2008 NCAA Tournament Review

By DJ Powers

The 16-team field has been narrowed down to the final four. This weekend’s regionals featured some fantastic finishes, some unlikely heroes and some surprises. Here’s a look back at what happened.

East Regional

The NCAA Tournament kicked off with #2 St. Cloud State facing off against #3 Clarkson, two well-matched teams going head-to-head. Special teams would prove to be key for the Golden Knights in particular in this regional. Clarkson gave six power-play opportunities to a team that is among the best man-advantage teams in the nation. But it would be their outstanding penalty killing and some terrific goaltending by senior David Leggio that would propel the Golden Knights to victory. Sophomore defenseman Garret Raboin got St. Cloud State on the board first when he ripped a shot from just inside the blueline that beat Leggio just inside the post at the 4:08 mark of the second period. At the 14:08 mark, senior David Cayer got the equalizer when he knocked home freshman defenseman Bryan Rufenach‘s (DET) point shot. Junior Shea Guthrie (NYI) would tally the game-winner at the 4:58 mark of the third period on a wonderful individual effort when he beat Huskies freshman Nick Oslund (DET) and senior Aaron Brocklehurst before flipping a backhander over fellow Islanders prospect Jase Weslosky for the score. Clarkson success fully killed off all six St. Cloud State power-play chances.

The victory was Clarkson’s first NCAA Tournament win since 1996 and they would meet the winner of the other semi-final game in the bracket — top-seeded Michigan who took on fourth-seeded Niagara. The Purple Eagles managed to stay with the Wolverines for about half of the game before senior and Hobey Baker finalist Kevin Porter (PHO) would put on yet another brilliant performance for the maize and blue. Freshman Max Pacioretty (MON) got Michigan on the board first just 55 seconds into the middle period. Niagara continued to press to try and even up the score before Porter would tally the first of his four goals in the contest at the 9:35 mark. The Purple Eagles came out with some jump in the third, before the Wolverines would take over for good. Porter would notch his second of the game at 8:55 mark before completing the hat trick at the 11:02 mark. Senior Matt Caruana would finally get Niagara on the board at the 15:50 mark, but it would be too little too late for the Purple Eagles. Porter would put Michigan’s exclamation point on the game at the 18:32 mark on an empty-netter. The Wolverines top line of Pacioretty, Porter and Chad Kolarik (PHO) accounted for 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in the game. Junior Juliano Pagliero was superb in goal for Niagara despite the loss, stopping 33 of Michigan’s 37 shots.

On Saturday, Michigan faced off against Clarkson for the right to go to Denver in two weeks for the Frozen Four. The last time these two teams faced off was when head coach Red Berenson played for the Wolverines back in 1962.

Once again, special teams would play a major role in determining the outcome. Michigan drew first blood when freshman Aaron Palushaj (STL) scored his 10th of the season on a nice wraparound at the 14:23 mark of the first period. The turning point of the contest came in the second period when Clarkson failed to capitalize on three power-play opportunities in the period. The second and final goal of the game came once again off of the stick Porter. He backhanded a nice feed by Pacioretty just 26 seconds into the final stanza. The Golden Knights didn’t help their cause with their five penalties in the period. Junior Billy Sauer (COL) stopped all 27 shots he faced in the win. Clarkson players Shea Guthrie and defenseman Grant Clitsome (CBJ), along with Michigan players Chad Kolarik, defenseman Mark Mitera (ANA) and goaltender Billy Sauer (COL) were all named to the All-East Regional Team. Porter, who also earned a spot on the team with five goals and an assist on the weekend, was named the Most Outstanding Player.

West Regional

In Colorado Springs, the first semi-final game was top-seeded New Hampshire facing off against fourth-seeded Notre Dame.

The Wildcats got on the board first, just over a minute into the game when junior Jerry Pollarstrone backhanded a shot past Notre Dame junior netminder Jordan Pearce. Freshman defenseman Ian Cole (STL) would answer for the Fighting Irish on the team’s first of two power-play goals in the period. Pollarstrone would regain the lead for New Hampshire less than three minutes later. Sophomore defenseman Kyle Lawson (CAR) would answer for Notre Dame on similar looking power play at the 17:25 mark.

Notre Dame would get their first lead of the game at the 2:39 mark of the second period when junior Christian Hanson netted the first of his two goals of the game. The turning point of the game came about midway through the second period. While killing off the tail end of New Hampshire’s five-on-three power play opportunity, sophomore Dan Kissel netted the eventual game-winner on a terrific individual effort, getting by the Wildcats defenders before firing off a shot that beat New Hampshire senior Kevin Regan (BOS) just inside the post for the score. The Wildcats would cut Notre Dame’s lead to 4-3 on a shot by freshman Phil DeSimone (WSH) at the 13:09 mark. That would be as close as New Hampshire would get. The Fighting Irish posted all three third period goals by sophomore Ryan Thang (NSH) and a pair of empty-netters by sophomore Kevin Deeth and junior Christian Hanson. The victory was Notre Dame’s first-ever over New Hampshire and just their second NCAA Tournament win. For New Hampshire, the loss marked another disappointing early exit from the NCAA Tournament, having been bounced in the opening game for the third straight year. The Fighting Irish would await the winner of the other semi-final match for Saturday’s regional final.

That game pitted second-seeded host Colorado College and third-seeded defending national champion Michigan State.

Colorado College got the early opportunities in the first period but couldn’t get one by Spartans junior netminder and Hobey Baker finalist Jeff Lerg. One of the Tigers best scoring opportunities of the game came roughly at the eight-minute mark when sophomore speedster Bill Sweatt (CHI) had a glorious chance from the slot.

Interestingly enough, Colorado College’s undoing would be what was one of their strengths this season – their penalty killing. Junior Tim Kennedy (BUF) opened the scoring at the 9:27 mark when he put home a rebound on the power play. With less than two minutes left in the period, Michigan State would add to their lead when senior defenseman Jeff Dunne blasted a shot from the left circle that beat Colorado College rookie netminder Richard Bachman (DAL) for their second power-play goal. With seven seconds left in the period, senior Chris Mueller extended the Spartans lead to 3-0 on a shot right off of the draw. Colorado College would spoil Lerg’s shutout bid at the 12:07 mark of the third period, but it would be all that they would be able to get before the game ended. The season that looked so promising for the Tigers ended with three straight losses at the worst time of the year. The diminutive Lerg will likely give Colorado College nightmares for days to come as he stopped a career-high 41 of 42 shots in the win.

The Saturday night final was set and pitted two of the CCHA’s top teams in Notre Dame and Michigan State. When the two teams last met back in mid-January, the Spartans took three of four points from the Fighting Irish in a low-scoring, tight-checking affair. Saturday’s regional final game would be very similar with one exception.

After a scoreless opening frame, junior Christian Hanson open the scoring for Notre Dame with his third goal of the regional. Hanson, the son of Dave Hanson from the film "Slapshot", stuffed in a rebound off of his own wraparound attempt for the score at the 2:43 mark of the second period. Junior Justin Abdelkader (DET) answered for Michigan State when he rifled a one-timer that beat Fighting Irish junior netminder Jordan Pearce. The turning point of the game would come in the third period as Notre Dame began to slowly take over the momentum of the game by matching, and at times bettering, Michigan’s State tight-checking efforts. The hard work would pay off for the Fighting Irish when senior and team captain Mark Van Guilder would tally what would prove to be the game-winner at the 15:20 off of a nice feed from freshman Ben Ryan (NSH). After getting the feed, Van Guilder’s wrist shot would beat just inside the near post for the score. Freshman defenseman Teddy Ruth (CBJ) would add an insurance goal for Notre Dame at the 15:20. The Fighting Irish successfully completed upsets of two of the top teams in the nation to earn their first-ever trip to the Frozen Four. And in doing so, became the first ever fourth-seeded team to advance to the Frozen Four since the 16-team format was established back in 2003. Lerg, Abdelkader and freshman defenseman Jeff Petry (EDM), along with Hanson and defenseman Brock Sheahan were all named to the All-West Regional Team. Notre Dame’s Mark Van Guilder, who also earned All-regional team honors, was named the Most Outstanding Player.

Northeast Regional

Top-seeded Miami faced off against fourth-seeded Air Force. It was a game that saw the Falcons once again wreak havoc on their higher-seeded opponent.

Air Force sophomore goaltender Andrew Volkening gave the Minnesota Golden Gophers all they could handle last year and the Miami RedHawks would make that same discovery this year before it was all over with.

The RedHawks jumped out to the early lead just 19 seconds into the contest when freshman Tommy Wingels put a high shot past Volkening for his 15th of the season. Miami held onto the lead until freshman defenseman Derrick Burnett notched the equalizer early in the second period by stuffing in a rebound past RedHawks junior goaltender Jeff Zatkoff (LA). The Falcons would get their first lead of the game just over five minutes later when senior Josh Print netted his first of the season. In the middle of the third period, Air Force would take a costly too men on the ice penalty. On the ensuing power play, Miami rookie sensation Carter Camper would even things up at 2-2 when he deflected junior defenseman Alec Martinez‘s (LA) shot at the 13:44 mark. The remainder of the period would see some glorious opportunities by both teams but neither would be able to capitalize. That would send the first contest of the NCAA Tournament into overtime.

It would all come to an at the 15:21 mark of the extra session when junior Justin Mercier (COL) notched his 25th goal of the season to send Miami to their second consecutive regional final while handing Air Force another heartbreaking loss in overtime. The win, however, would come at a cost to Miami, losing senior Nathan Davis in the first period to a shoulder injury. The RedHawks would await the winner of the semi-final match to meet in Sunday’s finale.

That game pitted second-seeded Boston College against third-seeded Minnesota. The game featured what was perhaps one of the most bizarre situations in recent NCAA Tournament memory.

Boston College staked out to the early when sophomore Ben Smith tallied his 22nd of the season on the man-advantage. Despite being outplayed for much of the opening period, the Golden Gophers allowed just the one goal. Minnesota would fare better in the second period. At the 3:01 mark, senior Mike Howe tallied the equalizer on a backhander that beat Boston College rookie netminder John Muse. Just under five minutes later, the Eagles would regain the lead when junior Benn Ferriero (PHO) netted his 17th of the year at the 7:58 mark. Boston College would extend their lead at the 4:25 mark when senior Pat Gannon potted his sixth of the year, in what would become the eventual game-winner. The Eagles extended their lead to 4-1 when freshman Joe Whitney’s shot deflected off of a Minnesota defender and past rookie goaltender Alex Kangas (ATL) for the score.

And then it happened. With 45 seconds left in regulation time, rookie Brian Gibbons appeared to have made it 5-1 for Boston College. But a review of an earlier disallowed goal scored by Minnesota senior Ben Gordon would change all of that. Gordon’s shot ricocheted off of the crossbar and dropped down behind Muse, with the goal judge signaling a goal. But referee Brian Aaron originally ruled it as a no goal. After Gibbons had scored his goal, the Gordon goal was reviewed and the Aaron’s ruling was overturned and 2:42 minutes was tacked back on to the clock. The score was also adjusted to 4-2. That had no impact in the outcome as Boston College would add their fifth goal anyway at the 19:43 mark, when junior and Hobey Baker finalist Nathan Gerbe tallied his 29th on an empty-netter.

Sunday’s finale between Miami and Boston College was a rematch of last year’s Northeast Regional in Manchester, NH. While most of the players from both squads returned, some were notably absent such as Cory Schneider and Brian Boyle, both of whom have moved on to the pro ranks, and Davis, who suffered a shoulder injury against Air Force the day before.

The game started with Miami dominating play and it didn’t take them long to draw first blood. Sophomore Jarod Palmer got the game’s first goal at the 1:30 mark on a four-on-four situation. Palmer’s goal held up for the duration of the opening period. Boston College played much better in the second period, but Miami was able to extend their lead again at the 8:32 mark. Senior Nino Musitelli got off a one-timer that got by the pad of Muse and into the net. The tide began to turn for Boston College at the 16:48 mark when rookie defenseman Nick Petrecki (SJ) skated in and picked up a loose puck in front of Zatkoff and put it home for the score. Just 14 seconds later, Gerbe tallied his second of the regional that would even the score at 2-2 off of a poor defensive play by Miami. At the 18:46 mark, the Eagles would get their first lead of the game on Ben Smith’s 23rd of the season that came courtesy of a terrific steal by junior Dan Bertram (CHI). The Boston College lead would hold until the 9:02 mark of the third period when senior team captain Ryan Jones (MIN) netted the crucial equalizer for Miami by slipping the puck five-hole on Muse for the score. Regulation time would end 3-3.

The opening of overtime saw the RedHawks take control early, getting a number of grade A chances and clearly dominating the Eagles in puck possession and battles to loose pucks. But a rebound given up Zatkoff at the 12:12 mark was all that Boston College would need to deny Miami their first-ever trip to the Frozen Four for the second consecutive year. Freshman sniper Joe Whitney tallied the game-winner on a spectacular play that will go down as one of the highlight reel goals of the NCAA Tournament. A Miami defender had shoved Whitney just as the rebound was coming to him. Then as he was diving across the front of the crease he somehow backhanded the shot that appeared to have just made it over Zatkoff’s right pad and into the net. The victory earned Boston College their third straight trip to the Frozen Four. Air Force goaltender Andrew Volkening, who was sensational in the semi-final game against Miami on Saturday, was named to the  All-East Regional Team along with Miami forward Ryan Jones and defenseman Alec Martinez. Boston College defenseman Nick Petrecki and forward Nathan Gerbe also made the team. Freshman Joe Whitney, also selected to the All-regional team, was named the Most Outstanding Player.

Midwest Regional

The final regional to have a team punch in their ticket to the Frozen Four came from this bracket, which also got underway on Saturday. The first semi-final match pitted top-seeded North Dakota against fourth-seeded Princeton. And if you ever needed to know a reason why North Dakota senior goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux was named a Hobey Baker finalist, this weekend was it.

The Tigers proved to be quite a formidable opponent for the Fighting Sioux. North Dakota opened the scoring when junior Andrew Kozek (ATL) wristed a high shot that beat Princeton goaltender Zane Kalemba at the 13:39 mark of the opening period. The Tigers actually outshot the Fighting Sioux 10-7 and played perhaps their strongest period of the game. The second period also saw one goal. That came off of the stick of junior and 2007 Hobey Baker winner Ryan Duncan. His 15th goal of the season came courtesy of a nice feed from 2008 Hobey Baker finalist T.J. Oshie (STL) that once again beat Kalemba high.

It wasn’t until the third period that North Dakota firmly took command of the game. Duncan began the Fighting Sioux’s three-goal outburst at the 8:13 mark when he tallied his second of the game on a wicked wrister that appeared to have banked off of Kalemba’s blocker and into the net. Duncan completed the hat trick, the first of his collegiate career, at the 14:48 mark on an empty-netter. With their season on the line, Princeton again pulled Kalemba early for the extra attacker, but this time it would create a four-on-six situation with freshman Matt Frattin (TOR) off on a roughing call. At the 16:28 mark, sophomore defenseman Chay Genoway potted his eighth of the season on a shorthanded empty-netter to put the game out of reach for the Tigers. With Lamoureux on his way to a potential seventh shutout of the season, sophomore Cam MacIntyre would spoil it by finally getting Princeton on the board at the 19:27 mark. Princeton outshot North Dakota by a wide margin. Lamoureux, who was spectacular at times throughout the game, made 38 stops in the win. Kalemba stopped 13 of the 16 shots he faced in the loss. The Fighting Sioux would await the winner of the other semi-final game for the right to go the Frozen Four yet again.

That semi-final match pitted second-seeded Denver against host and third-seeded Wisconsin. The Badgers came out with the early jump and got on the board first. Sophomore Michael Davies fired home a rebound that beat Pioneers senior netminder Peter Mannino for the score. Both teams played very well through the opening 20 minutes. The battle got going even more in the second period. But sophomore defenseman Jamie McBain (CAR) was able to extend Wisconsin’s lead at the 8:15 mark on the power play. Denver peppered Badgers junior goaltender Shane Connelly throughout the period but it wasn’t until the 16:40 mark that freshman Dustin Jackson would finally get the Pioneers on the board with his fifth of the season on the power play.

The turning point of the contest came at the 9:19 mark, when Wisconsin freshman defenseman Cody Goloubef’s cannon-like shot banked off of Mannino and into the net, setting off a four-goal outburst by the Badgers in the third period. Sophomore John Mitchell extended Wisconsin’s lead to 4-1 exactly one minute later on a breakaway opportunity. Senior Tom May cut the Badgers lead to 4-2 when his wrist shot beat Connelly at the 14:38 mark. Just under three minutes later, Davies would tally his second of the game and 13th of the season to restore the Badgers’ three-goal lead. Senior defenseman and team captain put the frosting on the cake at the 17:14 mark with an empty-netter to send the surprising Wisconsin Badgers onto the regional finale on Sunday and send Frozen Four host Denver home with a disappointing loss.

The stage was now set for the regional final. With Michigan, Notre Dame and Boston College having all earned their trips to Denver for the Frozen Four in two weeks, the final regional came down to two WCHA teams. The last time these two conference foes met was on Nov. 10 and it was all-out grudge match that featured a combined 172 penalty minutes and 11 player ejections. While it wouldn’t be not nearly as nasty this time around, the competitive spirit of both teams would be just as strong as, if not stronger than it was back in November.

Wisconsin took control of the game early and dominated the opening period but neither was able to get on the board. The Badgers continued to carry the momentum and control of the game in the second period. Both of the periods goals were scored by Wisconsin. The first came from sophomore defenseman Jamie McBain (CAR). When he received a gorgeous feed from rookie phenom Kyle Turris (PHO) before depositing it behind Jean-Philippe Lamoureux at the 5:38 mark for the score. Freshman defenseman Cody Goloubef was credited with the next goal at 19:21 on the power play. He fired a blistering slapshot that rebounded off of the backboards, bounced off the back of Lamoureux’s left arm and into the net.

Down 2-0 and their season on the line, North Dakota regrouped and their leaders stepped to the forefront to change the tide of the game. Senior and team captain Rylan Kaip (ATL) got the Fighting Sioux on the board at the 3:33 mark to cut Wisconsin’s lead in half. Just 47 seconds later, junior Ryan Duncan would even things up at 2-2 with a wrister that banked off of the crossbar and beat Connelly at the 4:20 mark. For the duration of regulation time, both teams got some quality scoring chances but could not capitalize.

At the 1:47 mark of overtime, Kozek would become the hero of the game when he posted the game-winner, putting in the rebound of senior defenseman Robbie Bina’s shot past Connelly. The win marks North Dakota’s unprecedented fourth consecutive trip to the Frozen Four. They and Boston College are the only two returning teams from last year’s Frozen Four in St. Louis. Wisconsin defenseman Jamie McBain and forward Michael Davies, along with North Dakota forwards Ryan Duncan and T.J. Oshie (STL), defenseman Chay Genoway and goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux were all selected to the All-Midwest Regional Team. Lamoureux, who was nothing short of stellar between North Dakota’s pipes, was named the Most Outstanding Player. On the weekend, he stopped a combined 79 shots to backstop the Fighting Sioux to another appearance in the Frozen Four.