NCAA Hockey: 2011 Frozen Four field is set with midwest flavor

In two weeks, St. Paul will be going wild with the Frozen Four and there’s a distinctive midwestern flavor to it all as well as a classic hockey school feel to it all. Heading off to the big dance in Minnesota will be North Dakota, Michigan, Notre Dame, and regional favorites Minnesota-Duluth. Michigan will face North Dakota in one semifinal while Notre Dame takes on UMD in the other.

North Dakota punched their ticket to the national semifinals by handing Denver University a 6-1 thumping in the Midwest Regional today. North Dakota steamrolled their way through the region outscoring RPI and Denver by a combined 12-1 score and saw goalie Aaron Dell earn the most outstanding player award for the regional. Considering all the offense the Fighting Sioux put up, Dell’s work in shutting out RPI and holding the Pioneers to just one goal was worthy of recognition. North Dakota will be seeking their eighth National Championship in the program’s history. Coach Dave Hakstol’s team is playing outstanding and considering the bevy of talent on the team, they have to be considered the favorites the rest of the way. It also helps that they’re the tournament’s last remaining number one seed.

Michigan used some good luck and hard-nosed play to make their way to the Frozen Four. The Wolverines beat Nebraska-Omaha in the first round in overtime thanks to a friendly review of Kevin Lynch’s game-winning goal. The play was originally ruled not a goal but after a 10 minute review of the play, officials declared it to be a good goal.

The momentum from that win paid off against the region’s number four seed Colorado College as Michigan held off a late rally to beat the Tigers 2-1 to win the West Region. Colorado College was hoping their upset of the region’s top seed Boston College would carry them through, but the Wolverines’ dedication to defense shut them down. Michigan will be gunning for their tenth National Championship and with legendary coach Red Berenson behind the bench, they’ve got an edge there.

Notre Dame earned their way to St. Paul as the three seed in the Northeast Region after beating Merrimack in overtime on Saturday and following through with a 2-1 win over the region’s other surprise team New Hampshire. UNH made their way into the final after upsetting the region’s top seed Miami, but weren’t able to get through Notre Dame thanks to the great play of goalie Mike Johnson who made 37 saves to pace the Fighting Irish. Billy Maday’s (pronounced “MAY-day”) second period goal proved to be the game winner as UNH would only manage a late goal from captain Mike Sislo to get the game to within one.

Notre Dame was last in the Frozen Four in 2008 and lost to Boston College in the championship game. Coach Jeff Jackson will be looking to give the Irish their first National Championship in hockey. Jackson has two National Championships of his own when he coached Lake Superior State to titles in 1992 and 1994.

Minnesota-Duluth this season was on a bit of a roller coaster. Early in the year they were the number one team in the polls and were getting killer play from Jack and Mike Connolly along with Justin Fontaine and goalie Kenny Reiter. During the year they hit a bit of a slump and then failed to beat Bemidji State in the WCHA Final Five. They entered the tournament as a three seed in the East and then promptly caught fire knocking off Union College in the first round 2-0 and then beat the tournament’s top seed Yale 5-3 in the East final.

For UMD it’s their chance to try and win the school’s first men’s hockey National Championship just a year after their women’s team took home the title. With the legacy they have at UMD with Brett Hull having played there in the mid-1980s, the one thing lacking on their resume is the big prize. For Jack Connolly, being a Duluth native helping lead the Bulldogs to their first title would make him a permanent hero in the small northern Minnesota city.

The Frozen Four gets back to action on Thursday, April 7 with the National Championship game on Saturday, April 9.

The Panthers are healthy scratching Bolland, and he is their highest-paid forward, but they insist they’re not sending a message

Dave Bolland, Derek Nansen
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It feels like there’s a story brewing in Florida, where Dave Bolland — the team’s most-expensive forward, at $5.5 million a season — has been a healthy scratch for three consecutive games.

But according to head coach Gerard Gallant, there’s nothing to see here. Move along.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Gallant said, per the Miami Herald. “He sat out, our team is playing well. There’s nothing more than that. We have to sit two guys and I like the way we’re playing. The next game is a different game. We may change something up, who knows.”

Bolland had just one goal and five points in 18 games prior to getting parked in the press box. Well, technically he got dropped to the fourth line before hitting the press box, but you get the idea. He’s not exactly in Gallant’s good graces.

Not helping Bolland’s case is the fact that, as Gallant pointed out, the club is playing pretty well without him. The Panthers have rebounded from a rough start to November by winning back-to-back games against the Islanders and Red Wings, which set them up nicely for the remainder of this current five-game road swing.

Florida has games still to play in St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus and New Jersey. It’ll be interesting to see when — or, if — he draws back into the lineup.

In closing, a reminder that Bolland’s in the second of a five-year, $27.5 million deal.

Canucks rookie Virtanen exits with upper-body injury, won’t return


After sitting out Friday’s game in Dallas, Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen had to be excited at drawing back in for tonight’s game against the Ducks.

Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last long.

Virtanen suffered an upper-body injury after playing just 1:45 in the opening frame, and was ruled out of the contest during the intermission. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but it looks like Virtanen was injured on a hit by Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.

Virtanen didn’t take another shift following the incident, and Getzlaf was given a minor penalty on the play.

While we don’t know what the injury is or it’s severity, losing Virtanen for any length of time would have ramifications for the Canucks and this year’s Canadian entry at the World Juniors. There has been talk of Virtanen possibly being released by the Canucks to participate in the tournament; last year, he was part of the team that captured gold in Montreal and Toronto.

Virtanen has played in 18 games for the Canucks this year, scoring one goal and four points while averaging 10:17 TOI per night.

McLellan sounds off on Oilers after shutout loss in Toronto

Todd McLellan

Edmonton lost for the fourth time in five games on Monday, a 3-0 defeat in Toronto that marked the second time in a week the Oilers have been shut out.

Needless to say, the head coach wasn’t happy.

In a fairly blunt and harsh assessment aimed at a variety of players, Todd McLellan had some choice words for what he called a “disappointing” effort.

Some of the more choice quotes:

“I didn’t think we were a very hard team. I didn’t think we stood over a lot of pucks. I didn’t think we won a lot of battles along the boards. I didn’t think we were competitive enough in a lot of areas.”

“When I look at the trip as a whole, we had some key, key people really under-perform on the trip. Significant minus numbers, not hitting the score sheet. It can’t always be the [Leon DraisaitlTaylor Hall line] that provides that.”

It’s fair to suggest that last one was directed at Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

Nugent-Hopkins has just two points and zero goals in his last five games, with a minus-8 rating. Eberle is pointless entirely, and also at minus-8 over the same stretch.

They’re hardly the only Oilers not pulling their weight at the moment, however. Edmonton has lost 15 times in its first 25 games, a figure that suggests there are more problems that just a couple of underachieving forwards.

Just ask McLellan, who all but admitted his team has issues matching up.

“We’re not where we need to be,” he said. “We’ve got work to do as a team, work to do as an organization to get bigger, stronger, harder, and physically win more battles than we lose.”

Roy: Avs ‘need, expect more’ from Varlamov


The tough times continue for Semyon Varlamov.

After another unsuccessful outing on Monday — allowing four goals on 27 shots in a loss to the Islanders — Varlamov was subjected to a familiar refrain: Patrick Roy saying the Avs need more from their No. 1 netminder.


You can hear all of the head coach’s comments in the video above but, for brevity’s sake, here’s the Varlamov stuff:

“It’s not easy for him. Obviously we need that extra save and we didn’t get it on the road. It’s hard to win if you’re giving four goals on the road.

“We just need more from him. He’s our No. 1 guy and we’re behind him, but we need, we expect more from him.”

There has to be serious concern about Varlamov right now, if there wasn’t already.

His save percentage through seven games in November (.891) is marginally better than it was through seven games in October (.889), and that’s not the only alarming stat. Varlamov’s yet to record a shutout this year, yet to record back-to-back victories and has given up at least three goals in six of his last seven starts.

Not good.

Compounding things for Colorado are the standings. The Avs are now 9-14-1 and mired in the Central Division basement, meaning that — if they have any hope of going on a tear and getting back into playoff content — they’ll need to do it soon.

Which means they might not have the time, or the patience, for Varlamov to find his game.