NCAA Conference Championship weekend recap

By DJ Powers

The five remaining NCAA conference championships have now been won and with it the coveted NCAA Tournament automatic bids. It was a weekend filled with some spectacular NHL prospect performances, thrilling finishes and some notable upsets.

Atlantic Hockey

The fourth-seeded Air Force Falcons pulled off the biggest upset of the weekend by earning their first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament in school history in their first season as a member of Atlantic Hockey when they claimed the Atlantic Hockey title on Saturday. It started on Friday with a 5-4 overtime win to upset top-seeded Sacred Heart. Senior defenseman Billy Devoney tallied the equalizer with less than a minute left in regulation before junior forward Josh Print would send the Pioneers home with the game-winner at the 8:04 mark. Sacred Heart senior goaltender Jason Smith (NJ), who was recently named to the All-Conference First Team, made 29 saves in the losing cause.

The Falcons would next meet second-seeded archrival Army in the championship game on Saturday night. The Black Knights defeated third-seeded UConn in Friday’s other semi-final game 3-1 off of three unanswered goals.

Air Force defeated Army 6-1 thanks in part to the fantastic performance of their top line of senior Andrew Ramsey, sophomore Mike Phillipich, and junior Hobey Baker finalist Eric Ehn. The trio accounted for seven points (three goals, four assists) to lead the Falcons.

CCHA

The top-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish laid claim to their first ever Mason Cup Championship fittingly enough on St. Patrick’s Day, allowing only one goal all weekend.

The Irish dispatched #8 Lake Superior State with a 3-0 victory on Friday. Senior defenseman Wes O’Neill (NYI) tallied what would be the game-winner with his third of the season midway through the opening period. CCHA Player of the Year and Hobey Baker finalist, senior David Brown (PIT) made 17 saves to post his sixth shutout (12th of his career) on the season. 

In the other Friday semi-final game, two old adversaries in Michigan and Michigan State faced off and there was no lack of fireworks between the two teams. The Wolverines, however, would emerge victorious thanks to a pair of goals by junior Kevin Porter (PHO), and a three-point effort by senior Hobey Baker finalist T.J. Hensick (COL). Porter tallied his 21st and 22nd goals of the year, including the game-winner to lead Michigan.

It would set up a classic Mason Cup Championship matchup, pitting the nation’s stingiest defense against the nation’s most explosive offense. Porter stoked the Wolverines to an early lead with his co-team leading 23rd goal of the year. That would be all that the Wolverines would be able to get by Brown as the tight Notre Dame defense went to work. Sophomore Erik Condra (OTT) tallied the equalizer at the 15:58 mark of the second period before senior Jason Paige added the eventual game-winner midway through the third period. Michigan sophomore goaltender Billy Sauer (COL) was outstanding in goal, stopping 35 of Notre Dame’s 37 shots in the loss. On the weekend, David Brown stopped a combined 48 of 49 shots for the Irish and earned the CCHA Championship MVP honor. Hensick, who joined Brown on the All-CCHA Championship Tournament team, now leads the nation with 66 points (21 goals, 45 assists).

In the consolation game earlier on Saturday, Michigan State defeated Lake Superior State 7-6 in overtime in a wild game that was highlighted by the first career hat trick of Lakers freshman Nathan Perkovich (NJ) in the losing cause. Two of Perkovich’s goals came on the power play. Senior defenseman Tyler Howells tallied the game-winning power play goal in overtime for the Spartans.

ECACHL

Second-seeded Clarkson laid claim to their fifth ECACHL Championship and first since 1999 on Saturday in a conference weekend that proved to be quite an exciting one.

In Friday’s semi-final versus third-seeded Dartmouth, the Golden Knights go out to a 3-1 lead after two periods, only to see the Big Green come roaring back with three goals to close the gap. Junior Steve Zalewski (SJ) tallied the game-winner with just 41 seconds left in regulation time to secure the win for Clarkson. Dartmouth’s outstanding second line of junior J.T. Wyman (MON), sophomore Kevin Swallow and 2007 NHL Draft eligible freshman T.J. Galiardi combined for five points (two goals, three goals) in the game.

In Friday’s other semi-final game, #5 Quinnipiac pulled off a stunning upset of top-seeded St. Lawrence 4-0. Junior Ben Nelson tallied two goals including the game-winner and sophomore Bud Fisher stopped all of the Saints’ 23 shots to earn his third shutout of the season in the win for the Bobcats.

It would set up a great championship game on Saturday. Quinnipiac go out to an early two-goal lead and dominated for much of the first two periods before Clarkson would storm back to score four unanswered goals in the third period and get the eventual win. Sophomore defenseman Phil Paquet (MON) was superb in the game, tallying his third goal of the year and making some crucial plays at both ends of the ice that would help lead the Golden Knights to victory. Rugged junior left wing Shawn Weller (OTT), who was named to the ECACHL Championship All-Tournament Team, was instrumental in helping the Golden Knights to lay claim to the Whitelaw Cup with his four points (two goals, two assists) on the weekend.

In the consolation game earlier on Saturday, St. Lawrence defeated Dartmouth 5-3, effectively ending the Big Green’s hopes of earning a berth into the NCAA Tournament this season. ECACHL Player of the Year and Saints senior defenseman Drew Bagnall (FLA) notched two assists in leading St. Lawrence. Dartmouth’s line of Swallow-Galiardi-Wyman once again figured in the scoring, tallying three points (two goals, one assist). Junior Nick Johnson (PIT) added a goal and an assist for Dartmouth in the losing cause.

Hockey East

The second-seeded Boston College Eagles laid claim to their seventh Hockey East Championship on Saturday, extending their unbeaten streak to a nation-leading 10 games.

It got started on Friday when the Eagles faced their nemesis, third-seeded Boston University in one of the two semi-final games. Sophomore Brock Bradford (BOS) and senior Brian Boyle (LA) each tallied three points to lead the Eagles. Boyle, who played at the defensive position during the entirety of the weekend, turned in one of his best performances of the season and was a key cog in helping the Eagles win the conference championship. The game also featured two of the nation’s finest goaltenders going head-to-head in junior Cory Schneider (VAN) for Boston College and Hobey Baker finalist and senior John Curry for Boston University.

Friday’s other semi-final game pitted top-seeded New Hampshire against a persistent fourth-seeded UMass team in a game that made for one of the most thrilling finishes of the weekend. The two teams combined for 87 shots on goal and featured an outstanding goaltending duel between UMass sophomore sensation Jon Quick (LA) and excellent New Hampshire junior Kevin Regan (BOS). It took two overtimes and an opportunistic goal by freshman Bobby Butler to win it for the Wildcats 3-2.

The stage would be set for two of Hockey East’s finest in #1 New Hampshire facing off against #2 Boston College for the championship. With 32 combined shots in the first period, the teams set a new Hockey East Championship record. Boyle and sophomores Benn Ferriero (PHO) and Nathan Gerbe (BUF) each tallied a goal and an assist and Bradford notched the game-winner late in the second period to lead the Eagles to a wild 5-2 win. Bradford also earned Conference Championship MVP honors as well. Sophomore Trevor Smith, who leads New Hampshire in points this season with 43, tallied his team-high 21st of the season in the losing cause.

WCHA

After laying claim earlier to the MacNaughton Cup as WCHA Regular Season Champions, the Minnesota Golden Gophers added to it a Broadmoor Cup thanks to a sensational weekend performance by sophomore Blake Wheeler (PHO) and featuring a highlight reel goal that could very well go down as the goal of the year. It has been over two decades since the Golden Gophers last claimed both WCHA trophies in the same season.

The WCHA Final Five kicked off Championship weekend on Thursday with the "play-in" game between #6 Michigan Tech and #7 Wisconsin. Senior Brian Elliott (OTT) was brilliant between the pipes, stopping all of the Huskies 26 shots to earn his WCHA record-tying 16th career shutout in the 4-0 win for the Badgers. Freshman Blake Geoffrion (NSH) tallied just his second goal of the season at the 1:45 mark of the opening period that would hold up as the game-winner.

The Badgers would next face top-seeded Minnesota in one of the two semi-final games on Friday. Wheeler was stellar in the game, notching his first career hat trick and senior defenseman Mike Vannelli (ATL) added a goal and an assist to lead the Golden Gophers to a 4-2 win. Senior Jake Dowell (CHI) posted his team-high 18th goal of the year for Wisconsin in the losing cause.

In Friday’s other semi-final game, second-seeded St. Cloud State took on third-seeded North Dakota. Freshman Chris Vandevelde (EDM) played his best game to date in a North Dakota uniform, notching two goals and an assist to help lead the Fighting Sioux to a 6-2 victory. All eight goals in the game were posted by NHL prospects. In addition to Vandevelde’s two, sophomore Jonathan Toews (CHI) also added a pair, along with senior Chris Porter (CHI) and sophomore Matt Watkins (DAL) each chipping in one for North Dakota. WCHA Rookie of the Year Andreas Nodl (PHI) and junior Andrew Gordon (WSH) scored for St. Cloud State.

With wins posted by Minnesota and North Dakota on Friday, it setup a showdown between two of the nation’s premier powerhouses that made for an exciting game with an unbelievable finish. The two teams traded goals during regulation. Freshman defenseman Erik Johnson (STL) got the Gophers on the board first with his third of the season at the near the midway point of the second period. WCHA Player of the Year, sophomore Ryan Duncan would knot the game 2-2 with the equalizer on the power play early in the third period to force overtime.

In the extra session, Wheeler would once again be the hero notching the game-winner at the 3:25 mark. The goal will go down as one of, if not the greatest goal in recent WCHA Final Five memory. It all began when freshman Jay Barriball (STL) picked Watkins’ pocket and got the puck up the ice. Wheeler picked up the puck and proceeded to drive towards the Fighting Sioux net with North Dakota sophomore defenseman Brian Lee (OTT) in hot pursuit. As Wheeler lunged head first toward the goal, he took a swipe at the puck with his arm fully extended that somehow beat junior goaltender Philippe Lamoureux over his glove for the score. Wheeler would go on to earn the WCHA Championship MVP honor.

In the consolation game earlier on Saturday, the defending National Champion Wisconsin Badgers would end their 2006-07 campaign on a positive note, defeating St. Cloud State 4-3 in overtime. Sophomore Ben Street tallied the game-winner and an assist to help lead Wisconsin. Senior Andrew Jourdrey (WSH) and junior defenseman Kyle Klubertanz (ANA) each posted two points in the win. Senior goaltender and Hobey Baker finalist Bobby Goepfert (PIT) made 29 saves in the losing cause for St. Cloud State.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.