Of this year’s bracket, no regional is as decorated with history or filled with current stories. The DCU Center in Worcester, MA plays host to the Northeast Regional this weekend. Let’s take a look at the teams and see how they matchup.
#1. Cornell Big Red vs #4. Boston University Terriers
Potentially the most anticipated game of the weekend, ancient rivals rematch in Worcester. Cornell and Boston University met earlier this season in New York City on Thanksgiving weekend back in November. Cornell won, but BU has regrouped and is poised for another Tournament run.
Cornell led the ECAC for the entire season, paced by an exceptionally large and talented of 11 freshmen. The head of the class is goaltender Matt Galajda, a contender for the Mike Richter Award this season. He led the nation in shutouts, the ECAC in GAA, and finished second in the conference for save percentage behind Colgate’s Colton Point.
The defense in front of him, starring Yanni Kaldis and Alec McCrea, helped the Big Red to the lowest GAA total in the conference, a staggering 1.52. The offense has also been quite strong. Anthony Angello and Trevor Yates led the Red to 3.07 goals per game, third-most in the ECAC. Those two, in particular, provide a strong dose of veteran guidance to a young team eager for a Championship run.
Boston University was expected to win most games they played. After going 8-11-3 through the first half of the year, the Terriers rallied to win the Hockey East Tournament and clinch one of the last spots in the NCAA Tournament. Jordan Greenway and Brady Tkachuk give BU offense and hitting on the top forward line that few units can matchup with. BU ranked third in Hockey East partly due to the physicality of Greenway and Tkachuk contrasting with the skill of Bobo Carpenter and Patrick Curry.
The blue line can also jump into the play. Brandon Hickey, Dante Fabbro, and Chad Krys are all quality two-way defensemen who can anchor a power play and patrol the passing lanes to pick off passes. Jake Oettinger picked up his play from a major sophomore slump around Christmas time to earn the Hockey East Tournament MVP, shutting out Providence in the Title game. He has seen every game situation possible and has proved his worth as a money goalie.
This may be the evenest matchup of the tournament. Both teams can score, defend, play the passing lanes, make big saves, and win big hockey games. However, due to BU’s experience and Cornell’s lack of big game situations seen, and their last outing against Princeton, I’m picking BU to win a classic.
#2. Northeastern Huskies vs #3. Michigan Wolverines
Northeastern is trying to extend their best season in a generation while Michigan is opening a new chapter in their long history.
The Huskies are new to the position of being favored in the NCAA Tournament, but not to the competition itself. Northeastern won its first Beanpot since 1988, and contended for their second Hockey East Title in three years. They were knocked out of the Hockey East Tournament by Providence, but qualified for their second NCAA Tournament appearance in three years.
The Huskies rode their top line to success. Dylan Sikura, Adam Gaudette, and captain Nolan Stevens all ranked in the top 30 for scoring. Gaudette led the nation in scoring while Sikura ranked fourth. Both were nominated for the Hobey Baker Award. Their offense, supported by Zach Solow, Biagio Lerario, and others, ranked fifth nationally in goals per game and third on the power play.
Surprisingly, the Huskies are just as capable defensively. Northeastern led Hockey East with a 2.05 GAA. Jeremy Davies and Garrett Cecere led the way for NU on the blue line after Garrett Cockerill departed around Christmas time. Perhaps the most unexpected piece of the Huskies is their goaltending. Ryan Ruck went down with a concussion in November and freshman Cayden Primeau came in and earned the job, winning the Eberley Award in the Beanpot and the Hockey East Goaltender of the year award. He ranked 5th nationally in save percentage and led Hockey East in both save percentage and GAA.
Michigan enters the game under new leadership. Mel Pearson is the first coach in NCAA history to lead two different teams to the NCAA Tournament, doing so with Michigan Tech last season. Pearson is succeeding legendary Michigan Coach Red Berenson and did a great job in his first season. Michigan finished 3rd in the Big 10 and won 20 games. They did so behind Connor Marody’s tremendous skating and playmaking. The junior led the Big 10 in assists and tied for sixth nationally.
Tony Calderon and Jake Slater are also quality offensive forces for the Wolverines. The defense has been a concern for the Wolverines. Michigan ranked in the back half of the Big 10 for GAA, only lowering their total later in the season. Hayden Lavigne earned the netminding job late on in the year and helped the Wolverines to a brutal series against Ohio State. They fell, but they are now rested and ready to battle the Huskies.
While the Wolverines have the talent to make things interesting, they are a young team with a young coach. Jim Madigan has built this team in his image and the Huskies are a battle-hardened unit. I think Northeastern’s offense will overwhelm Michigan.
In a hypothetical matchup between Northeastern and BU, I think the Huskies offense matchups nicely and would result in the Huskies making their 2nd trip to the Frozen Four.