Originally created 03/31/04

Conference foes to meet in semis



BOSTON -- The four teams seeking the NCAA hockey championship have plenty of time to prepare. But already know their semifinal opponents well.

They'll play more than a week after the teams were determined and will face conference opponents who met during the regular season - Denver vs. Minnesota Duluth from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and Boston College vs. Maine from Hockey East.

"Being a traditionalist," Maine coach Tim Whitehead said he welcomes that. "That makes for an east-west final."

Minnesota Duluth was 2-0 against Denver and Maine was 2-1 against Boston College in the regular season. By the time the rematches are held on April 8, all four teams will have gone at least 10 days without a game.

"Sometimes being able to have rest at this time of year is the most important thing," Denver coach George Gwozdecky said Tuesday.

And having been eliminated early in the WCHA tournament "might be a blessing in disguise because we were rested for the (NCAA) regionals," he said.

Denver (25-12-5) reached the Frozen Four by beating North Dakota 1-0 last Saturday behind Adam Berkhoel's 33 saves and Luke Fulghum's goal. Minnesota Duluth made it with a 3-1 victory last Sunday over Minnesota, the NCAA champion the past two years.

The time off could mean Connor James, Denver's second leading scorer, will be back for the semifinals.

"There's a better than 50-50 chance he might be available," Gwozdecky said.

Denver, which won the last of its five NCAA titles in 1969, finished tied for fourth in the WCHA during the regular season. Minnesota Duluth (28-12-4) hasn't won a national title but finished second in the WCHA and appears healthy after Junior Lessard, its top scorer with 30 goals and 31 assists, made it back in time for the regionals.

"He's our leader. He's obviously our go-to guy offensively," Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. "But we're not a one-man team."

Don't expect much offense in the other semifinal.

Maine (32-7-3) is the nation's top defensive team and Boston College is second. The Black Bears have outscored opponents 26-12 during their current nine-game winning streak with the last seven wins coming by one goal each.

Boston College (29-8-4) had lost five of six games before beating Niagara 5-2 and Michigan 3-2 on an overtime goal by Ben Eaves to reach the semifinals.

"We were really on cruise control, playing so well in December, January, February and into March," BC coach Jerry York said. "Then we took some things for granted."

Maine has an outstanding goalie in Jimmy Howard, but getting good shots on him could be tough against strong defensive skaters.

"We're going to have to win a lot of little battles before we get to Jimmy Howard in the net," York said. "We need to have more scoring chances coming from our four lines and our defensemen."

The Eagles won their second national championship in 2001, and York won another in 1984 when Bowling Green beat Minnesota Duluth in four overtimes.

Maine, the national champion in 1993 and 1999, reached the semifinals by beating Harvard 5-4 after trailing by three goals in the third period and then Wisconsin, 2-1 in overtime.

"We probably got the right bounces (against Wisconsin) and, as a result, we're on our way to Boston," Whitehead said. "BC does a tremendous job on their penalty kill so goals will be hard to come by. ... We're preparing for a tight checking game."