Bulldogs at their best get to do it again

UMD freshman Hunter Miska stopped 60 of 64 shots by Ohio State and Boston University to lead UMD to a pair of overtime victories at the West Regional and into the NCAA Frozen Four. Photo credit: John Gilbert
UMD freshman Hunter Miska stopped 60 of 64 shots by Ohio State and Boston University to lead UMD to a pair of overtime victories at the West Regional and into the NCAA Frozen Four. Photo credit: John Gilbert

The Ohio State shooter made his move and fired, and UMD goaltender Hunter Miska made his counter-move and blocked the shot. Sometimes that was good enough; other times Miska would be down on the right edge of the crease, while another Buckeye shooter gathered the puck and shot for the open left side of the cage. No problem, Miska simply stretched out his 6-foot-1 frame fully, feet first, stacking his pads, and threw his top leg up to deflect that shot up and over.

Point blank tries, wide-open rebounds, deflections, and even shots he had to pin to his own back, all came hurtling at Miska throughout the Friday night NCAA West Regional semifinal, and on 40 of those, he got a piece of equipment in the way for a save. In the scoreless first period, he made one save that may not have been a save, when a Buckeye shot from close in on the left side. The puck hit Miska and popped up, out of everyone’s view. Miska could only feel it, as it landed on the top of his right shoulder, and started rolling down his back. Stationed about an inch ahead of the goal line, Miska realized that if the puck was allowed to land, it would be across the line. Instinctively, he reached back and pinned the puck against his own back, while alertly pivoting out of the crease and away from danger. The Buckeyes celebrated, but video review upheld the fact that there was no evidence of the puck ever crossing the line, so it stayed 0-0.

After a scoreless first period, UMD gained a 2-0 jump on the Buckeyes when Captain Dom Toninato scored in the first minute of the second, and freshman defenseman Nick Wolff made it 2-0 later in the middle period. OSU’s Matt Joyaux got one back 7 minutes into the third period, and that sent the Bulldogs into the dreaded defensive shell, where they knew if they held on, they’d win. 

But that played into the Buckeyes momentum, and freshman Gordie Myer scored the equalizer a few minutes later. The teams raged into overtime, and Miska continued to play spectacularly in goal. He looked hopelessly beaten on one play as a Buckeye had a golden opportunity to deke, cut left, and slide the puck into the open net. But Miska lunged, threw his right arm forward and laid the paddle part of his big goal stick down flat on the ice — just as the shot arrived, rendered stillborn.

After 11:58 of overtime had passed, Willie Raskob — one of four senior defensemen in the game, and seven in the lineup — moved in from the point for an Alex Iafallo pass and rifled it into the net for a 3-2 victory.

The strength of this season’s UMD hockey team is in its incredible balance. Strength and skill, but in balanced proportions, where everybody pulls together. When it came time for a big goal, generally it was Lafallo who scored it, although late in the season, his fellow-senior Toninato was chipping in key goals with great regularity.

Miska was at the other end of the spectrum, arriving as a freshman from Stacy, Minnesota, to battle with two other freshmen, Hunter Shepard of Grand Rapids and Nick Deery of LaCrosse, Wis. They each got their turn, and all three looked capable. But after a couple of rounds of equal chances, Miska took the job and ran with it.

If the name is vaguely familiar, it might be because his dad gained great fame for painting goalie masks with creative designs, for NHLers, on down.  Maybe that’s why his son ultimately decided to tend goal, although Hunter Miska didn’t play goal until he was in ninth grade, a late starting time for someone in such a pivotal position. That means all his potential may still be ahead of him, because Miska is quick and competitive, and a great athlete.

He could have been MVP of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff the previous week, but Lafallo won it, richly deserved. Miska did win it in Fargo, with 60 saves in two days, coming back the day after the Ohio State game to lift his team in a battle of exhaustion against Boston University.  BU had overcome North Dakota 4-3 in double overtime right there in Scheels Arena in Fargo in Friday’s first semifinal.

BU was totally outplayed by North Dakota, which outshot the Terriers 59-29, but simply couldn’t score. Trailing 3-1 with 8 minutes left in the third, the Fighting Hawks tied the game on goals by Ludvig Hoff and Christian Wolanin. In overtime, Dixon Bowen scored a nice goal to give North Dakota an apparent victory, but after a lengthy review, the officials noted that while the puck was rushed up the right boards, Hoff had cheated and stepped offside, with both skates, on the left boards. The goal was disallowed.

BU, having gone without a shot for the entire 20 minute first overtime, the Terriers struck for a pretty goal to win in the second OT. Freshman defenseman Clayton Keller moved up the left boards from the point and spotted Charlie McAvoy, his D partner, sneaking from the right point to the net, undetected. Keller had a clear diagonal channel, and zipped a perfect pass that McAvoy put into the net with a one-time deflection and BU had won 4-3 in 2 OTs.

In the region final, there was some question which team would be more exhausted, and for a time, it looked like UMD was more spent as BU’s Clayton Keller carried up the left side and, quite easily, cut across the slot and beat Miska with a backhander to the far side for a 1-0 lead. Iafallo countered, when he took off on a rush up the left side, circling behind the net and beating goaltender Jake Oettinger with a wraparound that went in off a defenseman’s skate for his 19th goal, with a mere 18 seconds left in the session. It stayed 1-1 until the third period, when freshman Joey Anderson gave UMD a 2-1 lead. But Patrick Harper tied it 2-2 for BU with 3 minutes remaining.

In overtime, BU’s Bobo Carpenter got his stick tangled up between Johnson’s legs and dumped the UMD sophomore to the ice. Carpenter went off for a rare overtime penalty, and Johnson went back to right point on the power play. Iafallo and Neal Pionk exchanged the puck and Pionk fed Johnson, who fired a shot that was blocked by a BU defenseman. It came right back to Johnson, who maneuvered in and around a defender and snapped a shot into the upper corner at 1:57 of the overtime. 

The Bulldogs now get two weeks off before facing Harvard in the 5 p.m. first NCAA Frozen Four semifinal in Chicago’s United Center. Denver takes on Notre Dame in the other semifinal.