Category Archives: Frozen Four

Analysis: One Warrior’s take on the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend

For this Redskin Warrior, a sense of optimism and hope comes along with the tournament brackets for once. Teams like the evil empires BC and BU are nowhere to be found (until the finals, anyway), other teams are missing key components, and momentum from a strong finish seems to be on our side. There are 9 teams that made the tournament in 2011, and 6 teams that have never won the whole thing.

Here are my picks and thoughts on the weekend ahead…

Northeast Region: #1 overall – Boston College, Minnesota-Duluth, Maine, Air Force

Let’s start in Worcester, where BC will undoubtedly have issues with Air Force. The Atlantic Hockey Champion has given teams fits in the last few NCAA tournaments. Last year, the Air Force Academy took the #1 overall seed Yale to overtime. 2 years ago, RIT took down another #1 seed in Denver, then blew out New Hampshire to make its first ever Frozen Four.

Even though BC has won 15 in a row, I still think Air Force comes in with the experience of last year’s tournament and gives them quite a fight. They are over sized and over matched on paper, but you can never discount the heart of the Falcons on the field or on the ice. BC in a tight one, maybe even in overtime again.

On the other side, you have the defending National Champions in the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs taking on the Maine Black Bears – Hockey East’s runner-up. If Maine’s Hobey Baker candidate and the nation’s top goal-scorer Spencer Abbott doesn’t play, I think they are 1 and done. If he plays (his status is currently “questionable”), this is a game to watch. I think the ‘Dogs come out on top in either scenario, however.

In the regional final, look for a titanic battle between the last 2 National Champions. BC’s size and speed will overpower UMD and make it to the Frozen Four again.

West Region: #4 overall – North Dakota, Minnesota, Boston University, Western Michigan

Congratulations, Western Michigan! You’ve won the CCHA Tournament, arguably the best conference in NCAA hockey this year. Here’s the Mason Cup, and you get North Dakota as your victory prize!

All kidding aside, I think the Broncos ride their Mason Cup win to a good showing. However, North Dakota has won 3 straight WCHA Playoff tournaments – something no other team has ever done, and they’ve been here before. NoDak moves on in this matchup.

In the early game in St. Paul, the home town team is matched up with Boston University. The Minnesota Golden Gophers make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2008. For one of the flagship programs of college hockey, this is somewhat remarkable, and in that time, 29 teams have made the NCAA tournament since Minnesota last did. Can you beat my score of guessing 24 of those 29 teams?

Minnesota, this region’s host, should have about 15,000 of the capacity 18,064 fans in the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, and I have no doubt this will help propel them to a victory.  Don’t count out BU, however. In a battle between head coaches who have 5 total national championships between them (Lucia – 2, Parker 3), I’ll take Minnesota.

This creates a rematch of a conference tournament that we just saw last week, and ironically, it happens in the exact same building.  Last Friday, North Dakota quickly went down 3-0, but rallied and scored 6 unanswered goals to move on. This coming Friday, I predict a different story, and Minnesota heads to Tampa.

Midwest Region: #2 overall – Michigan, Ferris State, Denver, Cornell

Michigan extends its NCAA tournament appearance streak to 22 years in a row – all of them under head coach Red Berenson – and will face the Cornell Big Red, whom Michigan met in the first year of the streak. While Cornell has 18 total wins on the season, Michigan has 18 wins against TUC’s this year. ‘Nuff said. Michigan big.

On the other half, a much depleted Denver squad comes in for its 5th straight trip to the NCAA tournament. The Pioneers could be missing their best player in Jason Zucker, and head coach George Gwozdecky is preparing for the weekend as if they do not have their leading goal-scorer. They will take on a Ferris State squad that was unexpectedly bounced by Bowling Green in round 2 of the CCHA Playoffs, and has only been to the NCAA tournament one other time (2003) in their history. I’m taking Ferris State, here, but they’ll run into a much more stern task in the regional final.

If the 2 CCHA teams prevail in Green Bay, this pits the #1 vs #2 teams from the conference against each other. Ferris State lost 7 times during the CCHA regular season this year, and two of them were to Michigan. I don’t think Ferris State has the star power to overcome Michigan, and Michigan makes it to their second straight Frozen Four.

East Region: #3 overall – Union, Miami, UMass – Lowell, Michigan State

Of the 4 brackets in this year’s tournament, I don’t think Miami could have drawn a better grouping. They don’t have to face Michigan, North Dakota, or either of the Minnesotas OR Bostons. Nice work, selection committee!

In the early game, Michigan State – the last team in the tournament – takes on the ECAC winner, the Union Dutchmen. A school of only 2,000, who is lead by first-year coach Rick Bennett, looks for their first-ever win in the NCAA tournament.  I think they get it this year, as Michigan State is reeling. As we know, they fell 6-0 and 4-1 in Oxford 2 weekends ago, and have a bit of a goalie controversy. Also in his first year, Head Coach Tom Anastos will need to find something for either Drew Palmisano or Will Yanakeff to build on from those embarassing losses. Michigan State is going to be coming off of a bye, those 2 big losses, and another “bye” week, so they are going to be rusty as well. The ECAC Champs from Schenectady, NY (that’s fun to say) take this one handily.

We’ll have some more for you on the Miami vs. UML game later in the week, but I will tease you with this fact from our Sunday #SixPack from this past weekend. Despite the youth on this team, Miami will be the bigger and stronger team. UML’s largest player is just 6′ 1″ tall. Miami averages that in height, with 13 players plus Connor Knapp coming in at 6′ 1″ or taller. It might look like a scene from one of my favorite hockey movies with the size advantage Miami will have on the ice. In any event, the New York Rangers RedHawks take down the scrubs from Mystery, Alaska River Hawks and move on to face Union.

The Regional Final will be a hard fought battle, but I’m confident that Miami will be back on track after a big win on Friday night and will carry the momentum to Tampa where I’ll get to see the RedHawks take on Michigan in the National Semifinals.

To recap, that’s BC against Minnesota on one side, and Michigan vs Miami in the other half of the bracket. Post your picks in the comments below and we’ll see how things turn out this weekend. IS IT FRIDAY YET?!?!?!

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Showdown In St. Paul

St. Paul, Minn. – The field for the 2011 Frozen Four is set and it is conference vs. conference as two CCHA teams will take on two teams from the WCHA for college hockey supremacy.

CCHA regular season champion Michigan will take on the #1 ranked team in the nation, North Dakota in one semifinal while CCHA regular season runners-up, Notre Dame will face the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in the other national semifinal.

And, for the first time since 2004, Hockey East does not have a representative in the Frozen Four. Such a shame…

With UMD, North Dakota, Notre Dame and Michigan, this Frozen Four is packed with marquee names. While it still stings that Miami squandered its chance for a third consecutive trip, this Frozen Four should be exciting with four big time programs looking to claim the mantle of the nation’s best. And, the CCHA v. WCHA subplot is also interesting.

Still, it’s hard seeing both Michigan and Notre Dame advance, two teams that Miami was clearly better than, but that’s the beauty of the NCAA tournament — it’s one and done and you have to bring your best or you’re out.

Miami Ousted From NCAA’s

Manchester, N.H. – With a tremendous defensive effort, the fourth seeded New Hampshire Wildcats defeated the #1 seeded Miami RedHawks 3-1 at Verizon Wireless Arena.

The careers of stand-out seniors Carter Camper, Andy Miele, Justin Vaive, Pat Cannone and Vincent LoVerde came to an end as the Wildcats used two third period goals to break a 1-1 tie and send the RedHawks home earlier than expected.

With the win, New Hampshire will face the winner of the Notre Dame/Merrimack game for a chance to advance to the Frozen Four in St. Paul, Minn. in two weeks.

Freshman Bryon Paulazzo, who has been on fire in the postseason, had the lone Miami goal which came in the first minute of the first period.

Miami Set to Face New Hampshire

It’s official! The 2011 Mason Cup Champion Miami RedHawks have claimed a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and will face #4 seed New Hampshire in the Northeast Regional in Manchester, N.H.

#2 seed Merrimack College and #3 seed Notre Dame round out the regional bracket which takes place Saturday and Sunday, March 26-27.

Miami (23-9-6) and New Hampshire (21-10-6) have faced each other four times over the past two years with Miami holding a slim 2-1-1 advantage against the Wildcats. And, in 2007, Miami earned its first ever NCAA tournament victory knocking off the #1 seeded ‘Cats 2-1. That game was also played in New England.

This season, Miami and New Hampshire split their series in early October by identical 6-3 scores with Miami winning Friday and UNH earning the split on Saturday. The second game saw the Wildcats break open a close game by scoring five second period goals against Connor Knapp who was not sharp early in the year.

UNH features a high scoring line of seniors Paul Thompson (28-24-52), Mike Sislo (13-33-46) and Phil DeSimone (10-30-40) who each have at least 40 points with Thompson leading the Wildcats with 28 goals — 10 of which are powerplay markers which will be key for Miami. UNH averages 3.43 goals per game, which is just a little less than Miami’s 3.8.

Defensively, the Wildcats are led by junior Blake Kessel (5-21-26), the younger brother of Maple Leafs’ winger Phil Kessel and junior goaltender Matt Digirolamo who has played nearly every minute in net this year for UNH. Digirolamo sports an impressive .921 save percentage but a relatively high 2.49 goals against average. I’d compare him to Notre Dame’s Mike Johnson. A very beatable netminder. As a team, the Wildcats allow 2.51 goals per game while Miami is a bit more stout at just 2.2.

This will be a terrific first round match. Two high scoring teams who know each other well. Miami is riding a 13-game unbeaten streak and has won 7 in a row. The Wildcats stumbled a bit down the stretch going just 4-5-2 dropping their Hockey East semifinal matchup against Merrimack in Boston on Friday. Frankly, it’s because of UNH’s struggles that they slipped to a #4 seed which necessitated moving Boston College out of Manchester and moving Miami in to face the Wildcats in the first round.

This is a very winnable bracket for Miami but UNH will prove to be a difficult opponent. They are very talented up front and will be playing a virtual home game. If the RedHawks can find a way through the Wildcats, they would face the winner of the Merrimack/Notre Dame game, two inexperienced teams in tournament play. And, as for the Irish, a team Miami just defeated 6-2 on Friday afternoon.

If Miami were fortunate enough to advance to the Frozen Four, they would face the winner of the East Regional, either Yale, Union, Minnesota-Duluth or Air Force and would not have to face, presumably, either Boston College or North Dakota until the national championship game. But, that’s a long way away.

First up…New Hampshire at 4pm EST on Saturday, March 26.

>NCAA Re-thinking Tournament Seeding?

>Inside College Hockey has a rather interesting feature on their web page today. They have reportedly obtained a memo from the NCAA regarding a “three-tier plan” that would minimize travel costs for NCAA Frozen Four play and seed teams for the tournament, based on geographic location.

If passed and approved by NCAA presidents and its executive committee this January, here’s what it means for Division I men’s ice hockey: Unless you’re a No. 1 seed, the NCAA tournament bracketing philosophy will strongly emphasize geographic proximity – keeping eastern teams in the east, and western teams in the west.

Instead of seeding teams based on bands and protecting bracket integrity, as has been done in recent years, only four of 16 teams would be seeded, earning top seeds in each region. The rest of the region would be determined by geography to minimize travel expenses for participating teams. In order to accommodate these new objectives, the recommendations include disregarding previously-established “working principles” of tournament selection to allow for regional matches between members of the same conference.

The article offers two possible scenarios, using the 2008 tournament brackets as examples. Here they are:

Scenario one under new seeding:

2008 West Regional
*Miami
Colorado College
Michigan State
Air Force

Scenario two under new seeding:

2008 Midwest Regional
* Miami
St. Cloud State
Minnesota
Wisconsin

Personally, I’m ALL for this. There is no reason Miami should be sent out East every single year (maybe it’s the BC bitterness in me). Seeding teams in this manner, just makes more sense to me.

What do you think?