SAINT PAUL, MN. --- For the first half of the second WCHA semifinal Thursday night, it seemed that the harder Alaska-Anchorage played, the more Colorado College scored. The Tigers built a lead of 3-0 while entrusting their fate to goaltender Joe Howe, who held off the Seawolves long enough for a 4-2 victory, and a berth in Friday's Final Five semifinals against league champion and top-seeded North Dakota.
The Seawolves knew they had to play well enough to beat Colorado College to keep alive their longshot dream of a Final Five championship and an NCAA berth alive. And the Seawolves did play well enough, but Howe was unyielding, while defenseman Joe Marciano scored twice in the second period -- for two-thirds of his goal total for two collegiate seasons -- to send CC into the 7:07 p.m. second semifinal against the Fighting Sioux.
"We had a tough series with Wisconsin to get here, and we hadn't been here for two years," said CC coach Scott Owens. "I'm very pleased to win against a team like Anchorage, which is playing as well as any team in the country right now. If we had lost, I think we'd have been done, as far as NCAA consideration. Now we might be OK. We're just happy to be playing. We know North Dakota is also a physical team, but we'd like the chance to play for the Broadmoor Cup, which we've never won."
The Tigers (22-17-3) were outshot 23-16, but were never threatened on the scoreboard by Alaska-Anchorage, which missed a chance to reach the .500 level and instead finish 16-18-3. The Seawolves became something of a home team in the Twin Cities, staying over after finishing the regular season at Minnesota State-Mankato, and then beating Minnesota in the first round of WCHA playoffs. But "home ice" at Xcel Eneregy Center in Saint Paul didn't help the Seawolves.
"It doesn't feel right," said Alaska-Anchorage coach Dave Shyiak. "I thought we earned the right to win by the way we played. I thought we played well, and we had some quality scoring chances early, but we didn't get any of them to go in. And all four of their goals went in off skates."
Colorado College, which won its first-round playoff series by losing the first game to Wisconsin before coming back to win the next two, appeared determined to not fall behind Alaska-Anchorage, which had upset Minnesota in two straight games to reach the Final Five for only the second time. The Tigers got an early power play opportunity and made the most of it, when freshman Eamonn McDermott shot from the top of the left circle and the puck was tipped by Dakota Eveland, another freshman, before William Rapuzzi, a sophomore from Anchorage, of all places, grabbed the loose puck, spun and jammed it in at 7:30.
"Maybe I get up a little more for them, because I know them all, and we play summer hockey together when I go home," said Rapuzzi.
Howe made a series of big saves as the first period wore on , then, after Ryan Lowery's left point shot was blocked to the slot, Tim Hall corralled the puck and drilled his shot into the upper right past goaltender Chris Kamal, the hero of Anchorage's 1-0 shutout in the second game to sweep at Minnesota.The Seawolves outshot Colorado College 7-5 in the first period, but the Tigers didn't let up in the second period.
Marciano, a sophomore defenseman who scored his only goal in two seasons earlier this year, scored at 4:39 with a shot from inside the right point that glanced in off a Seawolves defenseman, to make it 3-0.
Anchorage coach Dave Shyiak called a timeout and pulled Kamal for Rob Gunderson at that point to try to get his team untracked. "Chris had strung five straight strong games together," said Shyiak. "And here three goals went in off skates. It wasn't his fault, it was one of those 'puck-luck' things. I can't say enough for our two freshman goaltenders and for what they've meant to our program this year."
The Seawolves broke through Howe when CC defenseman Gabe Guentzel took his second of three penalties in the game. The Seawolves pressed until the penalty time expired, but just as Guentzel returned to the ice the puck came to Quinn Sproule at left point. He whistled a shot that Mickey Spencer deflected into the lower left corner to cut the AA deficit to 3-1.
Before the second period ended, however, Steven Schultz and Jaden Schwartz forechecked to keep the puck in the Seawolves zone, and ultimately to Marciano, a right-handed shot playing left defense. Marciano moved in and fired to score with 18 seconds to go in the second period, meaning that after scoring only one goal in 71 college games, Marciano, who is from Alta Loma, California, scored two in Game 72. More importantly, it gave the Tigers a 4-1 cushion going into the third period.
"I was lucky enough to get the puck through on the first one," said Marciano. "Then on the second one, Schultz and Schwartzie worked hard and I was lucky enough to get that one through, too."
The 4-1 lead remained, even though the Seawolves kept working for good scoring chances. Ironically, the only other goal Anchorage scored was while shorthanded when Tyler Currier was called for a 5-minute checking-from-behind major with 4:20 remaining. Luka Vidmar scored short-handed with a blast from the right point, but it came with only 1:01 remaining."
Even good puck-luck couldn't make up the two-goal deficit in the remaining time.