NCAA Midwest Regional Preview

NOTRE DAME, IND. | COMPTON FAMILY ICE ARENA
SATURDAY-SUNDAY, MARCH 28-29

Saturday: RIT vs. Minnesota State, 4 p.m. ET (TV: ESPNU)
Saturday: Harvard vs. Nebraska Omaha, 7:30 p.m. ET (TV: ESPN3)
Sunday: Regional Final, 7:30 p.m. ET (TV: ESPNU)

NO. 1 SEED MINNESOTA STATE MAVERICKS

Location: Mankato, Minn.
Record: 29-7-3 overall (21-4-3 WCHA, first)
Qualified: WCHA tournament champions
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: Fourth (most recent, 2014)
Head Coach: Mike Hastings
Key Players: Matt Leitner, F, Sr., 39 GP, 9-23–41; Bryce Gervais, F, Jr., 39 GP, 27-9–36; Casey Nelson, D, So., 39 GP, 7-26–33; Stephon Williams, G, Jr., 34 GP, 25-5-3, 1.64 GAA, .926 save pct.

What You Need To Know: The Mavericks were NCAA Division II hockey national champions in 1980, beating Elmira in the championship game. In 1979, Minnesota State (then known as Mankato State) finished second in the Division II tournament to Lowell (now UMass Lowell), which was led by future four-time Stanley Cup winner Craig MacTavish.

Burning Question: Is this the Mavericks’ year? Minnesota State has been the nation’s most consistent team from the start and, on paper, they have no weaknesses. In fact, one could argue the Mavs enter the NCAA tournament playing their best hockey to date—since its March 6 loss at Bemidji State, Minnesota State has won five straight, outscoring its opponents by a 25-6 margin. They’re also ruthless once they take the lead; the Mavs are 20-1-3 when up after one period and 22-1-0 when leading after 40 minutes. Anything less than a Frozen Four trip would be a disappointment.

Most Recent Minnesota State Line Chart
Left Wing Center Right Wing Notes
21-Chase Grant 23-Teddy Blueger 15-C.J. Franklin Defenseman Zach Palmquist will play his 160th consecutive game in a Maverick uniform Saturday vs. RIT. That’s the longest active consecutive games-played streak in the nation.
12-Jean-Paul Lafontaine 18-Matt Leitner 9-Bryce Gervais
17-Michael Hunterbrinker 26-Dylan Margonari 19-Brad McClure
24-Brent Knowles 16-Jordan Nelson 8-Max Gaede
Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
7-Zach Palmquist 5-Carter Foguth 35-Stephon Williams Scoring offense: 3.69 GPG (3rd)
Scoring defense: 1.92 GPG (3rd)
Power play: 24.4% (4th)
Penalty kill: 86.8% (13th)
27-Brett Stern 11-Sean Flanagan 34-Cole Huggins
28-Jon Jutzi 6-Casey Nelson

NO. 2 SEED NEBRASKA OMAHA MAVERICKS

Location: Omaha, Neb.
Record: 18-12-6 overall (12-8-4 NCHC, third)
Qualified: At-large bid
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: Third (most recent, 2011)
Head Coach: Dean Blais
Key Players: Jake Guentzel, F, So., 33 GP, 12-23–35; Austin Ortega, F, So., 36 GP, 19-15–34; Ian Brady, D, So., 35 GP, 5-15–20; Ryan Massa, G, Sr., 26 GP, 12-7-6, 2.04 GAA, .934 save pct.

What You Need To Know: The Mavericks and Minnesota State are the only teams in this year’s field without a previous NCAA tournament win. UNO was ousted in the first round in both its prior national tournament berths; Minnesota State is winless in its three previous NCAA appearances.

Burning Question: Will the Mavs’ late-season swoon carry over into the NCAA Tournament? Things were looking pretty rosy for Omaha after beating visiting North Dakota in overtime on Jan. 30 to improve to 16-6-3 overall and 10-4-1 in the NCHC. But the Mavs spun out thereafter, going 2-6-3 in its last 11 games. The primary problem? Scoring. Omaha has 20 goals in its last 11 games, and only nine of them have come at even strength. The lack of 5-on-5 offense doesn’t bode well for the Mavs in a region in which the other three teams are rolling. 

Most Recent Nebraska Omaha Line Chart
Left Wing Center Right Wing Notes
12-David Pope 20-Jake Guentzel 16-Austin Ortega UNO’s freshmen have combined for 98 points to date this season. That’s second-most among NCAA tournament teams behind only Boston University’s 139 points.
13-Jake Randolph 10-Tyler Vesel 25-Justin Parizek
7-Avery Peterson 19-Tanner Lane 17-Luke Nogard
9-James Polk 27-Aaron Pearce 18-Jono Davis
Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
2-Brian Cooper 5-Joel Messner 29-Kirk Thompson Scoring offense: 2.67 GPG (35th)
Scoring defense: 2.36 GPG (18th)
Power play: 19.0% (21st)
Penalty kill: 82.9% (30th)
4-Luc Snuggerud 28-Brian ORourke 31-Ryan Massa
24-Ian Brady 23-Grant Gallo 1-Brock Crossthwaite

NO. 3 SEED HARVARD CRIMSON

Location: Cambridge, Mass.
Record: 21-12-3 overall (11-8-3 ECAC Hockey, sixth)
Qualified: ECAC Hockey tournament champions
NCAA Championships: One (1989)
NCAA Appearance: 22nd (most recent, 2006)
Head Coach: Ted Donato
Key Players: Jimmy Vesey, F, Jr., 36 GP, 31-26–57; Kyle Criscuolo, F, Jr., 36 GP, 17-30–47; Patrick McNally, D, Sr., 20 GP, 6-15–21; Steve Michalek, G, Sr., 36 GP, 21-12-3, 2.29 GAA, .924 save pct.

What You Need To Know: Seven ECAC Hockey schools won the league’s regular-season or playoff championship in the time between Harvard’s last ECAC Hockey crown (a league playoff title in 2006 and its league tournament triumph last weekend in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Burning Question: Which Crimson team will show up: the one that won seven of its last eight games, the one that started the season 10-1-2, or the one that went 4-10-1 from Jan. 10-Feb. 27? This much is true: Jimmy Vesey will show up. The junior forward has been on an absolute tear over the last six games with 10 goals and 15 points. Even more encouraging is the recent play of goalie Steve Michalek, who has a 1.63 GAA and a .937 save percentage in the last month. The first-round date with struggling Omaha is quite favorable for Harvard.

Most Recent Harvard Line Chart
Left Wing Center Right Wing Notes
19-Jimmy Vesey 14-Alex Kerfoot 11-Kyle Criscuolo Vesey opened the year with a 20-game point streak during which he scored 18 goals and added 16 assists. He’s only been held scoreless in three games this season—all losses. The Crimson scored a total of one goal in those matches.
9-Luke Esposito 17-Sean Malone 63-Colin Blackwell
39-Brian Hart 2-Tyler Moy 91-Jake Horton
22-Devin Tringale 7-Eddie Ellis 72-Phil Zielonka
Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
8-Patrick McNally 37-Desmond Bergin 34-Steve Michalek Scoring offense: 3.33 GPG (8th)
Scoring defense: 2.44 GPG (27th)
Power play: 20.8% (10th)
Penalty kill: 86.4% (15th)
44-Max Everson 10-Brayden Jaw 31-Merrick Madsen
25-Wiley Sherman 5-Clay Anderson 32-Peter Traber

NO. 4 SEED RIT TIGERS

Location: Rochester, N.Y.
Record: 19-14-5 overall (14-9-5 Atlantic Hockey, third)
Qualified: Atlantic Hockey tournament champions
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: Second (most recent, 2010)
Head Coach: Wayne Wilson
Key Players: Matt Garbowsky, F, Sr., 38 GP, 26-27–53; Josh Mitchell, F, Jr., 38 GP, 15-35–50; Brady Norrish, D, Fr., 37 GP, 4-18–22; Jordan Ruby, G, Sr., 21 GP, 10-7-4, 2.11 GAA, .923 save pct.

What You Need To Know: The Tigers enter the tournament with a seven-game winning streak and eight wins in their last 10 games, both tops among teams in this year’s NCAA field.

Burning Question: Can the Tigers recapture the magic that led to their 2010 Frozen Four appearance? Is it probable? No, but it’s possible. RIT bottomed out at 5-10-3 on Jan. 3 after losing to Minnesota in overtime at the Mariucci Classic. The Tigers are 14-4-2 since—only Minnesota State has more wins during that span—and Josh Mitchell, Matt Garbowsky, and Brad McGowan each have scored 30+ points during that stretch. The goaltending has been excellent, too; both Jordan Ruby and Mike Rotolo have sub-2.00 goals against averages since Jan. 9.

Most Recent RIT Line Chart
Left Wing Center Right Wing Notes
7-Brad McGowan 9-Matt Garbowsky 25-Josh Mitchell Brady Norrish’s 22 points is the most by an RIT freshman defenseman since current Vancouver Canucks blueliner Chris Tanev put up 28 points in his lone season with the Tigers in 2009-10. Norris has 10 points (all assists) in his last seven games.
26-Caleb Cameron 20-Mark Golberg 19-Myles Powell
28-Brandon Thompson 14-Danny Smith 11-Andrew Miller
22-Garrett McMullen 17-Todd Skirving 15-Max Mikowski
Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
3-Alexander Kuqali 10-Brady Norrish 40-Jordan Ruby Scoring offense: 3.13 GPG (13th)
Scoring defense: 2.39 GPG (T-24nd)
Power play: 14.5% (44th)
Penalty kill: 88.0% (5th)
8-Chase Norrish 12-Gregory Amlong 30-Mike Rotolo
18-Matt Abt 21-Michael Holland
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NCAA West Regional Preview

FARGO, N.D. | SCHEELS ARENA
FRIDAY-
SATURDAY, MARCH 27-28

Friday: St. Cloud State vs. Michigan Tech, 4:30 p.m. ET (TV: ESPN3)
Friday: Quinnipiac vs. North Dakota, 8 p.m. ET(TV: ESPNU)
Saturday: Regional Final, 9 p.m. ET (TV: ESPNU)

NO. 1 SEED NORTH DAKOTA

Location: Grand Forks, N.D.
Record: 27-9-3 overall (16-6-2 NCHC, first)
Qualified: At-large bid
NCAA Championships: Seven (1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1997, 2000)
NCAA Appearance: 30th (most recent, 2014)
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol
Key Players: Drake Caggiula, F, Jr., 39 GP, 16-17–33; Michael Parks, F, Sr., 39 GP, 12-20–32; Jordan Schmaltz, D, Jr., 39 GP, 4-23–27; Zane McIntyre, G, Jr., 39 GP, 27-9-3, 2.05 GAA, .929 save pct.

What You Need To Know: With two wins in Fargo this weekend, the criminally underappreciated Hakstol will take North Dakota to the Frozen Four for the seventh time in his 11 seasons as head coach.

Burning Question: Was the NCHC Frozen Faceoff an aberration? North Dakota didn’t look particularly sharp in last weekend’s losses to St. Cloud State and Denver, but we’re inclined to give a mulligan to a team whose last back-to-back losses occurred in November 2013. North Dakota misses injured forward Mark MacMillan and his team-high 16 goals; still, this is a team that whose total is greater than the sum of its parts. A very good defensive corps, goaltender and Hobey Baker finalist Zane McIntyre, and rabid, decidedly pro-NoDak crowd in Fargo make the top seed the prohibitive favorite in the West.

Most Recent North Dakota Line Chart
Left Wing Center Right Wing Notes
9-Drake Caggiula 27-Luke Johnson 15-Michael Parks North Dakota hasn’t had its team scoring leader put up fewer than 39 points since the 1993-94 season, when Landon Wilson recorded 33 points for the WCHA’s last-place team.
28-Stephane Pattyn 8-Nick Schmaltz 3-Tucker Poolman
21-Brendan O’Donnell 13-Connor Gaarder 14-Austin Poganski
29-Bryn Chyzyk 10-Johnny Simonson 7-Wade Murphy
Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
4-Keaton Thompson 24-Jordan Schmaltz 31-Zane McIntyre Scoring offense: 3.26 GPG (10th)
Scoring defense: 2.23 GPG (10th)
Power play: 19.6% (19th)
Penalty kill: 84.5% (24th)
5-Nick Mattson 6-Paul LaDue 33-Cam Johnson
20-Gage Ausmus 2-Troy Stecher

NO. 2 SEED MICHIGAN TECH HUSKIES

Location: Houghton, Mich.
Record: 29-9-2 overall (21-5-2 WCHA, second)
Qualified: At-large bid
NCAA Championships: Three (1962, 1965, 1975)
NCAA Appearance: 11th (most recent, 1981)
Head Coach: Mel Pearson
Key Players: Tanner Kero, F, Sr., 40 GP, 19-26–45; Alex Petan, F, Jr., 40 GP, 15-24–39; Shane Hanna, D, So., 40 GP, 6-14–20; Jamie Phillips, G, Jr., 40 GP, 28-8-2, 1.71 GAA, .935 save pct.

What You Need To Know: American International, Army, Bentley, Connecticut, Dartmouth, Penn State, and Sacred Heart: They’re the only teams without an NCAA tournament appearance since the Huskies last received an invitation back in 1981. Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson was a senior forward on that team.

Burning Question: Are the Huskies just happy to be here? There’s likely a certain amount of relief among Keewenaw Peninsula hockey fans now that the NCAA tourney drought for the storied Tech program is over. That said, this is a really good team led by a terrific goaltender in junior Jamie Phillips and a talented group of forwards and there’s little doubt the Huskies would love exorcising a couple more demons by getting a chance to bounce former WCHA foes St. Cloud State and North Dakota from the field.

Most Recent Michigan Tech Line Chart
Left Wing Center Right Wing Notes
14-Malcolm Gould 19-Blake Pietila 7-Reid Sturos Four Huskies have eclipsed the 100-point plateau for their careers: senior forwards David Johnstone, Tanner Kero, and Blake Pietila and junior forward Alex Petan.
9-Alex Gillies 10-Tanner Kero 23-Alex Petan
27-Tyler Heinonen 25-Mike Neville 15-David Johnstone
18-C.J Eick 8-Dylan Steman 20-Blake Hietala
Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
2-Cliff Watson 17-Riley Sweeney 30-Jamie Phillips Scoring offense: 3.55 GPG (6th)
Scoring defense: 1.77 GPG (2nd)
Power play: 21.6% (7th)
Penalty kill: 85.4% (22nd)
22-Shane Hanna 3-Matt Roy 31-Devin Kero
12-Mark Auk 6-Chris Leibinger 35-Matt Wintjes

NO. 3 SEED ST. CLOUD STATE HUSKIES

Location: St. Cloud, Minn.
Record: 19-18-1 overall (11-12-1 NCHC, sixth)
Qualified: At-large bid
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: 11th (most recent, 2014)
Head Coach: Bob Motzko
Key Players: Joey Benik, F, Jr., 38 GP, 16-22–38; Jonny Brodzinski, F, Jr., 38 GP, 20-17–37; Ethan Prow, D, Jr., 33 GP, 4-18–22; Charlie Lindgren, G, So., 36 GP, 18-17-1, 2.26 GAA, .919 save pct.

What You Need To Know: Keep an eye on the statuses of junior forward Kalle Kossila and senior defenseman Andrew Prochno. Neither played in last weekend’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis due to injury.

Burning Question: How far can Charlie Lindgren take them? St. Cloud State played their way into the NCAA tournament by winning 10 of their last 16 games, during which the sophomore goaltender posted a 1.81 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. This edition of the Huskies isn’t as high scoring as those we’ve seen in the past; the potential absence of Prochno, SCSU’s best defenseman, puts even more of the burden on Lindgren.

Most Recent St. Cloud State Line Chart
Left Wing Center Right Wing Notes
9-Joey Benik 13-David Morley 63-Patrick Russell The only player in this year’s NCAA tournament with more career goals than Jonny Brodzinski’s 63 is Minnesota’s Kyle Rau, who has 67. Rau, a senior, has played in 159 games while Brodzinski, a junior, has played in 118 games.
42-Blake Winiecki 22-Jonny Brodzinski 16-Jimmy Murphy
4-Ben Storm 37-Joe Rehkamp 17-Judd Peterson
18-Garrett Milan 27-Nick Oliver 21-Brooks Bertsch
Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
7-Niklas Nevalainen 12-Ethan Prow 35-Charlie Lindgren Scoring offense: 2.76 GPG (T-26th)
Scoring defense: 2.39 GPG (T-24th)
Power play: 23.7% (5th)
Penalty kill: 80.0% (44th)
5-Nathan Widman 40-Tim Daly 45-Rasmus Reijola
26-Mika Ilvonen 2-Jarrod Rabey

NO. 4 SEED QUINNIPIAC BOBCATS

Location: Hamden, Conn.
Record: 23-11-4 overall (16-3-3 ECAC Hockey, first)
Qualified: At-large bid
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: Fourth (most recent, 2014)
Head Coach: Rand Pecknold
Key Players: Sam Anas, F, So., 37 GP, 23-16–39; Matthew Peca, F, Sr., 38 GP, 7-29–36; Justin Agosta, D, Sr., 38 GP, 3-19–22; Michael Gartieg, G, Jr., 35 GP, 22-9-3, 2.00 GAA, .918 save pct.

What You Need To Know: The Bobcats’ senior class enters the NCAA tournament with 97 career wins. Only Minnesota (105), Boston College (104), and North Dakota (100) have more victories during that same span.

Burning Question: Can Quinnipiac survive the loss of sophomore forward Sam Anas? The Bobcats’ leader in goals (23) and points (39) suffered a leg injury in the deciding game of his team’s ECAC Hockey quarterfinal series win over Union; he didn’t dress for Quinnpiac’s loss to Harvard in last weekend’s league tournament semifinals and isn’t expected to play in Fargo. Anas had a strong second half —he registered 13 goals in his last 17 games and seven goals in the five games before he was hurt.

Most Recent Quinnipiac Line Chart
Left Wing Center Right Wing Notes
18-Sore Jonzzon 20-Matthew Peca 16-Landon Smith Quinnipiac’s roster boasts three sets of brothers: Connor and Tim Clifton, Bo and Canon Pieper, and twins Jonah and Nathan Renouf.
8-Alex Barron 26-Travis St. Denis 19-Tanner MacMaster
39-Andrew Taverner 23-Tommy Schutt 17-K.J. Tiefenwerth
2-Brayden Sherbinin 11-Tim Clifton 24-Bo Pieper
Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
22-Danny Federico 6-Devon Toews 34-Michael Garteig Scoring offense: 2.76 GPG (T-26th)
Scoring defense: 2.24 GPG (11th)
Power play: 19.6% (20th)
Penalty kill: 87.9% (6th)
4-Connor Clifton 27-Kevin McKernan 29-Sean Lawrence
14-Derek Smith 12-Justin Agosta 35-Jacob Meyers

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.

On Conference Realignment …

So I was hanging out on Twitter a couple weeks ago and asked followers to hit me up with any questions they might have. This was one of them:

It’s a legitimate question, one that couldn’t be adequately answered in 140 characters. I may not do much better using 20 times the characters here, but it’s worth a shot.

Even though we went through an entire round of realignment two years ago, programs that made a flip have a better idea how the current situation works for them. And I believe that, yes, the CCHA will come back in some form. It’s not that anyone is truly unhappy where they are right now.* But there’s going to a team or teams who think they can improve their situations by breaking away or, in the case of the CCHA, re-starting a league.

* Look, I’ve heard the rumblings about Notre Dame not being keen on Hockey East for a variety of reasons, but they’re a better institutional fit in Hockey East—that’s a big deal at Notre Dame—and they’ll draw better crowds against HEA foes than they would against opponents from, say, the NCHC.

Bowling Green and Ferris State landed in the WCHA after the CCHA dissolved two years ago.

If that happened, wouldn’t it make sense for nearby Ferris State to come on board? And might Atlantic Hockey members Canisius, Mercyhurst, Niagara and/or Robert Morris be open to flipping to a new-look CCHA, lured by the opportunity to offer 18 scholarships as opposed to the 14-scholarship limit imposed by their current league?Bowling Green owns the rights to the CCHA—at least that’s my understanding, and I don’t really know what that entails. That said, is it far-fetched to think Bowling Green, which according to this CBSSports.com story from last November has an athletic department deficit of $11.4 million, wouldn’t explore rejuvenating the CCHA as a way to cut costs? Do you think Western Michigan, which the same article says has a $21.3 million athletic department shortfall, could be convinced to join based on finances?

That’s seven programs right there, enough for this imaginary league to get its playoff champion an automatic NCAA tournament bid. Getting to eight is easy, either by courting Lake Superior State or Miami.

Ah, the RedHawks, the wild card in this scenario. They’re one of the top dozen hockey programs in the country; getting them to commit a new CCHA would be a coup. Would Miami, owners of a $19.7 million athletic department deficit according to CBSSports.com, join fellow MAC members Bowling Green and Western Michigan in a new league? Or do the RedHawks think leaving the powerful NCHC would be a disservice to the hockey program? For that matter, does Western Michigan feel the same way about a move out of Natty Ice?

Arizona State joins the college hockey mix in a couple of years. Where will the Sun Devils land and, if they end up in the NCHC, does it open the door for, say, Minnesota State as that league’s tenth member? Now that the Big Ten has added Johns Hopkins as an affiliate member for men’s lacrosse, maybe that cracks the door for that league to go outside of its boundaries in search of more teams.

This is all just speculation, but the hunch here is conference realignment in the next couple years is more than just possibility, but a probability.

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 Midwest Regional Preview

CINCINNATI, OHIO | US BANK ARENA
FRIDAY-SATURDAY, MARCH 28-29

Friday: Colgate vs. Ferris State, 4:30 p.m. ET (TV: ESPN3)
Friday: North Dakota vs. Wisconsin, 8 p.m. ET (TV: ESPNU)
Saturday: Regional Final, 6:30 p.m. ET (TV: ESPN2)

NO. 1 SEED WISCONSIN BADGERS

Location: Madison, Wis.
Record: 24-10-2 overall (13-6-1 Big Ten, second)
Qualified: Big Ten tournament champion
NCAA Championships: Six (1973, 1977, 1981, 1983, 1990, 2006)
NCAA Appearance: 25th (most recent, 2013)
Head Coach: Mike Eaves
Key Players: Mark Zengerle, F, Sr., 36 GP, 10-33–43; Michael Mersch, F, Sr., 36 GP, 22-13–35; Jake McCabe, D, Jr., 35 GP, 8-17–25; Joel Rumpel, G, Jr., 28 GP, 21-5-1, 2.03 GAA, .930 save pct.

What You Need To Know: The Badgers have been an NCAA Tournament no. 1 seed on seven previous occasions. In all but one of those years, Wisconsin advanced to the Frozen Four.

Burning Question: Will Wisconsin experience a senior moment in 2014? No team in the tournament field has gotten more from its fourth-year players, who’ve scored 63 of the team’s 118 goals in 2013-14. With nine seniors gone after this season and early departures (Kerdiles? McCabe? Rumpel?) a distinct possibility, is there a sense this is the Badgers’ best chance at an NCAA title with a rebuild on the horizon?

Most Recent Wisconsin Line Chart
 Left Wing Center  Right Wing Notes
17-Nic Kerdiles 8-Mark Zengerle 7-Tyler Barnes Zengerle, who won MVP honors in last weekend’s Big Ten tournament, enters regional play with a nine-game point streak during which he’s scored six goals and 12 assists.
15-Morgan Zulinick 14-Jefferson Dahl 25-Michael Mersch
21-Grant Besse 16-Joseph LaBate 18-Sean Little
26-Brad Navin 12-Keegan Meuer 22-Jedd Soleway
 Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
19-Jake McCabe 24-Joe Faust 33-Joel Rumpel Scoring offense: 3.28 GPG (11th)
Scoring defense: 2.50 GPG (18th)
Power play: 19.0% (24th)
Penalty kill: 84.6% (12th)
28-Kevin Schulze 27-Frankie Simonelli 33-Landon Peterson
20-Eddie Wittchow 5-Chase Drake

NO. 2 SEED FERRIS STATE BULLDOGS

Location: Big Rapids, Mich.
Record: 28-10-3 overall (20-6-2 Hockey East, second)
Qualified: At-large bid
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: Third (most recent, 2012)
Head Coach: Bob Daniels
Key Players: Garrett Thompson, F, Sr., 41 GP, 16-16–32; Justin Buzzeo, F, Jr., 40 GP, 14-18–32; Scott Czarnowczan, D, Sr., 39 GP, 6-19–25; C.J. Motte, G, Jr., 38 GP, 27-8-3, 2.25 GAA, .926 save pct.

What You Need To Know: The Bulldogs split a season-opening series with Colgate in Hamiliton and later lost to the Raiders in January when the two met in Minneapolis as part of the Mariucci Classic.

Burning Question: Can the Bulldogs get the first goal, and then to three? Ferris State is 5-8-2 this season when scoring two or fewer goals and 23-2-1 when notching three or more goals. Couple that with the Bulldogs’ proclivity for playing with the lead–a 20-1-0 record when leading after one period and a 21-0-1 mark when up after two–and you’ve got Ferris’ recipe for success.

Most Recent Ferris State Line Chart
 Left Wing Center  Right Wing Notes
18-Andy Huff 8-Cory Kane 20-Gerald Mayhew Kane, the Bulldogs’ third-leading scorer, has scored eight of his 13 goals and 19 of his with 30 points in his team’s last 14 games.
21-Justin Buzzeo 17-Jared VanWormer 16-Garrett Thompson
22-Matt Robertson 11-Kenny Babinski 9-Chad McDonald
25-Sean O’Rourke 6-Kyle Schempp 28-Seth Adams
 Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
2-Scott Czarnowczan 3-Travis White 30-C.J. Motte Scoring offense: 3.32 GPG (10th)
Scoring defense: 2.24 GPG (T-6th)
Power play: 17.1% (35th)
Penalty kill: 86.5% (6th)
23-Brandon Anselmini 7-Jason Binkley 29-Charles Williams
4-Zach Dorer 10-Ryan Lowney 31-Trace Pennock

NO. 3 SEED COLGATE RAIDERS

Location: Hamilton, N.Y.
Record: 
20-13-5 overall (13-6-3 ECAC Hockey, second)
Qualified: 
At-large bid
NCAA Championships: 
None
NCAA Appearance: 
Fifth (most recent, 2005)
Head Coach: 
Don Vaughn
Key Players: 
Tyson Spink, F, So., 38 GP, 10-23–33; Darcy Murphy, F, So., 38 GP, 19-9–28; Spiro Goulakos, D, Jr., 38 GP, 9-11–20; Charlie Finn, G, Fr., 28 GP, 16-7-4, 2.40 GAA, .916 save pct.

What You Need To Know: Coffee is for closers–and Colgate. After posing a 3-11-2 mark down the stretch to end the 2012-13 campaign, the Raiders ended this season with a 13-4-3 record this year.

Burning Question: Are the Raiders ready for prime time? Outside of forward Mike McCann and backup goalie Eric Mihalik, the rest of the Colgate lineup has at least one year of eligibility remaining. Perhaps this NCAA trip will serve as a launching pad to future success not unlike Union’s national tournament debut in 2011.

Most Recent Colgate Line Chart
 Left Wing Center  Right Wing Notes
15-Darcy Murphy 21-Mike Borkowski 13-Dan Gentzler The Raiders’ sophomore class has accounted for 69 of the team’s 108 goals; Colgate’s top five scorers are all second-year players.
8-Tyson Spink 18-Tylor Spink 12-Kyle Baun
25-Joe Wilson 26-Andrew Black 19-Mike McCann
17-Emilio Audi 14-John Lidgett 27-Tim Harrison
 Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
20-Brett Corkey 4-Kevin Lough 1-Charlie Finn Scoring offense: 2.84 GPG (30th)
Scoring defense: 2.71 GPG (29th)
Power play: 17.6% (30th)
Penalty kill: 82.6% (27th)
3-Brendan Corcoran 7-Ryan Johnston 29-Eric Mihalik
11-Jake Kulevich 6-Spiro Goulakos

NO. 4 SEED NORTH DAKOTA

Location: Grand Forks, N.D.
Record:
23-13-3 overall (15-9-0 NCHC, second)
Qualified:
At-large bid
NCAA Championships:
Seven (1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000)
NCAA Appearance:
29th (most recent, 2013)
Head Coach:
Dave Hakstol
Key Players: 
Rocco Grimaldi, F, So., 39 GP, 14-22–36; Michael Parks, F, Jr., 39 GP, 11-17–28; Dillon Simpson, D, Sr., 39 GP, 7-15–22; Zane Gothberg, G, So., 30 GP, 18-9-3, 2.05 GAA, .923 save pct.

What You Need To Know: North Dakota is making its 12th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, the longest active streak in Division I hockey.

Burning Question: Is North Dakota’s March mediocrity just a hiccup? Dave Hakstol’s team has been sensational over the last three-plus months, posting an 18-6-1 mark since Dec. 1. But NoDak is just 4-4-0 in its last eight games. Which sample size is more indicative of the team’s current state? With a very good Wisconsin team awaiting in the first round, we’ll know the answer soon.

Most Recent North Dakota Line Chart
 Left Wing Center  Right Wing Notes
9-Drake Caggiula 16-Mark MacMillan 15-Michael Parks Grimaldi’s 36 points are the fewest to lead North Dakota since 1993-94, when Landon Wilson paced the team with 33 points in Gino Gasparini’s final season behind the bench in Grand Forks.
28-Stephane Pattyn 19-Rocco Grimaldi 27-Luke Johnson
21-Brendan O’Donnell 13-Connor Gaarder 11-Derek Rodwell
25-Mitch MacMillan 29-Bryn Chyzyk 17-Colten St. Clair
 Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
18-Dillon Simpson 24-Jordan Schmaltz 31-Zane Gothberg Scoring offense: 3.05 GPG (T-20th)
Scoring defense: 2.49 GPG (17th)
Power play: 17.9% (28th)
Penalty kill: 83.1% (T-21st)
5-Nick Mattson 6-Paul LaDue 33-Clarke Saunders
4-Keaton Thompson 2-Troy Stecher

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.

Continue reading

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.)