Friday Four-cast: Week of INCH

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Penn State at Minnesota (Fri.-Sat.): As explosive as Michigan has been this season, the Wolverines enter the weekend tied with Minnesota for first place in the Big Ten, six points ahead of third-place Penn State. For all intents and purposes, a Gophers sweep eliminates the Nittany Lions from the regular-season title chase and sets up a huge series in two weeks when Michigan visits Mariucci Arena. In Penn State’s four previous games in Minneapolis, they’ve been outscored by the Gophers by an 18-4 margin.

Bowling Green at Minnesota State (Fri.-Sat.): Two wins for the host Mavericks and Verizon Wireless Center staffers can think about scouting the arena’s rafters for a spot to hoist a second WCHA regular-season championship banner. These teams are trending in opposite directions—first-place Minnesota State is 14-5-5 after starting the season with four losses in as many games; second-place Bowling Green, meanwhile, got off to an 11-3-5 start but has a 4-5-1 mark since Dec. 30.

Dartmouth at Yale (Fri.); Harvard at Yale (Sat.): Quinnipiac has built a cushion atop the ECAC Hockey standings, but these three Ivy rivals are in the national polls and among a tightly-packed group of teams chasing top-four spots in the ECAC Hockey standings. When they played in the first week of November, Yale tied at Harvard and won at Dartmouth. This weekend, Ingalls Rink is the place to be for the biggest games in ECAC Hockey.

Beanpot Tournament (Mon.): It’s Harvard against Northeastern in the third-place game during happy hour, because it’s the second Monday of the Beanpot and that’s how things usually work. The championship game between Boston University and Boston College is the third meeting of the year between these rivals. In mid-January, BC won at home and tied at BU as Eagles defenseman Ian McCoshen had five points (2-3—5) on six BC goals that weekend.

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Hobey Tracker: Week of INCH

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The Hobey Baker Memorial Award is presented to a deserving recipient on the day before the last college hockey game of the season. But that doesn’t mean that college hockey fans, players and media members don’t think about it all season. Inside College Hockey’s Hobey Tracker looks at the top three candidates for the award, those whose stock is rising or falling, and other players worthy of consideration.

BIG BOARD

1. Jimmy Vesey
Harvard | Senior | Forward
To Date: 20 GP, 16-16–32, 5 PPG, 1 SHG, 4 GWG, +10

As a returning Hobey Hat Trick finalist from last year, Vesey entered the season with the pre-established notoriety the helps attract attention when the season begins. He’s done nothing to discount his award candidacy for a Harvard team that has spent most of the season in the top-10 in the country. Vesey has had at least one point in 17 of Harvard’s 20 games and 12 multi-point nights. He scored all three goals in a 3-2 win over St. Lawrence. If there’s a concern, check the games against the big opponents. He had just two assists total in Harvard’s two losses to Quinnipiac and a Beanpot semifinal loss to Boston College.

2. Brock Boeser
North Dakota | Freshman | Forward
To Date: 26 GP, 18-13–31, 5 PPG, 3 GWG, +26

Boeser, a first-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks in the 2015 NHL Draft, has been on a tear over the past two-plus months with 13 goals and 24 points in his last 16 games. INCH values goals—it’s hard to score ’em—and Boeser is tied for fifth in the nation in that category with 18. If you saw any of North Dakota’s series with Western Michigan last weekend, you noticed Boeser stepping to the fore for the Fighting Hawks in the absence of linemate Drake Caggiula.

3. Joey Benik
St. Cloud State | Senior | Forward
To Date: 28 GP, 17-16–33, 5 PPG, 5 GWG, +23

As mentioned above, we value goal-scoring in considering this award, and Benik is the leading goal-scorer for the nation’s second-ranked team in total scoring. On a team that clicks at 31.7 percent on the power play, 12 of Benik’s 17 goals notably come at even strength. He’s also accounted for five game-winning goals on the season. Similarly to Boeser, the hardest part of selecting Benik for mention here is choosing him ahead of equally-talented and noteworthy teammates.

BULL MARKET

Kyle Connor | Michigan | Freshman | Forward

Only two freshmen have won the Hobey Baker Award—Paul Kariya in 1993 and Jack Eichel last season. Are voters ready to give another rookie the nod? Newcomers like Boeser and Connor, the nation’s leading scorer with 42 points, may force their hand. In 12 games since Dec. 4, Connor has 15 goals and 15 assists; the Wolverines are 9-1-2 during that span. Separating Connor’s value from linemates J.T. Compher and Tyler Motte may be difficult, but averaging nearly two points per game is a good jumping-off point.

BEAR MARKET

Jake Walman | Providence | Sophomore | Defense

Prior to the holidays, Walman might’ve been the Hobey favorite—the defending national champions were 9-0-3, and Walman had 11 goals, more than all but three skaters in the country. But then he missed four December games with an injury (the Friars split those four games) and in eight games since returning to the lineup, he’s scored two goals and five assists as Providence has posted a 4-3-1 record. He should still be part of the conversation, but making a serious run at the top three will require an uptick in production.

HIDDEN HOBEY

Thatcher Demko | Boston College | Jr. | 24 GP, 17-4-3, .938 save pct., 1.65 GAA
Michael Garteig | Quinnipiac | Sr. | 26 GP, 20-1-5, .933 save pct., 1.62 GAA
Cam Johnson | North Dakota | So. | 18 GP, 13-1-1, .948 save pct., 1.31 GAA
Charlie Lindgren | St. Cloud State | Jr. | 27 GP, 21-5-1, .927 save pct., 2.04 GAA

Ask any college hockey follower what makes these four teams special and the first response might be their ability to score lots of goals. But this quartet is comprised of the starting goalies for the top-four teams in the national polls. Those teams stand in the top-nine in the country in scoring offense, but having a big-time goalie to rely upon is what separates them from fifth-ranked Michigan and other teams. You’ve got to play both ends of the ice if you want to be truly elite, and we know that once the postseason comes around the emphasis is on defense. These four goalies aren’t at the Hobey Baker Award-level of Robb Stauber and Ryan Miller, but they’re a big reason why these teams have legitimate Frozen Four and national championship hopes. They will be the difference-makers in March and April.

Postcard: St. Cloud State power play drones on

ST. PAUL, Minn.—If you binge-watch the National Geographic TV series “Aerial America,” plowing through six or seven states in one sitting (hey, we all have our issues) or if you groove on the current craze of drone camera footage, you would love watching hockey from the press box at Xcel Energy Center. The media is perched high, high above the ice, providing a bird’s-eye view of the action even when the Fighting Hawks aren’t playing there. (Sorry, NoDak fans. Too soon?)

Prior to last weekend’s North Star College Cup, the St. Cloud State Huskies—currently ranked among the top three in the nation—hadn’t played there in more than a year. The Huskies were the odd team out for last year’s “Minnesota Beanpot” so they hadn’t been on the ice of the X since the 2014 West Regional title game, where they fell 4-0 to Minnesota. Which is a shame, because when there’s an opposing player in the penalty box, the Huskies are amazing to watch, especially from high above.

The Huskies are a solid team top to bottom, backstopped by one of the nation’s better goalies in junior Charlie Lindgren. And they score goals by the handful. But the real fun begins when they go up a man.

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More than a dozen years ago when he was an assistant coach at Minnesota, Bob Motzko’s power play was the most feared in the nation and a big reason why the Gophers won back-to-back national titles in 2002 and ’03. A few years later, Motzko went to coach his alma mater, taking that man-advantage sorcery with him, and in the decade-plus he’s been at SCSU, no opposing coach has figured a consistently effective way to counter what the Huskies do on the power play.

“Their timing is some of the best we’ve faced,” Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings said after his team fell to SCSU 5-4 in the opening game of the tournament. “Once they get it down by the goal line, they’ve got movement that is pretty precision-like. Their guy gets into a good position and if you don’t defend him, he’s going to shoot it quick. If he does hold it for a second, it’s going back door. So you have to have good coverage.”

The skycam view is enjoyable, watching the passes connect on the perimeter until a forward sneaks open on the back door, as freshman Mikey Eyssimont did twice versus the Mavericks. Invariably there’s a quick cross-ice pass and a tap in. The Huskies head into the meat of the NCHC schedule clipping at nearly 32 percent on the power play. And when you’re prepping to play the Huskies, it’s in your head, with coaches preaching the need to stay out of the penalty box.

“You discuss it because it’s a vital piece of their entire team,” Hastings said. “They draw energy from it. As soon as that arm goes in the air they get excited. And they’ve got guys that can play with poise.”

The Mavericks allowed four power plays in their game with SCSU. The Huskies scored on three of them, including the game-winner with less than five minutes to play.

“I thought it was a good hockey game, but when you take a penalty with five minutes left, you’re playing Russian roulette and they’ve got more than one bullet in that gun,” Hastings said.

When asked if his power play was in the opponents’ heads, Motzko took a jovial tone.

“They’ve never let me in on any of their team meetings, so I don’t know what they’re saying over there,” the coach said with a smile. “But we all know when the power play is going, it’s won us some games this year. Obviously people have to take notice. It’s dangerous. We have two units that can score and they’re taking turns right now.”

In the same conversation, Motzko acknowledged that it gets tougher to score late in the season, which might have been proven on Sunday when the Huskies won that “interesting” wooden cup given to the tournament champion by beating Bemidji State, 5-2, despite going 0-for-2 on the power play. The Huskies have four NCHC series left with which to try to make up their current three-point deficit with North Dakota, and three are on the road.

To counter those obstacles, the Huskies have a pair of power-play units that are clicking and fun to watch no matter where you sit And they have their sights set on a return trip to the X for this year’s NCAA West Regional.

“We’ve got a lot of talent and there’s a lot of confidence in these two units,” Motzko said, referring to four players with four or more power play goals. “It will have ebbs and flows and it gets harder in the second half of the year. But right now they’ve got good confidence.”

— Jess Myers

Found on a Cocktail Napkin

INCH Found on a Cocktail Napkin

NINE THINGS OVERHEARD AT NHL AND AHL ALL-STAR FESTIVITIES

  • “Phil Kessel is sitting in a meeting room at the Opryland Hotel waiting for the player draft. Somebody should tell him.”
  • “Who the hell is Leo Komarov? He’s on Toronto? I didn’t even realize they had an NHL team in Toronto.”
  • “If Danny Kristo isn’t here, it should be called the AHL Some-of-the-Stars Classic.”
  • This is just a little more open ice than there was when Pavelski beat Cornell in ’06.”
  • “The people who got John Scott voted into this thing – can we put them in charge of bringing a Frozen Four to Nashville?”
  • “They’re not booing Patrick Kane; they’re saying … no, wait, they’re booing. Lots and lots of booing.”
  • “Why do people keep throwing spare change at Brent Burns?”
  • “Shea Weber broke the record for hardest shot in Nashville, previously held by whatever Johnny Cash was drinking.”
  • “I spent the AHL all-star break in Utica last year and Syracuse this year. That’s my ultimate motivation for being ready for camp with the big club in September.”

The INCH First Shift

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

John Scott

St. John’s IceCaps (AHL)
Michigan Tech University ’06

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Look, it wouldn’t be all that difficult to pull an honoree from last weekend’s college hockey action. But why not give it to Scott, a guy who had a string of days over the last week that have been nothing short of magical?

Scott’s never been a star. Not at Michigan Tech where, in four seasons, he racked up a total of seven goals and 19 points. Not in the American Hockey League, where he was unceremoniously dumped after being traded by the Arizona Coyotes to Montreal last month not long after winning the fan vote for Pacific Division All-Star captain. And certainly not in the NHL, where he’s scored a total of five goals in 285 career games scattered over eight seasons.

Based on the terrific first-person piece that appeared on The Players’ Tribune last week, it sure seemed like multiple entities conspired to keep Scott from participating in NHL All-Star festivities in Nashville in spite of the fans’ wishes.

Still, Scott showed up. And he stole the spotlight. Not only did he score two goals to help his Pacific team win the newfangled All-Star tournament, but the fans also voted him MVP. His teammates carried him off the ice on his shoulders. And he—along with the Canadiens’ P.K. Subban and the Sharks’ Brent Burns, most notably—made a historically dull event into the most entertaining, most talked-about All-Star Game since … well, who knows?

There’s no way the NHL lets a guy like Scott take part in the All-Star game again. Commissioner Gary Bettman will ensure the event’s honor and dignity (as he and the rest of the league’s suits see it) aren’t sullied in the future. That’s a shame, because Scott perfectly captured the spirit of hockey. He didn’t take himself too seriously, tried his best, and had a blast.

Besides, anything that makes Mike Milbury mad can’t be all bad, can it?

STICK SALUTE

Arizona State wrapped up its inaugural go-round against NCAA Division I competition Sunday with a 3-22-0 mark after dropping a 10-0 decision to a Merrimack team that entered the day with a 10-game losing streak. There were rough patches, for sure—the Sun Devils lost their last 16 games against DI foes by a combined 79-11 margin—but there were bright spots including a sweep of Lake Superior State, a 2-1 win over Alaska on a goal with 34 seconds left in regulation, and one-goal losses at Wisconsin and Clarkson. The future looks bright for Arizona State, and we can’t wait to see what happens next.

BENCH MINOR

Watching from afar, the North Star College Cup in St. Paul seems like a great event. There’s one clumsy aspect to the proceedings however, as a four-team tournament that celebrates five Division I men’s ice hockey teams in the state means one team is left out of the event each year.

Minnesota holds a place in the tournament every year as the host institution, and one of the other four teams—Bemidji State, St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth or Minnesota State—takes its turn in a rotation to not participate in the annual event.

While watching the third-place game on Sunday afternoon, we wondered if a relegation format might spice things up in the annual proceedings. How about the fourth-place team in one year heads to the bench the following year? That would still ensure that no team sits out two years in a row, and it’s a model that the International Ice Hockey Federation uses in many of its championship tournaments.

We do understand that the nature of having a host school and the considerations for the excluded team’s ability to schedule that weekend would be affected by our proposal, but we’re about fun ideas and this is one.

SAY WHAT?

“I didn’t foresee a third period where it was going to be no-holds-barred. The hit on Barre was everything about the game that we’re trying to take out … I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, and I’ve been doing this for 30-odd years.”

Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet to Tris Wykes of the White River Junction (Vt.) Valley News after his team’s 7-5 loss Friday to Quinnipiac. A Bobcat player checked Big Green forward Jack Barre from behind into the boards in the third period with Dartmouth clinging to a 5-4 lead. No penalty was called on the play, and top-ranked Quinnipiac scored three goals in the final 9:11 of regulation—part of a six-goal third period.

RANKINGS OUTRAGE

Back in the days when we regularly published at Inside College Hockey, our weekly INCH Power Rankings usually showed some divergence from the weekly polls compiled by USCHO.com and the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine from coaches. We pushed teams that were on hot streaks a little further up and were quick to knock down those teams who were scuffling over a couple of weeks.

Taking a glance at this week’s national polls revealed almost no divergence. The top-13 teams in each ranking were listed in identical order. The 14th- and 15th-ranked teams in both polls were Rensselaer and Michigan Tech, with RPI ahead in the USCHO poll and MTU ahead by the coaches.

We’ll close the Week of INCH with an INCH Power Rankings on Sunday night and have our say on how we think these teams should be stacked.

TWEET O’ THE WEEK

Can we table this discussion until after the season? The Gophers still have six regular-season games at Mariucci.

Return of the Macks

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Previewing this week’s content.

Hello? Is this thing on? The internet still works, right? Even if we haven’t been!

Many sports fans say that the final week of January and first few weeks of February comprise the worst time of the year on the sports calendar. After all, several weeks have passed since college football crowned a national champion, the NFL is ready for its corporate showcase … err … championship game, and let’s face it, basketball kind of sucks.

We’re a month from baseball spring training taking full hold. Even the Daytona 500 is a couple of weeks away. It’s no coincidence that Sports Illustrated launched its annual swimsuit/model showcase publication at this time of the year and has maintained its place on the calendar after more than 50 years.

If this truly is the worst time of the year for sports, it sounds like just the right thing for us. When it comes to “worst of” and “sports” the staff of Inside College Hockey pretty much dominates. And besides, these weeks are the start of the best time of the calendar for college hockey. It’s the stretch run of the regular season as teams build toward conference and national playoffs.

With that in mind, allow us to get the band back together for a special engagement. A Week of INCH will include many of our old editorial features. We’ll drop the puck on things tonight with First Shift and Found On A Cocktail Napkin. We’ll have a Hobey Tracker in the middle of the week and preview the weekend with our Friday Four-cast.

But wait, there’s more! For separate processing and shipping and handling, we’ll include a reunion edition of the INCH Podcast. We’ll wrap things up with an INCH Power Rankings to be posted after the Super Bowl.

Thanks for checking out our coverage as the week goes along. It’s great to drop in on the sport we love, combat our boredom, and maybe help out if you’re doing the same.

And Then There’s Omaha …

It wasn’t supposed to go down like this.

When putting together the NCAA Midwest Regional preview a couple weeks ago, it seemed fairly apparent (at least to me) that the team leaving South Bend, Ind., with a berth in this week’s Frozen Four wouldn’t be Nebraska Omaha.

ECAC Hockey playoff champion Harvard, UNO’s first-round opponent, had won seven of its previous eight games. Minnesota State, the tournament’s top overall seed, won the WCHA regular-season and playoff titles and was arguably the nation’s most consistent team from day one. RIT, Minnesota State’s first-round foe, had won seven straight en route the Atlantic Hockey postseason crown.

And then, in the immortal words of this guy, there’s Omaha.

Can you blame me for writing them off? Had a Magic 8-Ball previewed the Midwest Regional, its assessment of Nebraska Omaha would’ve been, “All signs point to no.”

Three teams in South Bend had won two games the previous weekend. UNO had two wins in the previous seven weeks. The Mavs hadn’t posted consecutive victories since Jan. 17 (a 4-1 win at Colorado College) and Jan. 30 (an overtime win against visiting North Dakota) and hadn’t won twice in the same weekend since sweeping Denver in Omaha on Jan. 9-10.

But wait, there’s more …

Nebraska Omaha goaltender Ryan MassaIn the 11 games following the OT win against The Team That Shall Not Be Renamed, the Mavericks scored 20 goals. That was fewer than all but eight teams in the country. Then there’s this mind-scrambling statistic: during those 11 games, UNO scored nine even-strength goals.

NINE! You know who had nine even-strength goals during that same span? Not RIT’s Brad McGowan—he had 13. Not Denver’s Trevor Moore or Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey—they each had 10. St. Cloud State’s David Morley and Miami’s Blake Coleman both had nine.

That’s freaking absurd. And when I say freaking, I don’t mean freaking.

There were signs the Mavs weren’t in complete disarray during that stretch. Led by senior goalie Ryan Massa (that’s him pictured above), UNO was only allowing 2.18 per goals game. The power play was clipping along at 24.3 percent success rate. And the absence of senior forward and team leader Dominic Zombo for all but one of those games certainly didn’t help.

Zombo was back in the lineup for the Midwest Regional. More important, the Omaha that prompted “And then there’s Omaha …“ wasn’t this Omaha. Freshman Grant Gallo, who had one goal since Dec. 1, scored in the first period against Harvard. So did freshman Avery Peterson—he had zero points since Jan. 30. Another rookie, Tyler Vesel, added an empty-netter for his first goal since Jan. 30.

In the third period of the regional final against RIT, freshman Jake Randolph gave UNO a 1-0 lead with his first goal since Dec. 30. Freshman David Pope, who had scored one goal since Jan. 9, added an ENG in what turned into a 4-0 romp. Massa—who in his first three years with the Mavs rarely saw his name without “up-and-down” or “inconsistent” in front of it—was named regional MVP, stopping 73 of the 74 shots he faced in South Bend.

So now here’s Omaha … in its first Frozen Four. A lesser person would probably want a little credit or acknowledgment for spurring the Mavs—after all, one third of my tweet has appeared on a sign at the Midwest Regional, was turned into a t-shirt, and was mentioned by Zombo in a recent Omaha World-Herald article. However, I crave not these things.

Just remember one thing about Nebraska Omaha: You didn’t hear it here first.

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

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

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