Friday, March 16, 2012

WCHA Final Five Should Have Crazy Friday

Before I make my way down I-35 for the semifinals of the WCHA Final Five, here are a few quick thoughts on what's happened and what is to come.
  • Michigan Tech gave Denver all it could handle, largely thanks to goalie Josh Robinson. You might not see a better goaltending performance all weekend. He was in good position, saw the puck well, and was aggressively challenging all afternoon. That Denver found a way to beat him was not a problem of Robinson's, but instead an issue with the players in front of him, who seemed to run out of gas in a way. I thought Denver owned a good chunk of the third period, and then they scored too early in overtime for either team to really establish dominance.
  • Luke Salazar will be a player to watch Friday afternoon. The Pioneers might not be in the Final Five without him, and his goal late in the third period Thursday extended that game so Jason Zucker could win it in overtime. Coaches like to talk about needing their best players to be their best players, and I'm not disputing that at all. But more often than not, teams get major contributions from guys who are not superstar players (Kyle Schmidt, anyone?).
  • I'm not a huge fan of rooting for the Gophers, but you can bet I'll be doing it if UMD wins the Friday afternoon semifinal. As much as I respect North Dakota, this isn't about North Dakota. UMD fans have wanted another shot at the Gophers since October, and this is the best chance to get one with little consequence. Hell, there are realistic scenarios where UMD could still get a No. 1 regional seed if it loses to Minnesota in the championship game. Better than playing them with everything on the line next week.
  • Friday night is going to be a bonkers atmosphere in St. Paul. There was a fight in the stands Thursday involving fans of Minnesota and North Dakota. Imagine what it will be like when those teams are actually playing each other. Fans of Friday afternoon's winner are advised to be in the lobby when the game ends, as there should be some cheap tickets available for Saturday's championship game.
  • Too much up for grabs the next two days to lay down any kind of prediction which regional UMD will end up in. I'd say with about 85 percent (or maybe a bit higher) confidence that UMD will not be playing in a regional that involves a flight.
  • If you're heading down Saturday, remember that the St. Patrick's Day parade in St. Paul will bring in huge crowds of people, hampering your ability to find a ramp to park in, and your ability to drive to where you want to go in downtown. Plan to arrive early so you have time to find a way to get where you want to go and find a spot to park.
Wherever you will be Friday, enjoy. This should be a great environment for the players and fans in attendance.

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