Conventional wisdom said a team that plays a Thursday play-in game at the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five — especially one that had to go as late as last Sunday night to wrap up its first round series — couldn’t last, would wear out, could not win long enough to make it to the Saturday championship game.
Somebody forgot to tell the Colorado College Tigers.
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They looked into the record book, saw that Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota had hounded that theory out of contention in previous years, and ended the #1 Gophers’ final WCHA playoff season Friday night. In a distinctly non-Gopher-looking outing, Minnesota was shut out by the tournament-upstart Tigers 2-0 in the evening semifinal. It was the first time the Maroon and Gold had failed to score a goal in a postseason game since 2011 when they were zilched by Alaska-Anchorage at Mariucci Arena in the WCHA first round.
Plymouth’s Joe Howe was the hero for CC. The athletic senior goalie posted his second shutout of the season on a 35 save performance. Minnesota’s Adam Wilcox stopped 18 of 20 Tiger shots.
Colorado College’s victory came just hours after Wisconsin, maybe the hottest team in the country over the last few weeks, sent the tournament’s top seed, St. Cloud State, to the showers early with a 4-1 win in the afternoon semi.
Upsets galore at the “X”: This was a tournament of upsets, which seems appropriate given that the WCHA regular season ended in its tightest, down-to-the-wire finish ever. Again, conventional wisdom has taken a beating. Nearly everyone had penciled in a final WCHA battle between North Dakota and Minnesota in the Friday semifinal, followed by a sizzling championship game between the tournament’s top seeds, the Gophers and St. Cloud State.
However, Colorado College handed The Team Formerly Known As the Fighting Sioux its walking papers in the Thursday play-in, 4-3. Then Wisconsin smacked the Huskies and the Gophers suffered their major systems failure on Friday.
College hockey stymies conventional wisdom every time.
Unlikely title tilt: Which leaves us with what could be a terrific Final Five championship game tonight: Wisconsin vs. Colorado College. Two teams that have been responsible with the puck, enjoyed solid goaltending in the clutch and not had to rely on run-and-gun offenses to get where they are.
My FOX Sports North broadcast partner Casey Hankinson may have said it best when he observed during last night’s telecast, “The right teams made it to the championship game: the ones that worked hard and wanted it most.”
NCAA berths may be affected: The Gophers’ loss won’t keep them out of the NCAA dance. In fact, I wonder whether the sure knowledge that they were pretty much a lock to get in no matter what happened at the Final Five affected their outlook going into Friday’s game. Regardless, when the pairings are announced Sunday evening, Minnesota will be there.
The unlikely scenario that has played out at the Excel Energy Center in St. Paul late this week could mean that the soon-to-be completely reconfigured WCHA would have an additional team in the NCAA lineup. Consider: Coming into the Final Five, Wisconsin was on the thinnest of bubbles because of its early-season struggles while Colorado College had no chance at all. Whichever team wins the championship game receives an automatic berth in the NCAA regionals.
Others will likely be invited, too. I think Minnesota State has a fair chance. St. Cloud State will receive strong consideration and Wisconsin could snare a spot even if it loses.
Gophers women win again: The NCAA Women’s Frozen Four is being played at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis and the Minnesota women continued their remarkable season with a 3-2 overtime win over Boston College Friday night. Junior forward Sarah Davis punched in the winner at 1:39 of OT.
The win puts the Gophers at 40-0 for the season. They’ll defend their national title Sunday afternoon at 3.
Join Casey Hankinson, Ben Clymer and me for the WCHA Final Five championship game between Wisconsin and Colorado College tonight at 7 on Fox Sports North!