Prospects shine in NCAA conference playoffs

By DJ Powers

Sertich: Recruits boast skills to succeed

This year’s conference playoffs were dominated by stellar
performances by many NHL prospects and upsets by lower seeded teams. Here’s a
look back at what happened in a conference-by-conference breakdown.




To no one’s surprise, the top seeded Holy Cross Crusaders
advanced to the Frozen Four Tournament with 4-0 win over the Sacred Heart
Pioneers in the Atlantic Hockey Conference title game on Saturday. The
Crusaders, led by the outstanding goaltending of sophomore Tony Quesada, also finished the regular season with the best record
in Atlantic Hockey. Quesada posted his second shutout of the conference
playoffs on Saturday. A week earlier he posted his first shutout of the
conference playoffs against ninth seeded American International in the Crusaders’
5-0 win.




In one of the most hotly contested conference playoffs, the
CCHA featured a little bit of just about everything in the race for the Mason
Cup. The seventh seeded Northern Michigan Wildcats and fourth seeded Ohio State
Buckeyes were the talk of the conference as both pulled off stunning upsets
during the conference playoffs.
Northern Michigan had an unlikely
hero to lead them in their outstanding run. Senior Craig Kowalski (CAR) was sidelined with a groin injury, so the
goaltending duties fell to junior backup Tuomas
. The Rauma, Finland native who has seen very little action this
season, was outstanding between the pipes for the Wildcats. NMU began its
outstanding run in the opening weekend when they swept the sixth seeded Alaska-Fairbanks
Nanooks at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks. Sophomores Patrick Murphy (EDM) and Dirk
(ANA) notched two points apiece to help lead the Wildcats. NMU
advanced to the Super Six and went on to hand third seeded Michigan State a
surprising 2-1 defeat on Friday.


Junior Brock Radunske
(EDM) set a new career high with his 12th goal of the season for the
lone MSU tally in the game. It would all come to an end on Saturday night when
top seeded Michigan defeated them 5-1. Freshman sensation and CCHA Rookie of
the Year T. J. Hensick notched a
goal and two assists in the Wolverines’ victory.


In the Super Six consolation game, second seeded Miami-Ohio
behind the outstanding goaltending of freshman Brandon Crawford-West (PIT), defeated the weary Wildcats 4-0. Prior
to the CCHA consolation game, the Miami-Ohio RedHawks began the opening round
of the conference with a sweep of eleventh seeded Lake Superior State. The
RedHawks’ potent top line of freshmen Marty
(LA) and Matt Christie
along with Hobey Baker candidate Derek
had a hand in five of the six RedHawks goals in the series. With
the win, the RedHawks earned a date with the fourth seeded Ohio State Buckeyes
in the Super Six opening match. The Buckeyes outworked the RedHawks to gain the
win and advance to the Super Six title game for the Mason Cup. Junior J. B. Bittner notched the game-winner
at the 23-second mark of overtime to give Ohio State the win.


The fourth seeded Ohio State Buckeyes went undefeated in the
CCHA postseason that culminated with the Mason Cup and the CCHA title. It all
began last weekend with a sweep of tenth ranked Bowling Green State. Towering
senior Dave Steckel (LA) notched a
two goals and an assist to help lead the Buckeyes to victory. In the game on
March 18th, freshman defenseman Tyson
(CAR) made the most of his rare start and scored the game winning
goal at the 9:49 mark of overtime to advance the Buckeyes to the Super Six
semi-finals with a thrilling 6-5 win over Notre Dame. The following night saw
another overtime victory for the Buckeyes in their 4-3 win over second seeded
Miami-Ohio. The icing on the cake for the weary Buckeyes came on Saturday night
in a stunning 4-2 defeat of top seeded Michigan in the CCHA title game. Senior
defenseman Doug Andress led the
Buckeyes with a goal and two assists.


The lowly twelfth seeded Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks and ninth
seeded Western Michigan Broncos took their opening round matchups to three
games by posting stunning defeats of their own on Saturday, March 13th.  Nebraska-Omaha, led by some stellar
goaltending of freshman Chris Holt
(NYR) managed to avoid a sweep at Yost Arena when they handed host Michigan a
3-1 defeat to force a third game for the right to advance to the Super Six.
Michigan would go on to defeat the Mavericks two games to one the following
night. Sophomore Jeff Tambellini
(LA) and junior Dwight Helminen
(NYR) notched two goals apiece in leading the Wolverines to a 5-2 victory.
Meanwhile, the ninth seeded Western Michigan Broncos took the fifth seeded
Notre Dame Fighting Irish to three games as well. In the opening match on March
12th the Fighting Irish won 4-2. Senior defenseman Brett Lebda tallied a goal and an
assist to help lead the Irish to victory. Junior Morgan Cey, who has had to battle through injury for a great
portion of the season, went the distance and made 40 saves in the win for Notre


The following night, the Western Michigan Broncos would even
up the series. Senior Dana Lattery
notched two goals and an assist to help lead the Broncos to a 4-0 shutout win
and forcing a third and deciding game on Sunday. The Broncos backup netminder,
sophomore Eric Marvin was
sensational in one of his rare starts this season. He stopped all 30 Fighting
Irish shots he faced to record his first career shutout. The third and deciding
game was a real barnburner. Senior Rob
(FLA) notched a goal and assist, to help the Irish defeat the
Broncos 5-4 in overtime and advance to the Super Six. Freshman David Brown stopped 33 of the 37 shots
he faced to get the win for Notre Dame. In the opening round of the Super Six,
fifth seeded Notre Dame faced off against fourth seeded Ohio State in a
thriller that ended with the Fighting Irish being handed a stinging 6-5 loss in
overtime by the Buckeyes. Seniors Rob
(FLA) and Aaron Gill each
notched four points that included a hat trick for Gill in the losing cause.


After a hard fought sweep of tenth ranked Ferris State, the
third seeded Michigan State Spartans were upset by the seventh seeded Northern
Michigan Wildcats in the opening round of the Super Six. Hobey Baker nominee
junior Jim Slater (ATL) and freshman
Drew Miller (ANA) were both
outstanding in the opening series versus FSU, notching two goals and an assist
apiece. After disposing of the Bulldogs, the Spartans earned a date with
seventh seeded Northern Michigan and went on to lose the game 2-1 ending any
hope of laying claim to the trophy that bears the name of the legendary former
Spartans head coach.




Senior Joe Tallari,
who was a Hobey Baker candidate last season, scored the winning goal at the
13:27 mark of overtime to give the second seeded Niagara Purple Eagles the CHA
crown and a trip to the Frozen Four Tournament last weekend. In a thrilling
finish to a game that set a new CHA record for the longest game in conference
history, the Purple Eagles handed the top seeded Bemidji State Beavers a
crushing 4-3 defeat in overtime. Tallari’s game winning tally was set up by
junior sensation Barret Ehgoetz.
Ehgoetz finished the regular season tied for the most points (50) in the
nation. Sophomore center and the CHA’s lone NHL prospect Andrew Murray (CBJ)
was among the notable Bemidji State players in the conference title game
scoring the second of Bemidji State’s three goals in the contest at the 17:07
mark of the second period.




Harvard junior netminder, Dov Grumet-Morris (PHI) struggled much of the season to find some
consistency. He finally found it at the right time. Grumet-Morris and the sixth
seeded Harvard Crimson swept their way to the ECAC crown and advance to the
Frozen Four Tournament. The ECAC conference playoffs, which began a week
earlier than the rest of the NCAA conference playoffs, saw the top seeds being
outplayed by their lower seeded counterparts for nearly the entire playoffs
run. The first team to get bounced was the seventh seeded Yale Bulldogs back on
March 6th. The tenth seeded St. Lawrence Saints, led by the
top-notch trio of sophomores John Zeiler
(PHX) and T. J. Trevelyan along with
senior Rich Peverley, swept Yale in
two games with a pair of 4-3 victories that saw the teams combine for a
whopping 172 shots on goal in the series. Junior Mike McKenna (NSH) stopped 68 of the 74 shots he faced in the
series to lead the Saints.


The next team to be shown the door was the third seeded
Brown Bears on March 13th. Their stunning defeat came in a sweeping
upset at the hands of sixth seeded Harvard. Brown, led by goaltending Hobey
Baker candidate, Yann Danis (MTL),
struggled down the stretch posting just one victory in their last six regular
season games. Even with the first week bye, the Bears woes continued as Harvard
beat them 4-2 and 3-2 in overtime respectively. Junior Tom Cavanagh (SJ) who has been one of the Crimson players all
season long, notched three points for Harvard, including the game winner at
7:35 mark of overtime that sent Brown home.


The next two teams who were sent home were second seeded
Cornell and fifth seeded RPI. The Engineers got bounced by the fourth seeded
Dartmouth Big Green. The Engineers, led by the outstanding netminding of senior
Nathan Marsters (LA), came into
their series with Dartmouth riding a four game winning streak. After winning
the game on March 12th, they were handed consecutive shutout loses
by the Big Green. Junior Dan Yacey
stopped all 65 shots he faced to post the back-to-back shutout wins, while
fellow junior Lee Stempniak (STL) notched a goal and two assists to help lead
Dartmouth to the victory.


The ninth ranked Clarkson Golden Knights would pull off not
one but two stunning upsets in consecutive weekends. The first came the ousting
of the second seeded Cornell Big Red in three games. After dropping the March
12th game to Cornell that was highlighted by a hat-trick scored by
Cornell junior Mike Knoepfli (TOR),
the Golden Knights bounced back to win two straight. The next night, freshman
defenseman Matt Nickerson (DAL) set
a new Clarkson school record for penalty minutes in a season with 165,
shattering a record that stood for nearly 20 years. The third and deciding
game’s 5-1 victory for Clarkson came at a high price, when Nickerson left the
game late in the second period with a shoulder injury after receiving a
crunching shoulder-to-shoulder check by Cornell sophomore Shane Hynes (ANA). Meanwhile, Cornell lost senior sniper Ryan Vesce to a concussion in their win
on Friday night. This past Friday night the Golden Knights would complete the
upsets as they defeated the top seeded Colgate Raiders 2-1 in the conference


An unlikely goal-scorer emerged as the hero of the game for
Clarkson. Freshman defenseman Michael
(CHI) picked a great time to notch his second goal of the season as
he tallied the game winner at the 14:34 mark of the second period. Grenzy, who
missed the first ten games of the season due to an ankle injury, has steadily
made progress and developed into a solid blueliner for Clarkson. The Golden
Knights also got Matt Nickerson (DAL) back in the lineup after losing him the
previous Sunday in the win over Cornell. In the conference title game versus
Harvard on Saturday, the Golden Knights’ miraculous run came to an end with a
4-2 loss. Harvard team captain Kenny
(EDM), who isn’t known as a goal scorer, notched the game winner at
the 19:22 mark of the third period with his fourth goal of the season.


Prior to getting to the conference title game, the Harvard
Crimson had to get by Dartmouth first. Thanks to some stellar play by junior Brendan Bernakevitch coupled with the
continuing superb play of netminder Dov
(PHI), the sixth seeded Harvard Crimson notched a 2-1 win
over Dartmouth in the conference semi-finals. Dartmouth junior netminder Dan
Yacey stopped 31 of 33 shots in the loss.




The matchups in this conference may not have been as hotly
contested as some of the other conferences, but it had arguably the best title
game in recent NCAA memory. Eight of the nine teams advanced to conference
playoffs, with Northeastern being the lone team out. The opening round saw just
one upset when eighth ranked Boston University defeated archrival and top
seeded Boston College in three games. Senior netminder Sean Fields was outstanding in this series for the Boston
University. He made 28 saves in the conference opener on March 11th
to lead the Terriers to a 3-2 victory over the Eagles at Chestnut Hill. Junior
Brian McConnell (CGY) and freshman Kenny Roche (NYR) each tallied a goal apiece
in the Terriers win. The following night, BC would bounce back behind a
spectacular 14 save shutout win by starting goaltender Matti Kaltianen (BOS). Junior Ryan Shannon tallied two in Boston
College’s win. But Fields’ stellar outing once again would prove to be Boston
College’s downfall as the netminder would make 35 saves to lead the Terriers to
victory and advance in the conference playoffs. Roche once again figured in on
the scoring, notching a goal in BU’s victory.


With the upset of top seeded Boston College Eagles, the
Boston University Terriers’ next opponent would be any easier to defeat.
Waiting for them was second seeded Maine. Both the third seeded UMass Minutemen
and second seeded Maine Black Bears disposed of their respective opening round
opponents in a two game sweep. The Minutemen swept their University of
Massachusetts counterparts from Lowell in rather convincing fashion with 6-3
and 3-1 victories respectively. Hobey Baker Candidate defenseman Thomas Pöck notched a goal and three assists to lead the Minutemen in
scoring in the series. Junior Greg
(CBJ), who had been in a scoring slump coming into the series,
notched two goals for UMass.


The Maine Black Bears got all that they could
handle from the seventh seeded Merrimack Warriors before sending them home in
two games. Each of Maine’s victories came by a one-goal margin. Senior Colin Shields (PHI) continues to be hot
as a pistol for the Black Bears notching three goals, including both of Maine’s
goals in the first game of the series to lead the team. Merrimack was able to
give Maine problems thanks to some excellent goaltending by freshman Jim Healey. Healey, a Hockey East
All-Rookie Team selection, stopped 57 of Maine’s 63 shots in the series.
Meanwhile, the fifth seeded Providence Friars took the fourth seeded New
Hampshire Wildcats to three games before their series was decided. The
Wildcats’ “awesome twosome” of Hobey Baker candidate Steve Saviano and junior Sean
(COL) continue to wreak havoc on opponents in the postseason.


The Friars became the latest victims as the duo
combined for five points (three goals, two assists) in the series. However, the
Friars wouldn’t go so quietly. In the March 13th game, freshman Colin McDonald (EDM) scored perhaps his
biggest goal of the season as he tallied the game-winner at the 2:49 mark of
the extra session to lead the Friars to a victory and force a third and
deciding game. The final game of the series featured a very good goaltending
battle between UNH senior Mike Ayers
and Providence sophomore Bobby Goepfert
(PIT). Junior Preston Callander
would end the Friars season at the 17:22 mark of the third period to lead the
Wildcats to victory. In the conference semi-finals, the eighth seeded Boston
University Terriers faced off against second seeded Maine in another Hockey
East goaltending duel, this time between BU senior Sean Fields and Maine
sophomore sensation Jim Howard (DET).
Maine’s speedy freshman Mike Hamilton (ATL) tallied his fifth goal of
the season at the 7:09 mark of the third period to propel the Black Bears to
victory and conference title game. In the other semi-finals match, third seeded
UMass took on fourth seeded UNH. The Minutemen scored five unanswered goals to
advance to the conference title game. Thomas Pöck and Greg Mauldin notched two of the Minutemen’s five
goals to help lead UMass.


The conference title between the Maine Black
Bears and UMass Minutemen became a game for the ages. The marathon match looked
like it would never end. After exchanging power play goals in the first two
periods, regulation time expired with the score tied at 1-1. The game featured
a classic goaltending battle between two outstanding sophomores in Maine’s Jim Howard (DET) and UMass’ Gabe Winer. The game-winning goal would
come from an unlikely individual. At the 9:27 mark of the third overtime in the
longest game in Hockey East Championship history, junior Ben Murphy notched the third and perhaps his most memorable goal of
the season to give Maine the conference title and deal a devastating loss to
the UMass Minutemen. Winer, who was absolutely sensational in this game stopped
59 of 61 shots he faced in the losing cause. The stingy Howard who continues to
lead the nation in the categories of goals against average (1.05) and save
percentage (.958), stopped 63 of the 64 shots he faced to lead the Black Bears
to the conference crown.




The conference that was dogfight all season long
featured one of the best feel-good stories of any of the conference playoffs
this season. While everyone had to wait for the much-anticipated ‘battle of the
titans’ between Minnesota and North Dakota, it was the boys from Anchorage,
Alaska who became the story of the WCHA playoffs. The eighth seeded
Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves not only failed to win a conference game last season
but posted just one win all last season (it was in their 2002-03 season opener
against in-state rival Alaska-Fairbanks). So it was not surprising that many
thought that the Seawolves’ stay in the WCHA postseason this year would be
short-lived. How wrong they would all be. The Seawolves drew a tough opponent
in the opening round in third seeded Wisconsin. The Badgers, who are always
tough to play against at the Kohl Center, were about to be in for quite a


The opening game on March 12th went to the
visiting Seawolves behind a sensational 45-save effort by senior goaltender Chris King. The following night the
Badgers would bounce back with a 4-0 shutout win to force a third and deciding
game. Junior netminder Bernd Brückler
(PHI) and two goals by sophomore A. J.
led the Badgers to victory. The third and final game would see
the Seawolves pull off the stunning upset of the Badgers with a 4-1 victory,
thanks to a pair of goals scored by sophomores Curtis Glencross and Chris
. On Thursday, the Seawolves would meet the seventh seeded Colorado
College Tigers in the opening game of the WCHA Final Five at the Xcel Energy


Once again it was the spectacular goaltending of
King that would figure in yet another upset victory for the Seawolves. After
giving up the game’s first goal to Tigers sophomore Trevor Frischmon, Alaska-Anchorage would score four unanswered
goals enroute to a 4-1 win. Colorado College freshman netminder Matt Zaba (LA), who had been
sensational throughout the regular season, was pulled after allowing two goals
on seven shots. His replacement, junior Curtis
(CGY) didn’t fare much better as he surrendered one goal in the
seven shots he faced. King stopped 44 of the 45 shots he faced in the win. With
the second upset win under their belts, the Seawolves earned a date with top
seeded powerhouse North Dakota on Friday. In their second game in less than 24
hours, the Seawolves may have been a bit weary but they gave North Dakota a
good fight to the bitter end. When all was said and done, the top ranked
Fighting Sioux proved to be too much for the Cinderella Alaska-Anchorage
Seawolves. King again was sensational as he stopped 41 of 45 shots he faced in
the losing cause. If NHL scouts haven’t noticed him before, they certainly
noticed King during the WCHA Final Five.


Before being ousted by Alaska-Anchorage, the
Colorado College Tigers did some upsetting of their own. After in-state rival
Denver swept them for the Gold Pan Trophy and the Colorado bragging rights, the
Tigers decided to exact some revenge on their instate counterpart in the WCHA
playoffs. The seventh seeded Tigers faced their fourth seeded rivals in the
opening round of the WCHA playoffs. Denver, who lost top sniper Connor James (LA) to a broken leg in
the Gold Pan victory, had to have others step up to fill the offensive void.
Despite keeping it a close game, the Tigers would take the first game 4-3.
Zaba, who started in net for the Tigers, stopped 18 of 21 shots and drew an
assist on the Tigers first goal scored by sophomore Marty Sertich. The Tigers were itching to complete the sweep of the
Pioneers the following night and did just that. Sophomores Brett Sterling (ATL) and Brady
(TB) each tallied a pair of goals to propel the Tigers to the Final
Five for a meeting with the surprising Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves. McElhinney
was outstanding in the game, stopping 35 of 36 shots he faced.


The second seeded Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs had
their hands full against the depleted ninth seeded Minnesota State-Mankato
Mavericks. The opening game on March 12th featured 80 combined shots
in the game. Freshman defenseman Lucas
tallied the game winner at the 12:18 mark of overtime and junior
netminder Jon Volp made 46 saves to
hand host UMD a stunning 4-3 defeat in the opener. The following night the
Bulldogs would even up the series behind a sensational performance by Hobey
Candidate Junior Lessard. Lessard
had a hand in five of UND’s six goals, including a hat trick in the Bulldogs’
6-2 win and forcing a third and deciding game. In the hard-fought final game,
the Bulldogs emerged victorious led by a four-point effort by junior Marco Peluso. Senior Shane Joseph (SJ) and freshman David Backes (STL) each tallied a goal
in the losing cause for Minnesota State-Mankato. With the win over MSU-Mankato,
the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs earned a trip to the Final Five and would face
fifth seeded University of Minnesota in their backyard.


The Bulldogs got more than they bargained for by
the Golden Gophers in the Final Five semi-finals. On Friday, the Gophers handed
the Bulldogs a 7-4 loss in what was one of wildest games between the two teams this
season. Freshman Danny Irmen (MIN)
was stellar in this game as he tallied two goals to help lead the Gophers to
victory. The fifth seeded Minnesota Golden Gophers started the conference
playoffs against the sixth ranked St. Cloud State Huskies. The Gophers who
swept the Huskies in the regular season finale repeated it the following
weekend in the conference playoffs opening round. The Gophers dominated the
Huskies winning handily 6-1 and 7-3 respectively. In the first game on March 12th,
two Gophers freshmen made their impact in a big way. Center Ryan Potulny (PHI) who missed much of
the season with a knee injury, decided to forego a medical redshirt to return
to the Gophers lineup. The younger Potulny’s return paid almost immediate
dividends for Minnesota, as he notched two goals in his second game back.


If the Gophers were ever wondering when freshman
defenseman Michael Vannelli (ATL)
was going to have his ‘breakout’ game, it finally came and at the best time of
the season too. Vannelli notched a goal and an assist in the conference opener
versus St. Cloud State as well. The following night in the deciding game, it
became the Troy Riddle (STL) show. Riddle, who has been one of the Gophers
steadiest players all season busted out in a big way to have his best offensive
showing of the season. He notched a hat trick and two assists to lead the
Gophers to a sweep of the Huskies and move on the Final Five. Sophomore Brock Hooton (OTT) notched two goals in
the series for the Huskies. The Gophers moved on to face second seeded
Minnesota-Duluth before meeting the top seeded North Dakota Fighting Sioux in
the conference title game.


The top seeded North Dakota Fighting Sioux faced
off against the tenth ranked Michigan Tech Huskies. North Dakota had a little
more trouble sending the Huskies home early than the Gophers did with the St.
Cloud State Huskies. The opening game on March 12th featured some
stellar play by highly touted freshman Drew
. Stafford, who is NHL draft eligble this summer, notched a goal and
two assists in helping the Fighting Sioux post a 6-2 victory in the conference
playoffs opener. Stafford would also notch the game-winner in overtime the next
night in UND’s 4-3 win. North Dakota’s “Brady Bunch” line of freshman Brady Murray (LA), sophomore Zach Parise and junior Brandon Bochenski (OTT) had a hand in
six of North Dakota’s ten goals scored in the series. The potent MichiganTech
trio of sophomore Chris Conner,
junior Colin Murphy and freshman Taggart Desmet were held to just one
goal in the series. After sweeping the Huskies, North Dakota earned a date with
the surprise eighth seeded Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves in their opening round
matchup in the Final Five, before moving on to meet the Minnesota Golden
Gophers in the conference title game.


With Minnesota’s victory over second seeded
Minnesota-Duluth coupled with North Dakota’s win over eighth seeded
Alaska-Anchorage, the stage was set for the marquee matchup that would
highlight the Final Five. In the conference title game on Saturday, the top
seeded North Dakota Fighting Sioux would faceoff against their nemesis in fifth
seeded Minnesota for the Broadmoor Trophy and WCHA bragging rights. The 19,300+
fans in attendance at the Xcel Energy Center would be in for a fast paced,
exciting game that featured two of the nation’s best teams. The game saw a
combined 72 shots on goals by both teams. Minnesota freshman Kellen Briggs and North Dakota junior Jake Brandt were kept busy all night
between the pipes for their respective teams.


While the game featured some outstanding
performances by players such as freshman Danny Irmen (MIN), sophomore
defenseman Chris Harrington, junior
Brandon Bochenski (OTT) and freshman Drew Stafford, it would be the spectacular
playmaking of sophomore phenom Zach
Parise (NJ) th
at would steal the show. Parise notched a goal and two
assists in the game in one of the best all-around individual performances of
the season. Senior Grant Potulny
(OTT), the hero of the 2002 National Title game was clutch once again for the
Minnesota Golden Gophers as he tallied the game-winner at the 13:58 mark of the
third period to help the Gophers capture the Broadmoor Trophy for the second
consecutive year.