You and I have probably been spending the last week the same way, staring at our monitors watching St. Peter’s destroy any chance we had at winning our office bracket challenge. We’ve been so enticed by the upsets, bracket busters, and magical run by Michigan (with Juwan Howard returning to the sidelines) that we’ve totally missed the other crazy nonsense going on in other college sports.
Just 10 days ago, we had an athlete sign an NIL deal that could be worth as much as $8 million, per The Athletic. That’s nuts! We could see an NIL cap in the near future if deals like this keep popping up.
However, aside from Lia Thomas’s championship in the 500-yard freestyle last week, the biggest non-basketball headline in college sports should be the controversy surrounding the Central Collegiate Hockey Association’s championship game that took place last Saturday.
Let’s set the stage real quick. Our two sides in this story are Minnesota State – Mankato and Bemidji State.
Heading into 2022, Minnesota State had reached the NCAA tournament four straight seasons. The Mavericks even reached the Frozen Four in 2021. They’d been an absolute powerhouse in the WCHA (now CCHA) for close to a decade now, winning seven conference championships in the last eight years. The team likely would’ve been invited to the NCAA tournament, via an at-large bid, regardless of whether or not they won the CCHA championship.
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Bemidji State, on the other hand, has not experienced the same success. While the Beavers did reach the NCAA tournament in 2021, their last appearance prior was in 2010. They’ve won only one WCHA/CCHA regular-season championship since then (2017), and finished the 2022 regular season in third-place, behind Minnesota State and Michigan Tech. The Beavers were aching to throw the Mavericks off their throne. Minnesota State had it too good for too long. After taking down Michigan Tech in the semifinals, Bemidji had their opportunity.
The Mavericks and Beavers finished regulation tied at one goal a piece. Just three minutes into the first overtime period, Minnesota State’s Josh Groll put the game away, sweeping the puck around Bemidji netminder Mattias Sholl’s right leg. The Mavericks celebrated. The crowd went nuts. Championship hats and shirts were passed out, photos were taken, and fans had evacuated the building.
But hold up! Wait a minute! Something ain’t right!
More than 20 minutes after the game had ended, the players and refs were called back to the ice. New replay angles had been revealed to the CCHA and they were re-reviewing the goal, specifically whether the puck crossed the goal-line under a lifted net.
After further review, the goal was overturned. After 80 minutes of ambiguity since Groll’s “goal,” the two teams resumed action.
“Getting the correct call outweighed anything else under the circumstances,” said CCHA commissioner Don Lucia. “There’s so much at stake. I don’t want to end someone’s career on a goal that isn’t a goal.”
There was a lot at stake. Not only would this goal have ended every Bemidji State senior’s collegiate careers, but an NCAA tournament bid was on the line. The winner would automatically get a bid, and while Bemidji State had a good season, it probably wasn’t quite good enough to get an at-large bid.
Unfortunately for Bemidji, their second chance didn’t last long. Minnesota State netted the real game-winner just two minutes, seven seconds after the game resumed. The Mavericks’ Jack McNeely blasted a shot past Sholl for the win. After the game, Mavericks goaltender Dryden McKay elaborated on the stoppage of play, “I had a pit in my stomach that we might have to go back out there,’’ McKay continued. “Once we get out there. I don’t think anybody’s legs or body was feeling great. It was more of a mental game.”
That makes sense. I feel for Bemidji though. They had already accepted their fate after Groll’s non-goal. Having to go back out afterward is tough. Everything has been drained out of your system. You’ve given into the fact that your season is over and it’s tough to go back out there and play again after you’ve accepted that. That’s probably a big reason why the next goal came so quickly, or maybe I’m just looking too deep into this. That’s what I do after all.
In fact, a deeper look at this situation reveals some interesting scenarios in regards to the NCAA men’s ice hockey rulebook. Per Rule 82.1, “Officials’ duties and powers continue during intermissions and until all players have left the ice and entered the dressing room at the conclusion of the game.” The officials had fulfilled their duty. The teams had left the ice, entered the dressing room, and by all accounts, the game had ended. The CCHA had awarded Minnesota State the goal in their first review, thus, the game was over. Furthermore, per Rule 88.1, “Protests are not recognized or allowed.” Hence, even if it was noticed after the fact that Groll’s shot went underneath the raised net, Bemidji would not be allowed to protest the ruling. I guess it’s different when it’s the CCHA protesting though.
Had Bemidji come back from the locker room and won the game, there may have been reason to void their conference championship title under those rules. That would’ve caused a whole mess of confusion and most likely a lot of anger as well. So, in a sense, it’s good that Minnesota State scored after play resumed, because the alternative would’ve been a whole hell of a lot messier.