Harvard faces Minn. State, Notre Dame takes on North Dakota in NCAA hockey regional in Albany

Harvard celebrates winning the ECAC Hockey tournament title after beating Quinnipiac 3-2 in overtime on Saturday at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid. (Photo courtesy Rob Rasmussen/ECAC Hockey)

Harvard celebrates winning the ECAC Hockey tournament title after beating Quinnipiac 3-2 in overtime on Saturday at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid. (Photo courtesy Rob Rasmussen/ECAC Hockey)

After missing out on playing college hockey last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, Harvard wanted to play in another NCAA hockey tournament. The only way the Crimson could make the NCAAs was to win the ECAC Hockey tournament title and earn the automatic bid.

The Crimson did that Saturday night by beating ECACH regular season champion Quinnipiac 3-2 in overtime at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid.

The reward for the Crimson (21-10-3) was a trip back to New York state. They will face top-ranked Minnesota State (35-5-0) in the first semifinal of the NCAA hockey East Regional at 12 p.m. Thursday at MVP Arena. The 16-team field was announced Sunday,

The second semifinal Thursday pits North Dakota against Notre Dame at 6 p.m. The regional final will take place on Saturday at a time to be determined. This is the first time that the regionals will have a day off between the semifinals and championship game.

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During a Zoom call Sunday night, Harvard head coach Ted Donato is appreciative of the chance to play in the NCAAs for the fifth time in the last six seasons the team has competed.

“The appreciation goes across our entire program,” Donato said. “It goes from everywhere, from being able to play home games and seeing the people that help out around the rink, our equipment guys, our medical guys, strength coach. It goes through the players that finally get to be around their classmates on campus and having a tremendous college experience, and then a chance to represent their school.

“One hidden advantage was that our guys were just super excited and had a really healthy perspective. I think our energy level each and every day coming to the rink, our attention to detail, our ability to kind of persevere through some bumps in the road, I think, was elevated because at the end of the day, the guys were just really excited to be back to the normalcy of having a chance to play college athletics.”

The fourth-seeded Crimson were one of eight ECACH teams that sat out last season because of the pandemic. Harvard finished third in the regular season, and then took on RPI in the quarterfinals. After splitting the first two games in the best-of-three series, the Crimson won Game 3 2-1. That would start a run of three straight elimination-game victories, which culminated Saturday. Harvard downed Clarkson 5-3 in Friday’s semifinal.

Had Harvard not won the ECACH tournament title, it wouldn’t have made the NCAAs. The Crimson finished tied for 17th in the Pairwise Rankings, which helps determine the field.

“There’s definitely more of a sense of urgency when you know your backs are against the wall and your season’s on the line,” Harvard senior forward and team captain Casey Dornbach said. “And we definitely had that [Saturday] night. This is a group of winners, of players who have won in the past. I think it wasn’t so much as a crippling pressure as maybe extra motivation or extra sense of urgency, and I thought that the guys handled it very well.”

Minnesota State, which won the CCHA tournament title Saturday, is the No. 2 overall seed. The Mavericks have four players with over 40 points. Julian Napravnik and Nathan Smith each have 49 points, Brendan Furry has 41, Cade Borchardt has 40. Ryan Sandelin, the son of Minnesota Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin, leads the Mavericks with 21 goals.

Goalie Dyrden McKay is 35-4-0 with a 1.27 goals-against average, a .934 save percentage and nine shutouts.

Second-seeded North Dakota (24-13-1) makes its first return to the downtown Albany arena since the 2001 Frozen Four, when it was seeking to defend its national title that it won over Boston College in 2000 in Providence. North Dakota beat Michigan State 2-0 in the semifinal, but lost the rematch to Boston College 3-2 in overtime.

It will be the Fighting Sioux’s first game in the Capital Region since beating Union 3-1 at Messa Rink on Dec. 31, 2016.

Third-seeded Notre Dame (27-11-0) was supposed to play Boston College in the Northeast Regional in Albany last year. But the Fighting Irish had to withdraw from the tournament because of positive COVID-19 cases.

OTHER MATCHUPS

Quinnipiac will face St. Cloud State in the Midwest Regional at 8 p.m. Friday in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The other game in that regional will have Michigan, the tournament’s overall top seed, taking on American International at 3 p.m.

The Northeast Regional in Worcester, Massachusetts, will be Western Michigan against Northeastern at 12 p.m. Friday, followed by Minnesota against defending NCAA champion UMass at 6 p.m.

The West Regional in Loveland, Colorado, has Minnesota Duluth against Michigan Tech at 3 p.m. and Denver against UMass Lowell at 9 p.m.

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