Following the opening weekend of the 16-team NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament, two Islanders prospects remain in the hunt to capture the national championship.
2013 third-round pick Taylor Cammarata and 2012 seventh-round selection Jake Bischoff, are both freshmen at the University of Minnesota. The Golden Gophers qualified for the tournament as the nation’s top overall seed, due in part to a 25-6-6 record. With two wins in the opening rounds of the tournament, Minnesota is now preparing for the Frozen Four, to be played at Wells Fargo Center on Apr. 10 and 12 in Philadelphia.
As host of the West Regional, the Golden Gophers had home-ice advantage playing at the nearby XCEL Energy Center, roughly 15 minutes from campus. The close proximity provided a stark contrast to their first round opponent Robert Morris University. Hailing from Pittsburgh, the Colonials had roughly a 13-hour bus ride to face the tournament favorites.
Cammarata’s two assists helped pave the way to a 7-3 victory for Minnesota over the Atlantic Hockey Champions.
“We played a good game,” the 5-7, forward Cammarata said Monday afternoon. “Once we got that first goal we just poured it on.”
In the regional final against in-state rival St. Cloud State on Sunday, the Gophers dominated from the opening puck drop defeating the Huskies 4-0. Cammarata added another assist in the victory, bringing his point total to 25 (nine goals, 16 assists) in 37 games.
“On Sunday I thought we were very solid the entire game,” Cammarata said. “St. Cloud looked a little tired from the overtime the day before, but overall we didn’t give them much.”
If you make a mistake your season is on the line. It’s a lot more intense in the third period. - Taylor Cammarata
Although St. Cloud’s campus is just a little over an hour outside the Twin Cities, Cammarata estimated that at least 70% of the crowd cheered on the Maroon and Gold of the Gophers.
As Minnesota prepares for the national semi-final, they are set to face an old foe in the University of North Dakota. Prior to the formation of the Big 10 hockey conference, which held its inaugural season this year, Minnesota and North Dakota competed in the WCHA. Cammarata has yet to play North Dakota as the border war that used to be an annual tradition is no longer a guarantee each season.
UND qualified for the Frozen Four as a four seed following a pair of upsets over the Midwest Regional’s one and two seeds in Wisconsin and Ferris State respectively.
“Growing up in Minnesota I watched the games and it’s always been a huge rivalry,” Cammarata said. “Obviously there have been some great players out of both programs and it’s going to be an intense game.”
Current Islanders Kyle Okposo (Minnesota) and Brock Nelson (North Dakota) are prime examples of players that have come out of the esteemed hockey institutions that have combined for 12 national championships.
The single elimination style of the NCAA Tournament is new for Cammarata. Prior to enrolling at Minnesota, the Plymouth, MN native played two seasons with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL. In 2012 Cammarata and the Black Hawks fell in final game of the five-game Clark Cup Final to Anders Lee and the Green Bay Gamblers.
“If you make a mistake your season is on the line. It’s a lot more intense in the third period.” Cammarata said.
He proved that he has the ability to turn on his play during high-pressure situations as he led his team in scoring with 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) during the 15-game USHL playoff run.
Just two wins now stand between the Gophers and their sixth national title. The memory of defeat in the Clark Cup still stings to Cammarata, but a title representing his home state on the national stage would certainly numb that pain.
Should Minnesota defeat North Dakota and advance to the National Championship, one of two number one seeds awaits on the other side of the bracket. Boston College, which has won three of the past six national titles, faces Union College in the other semi-final.
Cammarata and the Gophers played a two-game set against BC earlier this season in Minnesota. Cammarata tallied one goal and one assist as the Gophers took one victory while drawing the Eagles in the other game.
On Apr. 10, the puck drops at 8:30 p.m. as the Gophers take the ice for the 21st time in the Frozen Four. Cammarata and the Gophers look to end an 11-year drought and take home the national championship for the first time since 2003.