Friday, April 07, 2017

Friday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Iafallo's Late Goal Pushes UMD to National Championship Game

CHICAGO -- This is old hat for UMD.

Over this 20-game stretch that has seen the Bulldogs go 16-1-3, this team has won five times in overtime, four other games by one goal, and three of those four one-goal wins have come with the winning goal inside the last 1:21 of regulation.

That's nine hair-raising wins among the last 16, and while the announcer's heart rate is in the 175 range during these games, I swear this team has a collective resting heart rate of around 22. Nothing seems to phase them.

That, by the way, is the ultimate compliment for a hockey team. I'm not sure I've ever been around one quite like this. And while I'm sure they could be rattled by something, I have no desire at this point to find out.

Alex Iafallo tipped a Willie Raskob pass through the legs of Harvard goalie Merrick Madsen with 26.6 seconds left, lifting UMD past the Crimson 2-1 and into the national championship game for the third time in program history. In the first-ever all-NCHC final, UMD will battle Denver for the title Saturday night at United Center.

"It was a good pass by Joey (Anderson, who passed the puck to Raskob)," Iafallo said. "We kept it in there at the blue line. And that was pretty much the key to the goal. And Raskob made a good play. We do it in practice all the time. So simple things like that, getting the puck to the net. Just had to shovel it in."

Iafallo did something UMD has done so many times this season. He got inside position on a defender and drove the net hard. And, yes, it's something they work on regularly in practice.

"It appeared we had a couple opportunities to get the puck out and we get trapped I think with three guys on the boards," Harvard coach Ted Donato said.

So how does UMD do this all the time?

"I just think that we're a really composed team," Anderson, who posted his fourth straight two-point game, said. "I think as the game wears on, we play a really good style that allows us to maintain our game, and we're able to finish chances when we get them. And that's been the way we've done it lately."

"We've got our experience," head coach Scott Sandelin said. "We've got our senior group. They've been through, they've won a lot of games, they've been in some big games. But I think just the way our year has gone, maybe getting some confidence, winning some of those games earlier in the year and throughout the year."

It's been a year where the Bulldogs' mettle has been tested multiple times. In 41 games, UMD has fallen behind at least 1-0 19 times, nearly half the games. Thursday's win after trailing 1-0 moved the Bulldogs to a record of 12-4-3 when allowing the game's first goal.

(For additional perspective, UMD's adversary Saturday, No. 1 Denver, is 8-7-3 when conceding the ice-breaker goal in a game.)

"I think pretty much every bit of ice was hard to get out there," Donato said. "I give Minnesota Duluth a lot of credit for that. I thought neither team really had a lot of zone time. I think both teams had some good chances."

Sandelin agreed that the two teams fought hard for every inch of ice.

"I thought our first period, I thought we had maybe the edge in that. I thought the second period they were really good. I thought they won a lot of puck battles. I thought they controlled a lot of the O zone time especially down low.

"They played their game well. The third period I thought they had more rush plays, where I thought we maybe had a little better O zone time than we did in the second period."


The game wasn't over. There were still 26.6 seconds left after Iafallo scored. Donato took his timeout, pulled Madsen, and Harvard won a couple faceoffs to set up as dramatic a sequence as you'll see anywhere, in any sport.

The Crimson got a couple offensive zone looks after Anderson barely missed a bouncing puck near the UMD blue line for a potential clear. Two Harvard shots drew iron, with UMD freshman defenseman Nick Wolff getting a piece of one of them.

"It’s nerve-wracking but yeah, the puck was on the right side and they crossed it over to the middle," Wolff said. "Right when he shot it my first thought was go down, and it hit the top of my knee, and hit the cross bar and out. If it had been one inch lower it would've gone bar down. We were very fortunate it stayed out."

"We had opportunities to score there at the end, hit a couple of posts," Harvard co-captain Alexander Kerfoot said. "We took it to them. And just wasn't meant to be."

The second Harvard shot, taken by Luke Esposito, bounced back towards the high slot, where Anderson cleared it to center and touched off another UMD celebration.

"That was definitely the longest 30 seconds of my life," senior captain Dominic Toninato said. "I mean, they had some good chances and we were fortunate. So, we got one more game for a national championship."

UMD goalie Hunter Miska (39 saves) was asked if he got a piece of either great Harvard chance.

"I think Wolff said he got a piece with his knee. Yeah, it's all good tonight."

(That's Miska in a nutshell, in case you were wondering.)


Per Nate Wells (@gopherstate) on Twitter, this is the first time since the NCAA Tournament went to a 16-team format that the No. 1 and No. 2 teams will meet for the national championship. Never has it been more fitting than it is this year.

Back in February, College Hockey News' Joe Meloni wrote:
So often in recent years, the field has given us an open tournament. Seeding suggested some favorites, of course, and any number of variables can change an outcome on a given night. However, both Denver and Minnesota-Duluth have proven they are capable of overcoming these variables and recovering quickly. Moreover, their play will assure them the least difficult paths through the NCAA tournament.
... Upsets may happen, of course, but whether it's a regular-season title, the NCHC playoffs or the NCAA tournament, Denver and UMD are about to begin a memorable race that ends on April 8 at the United Center in Chicago.
He wasn't the only one. ESPN play by play guy John Buccigross was pretty blunt from the outset of 2017 that UMD and Denver had separated themselves from the pack. It was a take that was out there, but these two teams had to get through what has been for years a meat-grinder of a tournament that gobbles top seeds like breakfast.

More to come later, with a UMD-Denver preview on the way. Should be a great game. 6:30 pregame Saturday on 92.1 The Fan or free around the world by clicking here.

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