With so much promise heading into the NCAA Hockey Tournament, this looked like it might be the year that Minnesota would break through and show off its depth in college hockey on the national stage. Holding the top three seeds in the tournament, it may have been the best chance to see history made with more than one team from Minnesota advancing to the Frozen Four for the first time ever.
The dream fell woefully short as both St. Cloud State and Minnesota State University lost in their first games to the No. 4 seeds in their regions, leaving University of Minnesota Duluth as the lone representative from the State of Hockey beyond the first round.
A year removed from a devastating loss to Air Force in the first round of the Sioux Falls Regional, St. Cloud State was expected to come out firing on a redemption tour, holding the No. 1 seed for a second straight year.
Instead, No. 1 St. Cloud fell to American International College 2-1 in a game that the Huskies never held a lead. The Yellow Jackets from Springfield, Mass., made the trip 1,200 plus mile trip west to Scheels Arena in Fargo and took down the nation’s top-ranked team in one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history by PairWise rankings.
Biggest @NCAAIceHockey Tournament upset by Pairwise ranking:
-RIT (38) over Minnesota State (1) in 2015
-Bemidji State (37) over Notre Dame (2) in 2009
-Ferris State (30) over SCSU (2) in 2016
-Air Force (27) over SCSU (1) in 2018
-RIT (25) over Denver (2) in 2010
AIC was 31.
— Nate Wells (@gopherstate) March 30, 2019
American International, who had never made the NCAA Tournament, earned their first ever tournament win, playing only 180 miles up the road from the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center, where the Huskies play their home games.
The Huskies tried to generate a comeback late in the game, scoring on their fourth power play of the game with just over 10 minutes left in the third period. That was where the comeback, and the scoring for either team, would end.
Despite holding a 34-13 advantage in shots, the number two scoring team in the nation couldn’t muster enough offense to overtake the Yellow Jackets, forcing them to travel back down I-94 wondering what could have been for a second straight season.
It was a different recipe for disaster in the Minnesota State University loss as the Mavericks had to make the trek 1,150 miles out east to play Providence, in Providence.
The selection committee did the Mavericks zero favors, slotting them in for a first-round matchup with Providence, less than three miles from Schneider Arena where the No. 11 Friars play their home games.
But that excuse can only go so far when you look at what American International was able to do traveling west as the bottom seed in the entire tournament.
Travel logistics were not the only major difference between the Mankato game and the St. Cloud upset. The Mavericks actually showed life early and jumped out to a three-goal lead only 11:08 into the game, scoring all three goals in 3 minutes, 16 seconds.
That was where Mankato’s dominance came to a screeching halt.
Providence scored just 2 minutes, 4 seconds later, and found the back of the net five more times to completely erase the Mavericks’ lead and move on to the next round with a convincing 6-3 victory — a score very few expected in a game that featured two of the top 10 teams in the nation in terms of goals against per game.
Uncharacteristically, special teams killed MSU in this one, as they gave up four goals on seven penalties after converting on 29 of 31 penalty kills over their last nine games. They also failed to convert on any of their three power play opportunities.
The devastating loss for the Mavericks left them with a 32-8-2 record on the season and still looking for their first win in the NCAA Tournament as a Division I team, holding an 0-6 tournament record with five of those appearances coming in the last seven years.
With the two surprising losses by SCSU and MSU, UMD is the lone team representing Minnesota left to fend off the rest of the nation as they look to repeat as National Champions when the Frozen Four begins on April 11 in Buffalo. The Bulldogs beat Bowling Green 2-1 in overtime in the first round on Saturday, then took down Quinnipiac 3-1 on Sunday to escape the Midwest Regional.