2012 NCAA Tournament Road to Tampa Begins Now

The 16-team field for the 2012 NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament has been announced. It features the usual suspects as well as some newcomers. The CCHA racked up the most bids in the field, as they were able to get five teams in the tournament. Of those five teams, CCHA tournament runners up Michigan is most likely to reach the Frozen Four. Before they can book a flight south, they must defeat Ferris State, the CCHA regular season champion in the quarterfinal should both teams reach. Also in the field from the CCHA is Miami and CCHA tournament champ Western Michigan. Regional match-ups will take place beginning Friday at 3:00 p.m. in Bridgeport, Conn. when Michigan State will take on Union.

When the teams reach the Frozen Four, the West and Northeast champions will face off in one semifinal while the Midwest and East champions will square off in the other semifinal. Check our a preview of each region below.

Northeast Regional (Saturday, March 24-Sunday, March 25)

DCU Center, Worcester, Mass.
• No. 1 Boston College (29-10-1) vs. No. 4 Air Force (21-10-7), 4 p.m. EDT Saturday, ESPNU
• No. 2 Minnesota Duluth (24-9-6) vs. No. 3 Maine (23-13-3), 7:30 p.m. EDT Saturday, ESPN Syndication (ESPNU, 11:30 p.m. EDT Saturday)
• Semifinal winners, 8 p.m. EDT Sunday, ESPNU

Boston College is the favorite to survive this region. But Air Force isn’t to be taken lightly. The Falcons won the Atlantic Hockey tournament and features a Hobey Baker semifinalist. Boston College is the No. 1 overall seed, and we have seen a No. 16 defeat a No. 1 or No. 2 seed twice since the tournament expanded to 16 teams: Holy Cross over Minnesota in 2006 and Bemidji State took down No. 2 Notre Dame en route to the Frozen Four in 2009. Boston College is riding a 15-game winning streak heading into the tournament by Air Force has this going in their favor: Air Force lost to Yale in overtime in the first round last season and was an overtime goal away from the Frozen Four in 2009 after beating Michigan in the first round. This year’s seniors were on the team in both instances. Minnesota-Duluth are the defending national champions and Maine gave Boston College all they could handle in the Hockey East final. The Black Bears was also the last team to defeat the Golden Eagles, sweeping them 4-3 (OT) and 7-4 in Orono, Maine Jan 20-21.

My Pick: Boston College over Minnesota-Duluth

East Regional (Friday, March 23-Saturday, March 24)

Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard, Bridgeport, Conn.
• No. 1 Union (24-7-7) vs. No. 4 Michigan State (19-15-4), 3 p.m. EDT Friday, ESPNU
• No. 2 Miami (24-12-2) vs. No. 3 Massachusetts-Lowell (23-12-1), 6:30 p.m. EDT Friday, ESPNU
• Semifinal winners, 6:30 p.m. EDT Saturday, ESPNU

While the Northeast Regional looks like the Group of Death, the East Regional looks wide open. Michigan State might be rusty, considering they have not played since Feb. 25 in the first round of the CCHA tournament. Nearly a month without game action might be too much to overcome a solid team like Union. The Dutchmen has played four games since then and they are led by Troy Grosenick, the Hobey Baker semifinalist who happens to be the only sophomore still up for the awards. Should Union advance, they will take on Miami or UMass-Lowell. The Riverhawks are making the tournament for the first time in 16 years, and they posted an impressive tie-for-second finish in the difficult Hockey East conference. The Redhawks has posted an impressive streak of seven-straight NCAA tournament appearances. They have had their share of high’s (reaching the Frozen Four in 2009 and 2010) and their share of low’s (Blowing a 3-1 lead with 4:08 left to lose to Boston University in OT). These seniors have one more Frozen Four run in them and I feel they could make it out of this region.

My Pick: Miami over Union

As the top overall seed in the tournament, Boston College hopes they can gather for a picture like this in Tampa, Fla. come April 7.

Midwest Regional (Friday, March 23-Saturday, March 24)

Resch Center, Green Bay, Wis.

• No. 2 Ferris State (23-11-5) vs. No. 3 Denver (25-13-4), 4:30 p.m. CDT Friday, ESPN Syndication (ESPNU, 10:30 p.m. Friday)
• No. 1 Michigan (24-12-4) vs. No. 4 Cornell (18-8-7), 8 p.m. CDT Friday, ESPNU
• Semifinal winners, 8 p.m. CDT Saturday, ESPNU

The top-ranked team in the nation for a couple weeks near the end of the regular season, Ferris State didn’t do themselves any favors by losing to Bowling Green in the CCHA quarterfinals. Slotted as the No. 7 seed, they are paired with No. 2 overall Michigan. The teams played twice this season, with the Wolverines sweeping the Bulldogs in Ann Arbor in late October to snap their 6-0 start to the season. The Bulldogs went on an impressive streak to begin 2012, going on a 11-1-4 stretch to win the CCHA regular season title before falling to Bowling Green in three games in which the Falcons won both games in OT. Rested and motivated, the Bulldogs could be a sleeper team to reach the Frozen Four. Denver is the WCHA tournament runners up, losing to North Dakota in the final. In the conference tournament, they played three overtime games in a six-day span. The third was a double-overtime win over Minnesota-Duluth in the conference tournament. Michigan is making the tournament for the 22nd straight year. They have played Cornell during this streak in 1990-91 when the Wolverines won 2-1 when the NCAA tournament was best-of-three in the early round. They last met in 1997 when the teams drew 3-3. The Big Red have only played three games against teams in the NCAA tournament, defeating and tying Union and losing to Boston University in overtime.

My Pick: Michigan over Ferris State

West Regional (Saturday, March 24-Sunday, March 25)

Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minn.
• No. 1 North Dakota (25-12-3) vs. No. 4 Western Michigan (21-13-6), 12:30 p.m. CDT Saturday, ESPN Syndication (ESPNU, 11:30 a.m. Sunday)
• No. 2 Minnesota (26-13-1) vs. No. 3 Boston University (23-14-1), 4 p.m. CDT Saturday, ESPN Syndication (ESPNU, 2 p.m. CDT Sunday)
• Semifinal winners, 4:30 p.m. CDT Sunday, ESPNU

Similar to the Northeast Region, the West could be wild and crazy. For any sort of prediction, you could be more accurate flipping a coin or picking a name out of a hat because any of these teams can win. North Dakota, the No. 4 overall seed, played their way to a No. 1 seed in the regional by winning the WCHA tournament despite finishing fourth in the regular season standings. The Fighting Sioux is no slouch as they won three games in three nights in Minneapolis over the weekend by a combined 14-4 score. They beat Minnesota 6-3 and Denver 4-0 in the championship game with Denver also playing its third game in three nights (the first two went to overtime). Western Michigan played their way into the tournament by winning the CCHA tournament with an upset over Michigan. They are the third team not named Michigan, Michigan State or Notre Dame to win the Mason Cup. They don’t have any big named players but they can ride the hot goaltending of CCHA tourmaent MVP Frank Slubowski. Minnesota enters the tournament with the second-most wins in the nation (26) with 20 coming in the arguably most difficult conference in the nation. Their opponent, Boston University, comes into the tournament with a better record on the road than at home. At home they were 10-8 at home and 13-6-1 in road and neutral site games.

My Pick: Minnesota over North Dakota

Bracketology: If you are interested in an NCAA hockey bracket of your own, USCHO.com and Northland Films teamed up to create a bracket contest. The top 10 winners will receive a prize and it includes items such as DVDs from Northland Films (Pond Hockey and Forgotten Miracle), t shirts and a $100 gift card to USCHO’s gift shop. See the contest site for more information.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *