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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.

Islanders officially activate Johnny Boychuk (upper body) off IR

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The New York Islanders got some good news on the injury front, as they’ve activated Johnny Boychuk off injured reserve.

The 32-year-old missed a total of 11 games because of an upper-body injury he suffered in a game against the Buffalo Sabres on Dec. 31 (above).

New York went 5-5-1 without Boychuk, and they conceded four goals or more in five of those contests.

In 38 games with Boychuk, the Islanders had allowed four goals or more just six times.

The Islanders currently sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division. They’re three points behind the Rangers (two games in hand) and 18 points behind the first place Capitals.

In a corresponding move, they assigned defenseman Scott Mayfield to the AHL.

Wideman’s suspension appeal will be heard in New York City on Wednesday

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Dennis Wideman‘s appeal for his 20-game suspension will take place in New York City on Wednesday, per ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun.

The 32-year-old has already served two games for his hit on linesman Don Henderson (above).

Gary Bettman will be the one to decide if Wideman’s suspension should be reduced. If the Commissioner decides not to reduce the suspension to six games or less, the Flames defenseman will have the right to be heard by a neutral arbitrator.

Earlier this week, Wideman apologized publicly for the incident, but maintained that he never intended to hurt Henderson.

“I feel awful about what happened,” the Flames defenseman said after he was suspended 20 games.

“I feel really bad about the whole situation. The last seven days have been tough. Never in my career have I ever disrespected, or done anything like this, to an official.”

When the suspension was handed down, the league said Wideman was diagnosed with a concussion after the game, but they aren’t using that as an excuse in this case.

“It is accepted for the purposes of this decision that he was later diagnosed as having suffered a concussion,” the NHL said. “However, that fact even accepted as true, cannot excuse Wideman’s subsequent actions.”

The Ducks look pretty mighty right now after six consecutive wins

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In what should be a disturbing trend for every other team in the Pacific Division, the Anaheim Ducks have now won six consecutive games, and eight of their last 10.

After dominating the shot clock for pretty much all of Friday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, the Ducks completely took over on the scoreboard in the third period. It seemed like only a matter of time before a breakthrough would occur.

Just 24 hours after beating the L.A. Kings, the Ducks earned a 5-2 victory over the Coyotes.

Ryan Kesler has eight points in his last six games. Corey Perry has seven points in his last six games. Patrick Maroon, who had only eight points all season prior to Friday, had a three-point night versus Arizona.

Again. Bad news for every other team in the Pacific.

The Ducks now have a three-point lead over the Coyotes for third place in the division. They’re one point back of second-place San Jose and eight back of division-leading L.A.

As for everyone else, more specifically the Canucks, Flames and Oilers, well it might be time to start focusing more on the upcoming trade deadline and, beyond that, the draft.

The Ducks had a terrible start to this season, one that started with so much hype about a team seen as an immediate Stanley Cup contender for 2015-16.

Count Corey Perry as one who believes those early season struggles could pay off at playoff time.

And remember all of that talk in October about Bruce Boudreau perhaps at the end of his days as coach of the Ducks?

At the end of October, GM Bob Murray vowed to be patient despite such a poor start just a few months after being one win away from the Stanley Cup Final last June.

There is still plenty of hockey remaining in the regular season. The Ducks have 32 games remaining on their schedule. But it appears that patience Murray showed in October is paying off.

Jets can’t complete the comeback after miserable start against Hurricanes

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) Phillip Di Giuseppe, Andrej Nestrasil, Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk scored in the first period, and the Carolina Hurricanes held on for a 5-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night.

The Hurricanes scored four times on their first nine shots, taking a 4-0 lead just 10:04 into the game. Nestrasil added another goal in the third period, and Cam Ward made 33 saves. Staal and Joakim Nordstrom each had a pair of assists.

Alexander Burmistrov, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler scored for Winnipeg.

Jets rookie Connor Hellebuyck allowed three goals while facing only six shots before being replaced by Michael Hutchinson after Staal’s power-play goal just 4:33 in. Hutchinson, who hadn’t played since a 4-1 loss in Anaheim on Jan. 3, finished with 21 saves.

The loss wrapped up Winnipeg’s season-high six-game homestand, which included just one victory.

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Carolina’s first goal came after the Jets turned over the puck and Di Giuseppe scored on a sharp-angled shot at 1:43.

Hellebuyck then kicked out a bad rebound and Nestrasil tallied his 16th goal of the season in his 100th NHL game from almost the same angle at 3:05.

With Byfuglien in the penalty box for delay of game, Staal’s shot beat Hellebuyck, ending the young goalie’s night.

Faulk made it 4-0 when his team’s third shot at Hutchinson went between his pads at 10:04.

The Jets came out at a faster, more aggressive pace to start the second period and it paid off with 1:25 remaining.

Andrew Copp and Chris Thorburn were battling a pair of Hurricanes behind the net when Thorburn poked the puck out front as he was falling and Burmistrov got his sixth goal of the season.

Ladd, who hit the post late in the second period, banged home a rebound with Hurricanes winger Jeff Skinner off for hooking at 9:07 of the third.

Byfuglien one-timed a pass from Nikolaj Ehlers that Wheeler deflected to make it 4-3 with 6:12 remaining.

Nestrasil sealed the win with his second goal at 18:40.

NOTES: Ehlers’ assist extended his point streak to six games, with four goals and four assists. … Winnipeg heads out for a two-game road trip starting in Colorado on Saturday. Carolina visits Montreal on Sunday.