2020 Central Regionals Recap: Close Loses End Nationals Dream

With a record four WCCHA teams qualifying for the ACHA M2 Central Regional Tournament this year, hopes were high that at least one would break through and reach the final round and earn the victory that would take them to Nationals. Unfortunately, two close loses – including one in overtime – meant this season’s qualfiers will need to wait until next season for another chance at qualifying for the National Tournament.

On Friday, #12 UW-Eau Claire took on the #9 seed (and event host) Grand Valley State in the Regionals’ opening game. After a well contested first period that ended knotted at zero, the hosts came out flying in the second and chipped in three straight tallies. After a UWEC goal briefly calmed the game, the Lakers got an important – and perhaps backbreaking – goal almost immediately to run the score to 4-1 before the Blugolds would score again for a 4-2 game after the second. With goals needed, UWEC controlled play for long periods of the third but two big turnovers created odd-man rushes that GVSU converted to ice the game and take the 6-2 opening round victory.

In the other play-in game later Friday, #10 Wisconsin and #11 Minnesota battled to confirm a spot in Saturday’s semifinal round.  The long-time rivals played an exciting, back-and-forth game, with Minnesota opening the scoring only for Wisconsin to strike back for a 2-1 lead after the first. In the second, two goals from the Gophers turned the game around briefly, but a hard push at the end of the second gave the Badgers the lead back at 4-3. UMN pushed hard for an equalizer in the third, but UW got the next goal to build a 2-goal cushion and with the Minnesota goalie pulled late, added a final empty net tally for a 6-3 win – their first ever at Regionals.

On Saturday, #10 Wisconsin played the first game of the day in a matchup against in-state opponent and #3 seeded Marian University. Early in the game, Wisconsin stunned the Sabres and take the lead on a beautiful stretch pass turned breakaway goal. Unfortunately, a set of penalties just after the midway point put MU on a 5-on-3 power play where they almost instantly evened the game. The Sabres struck twice more before a late Wisconsin response to end the period at 3-2. The game would once again be tied 4 minutes in to the second, but the Sabres scored the next two goals for a 5-3 lead.

Once again, the Badgers netted before the end of the period to take the game to 5-4 entering the third. With momentum, UW relentlessly attacked the Sabres end with a number of good chances to tie the game. Unfortunately, on this occassion an equalizer just wouldn’t come as top-seeded Marian saw out the game for a narrow and hard-fought 5-4 win

In the third scheduled semifinal game, #5 St. Thomas took on #8 Davenport in arguably the weekend’s best game. The teams were evenly matched throughout the game, with each having spells of ascendency but overall very level. Davenport scored just 1 minute into the game, but UST responded mid-way through there period for a 1-1 game after the first. St. Thomas earned their first lead just 3:34 into the second and hold it through the second, turning away some good Davenport rushes but being unable to capitalize on their own. Early in the third, the Tommies grew the lead to 2 as Joe Buckingham scored his second.

The Panthers, however, would not quit on the game and clawed their way back first through a goal with 13 minutes remaining and then gaining the equalizer on a 1v2 rush. While both teams would have chances to take a late lead, the game went to overtime to determine who would be the Regionals finalist. Through the entirety of overtime, St. Thomas and Davenport pushed hard with some huge saves from both goaltenders continuing the game. Then, lightning struck as a turnover high in the defensive zone led to a cross-ice pass with the DU forward one-timing the shot past UST’s Jack Hardwick to get the massive 4-3 overtime win.

In the other two regional semifinals, #7 Aurora defeated #6 Iowa 8-5 while #4 Trine took care of #9 Grand Valley State 4-1. On Sunday, #4 Trine earned a decisive 6-2 victory over #7 Aurora to earn the first ticket to Nationals, while #8 Davenport would complete their impressive Regionals run with a blowout 8-2 win over #3 Marian.

Thus, a record season for the WCCHA Regionals’ attendees came to end, but not without plenty to be proud of for each team:

ST. THOMAS – 24 wins, second-straight Southeast Division title, 3rd place finish at the WCCHA Tournament., #5 finish in the ACHA Central Regions Rankings (highest ever for a WCCHA Team), second-straight Regionals appearance (WCCHA record 5th overall)

WISCONSIN – 23 wins, 11-1 non-conference record, #10 finish in the ACHA Central Regions Rankings (highest ever), first trip to ACHA Central Regionals, first ACHA postseason win (Friday night)

MINNESOTA – 22 wins, Northwest Division title (2nd overall), 3rd straight appearance at Central Regional Tournament (T-longest WCCHA streak)

UW-EAU CLAIRE –  21 wins, including a 20-game win streak, third WCCHA Title/Carla Berg Cup Championship, first trip to ACHA Central Regionals

Congratulations to all WCCHA players, coaches, volunteers and staff on a fantastic season! Best of luck to all of our student-athletes who will be graduating in the Spring.