COLLEGE HOCKEY: The upset that changed college hockey
It was 10 years ago today, but Tyler McGregor can recall almost everything about the play. "It started in the defensive zone," he said. "Our guy made a nice poke-check. I knew we had an odd-man rush and I wanted to gain the zone quickly." McGrego...
It was 10 years ago today, but Tyler McGregor can recall almost everything about the play.
"It started in the defensive zone," he said.
"Our guy made a nice poke-check. I knew we had an odd-man rush and I wanted to gain the zone quickly."
McGregor, skating up the left wing, knew where linemate Blair Bartlett was going to go.
The two had played hockey together at Holy Cross for four years. Both were seniors. They both played in an NCAA tournament game together two years earlier against North Dakota, losing 3-0. That was supposed to be the result this time around.
In the first three-plus years of the 16-team NCAA tournament format, No. 1 seeds were 15-0 against No. 4 seeds. Many of those games were blowouts.
Minnesota was a heavy favorite this time, too.
Not only had the Gophers just won national titles in 2002 and 2003, they were loaded with players like Phil Kessel, Ryan Potulny, Danny Irmen, Chris Harrington and Alex Goligoski.
But Holy Cross had kept this one close throughout. The Crusaders held leads of 1-0 and 2-1 before forcing overtime with a goal midway through the third period to make it 3-3.
It was McGregor's first shift of overtime. And the leading scorer had a three-on-two developing next to him.
"I knew Blair Bartlett was going to go to the net," McGregor said. "He always went to the net hard. I was trying to be a little cute and feed him. But it hit the skate of the defender and came right back to me. I saw a wide open net."
"That's when it becomes a blur."
McGregor fired the shot heard around college hockey-a wrister past Minnesota goalie Kellen Briggs for an overtime game-winning goal.
The game was played in Ralph Engelstad Arena, home of Minnesota's biggest rival, North Dakota. So, the sold-out crowd erupted.
"It was deafening," McGregor said. "It was the loudest I've ever heard a barn-pro, college, anything. I got buried underneath 20 guys. When you do something like that, it's one of the most pure senses of emotion that you could ever have. You are just so happy.
"And to see The Ralph go ape (blank) crazy, it was pretty fun."
The upset was shocking at the time, but as it turns out, it just opened the door to a new era of college hockey and parity in the NCAA tournament.
When the tournament expanded to 16 teams in 2003, No. 1 seeds usually didn't have trouble advancing.
In the decade since that game, top seeds are just 21-16 against No. 4 seeds. Not a year has gone by without a fourth-seeded team beating a top-seeded team.
In the past decade, more No. 4 seeds have reached the NCAA Frozen Four than No. 2 seeds or No. 3 seeds. In the last eight years, the same number of No. 4 seeds have reached the Frozen Four as No. 2 and 3 seeds combined.
In 2009, Bemidji State became the first auto-bid team to reach the Frozen Four. RIT did it again the next year.
In each of the past three seasons, the final at-large team to be selected to the field has reached the NCAA Frozen Four-Yale in 2013, North Dakota in 2014 and Providence in 2015. Yale and Providence went on to win the national championship.
Last season, there was more mayhem.
RIT became the first No. 16 overall seed to beat a No. 1 overall seed when it knocked off Minnesota State-Mankato in the first round, leaving virtually no barriers left to be broken for No. 4 seeds in the tournament.
Almost nothing qualifies as an upset anymore.
The Holy Cross victory was just a precursor to that.
"It was definitely shocking because it was Holy Cross, which hadn't really done anything to that point," College Hockey News editor and founder Adam Wodon said. "And Minnesota had recently won a couple of national championships. But I felt like it was going to happen to somebody at some point soon. I don't think it was an out-of-nowhere thing. There were some close games in the years leading up to that.
"I'm not sure if that moment caused what happened after that, but it's the defining moment for parity of everything. It has only gotten moreso that way. Everyone keeps expecting the rich to get richer at some point, but it only seems to get tighter and tighter.
"From a national perspective, I think what has happened since then, has vindicated Minnesota not being a laughing-stock for losing that game and it has vindicated Atlantic Hockey as not being looked at as a joke," Wodon said.
More this year
Once again this season, a couple of No. 4 seeds seem nothing like No. 4 seeds as the tournament is set to open Friday afternoon.
Top-seeded North Dakota is getting set to play a fourth-seeded Northeastern team that is 20-1-2 in its last 23 games.
And in Worcester, Mass., top-seeded Providence is getting set to play a fourth-seeded Minnesota Duluth team that is 7-1 in its past eight games, including three wins against No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.
"They are two of the hottest teams in the country," Wodon said.
The other two No. 4 seeds are RIT and Ferris State.
While many of the prognosticators are heavily picking top seeds to win, recent history says we'll see at least one No. 4 seed advance this weekend.
McGregor, now a fourth-year orthopedic surgery resident in Michigan, will be keeping his eye on it all.
He says he still follows college hockey-when he has time-and still randomly hears people ask if he was on that Holy Cross team.
"It's good to see all of the parity now, especially with the major conference realignment," McGregor said. "It's nice to see the smaller schools compete and have a pretty respectable record against the bigger schools. Everyone always roots for the underdog. It's nice to say that we were the first to be able to do it."