NCAA Hockey: Harvard, Minnesota Duluth headed for Frozen Four

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

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Cornell got the game it wanted. It wholly failed to get the result.

When the Big Red succeeded this season, it did so with physicality as a means to an end. It would use its prodigious size to lean on teams, wear them down, and score goals.

But it rarely played a team like UMass Lowell this season.

Lowell is content to play the game along the perimeter (you won’t get good chances out there) but that’s not the aim. The aim is explosive offense through the neutral zone and setting up zone time. The zone time wasn’t always there, but the goals were.

Shots in the game were just 21-19, and there were only 67 attempts in the full 60 minutes, and the game took nearly three hours to play. That’s what Cornell must have wanted, but the River Hawks played through the pain and eased their way to a 5-0 win.

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“They’re big and we wanted to keep moving. Move the puck, move our feet,” said Lowell freshman Ryan Lohin, who finished the game with a pair of goals. “We were able to do that throughout the game. We created some chances off the forecheck and off turnovers.”

Perhaps as one might have expected in a game with these two teams, there wasn’t a lot of offensive action to be found. Cornell is known for playing lockdown defense, and Lowell’s potent offense didn’t get much to the inside as a result. Meanwhile, Lowell is known for limiting quality chances to begin with, and Cornell is the lowest-scoring team in the tournament. Scoring chances at 5-on-5 in the first period: just 4-3 to Lowell.

One of them made a difference, though. Ryan Dmowski’s goal at 6:34 of the first period, off a strong forecheck and nice centering pass from behind the net by Ryan Collins, was the only truly grade-A chance either team generated. Dmowski has a bit more finish than this season’s 8-1-9 stat line in 33 games would indicate, and he’s not going to miss a wide open shot between the hashmarks.

“We saw several things in the pre-scout,” Bazin said. “There were several things we were going to have to alleviate, and one of those was that they have some set breakouts and they have outstanding timing associated with those. We knew on the forecheck that we would need to have the ability to break some of that and we were lucky enough to cause a turnover and create that goal.”

There was a little controversy, though, because Cornell appeared to score a goal just 54 seconds into the game on some grade-As of their own. But after a lengthy goal review (officials added 17 minutes to the game’s runtime with reviews of various incidents, and disallowed not one but two goals), it was determined the puck had been played with a high stick before Mitch Vanderlaan banged it home, so none of it counted in the end.

“First off, I kind of expected it to be taken off the board,” said Jake Weidner, who had the initial shot before the rebound. “I had a pretty good view of it and (linemate Eric Freschi) touched it with a high stick.”

Cornell seemed content to throw the body around when the game was still close, another hallmark of their game, while not actually accomplishing anything offensively with all that physicality, another another hallmark of their game. At least when they play high-level teams.

That is, actually, the kind of approach that tends to work against Lowell. Get in there and land a few kidney shots, and they might crumple. But unlike, say UConn or Providence College, both of which have some skill to go with their tough physical games, there’s not a whole lot of firepower in that Big Red lineup. No one on this team has more than 15 goals or 28 points. Lowell has five players who would be the leading scorers on Cornell, and two of them are defensemen.

Was that the difference? Not really. Lowell’s biggest collective strength is that there’s not a huge gap in quality between its second and fourth line, and its second line is a pretty good trio by NCAA second-line standards.

Lowell got goals from all four of its lines, and 11 of its 18 skaters had at least a point. So when you can just send group after group of better players over the boards, there’s an erosive effect. At some point most teams just succumb. Cornell, with its relatively small number of offensive contributors, was sunk as soon as it went to 2-0 early in the second.

“They’re a good team,” Weidner said. “They were getting above us and forcing us to dump pucks. They play high-pressure in the D zone and when we were able to get pucks in and move around, we had some chances. But both ways, it was hard to get momentum and generate chances. They were at a premium.”

Predictably, Lowell started to pull away in the second period, scoring a pair of goals and really making the contest resemble more of a classic Lowell game. While Cornell never conceded a lot of zone time and did a better job slowing things down in the neutral zone than most Lowell opponents, it certainly didn’t create much sustained offense for itself except on the sporadic power play.

In the third, it was Lowell that threw the game into shutdown mode. But even with Cornell theoretically desperate to score, generating 15 of its 36 attempts at full strength in the final 20 minutes, almost everything was to the outside. Only two of those 15 attempts were from high-percentage areas.

Then Lowell drew a major for interference from Cornell’s Patrick McCarron on a hit that, if it were any later, it would have happened as you read this. Lowell scored two more goals on that five-minute power play to turn the beating into a blowout. Though, for Cornell, a two-goal deficit against a team like this was academic.

New York Rangers prospect Tyler Wall stopped all 19 shots he faced, though few were of high quality, to pick up just his second shutout of the season. He’s now .928 in his last 12 games.

“He had what I’d characterize as a solid performance today,” said Bazin. “I’d have to look back at the film to see just how many times he was really tested. At the same time, you’re talking about a young goalie getting a shutout in a crucial game. It’s very important. It’s going to help his confidence.”

Now, to Schaefer’s point about the potential for a momentum swing, maybe that’s true. Maybe putting Lowell on its heels helps them grind things out. But Lowell was 6-5-1 when conceding first this year, so also: Maybe Not. Certainly it’s better to score first than not, but when your gameplan is, “We have to keep one of the best offenses in the country quiet,” that’s a foundational disadvantage from which to operate.

Cornell didn’t come in with a bad game plan, but it came in with personnel clearly inadequate to get anywhere with that plan against an opponent this good.

“They’re exactly what you want in a hockey team,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer. “They can stay above you, they’re good defensively. But they get the puck away from you and they can go the other way. They are a selfless group of players and they play very, very well as a team.

“We couldn’t get anything going, but give credit to the other hockey team. They did exactly to us what they’ve done to other teams.”

It happens.

Denver 5, Michigan Tech 2

You could have set your watch to this one. Denver has been the best team in the country for a pretty good chunk of the season and arguably had a reason to come out of the corner throwing haymakers after losing in the NCHC semifinals.

Michigan Tech, meanwhile, is a good team in a far worse conference, and really didn’t face a test of this magnitude all season. That the Pioneers scored four first-period goals on a 17-5 shot advantage is, one supposes, not much of a surprise.

Nor was the final shot count being 34-18.

In fact, Denver actually built its lead to 5-0 before conceding twice in just under six minutes near the end of the second period. But that little life was all the Huskies could muster. Colin Staub scored twice for the Pioneers, and both Liam Finlay and Michael Davies added a pair of assists. Tanner Jaillett stoped 16 of 18 in the win.

Notre Dame 3, Minnesota 2

Minnesota scored just over two minutes into the game, and for a while it felt like the rout was on.

Then they went up 2-0 just 30 seconds into the second period, and the level of control they asserted was near-total. But it was that second goal that seemed to give Notre Dame life.

The Fighting Irish turned the game around, drew some penalties, and were able to cut the lead late in the second through goals just 54 seconds apart. The first came on a gorgeous breakout pass from… goalie Cal Petersen(!?) to Andrew Ogelvie. Anders Bjork, Notre Dame’s best skater by a mile both in this game and all season, pulled his club even shortly thereafter.

Then, with a power play midway through the third, Bjork struck again. Notre Dame held on for dear life after that, getting out-attempted 11-2 over the next 11 minutes or so. It wasn’t ideal, but it sure worked.

Petersen, in addition to the wonderful, 120-foot assist, made 31 saves to pick up the win.

Here’s the potentially bad news: Notre Dame advances to play Lowell on Sunday. They’re 2-9-2 against the River Hawks in the last four years.

Penn State 10, Union 3

The scoreline really says it all: Union was a mess, and Penn State capitalized on every mistake.

Seven Nittany Lions had two points or more. Four of them had three. Union gave up 10 goals on 33 shots. It’s tough to know what else to say here.

Interestingly, Penn State went up 1-0, 2-1, 3-2, and 4-3 before finally pulling away, but in the second half of the game they flat-out ran the show.

Now, Penn State’s game is best described as “designed to get that guy who yells ‘shoooooooot’ on every half-decent look to shut up for five damn seconds,” so it’s no surprise that they poured it on against even a solid team like Union, but 10 is the most goals scored in a single NCAA tournament game since 1990.

Everything went exactly right for Penn State in attack. Sad but true for Union.

Minnesota Duluth 3, BU 2 (OT)

Tough for BU to say it didn’t get in a good game here, but the season was going to end in disappointment unless it ended with a national title.

Instead it ended two weeks before the Frozen Four, against one of the two or three best teams in the country. Tough draw, sure, but that’s why you play the rest of the season too.

BU went up early on a Clayton Keller goal, scoring the opening goal for the first time in several weeks, but Duluth went to work soon thereafter. They evened the game late in the first, then the two teams wrestled to a draw in the second period.

With a little more than eight minutes left in the third, the Bulldogs pulled ahead again through Joey Anderson. But a little more than five minutes later, Patrick Harper scored to force overtime.

Then, just 1:57 in, Adam Johnson scored on a power play (perhaps not the best time to take a penalty?) to send Duluth to Chicago for the Frozen Four in two weeks’ time.

Jake Oettinger stood on his head for most of the game, but in the end conceded three on 23. At the other end of the ice, Hunter Miska stopped 22 of 24.

Harvard 3, Air Force 2

This one was coming down the tracks since Air Force won the late game on Friday. Harvard asserted its dominance pretty early and remained in the driver’s seat throughout.

The Crimson’s first goal, from Viktor Dombrovskiy, ping-ponged in on a shot from fairly high up in the zone, hitting two or three bodies on the way through and beating Shane Starrett (27 saves). That was just about the end of it.

The problem was that from the outset, this game was a lot like Harvard’s win on Friday: The opponent never really seemed like it had much of a chance. The game was close, but not, like, close-close. A 3-0 lead might as well have been 20-0.

Air Force got two back in quick succession late in the second, scoring on a delayed call and then the ensuing penalty. But being down three goals against this particular Harvard team is a death sentence.

The Crimson, like Duluth, are going to the Frozen Four.

Three Stars

1 – Ryan Donato, Harvard

Maybe the best goal I’ve seen all year. It happened right in front of me and it was one of those “Oh he’s gonna…. oh did!” moments you get in sports sometimes. Totally transcendent.

Donato could have done nothing else in this game — though he also had seven shots on goal — and he would still be the No. 1 star OF MY HEART, FOLKS!!!!!

2 – Anders Bjork, Notre Dame

The Bruins prospect scored the last two goals of the game to push his team to a big upset win over the No. 4 seed Golden Gophers, and more generally he was a force for the entire game. When he’s on, it’s tough for anyone to contain his speed and creativity, and he ran wild in the second half of the game.

3 – Ryan Lohin, UMass Lowell

Lohin had Lowell’s all-important second goal to effectively put the game away, and played a strong shutdown role as well.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.