Two Tampa Bay Lightning prospects came into the Frozen Four looking for their first NCAA Championship. Cole Koepke and the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs faced off against the Providence Friars in the first game of the day, followed by Cole Guttman and the Denver Pioneers taking on the University of Massachusetts Minutemen.
The UMD Bulldogs come into today’s game making their third straight appearance in the Frozen Four tournament, and were looking for their second straight national title, while Providence is looking for their second ever championship, after winning their first in 2015.
University of Minnesota-Duluth 4, Providence College 1
Cole Koepke’s first shift comes one minute into the game, and he helps clear the puck out of the defensive zone, then he takes the puck down to the offensive zone and battles in the corner to try and keep possession for his team. Once it’s out, there’s a shot and it’s held and frozen by the goalie.
Koepke’s main role in the first period seems to be holding fort and keep the Friars from getting any quality scoring chances. UMD gets their first power play opportunity when Vimal Sukumaran is called for cross checking, The Bulldogs have been keeping Providence hemmed into their own zone for most of powerplay, but they can’t score.
After the powerplay ends, Koepke gets on the ice and waits at the opposing blue line for a pass, and he deflects the puck into the providence zone to kill an icing call, but providence turns around and ices it themselves, sending the face off back to the stick side of the Friars net once again,
At the halfway mark of the first period, the Bulldogs think they’ve scored after a flurry of shots on net, only to have the official wave off the goal immediately, having blown play dead before the puck entered the net.
Cole Kopeke scores just as the final three minutes in the first begin; he gets a rebound off a Mikey Andersen shot. But the goal is reviewed for goalie interference. After a very, very, lengthy review, the goal is waved off, making this UMD’s second called back goal of the period.
After one, Providence catches up and leads in shots 9-8, with no score.
The second period is played very safe to open things up. Both teams get shots, but most of the action is kept to the middle and both teams are playing a very defensive style, not wanting to give an edge to the other.
Koepke’s line scores (for real this time) with his opposite winger Justin Richards shooting glove side and getting it under the arm of Hayden Hawkey to take a 1-0 lead as we approached the halfway point of the period.
A little while later, Koepke has a chance off a line change but shoots it high and wide
Nick Wolfe of UMD gets a penalty for cross checking at the 11 minute mark and Providence will score right off the face off to tie the game. No reviews necessary for either of these goals.
At the 15 minute mark, the Bulldogs keep the Friars defenders busy with a flurry of shots that has the Hawkey sprawling around making saves until he can hold onto the put and bring on a tv time out.
The safe, defense heavy second period ends tied 1-1.
The third period is quiet until UMD’s Tanner Laderoute goes into the box for tripping. Providence gets their third power play of the game, but UMD keeps the puck out of their end, but Billy Exell ends up tripping up one of the friars after a slash and they give providence a 5-3 power play for 1:18.
UMD is playing the physical game on the penalty kill; lots of taps and shoves from behind for the forwards, and the Bulldogs are able to kill both penalties. The Friars keep the pressure up even after the power play ends.
UMD will take the lead at the halfway point of the third period. Billy Exell comes in on a rebound and knocks it past the Friars goaltender to make it 2-1 Bulldogs.
UMD switches to playing it safe in their own end, holding the puck behind the net and waiting to make plays, then going full offense on poor Friars goalie. Cole Koepke gets a break away but is dragged down and cant get the shot off. No call on that play either.
With the Friars goal empty, the Bulldogs go to clear the puck around the boards, and it rolls off the glass...and..slowly..into...the..empty...net to make it 3-1 UMD. The Bulldogs will score again into the empty net, and the game ends 4-1 for Minnesota-Duluth.
After the game, I got some time to pester Koepke with some questions:
First some quick ice breaker questions. Favourite team growing up?
Okay fine. Favourite player?
Probably Marion Gaborik.
What’s your favourite chip flavour?
Salt & Vinegar.
Do you have the blue bags in Minnesota?
In Canada we have green bags and it throws me off.
What? That would mess me up. I’d think I was grabbing jalapeno or something.
For the jerseys, do you like the maroon or whites?
Maroon for sure.
You’ve made the finals in your rookie season in every league you’ve played in since high school - Hermantown High, Sioux City Musketeers in the USHL, and now the NCAA - are you just a lucky charm or....
Hopefully I’m good luck, but I’m lucky enough to be on teams with good leadership. In high school my first year we had a lot of seniors, my first year in juniors too. This year I mean, everyone has been here [in the Frozen Four] before except us freshman, so I think I just walked into some pretty good situations.
UMD won the national championship last year, does that take pressure off because there’s been a recent title, or is it added pressure to be the first back to back since Denver in 04/05?
I think it’s a little bit of pressure. It doesn’t let us take any time off, like we won it last year so everyone wants to beat the team that won it last year. We can’t take any games off or any opponent lightly. It just kinda pushes us to be like, we can’t lose to anyone. Everyone on the team from last year, they just want to do the same thing this year.
There seemed to be a lot more UMD fans in the crowd than Providence. Did that help you guys out?
Yeah, I mean anytime you can have a good fan base follow you, especially out here to Buffalo, it kinda helps. If the bench ever gets quiet you ca hear your fans cheer a little bit, it livens up the bench.
You seem to play high up on the ice a lot, near the opponents blue line. Is that to create breakouts, or keep icings down?
I think it’s...I don’t know. Just stretch the defense out, create more ice for our centre down low and give our defense more time. Get the defender to follow me, and draw him out.
You had two scoring chances tonight, it could have been 6-1 . How did that waved off goal look to you?
I mean it’s hard to say as a player, I’m a little biased since I’m the one that scored it. I personally didn’t think I touched the goalie, but I’m not a referee, and that’s the call they made and we just have to deal with it.
You can take that goal one of two ways, you can critique it or you can look at it as, you’re doing something right to score the goal. They called it off, but that’s the way it goes.
The breakaway at the end of the game there, you almost scored but got dragged down, how frustrating was that for you?
I mean, it’snot that frustrating when you don’t score, especially when we had the lead at that point, as long as we can continue to get scoring chances and keep the puck out of our end, it’s a good thing. So, I”m just happy the puck was in their end instead of ours.
UMD is making it’s third straight finals appearance.
Yeah, this program is unbelievable, the standard here is high and every player has to come in and meet those expectations. It’s an honour to be here, the coaching staff is unbelievable, the leadership is unbelievable. Everyone knows what the culture here is about and everyone wants to go in and leave nothing behind. Give it all.
University of Massachusetts Minutemen 4, Denver Pioneers 3 - Overtime
The Denver/U-Mass game is a lot more upbeat and quick, but Cole Guttman doesn’t get his first chance to shine until U-Mass captain Niko Hildenbrand gets called for a hit to the head and gets a game misconduct - and gives Denver a five minute power play.
The Pioneers take full advantage of this, and Cole Guttman gets two shots off before Colin Staub scores off a Guttman assist to give the Pioneers a 1-0 lead.
A tripping call to Jarid Lukosevicius cancels out the final minute of the power play, and then Tyson McLellan gets called for holding giving U-Mass a 5-3 that lasts for five seconds before #8 scores tying the game 1-1.
Ryan Barrow then gets a penalty of his own, while McLellan is still in the box after he lays out Marc del Gaizo at centre ice. Barrow gets his own game misconduct and five minute major, giving U-Mass a chance for payback.
Payback they get as the Minutemen live up to their name, scoring twice in the first minute of the power play. After that expires, U-Mass has control over the game, until the end of the first period.
After one, it’s 3-1 for the University of Massachusetts.
The second period slows down - no one is taking five minute majors - and the Minutemen stay in control for most of the period, setting the pace of the game. Without the man advantage, shots get cut in half, and chances go way down.
Denver takes another penalty, Michael Davies for slashing, giving U-Mass another chance to score. Guttman does well with his role on the PK keeping U-Mass from getting a chance to score on an early rush into their zone. Denver is able to kill off this penalty without a goal against.
Denver’s Ian Mitchell goes down on the ice by the benches after a hit from U-Mass’s Mitchell Chaffee, who gets a game misconduct for another hit to the head and the Pioneers get a five minute powerplay.
Guttman gets some powerplay time, but can’t score as the U-Mass penalty kill is too much for the Pioneers. Guttman is parked at the net, and takes shots, but Filip Lindberg is standing tall, keeping the net empty.
The second period ends with one minute left on the power play.
The third period is rather uneventful, but U-Mass can’t stay out of the penalty box. Jake Gaudet is called for cross-checking, and Brett Boeing is called for hooking, but Lindberg is keeping the goal shut against the Denver power play.
Guttman and the Pioneers apply pressure, but they can’t set anything up that the Minutemen don’t clog up.
After the penalties expire, Cole Guttman is able to get a shot from the top of the circle off, and cut the Minutemen’s lead in half and make it 3-2.
There’s a moment when two players are at the blueline fighting for the puck, and it squirts out to behind the net, and no one notices. The scrum at the boards continues with the U-Mass goalie standing with the puck on the other side of the ice looking at everyone.
Eventually everyone catches on and a centre ice face off is called.
After the 16 minute mark ticks by, the Pioneers try something different than a dump in, actually shooting at the net. It works! Cole Guttman scores his second of the game to tie things at 3-3!
With five seconds left in the third Brett Stapley tries for a wrap around into the U-Mass gets denied and we are off to overtime.
Overtime begins with a quick attack on Denver’s net, and a hand pass call, giving the Minutemen a face off to the goalies right. Denver wins, but ices the puck to bring it right back. U-Mass seems to have found more energy in overtime than they had in the third period, but Guttman’s two goals has boosted Denver more.
Denver has the legs to keep things going, but U-Mass has the positioning to keep Denver from entering their zone - the problem is U-Mass doesn’t seem to have the energy to do anything about it.
It’s late, these kids want to go to bed and you can tell with many lazy passes and questionable cross-crease plays. Denver has had more offensive zone time, but no real chances.
Halfway through overtime Denver and U-Mass get some chances that get the crowd on their feet, but shots are going wide or getting stopped.
After fifteen minutes of overtime hockey, U-Mass freshman Marc Del Gaizo rips a point shot that gets past Lindberg to end the game, and give the University of Massachusetts Minutemen their first trip to the NCAA Championship game.
Cole Guttman’s freshman season comes to an end, despite his heroics in the third period. He ends his season with 14 goals, 12 assists, for 23 points. This is where we’d have an interview, but I walked into the Denver room and felt like I should just leave these kids alone.
Here is what the NCAA released:
Cole Koepke and the UMD Bulldogs will take on the U-Mass Minutemen in the NCAA championship game Saturday night at 8:00PM eastern. The game will be shown on ESPN 2, if you’re inclined to watch.