NCAA Hockey Tournament: St. Cloud, Quinnipiac power past sleepy opponents en route to Frozen Four

Ryan Lambert

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

St. Cloud and Miami have two well-earned reputations for not doing too well once it gets to tournament time.

Altogether, they've made the NCAAs 20 times, and altogether have just 10 total wins in that time (three for SCSU and seven for Miami). One of those came today, as St. Cloud scored three goals in the first 30:12 and ground out a win against a RedHawk side that was in the game physically but apparently not mentally.

You'll note that of those three wins for the Huskies in NCAA tournament history, two of them have come this season, thanks to their extremely effective win against the Midwest region's top-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Saturday evening. Their only other win in their eight previous appearances came against Northern Michigan in 2010; they were 0-fer in their first seven dances.

Miami, meanwhile, has become famous for losing in the most painful ways possible, most famously coughing up that late two-goal lead against BU in losing the 2009 national title game. Last year they erased a three-goal, third-period deficit against UMass Lowell in the opening game only to lose in overtime after failing to convert a five-minute power play. They looked like they'd earned every inch of their higher seeding on Saturday, but today didn't even get off the bus.

Part of that was by design, as neither team seemed all that intent on making any kinds of mistakes, and in the end they finished with 43 combined shots. St. Cloud held the one-shot edge in that regard. And perhaps not surprisingly, only once did either team put up a double-digit shot total in a single period, that being 11 for the Huskies in the all-important second, which devolved into a bit of a slugfest.

Early that middle period, Joey Benik, who struck twice in St. Cloud's first game then again in the first in this one, scored his and his team's second of the game. Somehow, he was able to sneak into the slot undetected after Brooks Bertsch blew past a defender on the right wing and powered to the front of the net. Miami's Ryan McKay made the first save but pulled himself out of position in doing so, and Benik, who had just three goals this season coming into the tournament, tapped it in for his fourth in two days.

Just 2:14 later, Blake Coleman pulled Miami back within one on the power play, which was just about the only time it had any life at all apart from all the chances Alex Wideman had and failed to score on throughout the first half of the game. There must have been the hope that the goal would settle things a bit, but that wasn't the case. Less than two and a half minutes later, Cory Thorson struck, on another primary assist from Bertsch, and put the game permanently out of reach.

They say a two-goal lead is the worst in hockey, but with the way Miami was playing — poorly and uninspired — it looked insurmountable. They finished with just five second-period shots (thanks in part to a parade to the penalty box), and only cobbled together seven more in the third. Just not a good showing, and the kind of meek effort for which they've become infamous among college hockey fans, and one that leaves far more questions than it ever answers, especially after Miami blew Mankato's doors off in the opening round.

Obviously one of these two teams had to win today, but given how well they both played in the round of 16, you'd have thought this one would have been in some way interesting. It was not. Apart from those aforementioned isolated incidents, Ryan Faragher didn't have much to do in turning aside just 20 shots. It stands to reason that one day, Rico Blasi's team will figure out what it takes to get to the next step, if only because they make it so persistently.

But at the same time, having watched this team mail in ugly performances or suffer humiliating losses in every tournament since 2006, you really start to wonder whether he's the Dick Umile for a new generation.

Quinnipiac 5, Union 1

This game was over just about 13 minutes into it, thanks to a natural hat trick from Matthew Peca in the space of 3:12 to make a scoreless draw a laugher in a hurry.

Whatever Union did to pummel Boston College the night before abandoned it entirely and though they didn't concede a lot of shots (26), the quality of the chances on them was extremely high, evinced by the fact that five of the first 14 went in. The Dutchmen were completely unbalanced by the Q's skill, and often their defensemen just stood around in their defensive zone completely passive, as though the only thing preventing them from putting their hands in their pockets and whistling idly was the way in which hockey pants are manufactured.

And as the game got out of hand, Union became more undisciplined. After it jumped to 3-0. Matt Wilkins' only contribution for his team was a clear five-minute hitting from behind penalty that resulted in his ejection from the proceedings, and also Quinnipiac's fourth goal less than a minute later. Shayne Gostisbehere was likewise thrown out of the game late in the third for an iffy (but hard and a little late) hit Connor Jones. Things were testy, as games with deficits this large tend to be.

Meanwhile, Union did little offensively, putting just 19 shots on Eric Hartzell and not really asking too many questions he couldn't answer off the top of his head.

So the field for the Frozen Four is set, with today's winners on one side of the bracket, and UMass Lowell and Yale on the other. The only team there to have ever made a Frozen Four in its history is Yale, and that was 61 years ago. So this should be fun.

Three Stars

1. Matthew Peca, Quinnipiac

Given the way in which Union took it to Boston College in their first game of the tournament, it's likely that Q coach Rand Pecknold beseeched his team for a fast start. Peca, a Lightning draft pick, delivered. Three goals from 9:46 to 12:58 sealed up the Bobcats' first-ever Frozen Four trip and second NCAA win, and then he assisted on Kellen Jones' beautiful breakaway goal midway through the second to make it 5-0. He might go to Pittsburgh with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, though, because he could have had five or six in this one no problem.

2. Joey Benik, St. Cloud State

Two more goals from a low-scoring freshman today to open the scoring for the Huskies and, like Peca, put the game out of reach relatively early. Five points on the weekend, which is tied for the most anyone had at any other regional.

3. Cory Thorson, St. Cloud State

This is the other guy who had five points this weekend. After scoring on Saturday, Thorson went out and got St. Cloud's third and fourth goals, and also had the only assist on its first. Even his empty-netter today was nice, because it went almost the entire length of the ice and crossed the line with 0.2 seconds left. Hell of a way to pad your stats.