Connect with us


Hockey outlasts Super Bowl Weekend

From college hockey to girls’ high school sections, hockey is coming down to the home stretch.

UMD goaltender Eve Gascon plays the puck behind the net. (Photo courtesy of UMD Athletics)

If Super Bowl Weekend can be used as a guide for college hockey, it is the perfect signal that we are, indeed, in the midst of the regular-season homestretch, where teams are going through their final struggles to gain home-ice advantages wherever they can be found.

That, and the advancement of the concept that you should never pick against Patrick Mahomes when the Super Bowl itself comes down to the closing seconds with everything on the line. Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs — for those who might have been in seclusion for the last week — came through with a vital little touchdown pass with 3 seconds left in overtime to beat the San Francisco 49ers 25-22 in a game that droned on as a defensive showdown for three quarters.

Showdowns will become more prevalent in men’s college hockey in the next few weeks in the Big Ten, NCHC, and CCHA. But the future is now for the WCHA’s women, who have only two weekends remaining before league playoffs.

WCHA women’s hockey battles down the stretch
The University of Minnesota is in the thick of two huge rivalries to end the regular season, as they battle to find consistency against the top contenders. Ohio State continues to dominate the standings with a leading 23-1 record, good for the runaway No. 1 rank in the nation as well. Wisconsin is second with a 20-4 record that would be spectacular if the Buckeyes weren’t around. The Golden Gophers are third at 18-5-1.

The spotlight of the weekend, though, finds Minnesota at Wisconsin, with a shot at sneaking past the Badgers with a sweep. If that wasn’t enough drama, the Gophers return home next week and face Minnesota Duluth, which is not in contention but is perhaps Minnesota’s most fierce rival.

UMD has its own mini-drama, because the Bulldogs are battling to move into contention but also to free themselves of the new threat to their status of fourth-best in the league, coming from St. Cloud State. The Huskies lost two tough games to Minnesota last weekend, while UMD swept two games at St. Thomas, which vaulted UMD ahead of the Huskies and into a five-point lead for fourth place and the final home-ice spot in the first round of the WCHA tournament.

This weekend, St. Cloud State goes to Duluth to face the Bulldogs, and the interesting thing about that series at AMSOIL Arena is that one victory by UMD will assure them of the fourth spot and home-ice advantage. But in the first round of playoffs, the fourth-place team plays fifth place, so after this weekend’s series, both teams know they are going to be facing each in the best-of-three first round, with the only question being which will be the home team. On the final weekend next week, UMD goes to Minnesota while St. Cloud State plays at Bemidji State, and the highlight series will be Ohio State at Wisconsin.

The WCHA Women’s tournament is always a season treasure with close, tough, single-elimination games — usually an overtime of two — at Ridder Arena on the Gophers campus in Minneapolis. So, after all the posturing for playoff position, whoever wins between UMD and St. Cloud State gets the honor, undoubtedly, of taking on No. 1 Ohio State in the league semifinal.

Hunt has productive weekend vs. UST 
Last weekend, UMD’s sweep at St. Thomas was pretty much because of the presence of Reece Hunt. She played four years at Bemidji State, and with no sniff of playoff advancement, she jumped into the transfer portal and went to UMD as a graduate student for her fifth year.

How effective was she at St. Thomas last weekend? Well, completed a natural hat trick and scored all four UMD goals by the second intermission in the eventual 4-1 victory. Rylee Bartz scored the UST goal in the second period. 

The next night, Hunt scored to open the second period and break a 1-1 tie, with what stood up as the game-winner in a 5-1 victory. For the weekend, Hunt scored five goals and she also assisted on Olivia Wallin’s third-period goal for a six-point series.

“Reece Hunt is a massive addition to our program, and a great person,” said UMD coach Maura Crowell. “I never care who scores; whoever scores, I’m happy. But Reece always knows where to go and how to finish.”

Hunt was asked which of her four Friday goals was her favorite.

“The first three, because all three of us on our line were involved,” Hunt said.

UMD stands 1-1 against St. Cloud State this season, and the Bulldogs have a perfect 12-0 record against the bottom three teams in the league, but are 1-9 against the top three — Ohio State, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

As compelling as the UMD-St. Cloud State series is, both games will start at 3 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at AMSOIL Arena, because the prime-time night schedule has the UMD men hosting preseason-favorite Denver both nights at AMSOIL.

High school sections, St. Scholastica splits, Rivalry Series
It’s altogether fitting and proper that we watch the girls high school hockey sections get decided this week with some outstanding games, and their ever-increasing skill level makes the games and the sections more competitive than ever. The same holds true for Division III college hockey, where St. Scholastica split two captivating games against St. Mary’s last weekend. Despite the heavy emphasis on Division I college hockey, the caliber of Division III has risen amazingly, both in skill and tempo.

The Saints split two games with St. Mary’s, losing 2-1 in overtime Friday after the Saints saw a 1-0 lead disappear with 1:19 remaining. But then the Saints came back against the favored Cardinals on Saturday night at Mars-Lakeview Arena. It was a tough game, and thankfully the Saints had sophomore Makenzie Cole, from Grand Rapids-Greenway, in the nets. She stopped 60 shots in the first game, and was just as spectacular in blunting the St. Mary’s attack on Saturday afternoon. The Saints won a highly emotional shootout victory.

After the series, which drew a hearty and loud crowd, Saints coach Julianne Vasichek, who is originally from Montana, made a quick trip to St. Paul to watch former teammates play on both sides in the seventh and deciding game of the Rivalry Tour, won 6-1 by Canada over Team USA at Xcel Energy Center. The United States won the first three games in the series, but Canada stormed back to win the next three, including the game seven blowout.

It was a deserving celebration for Vasichek. It was her birthday, as well as nine years since she survived a liver transplant at the Mayo Clinic. Last week, she was announced as a member of UMD’s all-time 25-year all-star team. Vasichek was a two-time NCAA champion and All-America for the Bulldogs and remains in contact with former UMD coach Shannon Miller, who now lives in Palm Springs, Calif.

Not a bad way to celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports week.

UMD men’s coach looking for urgency vs. Denver
Denver is not exactly dominating NCHC after a strong start. The Pioneers have slipped to fifth behind North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Western Michigan and Colorado College in the tightly bunched NCHC.

“Denver has strong lines, and they play with continuity and don’t give up the puck,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “We have to take care of the puck because they’re a good transition team, and a strong defensive team. They don’t turn pucks over, and if you’ve got the puck, they get on you and can frustrate you.

“Just like every team in our league. We’ve got eight games left, and we need some guys to play better. I’ve been waiting for that for quite a while now. We need overachievers, not underachievers, and any contributions we get from anybody means a lot.

“If you don’t have urgency now, you’ll never have it.”

In the Super Bowl, Mahomes won the MVP award, for the back-to-back Super Bowl wins. But despite the assembled gang of television analysts that insisted on spewing endless superlatives as if they were unique in their opinions, they all agreed that a victory would mean the Chiefs were a dynasty. But let’s get one thing straight: This modern-day NFL doesn’t have room for dynasties. Parity dominates, and on any given Sunday, any team can beat any other, and even the Vikings could take down the 49ers in the right circumstance.

But while I thought the Detroit Lions lost to the 49ers in a day of botched officials calls, and Baltimore, Buffalo and Dallas were all extremely strong, we can declare that the Chiefs and the 49ers were the best two survivors, and when the big trophy was on the line, Mahomes proved again that he is the best survivor of them all. Very Brett Favre-like.

Click to comment

2024 State Tourney Guide Issue

Click on the cover to view!

2024 Hockey Day MN Recap Issue

Click on the cover to view!

Sign Up Here to Receive Our Free E-edition!


More in College