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NCAA Frozen Four Review: Hobey hokum, Berenson’s gripes, Boston College flameout and Duluth’s victory

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy

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In which we recap the day's events in the NCAA tournament.

Newly minted Phoenix Coyotes prospect Andy Miele won the Hobey Baker award on Friday night and there was at least a little bit of surprise, though I don't see why.

The fact is, you could make a perfectly creditable argument that any of these guys were the best player in the nation. Miele led the NCAA in scoring by a healthy margin, Frattin was a goalscoring menace from the first game of the season and Cam Atkinson was the undersized do-it-all wundkind for the reigning national champions.

However, the award is generally awarded to guys who score a lot of goals, rather than the ones that set them up. And for this reason, Miele was certainly at the back of the pack. Matt Frattin -- who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs last night after his Fighting Sioux were unceremoniously bounced from the NCAA tournament by Michigan -- led the country with 36 goals. Current Columbus Blue Jackets farmhand Cam Atkinson was second with 31. Miele came in tied for 10th with 24. As a consequence, there was some reason to be concerned that his 47 assists in 39 games, a far larger figure than Frattin's 24 and Atkinson's 21, would matter little to voters.

But Miele simply had to win.

The Hobey Baker, unlike pretty much all other major awards for the nation's most outstanding player in a sport, is supposed to take into account not only a person's on-ice ability but also their character.

In this regard especially, Atkinson and Frattin fell well behind Miele. Both were arrested in the past for incidents over the summers of 2008 and 2009, respectively. But for some reason the college hockey media seemed more than happy to sweep Atkinson's arrest under the rug (because it happened the summer before he arrived at Boston College), in favor of pillorying that Frattin kid who they obviously considered beneath contempt.

And this is in no way meant to denigrate either Frattin or Atkinson. Kids make mistakes and all that. I'm sure they've been nothing but great guys since those incidents. But in giving the award to Miele, the voters made the right call. And in a sport where unfair biases such as geography always seem to seep their way into the voting process, that doesn't necessarily happen all the time.

Red with Anger

Now, Red Berenson has seen a hell of a lot of hockey in his life.

He played 17 years in the NHL and made six All-Star teams. He won a Stanley Cup with the Canadiens. He represented Canada in the Summit Series. He was a head coach in the NHL for three years, and an assistant for four more.

He's been the coach at Michigan, his alma mater, since 1984. So you get the feeling he knows a penalty when he sees one.

He got a chance to see a whole bunch of them this weekend. There were a lot of penalties called in just three games. In fact, there were 37, including 15 in the final. Nine went against his Wolverines, and he understandably wasn't happy about that.

"Every time a player falls down, it shouldn't be a penalty, not in NCAA championship game hockey," he told reporters after the game.

And look, there were some really soft calls and more of them went against Michigan. But to go 8 for 9 against a power play that had previous gone 8 for 23 in the NCAA tournament is really great. And even if Michigan were hit with about about half the penalties they actually committed, giving a team like Duluth five man advantages is still far too many.

But hey, if the party line is going to be "we lost because we had our best guys killing too many penalties," then that's not the worst one a team's ever come up with.

Welcome In, Welcome Back

You have to hand it Union head coach Nate Leaman. In 2003-04, he took over a team that never in its Division 1 history won more than 18 games in a season, and transformed it into a very credible ECAC power within a relatively short period of ime.

After suffering through three losing seasons in his first four tries, Leaman's club won 19, 21 and 26 games in the last three years, respectively, and the latter was good enough to earn it the first NCAA tournament appearance in league history behind a regular-season power play that ran at above 30 percent. But there's a lot to be said for NCAA tournament experience, and Minnesota-Duluth, which ensured the Dutchmen went one-and-done, has it in spades.

They'll be back.

And credit also has to go to the programs at Merrimack, RPI and Western Michigan, which made the tournaments after droughts of 23, 16 and 15 years, respectively. Very impressive turnarounds for programs that don't typically get a lot of national attention.

The Iron Wolverine

Michigan defenseman Chad Langlais played all 44 of his team's games this season. The previous year, he played all 45. Before that, he played all 41. And as a freshman, he played all 43.

That's right. Langlais played in all 173 of his team's games in his career. That's an insane amount in a sport where getting to 120 or so is typically an excellent number for a career.

Up Goes Brown

In keeping with the weekend's theme that it's not always the giants that get it done, Minnesota Duluth's JT Brown was named the most oustanding player of the Frozen Four.

Brown, a freshman who collected 37 points this year, was an excellent choice, having scored the first goal and set up the game-winner against Notre Dame before adding a second assist on the first against Michigan.

But perhaps his most impressive play came late in the title game against the Wolverines, when Duluth was killing a penalty. His linemate won a draw and got the puck to Brown, who took off like a jack rabbit down the left wing and forced New Jersey Devils draft pick Jon Merrill into tackling him to negate the power play just eight seconds after it began.

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Big Shock

Boston College had won two of the last three national titles. It had also won a very tight race for the Hockey East regular season, then took its postseason crown as well. It was loaded with players that had never tasted defeat in an NCAA tournament game and, given the last eight teams it faced in those games a combined 43-16 beating.

So to say it was surprising that BC flamed out spectacularly in the first round, losing to Colorado College 8-4, is, I think, fair.

Not that BC was exactly being counted as the No. 1 frontrunner for the repeat this year, but it allowed half as many goals in its one game this year than it had in its previous eight combined, and looked really quite bad doing it. The game got as ugly as 7-2 late in the second period before BC began to claw its way back toward at least making the score somewhat respectable, though it never got there. That included allowing two shorthanded goals, matching the total scored by BC opponents in the previous 38 games.
Is this setback temporary? Yes. BC is always one of the most talented clubs in the country and has the greatest coach in NCAA history. But wow did that loss catch everyone by surprise.

Rust Never Sleeps

Asked how Michigan could have possibly beaten the North Dakota offensive juggernaut despite getting outshot 2 to 1, Wolverines senior Matt Rust set everybody straight with four simple words.

"We're badass. Quote that."

Rust certainly lived up to his boast in the national title game, picking up an assist completely shutting down Minnesota Duluth's prolific top line in the loss.

He really had an excellent tournament at both ends of the ice. What a player.

The Scariest Line

With all due respect to the high-flying Duluth troika of Justin Fontaine, Jack Connolly and Mike Connolly, this award has to go to North Dakota's top line.

Matt Frattin, Colorado Avalanche draft pick Brad Malone and Evan Trupp make up North Dakota's "Pony Express" line, and if those guys are the ponies, the horses must be ridden by War, Famine, Pestilence and Death.

They combined for five goals and seven assists in the tournament's first two games, and that doesn't even truly describe the menace they carried with them every time they climbed over the boards. The combined 12 points in those two games is one thing, but their ability to obtain and keep the puck for a solid 45 seconds on every shift gave them a huge amount of scoring chances and left their opponents pinned in their own end.

That they were held pointless in the national semifinals against Michigan is more a product of the unbelievable effort of Wolverines netminder Shawn Hunwick and the defense in front of him than their inability to get things done. Everything the Sioux did ran through these three guys.

Best Defense

Shawn Hunwick faced an absolute onslaught Thursday night against North Dakota, turning aside 40 shots and picking up a shutout, but you could count the number of second chances the Fighting Sioux got on one hand.

That's because Michigan's commitment to team defense was positively stunning. Sure, 40 shots is a lot to give up regardless of circumstance, but the Wolverine defense allowed a combined three goals in the two contests prior to that as well.

In the first game of the tournament, Hunwick faced just 29 shots despite the game going to overtime and didn't allow a goal after 8:18 of the first period. The next night, it held Colorado College — which, as detailed above, had pumped eight past Boston College — to one goal on 22 shots, and never more than eight in a period.

So while it may have looked like the defense was bent nearly in half by North Dakota, the fact is it never once looked like it was going to break.

The same is true of the effort against Minnesota Duluth's top line. This was a team committed to completely choking the life out of the biggest threats facing them, and letting the chips fall where they may. Getting to overtime in the final game of a single elimination tournament is about as well as you can reasonably expect to do.

Duluth is Title Town

Duluth's national title was the first for its hockey program, but it wasn't even the first by a Bulldogs team this school year. In the fall, UMD also won the Division 2 football championship.

Ryan Lambert covers the NCAA hockey tournament for Puck Daddy. You can e-mail him here if you want, but you should definitely follow him on Twitter.

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