Everything was setting up so perfectly. The top-seeded Quinnipiac Bobcats had support from its campus, a veteran-laden squad, a number-one ranking in the nation the majority of the season, some love from ESPNU, and several articles about them in publications around the country.
They had come from behind to beat Canisius, dominated conference rival Union, barely broke a sweat in the Frozen Four semifinal against St. Cloud State, and their Hobey Baker finalist goaltender was 39 minutes into a shutout against Yale, a team the Bobcats had beaten three times during the season.
All of it came crashing down with four seconds left in the second period Saturday. Yale’s Clinton Bourbonais (probably the most Ivy League appropriate name in the tournament) tipped a fluke shot through Eric Hartzell’s pads to give the Bulldogs the game’s first goal and some momentum heading into the final period. Normally in hockey, one goal doesn’t matter. The other team still has a full period to tie it up and even take the lead. However, with both goalies playing remarkably well, that goal would end up being the game-winner.
The Bulldogs exploded out of the gates in the third period and blitzed the brawny Bobcats for three more goals. One came from an odd angle that somehow flipped over Hartzell’s arm. The last came into an empty net. In the blink of an eye, Quinnipiac’s dream season vanished, and Yale – Yale! – a team that barely got into the tournament, ended up hoisting the National Championship trophy on the ice at the Consol Energy Center.1
They may have snuck into the field, but Yale showed it’s a very talented program. They upset Minnesota and North Dakota in the West Regional, then outplayed UMass-Lowell before getting some lucky bounces to get past Quinnipiac. Goaltender Jeff Malcolm, who didn’t have Hartzell’s accolades or the stats of Lowell’s Connor Hellebucyk, shined in both games – especially when shutting out the powerful Bobcats. Jesse Root, who scored the overtime winner against Minnesota, clinched the title with the empty-netter and Andrew Miller, who beat Hellebucyk in overtime Thursday, beat Hartzell on a breakaway that ended whatever life Quinnipiac had left. They weren’t the flashiest team, but they got it done when it counted and that’s the most important team.
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While the focus has been rightly focused on the games in Pittsburgh, a peculiar development recently occurred in Colorado. Denver University head coach George Gwozdecky was dismissed by the athletic department for reasons that are still unknown. Some have speculated that Gwozdecky had violated some NCAA rules, but that seems unlikely. Some think it’s because his contract was expiring soon and DU was still butthurt over the fact that Gwozdecky briefly flirted with the idea of becoming the new Ohio State coach a few years back to get a better contract.2 Others have speculated that, despite winning back-to-back national titles in 2004 and 2005, the school was growing tired of the underachievement of the program. Gwozdecky’s Pioneers haven’t made the Frozen Four since 2005, missed the tourney in 2006 and 2007, and got bounced in the first round four out of their last five appearances.
Whatever the reason, the consensus around the college hockey world was that Denver made a huge mistake and the program will suffer because of it. I agree. Yeah, Denver has fallen off a bit since the mid-00’s, but it’s still a big-name program and Gwozdecky was able to recruit well. Getting rid of the guy who turned the program around just because the team hasn’t made the Frozen Four in a few years is a dumb reason and I’m not sure new head coach Jim Montgomery is going to magically fix things.
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Gwozdecky’s firing has sparked talk in other college hockey circles about what it will take to get their coach fired. Minnesota fans used to love Don Lucia, especially after he won back-to-back titles in 2002 and ’03. However, Lucia’s teams have struggled in recent years. They missed the NCAA tourney three years in a row and lost to Yale in the first round this year. North Dakota fans, arguably the most passionate in the country, seem to be growing increasingly frustrated that head coach Dave Hakstol hasn’t brought the school its eighth national title. This is despite the fact that UND has made the tourney every year since 2003 and made five Frozen Fours during that span, including four in a row from 2005 to 2008. This kind of talk really makes me laugh. As a former UND student, I’ve been a little annoyed that we haven’t reached the promised land in 13 years, but once I start thinking rationally again – typically the next day – I realize other schools wish they’ve accomplished what Hakstol and his squad has done. Some bad luck (like in 2011) and some dominant teams from Boston College are all that’s stood in UND’s way. It’s only a matter of time before Hakstol gets to hoist his first national title. Look at it this way fans, if the Gophers won’t fire Lucia after what’s happened there, North Dakota is definitely not going to fire Hakstol.
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Finally, I know I’ve touched on this before, but the Hobey Baker award continues to be the most absurd award in college sports. This year’s award went to St. Cloud State’s Drew LeBlanc, who had a great year. However, despite leading the nation in assists, he only had 13 goals, the lowest total in Hobey history. Seeing how this award is supposed to go to the best player in college hockey, it’s ridiculous that it goes to a guy who couldn’t even get to 20 goals. LeBlanc also didn’t score a single point in the NCAA tourney, or in the WCHA Final Five, while fellow candidate Hartzell led his team to the national title game and completely shut down LeBlanc’s Huskies Thursday night. My theory is that personality and community service play too large a role in this process. Kudos for LeBlanc for volunteering and being a good person, but what does that have to do with being a great hockey player?
Until the Hobey committee simply honors people for athletic merit, it will continue to be a joke and fans should refuse to participate in the process.
1. On a side note, the NCAA has the most boring trophies I’ve ever seen. They all look the same and sort of look like the lifetime achievement award you’d get at your local Elks Lodge.
2. Speaking of the Buckeyes, they bizarrely bought out the rest of head coach Mark Osiecki’s contract Monday, confusing both the coach and the college hockey world.