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Falling Short Of A National Championship

by Glenn Odebralski / Florida Panthers
Minnesota forward Nick Bjustad (University of Minnesota)

It was a tough weekend for the Panthers prospects that were looking to win an NCAA National Championship.

Seven Panthers prospects had a chance to do so but by Saturday, their dreams of winning that title came to an end and the upstart Yale Bulldogs were the cause for four of them.

Seeded fourth in the West Region and 15th overall in the tournament, they took out two of the NCAA's most prestigious programs in back-to-back days and will have a chance to play for a National Championship if they beat UMass-Lowell in the semis on April 11.

First it was Nick Bjugstad, Kyle Rau and the second ranked University of Minnesota that were shocked by the Bulldogs. The underdogs held a 2-0 lead after two periods before Minnesota tied it up with two third period goals (Rau assisting on the first). It didn't take Yale long to rebound in overtime as they forced a turnover behind the net and scored just nine seconds in to send the Gophers home.

"This is one of the best years of my life, one of the best group of guys I’ve ever been with," said Bjugstad to the media following the game. Florida's first round pick (19th overall) in the 2010 draft had one of Minnesota's best chances in the first 40 minutes, sending a backhanded shot from a sharp angle off the goaltender and off the post, wide. Having made the decision to return to chase a title, he was asked about his future. "I don’t even want to think about it right now. I get choked up thinking about it."

North Dakota scored two third period goals to come back and defeat Niagara in their first round and looked good through forty minutes as Hobey Baker finalist Corban Knight gave them a 1-0 lead less than eight minutes in against the Bulldogs. Yale would not be deterred as they exploded for four third period goals in a 4-1 victory to win the region and spoil Knight and Rocco Grimaldi's chances at a title.

In the East, defending champs Boston College along with 2012 first round pick and freshman defenseman Mike Matheson were no match for Union College, falling 5-1. Wisconsin (Ed Wittchow) fell to UMass-Lowell 6-1 in their opening game Friday while Denver and Sam Brittain fell 5-2 to New Hampshire in the same region, although Brittain did not see any action for the Pioneers.

The Frozen Four will see two four seeds, Yale and St Cloud St. (who beat Notre Dame and Miami (Ohio) by a combined 9-2) face-off against two top seeds in UMass-Lowell and Quinnipiac respectively with the winners facing off in the Championship Game on April 13.

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