NCAA East Regional Preview

PROVIDENCE, R.I. | DUNKIN’ DONUTS CENTER
SATURDAY-SUNDAY, MARCH 28-29

Saturday: Boston College vs. Denver, 3 p.m. ET (TV: ESPN2)
Saturday: Providence vs. Miami, 6:30 p.m. ET (TV: ESPNU)
Sunday: Regional Final, 5 p.m. ET (TV: ESPNU)

NO. 1 SEED MIAMI REDHAWKS

Location: Oxford, Ohio
Record: 25-13-1 overall (14-9-1 NCHC, second)
Qualified: NCHC tournament champions
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: 13th (most recent, 2013)
Head Coach: Enrico Blasi
Key Players: Austin Czarnik, F, Sr., 39 GP, 9-34–43; Riley Barber, F, Jr., 38 GP, 20-20–40; Matthew Caito, D, Jr., 38 GP, 3-19–22; Jay Williams, G, Jr., 27 GP, 19-8-0, 1.89 GAA, .922 save pct.

What You Need To Know: With forward Blake Coleman (20 goals) suspended for Saturday and the status of forward Riley Barber (20 goals) in doubt after he was injured late in last weekend’s NCHC championship game win vs. St. Cloud State, Miami could face Providence without 32 percent of its goal production.

Burning Question: Seriously, how do the RedHawks get by Providence without Coleman and potentially Barber? In addition to sharing the team lead in goals, both have been on fire as of late. Coleman’s got eight goals and 13 points in his last six games; Barber’s got seven goals and 13 points in his last nine contests. Goals will be at a premium, especially against goalie Jon Gillies and the stingy Friars defense. It’ll be up to leading scorer Austin Czarnik to get others involved in the offense.

Most Recent Miami Line Chart
Left Wing Center Right Wing Notes
95-Anthony Louis 7-Austin Czarnik 22-Kevin Morris With 167 points in 158 games, Austin Czarnik is the tournament’s active scoring leader. He’s three points ahead of Minnesota’s Kyle Rau and five points in front of Minnesota State’s Matt Leitner.
42-Conor Lemirande 26-Justin Greenberg 33-Andrew Schmit
14-Cody Murphy 25-Blake Coleman 11-Riley Barber
10-Alex Wideman 9-Sean Kuraly 12-Alex Gacek
Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
58-Louie Belpido 8-Matthew Caito 1-Jay Williams Scoring offense: 3.21 GPG (12th)
Scoring defense: 2.38 GPG (T-22nd)
Power play: 19.8% (17th)
Penalty kill: 83.3% (T-27th)
5-Chris Joyaux 28-Ben Paulides 35-Ryan McKay
27-Scott Dornbrock 2-Taylor Richart

NO. 2 SEED DENVER PIONEERS

Location: Denver, Colo.
Record: 23-13-2 overall (13-10-1 NCHC, fourth)
Qualified: At-large bid
NCAA Championships: Seven (1958, 1960, 1961, 1968, 1969, 2004, 2005)
NCAA Appearance: 25th (most recent, 2014)
Head Coach: Jim Montgomery
Key Players: Danton Heinen, F, Fr., 38 GP, 16-29–45; Trevor Moore, F, So., 37 GP, 21-21–42; Joey LaLeggia, D, Sr., 35 GP, 13-25–38; Tanner Jaillet, G, Fr., 25 GP, 14-7-0, 2.38 GAA, .917 save pct.

What You Need To Know: The Pioneers eclipsed the 20-win plateau for the 14th straight season, the longest such streak in Division I hockey. North Dakota is second with 13 straight seasons of 20 wins or more.

Burning Question: Are we paying enough attention to the Pioneers? This team has all the ingredients to win a national championship—its best players (Danton Heinen, Trevor Moore, and Joey LaLeggia) come into the NCAA tournament playing their best hockey, a strong veteran presence with seven seniors in the lineup, and a very good defensive unit paced by LaLeggia, junior Nolan Zajac, and sophomore Will Butcher. If Denver gets steady play from the goaltending tandem of Tanner Jaillet and Evan Cowley, it could earn a trip back to Boston, site of its 2004 national title triumph.

Most Recent Denver Line Chart
Left Wing Center Right Wing Notes
26-Evan Janssen 27-Quentin Shore 12-Ty Loney Forward Danton Heinen enters the weekend with 45 points, the most by a Pioneers freshman since Dave Shields scored 48 points in 1986-87.
8-Trevor Moore 19-Daniel Doremus 20-Danton Heinen
16-Zac Larraza 9-Gabe Levin 18-Emil Romig
14-Larkin Jacobson 25-Matt Tabrum 39-Grant Arnold
Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
28-Adam Plant 4-Josiah Didier 36-Evan Cowley Scoring offense: 3.29 GPG (9th)
Scoring defense: 2.45 GPG (T-28th)
Power play: 21.6% (8th)
Penalty kill: 83.9% (25th)
21-Joey LaLeggia 11-Nolan Zajac 31-Tanner Jaillet
7-Will Butcher 6-Matt VanVoorhis

NO. 3 SEED BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES

Location: Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Record: 21-13-3 overall (12-7-3 Hockey East, tied for second)
Qualified: At-large bid
NCAA Championships: Five (1949, 2001, 2008, 2010, 2012)
NCAA Appearance: 34th (most recent, 2013)
Head Coach: Jerry York
Key Players: Alex Tuch, F, Fr., 36 GP, 14-14–28; Adam Gilmour, F, So., 37 GP, 9-17–26; Teddy Doherty, D, Jr., 37 GP, 6-17–23; Thatcher Demko, G, Jr., 34 GP, 19-12-3, 2.14 GAA, .927 save pct.

What You Need To Know: The Eagles and Denver, their first-round opponent, played a two-game series at Magness Arena Oct. 31-Nov. 1. The two teams split, each winning a 2-1 decision. Ryan Fitzgerald scored two goals in the BC win; Danton Heinen scored both Denver goals in the Pioneers’ overtime victory.

Burning Question: Are the Eagles really going to rely on goaltending and defense? Boston College has scored 105 goals to date which, barring a national championship run, will be the team’s lowest output since its 96 goals in 1961-62. Fortunately, the Eagles can lean on goalie Thatcher Demko and the most talented defensive corps in college hockey, which includes one first-round NHL draft pick (Michael Matheson), two second-round selections (Ian McCoshen and Steve Santini), and a sure-fire first-rounder in the 2015 draft (Noah Hanifin). Goals may be at a premium for BC, but this year’s Eagles are built to win that way.

Most Recent Boston College Line Chart
Left Wing Center Right Wing Notes
19-Ryan Fitzgerald 26-Austin Cangelosi 11-Chris Calnan Saturday’s game features two of the tournament’s highest-scoring defensive corps. BC’s blueliners have totaled 97 points this season (fifth among NCAA tourney teams); DU’s rearguards are tied for second with 111 points.
24-Zach Sanford 14-Adam Gilmour 12-Alex Tuch
27-Quinn Smith 18-Michael Sit 17-Destry Straight
15-Cam Spiro 21-Matthew Gaudreau 10-Danny Linell
Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
5-Michael Matheson 6-Steve Santini 30-Thatcher Demko Scoring offense: 2.84 GPG (23rd)
Scoring defense: 2.32 GPG (15th)
Power play: 15.2% (T-39th)
Penalty kill: 86.9% (12th)
4-Teddy Doherty 2-Scott Savage 29-Brad Barone
7-Noah Hanifin 3-Ian McCoshen 1-Brian Billett

NO. 4 SEED PROVIDENCE FRIARS

Location: Providence, R.I.
Record: 22-13-2 overall (13-8-1 Hockey East, tied for second)
Qualified: At-large bid
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: 11th (most recent, 2014)
Head Coach: Nate Leaman
Key Players: Nick Saracino, F, Jr., 36 GP, 13-20–33; Trevor Mingoia, F, Jr., 36 GP, 13-14–27; Tom Parisi, D, Jr., 35 GP, 3-13–16; Jon Gillies, G, Jr., 31 GP, 20-13-2, 1.95 GAA, .931 save pct.

What You Need To Know: Providence is making back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances for the first time in school history. The Friars made three trips to the national tournament between 1981-1985, but had a year off between each berth.

Burning Question: Can a baseball analogy work for the Friars? The strength of this Providence team is up the middle with goaltender Jon Gillies, one of the best in the country, and three very good centers in senior Ross Mauermann and juniors Noel Acciari and Mark Jankowski. And while they’re not explosive offensively, how many goals the Friars score is often secondary to when they score—Providence is 16-3-0 this season when it scores first. Taking a lead, holding on to it, and turning the game over to the closer in Gillies isn’t a bad strategy. 

Most Recent Providence Line Chart
Left Wing Center Right Wing Notes
22-Brandon Tanev 24-Noel Acciari 18-Nick Saracino The Friars have scored a total of 17 goals in its 13 losses. Nine of Providence’s losses have been by one goal and four of them have come in overtime.
20-Shane Luke 14-Ross Mauermann 26-Brian Pinho
12-Stefan Demopoulos 10-Mark Jankowski 19-Trevor Mingoia
15-Steven McParland 21-Kevin Rooney 15-Brooks Behling
Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
6-Tom Parisi 16-Anthony Florentino 32-Jon Gillies Scoring offense: 2.81 GPG (24th)
Scoring defense: 2.00 GPG (4th)
Power play: 14.7% (43rd)
Penalty kill: 86.0% (16th)
19-Jake Walman 3-John Gilmour 35-Nick Ellis
5-Kyle McKenzie 27-Josh Monk 1-Brendan Leahy
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NCAA Northeast Regional Preview

MANCHESTER, N.H. | VERIZON WIRELESS CENTER
FRIDAY-
SATURDAY, MARCH 27-28

Friday: Yale vs. Boston University, 2 p.m. ET (TV: ESPNU)
Friday: Minnesota vs. Minnesota Duluth, 5:30 p.m. ET (TV: ESPNU)
Saturday: Regional Final, 5:30 p.m. ET (TV: ESPN2)

NO. 1 SEED BOSTON UNIVERSITY TERRIERS

Location: Boston, Mass.
Record: 25-7-5 overall (14-5-3 Hockey East, first)
Qualified: Hockey East tournament champions
NCAA Championships: Five (1971, 1972, 1978, 1995, 2009)
NCAA Appearance: 33rd (most recent, 2012)
Head Coach: David Quinn
Key Players: Jack Eichel, F, Fr., 36 GP, 24-42–66; Evan Rodrigues, F, Sr., 37 GP, 18-39–57; Matt Grzelcyk, D, Jr., 37 GP, 10-26–36; Matt O’Connor, G, Jr., 31 GP, 22-3-4, 2.12 GAA, .928 save pct.

What You Need To Know: Since winning the school’s fifth national title in 2009, the Terriers have made just one NCAA tournament appearance. That was in 2012, when BU was bounced by Minnesota in the first round of the West Regional.

Burning Question: Can anyone stop Jack Eichel? The nation’s leading scorer averages 1.83 points per game and, remarkably, he’s been racking up points at an even better clip as the season has progressed—witness his 39 points in 20 games in 2015 and 26 points during his current 12-game scoring streak. But he’s managed just six points (all assists) in BU’s seven losses. Sure, the Terriers have dangerous players throughout the lineup—last year’s leading scorer, Robbie Baillargeon, is a third-line wing this season—but if you can’t corral Eichel, you can’t beat BU.

Most Recent Boston University Line Chart
Left Wing Center Right Wing Notes
17-Evan Rodrigues 9-Jack Eichel 10-Danny O’Regan Further evidence of the Eichel Effect: Terriers forward Evan Rodrigues entered his senior year with 60 career points in 105 career games. He’s got 57 points in 37 games this season as Eichel’s linemate.
26-A.J. Greer 7-Cason Hohmann 2-Ahti Oksanen
13-Nikolas Olsson 21-Matt Lane 19-Robbie Baillargeon
12-Chase Phelps 11-Mike Moran 15-Nick Roberto
Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
5-Matt Grzelcyk 16-John MacLeod 29-Matt O’Connor Scoring offense: 3.89 GPG (1st)
Scoring defense: 2.27 GPG (13th)
Power play: 28.2% (2nd)
Penalty kill: 83.3% (27th)
4-Brandon Hickey 25-Brandon Fortunato 30-Connor LaCouvee
27-Doyle Somerby 20-Brien Diffley 1-Anthony Moccia

NO. 2 MINNESOTA DULUTH BULLDOGS

Location: Duluth, Minn.
Record: 20-15-3 overall (12-9-3 NCHC, fifth)
Qualified: At-large bid
NCAA Championships: One (2011)
NCAA Appearance: Ninth (most recent, 2012)
Head Coach: Scott Sandelin
Key Players: Tony Cameranesi, F, Jr., 38 GP, 8-20–28; Dominic Toninato, F, So., 32 GP, 16-9–25; Andy Welinski, D, Jr., 38 GP, 9-11–20; Kasimir Kaskisuo, G, Fr., 34 GP, 17-13-3, 2.31 GAA, .915 save pct.

What You Need To Know: The Bulldogs were 18-10-1, their high-water mark of the season, after beating St. Cloud State in Duluth on Feb. 13, then proceeded to go 2-5-2 the rest of the way.

Burning Question: Can UMD score enough goals? The Bulldogs have averaged just 2.0 goals per game during their recent 2-5-2 stretch; since Valentine’s Day, the team ranks tied for 42nd in the country in scoring offense. In the 29 games prior to Valentine’s Day, UMD had the nation’s 13th best scoring offense, averaging 3.14 goals per game. A return to form for forward Dominic Toninato, the team’s best player who has struggled since missing five February games with an injury, would boost the Bulldogs’ fortunes.

Note: Tip of the hat to all the UMD fans who pointed out that sophomore forward Alex Iafallo, the team’s third-leading scorer who hasn’t played in more than a month due to illness, is expected to be back on the Bulldogs’ top line Friday.

Most Recent Minnesota Duluth Line Chart
Left Wing Center Right Wing Notes
8-Kyle Osterberg 19-Dominic Toninato 26-Adam Krause First-round foes UMD and Minnesota have played four games at four different sites this season: Notre Dame, Ind., in the Ice Breaker; Minneapolis; Duluth; and St. Paul, Minn., in the North Star College Cup.
11-Austin Farley 13-Tony Cameranesi 20-Karson Kuhlman
27-Cal Dekowski 22-Jared Thomas 25-Justin Crandall
24-Charlie Sampair 23-Austyn Young 3-Dan Molenaar
Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
6-Derik Johnson 7-Andy Welinski 33-Kasimir Kaskisuo Scoring offense: 2.87 GPG (22nd)
Scoring defense: 2.45 GPG (T-28th)
Power play: 17.9% (27th)
Penalty kill: 81.9% (35th)
21-Carson Soucy 15-Willie Raskob 36-Matt McNeely
5-Willie Corrin 10-Brenden Kotyk

NO. 3 SEED MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS

Location: Minneapolis, Minn.
Record: 23-12-3 overall (12-5-3 Big Ten, first)
Qualified: Big Ten tournament champions
NCAA Championships: Five (1974, 1976, 1979, 2002, 2003)
NCAA Appearance: 36th (most recent, 2014)
Head Coach: Don Lucia
Key Players: Mike Reilly, D, Jr., 38 GP, 6-36–42; Kyle Rau, F, Sr., 38 GP, 20-21–41; Travis Boyd, F, Sr., 31 GP, 19-21–40;  Adam Wilcox, G, Jr., 37 GP, 22-11-3, 2.38 GAA, .913 save pct.

What You Need To Know: The Gophers recovered from a 4-8-2 skid between Nov. 14 and Jan. 24 to post a 12-3-1 mark over its last 16 games.

Burning Question: Can the Gophs keep on keepin’ on? During its recent 16-game run that started with a Jan. 30 win at Wisconsin, Minnesota has averaged 4.06 goals per game, attempted an average of six more shots per game than its foes, has won more than 55 percent of its faceoff, and boasts a ridiculous power-play success rate of 32.1 percent. Figuring out the key to the Gophers’ success is almost too easy—they’re really, really good when they control the puck and, when they don’t, they’re not good.

Most Recent Minnesota Line Chart
Left Wing Center Right Wing Notes
18-Leon Bristedt 7-Kyle Rau 24-Hudson Fasching With a team-high 42 points in 38 games, Mike Reilly has a chance to become the first defenseman to lead the Gophers in scoring since Mike Crowley in 1996-97.
11-Sam Warning 22-Travis Boyd 17-Seth Ambroz
13-Taylor Cammarata 25-Justin Kloos 19-Vinni Lettieri
15-A.J. Michaelson 26-Christian Isackson 3-Jack Glover
Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
5-Mike Reilly 28-Jake Bischoff 32-Adam Wilcox Scoring offense: 3.58 GPG (5th)
Scoring defense: 2.47 GPG (31st)
Power play: 28.2% (1st)
Penalty kill: 79.4% (48th)
2-Brady Skjei 6-Ryan Collins 34-Nick Lehr
10-Ben Marshall 20-Michael Brodzinski

NO. 4 YALE BULLDOGS

Location: New Haven, Conn.
Record: 18-9-5 overall (14-3-3 ECAC Hockey, third)
Qualified: At-large bid
NCAA Championships: One (2013)
NCAA Appearance: Seventh (most recent, 2013)
Head Coach: Keith Allain
Key Players: Frankie DiChiara, F, So., 32 GP, 8-13–21; Rob O’Gara, D, Jr., 32 GP, 6-15–21; Mike Doherty, F, So., 32 GP, 12-8–20; Alex Lyon, G, So., 31 GP, 17-9-5, 1.58 GAA, .939 save pct.

What You Need To Know: Sophomore forward Frankie DiChiara and junior defenseman Rob O’Gara share the team lead in scoring with 21 points. If one ranked all the players in this year’s NCAA tournament by points, DiChiara and O’Gara would be tied for 87th on that list.

Burning Question: Is there any possible way the Bulldogs can get past Boston University? No disrespect to Yale—and, yes, that improbable run to the 2013 national championship is still fresh in everyone’s minds—but this is a terrible matchup for them on paper. The Bulldogs were winless in the eight games this season in which they allow more than two goals and haven’t won when the opponent scores first. Any chance of an upset starts (and likely ends) with goaltender Alex Lyon, the country’s leader in goals against average, save percentage, and shutouts (seven).

Most Recent Yale Line Chart
Left Wing Center Right Wing Notes
17-Frankie DiChiara 9-Carson Cooper 12-Cody Learned The Bulldogs have given up an NCAA-low 51 goals this season, and its nine power-play goals allowed is also tops in the country in that category.
28-Ryan Hitchcock 25-Chris Izmirlian 24-Mike Doherty
19-Anthony Day 7-Matt Killian 20-John Baiocco
11-Trent Ruffolo 6-Stu Wilson 21-John Hayden
Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
10-Mitch Witek 4-Rob O’Gara 34-Alex Lyon Scoring offense: 2.62 GPG (38th)
Scoring defense: 1.59 GPG (1st)
Power play: 17.5% (29th)
Penalty kill: 82.5% (2nd)
14-Ryan Obuchowski 18-Nate Repensky 29-Connor Wilson
22-Tommy Fallen 2-Adam Larkin 30-Patrick Spano

Conference Finals Preview

Equal parts desire and boredom compelled me to whip up the at-a-glanciest of previews for this weekend’s conference tournament action. Even if you disagree with everything written below, do me one favor: push the math majors to the side for a couple days and just enjoy what’s taking place on the ice. Life is for the living!

ATLANTIC HOCKEY
Blue Cross Arena | Rochester, N.Y. | TV: None

Friday: (5) Mercyhurst (18-15-4) vs. (1) Robert Morris (24-7-5), 5:05 p.m. ET
Friday: (3) RIT (17-14-5) vs. (2) Canisius (18-11-7), 8:05 p.m. ET
Saturday: Championship game, 7:05 p.m. ET

action_rmu_wydoWho should win: Robert Morris. Though the Colonials, Canisius, and RIT have been on roughly the same arc since launching into league play in early January—all three teams have 12 wins since Jan. 9—Robert Morris has been the most consistent from day one.

Who will win: Robert Morris. Coach Derek Schooley’s team, led by Hobey Baker Award finalist Cody Wydo (pictured, right), ranked first in Atlantic Hockey in scoring offense, third in scoring defense, first in power-play success, and second in penalty killing. The Colonials will get past RIT and the Tigers’ terrific forward Matt Garbowsky, another Hobey finalist, in the title match en route to a second NCAA Tournament berth in as many seasons.

BIG TEN
Joe Louis Arena | Detroit | TV: Big Ten Network

Friday: (5) Ohio State vs. (1) Minnesota (21-12-3), 4:30 p.m. ET
Friday: (3) Michigan vs. (2) Michigan State (17-15-2), 8 p.m. ET
Saturday: Championship game, 8 p.m. ET

Who should win: Minnesota. Unlike the rest of the Big Ten, the Gophers’ flaws appear to be primarily mental. Provided they show up in Detroit with the proper frame of mind, they’re the league’s most-balanced team.

Who will win: Minnesota. Whom do you trust to win two or three games in a row? Michigan might score seven goals one night, then allow seven the next. Michigan State goalie Jake Hildebrand was named B1G POY earlier this week but, in spite of his brilliance, the Spartans are 6-13-2 when allowing two or more goals. Think about that—in games in which its opponents put up a crooked number, MSU has a .333 winning percentage. That’s absurd. Do you like Spartans’ chances of keeping Michigan and (likely) Minnesota to zero or one goals on consecutive nights? Neither do I.

ECAC HOCKEY
Herb Brooks Arena | Lake Placid, N.Y. | TV: Fox College Sports

Friday: (6) Harvard (19-12-3) vs. (1) Quinnipiac (23-10-4), 4:05 p.m. ET
Friday: (4) Colgate (21-11-4) vs. (2) St. Lawrence (20-13-3), 7:35 p.m. ET
Saturday: Championship game, 7:35 p.m. ET

Who should win: I … don’t …know. One can make a compelling case for each of the four teams. Quinnipiac, which pretty much coasted to the league’s regular-season title, has the best balance. St. Lawrence, led by freshman netminder Kyle Hanlon’s 1.66 GAA and .947 save percentage over the Saints’ last 15 games—SLU was 11-3-1 during that span—has the best goaltender. Colgate, unbeaten in its last seven games and 7-2-1 since Feb. 1, is peaking at the right time. Then there’s Harvard, which brings the most talent to Lake Placid.

Who will win: Colgate. Logic would most likely dictate Quinnipiac in this spot, I suppose, but the Raiders enter the weekend on a bit of a roll—not as hot as they were a year ago when an extraordinary second half propelled them to an ECAC Hockey championship game appearance and an NCAA Tournament bid, but pretty good nonetheless. We’re rolling the dice on the ‘gate.

HOCKEY EAST
TD Garden | Boston | TV: NESN and NBC Sports Network

Friday: (7) Vermont (22-14-4) vs. (4) UMass Lowell (20-11-6), 5:05 p.m. ET
Friday: (8) New Hampshire (19-18-2) vs. (1) Boston University (23-7-5), 8:05 p.m., ET
Saturday: Championship game, 7:05 p.m. ET

action_bu_eichelWho should win: Boston University. Take a look at the Terriers’ roster beyond Jack Eichel (pictured, right). A ton of talent and a good deal of experience would seem to be enough to allow BU to forge ahead, especially with probable NCAA Tournament teams Boston College and Providence bounced during last weekend’s quarterfinals.

Who will win: Boston University. UMass Lowell, the defending league postseason champion and the best bet to challenge the Terriers this weekend, pulled out of a month-long mid-winter skid to go 4-1-3 in its last seven games. The River Hawks have one of the nation’s highest-scoring offenses and a solid goalie in Kevin Boyle; BU has the country’s most prolific offense and a better goalie in Matt O’Connor. Plus, you know, Jack Eichel.

NATIONAL COLLEGIATE HOCKEY CONFERENCE
Target Center | Minneapolis | TV: CBS Sports Network

Friday: (6) St. Cloud State (18-17-1) vs. (1) North Dakota (27-7-3), 5:05 p.m. ET
Friday: (4) Denver (22-12-2) vs. (2) Miami (23-13-1), 8:35 p.m. ET
Saturday: Third-place game, 4:35 p.m. ET (not televised)
Saturday: Championship game, 8:35 p.m. ET

Who should win: North Dakota. You’d expect the nation’s top-ranked team to come into this weekend with a chip on its collective shoulder after entering this tournament a year ago as a massive favorite only to flop in the semifinals against a sub-.500 Miami team.

Who will win: North Dakota. It won’t be easy—any time NoDak and St. Cloud State play it’s going to be a war, and Denver and Miami are both very good. But the hunch here is NoDak gets past the Huskies, who could be without key players Andrew Prochno (hand) and Kalle Kossila (upper body). Have to believe the winner of the Denver-Miami game (which, on paper, looks like the weekend’s best regardless of league) enters the the title match with less in its tank than North Dakota; that, plus goaltender Zane McIntyre, should be just enough to give NoDak the edge.

WCHA
Xcel Energy Center | St. Paul, Minn. | TV: Fox Sports North

Friday: (6) Ferris State (18-19-2) vs. (1) Minnesota State (27-7-3), 5:05 p.m. ET
Friday: (3) Bowling Green (23-10-3) vs. (2) Michigan Tech (28-8-2), 8:35 p.m. ET
Saturday: Championship game, 7:05 p.m. ET

action_mnk_lafontaineWho should win: Minnesota State. If North Dakota is the country’s most consistent team, the Mavericks are second on that list. Coach Mike Hastings’ squad is ridiculously deep, too; senior forward Jean-Paul Lafontaine (pictured, right), who enters the weekend with 127 points in 154 career games, ranks seventh on the team in scoring this season with 24 points in 33 games.

Who will win: Minnesota State. Picking top seeds to win five of the six league titles. Way to go out on a limb. Seriously, however, the Mavericks are, in this writer’s opinion, the nation’s best team. Ferris State and goalie C.J. Motte can be a dangerous semifinal matchup, but the Bulldogs won’t score enough to topple the Mavs. Michigan Tech is the sentimental favorite and, hey, they’re really good, too, with a 13-2-1 mark since Jan. 16, but the Mavericks—with all that scoring balance and stellar goaltending from Stephon Williams—are too good to be denied.

INCH WRITERS RANKINGS: THE PRESEASON TOP WHATEVER

Prior to just about every season at the old INCH site or here at INCH Writers, we’d roll out our rankings of every college team in the country called the Great 58 or the Great 58+1 depending on the number of programs. It was a fun, largely meaningless exercise. Oh, and people like lists.

As I was putting the list together for 2014-15, a problem arose. Slotting the first 10 or so teams was easy. So was ordering the bottom half dozen. The 40 in the middle, however, was a mess. I mean, I probably could’ve come up with a fairly reasonable ranking of all 59 teams, but I didn’t feel good about it.

Thankfully, INCH’s Joe Gladziszewski solved my problem. He said, “Do it like you do the regular-season rankings. Just list the ones you want and when you’re done, you’re done.”

Gladdy didn’t actually say that. He tweeted it to me. I’m embellishing to make the story a little better. This is not like Evgeni Malkin embellishing.

He’s right: just because one can create a top 15 or top 20 doesn’t mean that many teams are worthy of mention. The end result, therefore, is the first INCH Writers Preseason Top Whatever, where I rank the teams until I feel like no one else deserves to be rated.

1. Minnesota (28-6-7 in 2013-14, NCAA runner-up): Here’s the production the Golden Gophers lost from last season: 15 goals, 40 assists and 83 saves. For a team that returns six skaters who scored 10 or more goals last season, making up for the departed shouldn’t be an issue.

action_pc_gillies2. Providence (22-11-6, NCAA Tournament participant): With all but one forward back from last season, the Friars should improve on the 115 goals they scored in 2013-14. With junior Jon Gillies (pictured, right) and his 2.12 career GAA in goal, it isn’t a necessity.

3. Colgate (20-14-5, NCAA Tournament participant): Another veteran-laden squad, the Raiders were a surprise second-place finisher in ECAC Hockey last season. Of the 10 players reached double digits in points a year ago, nine of them are back. So, too, is goalie Charlie Finn.

4. Boston College (28-8-4, NCAA Frozen Four participant): No one, even the great Jerry York, loses four forwards who combined for nearly 500 career points without skipping a beat. It may take a bit for the Eagles to get up to speed, but I expect they’ll be buzzing come March.

5. North Dakota (25-14-3, NCAA Frozen Four participant): There are 14 NHL draft picks on the roster. Freshman forward Nick Schmaltz, a first-round selection of Chicago Blackhawks this past summer, is the most highly touted. Junior goalie Zane McIntyre, property of the Bruins, is the most important, however.

6. Minnesota State (26-14-1, NCAA Tournament participant): If forwards Zach Stepan and Teddy Blueger can improve to Matt Leitner/John-Paul Lafontaine levels of offensive output—and I think they can—the Mavericks will score a lot of goals this season.

7. Miami (15-20-3): Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I’m giving the RedHawks a mulligan for last year’s train wreck because they’ve got too much talent and Enrico Blasi is too good of a coach to let it happen again.

action_scs_prochno8. St. Cloud State (22-11-5, NCAA Tournament participant): The defending Natty Ice regular-season champions have to replace goalie Ryan Faragher. Whomever nabs the no. 1 job gets the benefit of having two terrific defensemen (senior Andrew Prochno, pictured, and junior Ethan Prow) on their side.

9. Union (32-6-4, NCAA champion): No Daniel Carr, no Mat Bodie, no Shayne Gostisbehere. Still, forwards Daniel Ciampini, Mike Vecchione, Max Novak and Mike Pontarelli combined for 62 goals last season and all ECAC Hockey First Team goalie Colin Stevens is back, too.

10. Ferris State (29-11-3, NCAA Tournament participant): Speaking of goalies, C.J. Motte is a good one. He’s back for his senior season—and he’s the Bulldogs’ captain to boot. Keep an eye on sophomore forward Kyle Schempp, who scored 10 goals and 15 assists in a promising rookie campaign.

Teams I thought about including but ultimately didn’t: Denver (20-16-6), Northeastern (19-14-4), Yale (17-11-5), Michigan (18-13-4)

NCAA West Regional Preview

ST. PAUL, MINN. | XCEL ENERGY CENTER
SATURDAY-SUNDAY, MARCH 29-30

Saturday: Robert Morris vs. Minnesota, 5:30 p.m. ET (TV: ESPNU)
Saturday: St. Cloud State vs. Notre Dame, 9 p.m. ET (TV: ESPNU)
Sunday: Regional Final, 7:30 p.m. ET (TV: ESPNU)

NO. 1 SEED MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS

Location: Minneapolis, Minn.
Record: 25-6-6 overall (14-3-3 Big Ten, first)
Qualified: At-large bid
NCAA Championships: Five (1974, 1976, 1979, 2002, 2003)
NCAA Appearance: 35th (most recent, 2013)
Head Coach: Don Lucia
Key Players: Kyle Rau, F, Jr., 37 GP, 12-22–34; Sam Warning, F, Jr., 35 GP, 12-19–32; Mike Reilly, D, So., 37 GP, 8-21–29; Adam Wilcox, G, So., 34 GP, 23-5-6, 1.91 GAA, .933 save pct.

What You Need To Know: The top overall seed in the tournament is also one of the youngest teams in this year’s field. The average age of the Golden Gophers’ roster is 21.17 years; only Boston College (average age: 20.65 years) is younger.

Burning Question: Can Minnesota handle the scrutiny they’ll face in the wake of last year’s disappointing loss to Yale in the opening round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament? Getting to the regional final probably won’t be enough to satisfy Gopher fans. Minnesota is really good, but they’re also really young. The NCAA Tournament is a pressure cooker; playing in your backyard in front of thousands of your own fans expecting nothing less than a trip to the Frozen Four ratchets up that pressure.

Most Recent Minnesota Line Chart
 Left Wing Center  Right Wing Notes
26-Nate Condon 25-Justin Kloos 13-Taylor Cammarata Freshmen have accounted for 51 of the Golden Gophers’ 126 goals (40.5%) this season. No team in the country has received more offensive production from its crop of newcomers.
11-Sam Warning 7-Kyle Rau 24-Hudson Fasching
14-Tom Serratore 22-Travis Boyd 17-Seth Ambroz
21-Connor Reilly 27-Gabe Guertler 19-Vinni Lettieri
 Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
28-Jake Bischoff 10-Ben Marshall 32-Adam Wilcox Scoring offense: 3.41 GPG (T-8th)
Scoring defense: 2.03 GPG (3rd)
Power play: 19.9% (18th)
Penalty kill: 82.5% (29th)
2-Brady Skjei 12-Justin Holl 1-Mike Shibrowski
5-Mike Reilly 6-Jake Parenteau

NO. 2 SEED NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH

Location: Notre Dame, Ind.
Record: 23-14-2 overall (9-9-2 Hockey East, eighth)
Qualified: At-large bid
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: Seventh (most recent, 2013)
Head Coach: Jeff Jackson
Key Players: T.J. Tynan, F, Sr., 39 GP, 8-29–37; Vince Hinostroza, F, Fr., 33 GP, 8-24–32; Stephen Johns, D, Sr., 39 GP, 8-12–20; Steven Summerhays, G, Sr., 37 GP, 21-13-2, 2.00 GAA, .925 save pct.

What You Need To Know: Notre Dame has just four power-play goals in 28 man-advantage opportunities over its last nine games for a 14.3 percent success rate, and the Irish have given up at least one power-play goal in six straight games.

Burning Question: You pretty much know what you’re going to get from Steven Summerhays, but will the Irish get enough goals for him? Notre Dame has scored a total of 21 goals in its 14 losses this season. Regardless of how good your goalie is–and Summerhays has been All-American good this season–averaging 1.5 goals per game in your losses isn’t leaving much margin for error.

Most Recent Notre Dame Line Chart
 Left Wing Center  Right Wing Notes
12-Sam Herr 18-T.J. Tynan 21-Bryan Rust In 21 games since Jan. 1, the Herr-Tynan-Rust line has combined to score 22 goals and 33 assists.
11-Jeff Costello 26-Steven Fogarty 15-Peter Schneider
22-Mario Lucia 13-Vince Hinostroza 27-Austin Wuthrich
14-Thomas DiPauli 10-David Gerths 16-Mike Voran
 Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
25-Kevin Lind 28-Stephen Johns 1-Steven Summerhays Scoring offense: 3.00 GPG (22nd)
Scoring defense: 2.10 GPG (5th)
Power play: 18.3% (26th)
Penalty kill: 84.2% (15th)
3-Shayne Taker 6-Andy Ryan 31-Joe Rogers
23-Eric Johnson 29-Jared Beers 33-Chad Katunar

NO. 3 SEED ST. CLOUD STATE HUSKIES

Location: St. Cloud, Minn.
Record: 21-10-5 overall (15-6-3 NCHC, first)
Qualified: At-large bid
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: 10th (most recent, 2013)
Head Coach: Bob Motzko
Key Players: Nic Dowd, F, Sr., 36 GP, 21-18–39; Jonny Brodzinski, F, So., 36 GP, 20-19–39; Kevin Gravel, D, Sr., 36 GP, 10-13–23; Ryan Faragher, G, Jr., 33 GP, 19-8-4, 2.76 GAA, .906 save pct.

What You Need To Know: Despite losing 2013 Hobey Baker Award winner Drew LeBlanc and high-scoring forward Ben Hanowski, the Huskies have 132 goals through 36 games this season. That’s 13 more than SCSU scored through 36 games last season.

Burning Question: Which Ryan Faragher will show up? Will it be the one who started the year with a 10-1-1 mark, a 1.91 GAA, and a .927 save percentage? Or will it be the one who’s allowing nearly 3.3 goals per game while stopping less than 90 percent of the shots he’s faced since mid-December? Notre Dame’s offense has improved significantly over the last month, so we’ll likely know the answer soon.

Most Recent St. Cloud State Line Chart
 Left Wing Center  Right Wing Notes
16-Jimmy Murphy 26-Nic Dowd 13-David Morley How do you keep your penalty-killing unit, the eighth-worst in the country, from getting exposed? By taking an average of 8.2 penalty minutes per game, the fourth-fewest in the nation.
10-Ryan Papa 11-Kalle Kossila 22-Johnny Brodzinski
9-Joey Benik 8-Cory Thorson 21-Brooks Bertsch
27-Nick Oliver 37-Joe Rehkamp 6-Daniel Tedesco
 Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
7-Kevin Gravel 40-Tim Daly 29-Ryan Faragher Scoring offense: 3.67 GPG (3rd)
Scoring defense: 2.78 GPG (31st)
Power play: 25.5% (3rd)
Penalty kill: 76.9% (52nd)
15-Niklas Nevalainen 12-Ethan Prow 35-Charlie Lindgren
19-Ben Storm 2-Jarrod Rabey 45-Rasmus Reijola

NO. 4 SEED ROBERT MORRIS COLONIALS

Location: Moon Township, Pa.
Record: 19-17-5 overall (13-9-5 Atlantic Hockey, fifth)
Qualified: Atlantic Hockey tournament champion
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: First
Head Coach: Derek Schooley
Key Players: Cody Wydo, F, Jr., 41 GP, 30-22–52; Zac Lynch, F, So., 41 GP, 18-27–45; Tyson Wilson, D, Jr., 40 GP, 3-16–19; Dalton Izyk, G, Fr., 10 GP, 5-1-0, 2.73 GAA, .922 save pct.

What You Need To Know: The Colonials are one of two teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament whose roster doesn’t feature at least one NHL draft pick. Ferris State is the other.

Burning Question: How does Robert Morris pull off an upset of Minnesota? As we saw in Grand Rapids last year and Grand Forks in 2006, it can happen. And while it’s unlikely to occur at the X this time around, all bets are off if newly christened starting goalie Dalton Izyk stays hot and the Colonials jump out to an early lead, causing a pro-Golden Gopher contingent in St. Paul to become restless.

Most Recent Robert Morris Line Chart
 Left Wing Center  Right Wing Notes
23-Cody Wydo 19-Scott Jacklin 27-Zac Lynch Wydo, the team’s leading scorer, has at least one point in 16 of his team’s last 18 games. During that stretch, he’s scored 15 goals and 29 points.
11-Jeff Jones 9-David Friedmann 7-Colin South
28-Matt Cope 16-Greg Gibson 44-Brandon Denham
24-Jay Llewelyn 14-David Rigatti 22-Ben Robillard
 Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
2-Evan Renwick 4-Chase Golightly 31-Dalton Izyk Scoring offense: 3.46 GPG (6th)
Scoring defense: 3.00 GPG (40th)
Power play: 17.2% (32nd)
Penalty kill: 76.2% (53rd)
5-Evan Moore 33-Andrew Blazek 30-Brandon Lane
10-Tyson Wilson 3-John Rey

NCAA East Regional Preview

BRIDGEPORT, CONN. | WEBSTER BANK ARENA
FRIDAY-SATURDAY, MARCH 28-29

Friday: Vermont vs. Union, 2 p.m. ET (TV: ESPNU)
Friday: Providence vs. Quinnipiac, 5:30 p.m. ET (TV: ESPNU)
Saturday: Regional Final, 3 p.m. ET (TV: ESPN2)

NO. 1 SEED UNION DUTCHMEN

Location: Schenectady, N.Y.
Record:
28-6-4 overall (18-3-1 ECAC Hockey, first)
Qualified:
ECAC Hockey tournament champion
NCAA Championships:
None
NCAA Appearance:
Fourth (most recent, 2013)
Head Coach:
Rick Bennett
Key Players:
Daniel Carr, F, Sr., 35 GP, 22-23–45; Daniel Ciampini, F, Jr., 37 GP, 19-16–35; Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Jr., 38 GP, 8-21–29; Colin Stevens, G, Jr., 32 GP, 24-4-2, 1.96 GAA, .931 save pct.

What You Need To Know: Bennett is Union’s current head coach, but he’s not the only East Regional bench boss to man the helm in Schenectady. Providence’s Nate Leaman guided the Dutchmen from 2003-11 and Vermont’s Kevin Sneddon was Union’s pilot from 1998-2003.

Burning Question: Does Union need to change a thing? As long as the Dutchmen keep on keepin’ on, it’s hard to see them failing to advance to Philadelphia in two weeks. No team in the country is playing better than Union is right now and while that may not make them the favorite to win the NCAA title, it certainly makes them the clear-cut choice in this region.

Most Recent Union Line Chart
 Left Wing Center  Right Wing Notes
9-Daniel Carr 21-Mike Vecchione 17-Daniel Ciampini Carr enters the NCAAs with an eight-game point streak during which he’s scored nine goals and added six assists. He’s recorded 11-10–21 in his last 13 games.
23-Cole Ikkala 11-Sam Coatta 7-Michael Pontarelli
15-Matt Hatch 18-Max Novak 16-Kevin Sullivan
19-Matt Wilkins 12-Eli Lichtenwald 8-Nick Cruice
 Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
22-Matt Bodie 24-Sebastien Gingrasi 30-Colin Stevens Scoring offense: 3.68 GPG (2nd)
Scoring defense: 2.08 GPG (4th)
Power play: 21.4% (11th)
Penalty kill: 82.3% (31st)
14-Shayne Gostisbehere 2-Jeff Taylor 31-Dillon Pieri
28-Noah Henry 6-Charlie Vasaturo  1-A. Sakellaropoulos

NO. 2 SEED PROVIDENCE FRIARS

Location: Providence, R.I.
Record:
21-10-6 overall (11-7-2 Hockey East, third)
Qualified:
At-large bid
NCAA Championships:
None
NCAA Appearance:
10th (most recent, 2001)
Head Coach:
Nate Leaman
Key Players:
Ross Mauermann, F, Jr., 37 GP, 19-15–34; Nick Saracino, F, So., 37 GP, 9-17–26; John Gilmour, D, So., 37 GP, 5-13–18; Jon Gillies, G, So., 32 GP, 18-8-5, 2.20 GAA, .929 save pct.

What You Need To Know: Since the Friars’ last NCAA Tournament appearance in 2001, every other Hockey East team has made at least one trip to the national playoffs.

Burning Question: Can Jon Gillies channel his inner Chris Terreri? It’s been nearly three decades since Terreri turned in one of the greatest performances in NCAA Tournament history, carrying a lightly regarded Providence team to the brink of a national championship. For the Friars to get to Philly, they’ll need a similar effort from Gillies, the college game’s most talented goalie.

Most Recent Providence Line Chart
 Left Wing Center  Right Wing Notes
22-Brandon Tanev 24-Noel Acciari 19-Derek Army Mauermann, the Friars’ leading scorer, has just one point in his last nine games–a goal in a conference playoff quarterfinal win vs. Maine on March 15.
12-Stefan Demopoulos 10-Mark Jankowski 9-Trevor Mingoia
18-Nick Saracino 14-Ross Mauermann 20-Shane Luke
15-Steven McParland 21-Kevin Rooney 7-Drew Brown
 Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
5-Kyle McKenzie 28-Steven Shamanski 32-Jon Gillies Scoring offense: 2.97 GPG (23rd)
Scoring defense: 2.30 GPG (10th)
Power play: 13.9% (53rd)
Penalty kill: 87.0% (3rd)
3-John Gilmour 2-Kevin Hart 35-Nick Ellis
6-Tom Parisi 16-Anthony Florentino 31-Brendan Leahy

NO. 3 QUINNIPIAC BOBCATS

Location: Hamden, Conn.
Record:
24-9-6 overall (12-6-4 ECAC Hockey, third)
Qualified:
At-large bid
NCAA Championships:
None
NCAA Appearance:
Third (most recent, 2013)
Head Coach:
Rand Pecknold
Key Players: 
Sam Anas, F, Fr., 39 GP, 22-21–43; Kellen Jones, F, Sr., 39 GP, 18-24–42; Zach Tolkinen, D, Sr., 35 GP, 3-19–22; Michael Garteig, G, So., 39 GP, 24-9-6, 1.89 GAA, .912 save pct.

What You Need To Know: The Bobcats are one of two teams (Boston College is the other) to rank among the top 10 nationally in the four major statistical categories: scoring offense, scoring defense, power-play success rate, and penalty-killing percentage.

Burning Question: Will Quinnipiac try to win the title all at once? A bit of a vague concept–think of it as trying to hit a five-run home in baseball. After playing for the national championship last season, one wonders if the Bobcats will be hyper-focused on getting another crack at the title this time around. As long as they don’t press, the Bobcats pose the most serious threat to Union in the East.

Most Recent Quinnipiac Line Chart
 Left Wing Center  Right Wing Notes
7-Trevor Moore 10-Connor Jones 15-Kellen Jones Connor Jones has at least one point in 12 of the Bobcats’ last 14 games. He’s scored 8-7–15 during that stretch.
12-Bryce Van Brabant 6-Cory Hibbeler 19-J. Samuels-Thomas
26-Travis St. Denis 20-Matt Peca 11-Tim Clifton
2-Brayden Sherbinin 18-Soren Jonzzon 23-Tommy Schutt
 Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
27-Zach Tolkinen 4-Connor Clifton 34-Michael Garteig Scoring offense: 3.62 GPG (4th)
Scoring defense: 1.97 GPG (2nd)
Power play: 22.7% (6th)
Penalty kill: 90.1% (2nd)
22-Danny Federico 14-Derek Smith 31-Adam Cowley
5-Devon Toews 8-Alex Barron

NO. 4 SEED VERMONT CATAMOUNTS

Location: Burlington, Vt.
Record: 
20-14-3 overall (10-10-0 Hockey East, tied for seventh)
Qualified: 
At-large bid
NCAA Championships: 
None
NCAA Appearance: 
Sixth (most recent, 2010)
Head Coach: 
Kevin Sneddon
Key Players: 
Chris McCarthy, F, Sr., 37 GP, 16-24–40; Mario Puskarich, F, Fr., 36 GP, 19-16–35; Michael Paliotta, D, Jr., 37 GP, 5-22–27; Brody Hoffman, G, So., 19 GP, 10-7-1, 2.01 GAA, .927 save pct.

What You Need To Know: The Catamounts enter the regional with 3-10-1 record against teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament field and 17-4-2 mark against non-qualifiers.

Burning Question: Does Vermont have a chance against Union? On paper, the odds are pretty slim. The Catamounts struggle to score; among tournament teams, only Denver averages fewer goals per game, and UVM’s power play ranks 44th in the nation. Unless goalie Brody Hoffman turns in a Tim Thomas-esque performance–with his play, not his political ramblings–the Catamounts’ NCAA Tournament experience will be brief.

Most Recent Vermont Line Chart
 Left Wing Center  Right Wing Notes
20-Brendan Bradley 3-Chris McCarthy 21-Mario Puskarich Hoffman and Santaguida have each played 19 games in goal, but Hoffman has started the Catamounts’ last eight contests. He’s posted a 1.85 GAA and a .936 save percentage during that span.
22-Brady Shaw 17-Jake Fallon 6-Colin Markison
23-Connor Brickley 19-Matt White 14-Anthony DeCenzo
11-H.T. Lenz 8-Jonathan Turk 16-Pete Massar
 Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
25-Nick Luukko 4-Nick Bruneteau 37-Brody Hoffman Scoring offense: 2.78 GPG (33rd)
Scoring defense: 2.27 GPG (T-8th)
Power play: 15.7% (44th)
Penalty kill: 85.8% (7th)
5-Rob Hamilton 2-Michael Paliotta 1-Mike Santaguida
26-Caylen Walls 15-Yvan Pattyn

NCAA Northeast Regional Preview

WORCESTER, MASS. | DCU CENTER
SATURDAY-SUNDAY, MARCH 29-30

Saturday: Denver vs. Boston College, 4 p.m. ET (TV: ESPN2)
Saturday: Minnesota State vs. UMass Lowell, 7:30 p.m. ET (TV: ESPN3) Sunday: Regional Final, 5 p.m. ET (TV: ESPNU)

NO. 1 SEED BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES

Location: Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Record: 26-7-4 overall (16-2-2 Hockey East, first)
Qualified: At-large bid
NCAA Championships: Five (1949, 2001, 2008, 2010, 2012)
NCAA Appearance: 33rd (most recent, 2013)
Head Coach: Jerry York
Key Players: Johnny Gaudreau, F, Jr., 37 GP, 32-37–69; Kevin Hayes, F, Sr., 37 GP 24-32–56; Mike Matheson, D, So., 35 GP, 3-14–17; Thatcher Demko, G, Fr., 21 GP, 14-4-3, 2.13 GAA, .921 save pct.

What You Need To Know: The Eagles are 2-3-0 against Notre Dame this season and 24-4-4 against everyone else.

Burning Question: Coach Jerry York has guided Boston College to three national championships in the last six seasons by getting his team to peak at precisely the right time. Notre Dame proved the Eagles to be slightly mortal by beating them three times in four tries in March. Was it just a case of BC running into a red-hot opponent that matched up really well with them, or did the Eagles prematurely reach their apex?

Most Recent Boston College Line Chart
 Left Wing Center  Right Wing Notes
13-Johnny Gaudreau 24-Bill Arnold 12-Kevin Hayes Gaudreau, the leading candidate for the 2014 Hobey Baker Award, scored at least one point in all but two of the Eagles’ games this season and had a 31-game point streak snapped in BC’s 4-2 loss to Notre Dame two weeks ago.
27-Quinn Smith 18-Michael Sit 10-Dan Linell
19-Ryan Fitzgerald 23-Pat Brown 26-Austin Cangelosi
11-Chris Calnan 14-Adam Gilmour 9-Brendan Silk
 Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
7-Isaac MacLeod 6-Steve Santini 30-Thatcher Demko Scoring offense: 4.05 GPG (1st)
Scoring defense: 2.27 GPG (T-8th)
Power play: 24.4% (5th)
Penalty kill: 90.5% (1st)
28-Scott Savage 5-Mike Matheson 1-Brian Billett
3-Ian McCoshen 4-Ted Doherty 30-Brad Barone

NO. 2 SEED UMASS LOWELL RIVER HAWKS

Location: Lowell, Mass.
Record: 25-10-4 overall (11-6-3 Hockey East, second)
Qualified: Hockey East tournament champion
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: Sixth (most recent, 2013)
Head Coach: Norm Bazin
Key Players: Joe Pendenza, F, Sr., 39 GP, 13-16–29; Adam Chapie, F, So., 36 GP, 12-11–23; Christian Folin, D, So., 39 GP, 6-13–19; Connor Hellebuyck, G, So., 27 GP, 17-8-2, 1.73 GAA, .936 save pct.

What You Need To Know: The River Hawks have scored a total of 17 goals in their 10 losses (1.7 goals per game) and 94 goals in their other 29 games (3.24 goals per game.)

Burning Question: UMass Lowell doesn’t score a ton, but with sophomore Connor Hellebuyck in goal, it’s not a necessity. That said, the River Hawks draw high-scoring Minnesota State in the opening round and could face Boston College, the nation’s best offense, in the regional final. Can the country’s top defensive team stay in shut-down mode, or will the River Hawks need to outscore an opponent in order to advance?

Most Recent UMass Lowell Line Chart
 Left Wing Center  Right Wing Notes
18-A.J. White 14-Joe Pendenza 12-Josh Holmstrom Sophomore F Adam Chapie, the team’s second-leading scorer, has missed UML’s last three games with an undisclosed injury. He also leads the River Hawks in power-play goals (5) and game-winning goals (5).
10-Ryan McGrath 24-Michael Colantone 29-Derek Arnold
7-Shayne Thompson 5-Joe Gambardella 9-Terrence Wallin
23-Scott Wilson 20-Michael Fallon 8-Evan Campbell
 Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
4-Joe Houk 27-Zack Kamrass 36-C. Hellebuyck Scoring offense: 2.85 GPG (29th)
Scoring defense: 1.85 GPG (1st)
Power play: 21.1% (12th)
Penalty kill: 81.3% (39th)
26-Christian Folin 3-Mike Kapla 31-Doug Carr
25-Dylan Zink 28-Jake Suter 30-Brian Robbins

NO. 3 SEED MINNESOTA STATE MAVERICKS

Location: Mankato, Minn.
Record: 26-13-1 overall (20-7-1 WCHA, second)
Qualified: WCHA tournament champion
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: Third (most recent, 2013)
Head Coach: Mike Hastings
Key Players: Matt Leitner, F, Jr., 38 GP, 12-32–44; Jean-Paul Lafontaine, F, Jr., 40 GP, 20-20–40; Zach Palmquist, D, Jr., 40 GP, 4-19–23; Cole Huggins, G, Fr., 33 GP, 21-7-1, 1.91 GAA, .924 save pct.

What You Need To Know: The Mavericks are the oldest team in this year’s tournament field with an average age of 22.61 years.

Burning Question: Minnesota State hasn’t lost since Jan. 31 when it dropped a 5-2 decision. In the 13 ensuing games the Mavericks went 12-0-1, outscoring its foes by a 50-16 margin. However, all but two of those wins came against teams with sub-.500 records. Will the Mavericks’ dominance over weaker competition during the latter third of the season hurt them in Worcester?

Most Recent Minnesota State Line Chart
 Left Wing Center  Right Wing Notes
21-Chase Grant 18-Matt Leitner 9-Bryce Gervais McInnis (21 goals) and Lafontaine (20 goals) are the first Mavs duo to score 20+ goals in a season since Shane Joseph (29) and Grant Stevenson (27) did it back in 2002-03.
25-Zach Stepan 23-Teddy Blueger 22-Johnny McInnis
12-J-P Lafontaine 26-Dylan Margonari 19-Zach Lehrke
24-Brett Knowles 20-M. Huntebrinker 8-Max Gaede
 Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
27-Brett Stern 7-Zach Palmquist 34-Cole Huggins Scoring offense: 3.23 GPG (12th)
Scoring defense: 2.33 GPG (12th)
Power play: 25.3% (4th)
Penalty kill: 86.7% (4th)
28-Jon Jutzi 6-Casey Nelson 35-Stephon Williams
11-Sean Flanagan 3-Blake Thompson

NO. 4 SEED DENVER PIONEERS

Location: Denver, Colo.
Record: 20-15-6 overall (10-11-3 NCHC, sixth)
Qualified: NCHC tournament champions
NCAA Championships: Seven (1958, 1960, 1961, 1968, 1969, 2004, 2005)
NCAA Appearance: 24th (most recent, 2013)
Head Coach: Jim Montgomery
Key Players: Trevor Moore, F, Fr., 41 GP, 13-18–31; Ty Loney, F, Jr., 41 GP, 11-14–25; Joey LaLeggia, D, Jr., 36 GP, 12-11–23; Sam Brittain, G, Sr., 38 GP, 19-13-6, 2.11 GAA, .932 save pct.

What You Need To Know: The Pioneers enter the tournament with a season-high, four-game winning streak. Prior to that, Denver had won three games in a row on one occasion.

Burning Question: Denver’s success likely hinges on veteran goalie Sam Brittain, not just for his leadership but also his play; The Pioneers are the lowest-scoring team in the tournament field, averaging just 2.68 goals per game. Can Brittain keep foes at bay long enough for his offensively challenged teammates to find the back of the net?

Most Recent Denver Line Chart
 Left Wing Center  Right Wing Notes
8-Trevor Moore 19-Daniel Doremus 12-Ty Loney The Pioneers have more freshmen on their roster (11) than any other team in the NCAA Tournament field. Incidentally, Boston College, DU’s first-round opponent, has 10 rookies on its roster.
16-Zac Larazza 9-Gabe Levin 18-Emil Romig
14-Larkin Jacobson 25-Matt Tabrum 39-Grant Arnold
26-Evan Janssen 23-Matt Marcinew 27-Quentin Shore
 Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
7-Will Butcher 10-David Makowski 1-Sam Brittain Scoring offense: 2.68 GPG (36th)
Scoring defense: 2.24 GPG (T-6th)
Power play: 20.4% (15th)
Penalty kill: 86.5% (5th)
21-Joey LaLeggia 11-Nolan Zajac 31-Adam Cowley
6-Matt VanVoorhis 4-Josiah Didier

INCH Writers Conference Playoff Preview

Anyone else feel thrown for a loop this month because of the calendar? I suppose it’s because there are five full weekends in March, because it seems like we should be prepping for conference finals this weekend and tuning in to the NCAA Tournament selection show Sunday. But, no, it’s league tournament quarterfinal weekend for everyone except for the Big Ten, where they’re still playing regular-season games.

We’ll take a glance at the Big Ten tournament next week. Front and center now are the playoffs in Atlantic Hockey, ECAC Hockey, Hockey East, the NCHC, and the WCHA. By the way, here’s your link to tournaments results for all six leagues.

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INCH Writers Rankings: The Top Whatever

It’s the last weekend of the regular season, or the second-to-last weekend, or the third-to-last weekend depending on the conference. What does that have to do with this installment of the INCH Top Whatever? Nothing, other than providing a convenient
lead-in to our list of the top teams in the country.

action_bc_hayes1. Boston College (25-4-4/16-1-2 Hockey East): Obscure statistics are kinda my thing. Here’s one I dubbed dagger goals: BC forward Kevin Hayes (pictured, right) has five goals this season in the first minute or last minute of a period or overtime when the Eagles and their opponent are tied.

2. Minnesota (21-4-5/10-2-2 Big Ten): The key to beating the Gophers may be sticking with them through the game’s first 20 minutes. Minnesota is 7-4-4 this season when tied or trailing after one period; they’re 14-0-1 otherwise.

3. Union (22-6-4/16-3-1 ECAC Hockey): How close are the Dutch to being unbeaten this season? Five of their six losses are of one-goal variety; the sixth, a 5-3 defeat to Colgate, featured an empty net goal with 19 seconds left in regulation.

4. Ferris State (23-7-3/18-4-2 WCHA): The Bulldogs are averaging nearly a full goal per game more at home (55 goals in 14 games for an average of 3.93 goals per game) than on the road (50 goals in 17 games, an average of 2.94 goals per game.)

action_scs_prochno5. St. Cloud State (18-7-5/12-5-3 NCHC): Defenseman Andrew Prochno (pictured, right) will miss this weekend’s critical series with North Dakota, a critical loss for the Huskies. The junior is among Natty Ice’s leaders in defensemen scoring (19 points) and plus-minus rating (+17).

6. Wisconsin (19-9-2/10-5-1 Big Ten): Joel Rumpel is challenging Michigan State’s Jake Hildebrand for the title of best goaltender in the Big Ten. In seven February starts, Rumpel is 5-1-1 with a 1.42 GAA and a .954 save percentage.

7. North Dakota (18-9-3/13-7-0 NCHC): NoDak is 13-2-1 since its Nov. 29 loss to St. Lawrence. During that 16-game stretch, goalie Zane Gothberg is 11-0-1 with a 1.66 GAA and a .934 save percentage.

8. UMass Lowell (20-8-4/10-5-3 Hockey East): The River Hawks are 9-0-2 in Hockey East play when leading after one period and 1-5-1 when trailing or tied after the first 20 minutes.

9. Quinnipiac (21-8-5/11-6-3 ECAC Hockey): Spent some time poking around for an interesting note on the Bobcats. Can’t really find anything. That’s not really on me, is it?

10. Northeastern (18-10-4/10-6-2 Hockey East): Forwards Braden Pimm (18 goals) and Kevin Roy (17 goals) have a chance to become the first Huskies’ duo to score 20 or more goals in a season since J.F. Aube and Jordan Shields did it in 1994-95.

11. Colgate (16-11-5/12-5-3 ECAC Hockey): BC’s Thatcher Demko is the highest-profile freshman goalie in the country, but how about a nod to the Raiders’ Charlie Finn? Since Jan. 1, he’s 9-1-3 with a 1.89 GAA and a .934 save percentage.

action_mnk_lafontaine12. Minnesota State (19-13-0/17-7-0 WCHA): The Mavericks (that’s leading scorer Jean-Paul Lafontaine pictured on the right) are one of three teams currently ranked among the top 18 nationally in scoring offense, scoring defense, power-play success rate, and penalty-killing percentage. Boston College and Quinnipiac are the others.

13. Cornell (14-7-5/10-6-4 ECAC Hockey): Cornell’s a good team, but this statistic sort of runs counter to that reality: The Big Red is 11-3-5 in games decided by two or fewer goals and 3-4-0 in games decided by three or more goals. So more often than not when Cornell loses, they really get shellacked.

INCH Writers Rankings: The Top Whatever

abe_simpsonHey, it’s an actual post!

You know that old saying about a body in motion staying in motion and a body at rest saying at rest? That’s how it works with writing. Once you stop, it’s a bitch to start up again. That and everything I felt like talking about seemed more like complaining. Like outdoor hockey games. They suck and everyone knows they suck, but you don’t really need me to tell you that. I was one step from becoming Abe Simpson.

Anyway, here are some teams ranked from best to not-quite-as-good-but-still-pretty-good. If your favorite team isn’t mentioned, make your own list or root for a better program. On with the countdown …

1. Minnesota (17-2-3/7-0-1): The Gophers have been the top team since Day One. For most of the season, they’ve been the undisputed No. 1—as in, no one has been nearly as good—but BC is rapidly closing that gap.

2. Boston College (17-4-3/11-1-1): If there’s any question forward Johnny Gaudreau (48 points in 24 games) isn’t the best player in college hockey, I’m here to tell you there’s not. If he doesn’t win the Hobey, they should just stop giving out the award.

3. Quinnipiac (18-4-5/8-2-3): There’s not much of a difference between Nos. 3-6 on this list. Someone could completely rearrange these four spots and I wouldn’t have a problem with it. I guess I favor the Bobcats because the hardest thing to do in hockey is score goals, and they’re pretty good at that.

action_uni_stevens4. Union (15-4-3/9-2-0): Is Shayne Gostisbehere Union’s best player? Probably, but goalie Colin Stevens (that’s him on the right) would get my vote for team MVP.

5. Ferris State (17-5-3/12-2-2): The Bulldogs are 7-4-3 when tied or trailing after the first period. Seems like a recipe for success against Ferris until you see they’ve outscored opponents by a 30-11 margin in the game’s first 20 minutes.

6. St. Cloud State (12-4-4/7-3-2): The Huskies have five NHL draft picks on their roster. Three of them (Johnny Brodzinski, Nic Dowd, and Kevin Gravel) are property of the Los Angeles Kings. That has nothing to do with SCSU’s play this season. It’s just an interesting factoid. Use it at your next social event.

7. Wisconsin (13-6-1/4-2-0): Did you know how crummy the Badgers have been away from home? Granted, they’ve only played six road games, but Bucky has one win and 12 goals in those half-dozen matches. That compares to 12 wins and 59 goals in 14 games at Kohl Center.

8. Northeastern (14-7-3/7-4-1): Saw the Huskies in person about six weeks ago and was impressed, but I can’t put a finger on what it was I liked. One thing that struck me was they played with a lot of poise and confidence, which would explain why they’ve been so good in one-goal games (5-1).

9. Providence (14-5-5/6-4-1): I’m not as high on the Friars than everyone else, it appears, probably because they’ve only got one win in their last six games. Prior to scoring seven in its win against Colorado College last Saturday, Providence had a total of eight goals in its previous five games.

10. UMass Lowell (15-6-2/5-3-1): With the emergence of Connor Hellebuyck last season, Doug Carr, who was terrific as a sophomore in 2011-12, almost became an afterthought in goal. This season, the two share duties almost equally and have been formidable, combining for a 1.85 GAA and a .935 save percentage.

action_ndk_gothberg11. North Dakota (12-7-3/7-5-0): Goaltender Zane Gothberg (pictured, right) is out indefinitely due to injury. Too bad, because NoDak really hit its stride when he took the reins at No. 1 goalie. During the team’s current nine-game unbeaten streak, Gothberg is 8-0-1 with a 1.76 GAA and a .923 save percentage.

12. Clarkson (15-7-2/8-2-0): I can typically find at least one statistic that explains a team’s success, but not in Clarkson’s case.They’re not particularly high scoring nor are they overly stingy on defense, and their special teams are mediocre. Oh, here it is—the Golden Knights are 12-3 in one-goal games.

13. Cornell (9-4-4/5-3-3): Some readers are certainly asking, Cornell ahead of Yale? Yes, because the Big Red has been better than the Elis as of late (6-1-3 over the last 10 games including a five-game unbeaten streak.)