Ah, the inherent unfairness of a single-elimination tournament.
It's not really the world's hugest upset when a nine-seed drops an eight-seed from the NCAA tournament; but the way in which the Bulldogs of Minnesota-Duluth ousted the Union Dutchmen is quite remarkable.
At the end of the day, you can pin the 2-0 loss on any number of things, but the most notable is that Union's power play was, for the first time all year, completely and utterly unsuccessful.
The Dutchmen entered the day with by far the best power play percentage in the nation at 31 percent. That's 31. Thirty. One. Twenty percent is a good power play. Twenty-five is untouchable. And 31 is breathtaking. No one, to put it simply, scores on 31 percent of their power play opportunities over the course of an entire season.
And yet here was Union, scoring 51 times on 164 power plays, and that led many to believe that, whatever UMD did, it should not, under any circumstances, start taking boneheaded penalties. So what did Scott Sandelin's team do? It went to the penalty box three times in the first 9:07 of the game, which would seem to be an astonishingly bad strategy.
And yet, Union seemed completely unable to accomplish anything on the man advantage that had plagued opponents all year. In the end, it went 0-for-9 on the power play. It was just the ninth time all season that Union failed to register a power play goal, and certainly no one gave them more opportunity than the Bulldogs.
Offensive zone draws? They didn't win many on the power play. Not any that amounted to something worth noting anyway. Any shots they put together were from quite a distance, and never bothered Kenny Reiter, whose season-long stats are respectable but not impressive, and who comfortably made 32 saves to pick up his third shutout of the year.
An actual excerpt from my notes in the first period:
"At some point, Union has to admit that its power play just isn't working instead of forcing the puck low and losing it immediately."
In fact, most of Union's power-play time was spent digging the puck out from under its own faceoff circles, where UMD frequently dumped it after gaining it with alarming ease. In short, it seemed as though the Dutchmen had little to no desire to fight for the puck at all. "Oh it's along the boards?" the forwards seemed to say. "Let 'em have it then."
What's surprisingly about all this is that Duluth's first power play chance yielded an alarmingly easy goal, as left wing Kyle Schmidt put his stick on the ice and lazily deflected a soft shot from Mike Montgomery past Union's Keith Kincaid (he of the 1.98 GAA coming in). That was a convincing enough lead for the Bulldogs and Justin Fontaine's doubling of it early in the third period — also on the power play, incidentally — always seemed like it would be plenty.
In the end, both teams seemed eager to parade their way to the penalty box, but the team with the lethal regular-season power play was the one that ended up going home.
What that tells us about the relative strength of ECAC scheduling versus that of the WCHA is not for me to say, but let's just keep in mind that a season slate that includes juggernauts such as Niagara, UConn, American International and Army isn't exactly the kind of thing that fills out a team's strength of schedule to its absolute maximum.
In fact, that's the kind of thing that usually gets you into the tournament but bounced immediately, ridiculous power play or not. But such is the nature of any single-elimination tournament. If the bread and butter on which your entire season's work is constructed eludes you for even an hour, you can go ahead and start scheduling tee times.
The golf courses in Duluth, if they're open, will have to wait at least one more day.
1. Jaden Schwartz, Colorado College
Boston College opened the scoring just 19 seconds into this first-round game, but Schwartz, a first-round pick of the St. Louis Blues, picked up a point on the next three goals of the game, all in the span of less than 3:30, to put the game firmly out of reach. By the end of the first period, CC was up 4-1. Through two, it was 7-2 to the Tigers, and Schwartz had added another goal, which stood up as the game-winner. No one expected BC, which had won two of the last three titles, to go down in an 8-4 flameout, but Schwartz, along with linemate and older brother Rylan (who also had four points), was merciless.
2. Kevin Lynch, Michigan
Nebraska-Omaha went up two goals in the first period, but Lynch (a Columbus Blue Jackets draftee) put the Wolverines on his back midway through the second and gutted out a controversial win. He scored not only the game-tying goal at 8:36 of the middle period, but added the overtime game-winner that took a full 10 minutes of review and, frankly, is still inconclusive. I can't find video of it at the moment, but there was not one angle that showed the puck definitively crossing the line. A lot of suppositions can be made, and it was probably the right call in the end, but we'll never know for sure.
Nebraska-Omaha coach Dean Blais said it was one of the toughest losses of his career. "The referee said it was in and we have to accept that,'' he said.
Faulkner wasn't sure what happened. "I swiped at the puck with my right leg,'' he said. "I'm not 100 percent sure if it went it. It's a bitter pill to swallow.''
Here's Michigan in the postgame comments:
3. Chad Ziegler, Yale
The No. 1 seed in the tournament shouldn't have to go to overtime against the No. 16 team, but that's what Yale was compelled to do against an impressive bend-but-don't-break performance from a resilient Air Force. Ziegler scored just 3:16 into overtime to ice the game, but did little to assuage concerns that the Bulldogs would run into serious problems against Duluth.