It’s a week later than they had planned to come to Albany, but it’s better late than never for the Clarkson Golden Knights.
The Knights, the ECAC Hockey regular-season champions, made the NCAA Hockey tournament. They are the third seed in the East Region, and will face second-seeded St. Cloud State of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in the first East Regional semifinal at 4 p.m. Friday at the Times Union Center, it was announced Sunday.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed we didn’t get there this past weekend,” Clarkson coach George Roll said. “But we’ve got a second life now. I know the guys are really excited. We were just hoping to get into the tournament. Now that we’re in, to be seeded in Albany is great for us and for our fans.”
The second semifinal pits top-ranked Michigan, the tournament’s overall No. 1. seed, against fourth-seeded Niagara at 7:30 p.m.
The semifinal winners will play in the championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday and a berth in the Frozen Four April 10-12 in Denver.
Clarkson (21-12-4), ranked 10th in the country, was the top seed in the ECACH tournament. But the Knights were knocked off by Colgate in the best-of-three quarterfinals, losing the deciding game, 3-2, in double overtime.
That gave Clarkson its second week off in three weeks. Unlike having the week off by earning a first-round bye, the Knights didn’t want to have another layoff.
“I think it was a harder week, in that we didn’t know where, or if, we were still playing,” Roll said. “I think it was difficult. If you asked our guys, I’m sure they would rather have played this weekend. At that stage, we didn’t need a rest. We had the bye week. There was a lot anxiety and, at times, it was difficult practicing because of the uncertainty of whether or not we were in.
“As the week went on, it looked more and more favorable [of making the NCAAs]. Obviously, our practices got better.”
The Knights, making their 20th NCAA appearance, and the seventh-ranked Huskies (19-15-5) are very familiar with each other, as they have squared off four times over the past two seasons. Last year, the Huskies swept a two-game series, 4-0 and 7-2, in St Cloud, Minn.
This season, the teams split a two-game series at Cheel Arena Nov. 23-24.
St. Cloud finished in a fourth-place tie in the WCHA with Minnesota State. The Huskies swept Wisconsin in the first round of the league tournament, and then lost to Minnesota in the league’s final five play-in game.
The Huskies, coached by Bob Motzko, are in their seventh NCAA tournament. They have made one appearance at the TU Center, losing to Boston University, 5-3, in the first round of the 2000East Regional.
Coach Red Berenson guided Michigan (31-5-4) to the CCHA regular-season and tournament titles. The Wolverines are making their 31st tournament appearance, and have won an NCAA-best nine national titles.
Michigan is led by Hobey Baker finalist Kevin Porter, who has 28 goals and 28 assists. The Wolverines are making their fourth appearance at the Albany arena.
Niagara (22-10-4), coached by Dave Burkholder, won the College Hockey America tournament title to earn the automatic bid. The Purple Eagles, led by forward Vince Rocco (14-31-45) are in the NCAAs for the third time, and the first since 2004.
TU Center general manager Bob Belber is pleased with the field.
“Clarkson has always had a good fan base that’s traveled well,” Belber said. “Being a New York state team, it will be easy for their fans to travel down the Northway. In the case of Niagara, I’m confident their fans will travel over from the Niagara region. I think they’ll have a very respectful showing from their fans.
“Michigan had called a couple of days ago. Apparently, they must have gotten the heads-up that they might be coming to Albany. They inquired about several hundred tickets that they wanted to buy.”