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Frozen Madness: NCAA Tournament Preview Print
Futures Watch
Written by Steve Wozniak   
Thursday, 22 March 2012 03:51

March Madness is winding down in the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament but, in hockey, it's just heating up. The tournament starts Mar. 23, so here is your NCAA Tournament Primer.

Steve WozniakWe’ll say this for parity in NCAA hockey these days: it gives us a constantly changing roster of powers. Sixteen college hockey teams begin battle this weekend for the right to raise a national championship trophy in Tampa in two weeks. Nine of those teams are making encore appearances; seven are either new or returning after inexplicable absences.

So hello to UMass-Lowell and Ferris State. Welcome back to the field, Maine, Michigan State and Minnesota. So long, Notre Dame, the only Frozen Four team from last season with no chance to repeat.

As the puck drops on so many hopes and dreams, Hockey Primetime tells you what to need to know about the 16 teams in the field.

NORTHEAST REGIONAL

1 Boston College

Record: 29-10-1

How they got here: Boston College got Hockey East’s automatic bid after becoming the first team to win the conference tournament three straight years.

History: The Eagles are making their 31st appearance in the tournament. They won national titles in 1949, 2001, 2008 and 2010.

NHL draftees: D Tommy Cross (Boston), F Paul Carey (Colorado), D Brian Dumoulin (Carolina), D Patrick Wey (Washington), F Chris Kreider (New York Rangers), D Isaac MacLeod (San Jose), F Kevin Hayes (Chicago), F Bill Arnold (Calgary), F Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary).

Why they’ll win: Boston College earned the top overall seed in the tourney after finishing up with a 15-game win streak. And they’re not just winning, but dominating. In their streak, the Eagles have outscored their opponents 61-19. Parker Milner has become a big-game goalie. His 25-5-0 record is tops in Division I, while his 1.82 goals-against average and .931 save percentage both rank in the top seven.

Why they’ll lose: The Eagles are a rather pedestrian 8-7-0 against other tournament teams, and were beaten twice by possible second-round opponent Maine.

Alumni in the NHL: Mike Mottau (Boston); Nathan Gerbe (Buffalo); Krys Kolanos (Calgary); Jimmy Hayes, Ben Smith (Chicago); Chuck Kobasew (Colorado); Cam Atkinson (Columbus); Patrick Eaves (Detroit); Scott Clemmensen (Florida); Rob Scuderi (Los Angeles); Brian Gionta (Montreal); Peter Harrold (New Jersey); Marty Reasoner (New York Islanders); Brian Boyle (New York Rangers); Brooks Orpik, Ben Lovejoy, Carl Sneep (Pittsburgh); Ben Ferriero (San Jose); Ryan Shannon (Tampa Bay); Cory Schneider, Andrew Alberts (Vancouver).

2 Minnesota-Duluth

Record:24-9-6

How they got here: An at-large berth, one of four total bids handed out to the WCHA.

History: The defending champions are making their eighth showing in the NCAA Tournament. In addition to last year, they also reached the Frozen Four in 1984, 1985 and 2004. UMD has a record of 13-8 in tournament games.

NHL draftees: D Scott Kishel (Montreal), D Drew Olson (Columbus), W Dan DeLisle (Chicago), C Max Tardy (St. Louis), W Joe Basaraba (Florida), W Caleb Herbert (Washington).

Why they’ll win: The obvious? They won it all last year, and there’s nothing to indicate they’re any worse. This year’s pre-tourney record is slightly better than last season’s (22-10-6). Justin Fontaine and Mike Connolly left after last season, but the Bulldogs have gotten equal, if not better, contributions from Travis Oleksuk, J.T. Brown and freshman Herbert. And the returning Jack Connolly could arguably be the best player in college hockey this season. He is one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award after posting 58 points in 39 games to this point.

Why they’ll lose: Championships usually come down to hot defense and goaltending. While UMD has the top offense in the country, tallying 3.64 goals per game, they have just the 16th best defense, giving up 2.56 per game. Goalie Kenny Reiter has been serviceable if not outstanding this season. In fact, the Bulldogs have given up less than two goals in a game just seven times this season; that’s also the number of games in which they’ve let at least four trickle in.

Alumni in the NHL: Justin Faulk (Carolina), Dylan Olsen (Chicago), Mike Connolly (Colorado), Jason Garrison (Florida), Matt Niskanen (Pittsburgh), Evan Oberg (Tampa Bay), Jay Rosehill (Toronto), Mason Raymond (Vancouver), Tim Stapleton (Winnipeg).

3 Maine

Record: 23-13-3

How they got here: Earned an at-large bid after falling in the Hockey East final to Boston College.

History: The Black Bears are making their 18th appearance in the tournament and first in four years. They have made 11 trips to the Frozen Four, with national titles coming in 1993 and 1999.

NHL draftees:
D Will O’Neill (Winnipeg), D Ryan Hegarty (Anaheim), D Nick Pryor (Anaheim), G Martin Ouellette (Columbus).

Why they’ll win: In the NCAA Tournament, goals are at an absolute premium, and special teams becomes more important. The Black Bears’ power play is one of the most lethal in the country, converting at a 26.9-percent clip. Spencer Abbott, Brian Flynn and Joey Diamond are the most prolific line in college hockey, combining for 63 goals in 39 games this season.

Why they’ll lose: Giving up 2.79 goals a game, Maine has the worst defense among the 16 teams in the tournament field. You can only run-and-gun to so many wins.

Alumni in the NHL: Jimmy Howard, Gustav Nyquist, Doug Janik (Detroit); Mike Lundin (Minnesota); Ben Bishop (Ottawa); Brett Clark, Teddy Purcell (Tampa Bay).

4 Air Force

Record: 21-10-7

How they got here: Earned the very generous automatic bid given to Atlantic Hockey after defeating RIT 4-0 in that conference’s championship game.

History: Air Force is making its fifth appearance, all in the last six years. The Falcons are 1-5 in the NCAA Tournament.

NHL draftees: None. All of these guys will be going pro in something other than sports.

Why they’ll win: The Mayans may have been right about 2012.

Why they’ll lose: The Falcons are the 16th overall seed for a reason. The Falcons lost all three games they played against other tournament teams. Out of 58 Division I teams, Air Force was the only Atlantic Hockey team to rank higher than 30th in the RPI ratings; four of the five worst teams played in Atlantic Hockey … and yet the Falcons needed a sweep on the season’s final weekend to secure the top spot in the conference standings. Enough said.

Alumni in the NHL: None

EAST REGIONAL

1 Union

Record: 24-7-7

How they got here: Earned the ECAC’s automatic bid after defeating Harvard in that conference’s championship game.

History: The Dutchmen are making the second tournament appearance in their history, and second in two years. They lost to eventual champion Minnesota-Duluth in their first-round game last season.

NHL draftees: None

Why they’ll win: Goalie Troy Grosenick ranks third in Division I with a 1.65 goals-against average and .936 save percentage. Overall, Union has the top-ranked defense and third-best offense in the country. That’s a recipe for a title.

Why they’ll lose: ECAC teams have fared quite miserably in recent history. Last year the conference qualified three teams, just to see them swept out quickly and mercilessly. This season, Union was just 1-2-3 against other tournament teams. That lack of quality opponents will bite them in the end.

Alumni in the NHL: Keith Kincaid (New Jersey).

2 Miami

Record: 24-12-2

How they got here: Earned an at-large bid after falling to Western Michigan in the CCHA semifinal.

History: Miami is making its seventh straight appearance in the tourney, and 10th overall. The RedHawks reached the title game in 2009 and returned to the Frozen Four in 2010.

NHL draftees: G Connor Knapp (Buffalo), D Chris Wideman (Ottawa), F Trent Vogelhuber (Columbus), D Wil Weber (Columbus), F Reilly Smith (Dallas), F Curtis MacKenzie (Dallas), F Tyler Biggs (Toronto), F Jimmy Mullin (Tampa Bay), F Blake Coleman (New Jersey).

Why they’ll win: They have the top goalie in the country, Connor Knapp, who comes into the tournament sporting an NCAA-best 1.59 goals-against average and a second-best .937 save percentage. Knapp gave up less than two goals in 14 of his last 18 starts. And we all know how important goaltending is to championship teams.

Why they’ll lose: Four players – Reilly Smith, Jimmy Mullin, Blake Coleman and Alden Hirschfeld – have accounted for more than half the RedHawks goals this season. If a team has the defensive depth to shut down the top two lines, Miami will be firing blanks.

Alumni in the NHL: Carter Camper (Boston); Ryan Jones (Edmonton); Alec Martinez, Jeff Zatkoff (Los Angeles); Jarod Palmer (Minnesota); Andy Greene (New Jersey); Andy Miele (Phoenix); Dan Boyle, Tommy Wingels (San Jose).

3 Massachusetts-Lowell

Record: 23-12-1

How they got here: Received an at-large bid after being upset by Providence in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs.

History: The River Hawks won three national championships at the Division II level. Since moving to Division I in 1984, they have had only three tournament appearances, and none since 1996.

NHL draftee: F Scott Wilson (Pittsburgh)

Why they’ll win: After going 5-25-4 last season, the River Hawks staged the biggest one-season turnaround in NCAA history. There’s something to be said about teams of destiny.

Why they’ll lose: In the last six weeks, UML has gone from having the top overall seed in the tournament field to a No. 3 seed. That’s what they call trending in the wrong direction. They also played no one of consequence outside their conference schedule. The bright lights will likely be too much for these young upstarts.

Alumni in the NHL: Carter Hutton (Chicago); Ben Holmstrom (Philadelphia); Dwayne Roloson (Tampa Bay); Ron Hainsey (Winnipeg).

4 Michigan State

Record: 19-15-4

How they got here: Received the final at-large bid in the tournament after being swept by Miami in the quarterfinals of the CCHA playoffs.

History: The Spartans are making their 27th trip to the NCAA Tournament. They won national titles in 1966, 1986 and 2007.

NHL draftees: F Brett Perlini (Anaheim), F Daultan Leveille (Winnipeg), F Trevor Nill (St. Louis)

Why they’ll win: The Spartans are tough to game-plan against, since the offensive contributions come from everywhere. Eight players had at least eight goals, and nobody had more than 12. All four of Michigan State’s lines could sneak up and beat you.

Why they’ll lose: With a success rate of just 16.3 percent, the Spartans’ power play ranked 41st out of 58 teams. Michigan State just squeezed into the tournament, thanks to a lot of things falling their way. The other 15 tournament teams rank 1-14 and No. 16 in scoring margins, while the Spartans fall into 24th in that category.

Alumni in the NHL: Ryan Miller, Corey Tropp (Buffalo); Duncan Keith (Chicago); Justin Abdelkader, Drew Miller (Detroit); Corey Potter, Shawn Horcoff, Jeff Petry (Edmonton); Tim Kennedy, Mike Weaver (Florida); Chris Mueller (Nashville); Andrew Rowe (Philadelphia); Adam Hall (Tampa Bay); John-Michael Liles (Toronto); David Booth (Vancouver); Jim Slater (Winnipeg).

MIDWEST REGIONAL

1 Michigan

Record: 24-12-4

How they got here: Received an at-large bid after falling to Western Michigan in the CCHA championship game.

History: The Wolverines are making their NCAA-record 35th tournament appearance and 22nd in a row. Michigan also has an NCAA-record nine national championships and 24 trips to the Frozen Four.

NHL draftees: F David Wohlberg (New Jersey), D Greg Pateryn (Toronto), F Kevin Lynch (Columbus), F Chris Brown (Phoenix), D Lee Moffie (San Jose), F Luke Moffatt (Colorado), D Jon Merrill (New Jersey), D Mac Bennett (Montreal), F Alex Guptill (Dallas), F Zach Hyman (Florida), D Brennan Serville (Winnipeg)

Why they’ll win: Michigan is incredibly deep and talented. Eleven different Wolverines tallied at least six goals in 40 games. Nine have rung up at least 11 assists. Goalie Shawn Hunwick, who in relief ended up leading his team to the championship game last year, is back with a lot more experience and better stats. Michigan is 5-1-0 on neutral ice this season.

Why they’ll lose: It’s one-and-done time, and while Hunwick has been stellar at times, he has crumbled in a few games. Take for example, a three-game stretch in late November where he gave up 16 goals to Ohio State, Northeastern and Union. The Wolverines are also a bit young, with just nine upperclassmen among the regular starters. The big stage, especially at the Frozen Four, can be quite intimidating for the freshmen.

Alumni in the NHL: Andrew Cogliano (Anaheim); Marty Turco (Boston); Mike Cammalleri, David Moss (Calgary); Brendan Morrison (Chicago); Matt Hunwick, Kevin Porter (Colorado); Jack Johnson (Columbus); Eric Nystrom (Dallas); John Madden (Florida); Jed Ortmeyer, Steve Kampfer (Minnesota); Max Pacioretty, Aaron Palushaj (Montreal); Al Montoya (New York Islanders); Carl Hagelin, Chad Kolarik (New York Rangers); Chris Summers (Phoenix); T.J. Hensick (St. Louis); Mike Brown, Mike Komisarek (Toronto); Mike Knuble (Washington).

2 Ferris State

Record: 23-11-5

How they got here: Earned an at-large bid after being shocked by last-place Bowling Green in the CCHA playoffs.

History: The Bulldogs made just one previous unceremonious trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2003.

NHL draftees: None

Why they’ll win: They were the best team in the regular season in the best conference in the country. A big reason for that? At one time, the Bulldogs had the best defense in the country. At this point, they rank 10th.

Why they’ll lose: Losing to cellar-dwellar Bowling Green doesn’t exactly build momentum for a championship run. The Bulldogs were just 8-7-3 away from their home rink. And though it may not sound like much, Ferris State doesn’t hae a single NHL draft pick on its roster. We can’t remember a team devoid of pro talent went all the way.

Alumni in the NHL: Greg Rallo (Florida); Chris Kunitz (Pittsburgh); Jason Blake (Anaheim).

3 Denver

Record: 25-13-4

How they got here: Earned an at-large bid after losing to North Dakota in the WCHA championship game.

History: This is trip No. 23 to the tournament for the Pioneers, proud owners of seven national titles and 14 Frozen Four appearances.

NHL draftees: D John Lee (Florida), F Drew Shore (Florida), D Paul Phillips (Chicago), F Jason Zucker (Minnesota), F Nick Shore (Los Angeles), F Beau Bennett (Pittsburgh), G Sam Brittain (Florida), D Scott Mayfield (New York Islanders), F Zac Larraza (Phoenix), D Josiah Didier (Montreal).

Why they’ll win: The Pioneers have great offensive depth. Four players tallied at least 30 points this season, and seven had at least 20. That doesn’t include Beau Bennett, who rolled up 13 points in 10 games before being injured. He’s due back any day. Denver was never swept this season, and in the process showed they can beat anyone on the right night. This time of the year, they just need four right nights.

Why they’ll lose: Despite the offensive firepower, Denver has been shut out two of its last six games, including a sluggish effort in a 4-0 loss to North Dakota in the WCHA championship.

Alumni in the NHL: Chris Butler (Calgary); Paul Stastny (Colorado); Rhett Rakhshani (New York Islanders); Matt Carle (Philadelphia); Tyler Bozak, Joe Colborne (Toronto); Peter Mannino (Winnipeg).

4 Cornell

Record: 18-8-7

How they got here: Beat Colgate in the ECAC consolation game to earn an at-large bid. Cornell lost to Harvard in the semifinal.

History: The Big Red has been to 18 previous NCAA Tournaments, winning national titles in 1967 and 1970. The 1969-70 squad was the last Division I hockey team to put together a perfect season, going 29-0-0.

NHL draftees: F Sean Collins (Columbus), D Nick D’Agostino (Pittsburgh), D Braden Birch (Chicago), D Kirill Gotovets (Tampa Bay), F Joel Lowry (Los Angeles), F Brian Ferlin (Boston)

Why they’ll win: At one time, goalie Andy Iles led Division I in just about every significant category for netminders. Iles struggled at times down the stretch, but if he can find his groove for four games, Cornell could be hoisting another trophy.

Why they’ll lose: There was a significant lack of quality opponents on Cornell’s schedule this season. The Big Red was 1-1-1 against other tournament teams. That was a loss to Boston University and two games against fellow ECAC member Union.

Alumni in the NHL: Riley Nash (Carolina); Ryan O’Byrne (Colorado); Brendon Nash (Montreal); Matt Moulson (New York Islanders); Colin Greening (Ottawa); Doug Murray (San Jose); Ben Scrivens (Toronto); Byron Bitz (Vancouver).

WEST REGIONAL

1 North Dakota

Record: 25-12-3

How they got here: Received the WCHA’s automatic bid after blanking Denver, 4-0, in the final.

History: North Dakota is making its 10th straight trip to the tournament and 26th overall. The team from Grand Forks can tout seven national championships – the most recent in 2003 – and five runner-up finishes.

NHL draftees: D Ben Blood (Ottawa), G Brad Eidsness (Buffalo), F Danny Kristo (Montreal), F Corban Knight (Florida), D Joe Gleason (Chicago), D Andrew MacWilliam (Toronto), F Brock Nelson (New York Islanders), D Dillon Simpson (Edmonton), D Derek Forbort (Los Angeles), F Derek Rodwell (New Jersey), F Mark MacMillan (Montreal), F Michael Parks (Philadelphia), D Nick Mattson (Chicago), F Rocco Grimaldi (Florida)

Why they’ll win: For the second straight year, North Dakota enters the tournament on a tear. In its current seven-game win streak, UND is outscoring opponents 29-10.

Why they’ll lose: Because they always ultimately do. North Dakota has advanced to the Frozen Four five of the last seven years, but can’t seem to get past the semifinal. And up until the WCHA playoffs, North Dakota was just 5-6-2 against tournament teams.

Alumni in the NHL: Matt Smaby (Anaheim); Drew Stafford, Joe Finley (Buffalo); Jonathan Toews (Chicago); Brad Malone (Colorado); Taylor Chorney (Edmonton); Matt Green (Los Angeles); Hunter Bishop (Montreal); Zach Parise, Travis Zajac (New Jersey); Matt Watkins (Phoenix); T.J. Oshie, Chris Porter (St. Louis); Mike Commodore, Brian Lee (Tampa Bay); Matt Frattin (Toronto).

2 Minnesota

Record: 26-13-1

How they got here: Received an at-large bid after getting thrashed in the WCHA semifinal by North Dakota.

History: This is the 33rd berth in the tournament for the Golden Gophers. They have been to 19 Frozen Fours and won five national championships – three under legendary coach Herb Brooks and two under current coach Don Lucia.

NHL draftees: G Kent Patterson (Colorado), F Jake Hansen (Columbus), F Nick Larson (Washington), F Nico Saccheti (Dallas), D Seth Helgeson (New Jersey), F Erik Haula (Minnesota), F Nick Bjugstad (Florida), F Zach Budish (Nashville), F Nate Condon (Colorado), D Mark Alt (Carolina), D Justin Holl (Chicago), F Kyle Rau (Florida), D Ben Marshall (Detroit), F Seth Ambroz (Columbus), F Travis Boyd (Washington), F Christian Isackson (Buffalo).

Why they’ll win: They can ride their goalie – Kent Patterson has an NCAA-best seven shutouts – or lean on the fourth-best offense in the country. The regional being played at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center gives the Golden Gophers a distinct home-ice advantage. The place will be packed with Gopher faithful.

Why they’ll lose: While Patterson led Division I in shutouts, he also had 10 games in which he gave up at least four goals. That inconsistency in the crease will kill a team in the postseason.

Alumni in the NHL: Thomas Vanek, Jordan Leopold (Buffalo); Nick Leddy (Chicago); Erik Johnson (Colorado); Alex Goligoski (Dallas); Jeff Taffe (Minnesota); Jeff Frazee (New Jersey); Aaron Ness, Kyle Okposo (New York Islanders); Stu Bickel (New York Rangers); Jim O’Brien (Ottawa); Paul Martin (Pittsburgh); Cade Fairchild (St. Louis); Phil Kessel (Toronto); Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg).

3 Boston University

Record: 23-14-1

How they got here: Received an at-large bid after being knocked out of the Hockey East tournament by Maine.

History: This is the 32nd time in the big postseason skate for the Terriers. Their previous 31 trips included 21 spots in the Frozen Four and five national titles.

NHL draftees: G Kieran Millan (Colorado), G Grant Rollheiser (Toronto), F Alex Chiasson (Dallas), F Wade Megan (Florida), F Justin Courtnall (Tampa Bay), F Matt Nieto (San Jose), D Adam Clendening (Chicago), D Garrett Noonan (Nashville), F Yasin Cissé (Winnipeg).

Why they’ll win: BU has plenty of firepower up front. The second-best offense in the country is led by Alex Chiasson, Matt Nieto and Chris Connolly, each averaging more than a point per game. While the goaltending has been average for the Terriers, the offense can outgun anyone.

Why they’ll lose: The Terriers were 6-7-0 against other tournament teams this season, and 1-5-0 in those games since the Christmas break. That’s significant, because it coincides with the departures of Corey Trivino and Charlie Coyle – Trivino to legal issues and Coyle to academic ones.

Alumni in the NHL: Nick Bonino (Anaheim); David Van der Gulik (Colorado); Ryan Whitney (Edmonton); Colin Wilson, Brandon Yip (Nashville); Jay Bandolfo, Rick DiPietro (New York Islanders); Matt Gilroy (Ottawa); Adrian Aucoin (Phoenix); Brian Strait (Pittsburgh); John McCarthy (San Jose); Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis).

4 Western Michigan

Record: 21-13-6

How they got here: Western Michigan got the CCHA’s automatic bid after winning that conference’s championship game over Michigan.

History: The Broncos are making their fifth appearance and second straight. However, they’re still looking for their first NCAA Tournament win after losing a double-overtime classic to Denver, 3-2, in last year’s opening round.

NHL draftees: D Luke Witkowski (Tampa Bay), F Chase Balisy (Nashville), D Garrett Haar (Washington).

Why they’ll win: They ran the gauntlet of the postseason tournament for the toughest conference in Division I hockey. If they can take all comers there, the rest of the field may seem like a scrimmage to the Broncos.

Why they’ll lose: The Broncos won the ones they were supposeed to, but struggled in big games. Western Michigan was just 6-7-2 against other tournament teams this season.

Alumni in the NHL: Joe Corvo (Boston); Paul Szczechura (Buffalo); Patrick Dwyer (Carolina); Jamal Mayers (Chicago); Mark Letestu (Columbus).

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Last Updated on Friday, 23 March 2012 16:35