ALBANY — Minnesota State and Notre Dame had emotional victories in Thursday’s NCAA men’s hockey tournament Albany Regional semifinals at MVP Arena.
In past years, the two teams would be meeting the following day for the regional championship.
But not this year. The NCAA hockey committee decided earlier this season to have a day off in between the regional semifinals and championship games. The top-ranked and tournament overall second-seeded Mavericks (36-5-0) will face the ninth-ranked and regional third-seeded Fighting Irish (28-11-0) Saturday at 6:30 p.m. for the Albany Regional title and berth in the Frozen Four April 7-9 in Boston.
That mirrors what the NCAA does with the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. Those events have off days not only between the regional semifinals and finals, but between the first and second rounds.
There is always an off day between the semifinals and championship game at the Frozen Four.
“It was something that was actually discussed for a long time in the coaches’ ranks,” said Omaha executive athletic director and the school’s former hockey head coach Mike Kemp, who is the chairman of the NCAA hockey committee. “They were very interested in seeing us get a day off in between, but it had always been resisted.”
The feeling changed last year after Minnesota Duluth and North Dakota played a five-overtime game in the Fargo Regional championship game.
“There really became a thought of what if that happened in a semifinal game of the region, and one of those teams had to play until 1 or 2 in the morning and have to come back and play the next day,” Kemp said. “From a standpoint of student-athlete welfare [and] safety, we just felt that this was the right time to make the move and make that decision. It has been well received by the coaches. I think it will make for a more competitive and a better final game of the region, with both teams having the day off to rest and be better prepared to play that championship game.”
Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson is certainly appreciative of it after his team’s wild, emotional 2-1 overtime victory over North Dakota on Thursday. The Fighting Irish thought they had won the game at the end of regulation when Adam Karashik put in the rebound of a Landon Slaggert shot.
But after an 11-minute video review, referees Geno Binda Jr. and Jeremy Tufts ruled that time had expired before the puck entered the net.
“I think that was an outstanding change,” Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson said. “First of all, in many cases, they put the higher seed in the later game. . . . I remember last year it was North Dakota. I know Minnesota had to play a late game, and they were higher seeds for television purposes and then they have to turn around and play a team that had maybe six hours additional rest. So it’s a very good rule change to have a day off in between, especially if that second game goes into overtime and especially a prolonged overtime.”
Minnesota State jumped out to a 3-0 lead against Harvard in Thursday’s first semifinal. But the Crimson got to within one twice before the Mavericks held on for a 4-3 victory.
“I believe it’s in our benefit [to have an off day],” said Minnesota State forward Ondrej Pavel, who scored the game-winning goal early in the third period. “These playoff games are unbelievably exhausting. It’s good that we get the time to regroup and do our rehab and make sure that we are all 100%.”
ESPN also played a role in the change.
“It was really about television,” Kemp said, “and about giving the teams [and] the game exposure through ESPN and allowing us to make sure that we’re able to get all the games on linear [TV] rather than having to put some of them on ESPN3, which ends up being digital only. This was an opportunity for us to do that. ESPN cooperated with us and allows us to virtually put all the games on linear television.”
It’s guaranteed that a former Union College hockey player will be in the Frozen Four.
Notre Dame’s Jack Adams will face former linemate Sam Morton of Minnesota State. The two players were teammates on the 2018-19 squad. Adams was a sophomore, and Morton was a freshman.
Adams missed the 2019-20 season with a knee injury, while Morton played in 13 games before leaving Union midway through the season.
“I haven’t talked to ‘Morty,’ but I’m glad he’s doing well, and hopefully we get the better of him on Saturday,” Adams said. “Me and ‘Morty’ had some pretty good chemistry. He’s a great player, a great friend of mine, and I’m really glad he’s doing well now.”
Gazette sportswriter Mike MacAdam contributed to this report.