Well ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the point where every team wanted to be at the beginning of the college hockey season. Beginning tomorrow and ending Sunday afternoon, we will wind our way down from 16 teams to the Frozen Four. So enough with the cliches and metaphors and let’s get to the meat and potatoes of this blog and get down with regional breakdowns and picks. Today’s picks will feature the East and West Regions. The Northeast and Midwest Regions will be featured tomorrow.
Note: Seeded teams are overall tournament seeded teams.
East Regional- Albany, N.Y.
(2)Denver vs RIT: 3:00 p.m Friday
Denver qualified for the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid out of the WCHA. Denver was thought of as not only the WCHA tournament champion but also as one of the contenders to win the national championship. The Pioneers had not lost consecutive games all season until losing two games at the WCHA Final Five last weekend. Not a good sign if you’d think teams want to be playing peak hockey going into the NCAA tournament.
You would think Denver has a favorable match up in the first round, but they should be on upset alert as they go up against RIT. RIT won the Atlantic Hockey Conference tournament and is third in the nation in wins with 26. Only Denver and Miami have more than the Tigers at 27. They dominated the competition last weekend as they outscored their opponents 10-1. The Tigers are making their first appearance in the tournament and could shock the entire tournament if they upset the Pioneers. What could work in their favor is defense and goaltending as they are third in the nation as they allowed 2.08 goals per game.
While I would love to take RIT because the numbers don’t lie and they also feature Detroit native and longtime personal friend Cameron Burt, I like the Pioneers in this game.
Cornell vs New Hampshire: 6:30 p.m.
Things must be going pretty good over in the Cornell athletic department. The Big Red hoops team won two games in the basketball tournament and is in the Sweet 16. The hockey team won the ECAC tournament and is playing not far from home in the NCAA tournament in Albany. Ben Scrivens is one of the hottest goalies in the country as he is riding a three-game shutout streak. The Big Red doesn’t score in bunches but their forecheck is so strong that by the time the opponent has to dump-and-change.
New Hampshire has to play a near perfect game if they want to advance in the tournament. It’ll be a tremendous feat to make it all the way to the Frozen Four because if they get past Cornell, they will have another stellar goalie between the pipes in Denver’s Marc Cheverie. They will have to possess a strong forecheck against Cornell and try to keep the turnovers to a minimum. They will also have to keep Cornell to under one, maybe two goals and hope the game will come down to overtime where anything can happen.
I like Cornell in this match up because of their stingy defense and the ability to keep the opposition out of its zone.
East Regional Final: Saturday, 6:30 p.m.
Advancing to the Frozen Four: Denver
West Regional- St. Paul, Minn.
St. Cloud State vs Northern Michigan: 5:00 p.m.
In a regional where we are guaranteed to have an at-large team reach the Frozen Four, this match up features teams playing in the NCAA tournament for the ninth time. The difference is that the Huskies of the WCHA are 0-8 while the Wildcats of the CCHA are 10-9 in the tournament. The Huskies will have the “home ice” advantage as the crowd will be pro-St. Cloud State, but I have seen Northern Michigan and they could have the opportunity to travel especially since it is a drivable distance from Marquette to St. Paul.
St. Cloud State has to keep this game low scoring for them to have a chance. When I saw Northern Michigan against Ferris State in the CCHA semi’s last weekend, Northern can fire a lot of shots and as what we saw in the 63 second span in the second period, score quickly and in bunches. Northern Michigan is the team that’s playing better as of late, but what Wildcats team will show up: the team that can score two goals and win, or the team that can score four goals and lose?
If you think a three-over-two seed is an upset, then you will see it here. I’m going with Northern Michigan advancing to keep the tournament losing streak going for St. Cloud State.
(3) Wisconsin vs Vermont:
The Badgers is a team I had the opportunity to watch at the Camp Randall Classic in February. While they are the third seed nationally in the tournament, this team can scare me in this region. Wisconsin does have the offense and the power play (as demonstrated in the Camp Randall Classic) to win the national championship. But what can keep the Badgers away from Ford Field is goaltending. If they run into a hot goaltender during this weekend, I don’t believe Wisconsin’s own backstop Scott Gudmanson can be as equal.
Vermont is the team looking for the upset special in this match up. They reached the Frozen Four last season but they will be on everyone’s radar this time around. They even needed help to even reach the field when Boston College defeated Maine in the Hockey East title game. At 17-14-7, did they even belong in the tournament as a 21-13-6 Ferris State team stayed home? I guess you can thank their “quality of victories” over Denver, Boston College and two victories over New Hampshire in the conference tournament. The Catamounts struggled this year as they finished eighth in league play and have struggled to light the lamp.
The Badgers are the better team on paper, but the Catamounts did post several quality victories over top ranked teams this season. In one game tournament, the cream rises to the top and that cream just happened to be colored red. Wisconsin over Vermont in this regional semifinal.
West Regional Final: Saturday, 9:00 p.m.
Advancing to the Frozen Four: Wisconsin
Check back Saturday for previews and picks of the Northeast and Midwest Regions.