It is every college hockey fan’s favorite time of year, NCAA tournament time. Over the next three days I will be previewing all four regionals, who I think makes it out of them, things to watch for, and give a little bit on how each team got there. Today I will be previewing the East (Providence) Regional and the Northeast (Manchester) Regional, with the Midwest (South Bend) Regional to follow tomorrow and West (Fargo) Regional to close out on Thursday.
East Regional (Providence, RI)
This year, Providence, RI was chose to host the East Regional at the Dunkin Donuts Center. The Semifinal games take place on Saturday, March 28 starting at 3:00pm Eastern Daylight Time. The four teams that will be playing in the East Regional are the Miami (OH) RedHawks, Denver Pioneers, Boston College Eagles, and Providence Friars.
Top seed Miami plays Providence in their first round match up. Aside from Boston University drawing Yale in their first game, this is the toughest 1 vs 4 match up in the entire tournament. Providence spent some time in the top 10 of the USCHO rankings early this season, but gradually fell down the ladder as things did not go the way they had planned for some points this season. You can look back at their 6-1 loss in North Dakota as maybe the starting point for their spiral down in the first half.
Providence is a team that has some skill up front, but is not afraid to bang some bodies around either. The Friars are led up front by Junior Nick Saracino. The St. Louis native leads this team in goals (13), assists (20) and points (33) and looks to add to his totals this weekend. One can’t forget John Gillies in net either. The every day man for the Friars has 20 victories in 35 games played this season. His .931 save percent and 1.95 goals against average find him in the top 10 in the NCAA in both those categories and could steal some games for Providence, especially playing a Miami team without Riley Barber and Blake Coleman.
Miami is coming off of their NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship, but doing so with an expense. Junior Riley Barber looked to go down with some sort of leg injury during the contest and would have to be helped on the ice during the championship celebration. Barber was unable to put any weight on his left leg and was not wearing his skate on that foot either. Blake Coleman was also lost due to getting a five minute major for contact to the head and a game misconduct penalty, which was his third game misconduct of the season. While he did score all three goals for the RedHawks, Coleman would sit nearly half the game in the locker room and has to now sit out Saturday’s first round game due to NCAA rules. With Miami not having Coleman and likely Barber, Captain Austin Cznarik will have to rally the troops to make up for that scoring loss.
This game could very well be a first round upset. Providence slows down Miami with their hard hitting and will make things difficult for Miami offensively, taking advantage of being at “home” and Miami not having Coleman and Barber. Providence wins 3-2.
For the 2 vs 3 game in the Providence region, we have Denver playing Boston College. Denver has spent a good portion of their season in the top 10 of the USCHO poll and playing in the NCHC has earned their two seed. Boston College isn’t the power house like everyone has come to know over the past decade, but they still have played a pretty consistent game all year.
The Boston College Eagles are coming off of a second place tie in the Hockey East standings with Providence this season, only behind Boston University. This is a team that isn’t afraid to go to the front of the net and get the gritty goals, but also has the skill to penetrate the middle of the ice to make a play. However, the Eagles are not too strong along the walls and do not use physical play that much when it comes to gaining, or keeping control of the puck. It should be interesting to see if the speed of Denver burns them because of this. The Eagles are led on offense by Alex Tuch who has 28 points (14 goals 14 assists) on the season. The freshman is also a +15 on the season, so when he is on the ice, a goal very likely could be produced.
Denver is coming off a big 5-1 win in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff third place game over North Dakota Saturday afternoon. Denver coach Jim Montgomery decided to not play seniors Joey LaLeggia, Larkin Jacobson, and Daniel Doremus in the contest to not risk injury to them. Denver is a team with well all around balance who can hit, score, and has speed on the rush. Not only do you have to worry about the forwards on the rush, you have to worry about the defensemen sneaking up the weak side on the rush, especially when LaLeggia is on the ice. This has become a big part of the Denver offense and is a big reason why they were in the top 10 for most of the season.
Boston College will have to be more physical then usual if they want to have a chance in this one otherwise look for Denver to skate away with the victory. Denver wins 4-2.
Now, as for who comes out of the regional, Denver has been a team all season that can steal games and confuse the opposition’s defense with their defenders having an offensive mind. However, Providence has not had an easy schedule to this point of the season either. They had North Dakota on the road, and when you have to play Jack Eichel and Boston University in conference play, it can all but tune you up and make you that much better for the NCAA tournament. Although Providence one of two four seeds who I think can make it out of their regional, I still have to take Denver to come out of Providence.
Northeast Regional (Manchester, NH)
Perhaps the most difficult regional to be in, Manchester looks like any one of the four teams there have an equal chance to make it out. The regional games kick off Friday at 2:00pm Eastern Daylight Time with the one seed, Boston University, taking on four seed Yale. The second game takes place at 5:30 Eastern Daylight Time when two seed Minnesota-Duluth plays Minnesota for a fifth time this season.
When you talk Boston University, you talk freshman Jack Eichel. The Hobey Baker favorite has left his opponents shaking their heads wondering how he did what he did with the puck. The second ranked offense in the country, top in the tournament, can thank him for this. Eichel leads the country in assists (42), points (66), and is fifth in the country in goals with 24. However, not far behind him is Evan Rodrigues with an amazing 57 points (18 goals 39 assists) on the season. With the fast moving, powerful Boston University offense, it will be very tough to take the puck from them as they always seem to find a way to get it on net one way or another.
However, their opponent, Yale, has done magical things as the four seed in the past. Two years ago, they went to the Midwest Regional in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Their opening round opponent? Top seed Minnesota. Yale would upset them in overtime, but would have to get through a very tough North Dakota team in the Regional Final. Once again, overcoming the odds, they beat North Dakota and find themselves two games later calling themselves national champions. This season, Yale once again earned one of the final at large bids into the NCAA tournament and come in as the nation’s top defensive team.
What happens when you put together the nation’s top offense against the nation’s top defense in the first round of the NCAA tournament? You get a classic in the making. As long as Yale can control Eichel and Rodrigues, this should be an exciting game to watch. In playoff hockey, it seems like great defenses usually beat great offenses which makes this one tough to pick a winner, but Yale did it two years ago, what makes one think that they can’t do it again? Yale wins 3-2 (ot).
The second game in the regional could quite possibly be the most exciting opening round game in the entire tournament. On paper, it has classic written all over it. Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth have no love lost between the schools and get one more time to prove who the superior school in Minnesota is that wears maroon and gold.
Minnesota had a not so good first half of the season, but over the last month has been one of the hottest teams in all of college hockey. Their recent win in the Big10 championship game over hometown favorite Michigan solidified their spot in the NCAA Tournament and kept Michigan out, leaving the Big10 with just one team in the tournament. The runner-up last year was left with a sour taste in their mouth when Union defeated them 7-4 in the national championship game, especially after their dramatic victory over long time rival North Dakota two nights earlier. Hobey Baker finalist Mike Riley leads the team in assists (36) and points (42). His puck moving ability from the blue line has given Minnesota chances to score goals every time he has it in the offensive zone. Minnesota also has seven players with 10 goals or more and is led by Kyle Rau who has 20 goals this season.
Minnesota-Duluth did not make it out of the NCHC quarterfinal round of their conference tournament when they were swept by Denver in Denver two weeks ago. This speedy team is on an extra week of rest and has had that much more time to get healthy and ready for the NCAA tournament. The Bulldogs do not have a 20 goal scorer, or one player with 30 points this season, however, this is a team that has a hand full of guys who can find the net, making them tough to defend against since you don’t know who is going to be the one shooting the puck. Also, the Bulldogs have a goalie, Kasimir Kaskisuo, who was a finalist for NCHC goalie of the year with 17 wins, a .915 save percent and a 2.31 goals against average. He is going to be tough to beat and Minnesota will have to not be afraid to get gritty out front of the net to find the twine against him.
Again, this is another game where the winner will be tough to pick. With it being the fifth time the two teams see each other this season, there are no secrets between them. This one may come down to which goalie is playing better, Adam Wilcox or Kaskisuo. Right now, the hotter team is Minnesota, but is a hotter team gonna be better then a rested team at this point of the season? UMD wins 4-3.
This regional is probably going to be the toughest one to get out of for any team in it. I’m not so sure if Duluth can match-up with the high powered defensive style Yale plays, same can be said for Minnesota. I think for either of those two teams to advance to the Frozen Four, they better hope for BU to knock off Yale in game one. If Yale does get out of game one alive, they are my pick to come out of this regional.