Friday, March 27, 2009

NCAA Hockey Tournament Preview - No Gophers Edition

The NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Championships begin on Friday with games in Minneapolis and Bridgeport, CT, representing the West and East Regionals, respectively. The Midwest and Northeast Regionals will begin play the next day in Grand Rapids, MI and Manchester, NH. By late Sunday evening, the Frozen Four will be set, and the wildest weekend of Division I hockey will be complete.

After weeks of examining WCHA match ups and PairWise impacts, it's kind of nice to just sit back and watch hockey in its purest form. Of course, it would have been a lot nicer to have Gopher previews to accompany this post, but for college hockey fans, it's exciting nonetheless.

This year's field features the usual intriguing first round match ups, but the potential second round meetings should get hockey fans really excited. Some potential intra-conference meetings loom, putting the top seed in jeopardy of losing on the lower seed's home ice in the Northeast Region. While in the West, the hottest goaltender in the land stands poised to beat another conference opponent should both teams survive their first round tilts. In the Midwest, the top seed avoids any intra-conference match up in the second round, but now has the prospect of facing dangerous eastern teams in its second round games. Finally, in the East, the top seed has to survive arguably the toughest draw in the first round before moving on.

To refresh everyone's memory, the top seeds by region, in order of how they appear on the bracket, are:
  • Northeast - Boston University
  • Midwest - Notre Dame
  • West - Denver
  • East - Michigan

BU is the tournament's overall top seed, followed by Notre Dame, Denver, and Michigan, respectively. There is no re-seeding of the entries in the event of upsets.

At first glance, this looks like a pretty good Frozen Four. However, there are some intriguing possibilities I alluded to earlier in this post which can screw things up. We'll examine those by region.

  • Northeast - BU vs. Ohio State / North Dakota vs. New Hampshire - Ohio State is a tough draw for BU, and they'll certainly be rested. The Buckeyes did not play last weekend because they lost their first round CCHA playoff game to Alaska in three hard-fought games. Still, OSU finished fifth in a tough conference and fashioned an 11-game winning streak earlier in the season. North Dakota and UNH will be a tough tilt on the Wildcats' home ice. If North Dakota plays like it did at the WCHA Final Five, New Hampshire should roll, setting up a potential BU/UNH match up featuring two Hockey East teams on UNH's home ice, where the teams split two meetings during the regular season.
  • Midwest - Notre Dame vs. Bemidji State / Northeastern vs. Cornell - Don't think for a second Notre Dams is overlooking BSU, especially after the Beavers almost stunned #1 seed and defending national champion Denver in the 2005 tournament, losing in OT. In the selection show last Sunday, ND coach Jeff Jackson praised BSU coach Tom Serratore's bunch, but the Irish are a tough draw. Should they survive, both Northeastern and Cornell present challenges for the second-ranked team in the land.
  • West - Denver vs. Miami (OH) / UMD vs. Princeton - Denver coach George Gwozdecky used to coach Miami (OH) and the Redhawks will be up for the challenge. Looming in the other game is goaltender Alex Stalock of UMD, who compiled a GAA in the WCHA Final Five of 0.33 in three games and shut out both North Dakota and Denver. Do the Pioneers have enough firepower to beat him this time?
  • Northeast - Michigan vs. Air Force / Yale vs. Vermont - Air Force is probably the toughest first round draw for a top seed, led by national goal-scoring champion and Hobey Baker top 10 nominee Jacques Lamoureaux.

My predictions by regional. Please note, none of the teams meeting in the first round met during the regular season:


  • Boston University vs. Ohio State - I like the Terriers in this one - big.
  • North Dakota vs. New Hampshire - The Wildcats will win on home ice.
  • Boston University vs. New Hampshire - The Wildcats and Terriers split their two games in Manchester in the regular season, and BU won the only match up on home ice. This one is hard to gauge, but I think BU will out-last them in a close one.


  • Notre Dame vs. Bemidji State - The Irish will win this one, but it'll be closer than you think.
  • Northeastern vs. Cornell - Tough one to call, but I'll say Cornell in a close game
  • Notre Dame vs. Cornell - Irish win in another low-scoring affair between two teams meeting for the first time this season.


  • Denver vs. Miami (OH) - Denver wins in the "Gwozdecky Bowl"
  • UMD vs. Princeton - Stalock does it again, as the Bulldogs win, setting up a re-match with Denver
  • Denver vs. UMD - The Pioneers won three of four regular season meetings, but were shut out in the WCHA Final Five title game by the Dogs. This one could go all night, but Marc Cheverie out-duels Stalock as the Pioneers return to the Frozen Four.


  • Michigan vs. Air Force - This one will be a struggle, but I think the Wolverines will avoid the upset
  • Yale vs. Vermont - Pick one.......Vermont
  • Michigan vs. Vermont - The Catamounts will take care of the Wolverines in an upset during the teams' first meeting.

That's how I see it. I'll be at the West Regional all weekend and will file updates accordingly. Because hockey employs "hype week" before the Frozen Four (so as not to compete with the basketball Final Four), we'll have a lot of Twins-related stuff next week, but will back to preview the Frozen Four before they face off in Washington on April 9.

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