery.
Anoka blew past Grand Rapids 6-0 to earn a shot at Cloquet Thursday night. The Tornadoes controlled from start to finish, severely limiting the Thunderhawks' scoring chances and generating plenty of their own. Rapids had a great run, but this year wasn't meant to be.
The UMD women tossed aside St. Cloud State 5-1 and won the WCHA championship outright. There might be some off-ice issues right about now, but you wouldn't have known it by watching UMD Saturday. They looked focused, intense, and driven. The fact that the road to the NCAA title now goes through the DECC probably helps add to that focus.
For the UMD men, it was a tough night, as they suffered their second straight shutout loss. Richard Bachman of Colorado College was superb, and he deserves all the accolades. However, "two straight shutouts" is the kind of thing that will send fingers pointing right at a team's offense. It's not an offense that was going to score bunches of goals this year, but that's still a bit of a startling occurrence.
It's terribly unfortunate that there are UMD fans out there who are ready to shut down this team's chances. Perhaps UMD was outclassed by CC over the weekend, but the Bulldogs still played hard, outshot the Tigers, and showed at least some mettle by not quitting, unlike some teams who just can't stop the avalanche.
Listen. I'm not going to sugarcoat anything. It stunk. No one likes seeing the home team get swept. But we have to admit a few things.
- CC is better than anyone we've seen at the DECC this season. They're also more than likely better than North Dakota, though UND's 13-game unbeaten streak has me re-thinking that one a bit.
- UMD is still a good team. If the season ended now, they'd still make the NCAA Tournament. As much as the more fickle fan may want to poo-poo that as a "one and out" proposition, the guy who wears the big pads and the nicely-decorated helmet is going to have something to say about it. You get in the field of 16, bring a goaltender, and you have a shot at winning four straight.
- The season isn't over. If the Bulldogs can manage to get some points out of this weekend's series with the Sioux, all will be forgiven. This is Minnesota, after all, and fans can turn faster than the Car of Tomorrow.
- Let's be honest for a minute. No one who calls themselves a UMD fan would have turned down the chance to make the NCAA Tournament with a strong performance in the final few weeks of the season. The mere suggestion probably would have generated laughter among many of you in September.