Sports history has taught us to expect the unexpected — that in the postseason the impossible becomes possible, unlikely heroes will emerge and you should never count out the underdog.
That was again evident in the Midwest Regional semifinals as fourth-seeded Cornell knocked off top-seeded Michigan 3-2 in overtime to advance to Saturday’s regional final against Ferris State.
Cornell didn’t come into the NCAA tournament surrounded by high expectations. The Big Red lost big in the ECAC Hockey semifinals last Friday against Harvard 6-1 and needed a win in the consolation game against Colgate to ensure themselves of a spot in the NCAA’s field of 16.
But maybe those who were betting against the Big Red should have taken a closer look at the recent history of college hockey. Since the 16-team format was adopted in 2003 there have been 11 instances of a No. 4 seed prevailing over a No. 1 seed and at least one such upset has occurred in each of the past seven NCAA tournaments.
“There’s no four seeds or one seeds anymore,” Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. “The day where the one seed was such a huge advantage over the four seed is gone in my mind. There’s so much parity in college hockey. We felt all along we could win tonight.”
Not only did Cornell upset a Wolverines team that came into the tournament among the favorites to walk away with the national title, but they did so with the help of a hero not many would have predicted.
Sophomore forward Rodger Craig played in only 15 games this season for the Big Red, recording a single goal and totaling only six shots, but his goal just under four minutes into overtime made him the postseason hero for Cornell on Friday.
Craig, a native of Red Deer, Alberta, put home a rebound that pushed the Big Red one step closer to reaching the Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla.
“That’s definitely the best goal I’ve ever scored,” Craig said of his overtime winner. “[It] gives us a chance to move on to tomorrow and hopefully on to Florida.”
Craig may not score often for the Big Red — he has three goals in 39 regular season games — but he does seem to have a flair for the dramatic. Craig’s only other goal this season was a third-period winner on Feb. 25 against ECAC regular season and playoff champion Union.
“Both those goals were just coming off hard work, went hard to the net and banged them in,” Craig said.
Craig’s game-winning goal came after Ferris State freshman defender Simon Denis’s first goal of the season, and his career, ended up being the game winner in the Bulldogs’ semifinal win over Denver, proving that when the lights of sports are shining brightest you never know which players will seize the spotlight.