For the first time, the NCAA will host its regional tournament in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The PPL Center will host some teams looking to add to illustrious histories and others trying to write new tales of success. Let’s take a look at the teams and how they matchup.
#1. Ohio State Buckeyes vs #4. Princeton Tigers
Princeton is the biggest Cinderella team in the NCAA tournament. They were 7th in the ECAC before going on a run to their first ECAC Championship since 2008, upsetting conference powers Union, Cornell, and Clarkson in the process. They did so behind one of the nation’s most prolific offenses in the nation. Max Veronneau and Ryan Kuffner are both ranked second and third in the national scoring columns. Josh Teves is also a complete offensive player and Jackson Cressey rounds out a potent Tigers lineup. Princeton also boasts the nation’s leading power play.
While Princeton had no questions about scoring, there were plenty of questions about their defensive abilities. Those questions were partly answered with Ryan Ferland’s performance in the ECAC Tournament. The Freshman held opponents to a 1.67 GAA in the ECAC Tournament, including only one goal each against Cornell and Clarkson. The Tigers could certainly continue their run through the NCAA playoffs in Allentown.
The Region’s top seed, the Ohio State Buckeyes, have a different idea. Ohio State’s identity rest on their defensive prowess. The Buckeyes, led by Sasha Larocque and Matt Miller on the blue line, held opponents to the fifth-lowest GAA this season, 2.08. Sean Romeo was the conference’s second-best goalie this season and anchored the back end of the Buckeye’s defense and the best penalty kill in the nation.
Up front, the Buckeyes have some weapons too. Mason Jobst and Tanner Laczynski are ranked second and third in the Big 10 scoring totals this season. The team ranked third in the Big 10 for goals per game this season.
Princeton is a potent offensive team but does not have a proven defense that can stop the top attacks nationally. They’re most likely to win in a track meet. Ohio State can win in multiple styles. For their variety of skills, I’m picking Ohio State to win this matchup.
#2. Denver Pioneers vs #3. Penn State Nittany Lions
This is the only rematch from last season and the only one I see as a potential blow out. Denver returns most of their core looking for a second consecutive National Championship. Tanner Jaillet is back in net and looks as good as ever. He had the second lowest NCHC Save percentage and lowest NCHC GAA this season. He held Duluth and St. Cloud to one goal each in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, en route to the programs’ first NCHC Tournament championship in four years. He is aided by Tariq Hammond, who is fully healed after breaking his ankle in last year’s National Championship game, and Adam Plant on the blue line. Up front, Denver’s forwards are terrors. Troy Terry, Henrik Borgstrom, and Dylan Gambrell all could have jumped to the pros last season, but decided to return for one last run at a championship. They all ranked in the top six for scoring and Borgstrom led the conference in points. Supported by last year’s Frozen Four MVP, Jarid Lukosevicus, the Pioneers are a big threat to repeat as national champions.
Penn State continues in their remarkable program development with their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance. The Nittany Lions play a track meet style of hockey that is entertaining to watch, and piles up goals. They have the second most goals per game in the nation, at 3.65 per game. Andrew Sturtz leads the team with 40 points and 26 assists. He is backed up by 15 other double-digit scorers. The Nittany Lions come in waves and can overwhelm opponents with scoring potential.
The major problem for Penn State is their defensive ability. They rank in the back half of the nation and the Big 10. Their defensemen get into the offensive play, which leaves goaltender Peyton Jones on an island in his net. He has handled his role well, but he’s only middle of the pack in both save percentage and GAA. He can win big games, as showed by last year’s run to the Big 10 championship and beating Union in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, they did not have the pieces needed to beat Denver. I see a repeat on tap in Allentown this weekend.
In a potential Ohio State vs Denver matchup, I see Denver’s experience carrying the day and the Pioneers reaching their third consecutive Frozen Four.