NHL Adding Jersey Sponsors, Revenue in 2022-23

Reports on Tuesday stated that the NHL will put ads on jersey starting in the 2022-23 season and thank goodness this dance is over. Thankfully, the NHL has come to its senses and realized that ads are not a bad thing and that they’ll just be following in the footsteps of most hockey leagues domestic and internationally by getting ads on the jerseys.

This has been teased for a while with every Chicken Little hockey fans proclaiming the sky is falling at every mention of it. Well, we’ll see how they hold up with it becoming a reality. Everyone claims purity of the sport, but that died when they started using aluminum sticks and goalies started to cosplay as the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man. It’s about revenues, baybee, it’s about getting that salary cap up, baybee. They already have the sponsors on the practice jerseys, think of the money they could get for game jerseys.

It’s not greed, it’s capitalism, baybee, let’s go!!!

But seriously, this isn’t bad. This isn’t like a player going out to get their own sponsors to look like a NASCAR driver– though that’d be pretty awesome. It’s about activating more partnerships, getting money with the gates being down due to the pandemic that’s currently going on, and it’s about catching up with other sports leagues.

I can’t say with certainty, but I highly doubt the league would allow a sponsor to overwhelm a team logo, much like club soccer over in Europe. That’s not good for team branding and the NHL is all about that. The league will have parameters about contracts with sponsors and hopefully vet those sponsors; much like they did with the helmet ads. Plus, they don’t want to have teams switch sponsors year-in and year-out; though it would be a boom for the jersey industry.

To me, people who boycott the league for jersey ads are only using it as an excuse for not getting out of it earlier for much more heinous things that the NHL and their member teams haven’t addressed– either in part or as a whole.

The sun will come out tomorrow. Your team should have still shouldn’t have gotten rid of that one guy. Your team will still be one piece a way form a Cup. They’ll just have a little extra weight on their upper torso.

Twenty

August 8th, 2001 marked the first Face Off Hockey Show. Known just as “Face-Off,” it was a streaming radio show that pre-dates the iPod by two-and-a-half months– which is why we didn’t call it a podcast. It was a show that streamed live and thanks to code and all of that– it was made available as an on-demand stream. It was kind of ahead of its time.

If you were to tell me then that this show would still be going two decades later, I’d be a little apprehensive. At that time, Marc and I were both about to head to college, while Jon had a career already, and Sean was running the streaming business that hosted our show. At any time it could have just fell by the wayside because of life getting in the way. Hell, I moved to another country three years into the show, so needed to adjust and adapt to that was a big deal.

But we did just that. From VOIP phones to cell phone cards to Excalibur boxes, to then Hangouts On Air and now Skype– we’ve found a way to do a show every Wednesday (give or take two or three) from 2001 until the present. It’s been a way for us to keep in touch, it’s been a way for us to get/keep our names relevant in the hockey landscape, and it’s allowed up opportunities we might not have otherwise have taken. Granted, Sean has gotten plenty on his plate nowadays and really dropped off for a bit; the Pitzes and I have kept this train a-rollin’.

When you look at the 20 years or work we’ve done and the places we’ve been; the question that may come up and one that I always have is whether or not we feel we should be bigger in terms of popularity than what we have now??

Personally (since I don’t know what the Pitzes think), I do think we should be bigger. That’s easy to say when there’s a bias in it, but I mean– we’ve put in the work, the longevity, know some of the right people– but the wide-spread notoriety hasn’t happened for us. While that sucks, the core group of people who enjoy us seem to enjoy us a lot. Having that “underground” fan base is pretty cool and I love them to death. I just wish more people enjoyed us how our fans have enjoyed us.

We don’t play the game well. We never wanted to be the fake persona on the podcast or any kind of online presence just to be in the good graces of people. We know who we like, we want to talk to people who we like, and it’s kind of easy for us to pick up the people who might be great in some capacity in their own online bubble; but are people I personally don’t think I could be fake for if they were to come on the show. We know the people we gel with on the show and that’s why they’re a constant for us. But we also know who we wouldn’t gel with and I wouldn’t want to do a forced interview just to get listeners from their portfolio.

Another way we don’t play the game well is that we don’t mesh with the NHL ideology. That was never more noticeable when Jen (NHL History Girl) introduced me to former senior VP of communications for the league, Frank Brown, and to get the response of an icy cold stare and a “I know who you are” as a response to my introduction…pretty much shows why we as Face Off Hockey Show rarely get NHL credentials under the show name. The show hasn’t been credentialed since 2017. No reason why, no real idea why– but it is what it is now, I suppose.

Granted, I’m sure a lot of other bloggers and podcasts have been treated the same way. After the big internet boom of the late ’00s, early ’10s; the NHL has had to be picky and choosy about who gets what and where. Add that to everyone old beat writer joining The Athletic and doubling the coverage by team beats because of it– if you don’t have a big status; you’re not going to get into the show.

In any case, we still soldier onward. This show has been great for me to stay in touch with my friends back home every week and make me play pretend radio guy as a hobby for the past two decades. This has been a great time for me and I hope it continues for many more years to come. We have a great relationship with the Maryland Black Bears of the NAHL, a solid relationship with the University of North Dakota, and made some pretty long-term friends/fans out of this whole thing. For me, someone who wanted to get into media since I was a teenager, I couldn’t think of a better time than these past 20 years.

Take care of yourself and someone else.

UND HOCKEY: Mr. Johnson Goes to Washington in Third Round

Photo via Sioux Falls Stampede

GRAND FORKS, ND– As a wedding was set-up for Saturday afternoon on the floor of the Ralph Engelstad Arena, another marriage took place hours before, as incoming University of North Dakota defenseman Brent Johnson was selected by the Washington Capitals in the third round of the 2021 NHL Draft. Sitting in a suite with his family, Johnson actually didn’t initially notice his name on the board.

“Actually, I wasn’t even looking,” said Johnson. “I was looking at my phone and then I looked up and it was pretty exciting. My heart kind of dropped for a second. Just a lot of emotions all at once. Unreal experience. I’ve been working on this for a long time now– especially with my family here with me. It’s something that’ll never forget. They’ve all been pulling the same rope that I have, so they know hard I’ve worked and it was special to have them here.”

Coming from Frisco, Texas, Johnson will be the first player to wear a North Dakota uniform from the Lone Star state and should be play for the Capitals, he’ll be the second player of record to hail from Texas, the first being Chris Brown from 2013 until 2016. Developing in the Dallas Stars Elite youth program, Johnson sees a lot of talent coming from the area from his experiences.

“It’s been a lot better and it’s growing fast,” Johnson mentioned of hockey in Texas. The guys are growing up and becoming hockey players and there’s some guys ahead of me that have come up. I think it’s a developing market and I’m really excited to see what the future holds for Dallas hockey.”

With the Draft being virtual again this year, the pomp and circumstance wasn’t at an NHL arena. Luckily for Johnson, North Dakota and The Ralph pulled out all the accommodations as they did last year for the 2020 Draft class that were slated to play for UND.

“It was amazing. Thanks to the staff for helping me put this together and allowing me to have such a special day. It was an unreal experience to see the building I’ll be playing at for the next four years. I can’t wait to get started.”

Johnson looked to be very dedicated to staying at North Dakota for the long haul, saying he had no changes in plans after getting drafted and was focused on a National Championship in the next four years. When talking about his incoming defender, North Dakota head coach Brad Berry was very eager to have him in the line-up.

“Just getting to know Brent over the last few months, it was something he was very excited for an when he name was called, him and his family were very excited. And we’re excited, too. It’s a point in time where he’ll never forget this moment, but not the work begins for him to have a productive season for us at North Dakota,” Berry said.

Berry continued, “He’s a very, very smart player. When you talk about smart players, you always wants those players who anticipate the next play. Even before the puck is on his tape, he knows where it’s going. And to add, he’s also ultra-competitive. He’s a very competitive player with a lot of offensive ability. We have a great, great player; but an even better person in our group.”

Johnson is coming off a solid season on the blueline in the USHL with 21 assists and 32 points in 47 games in his first full year. His offensive side is matched by his ability to keep the play in front of him defensively and protect his blindside well. One thing some scouting reports looked at was his skating style leading needing some work, which should come with time. While Johnson will be in the line-up this season, there is still things that are needed to work on, which Berry honed in on.

“He has very good offensive ability and he defends real well, but you can tell he’s a person who needs to grow his body a little bit,” mentioned Berry. “Him coming from Sioux Falls and coming here to train, which has already with the group; you can tell he’s going to get bigger and stronger with our group. We’re going to let time take place and we know he has the work ethic to do it.”

Mock (YEAH) Expansion (YEAH) Draft (YEAH)

The day that we all were waiting for is finally here– probably the last Expansion Draft of our lifetimes in the Seattle Kraken. For myself, I ran through plenty of mock drafts– mostly for shits and giggles and with not much real logic thrown into some of these picks. It’s really what I want to happen rather than what I think will happen.

The first draft was for the June 30th show of Face Off Hockey Show, when we all did drafts and NBC’s Sean Leahy judged them– mostly siding with Lyle Richardson of Spector’s Hockey because those media elites stick together. For me, the big pick was PK Subban going to the Kraken because they needed a face to the organization and he is going to a contract year which he’ll probably do all he can in order to get a last contract.

I only made a second draft because the news of Carey Price being left unprotected in this draft was put out there. Sure, a lot of injury concerns coupled with an $11M bonus in September aside– why wouldn’t want to pick a goalie and build from the net out??

After talking myself out of it and plenty of free time to do it– a third draft pick was in there. For the Price draft, I had to get rid of Subban on there, but he’s definitely on there now with Price not in the picture for the third draft.

My final pick is what I’m going with. It’s without Price, and tweaks here and there.

It was a fun thing to do. This is something I’m not going to take seriously because I’m not getting paid to take it seriously. I’m not getting paid personally at all– just through the FOHS Patreon and that mostly goes to show things. So, sit back, enjoy the show tonight– should be a hoot.

Tepid Take: Somehow, Pierre McGuire Got His Front Office Gig

It’s taken a minute, but the Pierre McGuire news has calmed down a bit– so thanks to the wonders of having a day-job, my take is beyond late. Hence, a Tepid Take scenario. People were dumbfounded bu this move of Pierre McGuire going to the Ottawa Senators as Senior VP of Player Development. Many mocked the Senators for this move, many Sens fans were severely distraught, some Senators loyalist/media people are wondering who let the peanut gallery have a voice on who is and isn’t a good hire.

When it comes to this move…I’m optimistically skeptical. It’s a deal that would work out big, it could be a deal that works out horrible. There’s a lot of me who leans towards the latter outcome, but there’s some shimmer of hope that because the Senators haven’t been the best over the last couple years, this could be some kind of move that could turn the ship around…or not.

The only comparison I liken this to is when Tampa Bay hired Barry Melrose during his ESPN stint. Melrose was away from coaching and on TV for 13 years, coached in 16 games– in which he didn’t like Steven Stamkos being on the roster apparently– then he went back to the booth. McGuire could have that same fate, but at the same time– he might have a longer leash not being in the direct public eye.

For the gimmick that McGuire plays, he does know the players and prospects. The character of Pierre is over-the-top to a fault and trying to let people know where a player grew up– even if it’s hokey as all hell. But when you listen to him in other interviews out of character; he’s more toned down, more direct to his point, and does know how the game was played. And there’s a reason why I put a past tense there.

I make no secret that I’m not a big analytics guy as personal preference.I can see some of the points for its use in the game, but I’m not an overly math guy for fun. My day job throws enough numbers at me that my leisure time, I don’t want to be bogged down in equations and such. This, however, is McGuire’s job and whether or not he embraces the new way hockey is scouted will probably determine his tenure and legacy as front office guy.

During his media car-wash, he quote was “It’s not that I hate analytics, it’s that I believe in scouting. I don’t hate analytics. I think it’s a tool that can be utilized in any kind of scouting, but I’m a big believer in boots-on-the-ground scouting.” Daps and head-taps to Stephen Whyno on the transcription.

The whole “old school hockey guy” is dying out and McGuire could be what fully kills it if he messes this up. I understand his whole ideal of the “eye test” when it comes to scouting and maybe some analytics aren’t up his alley– but that’s the way it is now and you either adapt or go back to the booth. The key to McGuire is whether he completely dismisses analytics out-of-hand; which is a big mistake these days. Sure, there’s analytic darlings of the past who didn’t amount to much but folk-hero status; but that side of things could make or break a person in the player development role if they sign a guy for big bucks who passed the eye-test, but couldn’t hold up in certain situations on the ice.

While people dance on the grave of the NBC muppet going to the front office, it’ll be very interesting to keep track on the make-up of the Senators going forward. Maybe Eugene Melnyk is going all “Major League” on this team and hiring the worst possible people to sell the team and have it move somewhere else. It almost seems that way on the surface.

Fare Thee Well, NHL on NBC

With the Lightning’s 2nd straight Stanley Cup win on Wednesday, the NBC era of NHL TV history has paused with ESPN and Turner Sports coming into the fold next season. What start as an exclusive three-year, $200 Million TV deal with the Outdoor Life Network turned into a deal that will net the NHL over $4 Billion in their incoming deal with the new networks.

It was a joke to start, many fans in the US– already reeling from a season that was cancelled– now had their sport in one of the least attractive channels they could have thought about and one many didn’t know if they had or not on their cable provider. Don’t even get started on hotels having it for people on the road– even to the end of days with NBCSN.

But it progressed for the better. While the production was one that was nothing too different from other productions, the deal with NBC spawned many things like the outdoor games people can’t get enough of and more dedicated coverage to the game, as it was the first major sports property for OLN. Of course, it also gave people the horrid Tuesday All-Star Game and the beta-version of a rail cam for that event. Then it turned to Versus, a little more interesting of a name for a sports network, but it’s something that didn’t make people think it was just hockey, hunting, and (according to my friend and mentor Sean O’Connor) fish racing.

Versus allowed the NHL to have multiple games per week on the network, plenty of coverage around the game times, and possibly a new voice for things to come. NBC Universal saw the potential and bought up the Versus property, turning it to NBC Sports Network while signing the NHL to a 10-year, $2 Billion exclusive deal. Not without its hiccups, the NBCSN was still something the normal layperson had trouble finding, playoff coverage got bumped for horse racing on the main NBC network, and while some new personalities were able to shine– familiar voices, both good and bad, were around for the duration of it. Not to mention, more features happening like more mic’d up players and commentators between the benches. NBC did all they could to make some more entertainment for folks watching the games.

If nothing else, the NBC/NHL partnership allowed the league to have a dedicated spot for a long amount of time. Sure, there are plenty of reasons to dislike NBC and what fans wanted out of it– but when a media company as big as NBC Universal invests that much into the league, in the grand scheme; it helped with revenues for the league and was a hub for hockey in its tenure.

Fans are a fickle bunch when it comes to the presentation they want to have on their screens. Everyone is sick of the same teams over and over– but in the TV business, that’s the way to get ratings and advertising dollars. Will we see a change for ESPN and Turner?? Maybe not at the start of things. But that’s why ESPN+ exists for whatever their Center Ice parallel will be on that platform; all the games will exist from the local markets doing them.

The NHL on NBC didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, they just had to keep the vehicle of the NHL going. It put trust in the league with their long-term deal and in-turn, the league didn’t need to worry every other year where their national games were being held. People shouldn’t expect the wheel to be reinvented with ESPN or Turner either. Just keep the vehicle moving, be entertaining, and be informative– people are going to shout their hate for something into the social media void regardless of what’s put out there. Just keep things rolling and see what happens in seven years’ time.

Another Turn in the Jack Eichel/Sabres’ Saga

Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Last February, I talked about Jack Eichel needing to be saved from his loyalty to the Buffalo Sabres. Given his exit interview from the 2020-21 season, he may be willing his way out of Buffalo. The long and short of it, if you didn’t see it all over the place Monday, the Sabres didn’t like the opinion of an outside doctor about Jack Eichel needing surgery on his neck and didn’t sign off on his procedure.

Just a reminder, June 30th, 2022 is the last day that Eichel doesn’t have a modifier on his contract for teams that may want to try and sway Kevyn Adams into a deal.

Even with the grudges and Eichel stating that he’s looking at next season “wherever that may be,” you can’t think he will be traded unless something really drastic occurs. I would say it’s hard for me to think that the Sabres would really trade their captain and one of their homegrown guys– but it’s the Sabres were talking about. They haven’t shown a track record of making the wise decision when it comes to the product they put on the ice and how they portray the team off of it.

Though they came around when it came to their on-ice performance after the firing of Ralph Krueger, it didn’t make up for the trials and tribulations they had to endure at the start of the season. Maybe Don Granato is the guy that, given a full season, could be the thing that turned Eichel around when it comes to the Sabres actually improving. But, again, when you have your captain upset with the way his health was handled after he seems overly frustrated with how they haven’t seen the playoffs since he’s been with the team– loyalty can only go so far when something like this happens.

Unfortunately, the Seattle Kraken have no assets to give back to the Sabres or else they’d be able to pull off a huge coup in trading for the Buffalo captain and making him their first player in franchise history. But that’s not likely the case. Plus, a $10M cap hit for the next five years in a flat-cap era doesn’t leave many contenders on the board that would make sense in actually picking up Eichel. Of course, if the the right offer comes along for the Sabres and they are better off in the future from the deal– they’ve got until next June to wheel that deal before Eichel has some say in where he wants to be moved, should that time come.

It’s getting worse before it’s getting better. That sucks for Sabres fans, who are beyond loyal regardless of how they are seemingly treated by the organization they love. If they were to trade Eichel, that could be the last straw for the fans who have held on for dear life to this team, despite their faults from the past.

An Open Letter to Turner Sports

To the Executives of Turner Sports,

Hey there– I’m Scott Wasilewski, AKA Scotty Wazz. Over the last 19.5 years, I’ve been podcasting about hockey on Face Off Hockey Show. Much more than hockey, it’s a show about life with three hosts who’ve grown up together in life and in the broadcasting world.

Look, I could spout off numbers about how we’re in the top-20 all-time of hockey podcasts on Apple Podcasts or all the events we’ve been a part of whether it be with the NHL, AHL, ECHL, WHL, NAHL, or IIHF. I could tell you I’ve personally have written for FHM Magazine or had articles published on Yahoo!’s Puck Daddy blog in its heyday. But honestly, what does that do other than being self-serving and egotistical.

Let’s get down to brass tacks– we need each other.

You might not know it, but there’s a lot of recycled voices out there in hockey. If it’s not recycled, there’s a lot of parrots out there in the hockey community. Face Off Hockey Show doesn’t have that….okay, we might recycle jokes to death, but that’s a different meeting for a different time. The point is that our outside-the-box points-of-view is something we use to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the other voices out there in the loud landscape. On top of that, our crew all were born in Maryland– an nontraditional hockey market. Turner Sports is, to some, an nontraditional hockey broadcast partner.

With your company starting fresh in the NHL broadcasting landscape, what better way to do it than with some fresh voices on the network?? Not only that, but you look at the chemistry of Ernie, Kenny, Chuck, and Shaq on your NBA property– I’m not saying we’d be that by any means– but we could bring that energy, analyst, and light-hearted banter that people can relate to.

There’s a unique opportunity, TS– can I call you TS?? No?? Okay, Turner Sports overlords. This is a chance to give a different look to normally mundane hockey broadcasts or presentation of the game above the dull, robotic, run-of-the-mill stuff we already get from the game. Plus, it’s a big chance to revamp what the broadcast could look and sound like with this new seven year deal.

ABBA said it best when they said, “You can dance, you can jive…”

Wait…no, that’s not it. Whatever the lyrics from “Take a Chance On Me” that would be poignant in this situation– that’s what I’m going for here.

The point is this– we’ve been at this for a while now. We have the credentials to show for it. All we need now is the backing to prove to the masses what we’ve proved to our loyal listeners/watchers/readers for decades now. Fresh faces, fresh network, fresh presentations. And maybe this is a time for a fan-centric angle to be at the table of some of these broadcasts and be a different voice in the room.

Feel free to slide into my DMs to chat some more.

Take care of yourself and someone else: Scotty Wazz

PS: My co-host Jon Pitonzo and I are big AEW fans as well, so– if that helps any….

NCAA Fargo Regional: Mylymok Stops Clock on Longest Game, Duluth Advances

FARGO, ND– For the first time since 1984, the University of North Dakota and University of Minnesota-Duluth faced off in the NCAA tournament, this time for a chance to reach the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh. This is also the first time these teams have met since the NCHC Pod in December. In those two Pod games, Duluth won in a shootout and North Dakota won in regulation. 

The first and second period did not yield any scoring, as many chances were stymied by the ice conditions. Pucks bouncing over sticks, pucks sticking to the ice, and overall inability to have the vulcanized rubber settle down for top scoring chances limited both Duluth and North Dakota solid chances to break through in the first 40 minutes. The few chances each side got were due to scrums in front and broken plays off of bad bounces. 

In the third period, Duluth struck first, with Jackson Cates getting first blood off a Hunter Lellig shot from the point and the final bounce going off of Cates’ stick and over Adam Scheel’s shoulder. Minutes later, a broken stick by Grant Mismash at the UND blue line sprung Cole Koepke on a breakaway and beat Scheel blocker side for the two-goal lead. While Duluth locked it down defensively, North Dakota did all they could to get a goal. It wasn’t until under two minutes in the frame when Collin Adams banked a shot off of Zach Stejskal back to get North Dakota within one. After a missed empty-net chance led to an icing, North Dakota moved the puck around the perimeter and a blocked Shane Pinto shot landed on the stick of captain Jordan Kawaguchi to give the Fighting Hawks the equalizer. 

North Dakota used their momentum from the third in overtime and got plenty of chances. However, Duluth looked to have ended the game from a Kobe Ruth goal, but upon review Koby Bender was offside and the game continued onward. And on it did go, as the game went through four complete overtimes, making it the longest NCAA tournament game (142:13) in history. Not without its chances throughout, as North Dakota hit three posts over the overtime frames and Duluth had a couple of close calls from scrums in front of the net. One big moment happened as Stejskal had an injury to his left side and needed to be pulled towards the end of the 4th overtime, making way for Ryan Fanti. All good things come to an end, however, as on the last post shot by North Dakota, Duluth’s Luke Mylymok took the puck the other way and put a snapshot past Scheel to end it with the final 3-2. 

THEY SAID IT

“I thought we played well. Two great teams going at it. The score reflected it and the overall game reflected it. Those are my brothers in there. That’s my family.”– Jordan Kawaguchi about the game.

“It’s one of those things when you get into overtime games, you got to keep the games simple and keep the game in front of you. We used everybody. It’s very unfortunate. You look at our scoring chances and how many posts we hit, how many scoring opportunities we had. At the end of the day, we had enough to win the game and we didn’t close in on it and we didn’t get it done that way. Really, really proud of our guys. They left their hearts on the ice and everything that they did. They worked extremely hard in the room to get to where they needed to.”– North Dakota head coach Brad Berry

“It proves to what we are as far as a team that never gives up, a team that’s relentless, a team that fights to the very end. I told the guys after the game, this is life– this is what life is. It’s not fair. We could argue it all day about who could have won the game. But that’s what sports is, that’s what life is. You keep moving on. You have to learn from the past. Our young guys are going to put this in the back of their mind as far as having this experience.”– Berry on the talk post-game with the team.

“It certainly under adverse circumstances because Zach was cramping, which was a shame because I thought he played well. But it’s not an easy thing for Ryan (Fanti) to do. You’re sitting on the bench and you haven’t played. He made some three or four big stops for us, too. It’s a nice situation that we had all year with goalies that we felt could win games for us.”– Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin on his goaltending situation. 

“It was a game-time decision by the coaches. When I heard my name, I was just ecstatic as a freshman going into these games. Just really emotional and think about all the time and work put into it to get your name called and get to play in a huge game like this is unbelievable.”– Duluth forward Luke Mylymok on when he heard he was in the line-up. 

“You just try to be a good teammate on the bench and let the guys know you’re there for them. That’s the biggest part in the role like that, to let the boys know you’re there for them. You try to be a huge energy guy and get the boys going when you see that they’re tired and try to uplift them.”– Mylymok on his role when he wasn’t getting a lot of ice time.

“My legs were fresh and I knew I had to get some speed on that shot and use the defense on the shot. It just shot it and it went five-hole. You’re not looking for five-hole, but you can take what you can get.”– Mylymok on his game-winning goal.

NCAA Fargo Regional: North Dakota Moves On, Duluth Walks Through

FARGO, ND– The semifinals of the Fargo Regional of the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championship took place on Friday night at Scheels Arena. While the joy of the tournament was felt by most everyone, the day started out on a rough patch for one squad. 

On Friday afternoon, the NCAA had announced that the University of Michigan has a player who tested positive and the team has to withdraw from the tournament. That meant the University of Minnesota-Duluth advanced to the Regional Finals. They would take on the winner of the University of North Dakota and American International College. 

In the first five minutes, AIC was all over North Dakota. The plucky 16-seed wanted to revisit what they did in Fargo in 2019 when they took out the #1 overall seed St. Cloud State. At one point, AIC was outshooting North Dakota. After the first media timeout, however, North Dakota seemed to snap out of whatever jitters they had and went on the offensive. 

Jasper Weatherby started the scoring off just as the North Dakota power play expired, taking a Jacob Bernard-Docker shot off the backboards and putting it past Stefano Durante to make it 1-0. Two minutes later, Weatherby scored his second of the game, pickpocketing an AIC defender and going in to beat Durante and make it 2-0. North Dakota shored up their own zone, making sure AIC didn’t get past the red line. Three minutes after Weatherby’s second; Grant Mismash– playing his first game since late February– used Shane Pinto as a screen to make it 3-0. Collin Adams helped keep the puck alive when he lost an edge, but was still able to protect the puck and get it to Tyler Kleven so it stayed in the zone. Adams was rewarded after getting a chip pass from Riese Gaber, put it past Durante to make it 4-0, concluding four-goals in a 7:20 span. 

AIC started the second with Jake Kucharski in net. However, the offense wasn’t quite there in this frame. The ice was the biggest defenseman out there, with the puck bouncing to and fro for most of the frame, as well as creating a lot of havoc for skate blades to boot. At times it was hard to see if this was the hockey or basketball tournament. The third period was more of the same until a late North Dakota penalty gave away for AIC to score on the power play thanks to a Tobias Fladeby shot beating Adam Scheel. Twenty-nine seconds later, Adams got his second of the game off a centering pass Jordan Kawaguchi to make it 5-1. 

THEY SAID IT

“We heard it loud and clear. We talked about it right after the selection, through the week. It turned to us in terms of what we had to do. That’s a very good team over there. They’ve won a lot of games with very few losses. We just had to play our game. I thought for the most part we did. Hand it to them, they had some momentum shifts in the game and kept us in our zone a little. For the most part, we did a good job of managing the 60 minutes thanks to the leadership of our team.”– North Dakota head coach Brad Berry on being reminded of history of AIC upsetting St. Cloud two years ago.

“It was good for us to get a game in. Our last game was St. Cloud about a week and a half ago. There was a little rust there, but we knocked it off. It was beneficial to us to get that first game in and get our boots on the ground.”– Adams on either playing a game or having rest like Duluth.

“We thought calm would win the hockey game. We knew we’d have to ride the roller coaster a little bit. There’d be times where we’d have to weather some storms.”– AIC head coach Eric Lang about the plan for the game.

“I don’t personally think I was even thinking about it. But the noise in the building obviously makes a difference. I can’t really talk for other guys, but I think we rebounded from it by just calming down like coach said. And that’s really about it. We just kind of went back to our game rather than getting scrambling and making plays.”– AIC captain Brennen Kapcheck on playing in front of a live crowd.

“Our program is beyond the point of moral victories. But I can tell you, I’m as proud as this group, two years later sitting in the same room doing the same press conferences I was two years ago. It’s easy to pack it in there. And I couldn’t be prouder of what these guys have done in terms of commitment for the unknown. Since late August, we’ve been together. These guys have missed weddings, funerals, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and you’re all in all the time.” –Lang about the evolution of his program.