NCAA Hockey: Union pummels Vermont, North Dakota knocks off Wisconsin

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NCAA Hockey: Union pummels Vermont, North Dakota knocks off Wisconsin
NCAA Hockey: Union pummels Vermont, North Dakota knocks off Wisconsin

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

The No. 1 seed in any given regional beating the No. 4 seed there is not what you'd call a "surprise," nor is it a shock when they do basically what they've done to every team they've played all season long.

It is, in fact, the opposite of noteworthy. But that doesn't mean it's not also extraordinarily impressive. People didn't watch Mike Tyson fights in the mid-1980s because they wanted to see an even and hard-fought matchup. They wanted to see him take years off the life of some hapless fighter's by smashing his nose into a fine paste; it's morbidity on a grand scale, but that's nature.

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The final score reads 5-2 Union over Vermont, but that's being a little kind to the Catamounts, who were overmatched more or less from the outset. Corsi for the game was actually 37-32 in favor of the lower seed, but its problem was simple: that didn't include another 28 shot attempts taken by Union on its seven power plays which came because it was doing a ton to simply possess the puck and get Vermont to commit stick fouls at every turn. Consider, for instance, the fact that Union entered the first intermission with a 2-1 lead, having scored shorthanded just 4:15 into the game, and then on the power play, but outshot Vermont 19-8. There, too, 10 shots came on the power play, but giving perhaps the best team in the tournament three power plays in the first period seems a poor decision.

“I thought it was pretty crucial,” Union coach Rick Bennett said after the game. “The short-handed [goal] really got us going. I thought we were a bit flat coming out and I thought Matt Hatch using his speed scored a big goal for us.”

To that end, shots in the game ended up being 39-25, and that was because the refs took pity on the Catamounts after two periods and all but put their whistles away for the third, the game at that point being 3-1 and well in hand; put simply, Union was never going to concede three to a team that positively conga-lined into the penalty box all night.

In fact, 12 of Vermont's 25 shots came in the third period, when things were getting desperate, Union was getting complacent, and the game had already gotten out of hand. Lean hard on the throttle all you want, but if you can't do more than recover one goal from the deficit, less than two minutes after conceding on a 4-on-1 to put you in a three-goal hole, then the comeback was never all that convincing. Not really.

The difference in the game was that Vermont brought one great line and one great pairing to Bridgeport, and Union brought three of each. Hatch and Max Novak, on the third line, both had two goals, and linemate Kevin Sullivan rounded out that particular Dungeon of Doom with three assists. Daniel Carr, up on the top line, added two more assists, as he and linemates Mike Vecchione and Daniel Ciampini combined for 14 shots on goal. Defenseman Matt Bodie had a goal and an assist, and while Shayne Gostisbehere went pointless and registered only one shot, he was a force in transition that tortured Vermont all night.

“Tortured” is actually a decent descriptor for the game as a whole, plodding and one-sided as it was. Vermont really only got a contribution out of its top line of Chris McCarthy (two goals against the run of play), Brendan Shaw (two assists), and Mario Puskarich (one assist). They had seven of Vermont's 25 shots by themselves, and defensemen Rob Hamilton and Michael Paliotta combined for seven more. When half your shots are taken up by one group of five guys, who get the lion's share of power play time on any given night, you're just not doing enough to win.

Special teams obviously ruled the day, as the teams combined for 11 power plays. Had Vermont been able to do anything at all on its four man advantages, this might have been a different game, but they went 0-fer and had just five shots on those opportunities. They also allowed that aforementioned shortie (on a gorgeous play by Matt Hatch to smoke Hamilton to the outside then cut across on Brody Hoffman, who was helpless to make the stop). Union, meanwhile, piled up 13 on seven, and added two more while down a man.

“The one disappointment I had tonight, our kids played our hearts out but we just took too many penalties,” Vermont boss Kevin Sneddon acknowledged.

Problem is, Union isn't a team that's going to lose the 5-on-5 game too often either. Including this game, the Dutchmen outscored their opponents 106-55 in just 39 games at even strength. So you have to get them to play special teams, and if you can't capitalize there, you're doomed. Vermont not only didn't capitalize, but in fact got pushed around in those situations as well. That's why Union has won nine in a row, and stretched its unbeaten streak to 14 games.

When you're trying to survive against a top predator, every footfall needs to be perfect. Union was probably always going to do this to Vermont, and unfortunately the latter stumbled right at the outset. After that, it was just a matter of time until it all went black.

Ferris State 1, Colgate 0

The Bulldogs really have CJ Motte to thank for this W. They scored just one goal early in the game — from Gerald Mayhew, and that on the power play — and then allowed a siege for the next 49:59 and hoped like hell CJ Motte could bail them out. He did, and in stopping all 35 shots he faced, proved why he's one of the best netminders in the country.

This was another game played on the margins of normal hockey, with a combined 40 penalty minutes divided evenly between the two teams, but Colgate did itself no favors in going for its comeback by taking a penalty with 58 seconds remaining in the game and the goalie having already been pulled.

Providence 4, Quinnipiac 0

This was brutal. Just brutal. Quinnipiac came in as the best possession team of the last two seasons but were let down by their defense and goaltending when they needed it most.

The shot chart shows Jon Gillies was under pressure all night, but though he saw 36 shots and stopped them all, the number of actual difficult saves he had to make really wasn't particularly large. At the other end of the ice, Michael Garteig stopped just 17 of 21. Providence got goals from four different players (Mark Jankowski, Anthony Florentino, Shane Luke, and Trevor Mingoia, in that order).

Meanwhile, Quinnipiac did itself no favors in racking up 33 PIM on five penalties, with the top line having the majority of them. Connor Jones hogged 14 by himself, in fact, taking a penalty that led to a power play goal, and pulling a 10-minute unsportsmanlike call for complaining on his way out of the box. He was later assessed an offsetting slashing penalty midway through the third. Sam Anas and Kellen Jones likewise got minors for holding and boarding, respectively. The other 15 came when Connor Clifton was ejected for hitting a Friar from behind.

And boy oh boy, the narratives coming out of this one. For Quinnipiac, the loss was their second consecutive NCAA tournament game to end 4-0, thanks to their having lost by the same score to Yale in the national title game last season.

For Providence, coach Nate Leaman goes on to play Union, the program he really helped elevate to the national scene after years toiling in the dankest of basements, for Providence's first trip to the Frozen Four since 1985. Union coach Rick Bennett? He played at Providence in the late 80s.

The Friars have their hands full, but they already knocked off one ECAC possession giant this weekend. What's one more?

North Dakota 5, Wisconsin 2

North Dakota didn't trail in this game for a single second, and clearly won by three, but that belies how close this game actually was. Shots were 33-24, and much of that came in the latter stages of the game, as the victors piled 27 toward Joel Rumpel in the final 40 minutes alone.

But Wisconsin hung around. Michael Parks opened the scoring at 5:06, but Jeff Soleway pulled the Badgers even about six minutes later. Rocco Grimaldi scored the first of his three goals at 6:45 of the second, and things were tight for the next 23 minutes or so, when Tyler Barnes made them tighter still by tying the game. It took a Mark MacMillan point shot, that seemed to hit everything on the ice at least twice on the way into the net, to put North Dakota up for good with just 1:46 left in regulation.

Grimaldi closed out the proceedings with a pair of empty netters, one of which went the length of the ice, and the other saw him use his speed to outstrip two Wisconsin point men. And with that fell the first No. 1 seed of the tournament, rather meekly down the stretch, as it turns out.

Zane Gothberg stopped 22 of 24 to pick up the win, and really couldn't be faulted on either of the goals he allowed. In tournaments like this, goaltenders usually rule the day, and it wasn't that much different here.

Three stars

1. Jon Gillies, Providence

The Calgary draft pick stopped 36 shots from one of the best scoring teams in the country, though as mentioned above he was not quite so tested as one might expect from the numbers alone. He got lucky a few times, but there was never really a doubt that Providence would win once it got up two goals. Such is the power of Gillies to bring terror to opposing shooters when he's on. He was on tonight.

2. Rocco Grimaldi, North Dakota

He had a hat trick, and yes two of the goals were into an empty net, but there wasn't a more dominant skater in any of the four games played today than Grimaldi, who finished with a whopping eight shots on net. A terribly influential performance, in what is becoming a string of them, for a team that needed it.

3. CJ Motte, Ferris State

“Only” 35 saves for Motte from a team that is about equivalent to the Bulldogs. Again, the fact that his team scored early and then successfully battened down the hatches for the next 50 minutes is entirely down to him, but one has to wonder how far that kind of play gets them in tomorrow's regional final against a vastly superior opponent.

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