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It was a wild weekend in college hockey for the opening two rounds of the men's national tournament. We started with 16 teams, and now we are down to four. On April 7th, we will be down to just one college program remain, the team that will be this year's NCAA champion.
The tournament fot underway with eight first-round matchup. In the West region, Air Force took down top-see St. Cloud State by a score of 4-1. The Huskies offense didn't show up in this contest, but the Falcons were able to race out to the early lead and the eventual victory.
A battle between in-state rivals went to overtime, as the Bulldogs of Minnesota-Duluth scored to advance by a score of 3-2. The WCHA's Minnesota State jumped out to the 2-0 lead, but Minnesota-Duluth came roaring back in the third to force overtime. The Bulldogs also eliminated the highest scoring team in college hockey with this comeback victory.
Ohio State of the Big Ten also advanced from the first round. The Buckeyes beat the Princeton Tigers by a score of 4-2. Ohio State was the top team in the Midwest region.
Last year's champion the Denver Pioneers beat first-time participants in the NCAA tournament, the Penn State Nittany Lions 5-1.
Up in the Northeast region, Boston University was able to defeat the top team in the region Cornell. Cornell, who goalie Matthew Galajda lead the NCAA with a 1.49 GAA, gave up three to the upstart Boston squad, but could only generate one goal in the loss.
NCAA leading scorer Adam Gaudette was not able to keep the Northeastern Huskies in the tournament. Michigan outscored Northeastern in the second game of the Northeast regional 3-2.
The highest ranked Big Ten team in the tournament, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, needed overtime to dispatch the Huskies of Michigan Tech. The WCHA tournament champions were close to an upset, but lost 4-3 in the East regional first round.
The Providence Friars recorded the only shutout of the weekend in the final first-round match-up. The Friars shutout Clarkson for a 1-0 win in the second game of the East regional.
The match-ups for the second round were as follows:
West: Minnesota-Duluth vs. Air Force
Midwest: Ohio State vs. Denver
Northeast: Michigan vs. Boston
East: Notre Dame vs. Providence
In the second round of the tournament, two games were high-scoring affairs, while the other two games were solid defensive efforts by the teams involved. Notre Dame captured a 2-1 win over Providence. The 2008 runner-up will be looking for their first ever NCAA tournament championship in St. Paul, MN next weekend.
Of the teams that made it to the second round, the Michigan Wolverines had the strongest offense, with a 3.41 goals/game mark. Michigan exceeded that against Boston by scoring six in a 6-3 win. The Wolverines were last in the championship game in 2011 when they lost to Minnesota-Duluth.
The Bulldogs from Minnesota-Duluth could be facing those Michigan Wolverines again in the championship game thanks to a 2-1 victory over the Air Force team who defeated the #1 seed St. Cloud State Friday night. The Bulldogs will count on Hunter Shepard to continue his strong play in net. Shepard only surrendered two goals on the weekend for Minnesota-Duluth.
Last, the Ohio State Buckeyes clinched a berth in the Frozen Four with a 5-1 win over Denver. Ohio State has never been to a title game before, but they must go through Minnesota-Duluth to get there.
Coming up, we have match-ups between Minnesota-Duluth and Ohio State at 5:00 pm CT and Michigan and Notre Dame at 8:30 pm CT on Thursday, April 5th. This gives us three teams out of the Big Ten in the Frozen Four this season. At least one of them will be going home on Thursday, but ultimately only one team can win the NCAA championship. Look for three fantastic hockey games next weekend in St. Paul, Minnesota. I'm sticking with my original pick, Notre Dame, to win the tournament.