In place of traditional weekend previews, check this space on the CHN blog each Saturday for developing mid-weekend NCHC storylines and observations from Friday night games.
Friday’s action saw St. Cloud State (4-1 at Omaha) and Miami (also 4-1, at Western Michigan) win on the road, while North Dakota won a 2-1 OT thriller in Grand Forks against Minnesota-Duluth in a game with plenty of conference standings and national [[Pairwise]] implications. Meanwhile, reigning CHN Team of the Week Denver was idle following its Thursday night 4-1 win at Colorado College, as both teams practiced outdoors in anticipation for this evening’s “Battle on Blake” at the Colorado Rockies’ Coors Field — the only outdoor college hockey game this season, and the first in the long and storied Gold Pan rivalry. Check out NCHC Commissioner Josh Fenton’s thoughts about the game, and other conference topics, here.
1. Penalty Shot?
The most talked about moment of last night’s NCHC action was the decisive call in overtime in Grand Forks, when UND sophomore Austin Poganski was awarded a penalty shot after Minnesota-Duluth junior defenseman Carson Soucy took out Poganski on a partial breakaway to the net. The play (of course) happened quickly, but with the benefit of slow-motion replay, it appears that at the time of Soucy’s tripping infraction, he was parallel with Poganski — and if that’s the case, the play doesn’t meet one of the four conditions that “must be met in order for the Referee to award a penalty shot,” namely, that the “infraction must have been committed from behind.”
The other required criteria are that the infraction must have taken place in the neutral zone or attacking zone (yes, it occurred as Poganski collected a turnover and raced into the offensive zone), the player in possession and control must have been denied a reasonable chance to score (yes, certainly*), and the player must have had no opposing player between himself and the goaltender (yes).
*Of note, the NCAA rulebook notes, with regard to this criteria, that “the fact that he got a shot off does not automatically eliminate this play from the penalty shot consideration criteria” (a common misconception).
Predictably, each head coach had different opinions regarding the correctness of the call. Sandelin told Matt Wellens of the Duluth Tribune: “I don’t agree with the call at the end. It was a penalty, but I don’t agree with the penalty shot at all. I don’t care if that gets me in trouble. It certainly was a penalty and they capitalized.”
Indeed, Poganski roofed a backhander above Kasimir Kaskisuo’s right shoulder to win the game and keep UND level with St. Cloud State for first place. The game had big implications for UMD as well, as the Bulldogs now remain tied for fifth in the NCHC standings (recalling that the top four get home ice in the NCHC tournament quarterfinal round) and missed out on a big opportunity to move up into the top 20 of the Pairwise. In the end — a big win for North Dakota and a gut-wrenching loss for Minnesota-Duluth, especially with the way they played (look at Neal Pionk hobbling off the ice after blocking a shot late in the third period as an example). It was a physical, emotional game, and it’ll be interesting to see what sort of carryover effect the dramatic ending has on tonight’s rematch.
2. Battle by Blake
Tonight’s the Battle ON Blake (DU and the red-hot Pacific Rim line “hosting” CC outdoors at Coors Field), but last night, it was St. Cloud State sophomore forward Blake Winiecki who executed one of the biggest plays of the night to help propel the Huskies to their seventh win in their last nine games. St. Cloud is No. 2 in the Pairwise and tied for first in the league standings, and it’s been thanks to contributions from players like Winiecki. With the game tied 1-1 late in the first period at Omaha, Winiecki hustled to break up a UNO rush, helped turn the puck the other way, and then assisted on what would turn out to be the game-winner, Jacob Benson’s goal that gave the Huskies a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Winiecki has been a steady contributor this season, part of an offense that’s just one of four in the nation averaging over four goals a game (Michigan, Boston College, Robert Morris). After five goals and five assists as a freshman, the Lakeville, Minn., native already has nine goals and 10 assists this year.
3. Highlight reel
Only first-year D-1 program Arizona State, UMass, and American International have allowed, on average, more goals per game this year than the suspect Western Michigan defense… but even the best defenses in the country would have been helpless against Miami junior forward Anthony Louis last night. Though the Chicago Blackhawks draft pick scored with relative ease after a WMU turnover in the first period, Louis scored his second of the night just over a minute into the third period — a highlight reel goal (check it out at NCHC.tv) with WMU leading goal scorer Sheldon Dries draped all over him. Dries was actually being called for a holding penalty, but on the referees’ delay, Louis managed to roof a sharp angle chance while being taken down. The spectacular individual effort extended Miami’s lead at the time to 4-0 and helped propel the RedHawks to their third straight win. Miami is suddenly back to .500 and making a late season push for home ice in the NCHC quarterfinal round. It’s also noteworthy the high standard to which Miami continues to hold itself — Jay Williams was visibly angry after giving up his shutout with 33 seconds left in regulation, tossing the puck down the ice after the Broncos scored their only goal of the night.
The two teams face off again in Oxford, Ohio, tonight.