East Regional final sets up Maine-UMass rematch
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- The game felt like it could (and would) go on forever.
For nearly three hours on Friday afternoon, tournament rookie UMass and East Regional top seed Clarkson battled to put the first puck of the 2007 NCAA hockey tournament in the net.
And for 67 minutes they couldn't.
Then, in sudden and stunning fashion on the 71st shot of the game, one team's season ended and one lived to play another day.The Minutemen were in the right place at the right time at the right moment and finally found a way to beat Knights goalie David Leggio, who -- along with UMass' Jon Quick -- was the definition of "kick save and a beauty" all afternoon.Winslow Townson/AP PhotoUMass' Will Ortiz set up the game-winner in overtime for the Minutemen.
Third-line left wing Kevin Jarman picked up a loose puck in a scramble in front of the Clarkson goal and lifted it up and over Leggio for the 1-0 UMass overtime win in front of 3,887 at Blue Cross Arena.
"It started with me and Will [Ortiz] exchanging the puck behind the net," Jarman said. "He did a nice job of taking it around to the front of the net. I went backdoor and it scooted out to Jordan Virtue who put a nice backhand on net. I was just fortunate to get the garbage and put it over the goalie."
After the "garbage" was picked up and deposited, Jarman was mobbed by Virtue and his teammates in the corner as the Clarkson players tried to make sense of what had just occurred.
Still wearing his goalie pads and skates well after the game was over, a subdued Leggio still wasn't completely sure what happened on the season-ending goal. "I made the initial save and I thought the puck was underneath me, but I guess [Jarman] did a great job putting it top shelf," he said.
For the night, Leggio made 37 saves and in the process set a Clarkson single-season record with 1,037.
That in no way helped to heal the hurt of a promising postseason that was suddenly over.
Coming in, Clarkson (25-9-5) looked like the ECAC's best hope to get a team into the Frozen Four for the first time since 2003. The Golden Knights won the league tournament in dramatic come-from-behind fashion, were ranked No. 3 in the nation and earned a No. 1 seed.
Instead, they were the first of 16 teams to be sent home.
"You could just see that it was going to be one of those games when the first one that goes in would be the winner," Clarkson coach George Roll said. "In a couple of days we'll look back on it and feel very proud of what we accomplished this year."
Until then, Clarkson is faced with what will feel like the longest bus ride of the season back to Potsdam.
In the other dressing room, the emotions were surprisingly in check for a program that should have been giddy just to be here -- not to mention downright certifiable to be moving on to play again.
"We're grateful as a program to live another day," UMass coach Don Cahoon said. "We got the break, and now our challenge is to get grounded enough to move on in a positive way."
Moving on for the Minutemen (21-12-5) means having to face No. 3 seed Maine, a 4-1 upset winner over No. 2 St. Cloud State, in Saturday night's East Regional final (ESPNU, 6 p.m. ET).
UMass is 4-1 against the Black Bears this season, with the lone loss coming back on Oct. 28 in Orono. The four wins have all come this month in Amherst -- the first two to finish the regular season and the last two in a series sweep in the Hockey East quarterfinals.
But all four Minutemen victories also have one thing in common: They didn't come against Ben Bishop.The Black Bears goalie was back in net for the first time since Feb. 24, when he reinjured his right groin against Merrimack in Maine's last win prior to Friday night. The original injury occurred Feb. 3 against UNH, and it would be easy to argue that Maine (4-7 down the stretch) hasn't been the same since then.Don Heupel/AP PhotoMaine goalie Ben Bishop is the key to the Black Bears' tournament run.
Until Friday night.
Bishop looked 100 percent in making 33 saves and said he would be ready to go against UMass.
"I feel fine and I felt fine during the game," Bishop said. "I feel great right now and felt great before the game, so I'll feel fine tomorrow."
Saturday night's matchup, with a trip to the Frozen Four in St. Louis on the line, is something no one would have predicted one week ago.
Last Friday in Boston, UMass dropped a 3-2 double-overtime game to New Hampshire in the Hockey East semifinals and had to wait two days to find out whether its season would continue.
Looking back, having experienced a sudden-death overtime probably paid dividends seven days later.
"It's a thin line between winning and losing and we learned that last week and again today," said Quick, who finished with 33 saves. "It's a bounce of the puck one way or another that decides your fate. It's a lot better being on this side, obviously."
For Maine (22-14-2), it was an excruciating eight-day wait between the last UMass loss and the announcement of the NCAA pairings last Sunday.
But as it turned out, the wait was well worth it.
Especially since Bishop appears to be healthy again.
"I was really proud of Ben, particularly how he responded after that first goal," Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. "What I really liked was how he shut the door after that. That showed a lot of composure, a lot of presence for a guy that hasn't been in the net much the second half of the season."
A win on Saturday would send Maine to its sixth Frozen Four in the last nine years. Conversely, it would send UMass to its third-ever NCAA game.
The Black Bears clearly have the edge in experience, which may explain why they were low-key about a chance at a rematch they couldn't have cooked up in their wildest dreams.
"How could you not respect a team that just beat you four times in a row?" Whitehead said with a smile. "Certainly this is going to be a tough challenge for us, but we're excited to have this opportunity."
Almost as excited as UMass was after its historic win.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," Jarman said. "After it went in everyone kind of went berserk. It's one of those things you dream about. It's a dream come true."
And one that will last for at least another day.
David Albright is the senior coordinator for college sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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