April 19, 2009

By Bo Rottenborn

A Look Back at Last Week's Highlights

The first semifinal pitted a pair of regional No. 4 seeds - Miami and Bemidji State - against each other. The quickness of the Beavers and the physicality of the RedHawks provided a fascinating matchup, but eventually Miami was able to wear down Bemidji State. MU sophomore Tommy Wingels singlehandedly put his team in control of the game. First, he opened the scoring on a power-play wrist shot from the left circle early in the second period. Less than five minutes later, Wingels made a move in transition around a Bemidji defender, which opened a lane for him to slide a centering pass that freshman Alden Hirschfeld stretched to chip into the net to give Miami a 2-0 advantage. BSU would answer just over a minute later on the power play, when sophomore Matt Read received a pass in front, moved across the crease and tucked the puck into the right side of the net to pull the Beavers to within one. But the RedHawks would conclude a seven-minute scoring barrage a minute later, when senior Bill Loupee gathered the rebound from a shot by freshman Will Weber and slid it into the goal to put Miami up 3-1. That was all the cushion MU would need, and Wingels - who had just eight goals all season prior to the game - applied the icing when he pokechecked the puck away just inside his own blueline, then gathered it and shot into an empty net to provide the final margin in a 4-1 victory and send the RedHawks to the championship game for the first time. Miami outshot the Beavers 37-25 after being even in shots following the first period. RedHawk freshman Cody Reichard made 24 saves and was the game's second star (behind Wingels).

The second semifinal was a display of riveting hockey. It looked initially as though it might turn into a Boston University rout, as the Terriers dominated the first period against Vermont. BU held a 14-7 edge in shots in the first, scored the only two goals in the frame - a precise deflection by sophomore Colin Wilson off a shot by his classmate, Kevin Shattenkirk, and a gorgeous give-and-go between seniors Jason Lawrence and Chris Higgins that ended with a Higgins score - and could have lit the lamp on a few other occasions. But Vermont came out of the intermission a different team and completely reversed the game's momentum. UVM got on the scoreboard at the 3:50 mark on a wrister from the right slot by sophomore Wahsontiio Stacey. Then sophomore Justin Milo pounced on a rebound and fired it in for a power-play goal to tie the game. Just 45 seconds later, sophomore Josh Burrows skated into the BU zone and saw he didn't have teammates with him, leading him to dump the puck on goal in anticipation of getting a line change. But what could have been a harmless shot somehow found its way underneath the arm of BU freshman Kieran Millan and ended up in the net, putting Vermont up 3-2 just before the game's midway point. UVM outplayed the Terriers throughout the period, finishing with a 16-6 advantage in shots, but a late penalty gave BU's vaunted power play an opportunity to stem the tide. Sophomore Nick Bonino made a beautiful move, sliding the puck through a defender's legs to get some space and then feeding Vinny Saponari, who scored from the left side to make it 3-3 shortly before the second intermission. Vermont then went back ahead when freshman Drew MacKenzie took a wrist shot from the point that somehow made its way through traffic and into the net for a power-play marker that gave the Catamounts a 4-3 edge with 10:20 left in regulation. But for the second game in a row, BU got a big third-period goal that was deflected in by an opposing player. Higgins took a pass from Lawrence and skated in on the right side before deciding to slide a pass back to Lawrence - who was making his way toward the far post and would have had an open net. The pass never made it through, but instead hit a diving UVM defender's stick and careened into the goal to tie the score at 4-4 with 6:54 remaining. Just 1:13 later, Higgins took a shot immediately off a faceoff win in the UVM zone and Wilson made his way unimpeded to the front of the net, gathered the rebound and lifted it under the crossbar to put BU up 5-4, which would be the final. The Higgins-Wilson-Lawrence line was the difference in the game, accounting for nine points. Higgins (1-3) and Wilson (2-1) were the game's top two stars and both had plus-3 ratings.

The championship game was exquisite, and the perfect pinnacle for an unforgettable tournament. The teams were evenly matched - they would finish with 32 shots apiece - and the entire game was tight. BU opened the scoring late in the first, when freshman David Warsofsky took a shot and fellow rookie Chris Connolly poked the rebound home. The RedHawks then tied it up early in the second, having a few rebound opportunities stoned by Millan before Gary Steffes was able to pounce on the puck and fire it in to even the score. The game would stay at 1-1 for awhile, allowing the championship-game pressure and tension to build to a crescendo. It was released when Wingels came through with another big goal, breaking the tie with a rebound goal that put Miami ahead with 7:29 remaining in the game. A few minutes later, the RedHawks got an insurance goal off a BU turnover, as freshman Trent Vogelhuber fired the puck in from between the circles to put Miami up 3-1 with 4:08 remaining. Soon the Terriers would pull their goaltender in favor of an extra attacker, and it would pay dividends. With about a minute to go, Reichard squeezed up against the right post and made a point-blank save on Bonino. Miami gained possession of the puck for a moment, but was unable to clear it and instead turned it over. BU junior Zach Cohen gathered the puck and lift a shot toward the near post that snuck under the arm of Reichard and into the net to cut the RedHawk lead to 3-2 with 59 seconds left in regulation. Hobey Baker Award winner Matt Gilroy would then set up the equalizer, taking a pass in front of the goal and then sending the puck to the right circle, where Bonino one-timed it into the goal to tie the score with 17 seconds left. That offensive barrage changed the momentum of the game, as Miami held slight edges in shots in each of the three periods - but it would be BU that would generate most of the opportunities in overtime, outshooting MU 9-4. The game was eventually decided when sophomore Colby Cohen took a slap shot from out front on the left side. The puck ricocheted off a sliding Miami defender, popped up in the air and fluttered over Reichard's shoulder only to nestle itself into the back of the net to give BU its first NCAA title since 1995, and fifth overall. It was just the eighth goal of the season - and first since the Hockey East quarterfinals - for Cohen, who was named the Frozen Four MVP. One of the game's keys was the penalty killing of the Terriers, who did not allow a goal on seven Miami power plays. BU finished the season with a 35-6-4 record, marking the most wins ever for a Terrier team, as well as the most by any Division I squad since 1996-97, when Michigan was 35-4-4.

An Accomplishment or Milestone
Matt Gilroy, Jack Parker and the rest of the Boston University team combined for a rare feat of claiming three of the most-prized trophies in college hockey this season. Gilroy, the senior defenseman who began his career as a walk-on, became the second BU player (and first since Chris Drury in 1998) to win the Hobey Baker Award, while Parker was honored with the Spencer Penrose Award as the national coach of the year - and both helped the Terriers win the NCAA championship. It marks just the second time that one school has collected the Hobey Baker, Spencer Penrose and NCAA Championship trophies in the same season. North Dakota pulled it off in 1986-87, when center Tony Hrkac claimed the Hobey Baker, John "Gino" Gasparini won the Penrose and the Fighting Sioux won the national title. Gilroy also joined a select group of just five players - along with Hrkac, Lane MacDonald of Harvard (1988-89), Paul Kariya from Maine (1992-93), Minnesota's Jordan Leopold (2001-02) - to win the Hobey Baker Award and an NCAA championship in the same season. Parker, meanwhile, also set the NCAA record for most victories in NCAA tournament play, earning his 30th in the title game to better the mark of Boston College's Jerry York.

Statistics Worth Noting
Freshman goaltender Cody Reichard led Miami all the way to the championship game of the NCAA tournament - and within seconds of a national title. For the tournament, he was 3-1 and ranked third among goaltenders in goals-against average (1.91) and fourth in save percentage (.921). A closer look, though, shows that Reichard was even more effective during the normal flow of the game. Four of the eight goals he surrendered during the tournament came when the opposing team had pulled its goaltender in favor of an extra attacker. If you take out the time that the opposition had an empty net, Reichard had a 0.99 goals-against average and .955 save percentage. Plus, he didn't give up an even-strength goal until the championship game - and the game-winner in overtime could hardly have been considered to be his fault. Reichard's excellence was somewhat surprising, considering he was part of a timeshare in goal throughout the season and had not played back-to-back games at all as a collegian prior to the NCAA tournament. Overall, he was 10-8-2 in his rookie campaign, with a 2.11 GAA and .914 save percentage.

Spotlight on Former College Players in the NHL
Buffalo left wing Thomas Vanek (Minnesota, 2002-04) continued to be a potent offensive threat in the National Hockey League this season. Vanek scored 40 goals during the 2008-09 campaign, which was tied for the fifth-highest total of any player. He also finished tied for fifth in goals in 2006-07, with 43, making him one of just six NHL players to have registered multiple 40-goal seasons over the last three years. A 2009 all-star, Vanek also had 24 assists for a total of 64 points this season, and he led the NHL in power-play goals with a career-high of 20 (after finishing second in 2007-08 with 19). Over his four-year NHL career, Vanek has 144 goals and 116 assists (260 points), as well as a plus-30 rating and 65 power-play goals in 318 games. In 2006-07, he led the NHL in plus-minus, at plus-47 - a mark that hasn't been matched by any NHL player since 2002-03. He also helped the Sabres to back-to-back appeances in the Eastern Conference Finals, in 2006 and '07. The fifth overall pick in the 2003 draft, Vanek played two seasons at Minnesota and accumulated 57 goals and 56 assists (113 points), as well as 132 penalty minutes in 83 games. As a freshman, Vanek - the first rookie to lead the Gophers in scoring (31-31-62) since 1969-70 - helped Minnesota win the national championship and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA tournament, while leading all players in scoring (5-3-8).