The 2011 NCAA Men’s Division I Hockey Championship starts Friday afternoon with Union-Minnesota Duluth playing the first semifinal in the East regional. hornface.com will take an in-depth look at the NCAA bracket and tell you which teams will make it to St. Paul over the second weekend in April. Let’s start with the East region in Bridgeport, Connecticut at the Webster Bank Arena…
In the East, the really intriguing game looks to be the Union-UMD matchup. Union’s top scorer was junior forward Kelly Zajac with forty-two points on thirteen goals and twenty-nine assists. Zajac was also one of only two Union players to score over a point per game (the other being Adam Presizniuk). Daniel Carr led the team in power play goals with twelve through the ECAC regular season and tournament. Goaltending wise, Keith Kinkaid played most of the season starting thirty-seven games and going 25-9-3. With his 1.98 GAA, definitely watch for Union to be stealthy defensively. As for Minnesota-Duluth, I personally saw these guys play twice and were 0-1-1 in Minneapolis when I saw them play the University of Minnesota. The results between the Bulldogs and Gophers in Duluth had UMD winning and tying, so UMD is not necessarily a bad team. Jack Connolly led Minnesota-Duluth in points with fifty-five (16-39-55). His brother Mike had a team-leading twenty-six goals, of which six were on the man-up. The Bulldogs power play was .219 on the season but as a whole, when scoring first, UMD was 12-5-2. The first goal could dictate this matchup.
As for Yale and Air Force in the other regional semifinal, this one seems real easy to call. It’d be the #1 Yale Bulldogs, right? Sophomore forward Andrew Miller led the Bulldogs in overall points with forty-five while garnering only twelve goals. Brian O’Neill and Brock Little tied for the regular season team scoring honors with eighteen goals each. Let’s just say that Yale is a powerhouse. They’ve been that way all year. Two key stats: When Yale scored first this season, they were 9-2-0. But, they were more impressive when surrendering the first goal. 18-4-1. Does that sound like a lofty mark? The Bulldogs sure don’t think so. Expect Ryan Rondeau and his 1.83 goals against average to start in the semifinal and maybe the regional final should Air Force not be a fly in Yale’s ointment. As for Air Force, they were 14-7-6 in Atlantic Hockey which is not really saying too much since the Atlantic Hockey conference has two levels—RIT, and the second level. RIT and Air Force were the best teams in the AHA all year, and for the conference final to come down to one goal is saying a lot. Jacques Lamoureux led the Falcons in goals and points scored this year with twenty goals and forty-four points. Thirteen of the senior forward’s points came on the power play. Jason Torf should get the start in net on Friday for the Falcons as well.
Onto the Midwest region now in Green Bay, Wisconsin at the Resch Center…there is one semifinal game that particularly jumps out at me, and that’s the game between #7 Denver and #10 Western Michigan. The winner will likely play North Dakota in the regional final after the Sioux play RPI in the first round. The Pioneers finished with a 24-11-5 record on the season but they also have one of the most impressive tandem forward groups in college hockey with Jason Zucker and Drew Shore. Witnessing how they played in the WCHA Final Five only proves this, but that WCHA final also had great goaltending and you can thank Pioneer goaltender Sam Brittain for that. Brittain and his 2.24 goals against average should get both starts in the Midwest, and you could see North Dakota play Denver again for the second time in the last seven or eight days. Denver, like Yale, is dominant no matter what happens. Denver is 11-5-2 when scoring first and 13-6-3 when the opponent scores first. Western Michigan won two 5-2 games in the CCHA Tournament semifinals and finals over college hockey powers Michigan and Miami. The Broncos have a senior center in Mike Campbell that led the team in goals with eighteen while only having six on the power play. Watch for Bronco head man Jeff Blashill to possibly use either Jerry Kuhn or Nick Pisellini in net, as they have 2.37 and 2.35 goals against averages respectively. Kuhn has played in eleven more games.
It’s North Dakota versus RPI in the second semifinal here in the Midwest. Another matchup that sounds easy on paper, so I won’t go into much detail here. North Dakota was the dominant team in the WCHA, winning both the Broadmoor Trophy (WCHA tournament) and the McNaughton Cup (regular season crown), North Dakota appears ready with their impressive roster of talent (including Chay Genoway, Corban Knight, and Matt Frattin) to roll over RPI. Don’t forget about Aaron Dell. He was the other half of the brilliance that was the WCHA championship game. RPI plays in a packed ECAC during the regular year, but a 20-12-5 record should only earn you what you sew, and that’s what RPI got with its fourth seed in the Midwest. Two players—Chase Polacek and Tyler Helfrech—scored more than ten goals this year, and as a team started the season 1-2-2 in their first five games. RPI ended the season 1-3-1 in its last five, so I expect North Dakota to roll here.
Two regions complete. Now it’s time to move on to the Northeast regional in Manchester, New Hampshire at the Verizon Wireless Arena, where Miami-Ohio plays New Hampshire and Notre Dame takes on Merrimack. Miami-Ohio won the CCHA Tournament over Western Michigan and Redhawks bench captain Enrico Blasi is in his twelfth season with his alma-mater. The Redhawk to watch for this weekend is senior forward Andy Miele. Miele’s seventy-one points led all scorers for the Redhawks and Miele was second in goals scored to Reilly Smith. Miele, Smith, and Carter Camper were also the only three Redhawks to average over a point per game with Miele averaging 1.86 points per to lead the threesome. Cody Reichard and Connor “I Want To Take A” Knapp could both see the net in the first round game for Miami, but it’s time for New Hampshire. UNH enters the NCAAs as a fourth seed in their home regional, so the Wildcats will have the home crowd advantage. New Hampshire finished the season 21-10-6 while Paul Thompson led the team in scoring with twenty-eight goals and fifty-two points (28-24-52). Twelve of his goals came on the man advantage, so look for New Hampshire to ride Thompson like a rented mule on offense this weekend. Defensively, it’s Matt Di Girolamo, with his 2.48 goals against getting the nod in goal for the Wildcats. New Hampshire won thirteen games when scoring first, compared to just eight when their opponent scored first. UNH still had winning records in both situations, so expect the first goal to be key.
Notre Dame and Merrimack play in the other game in the Northeast regional, and one could again expect to go with Notre Dame on paper. But, let’s start with Merrimack here. Finishing fourth in the ECAC with a 16-8-3 record, the Warriors only had seven players with double-digit goal scoring totals. Jesse Todd led the team with seventeen goals for thirty-one points overall (17-14-31), but it was junior forward Ryan Flanigan who came hot on Jesse’s tail with fifteen goals for thirty-two points overall (15-17-32). Stephane Da Costa had only fourteen goals but his thirty assists easily led him to be the Warriors top scoring threat. On the goaltending side, expect Merrimack to go with Joe Cannata, as Cannata played in thirty-eight games this year for Merrimack. Notre Dame, and head coach Jeff Jackson finished 23-13-5 overall on the season earning the three seed in the Northeast. TJ Tynan and Anders Lee shared the bulk of the goal scoring duties for the Fighting Irish, scoring forty-four combined goals and being the only twosome to score over a point a game. Between them though, only eleven power play goals exist. The Irish really have one goaltender to go to and that’s Mike Johnson. He was 18-9-4 on the year with a 2.61 GAA, so expect Notre Dame to
need their offensive game cracking on all cylinders.
One more region to go, and that’s the West regional in St. Louis, Missouri at the Scottrade Center. The West sees Boston College as its number one seed to avoid a clash with New Hampshire not being able to move out of its Northeast regional. The Eagles, who won it all in 2007 back in…St. Louis, Missouri…and 2010 in Detroit (Rock City), Michigan, enter the NCAA Tournament with hopes to repeat as the champion. BC won thirty of its thirty-eight games played and so they rightfully earned a number one seed. Boston College also enters the NCAAs having won eight of their last ten games including a Hockey East crown over fellow NCAA entry Merrimack. BC head man Jerry York relied heavily on junior forward Cam Atkinson (fifty-one points, 30-21-51) and senior forward Brian Gibbons (fifty points, 18-32-50) but both these guys only produced fifteen of those forty-eight combined goals on the man advantage. Boston College had a .240 power play on the year, and was 15-3-0 when scoring first. Boston College also has the awareness to come back from down a marker as BC was 15-4-1 when opponents scored first. Watch for the Eagle penalty kill, at .869 to mean something should Boston College be down early. Boston College plays Colorado College, who exited the WCHA Tournament in the semifinals after coming up short against North Dakota. The Tigers were really solid in the WCHA Tournament games they played, and at the Final Five, CC scored nine total goals while their opponents scored only seven. The Tigers finished the regular season with a 22-18-3 record and bench boss Scott Owens really relied on Stephen Schultz, Jaden Schwartz, and Tyler Johnson to score. The three combined have fifty-one goals and one hundred and twenty two total points. Behind the pipes, Joe Howe is CC’s first (and last) line of defense even with his 2.93 goals against average stinging only slightly. This matchup is easy on paper, but let me assure you that it’s not.
The final opening round game to preview is between two former CCHA schools, of which one is now in the WCHA. The Michigan Wolverines “hailed to the Victors” and were given a two seed in the NCAAs this year while UNO were given a three seed even with strong play in the regular season. Let’s start with Michigan. The Wolverines won the CCHA third-place game over Notre Dame 4-2 but might’ve had the advantage in seeding due to a 26-10-4 record. The Maize and Blue have had scoring power from both Carl Hagelin and Louie Caporusso. The two have scored twenty-eight combined goals for seventy-six combined points. Hagelin led the Wolverines in both goals scored and points, as well as power play tallies with seven. Michigan was a neutral .185 on the power play this year but their penalty kill at .824 is right where it should be. Michigan also rallies behind its hockey club when it scores first. In twenty games, Michigan is 17-3-0 when they see red first (no disrespect, Red Berenson). As for Nebraska-Omaha, Dean Blais and his Mavericks completed their first year as a member of the WCHA and were 21-15-2. UNO was swept by Bemidji State in the first round of the WCHA Tournament, so I was honestly surprised when their Pairwise was good enough to get the Mavs in to the dance hall. Matt Ambroz led UNO with seventeen goals and assists for thirty-four total points but don’t sleep on junior goaltender John Faulkner. He was 20-14-2 with a 2.55 goals against and a .908 save percentage.
Picks? You want my picks? Here we go.
#1 Yale over #16 Air Force 3-0
#9 Minnesota-Duluth upsets #8 Union 3-2
Regional Final: #1 Yale over #9 Minnesota-Duluth 2-0
#2 North Dakota over #15 Rensselaer 5-1
#7 Denver over #10 Western Michigan 4-2
Regional Final: #2 North Dakota over Denver 4-3 in OT
#3 Miami-Ohio over #14 New Hampshire 2-1 in OT
#11 Notre Dame upsets #6 Merrimack 2-0
Regional Final: #3 Miami-Ohio over #11 Notre Dame 3-2
#4 Boston College over #13 Colorado College 3-1
#5 Michigan over #12 Nebraska-Omaha 2-0
Regional Final: #5 Michigan upsets #4 Boston College 4-3
Frozen Four-National Semifinals
#1 Yale over #3 Miami-Ohio 2-0
#2 North Dakota over #5 Michigan 3-2
National Championship Game: #2 North Dakota stuns #1 Yale 3-2 in OT
hornface.com will have the NCAA Tournament opening rounds covered with yours truly covering the Midwest AND West regionals with the game reviews you’ve grown to know and love. Updates and recaps will also come in for the East and Northeast regions throughout the weekend. Log onto the National College Hockey Examiner Facebook page for faceoff to final buzzer coverage this weekend for the opening rounds, and then April 6-9 for the Frozen Four in St Paul, Minnesota! Email Disch61@hotmail.com with your comments or questions as well as leaving them below. Also, if you want to be updated when articles post from the NCAA Tournament, click “subscribe” below as well!
Until next time, I’ll see you at the rink!