Another day, another come-from-behind victory over a WCHA team. A day after upending the Gophers 3-2 in overtime, Yale proved it is no fluke by spotting North Dakota a 1-0 lead before roaring away to a 4-1 win in the West Region final Saturday in Grand Rapids, Mich. The Bulldogs head to their first Frozen Four, which is in Pittsburgh--the hometown of hero Jesse Root, who scored the winning goals in both games.
Root was the West Region MVP. Others on the all-region team were North Dakota's Danny Kristo (F), Corban Knight (F) and Andrew MacWilliam (D), plus Yale's Gus Young (D) and Niagara's Carsen Chubak (G). Yale did play in the national semifinals in 1952--when the tournament was in its infancy, with two teams picked from the East and two from the West--and lost to Colorado College before beating St. Lawrence in the consolation game. It lost in the regional finals in 2010 and 2011.
Just as it did against the Gophers, Yale used a tenacious forecheck, an aggressive penalty kill and a disciplined game plan against North Dakota. It spent big chunks of time in the NoDak zone, outshooting North Dakota 25-16 in the first two periods. "They did a good job of pressuring all over the ice,'' North Dakota defenseman Dillon Simpson said. "It seemed like every time you looked up, there was a Yale jersey in your face.''
Seems hard to believe that this bunch was shut out in consecutive games coming into the tournament. Those losses--5-0 to No. 13 Union and 3-0 to top-ranked Quinnipiac--and a five-game losing streak in February stuck Yale firmly under the radar. The Gophers didn't play their best Friday, and North Dakota wasn't its sharpest Saturday. But this is a good team: hard-working, well-coached, opportunistic and relentless, with a fabulous forward in Kenny Agostino.
Attendance for Saturday's game was announced as 1,918, a paltry number. There was no atmosphere at all on either day; attendance Friday was said to be 2,289. There were 2,988 at the St. Cloud State-Notre Dame game in Toledo. The Northeast Regional, held 38 miles from the campus of host team New Hampshire, pulled in 8,357. A number of coaches took note of the low attendance, with some suggesting a return to campus sites for regional play would be a good idea. Neutral sites make sense in principle, but the chances of having a lively atmosphere befitting a national championship tournament are much better in campus rinks.
Minnesota State, Mankato went out Saturday, too, losing 4-0 to Miami (Ohio). That leaves St. Cloud State to carry the banner for the WCHA. The Huskies broke open a tight game with three second-period goals in a span of 5:25, with freshman Joey Benik of Andover getting two goals--including the winner--and an assist. The Huskies play Miami (Ohio) Sunday for the regional title, trying to make their first Frozen Four.
Senior captain Ben Hanowski of Little Falls staked the Huskies to a 1-0 lead with the only goal of the first period. Coach Bob Motzko said he urged his team to relax, a message he will repeat Sunday. "Getting the first goal was huge,'' he said. "When we got that goal, we settled in and started to hunker down and play a more complete game. It had been an up-and-down game, with both teams getting good chances. In the second period, our guys were able to put pressure on them.
"This is a great group of guys, with tremendous leadership. We're telling them to not be nervous, to expect the unexpected and to not alter our game plan if something crazy happens. Our league prepared us for this, with a lot of big games.''
Hanowski said he and his teammates were thrilled to give their program an attention-grabbing victory on a big stage. "This program has a lot of history,'' he said. "A lot of people put in the work and sacrifice to get St. Cloud State to Division I and build it up in the WCHA. This is huge for our program. (Sunday's game) is the biggest game in the program's history.''