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NCAA Conference Playoff Previews Print
Futures Watch
Written by Steve Wozniak   
Wednesday, 07 March 2012 17:54

As with the NHL, the NCAA's season is starting to wind down. With Selection Sunday fast approaching, here's what you need to know about this year's NCAA Hockey Tournament.

Steve WozniakSelection Sunday for the NCAA Hockey Tournament is now less than two weeks away. The 16 bids will be announced on March 18, but before then, 44 teams have a chance to make some last-minute arguments to be included in the big dance. The WCHA opens its first round with six matchups, while the other four conferences all begin their quarterfinal round.

HOCKEY EAST

The skinny: Only the top eight teams in the conference qualified, so Vermont and Northeastern are done for the year. The first round is a best-of-three series.

Weekend Schedule

(8) Massachusetts at (1) Boston College

(7) Providence at (2) Mass.-Lowell

(6) New Hampshire at (3) Boston University

(5) Merrimack at (4) Maine

Crowning the champion: March 16 semifinal and March 17 final at TD Garden in Boston.

NCAA Tournament hopes: Boston College, Boston University and Mass.-Lowell are in. Maine will punch its ticket with a first-round victory. Merrimack needs to make a big run in this tournament, and the other three need to win it all and take the automatic bid.

Favorite: Boston College is looking like the best team in the country right now, and has been unbeatable, literally, for 11 straight games.

Team that could surprise: None of top five seeds would surprise anyone by winning this tournament, so we'll go with New Hampshire for one reason: the Wildcats were 0-6-0 against Boston College and Boston University this season, so they must be due for a win. Maybe.

NHL prospects to watch: Boston College junior F Chris Kreider (New York Rangers) sophomore F Bill Arnold (Calgary Flames) freshman F Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary Flames), sophomore F and junior D Brian Dumoulin (Carolina Hurricanes); Boston junior F Alex Chiasson (Dallas Stars), junior F Wade Megan (Florida Panthers), sophomore F Matt Nieto (San Jose Sharks) and sophomore D Garrett Noonan (Nashville Predators); Maine senior D Ryan Hegarty (Anaheim Ducks); Massachusetts senior F Daniel Hobbs (New York Rangers); Mass-Lowell freshman F Scott Wilson (Pittsburgh Penguins); Merrimack senior G Joe Cannata (Vancouver Canucks); New Hampshire sophomore D Eric Knodel (Toronto Maple Leafs); Providence junior D Alex Velischek (Pittsburgh Penguins).

Interesting subplot: Boston University has lost Islanders prospect Corey Trivino and Red Wings draftee Max Nicastro to arrests for sexual assault, and Wild prospect Charlie Coyle to alleged academic issues. Yet they've continued to win. Will all the drama - and, some would say, karma - surrounding the Terriers finally catch up to them?

ECAC

The skinny: All 12 teams involved. First two rounds are best-of-three, then single games in the semifinals and final. Top four teams get a first-round bye. Last weekend's first round eliminated St. Lawrence, Princeton, Clarkson and Brown.

Weekend Schedule

(10) Rensselaer at (1) Union

(9) Dartmouth at (2) Cornell

(6) Yale at (3) Harvard

(5) Quinnipiac at (4) Colgate

Crowning the champion: March 16 semifinals and March 17 final at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.

NCAA Tournament hopes: Union should be in. Cornell can earn an at-large bid with a long run in this tournament. Everyone else needs to win the whole thing and earn the automatic bid.

Favorite: Union had the strongest regular season, but lost to Cornell in the season's final weekend. Call it a draw between the two.

Team that could surprise: Colgate. Raiders senior and Dallas Stars prospect Austin Smith, the NCAA's leading goal scorer, is a game-changing wunderkind. He could carry the team on his back quite a way.

NHL prospects to watch: Colgate senior F Austin Smith (Dallas Stars), sophomore F Chris Wagner (Anaheim Ducks) and junior D Jeremy Price (Vancouver Canucks); Cornell senior F Sean Collins (Columbus Blue Jackets) and junior D Nick D'Agostino (Pittsburgh Penguins); Harvard junior D Danny Biega (Carolina Hurricanes) and senior F Alex Killorn (Tampa Bay Lightning); Quinnipiac sophomore F Kellen Jones (Edmonton Oilers); Yale freshman F Ken Agostino (Penguins)

Interesting subplots: C'mon, we get the rivalry in this weekend's quarterfinals, Yale and Harvard. Harvard leads the all-time hockey series between the two, 136-78-18.

ATLANTIC HOCKEY

The skinny: All 12 teams involved. Top two teams from each division get a first-round bye. Last weekend's single-elimination first round knocked out Army, Canisius, American International and Sacred Heart. Teams play a best-of-three series in the second round.

Weekend Schedule

(8) Connecticut at (1) Air Force

(7) Robert Morris at (2) Niagara

(6) Bentley at (3) RIT

(5) Holy Cross at (4) Mercyhurst

Crowning the champion: March 16 semifinals and March 17 final at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y.

NCAA Tournament hopes: Atlantic Hockey will get the conference's automatic bid, which goes to the winner of this playoff tournament; no one is qualifying for an at-large bid.

Favorite: Air Force is the only team in the conference with an RPI above .500, making it the only "team under consideration" for an NCAA Tournament berth in the Pairwise rankings.

Team that could surprise: Anybody outside Connecticut has a shot at this one. In the regular season, only five points separated first-place Air Force from seventh-place Robert Morris. Air Force, RIT, Niagara and Mercyhurst all took turns being the team to beat ... before they were inevitably beaten. We won't even try to handicap this one.

NHL prospects to watch: There are no NHL draft picks in Atlantic Hockey. Senior goalies Brooks Ostergard of Robert Morris and Chris Noonan of Niagara may get some free-agent feelers after the season,but that's about it.

Interesting subplot: The series between Robert Morris and Niagara features two exiles of College Hockey America who joined Atlantic Hockey after CHA folded. For one of two teams to gain an NCAA bid as a member of their new conference would almost validate the years of automatic bids given to the defunct CHA.

CCHA

The skinny: All 11 teams participate. Top five teams get first-round byes. First two rounds are best-of-three series. Last weekend's first round eliminated Alaska, Northern Michigan and Ohio State.

Weekend Schedule

(11) Bowling Green at (1) Ferris State

(8) Notre Dame at (2) Michigan

(7) Lake Superior at (3) Western Michigan

(5) Michigan State at (4) Miami

Crowning the champion: March 16 semifinals and March 17 final at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

NCAA Tournament hopes: Michigan and Ferris State are in. The winner of the Michigan State-Miami series will likely guarantee themselves a berth, while the loser will be pushed to the bubble. Notre Dame and Western Michigan both need to win this weekend, and then possibly another game in Detroit to nail down a bid. Lake Superior and Bowling Green would have to win out to make the big dance. Northern Michigan, eliminated las t week by Bowling Green, is on the cusp of a tournament spot, and would need a lot of teams around them to lose this weekend to stay alive.

Favorite: Ferris State won the conference's regular-season crown; how they did that remains a mystery. On paper, Michigan is the superior team and would be the favorite if Vegas set odds on these games ... which they don't.

Team that could surprise: Notre Dame's late-season struggles sent them to a low seed, but at times this season, the Irish have knocked off Michigan, Ferris State and out-of-conference powers Boston College, Boston University, Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth. The talent is there; if only they could put it together.

NHL prospects to watch: Lake Superior junior D Zach Trotman (Boston Bruins); Miami junior F Reilly Smith (Dallas Stars), freshman F Blake Coleman (New Jersey Devils) and senior G Connor Knapp (Buffalo Sabres); Michigan freshman F Alex Guptill (Dallas Stars), sophomore D Jon Merrill (New Jersey Devils) and junior D Lee Moffie (San Jose Sharks); Michigan State senior F Brett Perlini (Anaheim Ducks); Notre Dame sophomore F T.J. Tynan (Columbus Blue Jackets) and sophomore F Anders Lee (New York Islanders); Western Michigan sophomore F Chase Balisy (Nashville Predators).

Interesting subplot: After this tournament, the CCHA has one more season before it ceases to exist, with teams fleeing to the Big Ten hockey conference, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, the WCHA or Hockey East. So it's possible that some teams could be making their final trip to Joe Louis Arena next weekend.

WCHA

The skinny: All 12 teams qualify. First round is six best-of-three series. The six winning teams are reseeded, with the top two seeds getting byes to the semifinals.

Weekend Schedule

(12) Alaska-Anchorage at (1) Minnesota

(11) Minnesota State at (2) Minnesota-Duluth

(10) Wisconsin at (3) Denver

(9) Bemidji State at (4) North Dakota

(8) Michigan Tech at (5) Colorado College

(7) Nebraska-Omaha at (6) St. Cloud State

Crowning the champion: March 16 semifinals and March 17 final at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

NCAA Tournament hopes: Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth are in. Denver and North Dakota need to at least get to St. Paul, while Colorado College probably needs to make the final. The rest have to win it all for the automatic bid.

Favorite: At different points this season, both Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth have looked unstoppable. Denver, when healthy, could be the most talented team here. Whether they get Beau Bennett back this week or next could determine the Pioneers' fate.

Team that could surprise: St. Cloud State. Statistically, the Huskies seem to be on par with North Dakota, with average scoring margins just 0.04 goals apart. They split nine of 14 weekend series in the conference, and posted wins over Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth. So there's nothing to say they can't do it.

NHL prospects to watch: Bemidji State sophomore F Illo Radoslav (Anaheim Ducks); Colorado College sophomore LW Jaden Schwartz (St. Louis); Denver junior F Drew Shore (Florida Panthers), sophomore F Jason Zucker (Minnesota Wild) and sophomore G Sam Brittain (Florida Panthers); Michigan Tech freshman F Blake Pietila (New Jersey Devils); Minnesota sophomore F Kyle Bjugstad (Florida Panthers), sophomore F Erik Haula (Minnesota Wild) and senior G Kent Patterson (Colorado Avalanche); Minnesota-Duluth freshman F Caleb Herbert (Washington Capitals) and junior D Drew Olson (Columbus Blue Jackets); Nebraska-Omaha freshman F Josh Archibald (Pittsburgh Penguins) and junior D Bryce Aneloski (Ottawa Senators); North Dakota junior F Danny Kristo (Montreal Canadiens) and sophomore F Brock Nelson (New York Islanders); St. Cloud State junior F Ben Hanowski (Pittsburgh Penguins) and sophomore D Nick Jensen (Detroit Red Wings); Wisconsin junior D Justin Schultz (Anaheim Ducks) and sophomore F Michael Mersch (Los Angeles Kings).

Interesting subplot: Will North Dakota choke in the conference tournament and miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 16 years? Minnesota, once the standard of the WCHA, has missed the last three NCAA tournaments. Will Gophers coach Don Lucia make a Frozen Four run to justify the contract extension he received earlier this season?

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Last Updated on Friday, 09 March 2012 14:02