Since expanding to 16 teams, Bridgeport has been a regular site for the NCAA Regional Tournaments. The action returns to the Webster Bank Arena this weekend with four teams fighting to punch their ticket to St. Paul. Let’s take a look at the teams and how they matchup.
#1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs #4. Michigan Tech Huskies
Perhaps most interesting in the only Regional meeting of conference tournament champions is the relationship between the coaches. Joe Shawhan grew up as a coach under the guidance of Jeff Jackson as a goaltender and coach. The two helped the Lakers to win three National Championships in seven seasons in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Since then, the men have been successful coaches in their own right. Jackson has led Notre Dame to three Frozen Fours and has the Irish poised at another championship run. Shawhan assisted Mel Pearson in Michigan Tech’s renaissance and in his first year as head coach, Shawhan has the Huskies in the Tournament for the third time in four years.
Notre Dame has been atop or near the top of the National polls all season. That’s surprising considering how top scorer Anders Bjork and goaltender Cal Petersen departed for the pros after the Irish’s surprising run to Chicago last year. To fill Petersen’s vacuum, Cale Morris has filled the void. The sophomore from Larkspur, CO, led the nation in total saves, save percentage, and wins. He is a leading candidate for the Mike Richter Award and paced the Irish in their best regular season ever. To fill the other holes, Jake Evans took the spot as the leading scorer and led the Irish to the second best ranking in the nation.
Returning players Andrew Oglevie, Cam Morrison, and Cal Burke helped the offense capture the Big 10 regular season and post season championships, the only team in the nation to win both in the same year. The defenders in-front of Morris were also strong. Jordan Gross led the blue line in scoring and Dennis Gilbert led the team in blocked shots. This Irish team is poised for another championship run.
Their opponent is battle tested and a hard out, though. Michigan Tech is making their second straight appearance and third in four years. While they have yet to win a game in the Tournament, it is a remarkable renaissance for a program that went over 30 years without a Tournament appearance. Shawhan was an assistant for the first three years of the return to prominence. With Mel Pearson’s departure to Michigan, Shawhan was named the Head Coach for the new season and the Huskies held their standard. Their defensive corps was the best scoring D corps in the country this year, led by Mark Auk and Mitch Reinke.
The forwards also are potent. Jake Luccini and Gavin Gould both lead the charge with over 30 points. The biggest question for the Huskies has been goaltending. They’ve rotated three goaltenders, Patrick Munson, Devin Kero, and Robbie Beydon. Munson got the start down the stretch and earned the job with an overtime win in Mankato and a shutout of Northern Michigan in the WCHA Championship game. He will get the call for the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan Tech will give Notre Dame a fight, but the Irish are the more potent team on the offensive end and Morris is a more proven goaltender than Munson. I’ll pick the Irish to win.
#2. Clarkson Golden Knights vs #3. Providence Friars
The Friars are regulars in the NCAA Tournament while Clarkson is in the tournament for the first time in a decade. These teams also played twice this season with Clarkson winning 4-0 in Potsdam and 4-2 in the Friendship Four in Belfast earlier this season. Despite the difference in experience, this game is a toss-up.
Clarkson has been knocking on the door for a few years and finally punched their ticket to the dance this year. The driving force all season was Jake Kielly in net. The sophomore paced the ECAC for much of the year in save percentage and GAA, finishing in the top ten in both categories. He will need to be at top form for the Golden Knights to win. His defense has given him plenty of help all season. Kelly Summers,
Terrance Amorosa and Aaron Thow are all quality defensemen who can hit and pick off pucks at the blue line. The team also ranked 14th in offensive output this season led by Sheldon Rempal’s 43 point performance. Nico Sturm and Devin Broussard scored over 30 points themselves and Sturm is leading the nation in faceoff wins. Their performance helped the team to the ECAC Title game. They did lose in overtime to upset minded Princeton, but the Golden Knights are still a dangerous team.
Providence enters their fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament with the last vestiges of their 2015 National Championship team and a crop of young players eager to make another run at the crown. Hayden Hawkey leads the charge with the best name in college hockey and big game potential. He stuffed 38 shots against Northeastern in the conference semi-finals and 28 shots against BU in a tightly contested championship game.
The Friars fell, but Hawkey did his part. He can do it again in the tournament. The offense ranked 22nd nationally and is paced by a deadly top line of Erik Foley, Josh Wilkinson, and senior captain Brian Pinho. The three are all 30 point scorers. Unfortunately, the rest of the offense is not on par with the top line.
Brandon Duhaime is a quality scorere and shooter, but the offensive depth is not strong for the Friars. If the game turns into a shootout, they will struggle. If they keep it low scoring, Hakwey and his defense of Jacob Bryson, Vincent Desharnais, and Ben Mirageas can lead the way to a victory. Unfortunately, I don’t see them outscoring Clarkson. I’ll pick the Golden Knights to win.
In a hypothetical Clarkson and Notre Dame matchup, I’d pick the Irish behind a more experienced corps of players.