I hope everyone had a safe St. Patrick’s Day, whether it was with a bar crawl or simply a nice quiet night at home. For myself and my partner in crime we went to a local school trivia fundraiser. Boring? Competitors create their own 8-person teams, who are given extra points for dressing up as well as their table. Our team, ‘Team Hockey’ where I outfit most of the team in various hockey jerseys and had our own goal light and inflatable Stanley Cup came in 2nd place for the 2nd year in a row. Our team left put in a good effort, with the realization we second-guessed ourselves out of a few points that could’ve had us win it all. It was the kind of self-inflicted mistake that makes someone shake their head in disgust just thinking about it. With the final stretch of games ahead of them, the Wild need to focus so it doesn’t second guess its approach to tonight’s game against Los Angeles.
The Kings are in the same race the Wild are in, sitting in 3rd place in the Pacific division. They have the Ducks nipping at their heels with the same amount of points but sit in front because they have more wins. Minnesota managed to keep its focus after a big win over Vegas by earning a victory over a pesky Coyotes squad. Can the Wild earn another win after its impressive back-to-back this weekend?
1st Period Thoughts: After a nice honorary puck drop ceremony by the gold medal winning Men’s Curling team, the team appeared to be excited to meet the champions. Once the puck actually dropped though, open ice was hard to come by as both clubs were wary of giving up the first goal. Minnesota seemed sluggish and they were not helping their cause as they kept attempting little tic-tac-toe plays that were not working too well. Los Angeles’ gap control was excellent and Minnesota found itself trying to battle through bodies and the Wild found itself chasing after errant passes for most of the period. After a failed power play where the Wild demonstrated little to no creativity and slow predictable puck movement, Minnesota started to get its legs going. Nino Niederreiter had the best scoring chance of the period as he made a nice move into the slot where he rifled a shot that was fought off by Jonathan Quick. Devan Dubnyk didn’t have a lot of work, but he did have some tough pucks to deal with as Kyle Clifford motored around a Wild defender and he sent a shot that with bouncing along the ice that Dubnyk blocked aside with is leg pad. Minnesota tried activating its defense and while they could get around one defender when they finally let loose a shot most were finding Kings players who were more than happy to block them. Los Angeles would break the stalemate as Minnesota got caught watching Dustin Brown work the puck down low and he’d pass it back out into the slot where Tanner Pearson was waiting to one-time it by Dubnyk. 1-0 Kings, as neither Mikko Koivu or Zach Parise seemed to be remotely aware there was a forward for them to defend against. Minnesota would nearly tie the game up in the last minute as Tyler Ennis found Ryan Murphy all alone on a back door pass but Quick literally dove at the shot and blocking it aside and preserving the Kings lead into the 2nd period. Not a great start for the Wild as the looked sloppy and a bit tired.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota appeared to have a bit more jump in its skates as they looked for the equalizer. Despite the team skating harder they still struggled to find time and space but in the rare moments they managed to get a little freedom they seemed to try to make the extra pass instead of taking the opportunity Los Angeles was giving them. Nearly back to back penalties both would focus and frustrate the Wild. On the first penalty kill; Minnesota was very aggressive as they applied puck pressure and managed to create 4 shorthanded shots on goal and forcing the Kings to waste time defending in their own end instead of going on the attack. On the kill, the Wild were being assertive and taking the chances that they were provided. Unfortunately a lazy holding penalty by Suter on Clifford gave the Kings another power play and they cashed in just 8 seconds later as Jake Muzzin let go a wrist shot from the point that deflected off the leg of Koivu and the puck went right over to Jeff Carter who tapped it in. 2-0 Kings. Minnesota would rally back as Niederreiter was able to push the defense back by driving down the middle creating a lane of attack for Parise on the drop pass and the veteran winger waited patiently to get the right angle before sniping a shot by Quick. 2-1 Los Angeles was still in command. The physical play continued as Alec Martinez sent Matt Cullen flying as he tried to work a puck deep into the Kings’ zone. The Wild would keep attacking and their persistence would be rewarded as Suter found Staal with a stretch pass and the cagey vet had a lane to work with and he’d snipe a shot top shelf just before Drew Doughty could get over to contest it, tying the game at 2-2 going into the 2nd intermission. It was a pretty finish to a period where the Wild seemed to start to really find its stride.
3rd Period Thoughts: With the game tied at two goals apiece meant both teams were were going to take some chances to try to win this one in regulation. At times the period was almost wide open as the two clubs traded rushes with one another. At others, the Wild looked like a team playing with fire as the Kings asserted its will with a great cycling game and peppering Dubnyk with shots. Minnesota would hold on and push back with some good pressure of its own and it came from its bottom lines as Joel Eriksson Ek came alive with some great shifts. Charlie Coyle was in beast mode as he rang two shots off the post, but when he wasn’t hitting the iron he was flying around the ice and powering his way past defenders and seemed to be on his way to lighting the lamp. Minnesota would appear to have the game in hand as the Wild’s puck pressure created a turnover deep in the Kings’ zone and Zucker fed a pass to Eriksson Ek who was patient and got Quick to lunge at the puck making for an easy backhand goal. 3-2 Wild. With the crowd going crazy the Wild now tried to hold onto its lead but perhaps they were a little too conservative an the Kings would pull Quick for an extra attacker with almost a minute and a half left. After a few good stops by Dubnyk, the Kings would find the back of the net as weak puck pressure gave Doughty a chance to make a little move to gain a shooting lane and he’d let go a shot that was deflected perfectly by Brown and by Dubnyk tying the game at 3-3 and sending it to overtime.
Overtime Summary: This was pretty rough to watch. The Kings were aggressive and got control of the puck and simply bided time for a bad change and a chance to go on the attack. Minnesota could only watch as the Kings protected the puck well and waiting for their chance as they set up Tanner Pearson for a shot on goal that Dubnyk knocked down and covered up. The Wild got caught with tired legs and it nearly cost them, but strangely enough the Wild didn’t change their players which kept a dead-legged group out there a little longer. Minnesota would get the puck back but all they were able to manage was to circle around the Los Angeles end and was unable to pull the trigger. An errant pass developed into an odd-man rush for the Kings and Adrian Kempe blew by Matt Dumba for a chance on goal but the puck would move back out into the slot as Dumba and Niederreiter just watched Carter pick up the loose biscuit and fire it by Dubnyk. 4-3 Kings win. Staal got caught chasing a puck deep in the Kings zone, but he glided back towards the Wild zone instead of hustling and possibly disrupting Carter’s chance.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Matt Cullen, Charlie Coyle, Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Joel Eriksson Ek, Daniel Winnik, Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin, Ryan Murphy, Nick Seeler and Nate Prosser. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Zack Mitchell and Gustav Olofsson were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Drew Doughty, 2nd Star Jeff Carter, 3rd Star Eric Staal
~ Attendance was 19,081 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Crease And Assist: A Legally Compliant Minnesota Hockey Blog would like to congratulate the U.S. Men’s Paralympic Sled Hockey Team on their 3rd Gold Medal in a row with a dramatic 2-1 win over Team Canada.
~ Crease And Assist: A Legally Compliant Minnesota Hockey Blog would like to congratulate the Clarkson Golden Knights on their Women’s NCAA Division I National Championship 2-1 overtime victory over Colgate.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 2, Grand Rapids 1
Much like their parent club, Iowa heads down the home stretch of its season holding onto a playoff spot but facing a murderers row of divisional opponents making every game feel like its the playoffs. One of those clubs that has been Iowa’s nemesis has been the Grand Rapids Griffins. On Saturday the two teams faced and the intensity was obvious as both clubs were playing very tight defensively, wary of making a mistake that would lead to the opening goal. Grand Rapids would cash in first as Matt Ford found Matt Lorito with a pass and he beat Niklas Svedberg with a quick shot. 1-0 Griffins. In the 2nd period, Iowa really began to dictate the pace of play and they peppered Tom McCollum with 16 shots but the former 1st round pick kept them all out to preserve the Griffins’ 1-goal lead going into the 3rd. Iowa would again pour it on in the 3rd and their persistence was finally rewarded as Kyle Rau made a small pass to Gerald Fitzgerald in the slot and the former Bemidji State product let go a wrist shot that trickled through McCollum for his first professional goal to tie the game at 1-1. Despite more pressure by Iowa in the closing minutes the game appeared to be destined for overtime when on the power play, Alex Grant unleashed a blast from the point that beat McCollum with just 16 seconds left in the 3rd and giving the Wild a huge 2-1 victory. Svedberg had 19 saves in the win.
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Jordan Greenway (Boston U., H-East) ~ the rugged power forward helped the Terriers take home a Hockey East Conference championship with an assist in a 2-0 win over Providence on Saturday night. Greenway has 12 goals, 33 points, 52 PIM’s and is a +8 in 34 games.
RW – Dmitry Sokolov (Barrie, OHL) ~ the skilled winger had a modest effort with an assist and 3 shots on goal in Erie’s 10-3 rout of Sudbury on Saturday. Sokolov has 50 goals, 96 points, 18 PIM’s and is a +3 in 64 games.
NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament Schedule & Predictions
West Regional – Sioux Falls, SD – (Predicted regional champ: St. Cloud State)
#1 St. Cloud State (25-8-6) vs. Air Force (22-14-5) – Friday, March 23rd @ 3PM CST ~ The Huskies were runner up in the NCHC finals but they have plenty of firepower in Montreal 1st rounder Ryan Poehling (31 points), Robby Jackson (42 points), Mikey Eyssimont (39 points), Hobey Baker finalist in offensive blueliner Jimmy Schuldt (38 points) and one of the best stay-at-home defenseman in college hockey in Moorhead’s Will Borgen. The Falcons are a hard working team in the mold of its coach Frank Serratore and while they do not have a lot of firepower their tenacious puck pursuit helps keep games close. Seniors Erik Baskin and Tyler Ledford lead the way for Air Force and goaltender Billy Christopoulos will have to stand on his head if the Falcons are going to have a chance. I think St. Cloud State will be ready to play and wins this one by 2-3 goals.
Minnesota State (29-9-1) vs. Minnesota-Duluth (21-16-3) – Friday, March @ 6:30PM CST ~ The Bulldogs were runner’s up for the national title a season ago, but they’ve had an up and down season and barely made the tournament as an at-large bid. The Bulldogs still have some potent offensive talent in Dallas 1st rounder Riley Tufte (28 points), Peter Krieger (30 points) and one of the most dangerous offensive defenseman in the nation in undrafted Hibbing-native Scott Perunovich who leads UMD with 38 points. Minnesota State had a terrific year led by senior and Hobey Baker finalist in Forest Lake-native C.J. Seuss (22 goals) and freshman WCHA player of the year Elk River-native Jake Jaremko (39 points) along with Zeb Knutson (42 points) and Marc Michaelis (18 goals). The teams split their season series with one another which would indicate this has the makings of a terrific game. It will likely come down to who has a better game between goaltenders Connor Lacouvee and Hunter Shepard. I think the Bulldogs are a bit stronger defensively and I think they’ll win in overtime.
Midwest Regional – Allentown, PA (Predicted regional champ: Denver)
#4 Ohio State (24-9-5) vs. Princeton (19-12-4) – Saturday, March 24th @ 2:30PM CST ~ This is another opening round match up that has the makings for a trap game as the Tigers will try to ambush the Buckeyes. Ohio State has two solid scoring lines led by Flyers’ prospect Tanner Laczynski (43 points), Mason Jobst (41 points), and big bodied Toronto prospect Dakota Joshua (24 points). The Tigers have a great top line led by juniors Max Veronneau (55 points) and Ryan Kuffner (29 goals) and Princeton go into this game with little pressure. If the Tigers can keep this close going into the 3rd period, watch out…I think we’ll see an upset.
Denver (22-9-8) vs. Penn State (18-14-5) – Saturday, March 24th @ 6:00PM CST ~ Last year’s national champion will try to repeat and they will have a tough test against the home crowd favorite in the Nittany Lions. Denver won the NCHC tournament last weekend and they have a ton of talent and firepower in Florida’s prospect Henrik Borgstrom (50 points), Ducks’ prospect and WJC hero Troy Terry (44 points) and Sharks’ prospect Dylan Gambrell (42 points). Guy Gadowsky‘s club plays a gritty game and have the potential to beat any team but at times they are inconsistent. Andrew Sturtz (40 points) and the shifty Denis Smirnov (27 points) lead Penn State’s attack. I think Denver’s experience and firepower will wear Penn State down and they’ll win in a close one.
Northeast Regional – Worcester, MA (Predicted regional champ: Northeastern)
#3 Cornell (25-5-2) vs. Boston U. (21-13-4) – Saturday, March 24th @ Noon CST ~ The Big Red are one of the better defensive clubs in the tournament, while they’re taking on a surging Terriers team which won the Beanpot and the Hockey East championship this last weekend. Cornell’s led by Penguins’ prospect Anthony Angello and Trevor Yates but it still centered around the play of freshman goaltender Matthew Galjada. The Terriers are full of high profile projects including Wild bluechipper Jordan Greenway (33 points), Predators top defensive prospect Dante Fabbro (29 points) and undrafted Bobo Carpenter and 2018 draft eligible Brady Tkachuk who will try to overwhelm for Boston to overwhelm Cornell’s team defense. I think Montreal 1st rounder and Lakeville-native Jake Oettinger will again be the x-factor. I think the Terriers will prevail in a close one.
Michigan (20-14-3) vs. Northeastern (23-9-5) – Saturday, March 24th @ 3:30PM CST ~ The Wolverines have had an up and down season are facing one of the stronger teams out of Hockey East. The Huskies have a lot of firepower led by college hockey’s most dangerous player in Vancouver-prospect Andrew Gaudette (30 goals, 60 points) and seniors Dylan Sikura (21 goals) and Nolan Stevens (24 goals). Mel Pearson‘s club has a few game breakers in Tony Calderone (23 goals), Cooper Marody (46 points) and uber-talented freshman defenseman Quinn Hughes (28 points). I think Northeastern will take care of business and win by at least two goals.
East Regional – Bridgeport, CT (Predicted regional champ: Notre Dame)
#2 Notre Dame (25-9-2) vs. Michigan Tech (22-16-5) – Friday, March 23rd @ 2PM CST ~ Notre Dame entered the Big 10 this season and dominated 3/4ths of the season until slowing down a bit towards the end. However the Fighting Irish would be wise not to overlook Michigan Tech. The Huskies embrace a blue collar style of hockey and if they keep this game close I could see this one result in an upset. Notre Dame isn’t exactly loaded with lots of firepower but they always play a tight game defensively under head coach Jeff Jackson. The Fighting Irish’s Jake Evans and Andrew Oglevie and Tech’s Jake Lucchini are the players to watch. I think Notre Dame will win, but Michigan Tech will give them a pretty good scare.
Providence (23-11-4) vs. Clarkson (23-10-6) – Friday, March 23rd @ 5:30PM CST ~ Clarkson started out the season strong but then faded down the stretch to lose the top bid from the ECAC to Cornell. The Golden Knights bring the firepower with an explosive top line led by sophomores Sheldon Rempal (23 goals), Nico Sturm (14 goals), Devin Brosseau (11 goals) and will look to blitz Providence. The Friars bring one of the more talented players in the tournament in St. Louis Blues’ prospect Erik Foley (16 goals) and Wild prospect Brandon Duhaime (26 points) who can match up offensively with most teams in the nation. This one should be a great game and I think it could be high scoring affair with the Friars coming out on top.
Frozen Four Champion Prediction: Notre Dame ~ I think the Fighting Irish’s combination of strong team defense and reasonable scoring depth works well for a one-&-done tournament. While most Golden Gopher fans loathe the Big 10, it finally delivers a national champion even if its a club in its first year in the conference.