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College Hockey:
NCAA East Regional Preview

The NCAA championship tournament opens up in Worcester, Mass., this year. The Centrum Centre hosts the East Regional, which features several intriguing matchups — as well as the intriguing nonappearance of one Eastern power. Boston College fans made their discontentment known on the Internet and elsewhere last weekend, as the Eagles were shipped West despite a late-season run which climaxed with the Hockey East tourney title.

Still in the East, however, are HEA juggernauts New Hampshire, which lies in wait with a bye and the number-one seed, and Maine, which takes on Ohio State, one of four CCHA teams in this year’s championship.

The other first-round game matches Western tourney champions, as CCHA titlist Michigan opposes WCHA champ Denver. Will Massachusetts fans turn out to see two teams from faraway lands (in college hockey parlance, at least) battle it out? The tournament selection committee apparently wasn’t concerned, even though that means only one Eastern team will take the ice Friday in Worcester.

In the quarterfinals, UNH will take on the Denver-Michigan winner, while ECAC regular-season and tournament champion Clarkson — arguably the sharpest team in the nation over the second half of the season — pairs off with either Maine or OSU for the right to advance to the newly-nicknamed Frozen Four, which, incongruously, takes place in sunny Anaheim, Calif., this year.

(Numbers preceding team names are East Regional seeds.)

First Round
No. 3 Maine (27-6-4) vs. No. 6 Ohio State (21-15-4)
Friday, 5 pm ET, Centrum Centre, Worcester, Mass.

Maine Black Bears

Maine saw its hopes for a 10th trip to the Hockey East title game in the last 13 years go down the drain when the Black Bears fell to Boston College in the semifinals, 3-2.

“That was a bitterly disappointing loss,” says coach Shawn Walsh, whose team lost two of three video replay rulings. “It was a typical game of hockey — that’s a game of inches, and the inches didn’t go our way.”

While swallowing the bitter pill of the loss, Walsh also congratulates the league on its new attendance records for one night (14,278) and two (28,038).

“What a great tribute to the development of the league!” he says. “It was an electric atmosphere both nights and Hockey East took another step forward. Our commissioner [Joe Bertagna] deserves high marks. In general, it was a great weekend for our league.”

As for what his team can take out of the weekend, Walsh says, “What you have to do is take a step back emotionally from it when you’re coaching and say, ‘What can we do better next week?’”

For starters, Walsh will be hoping to cure the team’s power-play blues. Over the last six games, the Black Bears have scored only two goals in 36 manpower advantages. That proved decisive against BC when Maine went 1-for-7 while the Eagles went 2-for-4.

Nervous Maine-iacs are also concerned about the bigger picture, of only four wins in the last eight games. While this may be the Black Bears’ low-water mark for momentum, they still won nine straight games prior to those eight. And all but the oldest of the four losses came at the hands of either #2 UNH or #5 BC.

Not great signs, but not reasons to skip the trek down Route 95 either. Especially since Ohio State has only three wins (all over Ferris State) in its last eight games. One suspects that Maine’s four losses will seem like ancient history if Maine knocks off the Buckeyes in the first round and heads into a second-round clash against Clarkson with some momentum.

First things first, however. The Buckeyes are a talented team that features the CCHA’s top goaltender, Jeff Maund (2.29 GAA, .922 SV%) and one of its top forwards, Hugo Boisvert (24-27–51).

“They clearly are a team that supports their goaltender and plays off him, and has good, quick offensive talent,” says Walsh. “In their last 17 games, they’ve only given up more than three goals once. That, in itself, tells you it’s going to be a dogfight.

“I think they’ve improved their speed from a year ago and they have Final Four experience.”

Speaking of experience, there isn’t a single player on the Maine squad with any NCAA tournament experience.

“I don’t think that’ll be a big factor,” says Walsh. “Our coaches have been through enough. [Assistant coach] Grant [Standbrook] has five national championship rings as an assistant. I have one as a head coach. We can handle that. I’m not worried about that.”

If the Black Bears can advance, they’ll face a rested Clarkson team that won the ECAC regular season and tournament and is 18-1 since completing its nonconference schedule in early January.

“They got better as the season went along,” says Walsh. “They seem to have bought into their system. You’ve got to give [coach] Mark [Morris] a lot of credit for how he’s turned it around.”

For Western fans, here’s a snapshot of the Black Bears. Their top line includes Hobey Baker finalist Steve Kariya (23-34–57), Cory Larose (20-26–46) and freshman Barrett Heisten (12-13–25). Their offensive depth is impressive with Dan Kerluke (22-16–38) the top gun on the second line and Marcus Gustafsson (10-16–26) on the checking unit.

David Cullen (10-28–38) is an All-America candidate on the blue line and Maine has been one of the better defensive teams in Hockey East (2.33 goals against per game) while featuring three freshman on defense: Peter Metcalf, Doug Janik and Ed Wood.

Alfie Michaud (2.41 GAA, .904 SV%) has put the inconsistency of his freshman and sophomore seasons behind him this year and become, in this writer’s opinion, one of the league’s top four goaltenders.

“We’ve been looking for this week all year,” says Walsh. “We’re looking forward to taking part in the tournament and are hopeful that some of the breaks we didn’t get last weekend might go our way this weekend.”

Ohio State Buckeyes

When the NCAA Selection Show aired Sunday, Mar. 21, the Buckeyes just shook their heads at the amount of attention paid them. Other than the mention of the bracket and pairing with Maine, not one word was said about Ohio State.

“Typical,” said captain Dan Cousineau.

It is the kind of thing the Buckeyes have come to expect. When OSU made it to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history last year, ESPN featured Yale, which was making its second appearance. During the tournament banquet in Boston last year, the MC quipped that Ohio State “is a good football school.”

The perceived lack of respect is something that motivates this Ohio State hockey team.

“The selection show is going to help our team,” says sophomore goaltender Jeff Maund. “It may seem kind of silly, but when people talk about Ohio State being the last team in…a lot of guys realize we’re still not getting a lot of respect.”

“I really like our draw,” says Cousineau. “If they want to give us the six seed, we’ll take it. I don’t think it bothers any of us. You’ve got the 12 best teams in the country, and as far as seeding goes, it doesn’t really matter.”

In fairness to the perception at large, the Buckeyes did limp into the playoffs, losing four of their final six regular-season games. After sweeping Ferris State at home, Ohio State lost to Michigan 3-2 in a tough CCHA semifinal game.

The Bucks are led by Hobey Baker candidate Hugo Boisvert (24-27–51), who is flanked by fellow Quebecois Eric Meloche (11-15–26) and Jean-Francois Dufour (9-15–24). This line is good, and the Boisvert-Meloche combo is deadly when it clicks. Boisvert has great hands and tremendous hockey sense; Meloche, who has played injured all season, is the team’s top sparkplug, fearless and with a great shot from the right wing.

The second line of seniors Chris Richards (9-27–36), flanked by Dan Cousineau (6-4–10) and Neal Rech (6-3–9). The role of this line is primarily defensive, but Richards and Boisvert play well together on the power play, and Richards and Rech kills penalties very effectively. Look for Richards and Rech to break away at least once during the game — maybe even shorthanded — but don’t hold your breath waiting for the lamp to light.

The OSU defense is better than most people realize, but it allows a lot of shots on goal, and it’s playing very banged up. Ryan Jestadt (9-3–12) and Andre Signoretti (3-21–24) are both offensive threats, and each is a very good defender. Ryan Skaleski (2-0–2, +3) may not have numbers that set the world on fire, but he’s a great stay-at-home defenseman.

Given the number of shots on goal he’s faced–he’s made over 1,000 saves–Jeff Maund’s numbers in net are even more impressive. With a 2.29 overall GAA and a .922 save percentage, Maund calls playoff hockey “better than Christmas.” In three postseason games, Maund has posted a 2.02 GAA and a .930 SV%.

When the Buckeye power play clicks, it’s fast, successful 17.6 percent of the time. For a while during midseason, the Ohio State PK was phenomenal, but now it kills off penalties at the more earthly rate of about 87 percent.

“I really like the bracket we’re in, and hopefully I can say that after Friday night,” says head coach John Markell. “It’s a great chance to play against a team that I think is going to play a lot like Michigan — maybe not have the size of Michigan, but the quickness. We’ll most definitely have to shut down Kariya, but they’ll have to shut down Boisvert.

“We have a lot of guys playing at the top of their game right now. We can’t play any better than we did against Michigan. We just got thwarted by a two-inch piece of steel.”

Boisvert says that he can’t comment on the Hobey Baker candidate matchup between himself and Steve Kariya because “I don’t know that much about him.” He adds, “I see it more as my team against his team. I’m probably not even going to play against him, line-wise.”

Cousineau has said repeatedly this season that this Buckeye team does not feel as though it accomplished anything real last season, having made tournament appearances but come home with no hardware. That’s the kind of thing that motivates the team, he says — that, and proving that last year was the rule, not the exception.

“We want to repeat our success and improve on it,” says Cousineau. “It certainly goes a ways to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke. You have to win a lot of games to make it to the tournament.”

And the consensus among Buckeye players is that last year’s experience can only help in Worcester. “We know it’s going to take a disciplined game,” says Maund, “and I think it’s good for the guys that we were there last year.

Boisvert adds, “We won’t be as nervous, that’s for sure. We know to be calm.”

Picks

Paula C. Weston: No one should count out the Buckeyes. They may have limped into the playoffs, but Jeff Maund is on this time of year, and this one will be close. All-CCHA Frozen Four!

…and then she woke up.

All right. Ohio State has trouble with Hockey East. After losing to BC in Boston last year, the Buckeyes lost again to Boston College in the Ice Breaker, then to Boston University at the Mariucci Classic. Perhaps it won’t matter that the Black Bears are from Maine, but the fact remains that the Buckeyes have trouble with that kind of speedy, aggressively offensive game. If OSU plays its game and dictates the pace of the game, the Buckeyes will win. More than likely, however, Maine will control this one. But it will be close. Maine, 4-3.

Scott Brown: Motivation might be in the Buckeyes’ favor, but most everything else plays toward the Black Bears, including the venue. Maine, 5-3

Dave Hendrickson: Maine wins, 3-2.

Becky Blaeser/Jayson Moy: In the battle of Hobey Baker finalists, it will not be Kariya and Boisvert who make the difference. The second and third lines do the trick, taking the Bears to Saturday night. Maine 4, OSU 3

Todd D. Milewski: Maine over Ohio State, 5-1.

First Round
No. 4 Denver (26-12-2) vs. No. 5 Michigan (24-12-6)
Friday, 8:30 pm ET, Centrum Centre, Worcester, Mass.

Denver Pioneers

If you had told George Gwozdecky at Christmas that his Denver Pioneers would end up as a fourth seed in the NCAA tournament, what would he have said?

“I would have said it was going to be a stretch,” said Gwozdecky, whose team entered the break with a 7-7 record. “I think we have the kind of team that could do it, but at that point [it] would have been not really very realistic considering where we were at. But I always believed that we had a good team but we just had not been able to put it together. Since that point, we’ve gelled and played a lot better and, as a result, find ourselves in this position.”

Since Christmas, the Pioneers are 19-5-2 overall and enter the NCAA tournament as the nation’s hottest team, having won their last nine games. That’s quite a turnaround from last season: a 14-game turnaround from last season’s 11-25-2 finish, to be exact.

And while DU didn’t even get close to the Final Five last season, the Pioneers won it this year, defeating No. 1 North Dakota to do so. Some might say it’s about time the Pioneers beat the Sioux, considering the fight they had put up in the four previous games, only to lose each.

“I thought we did some things much better defensively than we have in the previous games we played against them,” Gwozdecky said. “We’ve been doing that pretty well over our last eight, nine, 10 games.”

Here are some possible causes for the change in fortunes for Denver:

  • Goaltender Stephen Wagner. Despite allowing two goals early against Colorado College on Friday in the semifinal, he shook it off and held off UND to be named the tournament’s most valuable player. A hot goaltender can take you places in the postseason.
  • “I would like to think Steve is going to continue where he left off last weekend,” Gwozdecky said. “He didn’t start off real strong in that first period against CC, but his following five periods were real good. As usually happens, the team that has the best goaltending is going to win in these types of one-game tournaments.”

  • A rejuvenated power play. After leading the nation with the man advantage at one point late in the season, DU cooled, scoring only one goal in the six games before the championship tilt. But the Pioneers went 2-for-2 against UND and held the Sioux scoreless on the power play.
  • Gwozdecky couldn’t help but be pleased with the draw his team received.

    “I would have taken either one, but there’s no question I’m pleased with our bracket,” said Gwozdecky, whose team is the fourth seed in the East Regional, and will take on Michigan on Friday.

    “I’m pleased with the idea that we get to start the weekend on a Friday as opposed to a Saturday. With the ice surface as it is, we are much more comfortable with this ice surface (dimensions 200×85) than on an ice surface the size of Dane County Coliseum (200×97).”

    Many are looking at the DU-Michigan matchup because it should prove to be a tight game. But some others will be watching for another reason.

    It’s the long-awaited faceoff of the Comrie brothers — DU sniper Paul, the older of the two, and Michigan’s Mike, the CCHA Rookie of the Year.

    “I think a lot of people are speculating on the matchup between the Comrie brothers, their top line vs. our top line,” Gwozdecky said. “It’s been quite a bit of interest, whether they’re going to get matched up together or not. I think both would like to play against each other, and we’ll see what happens.”

    Gwozdecky, of course, has the last line change, so he’ll be the one that will decide what happens. He related Michigan to other teams he has already seen.

    “They remind me a lot of North Dakota or CC,” Gwozdecky said. “They’re a great skating team and a great transition team. They might not have the experienced scorers or the number of snipers that North Dakota has, but they have a lot that reminds me of that team.”

    Michigan Wolverines

    After getting past Ohio State 3-2 in the CCHA Semifinals — a win that head coach Red Berenson said the Wolverines were “lucky” to have — Michigan blew by Northern Michigan 5-1 in the CCHA title game.

    “Had it not been for the third period on Friday, we don’t know if we would be playing,” says Berenson. “That period could have been a pivotal period in our season. We’re glad we are in the NCAAs. We are not worried about where we’re playing or whom we’re playing.”

    The third period in question was a doozy, one in which the Buckeyes outshot the Wolverines 16-6 and managed to hit at least four posts. As Mark Kosick said afterwards, the game had the intensity of an NCAA championship game — so the Wolverines, no stranger to such things, are ready.

    Michigan has been a bit of an enigma this season, coming on strong toward the middle of the season, then slumping through an eight-game winless streak in late January and early February. Gone are Marty Turco, Bill Muckalt, Matt Herr — and the fabled Michigan Nine, a class that included Hobey Baker winner Brendan Morrison.

    But this Michigan team has an asset that has often gone overlooked: its senior class. In the long and illustrious history of Michigan hockey, the Wolverines have won the CCHA Championship just four times — three times with this senior class. And this senior class has two national titles under its collective belt.

    In looking to repeat this season, the Wolverines hope to match the feat of the 1953 Wolverines, another senior class that left Ann Arbor with three national title rings.

    Bobby Hayes, Dale Rominski, Sean Ritchlin, Greg Crozier, Justin Clark, and Bubba Berenzweig provide the heart and soul of this Wolverine team. Berenson lauds Hayes (6-14–20) as the consummate role player, someone who does anything asked of him. Rominski (14-8–22) is a smart player with great hockey sense and good hands.

    Ritchlin (11-5–16) and Crozier (6-6–12) looked stunning on line together with sophomore Mark Kosick (12-21–33) during the CCHA playoffs. This hard-working combo produced results even-strength and on the power play.

    Justin Clark (4-2–6) is another grinder, a mainstay of Michigan’s fourth line.

    Bubba Berenzweig (7-24–31), always an offensive threat, has turned into a fine defender as well.

    The temperament of this Michigan team is both similar and dissimilar to last year’s championship squad. Without Muckalt, there really is no breakout player; these Wolverines are hard-working, hard-hitting, fast-skating, blue-collar hockey players.

    Rookie goalie Josh Blackburn (2.27 GAA, .905 SV%) is more than capable of making the big play. For a tall guy, he has surprising quickness, and on the nights when he’s on, the puck is as big as a beach ball.

    CCHA Rookie of the Year Mike Comrie (18-25–43) led the team in scoring, followed by underrated sophomore Josh Langfeld (21-14–35), Kosick, Berenzweig, and defenseman Mike Van Ryn (10-13–23).

    Their numbers may not necessarily show this, but the Wolverines can score from anywhere. The quick Michigan power play converts at about 18 percent, but the Michigan penalty kill is vulnerable, successful only about 85 percent of the time.

    This Michigan squad has 16 members with NCAA tournament experience, and this is Michigan’s ninth consecutive tournament appearance.

    Senior Bobby Hayes says that the Wolverines are “excited about going out east and taking on Denver. However, we are kind of reserved. We really don’t want to show our emotions because we know there are some bigger prizes down the road.

    “[Denver is] one of the best teams in college hockey right now. It’s just going to be a challenge for us. We’ll go out and play a hard game and see what happens in the end.”

    Says Comrie, “I think we know what to expect. They [Denver] have a pretty good team, but I think if we play well, it will work for us.”

    Comrie will play against his brother, Paul, for the first time ever when the Wolverines meet the Pioneers Friday. The Denver Comrie captains the Pioneers, and led Denver in scoring this season (18-31–49). “It’s definitely going to be interesting,” says Mike. “He’s an offensive threat, fast and a good player.”

    Picks

    Todd D. Milewski: Denver over Michigan, 5-3

    Paula C. Weston: While the Wolverines no longer have Marty Turco and Bill Muckalt in their corner, they do have a senior class that has won three of Michigan’s four CCHA championships, and two national titles. If Josh Blackburn is on his game and this Michigan team is focused, New Hampshire will have to get through Anaheim by way of Ann Arbor. Michigan, 4-2

    Dave Hendrickson: Michigan, 4-3

    Becky Blaeser/Jayson Moy: Always go with the hot team, that’s what they say. Hey, which one of these teams is hotter? Hard to say, but the gut is to go with the Pioneers, who made a strong showing in Worcester two years ago, but fell to BU. Denver 4, Michigan 2

    Scott Brown: The Wolverines had a rough stretch at the tail end of the regular season, but they seem to have recovered. Tournament experience tells the tale. Michigan, 4-3

    Quarterfinal
    No. 2 Clarkson (25-10-1) vs. Maine/Ohio State
    Saturday, 5 p.m. ET, Centrum Centre, Worcester, Mass.

    Clarkson Golden Knights

    Clarkson is no stranger to the NCAA tournament. The Golden Knights have been there three straight years, but have been unable to advance to the semifinals in each of those years.

    This year the Golden Knights reached the NCAA tournament once again, and received a bye due to their double — winning both the ECAC regular-season championship and the tournament title. The Knights were the only team able to accomplish that feat this season in Division I.

    The Knights didn’t have it easy, though, as they won one-goal games both nights on the ice in Lake Placid.

    Friday night, the Golden Knights held a 4-0 lead after one period of play against Princeton and survived a tremendous comeback by the Tigers when Willie Mitchell scored with just 2.6 seconds remaining in the game on a 70-foot shot from the neutral zone.

    “It was bizarre,” said Clarkson head coach Mark Morris. “You can’t even imagine the emotions that we went through. We went from the first period playing real solid hockey to mediocrity in the second period when we really lost our focus. We sputtered on in from there.

    “Thank god for Willie’s goal.”

    Mitchell’s goal put the Knights in the championship game against North Country rival and fellow NCAA tournament participant St. Lawrence. The Knights led 1-0, but then fell behind 2-1 before Erik Cole tied things up in the second and captain Ben Maidment put the winning goal in the net in the third period to give the Knights their fourth ECAC championship and first since 1993, 3-2.

    “It’s nice to finally get over the hump,” said Morris. “We’ve been in that position before where we watched the other team celebrate. It was nice to win it for the seniors and the fans.”

    With the win, the bye was in hand. The Knights will play Saturday in Worcester as the two seed in the East.

    “We’re going to soak it all in for the next two days because we have a lot of work to do,” said Cole.

    The Knights will draw the winner of the Maine-Ohio State game on Saturday in Worcester, a change of opponents from the last two seasons. In each of those, the Knights were eliminated by the Colorado College Tigers in the regionals.

    “We have such a great conference, but we have to show that we can do it on a national level,” said Morris. “We played a tough schedule in the beginning of the year with the hope that we could get another crack at the NCAAs.”

    The Knights did play a tough schedule at the beginning of the season, taking on North Dakota and Northern Michigan, both NCAA participants, twice each. The Knights have also played St. Lawrence three times and New Hampshire once.

    Picks

    Becky Blaeser/Jayson Moy: Clarkson has played close games and tough competition. The Knights are ready to make the move to Anaheim. Clarkson 4, Maine 3, or Clarkson 5, Ohio State 2

    Todd D. Milewski: Maine over Clarkson, 2-1

    Paula C. Weston: Clarkson plays a patient, defensive game — just like the Buckeyes. If Maine gets past OSU, don’t expect the Black Bears to stop until they get to Disneyland. Maine, 4-2

    Dave Hendrickson: Maine sends Clarkson packing, 4-2. (If Ohio State beat Maine, then Clarkson, 4-2.)

    Scott Brown: Maine has been near the top of the polls all year. There’s a good reason why, though Clarkson makes it an epic battle. Maine, 3-2 (OT)

    QuarterfinalNo. 1 New Hampshire (29-6-3) vs. Denver/Michigan
    Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Centrum Centre, Worcester, Mass.

    New Hampshire Wildcats

    New Hampshire came up one overtime short of taking its first-ever Hockey East tournament, which would have given the Wildcats a sweep of the league regular season and playoffs. They defeated Providence, 6-2, in the semifinal game, but lost to Boston College in the title game, 5-4 in overtime, after rallying from a 4-1 deficit.

    “Obviously, we’re disappointed that we didn’t play well,” says coach Dick Umile. “But it wasn’t from lack of character. [We] came back, tied it up, and it was a great college hockey game and a great atmosphere.

    “I told the team that now we play in the NCAA tournament and then we go after the big trophy.”

    Most projections had UNH potentially facing Boston College in a Worcester rematch of the Hockey East title game, but instead the Wildcats will be facing one of two Western teams.

    “It’s a very difficult position that the selection committee is in every year,” says Umile. “It was tough to see BC go out West, and I’m sure that some of the Western teams [feel the same way] about coming out East.

    “But you do try to keep conferences not playing each other. That is a priority. But sometimes it’s difficult to do that and you’ve got to move people around to try to avoid that.

    “I’d just as soon play someone that we haven’t played, to be quite honest. I like the fact that we’re going to play a Western team. Let’s play someone that we don’t normally see.”

    This represents New Hampshire’s sixth invitation to the NCAA tournament since it expanded in 1988 to 12 teams, but is the Wildcats’ first time as a bye team. Even though only one bye team advanced last season, 17 of 20 teams with the advantage continued to the Final Four the previous five years.

    “I’ve got to believe it’s a factor,” says Umile. “I said it before when we didn’t have it, so I’m not going to turn around now and say that it isn’t. When you don’t have the bye, you have to win two games to get there. If somebody got hurt the night before, you don’t have that person the next night. For us, this is a one game, one shot deal to get to the Final Four.”

    One candidate for the Saturday night second-round contest is Denver, fresh off a WCHA tournament championship and a nine-game winning streak.

    “We played them in January — [Denver won, 4-2] — and I know [coach] George Gwozdecky,” says Umile. “His teams are always well-coached. His teams play well. Right now, they’re one of the top teams in the country as far as playing with confidence.”

    Alternatively, UNH could be facing the defending national champion Michigan Wolverines, a team loaded with playoff experience.

    “I think that’s why they turned around and won the CCHA tournament,” says Umile. “Michigan has a lot of tradition. They’ve been there. They’re the defending national champions.

    “And Denver just beat out North Dakota, the number-one team.

    “Everybody is good in this tournament. You’ve got to play well and do the little things well and play good defense and special teams. We need to play a 60-minute game this weekend.

    “We know enough about both of those teams at this point that we can concentrate on what we’re doing and still know what to expect from both teams.”

    New Hampshire will not only have the advantage of the bye, it should also benefit from a strong contingent of its well-traveled fans. Michigan and Denver posted 6-4-1 and 7-7-1 road records, respectively, so a crowd friendly to the Wildcats could go a long way to returning them to the Final Four.

    “There’s no question that UNH has become synonymous with great fan support,” says Umile. “At the Fleet Center, it was fabulous. Hockey East did a great job of promoting and marketing the tournament from the beginning and when we made it to the FleetCenter, a lot of our fans came to support us.

    “We’re not going to be close after this weekend. If we win this weekend, we’re going [to Anaheim] so hopefully the fans will come down and support us in this one game that could get us to the Final Four. They’ll be an important part.”

    And for Western fans looking for the skinny on the Wildcats, here’s a primer. For starters, they led Hockey East in offense (4.22 goals per game) and defense (2.19 goals per game).

    Jason Krog (32-47–79) leads the country in virtually all offensive categories and his linemates Mike Souza (19-39–58) and freshman Darren Haydar (29-26–55) are none too shabby either.

    For most of the season, UNH’s offense relied almost to a fault on the top line. Of late, however, Jason Shipulski (14-14–28) and John Sadowski (7-9–16) have stepped up their play.

    Jayme Filipowicz and Steve O’Brien are a great defensive pairing in front of top goaltender Ty Conklin (1.78 GAA, .923 SV%).

    Picks

    Becky Blaeser/Jayson Moy: Let’s see, the Pioneers have knocked off North Dakota, Michigan and UNH this year. Maybe they should be renamed the Giant Killers. Then again, the Pioneers are giants themselves. Against Krog and company, they will need everything going on all cylinders, but the name fits. Denver 5, UNH 4

    Dave Hendrickson: No contest. UNH, 5-2

    Scott Brown: The Wildcats’ offense looks to be the stronger of the two, and that’s where this one is decided. New Hampshire, 4-2

    Paula C. Weston: It can happen. Michigan 4, New Hampshire 3

    Todd D. Milewski: UNH over Denver, 3-2


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