And then there were four.
The 2010 NCAA Tournament regionals that have led up to the Frozen Four featured some fantastic finishes, crazy endings and a few surprises.
The best story of the tournament is red hot RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology). The Tigers won the East Regional after pulling off a stunning 2-1 upset over second-overall seed Denver last Friday before dispatching Hockey East power New Hampshire on Saturday with a convincing 6-2 victory. On Friday, senior and regional MVP Jared DeMichel was brilliant in goal, stopping 39 of the Pioneers 40 shots. The thoroughly dominating team effort on Saturday was led by the excellent line of juniors Andrew Favot and Tyler Mazzei, and sophomore Tyler Brenner. The trio posted a combined seven points (three goals, four assists) in RIT’s victory.
New Hampshire reached the regional final after defeating Cornell 6-2. The Wildcats outstanding top line of senior Bobby Butler (OTT), and juniors Phil DeSimone (WSH) and Paul Thompson netted eight points (four goals, four assists) in the win.
RIT becomes the very first team from the Atlantic Hockey conference to reach the Frozen Four. They are currently on a nation-best 12-game winning streak.
The Tigers will face Wisconsin in the first Frozen Four semi-final game on April 8. This is the first ever meeting between the two schools. The Badgers will be making their 11th Frozen Four appearance and first since winning the national championship in 2006. Wisconsin won the West Regional after defeating Vermont 3-2 last Friday and St. Cloud State 5-3 on Saturday. Senior and regional MVP Blake Geoffrion (NSH), along with junior defenseman Brendan Smith (DET) each notched two points apiece in the Badgers victory over Vermont.
Saturday’s regional final saw Wisconsin face off against St. Cloud State in a rematch of the WCHA Final Five semi-final game from two weekends ago. Towering senior John Mitchell was outstanding in the game, netting two goals, including the game-winner to lead Wisconsin. Geoffrion was once again among the Badgers top scorers in the contest with three points (one goal, two assists).
St. Cloud State had reached the regional final after defeating Northern Michigan in a thrilling 4-3 win in double overtime. Junior Garrett Roe (LAK), who had been injured in St. Cloud State’s last meeting with Wisconsin, posted a goal and two assists to lead the Huskies.
The next team to punch in their ticket to the Frozen Four was Boston College. The Eagles are making their 22nd Frozen Four appearance and first since 2008. Boston College took the Northeast Regional crown on Sunday after a hard-fought 3-1 win over Alaska on Saturday and a wild 9-7 win over Yale on Sunday. Freshman Pat Mullane netted the game-winner for the Eagles on Saturday.
Boston College faced off against Yale on Sunday after the Bulldogs (aka Elis) hung on for the 3-2 victory that sent WCHA powerhouse North Dakota home on Saturday. Junior Denny Kearney netted a pair of goals to lead Yale. Junior Matt Frattin (TOR) and sophomore Brett Hextall (PHX) posted North Dakota’s goals in the loss.
Sunday’s regional final between Boston College and Yale will go down as one of the wildest games in recent tournament history. Of the 16 goals tallied in the game, seven came in the second period alone. Senior Mark Arcobello, who earned a spot on the All-Regional team, posted a whopping six points, including a hat trick in the loss for Yale. But the big story of the game was sophomore Cam Atkinson (CBJ), who also posted a hat trick and added an assist. His stellar performance in guiding the Eagles to the victory also earned Atkinson the regional MVP honor. Fellow sophomore Jimmy Hayes (TOR) netted a pair in the win as well.
Boston College will face off against top overall seed Miami in the second Frozen Four semi-final game on Apr. 8. The RedHawks, who won the Midwest Regional, will be making their second consecutive appearance in the Frozen Four after slipping by Alabama-Huntsville last Friday with a 2-1 victory and defeating CCHA foe Michigan 3-2 in double overtime on Sunday in arguably the best game of this year’s regionals.
Despite being the lowest overall seed in the tournament, Alabama-Huntsville gave Miami all it could handle on Saturday thanks to some excellent goaltending by junior Cameron Talbot (NYR), who stopped 36 of 38 in the loss. Freshman Curtis McKenzie (DAL) netted a goal and assisted on sophomore defenseman Cameron Schilling’s game-winner for Miami. All three of the goals in the contest were scored on the power play.
Miami would next meet Michigan in a rematch of the CCHA Tournament Championship game from two weekends ago. The Wolverines reached the regional final after defeating Bemidji State 5-1 on Saturday in a game that was much closer than the score would dictate. Four of the six tallies in the game came in the second half of the final period. Junior Carl Hagelin (NYR), who earned a spot on the All-Regional team, was excellent for Michigan, netting two goals and adding an assist to lead the Wolverines.
Sunday’s final between Miami and Michigan set up a contest that was one for the ages, but it was also not without some controversy. After exchanging goals in the first two periods, it came down to the sensational goaltending of Michigan junior Shawn Hunwick and Miami sophomore Connor Knapp (BUF).
Despite outplaying Miami in the first overtime, Michigan could not get the game-winner, but it came close. The controversy in the game came about 2:30 into the extra stanza when freshman Kevin Lynch (CBJ) had appeared to score the game-winner, but the goal was waived off due to a whistle on a delayed Miami penalty when the RedHawks had touched the puck.
Sophomore Alden Hirschfeld became the hero of the contest when he notched the game-winner at the 1:54 mark of the second overtime to give Miami another trip to the Frozen Four. Knapp, whose stellar 55-save performance, earned the regional MVP honor.
This year’s Frozen Four will feature 29 NHL prospects representing Wisconsin (11), Boston College (10) and Miami (8).
The first Frozen Four semi-final contest between Wisconsin and RIT will see a match-up between a tremendously deep and talent-rich Badgers team facing off against a red-hot Tigers team that possesses terrific goaltending and a methodical system that has, thus far, been very difficult to beat.
One of the best stories for Wisconsin coming into the Frozen Four is the excellent year that junior Brendan Smith has had, leading the nation in defenseman scoring with 47 points (15 goals, 32 assists) through 40 games. As Badgers head coach Mike Eaves noted in the recent media teleconference, Smith’s maturity as both a player and an individual has paid big dividends for Wisconsin thus far.
“I think there’s a great growth spurt that happens to college players between their sophomore and junior year, both physically and for Brendan more importantly, mentally and emotionally. He has just matured and it’s been fun to watch. A lot of times when [players] mature in those three areas, their games go to the next level and I think that’s what has happened to Brendan. It’s one of the reasons why his numbers have improved. What most people will not see above and beyond the numbers is his play without the puck. I think there’s been a greater growth there. His one-on-one play and his understanding of the game without the puck have improved dramatically as well. He’s got natural abilities and a lot of the things that Brendan does, we don’t teach as coaches. Those are just natural gifts that he has within.”
Wisconsin will get quite a challenge from Frozen Four newcomers RIT. With their recent wins over Denver and New Hampshire, the Tigers have proved that they are a force to be reckoned with, in spite of their underdog status. One of the vital cogs in RIT’s success this season has been the top defensive tandem of senior Dan Ringwald and freshman Chris Tanev.
“Chris Tanev is an awesome player,” Ringwald said in the recent media teleconference. “We came together about a month into the season and we’ve been playing pretty well together. He’s just a really smart player. We think the game pretty similarly, so we kind of always know where each other are. So far the chemistry has been awesome between us. I’ve learned a lot from him and I hope that he has learned some from me as well. Hopefully we can continue that.”
The second Frozen Four semi-final contest between Miami and Boston College sets up a rematch of the 2008 Northeast Regional final, where the two teams last met. Both teams possess excellent speed and have rosters with great depth throughout their lineups. As Miami junior Tommy Wingels (SJ) noted in the recent media teleconference, it is his team’s depth that serves them well in going up against the explosive and equally talented Boston College team.
“I think we’re a very deep team both offensively and defensively. I think it makes us hard to match up against when you have four lines rolling. It’s best for us too because you get more rest on the bench and have got more confidence when four lines are going. We have two number one goalies and it’s definitely something that we use to our advantage.”
The Eagles have gotten outstanding contributions from their freshmen this season, especially in defensemen Brian Dumoulin (CAR) and Philip Samuelsson (PIT), forward Chris Kreider (NYR). The trio, along with the rest of the freshman class has been crucial in their success thus far.
“They’ve exceeded expectations and it’s been great to see them play so well,” senior Ben Smith (CHI) said of the rookies in the recent media teleconference. “It’s just been a huge part of our success to able to rely on those three, especially Chris Kreider down the stretch. It’s just been huge for us to have them do so well this year.”
The Frozen Four semi-final games on Apr. 8 will air live on ESPN 2. The National Championship game on Apr. 10 will air live on ESPN.