No. 1 – North Dakota Fighting Sioux
NCAA Tournament History: 27 appearances, 7 titles (most recent, 2000)
How they got here: North Dakota won the WCHA championship with a 4-0 win over Denver.
Players to watch: Brock Nelson, F, So. (27-17-44); Danny Kristo, F, Jr. (18-25-43); Corban Knight, F, Jr. (15-24-39); Ben Blood, D, Sr. (3-17-20); Derek Forbort, D, So. (2-11-13); Aaron Dell, G, Jr. (17-9-2, 2.64, .901)
Briefly: Playing with only 17 skaters, North Dakota won the WCHA Final Five in impressive fashion. The Sioux likes to grind it out offensively, play simple hockey on the backend and rely on Dell for lights-out play between the pipes. Should it all come together – like it did last weekend – UND could roll into Tampa.
No. 2 – Minnesota Golden Gophers
NCAA Tournament History: 33 appearances, 5 titles (most recent, 2003)
How they got here: Minnesota received an at-large bid.
Players to watch: Erik Haula, F, So. (19-27-46); Nick Bjugstad, F, So. (24-16-40); Kyle Rau, F, Fr. (17-21-38); Nate Schmidt, D, So. (3-35-38); Mark Alt, D, So. (5-17-22); Kent Patterson, G, Sr. (26-13-1, 2.22, .910)
Briefly: Minnesota will be playing in front of the home crowd, giving it an added boost that other teams (besides North Dakota) won’t get. Even so, the Gophers need to find a way to put a complete effort together. They haven’t done so in a couple weeks, but there is no better time to find some consistency than now.
No. 3 – Boston University Terriers
Conference: Hockey East
NCAA Tournament History: 32 appearances, 5 titles (most recent, 2009)
How they got here: Boston University received an at-large bid.
Players to watch: Alex Chlasson, F, Jr. (15-29-44); Matt Nieto, F, So. (16-26-42); Chris Connolly, F, Sr. (9-31-40); Adam Clendening, D, So. (3-28-31); Garrett Noonan, D, So. (16-10-26); Kieran Millan, G, Sr. (20-13-1, 2.53, .925)
Briefly: BU can score. With as many players putting up big numbers as the Terriers have, with the players leaving and in-season distractions, this team should be ready for just about anything. They have to stay out of the box, though, as the penalty kill isn’t the greatest for BU.
No. 4 – Western Michigan Broncos
NCAA Tournament History: 5 appearances, no titles
How they got here: Western Michigan won the CCHA championship with a 3-2 win over Michigan.
Players to watch: Chase Balisy, F, So. (13-24-37); Shane Berschbach, F, So. (10-22-32); Dane Walters, F, Jr. (16-13-29); Matt Tennyson, D, Jr. (11-13-24); Dennis Brown, D, So. (2-20-22); Frank Slubowski, G, Fr. (17-10-4, 2.03, .910)
Briefly: The Broncos are kind of like the NFL team they share a name with. WMU won’t put up huge offensive numbers, but its defense is sound, and play between the pipes is good. Their first round opponent North Dakota likes to play a grind-it-out game, so WMU might be in a good spot for an upset if they can get into a defensive lockdown with the Sioux.