Bridgeport, CT. – The East Regional kicks off the 2020-21 NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament on Friday, March 26 at 1:00 pm when Wisconsin takes on Bemidji St at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport. CT. This regional has two post-season tourney champs in UMass-Amherst and Lake Superior St., who will face off in the second game on Friday. As well as one regular-season champ in Wisconsin. The talent in this regional is unlimited, as players like Cole Caulfield, Dylan Holloway, Bobby Trivigno, Zac Jones, Ashton Calder, and Alex Ierullo warrant your attention. The regional winner awaits a Frozen Four berth in Pittsburgh, PA, to take on the Fargo Regional winner (North Dakota, AIC, Michigan, or Minnesota-Duluth)
#4 Wisconsin Badgers (Big 10) 20-9-1 vs #14 Bemidji State Beavers (WCHA) 15-9-3 Friday, March 26 1:00 pm
The Badgers finished the regular season atop the BIG 10 standings with 52 points, four ahead of Minnesota. However, the Badgers fell to their hated rival Golden Gophers in the conference championship game in South Bend, IN, last week, 6-4. Tony Granato‘s squad went 10-5-1 at home, 9-3-0 on the road, and were 1-1 at neutral sites. The Badgers are led by dynamic sophomores Cole Caulfield (28-21-49) and Dylan Holloway (11-23-34) but can throw multiple lines of attack at an opponent. Linus Weissbach (40pts), Ty Pelton-Byce (29pts), Roman Ahcan (21pts), and Brock Caulfield (17pts) have been scary good all season. The tandem of senior Robbie Beydoun (11-7-0) and freshman Cameron Rowe (9-2-1) have backstopped the Badgers to five shutouts combined.
“To finally be here after four years is a pretty big deal,” said senior captain Tarek Baker. “It’s pretty special to me, more so for the fan base, the donors, and everybody at Wisconsin to finally be bringing Badger Hockey back to where it’s supposed to be at.”
Baker, a Verona, Wisconsin native, knows first-hand about the Badgers and late March, early April hockey as he referenced past Wisconsin players like Joe Pavelski and John Byce, both past NCAA winners.
“We’re a confident group, a tight group,” said senior forward Tyler Inamoto. “We know how to play our game, and our game has success, so we’re confident in our ability to step up with the lack of experience. We’re looking to make a statement in this tournament. We have the guys to do it.
The Beavers come into the NCAA tourney after finishing the WCHA regular season in fourth place. Tom Serratore‘s club lost in the WCHA finals to regional companion Lake St. 6-3 in Mankato, MN. on Saturday. The Beavers haven’t qualified for the NCAA’s since 2009-10. The squad propelling them there this year is well-balanced and led by junior Alex Ierullo (23pts), seniors Brendan Harris (20pts) and Ethan Somoza (18pts), and brothers Lukas, a freshman, and Owen, a junior, Sillinger with 14 and 15 points respectively. Junior goalie Zach Driscoll has shouldered the load in the crease going 14-9-3 with 2.27 GAA, .924 SV%, and 2 shutouts.
“We’re a hard-working team. Everyone has a motor,” said senior captain Brad Johnson about the Beavers style of play. “We work our butts off. We’re strong on the offensive. We’re strong defensively, and our goaltending is strong as well.”
“We know coming into it that they (Wisconsin) are a highly-skilled group of guys,” said the 5′-9″ defenseman from Chesterfield, Mo. “That’s no secret.”
Tyler Vold added that the team has enjoyed themselves and is taking it all in.
“It’s been awesome, something new for all of us being in the tournament,” said the Andover, Minn native. “We’re a hardworking group. We’re blue-collar. We bring everything we got every night. That’s something we take pride in. We’re all really excited and anxious to get the game going tomorrow.”
#6 Massachusetts Minutemen (Hockey East) 16-5-4 vs. #13 Lake Superior State Lakers (WCHA) 19-6-3 Friday, March 26, 6:30 pm
The Minutemen won the Hockey East conference tournament for the first time in school history after coming in third during the regular season. Greg Carvel‘s club enters the postseason with bitter memories of their last trip to the big dance, a 3-0 loss to Minnesota-Duluth in 2019’s Finals. The Minutemen went 11-2-2 at home and 5-3-2 on the road. UMass has a luxury of sorts in goal, where both Filip Lindberg and Matt Murray can carry the team. Lindberg, a junior from Espoo, Finland, has been the hot hand lately, backstopping the Minutemen through the Hockey East tournament run. Lindberg went 7-1-4 with 3 shutouts while carrying a 1.46 GAA and .940 SV%. Murray, a senior, went 9-4 with a 2.00 GAA, .913 SV%, and 3 Shutouts.
“It’s going to definitely be a really hard game,” said junior Bobby Trivigno. “I don’t think it’s going to be flashy plays or anything like that.”
“I think the corner battles and time in the offensive zone are going to be very important to our game,” added senior Captain Jake Gaudet.
The Lake St Lakers finished the regular WCHA season in second place. Damon Whitten‘s team won the conference tourney to clinch their first NCAA appearance in 25 years. The Lakers are led by juniors AshtonCalder, averaging a point per game, and Pete Veillette (13-13-26). Senior Captain William Riedell anchors the defense. The 6′-2″ Greensboro, NC native has been a mainstay on the Laker blueline all four seasons in Sault Ste Marie with 137 games played. Mareks Mitens have patrolled the goal-mouth for a majority of the last two years. This season the Latvian went 14-5-3 with a 1.86 GAA and .933 SV%. Defense and timely goal scoring was the formula for Whitten and the Lakers this year.
“I think it will be a good matchup,” said Captain Lukas Kaelble. “Fun to play.”
“We worked hard all year to get here,” said Pete Veillette. “I think we just want to make a good impression in the first game. we’re just ready to go at this point.”
Wisconsin 5 Bemidji 1
Massachusetts 3 Lake St. 2
Massachusetts ekes out a win over Wisconsin on Saturday.