This Week on WCHA RinkRap: a rookie goalie throws a “perfecto,” a major milestone in Big Rapids, Cullen plays Catalyst for Falcons, and WCHA goaltenders vie for supremacy.
Perfection Between the Pipes
It was hockey’s equivalent of a perfect game. At 8:37 Saturday night in Marquette, Northern Michigan goalie Rico DiMatteo appeared to be imploding atop his goal crease, alternating between fist-pumps and abdominal compressions before being smothered in puck-love from his green and gold teammates.
The newcomer has just outdueled Bowling Green senior Eric Dop with a perfect goaltending score line: 32 shots faced in regulation, 32 saves, four-for-four in overtime, and a remarkable six-for-six in the shootout. It was a contest for the ages, conjuring up the old ESPN term “Instant Classic,” when a game is deemed worthy of a time capsule.
“That’s as exciting a game as I’ve ever been a part of,” said NMU coach Grant Potulny, a guy who scored in NCAA overtime winner back in the day. “Probably the most entertaining 0-0 game...surely I’ve ever seen. One of their best players had a breakaway, one of our best players had a breakaway, multiple chances at each end. Incredible goaltending performances both ways.”
Yet only one of the two courageous kickers would leave the ice victorious, the other would exit in glorious anguish. Rico the kid, easy to spot with his red and blue clashing goaltending gear, was the one basking in perfection, veteran Dop would have to take consolation from his seventh career shutout.
The winning tally by the Cats' Brandon Schultz (technically not a recorded goal) stretched the term "filthy" to new extremes. Jocelyne Lamoroux has just replaced atop of the shootout podium.
🚨Viewer Discretion Advised🚨 pic.twitter.com/8SCLcHW3ro— EVERYTHING COLLEGE HOCKEY (@TeamECH) February 21, 2021
But the Cats could not celebrate until Rico the Kid took care of the final piece of business to seal their win. DiMatteo calmly stoned Chrys Collin to earn the ultimate goalies’ high—a skate-off save and celly. It was only fitting for the manchild who has so dramatically changed the Wildcats fortunes, a defensive force since his arrival from the Texas badlands in January.
Another Milestone for the WCHA’s Elder Statesman
Ferris State coach Bob Daniels is college hockey’s favorite phone call, everyone’s cheerful uncle, a guy who will never hang up without asking about you personally, the coach who willingly shares time on game-day, and one who never fails to touch your funny bone. His popularity extends from college hockey’s corridors of power down to the custodians at Ewigleben Arena in Big Rapids.
He’s also a hell of a coach, having taken his Bulldogs on three different NCAA runs this past decade. He ranks fourth on the Division I active victory list, and just reached another milestone this past weekend: 1,100 games coached at the same school. He joins college hockey immortals Jack Parker (BU) and Red Berenson (Michigan), a very select group off three.
Congratulations to Bob Daniels, who joins Jack Parker and Red Berenson as the third #benchboss to coach in more than 1,100 Men's Division I games at one school in @NCAAIceHockey history.#WeAreWCHA | #TraditionStartsHere pic.twitter.com/eChZPgBW8i— WCHA Men's Hockey (@WCHA_MHockey) February 21, 2021
The Return of Will Cullen
Since the three-game suspension of BGSU junior Will Cullen, Falcon goals became as rare as finding a five-dollar bill underneath your sofa cushions. Bowling Green scratched out but three goals in three games sans Cullen, and that included two overtime sessions. Scoring under a goal per game nearly harpooned Bowling Green’s once likely shot at an NCAA at-large bid, so the return of their fleet blueliner was of no small significance.
On Sunday the Hobey Baker candidate returned to BGSU’s lineup, inking up the scoresheet as if he had never left. He finished the night with a goal, two helpers and a plus-three rating, as Bowling Green snapped their five-game winless streak by beating Northern Michigan 6-2.
“We have struggled a bit lately scoring goals,” said Falcon coach Ty Eigner. “Obviously getting Will back certainly helped. He has the ability to add offense both 5-on-5 and on the PP.”
“I felt like I picked up where I left off,” said Cullen, who leaped back atop both the WCHA and NCAA defensemen scoring lists. “Our team has been struggling to find the back of the net, so it was nice to contribute alongside them.”
Cullen got back just in time to share a milestone with a comrade. “It was also special moment for teammate [Brandon] Kruse, as he was able to get his 100th career assist,” said Cullen. “I had the second on it, so it will be memorable for him and myself, which I thought was pretty cool.”
The Great WCHA Goaltending Race
The WCHA’s goaltending corps is reminiscent of the Tour-de-France: you have an overall leader in Dryden McKay who wears the proverbial yellow jersey, but you have separate winners of the various stages. Last Friday, McKay must have stumbled onto a batch of kryptonite in Big Rapids, as 215 fans got to see one of the rarest sites in sports: Dryden McKay being removed from his crease mid-game. Six saves and four goals allowed by McKay is a Halley’s Comet moment, eliminating him from WCHA weekly goaltending honors.
DiMatteo finally ran out of gas in Marquette, where he also got the hook before the end of Sunday’s contest. So the clear winner of Stage 15 of the WCHA’s truncated season went to Bemidji State senior Zach Driscoll. He rejected 79 out of 81 Michigan Tech shots for an astounding .975 save percentage and two vital wins. The Huskies outshot the Beavers by a 2-1 ratio all weekend long, but because of the invincible Driscoll, they suffered a sweep at home.
Beavers coach Tom Serratore has a dark horse in this WCHA goaltending race, a horse that would surprise no one if it carried them to the winner’s circle a month from now.
Tim Rappleye is the author of two books: Jack Parker's Wiseguys and Hobey Baker, Upon Further Review. You can find him on Twitter.