Icers Recap: The Not-So-Pretty Path to the Semis

If you haven't been following my clogging up of the Fanposts, the ACHA D1 National Tournament is here. After a set of play-in games, the Icers knew who their first opponent would be on their road to a final Murdoch Cup. Awaiting them on Saturday was the familiar foe of West Virginia. A win and the Icers would continue to the quarterfinals and end their time in the ACHA undefeated against the Mountaineers. A loss would not only be very disappointing, but the biggest upset in tournament history. Looking to make a final statement in the ACHA, the Icers took the ice for a second-round match-up against WVU.

Saturday, March 3rd, vs. West Virginia:

Team 1st 2nd 3rd Final
#17 West Virginia 1 0 0 1
#1 PENN STATE 1 0 3 4
PSU Goals: Longo, Russo, Holstrom, McDonaugh

After a full week off and nearly no meaningful games in a month, the Icers jumped onto the ice against a primed and ready West Virginia team. Like the earlier meetings, the Icers controlled much of the early play, but could not convert on the scoreboard. The Mountaineers would strike first, scoring on the power play with about 8 minutes left in the period. WVU nearly took that lead into the intermission, but Mike Longo would score his own power play goal with just 8 seconds left in the period. A back-and-forth period was kept scoreless by great play from both goaltenders. Early in the third period, Bryce Johnson would find Brandon Russo making the rush to the net, giving the Icers a 2-1 lead. The Icers would not look back, as Holstrom and McDonaugh would add late goals, and goaltender Matt Madrazo would hold the fort for a 4-1 Icers win. The win set up a rematch with a hungry Oklahoma team.

Sunday, March 4th, vs. Oklahoma:

Team 1st 2nd 3rd Final
#9 Oklahoma 2 1 0 3
#1 PENN STATE 0 3 3 6
PSU Goals: B. Johnson (x2), Longo (x2),
Olczyk, Morrone

The Sooners were 5 minutes from a dominating win over the Icers in February, and instead ended up with a loss. They opened the game with a similar gameplan - keep the Icers opportunities down, take advantage of breaks and turnovers. And the Icers gave the Sooners a lot of turnovers, which ultimately gave the Sooners a 2-0 lead after the first period. Bryce Johnson would finally solve the OU goaltender with some scrappy work in tight, cutting the lead to 2-1. But an Icers penalty gave the Sooners the chance to re-extend the lead to 3-1. Late in the period, Mike Longo would fire a simple shot through the legs of the goalie, and Johnson would get his 2nd goal late in the period to make it a 3-3 tie heading into the second intermission. Then, the bizarre happened.

At the end of the period, Justin Kirchhevel decided to continue his jawing and made his target OU goalie Nick Holmes. It should be noted that the period ended with the puck in the Icers end. In any case, there was a get-together between the players before everyone was finally corralled and taken off the ice. No penalties were announced at that time. At the start of the third period, the refs finally announce the penalties - 4 minutes to Kirchhevel for unsportsmanlike conduct, and a 5-minute major to the goalie for head-butting. Since it was a major penalty, the goalie had to sit in the penalty box for the 5 minutes. This didn't let the backup goalie for OU get any real prep time, and the Icers took advantage. On the 4-on-4, Tommy Olczyk would put home a Dom Morrone pass just 49 seconds in. 12 seconds later, Olczyk would set up Morrone to make it 5-3 just 1:01 into the period. Goalie PJ Musico would shut down the Sooners from there, and Longo would add an empty net goal to seal the deal for the Icers, skating to a 6-3 victory.

Season Record and ACHA Ranking: 29-3-1 (27-2-1 ACHA), ranked #1 in the ACHA

News, Notes, Observations: Some quick notes on the weekend. Madrazo looked solid against WVU, coming off his slight foot injury that held him out of the season finale. Musico looked good, especially considering the number of turnovers the defense decided to make.

Yes, turnovers continue to be a problem. Good goaltending has saved them often, but the defense has done well to recover for their turnovers. Russo raced back to cancel out a Sooner on a 2-on-1 after he turned the puck over at the offensive blue line.

Mike Longo has 3 goals. Did not see that coming. Dom Morrone has been one of the best players so far - great physical presence and adding an offensive presence. He ended up on the top line with Olczyk and Kirchhevel by the end of the Oklahoma game. If Morrone hasn't been the best, it's only because Bryce Johnson continues his torrid pace. Two goals, four assists in these two games, not to mention the fact that he's been everywhere. Also, Tim Acker has been in both games, which is unexpected but nice to see.

Icers next game will be Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. against #13 Oakland - a team the Icers lost to in the 2007 National Championship game.

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