This portion of the 2021 NCAA DI Men’s Hockey Tournament has endured the most confusion and trouble. Originally, this region was to be hosted at SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire. The officials there decided they couldn’t host and relinquished duties to someone else. That someone else was the ECAC, who offered to host at the Times Union Center in Albany, NY. That offer went through and all seemed set. Then the teams played Covid-induced musical chairs.
St. Lawrence won the ECAC’s Postseason Tournament and the Automatic bid into the dance and would likely have been placed here. Less than 24 hours after defeating Quinnipiac, the Saints’ Head Coach, Brent Brekke, tested positive for Covid and the Saints were not permitted into the Tournament.
Notre Dame took their place and scheduled a trip to New York’s Capital. Upon entry to the Albany bubble, however, the Fighting Irish had players test positive for Covid and they were ruled ineligible to compete by the tournament committee and the Albany Health Board. Their scheduled game against Boston College was ruled a no-contest and the Eagles were advanced to the Regional Final, as the time for bringing a replacement team into the tournament bubble had already passed.
After all that, there is still a regional to play. Three teams remain to decide a Frozen Four participant in Pittsburgh, PA.
Boston University Terriers (10-4-1)
The Terriers are the last team to start playing games and still make the Tournament. BU didn’t play a game until January 8th but still showed enough to make the dance. Blue liner David Farrance (10GP/5G,11A,16PTS) is the offensive driver of this team and will be the point of defensive emphasis for St. Cloud. The senior from Victor NY, who will have family in attendance at the Tournament in Albany, will key a BU power play looking for more success, presently ranking 42nd out of 51 college hockey teams that played games this season at 15.0%. Sophomore Jay O’Brien (15GP/8G,8A,16PTS) and Freshman Luke Tuch (15GP/6G,4A,10PTS) are the youthful offensive punch to watch. Captain Logan Cockerill (11GP,5G,4A,9PTS) has a Hockey East Championship and near Frozen Four run under his belt and promises to make more playoff noise this year.
Goaltending? Drew Commesso took the net for the last three games of the BU season and has a .926 save percentage in those three games. This will be the first NCAA Tournament appearance.
Head Coach Albie O’Connell is in his first trip to the NCAA Hockey Tournament as the head coach of a team, but he was David Quinn’s chief assistant on two Hockey East Championships and four previous trips to the NCAA’s dance.
St. Cloud State Huskies (17-10-0)
This team has a poor history in the NCAA Tournament. 5-14 in the dance and three straight significant upsets. Including a pair of rattling losses to Atlantic Hockey foes Air Force and American International as the Tournament’s top overall seed. Of course that last loss was two years ago and this is a different team, but the Huskies have a bad history to work off. Brett Larson was an assistant on the 2018 Minnesota-Duluth coaching staff that won the National Championship and he’s in his second go-around as the Huskies bench boss. So far, two postseason trips and two NCHC Championship appearance and two NCAA Tournament appearances for Larson.
David Hrenak was the goalie in that 2019 AIC game and has some work to do against the Terriers on Saturday. The Senior from Považská Bystrica, Slovakia, backstopped his team to the NCHC Championship game and has a .947 save percentage in the three NCHC Playoff games the Huskies have played. He’s on his game.
The top scoring forwards are quite young. Veeti Miettinen (27GP/10G,13A,23PTS), Zach Okabe (26GP/6G,14A,20PTS), and Jammi Krannila (10PG/ 10G,10A,20PTS) are all underclass men and are playing in their first tournament. Kevin Fitzgerald (27GP/9G,8A,17 PTS)and Easton Brodzinski (27GP/11G,5A,16PTS) are among the veteran players with a desire to change the historic St. Cloud fortunes and wipe the NCHC Tournament Title loss to North Dakota from their memory.
These teams matchup pretty well with each other. St. Cloud has a far more successful power play and penalty kill than BU but the Terriers rank ahead of the Huskies in even strength scoring. Both teams have capable goaltending and both have head coaches with experience while still out to prove something. This is a toss-up.
The winner of this game faces the Region’s top seed, Boston College. Here’s a look at the Eagles.
Boston College Eagles (17-5-1)
The collection of talent on this roster is pretty ludicrous. Spencer Knight is the favorite for the Richter Award as the nation’s best goaltender for good reason. The sophomore from Darien, CT, has a top-5 save percentage (.933), three shutouts, and a top-15 Goals Against Average (2.13). He’s already won a major tournament this year as the backstop for Team USA’s World Junior Championship Team this season. He’ll have no problem stepping into the bright lights of the NCAA Tournament, even after the tough HEA Semi-Final loss to UMass Lowell.
Upfront, The Eagles are an offensive terror. Matt Boldy (21GP/10G,20A,30PTS), Marc McLaughlin (23GP/10G,14A,24PTS), Alex Newhook (11GP/7G,8A,15PTS), and Hockey East Rookie of the Year Nikita Nesterenko (23GP/8G,11A,19PTS) power an offense that ranks second nationally in goals per game (3.91), the nation’s most shorthanded goals (8), and a top-ten goal margin (6th, 1.57). Eamon Powell (23GP/2G,12A,14PTS) and Marshall Warren (22GP/3G,8A,11PTS) are skilled blue liners and will be charged with slowing down either the Terriers or Huskies on Sunday.
Jerry York has a team poised to win another National Championship. They’ve gotta wash the bad taste of their recent overtime loss to Lowell out of their mouths, but there is more than enough talent here to win the whole thing.
They’ll find out their opponent on Saturday afternoon and play on Sunday night at the Times Union Center in Albany.