The good news for the University of New Hampshire is that it made the NCAA hockey tournament for the ninth straight year.
The bad news is that the 12th-ranked Wildcats are facing a Cornell team that has already beaten them this season on their home ice, and has the hottest goalie in the nation.
Add the fact the UNH was shut out by Vermont in its last two games of the Hockey East tournament best-of-three quarterfinals, and it doesn’t look like a great matchup.
“I knew that was probably going to be the storyline,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “It’s probably a good one, and we’ve added to it by not scoring.”
But the Wildcats (17-13-7), the Hockey East regular-season champions, hope to regroup when they play sixth-ranked Cornell (21-8-4), the ECAC Hockey tournament champions, in the East Regional semifinal tonight at 6:30 at the Times Union Center.
The winner advances to Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. championship game against the winner of today’s 3 p.m. semifinal between Rochester Institute of Technology and Denver.
UNH wasn’t shut out during the regular season, and it posted a 7-4 win in Game 1 of its series with Vermont. But the Wildcats didn’t score again the rest of the series, dropping a pair of 1-0 games, with the Game 3 loss in overtime. The Wildcats haven’t scored a goal in 136 minutes, 54 seconds.
Ending the scoring drought won’t be easy for the Wildcats. They are going up against a hot goalie in senior Ben Scrivens.
All Scrivens has done in his last three games is post three shutouts. He has a shutout streak of 230:30, which set an ECACH tournament record.
“It’s all going to start with keeping the game simple, getting the puck in the zone and, from there, getting a lot of shots on him and getting bodies to the net for rebounds,” UNH forward and Watervliet native Mike Borisenok said.
Scrivens, the Ken Dryden Award winner as the ECACH’s top goalie and a Hobey Baker Award finalist, has a 1.78 goals-against average, a .937 save percentage and seven shutouts. The last goal he allowed was to Pier-Olivier Michaud in Game 1 of the Big Red’s quarterfinal series against Harvard at 9:30 of the first period.
The shutout streak is the furthest thing from Scrivens’ mind.
“I don’t think we change anything,” Scrivens said. “There was a goal called back against Union in the finals with about 40 seconds left [in the game] that could have gone either way. You could have a goal go off a skate. There’s so little that you can control about that stuff, and you can’t let it affect you.”
Cornell has won four straight, and is 5-0-1 in its last six games.
Cornell and UNH are meeting for the second time this season. The Big Red went to the Whittemore Center in Durham, N.H., on Jan. 3
and took a 5-2 victory. Despite playing on an ice surface that is 15 feet wider than the 200-by-85-foot surface they are used to, the Big Red outshot the Wildcats, 43-22, and scored three times in the third period to snap a 2-2 tie.
“It’s an advantage for both teams in that you played each other, and you’re kind of familiar with them and their styles,” Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. “But just like your regular season, it doesn’t have that much of an impact. A game in January has little to no effect on a game that is played in March. It gives us familiarity with some of their best players and the way they play, but it does the same thing for them.”
The hottest team in this regional, and, for that matter, the whole tournament, isn’t one of the powerhouses like Denver or Cornell.
It’s the team making its first NCAA tournament appearance at the Division I level — RIT.
The 20th-ranked Tigers (26-11-1) have won 10 straight games, the longest active streak in the nation. They captured the Atlantic Hockey tournament title last Saturday with a 6-1 win over Sacred Heart.
RIT moved up from Division III to Division I in 2005. In its first two years, it wasn’t able to participate in the NCAAs because it had to go through a probationary period because of the change. The last time an RIT team made it to the NCAAs was in the 2002 Division III tournament.
The Tigers are facing a Denver team that is ranked second in the country, and is the second seed overall in the tournament.
RIT is ready for the challenge.
“It’s hockey. We’re all here to have fun,” RIT senior defenseman and captain Dan Ringwald said. “If you’re not enjoying coming to the rink, then you’re in the wrong sport. Getting nervous doesn’t help the cause, anyway, so why don’t we skip that step and just focus on what we can do and what we do best.”
Having the nation’s longest winning streak hasn’t gone to the Tigers’ heads.
“Monday, I wasn’t sure if we were going to be so full of ourselves, giddy and just overall excited about this weekend, or if we were going to be nervous and scared, or what our reaction was,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. “But it was really business as usual. The guys have been very level-headed. They know we’ve got a challenge in front of us. We’re excited to take on that challenge.”
WCHA regular-season champion Denver (27-9-4) lost two straight games in the WCHA tournament final five. Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky has experienced going up against an unknown team in the NCAAs before. Five years ago, Denver needed overtime to beat Bemidji State, 4-3, in the Northeast Regional semifinal.
“Everybody who follows college hockey, whether you’re a fan, a coach [or] a player, understands in the final 16, everyone is good,” Gwozdecky said. “Every team is competitive. Every team has earned their way in here, and there is no easy game. There may big schools versus small schools, there may be traditional schools versus non-traditional schools, but every game is challenging.”
Categories: College Sports