FROZEN FOUR: Yale, Quinnipiac win semifinals; will play in all-Connecticut national title game
PITTSBURGH (AP) — For the first time in 28 years, an ECAC hockey team will win a national title.
Yale and Quinnipiac made sure of that.
Top overall seed Quinnipiac topped St. Cloud State 4-1 while Yale won another improbable thriller, this time beating UMass-Lowell in overtime, in the NCAA hockey semifinals Thursday night in Pittsburgh.
Quinnipiac (30-7-5) will meet instate rivals Yale (21-12-3) in Saturday’s Frozen Four title game, scheduled for 6 p.m. at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center.
The last ECAC school to win a national hockey title was Harvard in 1989; the Crimson defeated Minnesota 4-3 in overtime that year to claim the title.
This year, with two ECAC schools playing in separate semifinals, the league had a 50-50 chance to send two teams to the title game.
In the late semifinal, the regular-season champions of the ECAC (Quinnipiac) jumped all over St. Cloud State, the regular season champs of the WCHA and the last western team left standing.
The Bobcats put the Huskies away early, scoring three stright goals in the first 12 minutes and never looking back.
The Huskies ended their season at 25-16-1.
In the early semifinal game, Yale once again won in thrilling fashion.
Andrew Miller scored 6:59 into overtime to lift the Bulldogs to a 3-2 victory.
The senior captain raced around a pair of UMass Lowell defenders then slipped a backhand shot between the legs of River Hawks goaltender Connor Hellebuyck.
Mitch Witek and Antoine Laganiere gave Yale an early two-goal lead and the Bulldogs controlled play for long stretches but couldn’t finish off the top-seeded River Hawks in regulation.
Riley Wetmore and Joseph Pendenza scored 14 seconds apart in the second period for Lowell (28-11-2) and Hellebuyck nearly made it stand up. He stopped 44 shots but had no answer when Miller zipped to the net.
Jeff Malcolm made 16 saves but didn’t even see a shot in overtime as Yale buzzed Hellebuyck before Miller broke through.
The Bulldogs took out perennial NCAA powers Minnesota and North Dakota on the program’s way to its first Frozen Four appearance in 61 years. Yale is the only of the four participants to ever play in a national semifinal before this year, and is now one win away from a title.
The River Hawks had stormed to the Frozen Four behind a suffocating defense and the stellar goaltending of Hellebuyck.
UMass Lowell allowed all of six goals during a seven-game winning streak, and won the Hockey East regular season and tournament titles.
In 20 minutes, though, all that momentum disappeared.
The Bulldogs took the lead 12:45 into the first period when Witek scored his first goal of the season in the waning seconds of an otherwise ragged Yale power play. The Bulldogs were unable to sustain anything until a late rush ended up with Carson Cooper feeding Witek at the top of the right circle. The bouncing, skitter shot didn’t have much on it but slid by Hellebuyck to put the River Hawks behind for the first time in the NCAA tournament.
Laganiere made it 2-0 with less than a minute to go in the first, jamming home a rebound off a Matt Killian shot for his 15th of the season.
The period ended with the River Hawks and Hellebuyck — named Most Outstanding Player of the Northeast Regional after surrendering just one goal — reeling while Yale continued its impressive run.
The road to the final appeared smooth deep into the second period, as well. Yale controlled play at both ends, outskating the bigger and slower River Hawks for long stretches. Pittsburgh native Jesse Root nearly pushed Yale’s lead to 3-0 when a wrist shot found its way through traffic and clanged off the goalpost.
It was all the reprieve UMass Lowell would need.
Wetmore gave the River Hawks life 14:38 into the second period, stopping Derek Arnold’s shot from the point then flipping the puck to his backhand and into a wide open net.
Before the Bulldogs could catch their breath, it was tied. UMass Lowell won the ensuing faceoff and A.J. White raced down the right side and slid a backhand pass to Pendenza at the top of the right circle. Malcolm fanned his glove at it but the puck was already by him, evening a seemingly one-sided game in the blink of an eye.
Hellebuyck sent the game to overtime almost by himself. Yale dominated the third period, outshooting the River Hawks 16-3. Each time, Hellebuyck was equal to the task. Perfectly positioned, he allowed the Bulldogs to continue firing pucks right at his chest.