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.

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