Midwest Regional Preview | Grand Rapids, Mich.
Saturday, March 27
No. 1 Minnesota vs. No. 4 Notre Dame
EST: No. 2 Minnesota Duluth vs. No. 3 Michigan State
1 p.m. EST:
weekend, after Minnesota lost at home against Denver, the Gophers
coach declared his team effectively out of the WCHA title hunt
at 1-3-0 in league play. And at the time, Don Lucia didn’t
seem to have a care in the world, and remained calm for weeks
later as his team started 2-7-1. Just a few weeks ago, the Gophers
were in a must-win series versus St. Cloud State, needing to beat
the Huskies twice to secure home ice in the WCHA playoffs. They
did, and have emerged from conference play as one of the hottest
teams in the nation.
how often Lucia thinks of his time at Colorado College and the
lessons he learned at the foot of the Rockies. In six seasons
there, his teams won the WCHA title three times, and advanced
to the Frozen Four twice, but didn’t win a NCAA title. In
his first four seasons at Minnesota, Lucia’s teams haven’t
won a WCHA title (they finished a non-threatening fifth this season),
but have brought the NCAA crown back to Minneapolis twice.
As four teams
gather at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, looking for a route
to Boston, here we go again. The Gophers, who were left for dead
a month ago when they were swept at Denver, have won six in a
row and save for one missing forward (Garrett Smaagaard) are healthy.
Thomas Vanek, who clearly can turn his game on and off at will,
is posted at the top of the oppnents’ crease daring others
to try and move him.
And if anyone
thinks the Gophers might lack confidence, freshman goalie Kellen
Briggs told the media at the WCHA Final Five that he realizes
he doesn’t have to play his best and the team can win anyway.
State's Mike Lalonde
teams that were left for dead, the Michigan State Spartans see
a ray of light 70 miles to the west, as they head for the west
shore of the Grand River. Their one-and-done performance in the
CCHA Super Six make it easy to forget that the Spartans finished
just two points back in the race for the league title, and that
they’ll have a good-sized contingent of fans rooting for
them in Grand Rapids.
it’s ridiculous to think that an underrated and perhaps
underachieving team from the state of Michigan could parlay home
ice at the NCAA regional into a trip to the Frozen Four, right?
Anyone who believes that has apparently been in a coma since March
And if the
close-to-home ice advantage wasn’t enough, the Spartans
have drawn Minnesota Duluth in the opener. Michigan State has
beaten the Bulldogs once already this season (5-4 in October at
Munn) and should have a serious shot at advancing to the regional
final when one looks at Minnesota Duluth’s growing injured
opponents want to shut down Potulny, they’ve now gut twice
as much work on their hands. Brothers Grant (a senior) and Ryan
(a freshman) Potulny played together for the season’s first
eight games, before the younger Potulny was seemingly lost for
the season with a knee injury that required surgery. By March,
Ryan was ready to go again, and gave up a medical redshirt in
favor of getting to play with his brother for anywhere from a
week to a month.
In his first
five games back in the Gopher lineup, Ryan has six goals, and
his older brother admits that the pressure to uphold the family
name has even snapped Grant out of a funk. We’re into one-and-done
territory now, and the siblings know that every game they play
together could be the last. The thinking here is that they want
this family reunion to run into April.
folks in Grand Rapids have made it easy for hockey fans, locating
the arena and the entertainment district in close proximity
to one another. To that end, in the heart of downtown Grand
Rapids is The
B.O.B. Under the roof of that Big Old Building (B.O.B.,
get it?) is a collection of bars and restaurants that had
hockey fans raving in 2001 when the NCAA regional last visited
these parts. Heck, the B.O.B.’s comedy club even has
once-popular comedian Emo Phillips on the docket Friday and
Saturday. Bulldog fans, go see Emo wearing your old Darin
Illikainen jersey and it’ll feel like 1986 all over
period of Notre Dame’s Feb. 28 contest against Michigan
at the Joyce Center was arguably the season’s defining moment.
The Fighting Irish trailed 2-1 as Michigan, attempting to give
backup goaltender Noah Ruden goal support, threw everything it
had in Notre Dame’s direction. Three straight Wolverine
power plays only added fuel to the fire.
Irish killed the first penalty, then the second and then the third.
On two of those power plays, Notre Dame’s top PK unit was
on the ice for the entire two minutes. They scrambled, dove, bodied
and poked their way through the kill. The Wolverines didn’t
score. Less than two minutes after the last of the three power
plays ended, Neil Komadoski and Matt Amado scored to give the
Irish a 3-2 lead in a game the home team would win 5-2.
Notre Dame’s penalty kill so amazing (the Irish are the
CCHA’s best in that category) is that it often features
four freshmen – Dave Poulin’s top three forwards in
that situation are rookies Michael Bartlett, T.J. Jindra and Jason
Paige and lanky blueliner Wes O’Neill joins veterans Komadoski,
Tom Galvin and Brett Lebda in front of rebound-swallowing newcomer
David Brown in goal.
proven they can frustrate a high-octane power play like Minnesota’s.
The Wolverines can certainly provide a testimonial.
honor goes to the Fighting Irish, who are making the school’s
first-ever NCAA appearance after being saddled with the “underachiever”
label for years. And while this year marks Notre Dame's postseason
debut, they've got all the trappings of a team that can make a
scene in the tournament – two goaltenders (David Brown and
Morgan Cey) capable of stealing games on their own; a solid defensive
corps led by veterans Brett Lebda, Tom Galvin and Neil Komadoski;
an offensive stud in senior Rob Globke; and the CCHA's best penalty-killing
unit. Even if they're NCAA Tournament newbies, we're pretty sure
Dave Poulin can tell his troops a thing or two about playoff hockey.
Duluth forward Evan Schwabe kicked it into high gear last weekend
at the WCHA Final Five. He scored a pair of goals in the first
period of the Bulldogs’ first game (which included a jock-separation
move on Minnesota goalie Kellen Briggs that had media and opposing
players raving) and added another goal and an assist as UMD took
third in St. Paul. With Bulldog superstar Junior Lessard likely
to miss the regional with a knee injury, much of the scoring responsibilities
and the expectations of Bulldogs’ fans rests squarely on
the shoulders of this junior center. Schwabe scored 17 goals in
Lessard’s shadow. If he can perform well in the spotlight,
all may not be lost for the Duluthians.
If the top
two seeds advance, one would hope the sixth time’s a charm
for somebody. Minnesota Duluth made history this season by winning
its first four meetings with arch-rival Minnesota, giving the
Bulldogs four wins over the Gophers in one season for the first
time ever. Minnesota gained a measure of revenge last weekend
in St. Paul, coming from two goals down to beat the Bulldogs in
the Final Five semifinals. Fans all across the State of Hockey
are surely of the opinion that a sixth meeting between the schools
(with the winner moving on to Boston) is in order.
reporting by Mike Eidelbes.