Saturday, March 28, 2009

Vermont, Miami Heading to D.C.

Two schools who aren't exactly regulars in the Frozen Four punched their tickets to Washington on Saturday night, while another top seed was bounced out of the tournament without even managing to record a victory.

In one of the stranger regional finals in recent memory, Vermont reached their first Frozen Four since 1996 with a pair of replay calls determining the outcome of the East regional final.

The Catamounts appeared to knock the puck in for the game-winner at the end of the first overtime against Air Force, but a sensational stop by a Falcons defenseman kept the game going at 2-2 and the teams headed into the dressing room for a second extra session. In that stanza, Vermont scored a goal halfway through the second overtime to notch the game-winner... except that no one realized it was a goal for almost six minutes of play, until a replay confirmed a puck actually went through the net for the game-winner to sent the Catamounts into a celebration in Bridgeport.

Out in the Western regional final in Minneapolis, Miami of Ohio became just the second fourth seeded squad ever to reach the Frozen Four, beating Minnesota-Duluth in a 2-1 decision to give the school its first-ever trip to the event. The RedHawks, who stunned top-ranked Denver on Friday, frustrated the Bulldogs and made up for a tough overtime loss to Boston College in last year's regional final with the biggest victory in school history and sending a partisan crowd in Minnesota home unhappy.

However, the most shocking result of the day had to come in the opening day of the Midwest regional in Grand Rapids, as the third top seed to lose to a four seed occured when Bemidji State just crushed Notre Dame 5-1. Bemidji State, who plays in the tiny CHA conference with just three other teams, ran the CCHA team out of the tournament, handing the Irish a shocking defeat just as Notre Dame had pulled out in the 2008 West region in Colorado Springs in becoming the first four seed to reach the Frozen Four.

The Beavers advanced to play Cornell Sunday for a ticket to Washington, as the Big Red scored with :18 left in regulation to stun Northeastern right out of the tournament. The Huskies, who were vying for the top ranking in the nation as late as early February, stumbled after falling to Boston University in the Beanpot final and never recovered their early form and put a damper of a storybook season on Huntington Avenue.

Speaking of those Terriers, the nation's top-ranked team was the only top seed to manage to advance to the regional final, rolling to a 6-0 second-period lead over Ohio State before the Buckeyes clawed back to cut the deficit in half. However, any thoughts of a comeback were undone by an unusual strategy to pull the goalie with seven minutes left, which led to a pair of empty netters for BU in a 8-3 final in Manchester.

Boston University will face the host New Hampshire in the Northeast Final Sunday, as the Wildcats rallied to hand North Dakota a crushing loss. The Sioux were in control and leading UNH 5-3 in the third period before the hosts rallied, scoring late and then notching the equalizer with just one second left in regulation. The Wildcats then put UND out of its misery quickly in the extra session, setting up an all-Hockey East final.

The Boston University-New Hampshire winner will move on to play Vermont on Thursday, April 9th in one of the national semifinals at Verizon Center - and that will guarantee one Hockey East team reaches the title game - while Miami will battle either Cornell or Bemidji State in the other.

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