This past weekend was not kind to the nation’s best. The top four teams in the USCHO.com D-1 men’s poll all suffered losses, and among those a 21-game unbeaten streak was snapped. Quinnipiac, Minnesota, Miami, and Boston College are the hunted at the top of the NCAA’s food chain, but sometimes the hunters catch up to them.
The No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the NCAA fell on the same ice this Sunday as a part of the four-team Hockey City Classic at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill. No. 3 Miami took on CCHA rival No. 11 Notre Dame in the first of the two-game set with No. 2 Minnesota and No. 18 Wisconsin starring in the encore performance. Interestingly, these same teams met the night before and the winners of the Hockey City Classic games were losers in the previous matchups.
The first game did not disappoint the hockey-crazed crowd braving it in the frigid weather to watch some outdoor shinny. With the NHL Winter Classic being cancelled this season the college games being played outdoors have been increasingly magnified. The ice was not ideal to say the least and the afternoon sun created some wet spots causing sloppy play throughout the game. Mario Lucia (MIN 60th overall ’11) and Jeff Costello (OTT 146th overall ’09) scored for the Irish as goalie Steven Summerhays stopped 22 shots carrying a shutout bid well into the third period before Kevin Morris cut the Irish lead to one. Notre Dame held on and skated to victory for just the second time in its last 15 meetings against Miami. More importantly, the win pulled the Irish within three points of first-place Miami in the CCHA standings.
However, the points gained only negated what Miami earned on Friday night at Steve Cady Arena where they handled the Irish, 3-1. Freshman sensation Ryan McKay turned aside 20 shots while Steven Spinell, Blake Coleman (NJD 75th overall ’11), and Marc Hagel each tallied a goal for the RedHawks. Steven Fogarty (NYR 72nd overall ’11) scored the lone goal for the Irish. The Friday night victory for Miami also clinched a first-round bye in the CCHA playoffs so they will have some extra time to rest and prepare for the second round best-of-three series.
The second game of the set pitted two current WCHA rivals and future Big Ten Hockey Conference rivals beginning next season. Minnesota and Wisconsin carried the physical attitude over from Friday’s game into the City Classic and provided a second helping of great outdoor puck for 52,051 fans in the nightcap. The game was even early on as both teams adjusted to the choppy ice conditions and playing in frigid temperatures.
The Badgers were the first to prevail, proving the old saying true, “get the puck to the net.” Wisconsin scored three goals in a span of 3:19 in the second period, which proved to be insurmountable for the Golden Gophers. The Badgers were getting tremendous sustained pressure and forced the tired Minnesota players to stay on the ice. Whenever tired legs stay on the ice too long, a goal is soon to follow.
Kevin Schulze threw the puck on net from the point and somehow it squeaked through the pads of Adam Wilcox (TBL 178th overall ’11) giving Wisconsin a 1-0 lead. John Ramage (CGY 103rd overall ’10) followed a minute later with another shot from the point, this time coming from the right defense spot. The puck caromed off a Minnesota defender and past Wilcox, quickly confusing the freshman goaltender. Before he could come out of his daze Wilcox was under siege again from the buzzing Badgers. Junior Sean Little crashed hard following another long shot from the point and was rewarded with a juicy rebound which he put to the back of the net for his second of the year stretching the lead to 3-0. Seth Ambroz (CBJ 128th overall ’11) scored early in the third to give the Gophers momentary hope, but the dominance by goalie Joel Rumpel and the Badgers defensive core held the potent Minnesota offense off the board until Zach Budish (NSH 41st ’09) scored late in the third to put the slightest bit of tension into the mind of Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves.
The Hockey City Classic was the first outdoor game Minnesota has been a part of which seems hard to believe considering the pond hockey influence in that state. Wisconsin has had more experience in meaningful outdoor games and holds an impressive 3-0 record in those meetings. The Badgers took care of Ohio State in 2006 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay and Michigan at home in 2010 at Camp Randall Stadium. Coincidentally, both those years Wisconsin ended up playing for a national championship.
On Friday night, Wisconsin hosted Minnesota at the Kohl Center, but it was the Gophers who spoiled the party with their powerplay. Nic Kerdiles (ANA 36th overall ’12) scored first for Wisconsin but then Minnesota unleashed its lethal powerplay scoring three unanswered goals with a man-advantage. Sam Warning, Nick Bjugstad (FLA 19th overall ’10), and Ambroz scored the special teams markers with Ambroz’s tally cementing the game-winner. Tyler Barnes scored for the Badgers with a minute left including an extra attacker on the ice but one was all Wisconsin would get that night.
The last time the No. 1 Quinnipiac Bobcats lost a game was November 6th and then the St. Lawrence Saints came to town. Quinnipiac had yet to lose a conference game before Friday night’s upset. The Saints came into the weekend hot and finished on fire sweeping Quinnipiac and Princeton on the road. St. Lawrence is tied with No. 20 Union for third place in the ECAC after a recent surge in which they are unbeaten in nine of their last ten games.
Greg Carey scored both goals for the Saints including the game-winner with 2:30 remaining in the third period to propel the Saints to a 2-1 victory. The Bobcats had their chances in a late flurry but couldn’t get past St. Lawrence netminder Matt Weninger and the winning streak came to a halt. The junior goalie made 31 total saves, including 17 in the third period alone. Jordan Samuels-Thomas (ATL 203rd overall ’09) added his ninth of the year for the Bobcats in the defeat.
The Bobcats still had a victorious night thanks to Union defeating No. 13 Yale helping Quinnipiac clinch the Cleary Cup as the ECAC regular-season title for the first time in program history. The next night Eric Hartzell stole the show stopping 28 of Clarkson’s 29 shots in a 2-1 win. Bryce Van Brabant scored his fourth of the season to open the scoring for the Bobcats and Connor Jones scored the eventual game-winner. Allan McPherson scored his ninth of the season for Clarkson in the loss.
Once the game ended the Bobcats were awarded the trophy for clinching the Cleary Cup the night before. No one on the team touched the trophy as superstition and also in acknowledgement that the Cleary Cup trophy isn’t the one they are after. The nation’s number one team takes on Yale and Brown this upcoming weekend in a back-to-back home stand against ECAC rivals.
Who is leading the Hockey East standings? Is it the defending national champion and four-time consecutive Beanpot title winning No. 4 Boston College? No. What about No. 5 New Hampshire? Not the Wildcats. Is it legendary coach Jack Parker and his Terriers of No. 15 Boston University? Guess again.
Say hello to the Hockey East leading, Merrimack Warriors. Merrimack is ranked No. 17 in the USCHO.com Poll this week after taking down BC in overtime and tying Providence. Connor Toomey buried on the powerplay with just 34 seconds left in overtime vaulting the Warriors into first place in the powerful northeastern conference. Quinn Smith opened the scoring for BC jamming home a garbage goal in the slot. John Heffernan answered in the third to knot the game at one apiece. Toomey would provide the heroics in overtime on the Warrior’s ninth powerplay of the game.
On Sunday night Merrimack went on the road to Providence to take on Jon Gillies (CGY 75th overall ’12) and the Friars. Shane Luke scored a minute into the game and Providence took a 1-0 lead into the break. Vinny Scotti scored both goals for the Warriors, including a shorthanded tally with less than five minutes to play to tie the game. Derek Army scored the Friars second goal and Gillies stopped 26 saves. Providence is a solid Hockey East squad with tremendous goaltending. They are fifth in the conference behind the four ranked teams previously mentioned. The Friars are receiving votes in the poll and could be ranked if they sweep Northeastern this weekend. Merrimack hosts Boston College again on Sunday and then travels to BU on Tuesday. It’s safe to say the Hockey East is still very much up for grabs.