This time, Bulldogs' late-game rally falls short
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Duluth was holding the banner of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association on Saturday as it looked to continue its successful playoff run on the home ice of rival University of Minnesota.
Three WCHA schools began play in the NCAA Division I men's tournament over the weekend, but in less than 24 hours UMD was the only one standing.
Miami of Ohio did the WCHA one better, toppling UMD 2-1 in the West Regional title game at Mariucci Arena, standing up for the Central Collegiate Hockey Association and advancing to the NCAA semifinals.
The No. 13-ranked RedHawks (22-12-5) got two second-period goals from senior winger Justin Mercier to gain the upper hand on the way to the Frozen Four for the first time and a meeting with the Midwest Regional winner April 9 in the NCAA semifinals at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
No. 7 UMD (22-13-8) saw its impressive postseason streak end after six straight wins as a crowd of 7,554 spectators looked on. The Bulldogs averted their first shutout of the season as MacGregor Sharp scored with 2:05 to play from the crease. UMD led in shots on goal 26-19, had a goal disallowed, was blanked on a two-man advantage power play (and was 0-for-6 on power plays), not to mention hitting a couple of pipes. Miami's freshman goalie Cody Reichard was solid for a second straight game.
"No team is ever out of it. We believed in every single one of us in the locker room," said UMD sophomore winger Justin Fontaine. "We kept battling."
The CCHA has also taken its lumps with No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 4 Michigan and No. 15 Ohio State all going out in the first round.
For the WCHA, on Friday, in the West Regional, Miami upset top seed Denver 4-2; and on Saturday, in the Northeast Regional in Manchester, N.H., host and No. 3 seed New Hampshire rallied to shock No. 2 North Dakota 6-5 in overtime.
WCHA regular-season champion North Dakota and league runner-up Denver were gone. The Bulldogs got behind 2-0 and couldn't recover against a defensive Miami team.
"We knew they wouldn't have the pace of Princeton, but they capitalized on their chances and we didn't," said UMD coach Scott Sandelin about coach Enrico Blasi's team. "You're darn right I thought we could come back at the end. You have to go for it and try to do what we did Friday [rallying with two goals at the end of regulation play.] We got halfway there."
UMD outshot Miami 6-1 in the first period and 17-10 through two, but the RedHawks got their first goal on an unassisted Mercier short-handed rush at 8:42 of the second. He then tipped a drive by defenseman Chris Wideman with four minutes left in the second for a two-goal lead.
Between those goals, UMD had plenty of chances, including 69 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play. The Bulldogs thought they'd scored on a Sharp power-play attempt that went off Fontaine's skate with 9:19 left in the second period (to get even at 1-1). But Fontaine was called for being in the crease.
"[The officials] said he was in the crease and impeding the vision of the goaltender. They made the call and you live with it," Sandelin said.
UMD's good fortune and exceptional play of the past two weeks was waning at that point.
In the NCAA's first four games, the only higher-seeded team to win was UMD, and that took a bit of doing. The Bulldogs needed two goals in the final 40 seconds of regulation play and then an overtime goal to escape Princeton 5-4 in sudden death in Friday's West Regional semifinals.
Miami had its own 5-on-3 for 68 seconds in the third period and didn't score. Sharp hit a pipe midway through the period and defenseman Josh Meyers was turned away by Reichard from point-blank range with 6:00 left. Goalie Alex Stalock was pulled with 3:29 left for an extra attacker and Sharp's 26th goal of the season and 50th of his career came from the crease with 2:05 remaining.
The crowd screamed, much like on Friday, but there would be no miraculous finish this time.
"Sharpy's goal gave us a lot of life on the bench. We thought we could do it again, but it wasn't going to happen," said UMD defenseman Mike Montgomery. "I'm just really proud to go so far as we did when at the start of the season not too many people thought it would happen."
Miami, from Oxford, Ohio, and UMD were meeting for the first time in hockey.
In qualifying for Saturday's NCAA quarterfinal game, the Bulldogs kept their streak alive of competing in six Division I tournaments and advancing at least to the quarterfinal round.
Miami was playing in its second regional final in two years, having lost to eventual Division I champion Boston College 4-3 in overtime in the Northeast Regional championship game in Worcester, Mass.
UMD brought a six-game postseason win streak into the quarterfinal game, the most consecutive victories since a nine-game streak in 2003-04. Miami entered the NCAAs with a 2-4-1 mark the previous seven games, but led throughout in eliminating Denver. The RedHawks are in the Division I tournament for a fourth straight year.
In UMD's last NCAA appearance, the Bulldogs won the 2004 Midwest Regional, defeating Minnesota 3-1 in the finals in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Miami of Ohio...............0-2-0--2
First period -- No scoring. Penalties -- Vincent LoVerde, Miami (interference), 9:30; Josh Meyers, UMD (holding), 16:20.
Second period -- 1. Miami, Justin Mercier13, 8:42 (sh); 2. Miami, Mercier (Chris Wideman, Cameron Schilling), 16:00 (pp). Penalties -- Jack Connolly, UMD (hooking), 1:58; Justin Vaive, Miami (holding), 7:23; Jarod Palmer, Miami (hooking), 9:11; Wideman, Miami (interference), 9:23; Will Weber, Miami (interference), 12:14; Kevin Roeder, Miami (roughing), 13:04; Mike Connolly, UMD (double-minor, hitting after whistle, roughing), 14:19; Tommy Wingels, Miami (hitting after whistle), 14:19; Jordan Fulton, UMD (interference), 17:08.
Third period -- 3. UMD, MacGregor Sharp 26 (M. Connolly, Evan Oberg), 17:55. Penalties -- Nick Kemp, UMD (checking from behind), 4:42; Matt Greer, UMD (interference), 5:34; MacGregor Sharp, UMD (holding), 11:40.
Shots on goal -- Miami 1-9-9-19, UMD 6-11-9-26. Goalies -- Cody Reichard (9-7-2), Miami (26 shots-25 saves); Alex Stalock (22-13-8), UMD (19 shots-17 saves). Power plays -- Miami 1-of-7, UMD 0-of-6. Referees -- Jeff Bunyon, Jim Benedetto. Linesmen -- Bob Bernard, Chris Aughe. A -- 7,554.