The NCAA tournament is upon us, and this week, I thought it would be good to take a look and see who some of the key players to watch are going to be in this weekend’s regionals. It was a bit harder than I thought, because there are so many great teams in this year’s field, and a lot of them are going to need total team efforts rather than a standout performance from one particular player.
Looking at Denver and Colorado College, for example, you realize that there really isn’t one key player, because those two teams rely on depth and total team effort. There are certainly stars on each team, like Denver’s Gabe Gauthier and Paul Stastny, and CC’s Brett Sterling and Marty Sertich, but even if those players have off nights, there are plenty of other options on each of those teams. That is one of the reasons I will be surprised if either of these teams bows out early.
On the other hand, there are the schools that need a total team effort to answer the questions surrounding the team. Boston University, for example, has been very inconsistent, and I’m wondering which team is going to show up: the team that took down Boston College in the first round of the Beanpot, or the team that was pushed around by UNH in the Hockey East semifinal.
Cornell, on the other hand, has been very consistent lately, playing excellent defense over the course of an 18-game unbeaten streak. But the last time the Big Red saw non-conference opposition, at the Florida College Classic, Cornell gave up three goals to Maine and four to BC. So, the question remains: Can Cornell bring that same defensive effort against a top team in Ohio State, while adjusting to a large ice sheet at Mariucci Arena?
Ted Donato is bringing his Harvard team to the tournament for the first time as a coach, and it’ll be interesting to see how the Crimson plays. The senior class at Harvard is very strong, especially on the defensive end with blueliners Noah Welch and Ryan Lannon, along with Hobey Baker finalist Dov Grumet-Morris in goal. The Crimson is facing a great offensive team in New Hampshire, so those seniors will need to lead a great defensive effort.
So, with all that said, there are five players I’m looking at as keys to victory for their respective teams in this weekend’s regionals.
Sean Collins, New Hampshire: UNH has a lot of offensive weapons, but when you look at Collins and his 36 assists, he really generates their offense. Scoring on Grumet-Morris hasn’t been easy this season, especially down the stretch, so Collins needs to play well to ensure a strong offensive performance.
Jimmy Howard, Maine: Goaltending is going to be a key for a lot of teams in this tournament, but with Howard it is on another level. Minnesota has been inconsistent down the stretch, and even though the Gophers are on home ice, a lot of people are looking at the Gophers as being upset-prone. However, when you look at Maine, it’s pretty easy to see that if Howard doesn’t play well, the Black Bears do not win.
Andrew Alberts, Boston College: Alberts was huge in the Hockey East playoffs, not only with his game-winning goal in the semifinals against Maine, but with his presence on the ice. Alberts plays a lot of minutes, and he’s a leader in locker room, and his play this weekend is going to be very important if the Eagles want to go back to the Frozen Four.
Al Montoya, Michigan: When you look at Montoya’s statistics this year – an .895 save percentage and a 2.52 goals-against average – you can see that Montoya hasn’t had the best of years. Those numbers don’t matter nearly so much as a win total, and Montoya and the Wolverines haven’t lost in their last 13 games. Montoya will need to perform, though, if Michigan’s hot streak is to continue. The CCHA has had a down year, and Wisconsin and Colorado College will present him with a greater challenge in Grand Rapids. If Michigan wants to go to Columbus, Montoya will need to step up.
Judd Stevens, Minnesota: Stevens is a bit of a different case than the other four players on this week’s E-List. He’s not here because of his scoring, or passing, or defense, or any other on-ice skill, although he is a very solid defenseman for the Golden Gophers. Stevens is here because his team needs his leadership in a big way. Minnesota got a No. 1 seed in the West Regional, but this is a team in turmoil. Minnesota’s play down the stretch has been very inconsistent, and no one knows quite what to make of Tyler Hirsch’s emotional outburst after the Gophers were shut out by CC in the WCHA
Mike Eruzione, captain of the gold medal-winning 1980 “Miracle On Ice” U.S. hockey team, is a regular contributor to CSTV’s college hockey coverage.