West Regional Preview | Minneapolis
got a No. 1 seed playing at home, sleeping in their own beds,
dressing in their own locker stalls, and skating to the accompaniment
of 9,000-plus home fans. They’ve won two out of the last
three NCAA titles. So pencil these two Gopher wins under the “mere
formality” category, and have MapQuest draw you the quickest
route between Minneapolis and Columbus, right?
so fast there Goldy!
The 2005 West
Regional is the one that any of the four teams could clearly win,
with the Gophers (although beat up and on a losing streak) playing
at home, the Big Red playing with a gigantic chip on their collective
shoulders (and playing defense as well as anyone in the nation),
the Buckeyes playing for a chance to win the Frozen Four on their
home rink, and the Black Bears playing to exorcise the ghosts
of 2002 (and 2004 for that matter).
all goes according to some computer’s projections, Minnesota
should be giving home fans a stick salute on Sunday afternoon.
Of course, that same computer had the Gophers facing North Dakota
in the opening game of the 2004 Frozen Four.
lamenting the current state of higher education in Minnesota have
noted that the U of M’s renowned medical school now has
the highest tuition rates of any public med school in the nation.
The silver lining to that dark cloud, for med students in Minneapolis
anyway, is that these days you’ll probably get to know members
of the Gopher hockey team really well based on their frequent
visits to the sick bay.
chances of reaching the Frozen Four for the third time in four
years may have more to do with a health report than a scouting
report. The Gophers head into their game with Maine having lost
two in a row and with myriad questions circulating about key players’
physical (and emotional) well-being.
rookie defensemen Alex Goligoski and Nate Hagemo have both missed
significant time, and Goligoski is still a question mark for this
weekend after being checked hand-first into the Xcel Energy Center
boards in last Friday’s loss to Colorado College. Goaltender
Kellen Briggs, who was outstanding in the first half of the season,
struggled in January and February before missing a few weeks with
a broken hand. And leading scorer Tyler Hirsch is skating with
the team again after a much-publicized and still unexplained on-ice
display last week and his subsequent absence from the team. As
of late Thursday, U of M officials were still in the process of
deciding whether or not Hirsch would be cleared to play this weekend.
In other words,
Saturday may mark the first time in college hockey history that
the Minnesota line charts passed out to media before the game
are written in pencil.
the temptations of downtown Minneapolis loom just a five-minute
cab ride from the rink, we’re proponents of on-campus
food and fun. To that end, INCH gives its official eating
endorsements to Village Wok (foreign) and Campus Pizza (domestic)
– both of which are on the south side of Washington
Avenue, two blocks from Mariucci.
of that hockey makes you thirsty, about halfway between
the two eateries is Sally’s (look for the proactively-drawn
female gopher on the sign – a mildly disturbing turn-on,
along the lines of Jessica Rabbit). Inside you’ll
find multiple beers on tap, two bars, food and plenty of
TVs for those wanting to keep track of all of the action
going on in Amherst, Grand Rapids and Woooooster. (Hey,
easily-offended East Coast types, we’ll give you three
tries to pronounce Wayzata correctly.)
of Cornell fans who are traveling more than 1,000 miles to watch
their team play this weekend have got to be wondering what it
takes to earn a No. 1 seed these days. After winning the ECACHL
regular season and playoff crowns, the Big Red head to Minnesota
on a 17-0-1 streak and have lost just four games all season. By
contrast, top-seeded Minnesota lost five home games just in the
month of January.
Mike Schafer, while quietly grumbling about his team having to
play so far from home despite its superlative regular season,
brings one of the more sizable squads in college hockey to Mariucci.
And if opponents can find their way through that red forest with
the puck, they get the privilege of facing goaltender David McKee
(he of the 10 shutouts this season).
A Gopher fan
we know has openly questioned INCH having Cornell at the top of
the Power Rankings for several weeks in the latter half of the
season. What happens this weekend should determine whether the
grumbling is legit, or these “web guys” know a thing
or two about the game.
don’t care for this magical sport with the ice, sticks and
puck pass it off by saying that there’s no need to get excited
about the playoffs, because the team with the hot goalie usually
wins. If you’re a fan of the Maine Black Bears, that’s
precisely the reason you get excited about the playoffs.
After a mediocre
first half of the season Maine’s Jimmy Howard is playing
like the old #33 that opponents of the team that wears two shades
of blue have come to fear. Even in last weekend’s losing
effort to Boston College at the FleetCenter, Howard made the difference
as his 36 saves (16 of them in overtime) enabled Tim Whitehead’s
crew to strike fear in the hearts of the Eagles. Howard has posted
three shutouts since New Years’ and would certainly love
to give the Gophers a whitewash as a lovely parting gift.
hockey-playing Big Ten schools get a game at Mariucci Arena at
least every other year during the College Hockey Showcase (and
every year in the case of Wisconsin), the Ohio State players will
be pardoned if they seem a little new to the idea of visiting
Minneapolis. When the Showcase was started more than a decade
ago, the Buckeyes weren’t included in the annual gathering
of the Big Ten’s hockey schools, and may have a reason to
prove that they belong among the elite.
will be quick to point out that their team has been to a Frozen
Four more recently that Wisconsin (Ohio State made its lone appearance
in 1998, while the Badgers were last there in 1992). They’ll
also note that the last time Brutus and company visited the House
That Woog Built was in December 1998, when the Buckeyes beat Minnesota
6-5 in the Mariucci Classic.
be laying that one-game Mariucci winning streak on the line Saturday
eyes will certainly be focused on Hirsch if he comes out wearing
that white #23 sweater on Saturday, the kid that wears #31 for
Cornell should be the real center of attention. McKee (the only
Hobey finalist playing in Minneapolis this weekend) has put up
ridiculously good numbers this season (1.20 GAA, .947 save percentage
and .833 win percentage) but has yet to prove to some that he’s
for real. The “glass is half empty” crowd notes that
the Big Red are so big and so gifted defensively that nothing
much gets through to the goalie anyway.
the rink at Mariucci Arena is 15 feet wider than those talented
and sizeable Cornell defensemen are used to, which should mean
a few extra shots finding their way to McKee. If he falters, the
naysayers sneer and say “told you so.” If McKee does
what Big Red fans have seen him do all season, and if Brett Sterling
and Marty Sertich split votes, fans at Mariucci may be watching
the third goalie to win a Hobey this weekend.
Easter Sunday is a quiet afternoon spent with family. Jimmy Howard
has the opportunity to make it just that. Several of the Maine
parents are making the long trip west (or southeast, in the case
of Maine defenseman Steve Mullin’s parents, who are driving
500 miles from Cartwright, Manitoba). And if the Black Bears can
eliminate Minnesota on Saturday, it will likely be nice and quiet
inside the home of the Gophers on Sunday. If Minnesota repeats
their feat of 2002 and beats Maine in the Twin Cities, there will
still be plenty of family members at the rink on Sunday. It’ll
just be a lot less quiet.