Michigan Tech didn’t have to wait long to find out if they were going to get an invitation to the NCAA Division I Ice Hockey Tournament. After losing in the semi-finals of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs, the Huskies’ fate was out of their hands (paws?) and the results of the other conference playoffs would dictate not only if the Huskies would make the tournament, but who they might play and where.
There were several scenarios that would have caused that to be an agonizing wait, lasting through all of last Friday and Saturday night conference playoff schedules. However, in one of the very first results Friday night, in the East Coast Athletic Conference playoffs, Quinnipiac defeated Colgate and that was enough to ensure that MTU would be going to the Big Skate.
Now the question was who would they play and where.
Craziness in the Conference Finals
There was quite a bit of excitement in most of the conference finals. In Hockey East, defending national champion UMass outlasted Connecticut in overtime for a 2-1 win. Similarly, the ECAC final also went to overtime, with Harvard nipping regular season champion Quinnipiac 3-2. Michigan jumped to a 4-1 lead over B1G regular season champ Minnesota, as the Golden Gophers stormed back late in the third with two goals in the final minute but fell short of setting up yet another overtime opportunity. There was no drama, though, in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs as American International demolished Air Force 7-0.
But the wildest, absolutely most bizarre game came in the CCHA between Minnesota State and Bemidji State. Like the ECAC and Hockey East finals, the teams were tied at the end of regulation, as each team could only muster one goal in 60 minutes of play. Less than four minutes into overtime, the Mavericks scored. The teams shook hands, the league trophy and all-tournament awards were handed out on the ice, and the teams headed for the locker rooms.
However, out of sight from everyone, a video review of the final goal was underway. For reasons that aren’t fully clear, the original review (all goals are reviewed these days) failed to reveal that MnSU’s goal wasn’t really a goal. The Beavers’ netminder had jammed his skate into the far post to block the shot, and, as the Maverick skater tried to jam it in between that skate and the goal post, the net lifted off the ice just enough for the puck to slide in just outside the post but under the net frame.
It was a split second event, and you had to watch the replay very carefully (or over and over again) to be sure about what happened. But the reality was clear when all replay evidence was evaluated.
There was a lot going on backstage as this discovery was made, as the various camera angles were replayed repeatedly. Despite the seeming finality of the game, CCHA Commissioner, former all-time great coach Don Lucia convened with the coaches of both teams, and he ruled that the goal should be disallowed and the game resumed. This occurred despite an NCAA rule that says once the teams leave the ice, the game is over.
The fans were all out of the building, the referees had changed to street clothes and left as well, and yet the game was to be resumed, still in the first overtime period. The refs were recalled, some of the fans filed back in, the ice was resurfaced, and an 18 minute delayed was added. Both teams were then allowed a warmup period, and it was well over an hour after the disallowed goal had been “scored” before the puck was dropped again.
As fate would have it, the Mavs scored again in short order, and there was no drama this time, and they were able to keep the Mason Cup — which they had already accepted.
The suffering was real, though, for the Northeastern Huskies and their fans sitting in Boston watching the game. Had Bemidji won the game, Northeastern would have been out of the tournament. Because the Mavs won, they are now slotted to play Western Michigan in Worchester, MA on Friday in the opening round.
There was plenty of howling on the internet about all of this, but in the end, the Old Dog gives huge props to Lucia and the CCHA for intervening to make sure that the right call was made and that the game was fairly decided on the ice, and not due to an error made in the officiating and replay review.
Up Next: Minnesota-Duluth
With all of the craziness of the playoff championships over, Them Dogs were firmly in 12th in the Pairwise Rankings, giving them a #3 seed. At the same time, the red-hot Bulldogs from Duluth were streaking to the playoff championship of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference — and the 5th slot in the Pairwise.
In a perfect seeding, adjusted only to avoid first round games between conference foes, the five seed plays the 12th seed. This year, there were only two adjustments for that modification, and, indeed, the Huskies have arrived in Loveland, CO, about an hour north of Denver. There, they’ll drop the puck this Thursday at 3 PM EDT and face Minnesota-Duluth, just as the Pairwise suggested.
One month ago, the Bulldogs were in danger of not making the Tournament at all — but since then, they’ve been roaring and will be a difficult opponent for Tech. But, once you reach the Big Skate, there are no easy games. And it’s a one-and-done contest.
Despite the short distance between Duluth and Houghton, and the long history between these teams dating back to the 1960’s, they’ve never met in the NCAA Tournament before. The Huskies will have to play at their best to win, and we’ll see how that turns out in just a couple of days.
And now all of the snow has fallen and the landscape is clear. It’s yet another Dog Fight for the Huskies this Thursday. Minnesota-Duluth has consistently been a big-time winner in the NCAA tournament over the past five years, losing in the finals in 2017 and winning the championship in 2018 and 2019. With no tournament in 2020, the Bulldogs lost in the 2021 semi-finals, the Frozen Four, to eventual champion UMass. UMD has more tournament experience, has played an incredibly difficult schedule, and is peaking at the right time.
Them Dogs will need to play their best to win this — but, as we’ve seen all year with this team, they seem to play their best when the competition is the best.
This Thursday, we’ll see if that continues.