FARGO, ND– The NCAA West Regional kicked off in Fargo on Friday. While the University of North Dakota did not make the tournament, there were plenty of green in the stands for those who decided to make the trip.
In the early match-up, they were able to watch a familiar foe in Denver University taking on THE Ohio State University in the first round match-up.
The first twenty minutes were a bit of a feeling out point, but Ohio State gradually got better as the period went on. However, despite the traffic in front of Denver’s Filip Larsson, there were no goals to be had. On the other end, Tommy Nappier had little work, only facing five shots in the first frame, the most challenge was a double-tip in the beginning, as well as a Tyson McLellan shorthanded chance that sailed over top of the goal, as McLellan was trying to go high short-side on Nappier.
A neutral zone battle took place for most of the second frame, with both Denver and Ohio State playing tighter hockey. The most chances came in the second half of the period, with both sides exchanging quality chances, but it wasn’t until late in the period when Denver broke the draw. With less than a minute left, Emilio Petterson feathered a pass over to Les Lancaster, who then beat Nappier on the glove side to make it a 1-0 game.
“That was a heck of a pass by him,” mentioned Lancaster of Petterson’s pass. “He has some great vision. I think a big part of my game is speed and I saw an opening to go up the ice and he found me. Nappier robbed me early in the period so it was good to get that one behind him.”
Ohio State had a solid chance to tie the game after Larsson had an adventure around his net, but could not bury anything in the open cage. Denver played a very tight game, in fact– they did not get any shots on Nappier with their only goal being an empty netter by Colin Staub to seal the game and advance to the Regional Final on Saturday.
“I don’t know how many tickets were sold tonight with that game,” joked Denver coach David Carle after the game, “But I thought it was a really tightly contested game. Not a lot of open ice for either team since both teams are heavily involved on defense
In the second match-up, the upstart American International College Yellow Jackets looked to give the St. Cloud State Huskies a run for their money. All the while, the Huskies tried to not be eliminated in the first round by an Atlantic Hockey team– like what happened last year against Air Force. It was also AIC’s first ever tournament appearance, which could be daunting to some, but for AIC– they seemed to take it in stride.
“I think we just had to play our game, the same way we played it all year,” mentioned Brennan Kapcheck. “We came in with big dreams and see the big crowd, which is not something we see all the time, but we played our game and it goes the right way.”
AIC was under the microscope, but were attacking early with plenty of chances, including one that rang off the crossbar. However, Joel Kocur found the back of the net, getting the first goal of the game by plugging away at a rebound around David Hrenak’s net and chipping it in for the 1-0 tally. After that goal, AIC went into a trap defense, which lead to more chances, as St. Cloud couldn’t get a good clean breakout, but the period ended 1-0 for AIC.
Knowing they needed to continue the pressure. AIC was able to play the trap defense perfectly against the Huskies, creating more turnovers and then creating another goal for the Yellow Jackets, as Brennan Kapcheck picked up the puck, threw it on net, and it squeaked through Hrenak’s five-hole to make it a 2-0 game. Despite power plays, the Huskes couldn’t put one past Zackarias Skog. Though AIC only put four shots on in the second, they were able to withstand the pressure of St. Cloud late in the period.
The Huskies, not wanting a repeat of last year, got off to a quick start, trying to get one goal back and start a rally. But thanks to stingy defense and Skog standing tall, their first onslaught was for naught. SCSU cut the lead in half on the power play, as a weird bounce off an AIC defender’s helmet went past Skog and was credited to Easton Brodzinski. After that, the Huskies went to work trying for the equalizer, but Skog and his defensemen in front were able to stave off the Huskies, upsetting the #1 overall seed by a score of 2-1.
It was AIC’s first tournament win in their first appearance during their first winning season, no less. It was also the second time in the entire athletics department that they have defeated a #1 seed, as the women’s soccer team defeated Saint Rose in Division II action.
“St. Cloud is a tremendous team,” mentioned AIC coach Eric Lang. “I could only take them in small doses. They’re as skilled a team that we’ve ever seen. But you know what, sometimes the puck bounces your way. I would say it’s puck luck, but in this sport in you earn your luck.”
AIC and Denver will take on each other on Saturday night to see who will represent the West Region in the Frozen Four in Buffalo.