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Union, UMass-Lowell and Michigan State

So, at the start of the season, if you knew Miami would be the second seed in the East Regional with these three schools, how many of you would have said “sign me up?”

Well, that’s precisely what the RedHawks have in front of them this weekend as they look to secure their third trip to the Frozen Four in four seasons. When you break it down, there is absolutely no logical reason I can think of why Miami shouldn’t win this regional going away. Sadly though, it doesn’t always turn out that way as we well know.

This region is so ripe for the taking, it’s highly possible the #1 seed in the east, Union, won’t even make it past a well-rested, but certainly not powerful Michigan State program with a new lease on life. After the shellacking Miami put on them in Oxford a few weeks ago, the Spartans had to sweat out the CCHA’s championship weekend awaiting word on whether they’d have an opportunity to continue their year. Unfortunately for the Dutchmen, the Spartans have much to prove and will be well-motivated to send the ECAC champions back to Schenectady empty-handed just like last year and I think they will.

When you look at the River Hawks of Lowell, on paper it’s hard to believe they have 23 wins in what was a down year for Hockey East. Traditionally strong programs Vermont and New Hampshire were down and mediocre squads like UML, Maine and BU were able to compete for a championship with only BC emerging as a true national title threat. Heck, Providence whom Miami destroyed 6-2 at the Denver Cup was a threat in that league this year and dispatched the River Hawks (WTF?) in the Hockey East playoffs in three games. In some of the worst uniforms I’ve ever seen, the tiny Lowell squad is made up of guys I’ve never heard of before. Again, none of this means anything. Miami has traditionally struggled with small, quick (though I have no idea if the River Hawks can skate) Hockey East teams in the past but this year’s edition of the RedHawks has speed and our traditional size to burn. A small, quick team such as Michigan State has had absolutely zero success against Miami this year as evidenced by our 4-0 record against the Spartans. You’d like to think this game is Miami’s to lose, but in a one game format, absolutely anything can, and usually does, happen. And, apparently their best player, someone named Riley Wetmore (12-25-37), a nearly 23 year old junior (good lord), has a broken hand to deal with and his effectiveness will undoubtedly be limited against a Miami squad that can bring physicality on every line. And, their leading scorer, Scott Wilson (16-21-37), is just a freshman who lacks experience in big time games, though he is also advanced in age (20).

Size, speed, experience, goaltending, coaching. They all belong to Miami in this game. The one thing Lowell has in its court is the home ice advantage as I’m sure the River Hawks will feel right at home playing hockey in a dump like Bridgeport.

In looking at this regional, Miami has a Frozen Four run set up nicely. In addition to their advantages over UML, they are 4-0 against Michigan State and would either face the Spartans or Union in the second round who has no scholarship players and plays in the relatively weak ECAC.

Hopefully, the hockey gods look favorably upon RedHawk Nation this weekend and we are fortunate enough to advance. Regardless, it should be an exciting weekend. But, you have to feel like its our time. We’ve endured disappointing regional performances before so that’s always a cautionary point. Yet, this Miami team is peaking at the right time and should come into the weekend with the confidence knowing they’ve been here before, and more importantly, they’ve done this before – which no one else in the region can say. Hell, Lowell hasn’t been to the tournament in 16 years. Miami is led by its 10 seniors and it feels like things are coming together at just the right time.

Go RedHawks!

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Don’t let basketball fans have all the fun – BRACKET CONTEST!

First off, before you get to picking your brackets, take a read at College Hockey News’s interview with NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Committee Chair Sean Frazier. While the PairWise is nearly Bible when it comes to the selection process, Frazier weighs in on the selection process and the subjectivity that the committee has.

Secondly, jump over to the CHN Bracket Contest and submit your picks. You saw my picks last night/this morning, and they match up there. Whomever wins the bracket contest from our readers gets the best prize ever.

Here’s a current breakdown of all the picks from NCAA hockey fans like us, as of 1:45PM this afternoon (courtesy: collegehockeynews.com). It seems the RedHawks are instilling a lot of confidence in fans right now, as 54% think Miami will make it to the Frozen Four in Tampa. I can’t say I’m opposed to this one bit.

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.