St. Paul, MN — Familiarity builds contempt. If you play a team enough times you develop a genuine hatred of each other. By this time of year, everyone in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference hates each other. By the end of March, there’s going to be some hurt feelings. There are also some very sore hockey players.
Living in the middle of the country we don’t get to see the two Colorado teams play as much. On Saturday, I saw that first hand how much these two teams hate each other. At the end of the third-place game between the Denver Pioneers and the Colorado College Tigers, things got testy. Fans in Colorado get to see this 4-6 times a season.
For the first time since 2002, the University of North Dakota hockey team wasn’t in the Frozen Faceoff or the Final Five. Attendance didn’t suffer a bit, 20,138 fans attended the two-day event. With that in mind, I was able to sit back and watch some really good college hockey.
Here are a few things that caught my attention.
On Saturday after beating Colorado College 6-1 in the third-place game of the NCHC’s Frozen Faceoff, a relieved Denver Pioneers head coach David Carle made a profound statement.
“The great part about going to the national tournament, we don’t have to play anyone from the NCHC in the first round,” Carle said. “We all play each other all year long, beat each other up. We played at a different pace in this league, and that’s why we all do so well in the first round. So we’re looking forward to playing someone out of our conference.”
NCHC not Expanding Anytime Soon
That’s the beauty of an eight-team conference you get to play eight-10 non-conference games. With that said, pick your opponents carefully. After the third place game, NCHC Commissioner Josh Fenton held a press conference and Jess Myers asked if the NCHC was looking to expand. Don’t count on it anytime soon.
“We haven’t had a ton of discussion about the current membership makeup or even expansion into new members down the road,” Fenton said. “I think the focus has been on the eight member institutions and with all the sincerity that I can answer this question, and that continues to be the focus, and I don’t know that I see that changing anytime soon.”
Ben Holden with the Call
Also, I don’t see how any of the NCAA playoff games can top last night’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff Championship game, it was an instant classic. The action was unbelievable and most in attendance were impressed with the outcome. Both teams were already in the NCAA playoff and were going to be number one seeds. Check out the game-winning goal, Ben Holden of CBS Sports Network with the call. There’s no way you’re sleeping after you hear this call.
Nick Swaney is the hero to lift @UMDMensHockey its second #FrozenFaceoff title in program history (2017), knocking off @SCSUHUSKIES_MH in double overtime!#BulldogCountry 👀🐶🏆 pic.twitter.com/M6c4KByDZg
— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) March 24, 2019
Like I tweeted last night. “Okay, this game will probably top the NCAA championship game. Heavy, hard-hitting hockey. Great goaltending. This is more of a title fight.” This was a common theme of those that were in attendance.
Before I get too deep into a really busy week, shout-out to both teams in the title game and everyone with @TheNCHC. That was such a great experience this weekend. UMD could win four more games and I still might not see a better game than I did last night. What a show.
— Bruce Ciskie (@BruceCiskie) March 25, 2019
Hunter Shepard Leads Flock to Promised Land
Finally, I will have more this week on the upcoming playoffs. In my humble opinion, Bulldogs junior Hunter Shepard is the best goaltender in Division I college hockey. This past weekend, Shepard, 25-11-2, GAA 1.87, .918 save percentage and six shutouts was nothing short of amazing. When the Huskies were pushing hard the first two periods, the Cohasset, Minnesota native stood tall and kept his team in the game. In the end, Shepard led his flock to the promised land, going (2-0, .082 GAA and .969 save percentage). Shepard is a free agent and is going to be a hot commodity in the offseason. He’s going to get paid.