Three out of the four teams traveling to Fargo, ND know one thing. Their fan bases will probably be in limited quantities as the North Dakota fans will probably be out in full force since they are just 70 miles south of their home base in Grand Forks. For Quinnipiac, Michigan Tech, or St. Cloud State to come out of this regional, they are going to have to get the crowd out of the game quick, or the North Dakota crowd may overwhelm them in Scheels Arena.
Michigan Tech vs. St Cloud State Friday 3:30 pm CT
This is the only game on day one that isn’t on ESPNU, but you can see it live online on ESPN3. Michigan Tech has been one of the best teams in the country all season long and I shake my head at the fact that they didn’t get a number one seed, however they didn’t and they got shipped to Fargo. For St. Cloud, many argue and wonder how they could make it into the tournament because there are teams sitting out with much better records? Well, the PairWise is heavy on non-conference records and every conferences combined non-conference records. The NCHC held the countries top combined non-conference record and St. Cloud used that to their advantage.
St. Cloud is a team that heavily relies on their special teams, especially their power play, to take advantage of their opponents. Johnny Brodzinski leads this team and the country with 11 power play goals to this point of the season. His power play unit has also combined for over 70 points this season. They’re goalie Charlie Lindgren has also been the driving force to their competitiveness this season. Yes, his record doesn’t show it, but his 2.26 goals against average, and .919 save percentage aren’t anything to turn your head at. Junior Joey Benik leads this team with 38 points in 38 games played. His chemistry with Brodzinski is something for Michigan Tech to keep a keen eye on the entire game. One question mark for SCSU is if they will have Tim Daly and Kalle Kossila back in their line-up this weekend.
Michigan Tech Spent a decent amount of time during the first half of the season on top of the USCHO poll and much of that was due to their 10-0-0 start to their season. The Huskies are led by four upperclassmen in scoring and will rely on them to get pucks past Lindgren Friday afternoon. Senior Tanner Kero leads the way with 45 points for Michigan Tech as he also leads the team in goals with 19. Although Michigan Tech is coming into the tournament off a conference tournament championship game loss, much like St. Cloud State is, Michigan Tech looks to do some damage in the tournament as they are back for the first time in over 20 years. Junior goalie Jamie Phillips has also been a big part of this Huskies run. His 28 wins have him on top of the NCAA’s and his 1.71 goals-against average and .935 save percent aren’t numbers to shake your head at either.
For St. Cloud State to come out victorious in this one, they will need to cash in on their power play chances, or look for Michigan Tech to skate to the regional final on Saturday night. Michigan Tech wins 4-2.
North Dakota vs. Quinnipiac
It is no secret that North Dakota has the home ice advantage in Fargo this weekend. The building will be loud and it will be full of green and white. If you’re a team like Quinnipiac, you can’t let this get into your head. As soon as you do and start to make those little mental mistakes, that’s when UND will pounce all over you. Now one may add and say North Dakota didn’t look too good at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff last weekend and no they didn’t. However, CBS Sports Network color commentator and ESPN College Hockey Analyst Dave Starman said during the selection show that “As a scout you are taught to throw away a player’s or a team’s worst two games of their season. For North Dakota, that was at the Frozen Faceoff.” Starman later went on to pick North Dakota to win the national championship this year.
Quinnipiac is led by one of their 18 underclassmen Sam Anas. Anas has a team-leading 39 points, which also includes a team-leading 23 goals in 37 games played. This is going to be a hard working, lunch-pail gang type of team who wins games by simply outworking their opponents. Goalie Michael Garteig has played in 35 games for Quinnipiac this season. He has posted up a 22-9-3 record and his 2.00 goals against average has him being very similar to opposing goaltender Zane McIntyre. However, one difference between the two is the save percentage. At .918 for Garteig, he is allowing the same amount of goals as McIntyre, but on much fewer shots against. He will have to elevate his play a tiny bit to try and stop the shot brigade of North Dakota.
UND is coming off of their worst weekend of hockey all season long. Their Saturday night contest looked as if they were in injury prevention mode and already looking ahead to the NCAA tournament. This past weekend was the first time North Dakota has gone without a victory in two consecutive games all season and their first winless streak dating back to late November of 2013 when they had a stretch of 0-3-1. However, after that stretch, North Dakota found themselves in the middle of a five-game winning streak. North Dakota is without senior Mark MacMillan for the rest of this season. His presence in the faceoff circle has been well noticed this season and him not being able to win key faceoffs for this team has been noticeable. Junior Colten St. Clair is likely to make his return to the line-up Friday night and will be a key addition to the North Dakota third line. Senior Michael Parks has been virtually non-existent since four-year line mate MacMillan went down with his injury nearly one month ago. In that stretch, Parks only has one point to his credit. Junior Drake Caggiula has not done much better in that stretch either. Caggiula only has two points to his credit since the MacMillan injury, one goal and one assist. However, the constant for the entire season has been goaltender Zane McIntyre. His 27 wins, 2.05 goals against average and .929 save percentage have him as a finalist for the Mike Richter Award and the Hobey Baker Memorial Trophy.
For Quinnipiac to have a chance in this contest, they will have to be mentally tough and be able to block the “home” crowd for North Dakota out. That being said, I can’t see anybody but UND winning this game as they are hungry and angry after their performance last weekend at the Frozen Faceoff. North Dakota wins 5-1.
For who comes out of the regional, I can see three of the four teams possibly coming out of it, but the logical choice is North Dakota. The home crowd advantage will be a big help for them and proved to be the trump card in most of their home games this season. North Dakota will make a return trip to the Frozen Four in Boston in two weeks.