BRIDGEPORT, CONN. – It’s not common that you see the underdog come out on top in the real world. It’s even less common to see two underdogs succeed in the same night at the same place. But, Friday night in the Arena at Harbor Yard that’s exactly what happened.
Air Force took on veterans Michigan and came out on top, exciting considering they ranked lowest of the four playoff teams. The 2-0 shutout was a considerable upset for predictions but not for the Falcons. The following game placed Yale against Vermont. The #3 Catamounts triumphed 4-1 over the #2 Bulldogs.
Third times the charm
Just one of six teams to ever make it three consecutive years, the Air Force Falcons earned their win this year against Michigan after losing to Minnesota (4-3) in 2007 and Miami University (3-2 in overtime) in 2008. Their success in the tournament may have spilled over from their regular season, when they earned 27 wins, a new record for their program. Better yet, their 13 shots on net in the game against the Wolverines was the lowest count ever for a team that won in the NCAA tournament.
But Not For Everyone
Third time charm must have been all used up by the time the Falcons finished their game, because Yale was in short supply of much needed luck. The Bulldogs made their third visit ever to the NCAA Tournament. Their loss to Vermont, although disappointing, had its plus. It provided the first goal in the NCAA Tournament since the Bulldogs’ 1952 win (4-1) against St. Lawrence in the consolation game.
Despite the loss, this year’s team does have something to really be proud of; a record setting 24 wins for the program and the programs first-ever ECAC Tournament title, which they earned by beating Brown (4-2, 2-0), St. Lawrence (4-3), and Cornell (5-0).
Disadvantage? Not so Fast
Vermont returned to the NCAA Tournament for their fourth time ever, their first visit since 1998. So, while the program has some experience at this level, the team and head coach Kevin Sneddon (as a coach) just made their debuts. Their unexpected win over Yale puts them in position of opportunity to earn an NCAA Tournament win, which would be their first since 1996, a 2-1 win over Lake Superior State.
Skating into the regionals, the Catamounts who were predicted tenth were projected to lose to Yale who was predicted fifth overall. They even had the disadvantage in East ranking which placed them third just under their opponent, the Bulldogs, in second. After busting predictions and rankings, the Catamounts enter the East Regional Final with the advantage as they take on the #4 Falcons.
But Does it Help?
Not for Michigan. Not in 2009. The most experienced team in the country, when it comes to NCAA Tournament hockey, is wiped out by the fourth-ranked team, for a second time in playoff history. The first time was in 2008 against Notre-Dame (5-4) in the semifinals. Michigan’s 32 NCAA appearances are tied with Minnesota for most all-time, but the Wolverines step ahead with 23 Frozen Four appearances and nine National Championships, more than any other team in the nation. However, all the advantages they skated in with this year, the experience, the ranking, the records, didn’t help.
A Frozen Four bid is on the line Saturday night when Air Force and Vermont take battle. Puck drop is at 6:30 p.m.