You want drama? Oh, we had drama this weekend, as the NCAA regionals put on a heckuva show en route to filling out the Frozen Four bracket for Pittsburgh. Minnesota State, UMass, St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth are your contestants and Duluth is the only program that has won the title before (in fact, they’re the reigning back-to-back champs).
How the Bulldogs won their regional was quite the story: a five-overtime victory over NCHC rivals North Dakota that became the longest game in NCAA history. It was an incredible contest that saw North Dakota erase a 2-0 deficit in the final two minutes of regulation, followed by Duluth seemingly ending the game early in the first overtime only to have Kobe Roth’s score nullified on an offside review. By the fourth OT, Bulldogs starter Zach Stejskal had cramped up so severely that he had to be replaced by backup goalie Ryan Fanti, who held the fort from there on out.
“It was certainly under some adverse circumstances,” said Duluth coach Scott Sandelin. “It’s not an easy thing for Ryan to do – you’re sitting on the bench and you haven’t played, then you go in and make three or four big stops. They both get a lot of credit for the win.”
Speaking of the win, it came off the stick of freshman Luke Mylymok, who didn’t play much in the early overtimes, leaving him and his linemates fresh. Mylymok went five-hole on North Dakota’s Adam Scheel, leading to a cathartic finish to an incredible match.
“It’s hard to comprehend what that game was,” said Bulldogs junior Cole Koepke, a Tampa Bay Lightning pick. “That was a game we’ll remember forever. Just going up for faceoffs, we were talking to those (North Dakota) guys saying ‘this is an unbelievable game.’ It’s really unfortunate that one team has to lose in that scenario.”
And while UMass and St. Cloud State have been to the Frozen Four in the past, this will be the first venture to the semifinal for Minnesota State, a team that dominated the Minnesota Golden Gophers in their regional final. The Mavericks – like the other three semifinalists – play hard, defensively-structured hockey and they’re well-coached by Mike Hastings. They also have some pretty rad purple jerseys.
Along with the team results, we also have some pretty important players moving on now that their individual seasons are done. The most prominent is Cole Caufield, the electric right winger for the University of Wisconsin who has now officially signed with the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs’ first-round pick in 2019, Caufield will start his pro career with the AHL’s Laval Rocket once his quarantine is completed.
It’s going to be very fun to see what Caufield can do at the AHL level, given how well he creates offense. The AHL is a step up from the college game and Caufield is famously undersized, but when you think the offensive game as well as he can, I’m sure the goals are going to come pretty quickly.
Now, will we see Caufield in a Montreal jersey this year? That’s hard to say at this point. The Habs are pretty safe as a playoff team thanks to swoons by Calgary and Vancouver this year, so they could throw the kid into the fire later on, just to give him a taste. And who knows? If he gets hot right away, then the Canadiens would have a bit of a secret weapon heading into the playoffs.
If Caufield does need more time to adjust to the bigger, faster pro game however, staying in Laval and getting important reps is still a great plan.
Another high-profile player to keep an eye on is David Farrance, the Boston University defenseman who just signed his rookie contract with Nashville. The Predators third-rounder had a fantastic college career with the Terriers and actually led the team in scoring this year despite missing five games early on.
Farrance is an incredibly mobile and gifted offensive defenseman who will start his pro career on Nashville’s taxi squad. The Predators are currently in a four-way heat for the final playoff spot in the Central Division after stumbling hard out of the gate.
For me, Farrance is especially intriguing right now because of Ryan Ellis’ unknown future with Nashville. Ellis is currently hurt, but there have been rumblings that the Predators might try moving the excellent blueliner. Now, I’m not saying that Farrance could fill an Ellis void right away, but the presence of Farrance at least gives GM David Poile room to think about all the future roster possibilities he could entertain in Nashville.