The NCAA national championship game ended with a shutout Saturday night.
Minnesota Duluth goaltender Hunter Shepard blanked UMass 3-0 in Buffalo’s KeyBank Center to give the Bulldogs a second-straight national championship.
It was a fitting end to the lowest-scoring NCAA tournament ever.
There were 65 goals scored in the tournament, an average of 4.3 per game. That eclipsed the previous record-low of 4.5 goals per game in 2004.
It also marked the second year in a row where there was a significant drop in goals in the NCAA tournament. More than 85 goals were scored in the NCAA tournament for four-straight years from 2014-17. That number plummeted to 73 last season and again to 65 this season.
Shepard’s shutout against UMass marked the sixth of the tournament, also a record, eclipsing five shutouts in 2004 and 2006.
That leaves three big questions for the sport’s coaches and administrators:
1. Is this a trend or is this a blip on the radar?
There’s no question that the highest-end players in college hockey this season -- and perhaps last season for that matter -- were defensemen. Six of the 10 Hobey Baker Award finalists were defensemen -- the most ever. The Hobey Hat Trick was entirely made up of defensemen.
The forwards were not as high-end as we’re used to. The nation’s leading scorers this year were Michigan State’s Taro Hirose and Penn State’s Alex Limoges with 50 points.
That’s the lowest number of points for the nation’s leading scorer since the NCAA started sponsoring men’s hockey in 1947-48.
It’s entirely possible that the past two years were just part of a cycle and it’s not indicative of the future. Perhaps the forwards will rise again next season.
But you also have to wonder. All sports are copy-cat themed.
Coaches will certainly take notice that college hockey’s premier run-and-gun teams, St. Cloud State and Penn State, have not been the ones winning at the end of the season. And they’ll notice that two teams who didn’t score much but defended remarkably well -- Minnesota Duluth and Denver -- did have success.
The Bulldogs won back-to-back national championships without having a single point-per game guy on the roster either season.
2. Is this a problem worth addressing?
The next question coaches and administrators will have to ask is, if they do believe this is a trend, is it a problem? Do they want to address it?
You’ll likely have arguments from all sides. Some will say it’s a trend, some will say it’s not. Some will say it’s a problem that needs to be addressed, some will say it’s OK to have low-scoring games.
That leads us to the third question.
3. If it does need to be addressed, how do you do it?
College hockey allows for rules changes to be made every other year. This summer is not a rules-change year, so administrators’ hands are tied a little bit.
But they do allow rules clarifications and new points of emphasis.
Annually, the most popular way to try to increase scoring is to demand a crackdown on stick penalties and obstruction. College hockey has made progress in this, but its standard for stick penalties and obstruction is still nowhere near the NHL’s.
One problem that the sport has encountered is that every time it tries a major crackdown on stick penalties, the number of power plays skyrockets in October. Coaches become upset with the number of penalties and power plays, complain to league commissioners and supervisors of officials, and eventually referees start to back off on how tight they call games.
If there is another crackdown coming, will coaches, administrators and officials be able to stick with it all season long?
We’re not far away from the annual meetings in Florida, where all of this is discussed. You can bet that this will be brought up again.
Another NoDak champion
For the fourth year in a row, a North Dakotan was on the NCAA national championship team.
For the second year in a row, it was Minto, N.D., product Jade Miller.
Miller had a string of second-place finishes until last season.
He lost in the bantam state championship as an eighth-grader. He played for three North Dakota high school state championships and lost all of them. He played in a North American Hockey League Robertson Cup final and lost. And as a freshman, he played in the NCAA Frozen Four national title game and lost.
Now, Miller has two-straight championships.
He played a key role on this Bulldog team. From Feb. 2 to the end of the season, only one Bulldog forward had more points than Miller’s 10. That was senior captain Parker Mackay, the Frozen Four’s Most Outstanding Player, who had 13.
- Jade Miller (@JMills_17) April 15, 2019
In 2017, defenseman Matt VanVoorhis of Grand Forks won an NCAA championship with Denver. And in 2016, Luke Johnson, Paul LaDue and Johnny Simonson of Grand Forks and Keaton Thompson of Devils Lake won with UND.
Regional announcements coming
The NCAA is expected to announce regional sites for 2020 and 2021 this week.
UND confirmed to the Herald that it has submitted bids to host regionals, but did not specify for which venues. It is believed that UND submitted a bid to host a regional in Fargo’s Scheels Arena for at least one of the years.
UND hosted regionals in Fargo in 2015, 2017 and 2019. It also hosted a regional in Sioux Falls, S.D., in 2018.
Although there has been a lack of bids from Western-based sites -- which has helped UND land four regionals in five years -- it is also believed that the University of Denver submitted a bid to host a regional in Loveland, Colo., at the home of the American Hockey League’s Colorado Eagles.
The NCAA tries to avoid awarding regionals to home sites, per the wishes of the majority of the coaching body.
Will Scheel get drafted?
The NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau released its final draft rankings for 2019 on Monday.
Seven UND players, current or future, are on the list, led by incoming freshman Shane Pinto and Grand Forks native Judd Caulfield.
One name absent from the list is UND freshman goaltender Adam Scheel, who is coming off of a fantastic freshman season.
Scheel has been draft eligible for the last two seasons, but has been passed up both times. This is his final year of draft eligibility. If he does not get picked, he becomes an undrafted free agent.
One possible reason why Scheel isn’t on Central Scouting’s radar is because he’s a third-year draft eligible player. Over the years, Central Scouting has generally focused on first-year eligibles.
For example, Rhett Gardner did not crack Central Scouting’s final rankings in 2016 as a second-year draft eligible player. But Gardner ended up being picked in the fourth round by the Dallas Stars, anyway. Paul LaDue and Tucker Poolman also were omitted by Central Scouting, yet were picked in their drafts.
Throughout the season, more and more NHL scouts showed up to watch Scheel, who finished with a .910 save percentage and a 2.07 goals-against average. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in February against Western Michigan, but did not have to have surgery.
Scheel’s omission on the draft rankings probably has more to do with the fact that he’s a third-year eligible player than his injury, and his omission does not mean he won’t get picked.
DU goalie turns pro
Breathe a sigh of relief, UND fans.
The Fighting Hawks will never have to face Filip Larsson again.
The Denver goaltender, who repeatedly turned away UND this season, signed a three-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings on Monday, giving up his final three years of college eligibility.
From UND’s perspective, the one year he spent in college was enough. Larsson went 4-0-1 against UND this season, stopping 180 of 185 shots (.973 save percentage). Larsson beat UND in games where the Fighting Hawks outshot the Pioneers by 15, 19, 24 and 12 shots.
Denver still brings back goaltender Devin Cooley, who also had an exceptional season. Cooley posted a .934 save percentage and a 1.85 goals-against average in 20 starts.
The Pioneers clearly were prepared for Larsson to leave, too. They added a high-end goalie commit for next season in March -- Tampa Bay Lightning fifth-round draft pick Magnus Chrona of Sweden.
The #RedWings today agreed to terms with goaltender Filip Larsson on a three-year entry-level contract. The contract will begin with the 2019-20 season.
Details: https://t.co/fe75v5FtE4 pic.twitter.com/DW9Hvk6g4L
- Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) April 15, 2019
Oshie scores highlight goal
T.J. Oshie has been known to live on highlight reels with the remarkable things he can do with the puck.
Apparently, he has some skills with his feet, too.
Oshie scored a highlight-reel goal in the playoffs this weekend for the Washington Capitals by kicking a defenseman’s stick out of his way before driving the net and scoring on his backhand.
It’s a must-see goal.
Grimaldi gets one for grandpa
Rocco Grimaldi scored his first NHL playoff goal this weekend for the Nashville Predators, and it’s one he will remember for a number of reasons.
Grimaldi’s goal tied the game against the Dallas Stars 1-1. Nashville eventually won it 2-1 in overtime (Grimaldi was screening the goalie on the game-winner).
Grimaldi said that he writes a name on each of his sticks before every game. He scored his goal with a stick named “Frankie,” after his grandfather. It wasn’t until after the game that he realized it came on the third anniversary of his grandfather, Frank’s, passing.
“I’m sure he enjoyed the game in heaven!” Grimaldi tweeted. “Love you Papa!”
Nelson stays hot with Isles
Last summer, a former Warroad High and UND star won the Stanley Cup. It was T.J. Oshie with the Washington Capitals.
This spring, another former Warroad High and UND star is rolling in the playoffs. Brock Nelson has two goals in three games for the New York Islanders, who have a commanding 3-0 series lead on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Nelson scored the eventual game-winner Sunday.
Frisch getting playoff experience
Moorhead’s Ethan Frisch should come to UND next season with some good playoff experience.
He made a run to the Minnesota state tournament two years ago with Moorhead High School, and now he’ll experience the USHL’s Clark Cup playoffs with the Fargo Force.
Frisch also is getting experience playing on his off-hand in Fargo. The Force are set with right-handed defensemen, so they have Frisch playing on the left side. That experience could come in handy next season as he tries to find playing time on a loaded Fighting Hawk defensive corps that lost just one senior, Hayden Shaw.
Kunz gets first USHL goal
Former Grand Forks Red River forward and UND commit Jackson Kunz played for Shattuck-St. Mary’s this season. But after Shattuck’s season ended at nationals, the Green Bay Gamblers asked Kunz to suit up for them for their final two games of the season.
Kunz did that over the weekend and he quickly made his mark.
The sophomore scored his first USHL goal in his second game. He was playing alongside fellow former Red River player and UND commit Braden Costello.
Another Greater Grand Forks player also made his USHL debut over the weekend. East Grand Forks Senior High’s Landon Parker played two games for Sioux City.