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2012 Northeast Regional preview: Tournament veterans face off

Quick quiz: Over the last six seasons, which of the four teams in this year’s Northeast Regional has been in the NCAA tournament the most?

If you said regional top seed Boston College, you’d be correct. But if you seed fourth seed Air Force, you’d also be correct.

Both the Eagles and the Falcons have been in the field of 16 five times in the last six seasons, and they meet in the first round of this year’s Northeast Regional. Air Force has been close in the past with one big first-round upset in its pocket, but Boston College puts a 15-game winning streak on the line against it in the first round.

Minnesota-Duluth has been in the NCAA field three times in the last six years and Maine twice. The Bulldogs are defending their 2011 national championship, while the Black Bears are looking to find their way to the Frozen Four as a No. 3 seed, just like they did in 2006 and 2007.

Here are the previews for the Northeast Regional. Check to the right for game times and locations.

Boston College Eagles

Schedule :: Stats :: Roster

Coach: Jerry York, 40th season, 18th at Boston College

Record: 29-10-1 (19-7-1 Hockey East, first)

How they got in: Automatic qualifier, Hockey East playoff champion

Regional seed: First

Last NCAA tournament appearance: 2011

Best NCAA finish: Champion, 2010, 2008, 2001, 1949

Why they’ll get to the Frozen Four: They’re easily the nation’s hottest team, and everything from offense to goaltending is strong.

Why they won’t get to the Frozen Four: It’s hard to find a reason, but that was the case a year ago and the Eagles lost their first-round game. They need to come to play in a one-game scenario.

120317 19143099A 2012 Northeast Regional preview: Tournament veterans face off

Patch Alber, Pat Mullane, Isaac MacLeod and Johnny Gaudreau celebrate Gaudreau's goal in the Hockey East championship game (photo: Melissa Wade).

When Boston College skated around the ice at the TD Garden last Saturday night holding the Lamoriello Trophy, it became the first team in the tournament’s 28-year history to capture the title three straight years.

The Eagles happily celebrated that trophy that evening, but by the time Sunday morning came the team’s focus was hardly on the past. By 12:05 p.m., BC had confirmed its first-round NCAA opponent, Atlantic Hockey champion Air Force, and focus turned to what it will take to beat the Falcons.

That focus has made the Eagles a success in the postseason under coach Jerry York, including 12 NCAA tournament appearances and three national titles at the Heights.

But as focused as the Eagles are on capturing another NCAA crown, last year’s tournament is a reminder that this team needs to be ready from the get-go or an early exit could loom.

It was a year ago that the Eagles, a No. 1 seed similar to this year, fell to Colorado College in their tournament opener, the first time a Jerry York-coached BC team lost its first-round game.

“I thought we were ready to go last year and Colorado had a strong team,” said York. “It’s one and done and the team that plays the best on that night is going to advance.”

York is well aware that there is no looking past the first-round opponent, Air Force, even if many of the BC faithful might not know much about this entry from Atlantic Hockey.

“When we look at Air Force and do some research, [coach] Frank [Serratore] has had some really tremendous efforts in recent NCAA games,” said York. “If you look back at their win against Michigan, 2-0, or their loss against Vermont in double OT, a loss to Miami in OT, it’s remarkable how close they’ve been to Frozen Fours. So they have our attention.”

The Eagles enter the NCAA regional on a 15-game winning streak. The common thread to all of those wins has been BC’s goaltender, Parker Milner. Benched midway through the year as he struggled, Milner took back the starting role on Jan. 27 and hasn’t lost a game since.

“It’s been confidence,” York said about what is different about Milner between his mid-season slump and now. “It’s the ability to give up that soft goal and come back and refocus and play well. I think early in the season, he struggled with that.”

Rookie forward Johnny Gaudreau also has been strong down the stretch. A late commit to BC after withdrawing his commitment to Northeastern last summer, Gaudreau has been a force of late, scoring 22 points during the 15-game streak.

He is just a piece of the potent BC offense that has given it the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. That’s music to York’s ears.

“This is a great time of year to still play hockey,” said York.

– Jim Connelly

Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

Schedule :: Stats :: Roster

Coach: Scott Sandelin, 12th season

Record: 24-9-6 (16-11-1 WCHA, fourth)

How they got in: At-large bid

Regional seed: Second

Last NCAA tournament appearance: 2011

Best NCAA finish: Champions, 2011

Why they’ll get to the Frozen Four: The Bulldogs have two talented, well-balanced forward lines and Spencer Abbott’s possible absence for Maine will help UMD get past the first game, at least.

Why they won’t get to the Frozen Four: The tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, Boston College, is waiting on Sunday in an arena located an hour from the BC campus.

13152111A 2012 Northeast Regional preview: Tournament veterans face off

Jack Connolly hasn't seen much of a dropoff in statistics despite getting two new linemates this season (photo: Melissa Wade).

Some said Minnesota-Duluth got a weak draw, rode a hot goalie or just got plain lucky on its way to a national title last season. But maybe the Bulldogs were just that good.

UMD was picked to finish fifth in the WCHA this season. Many thought the Bulldogs wouldn’t be able to keep up in 2011-12 without two-thirds of the best line in the nation.

Winger Justin Fontaine’s eligibility expired and opposite winger Mike Connolly left for the AHL. Defenseman Justin Faulk is playing with the NHL’s Carolina Panthers.

But here they are, with a No. 2 seed in the Northeast Region.

“We’re just excited to play,” said Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin. “We’re thankful to be one of the 16 teams that have this opportunity and we’re going to have an opportunity to defend our national championship.”

UMD spent more weeks at No. 1 in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll than any other team, it was in the thick of the WCHA race all season and the Bulldogs were the top team in the PairWise Rankings for a good chunk of the season.

Jack Connolly, who centered the top line that racked up 172 points and scored 68 out of the team’s 143 goals last season, is putting up the numbers without his star wingers this season. Connolly led UMD in points last season and finished with 18 goals and 41 assists. He has 19 goals and 39 assists in 2011-12.

UMD’s doubters forgot about J.T. Brown, too. The 2011 Frozen Four most outstanding player leads the team in goals (23) and has 23 assists. Travis Oleksuk (21-30–51) also stepped up for the Bulldogs.

Kenny Reiter (2.40 goals against average, .912 save percentage) has been good in goal, too, although his numbers are down a little bit this season.

– Tyler Buckentine

Maine Black Bears

Schedule :: Stats :: Roster

Coach: Tim Whitehead, 16th season, 11th at Maine

Record: 23-13-3 (15-10-2 Hockey East, fourth)

How they got in: At-large bid

Regional seed: Third

Last NCAA tournament appearance: 2007

Best NCAA finish: Champions, 1993, 1999

Why they’ll get to the Frozen Four: A stellar offense is led by a dominant first line of Spencer Abbott (if he plays), Brian Flynn and Joey Diamond and an equally dominant power play.

Why they won’t get to the Frozen Four: Abbott, one of the top three or four players in the country, might not play.

120316 22074877 2012 Northeast Regional preview: Tournament veterans face off

Dan Sullivan (left) and Matt Mangene helped Maine into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007 (photo: Melissa Wade).

Maine got out of the gate slowly this year but finished on a 17-6-1 run. A major factor in that turnaround was sophomore goaltender Dan Sullivan.

“Dan’s done a tremendous job,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “It’s no secret that’s been our Achilles’ heel for the last couple of years. His improvement has been very dramatic, and it’s not an accident. He’s worked extremely hard, not so much technically but dealing with being our go-to guy, handling that responsibility, and bouncing back from a loss or a tough goal. I can’t speak enough of his mental toughness.”

Up front, the top line of Spencer Abbott, Brian Flynn and Joey Diamond ranked 1-2-3 in Hockey East scoring. However, Abbott, the nation’s top scorer, missed the Hockey East championship game after a head injury suffered in the semifinals. His status for the regional is very much in question.

“It’ll be a bonus if he comes back,” Whitehead said, “but we’re going to assume that he’s not.”

If Abbott does return, it’ll be a matchup of strength against strength: two teams with three dominant forwards and a dominant power play. Minnesota-Duluth, of course, is the defending national champion.

“We thought we’d start with a layup,” Whitehead said with a rueful laugh. “Obviously, we have great respect for what Duluth has accomplished not just last year but this year. They’re a great hockey team. They’ve been No. 1 for a large part of the season. I’m mystified at how they’re the seven [seed overall].

“They’re a great opponent, very well-coached with strength at all three positions. But we’ve been playing great teams down the stretch, teams that all have elite players, so we’ve been battle-tested.”

Whitehead said he feels that success down the stretch counteracts his team’s lack of NCAA experience.

“Certainly, it always helps to have experience,” he said. “But we’ve been in a lot of big games this year and performed well, so that should give us confidence.

“The Frozen Fenway matchup with our archrivals UNH was a great experience for us and we were fortunate to get that last bounce [in overtime]. [We were] able to win two from BC at home and two from BU on the road, beat UNH to earn home ice and then Merrimack to earn a chance to keep the season going, and then BU to guarantee a NCAA spot.

“So our guys have been in a lot of big games this season and had some success. So we think that should take care of most of those big-game jitters. Our guys will be fine.”

– Dave Hendrickson

Air Force Falcons

Schedule :: Stats :: Roster

Coach: Frank Serratore, 19th season, 15th at Air Force

Record: 21-10-7, (16-6-6 Atlantic Hockey, first)

How they got in: Automatic qualifier, Atlantic Hockey playoff champion

Regional seed: Fourth

Last NCAA tournament appearance: 2011

Best NCAA finish: Second round, 2009

Why they’ll get to the Frozen Four: The Falcons are making their third trip to the tournament in four years, and they play solid defense with the experience to back it up.

Why they won’t get to the Frozen Four: Playing the top seed means the Falcons have the toughest path.

DSC 2177 2012 Northeast Regional preview: Tournament veterans face off

Air Force's Jason Torf made 34 saves in a shutout win over Rochester Institute of Technology in the Atlantic Hockey championship game (photo: Omar Phillips).

The Air Force Falcons have been to the NCAAs five times in six years, including a win over Michigan in 2009. And they’ve put a scare into whomever draws them. None of the games they’ve lost in the tournament have been settled until the third period or overtime, like last year’s 2-1 loss to top-seeded Yale.

“We’re a better team this year than we were last season,” said coach Frank Serratore. “We’re deeper and we’re older. We don’t have a lot of seniors but we have a lot of kids who were 20-year-old freshman. Our goalie [Jason Torf] isn’t a freshman like he was last year.”

Air Force lacks the snipers it has had in the past but has won this season with defense, led by seniors Scott Mathis and Tim Kirby, who log a ton of minutes. Both were first-team league all-stars and Kirby is a Hobey Baker Award finalist.

“There’s no easy bracket, but we’re in the one with the No. 1 team and the defending national champs,” said Serratore. “But we’re the top non-BCS team in the tournament. We’re the Boise State or TCU of the tournament.

“Of the teams we have brought to the tournament, I really like this team. That 2009 team was pretty darn good and was a goal away from the Frozen Four. But this team might not have reached its potential yet.”

– Chris Lerch


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  • Occifer_1999

    There is no “Carolina Panthers” in the NHL.

    • Union Tampa

      Maybe he got drafted by the NFL…

  • Nate Bauer

    These writers love to doubt UMD. Every time I read something about WCHA they are always hating on Duluth it’s weird. 

    • Shh…Let’s Prove Wrong Again

      Reminds me of last year…

    • Raustin

      Hey Tyler, some have said that you are the worst WCHA writer USCHO has ever had.  Some have also said you molest little boys.  

      Can we please get a less lazy writer for the WCHA next year?  The best conference in the country deserves the best writers.

      • CommAve

        Yea, your last sentence is just false.

        • MPLS Sioux

          Why would the best conference deserve the worst writers? Now that just doesn’t make any sense

      • Union Tampa

        I’m pretty sure teams with the national championship, not conferences.  Hence, the focus was on the best teams.

    • xTEDxTHExREDx

      As far as I’m concerned we’re still DEFENDING NATIONAL CHAMPIONS until someone beats us, and that aint gonna happen. This is OUR title and its going to have to be ripped out of our cold dead hands. Bring on BC and Maine. UMD’s about to drop some knowledge on HLeast.

      Keep your head up…Grun’s lurking….

      • Union Tampa

        Sucks when you don’t get the respect you deserve.

        Respectfully,

        Union Fan

        • xTEDxTHExREDx

          I thought you were crazy last week. It suddenly doesn’t seem so absurd. Hell, it looks like there will be 2 ECAC teams in the frozen four. Union won me over yesterday. I apologize for ripping union they definately proved me wrong

    • CommAve

      Exactly how are the last 4-5 paragraphs of that preview even close to “doubting Duluth”?  Did any of you even read the capsule?

      • xTEDxTHExREDx

        I have no problems with the preview he wrote. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.  but throughout the season Tyler and Brian had a tendency to mainly cover the Gophers (I assume they are fans) and who they were playing next, with a dash of NoDak and a sprinkle of what’s happening in colorado. This year, UMD has one of the best college teams I’ve ever seen and we are DEFENDING NATIONAL CHAMPIONS and we were Unanimous #1 for six weeks in a row and were lucky if we were mentioned in the WCHA weekly blogs footnotes. I must say that they did improve towards the end of the year and I think they did a wonderful job with the Jack Connolly Hobie article. Us UMD fans just don’t appreciate how every single writer and prognosticator is overlooking us right now. I’ve read most of the Pick em articles on the main sites and I have yet to find anyone who has UMD coming out of this group, and most of those picks have us losing to a Spencer Abbott-less Maine (are you kidding me?) We get no respect whatsoever. But that is all fine because this is why we play the games. Just don’t be too shocked if the Bullpups embarrass two HE teams in there own back yard. Whoever makes it out of this region will probably win the title.

  • Guest

    Wow, I have never seen more biased “journalist” than Jim Connelly this year.  With the parity in college hockey right now it’s a joke to think BC has such a big advantage over the rest.  Having a BC boner for several months must be pretty uncomfortable.  

    • CommAve

      They’ve won 15 games in a row dude.  They’re the top overall seed.  Their seniors have won a National Championship.  Exactly what is he supposed to write when he’s PREVIEWING THE TEAM.  Not to mention, all he does is put quotes in on York respecting the Falcons.  Get over it.

      • After Further Review

         Not to mention… their juniors have won a National Championship too!

  • collegehockeyfan

    For this region, I just think that BC is playing too well for anyone to think otherwise that they will be the team representing this region.  Air Force is a solid team that plays consistent hockey, but just simply doesn’t have the firepower to beat BC.  They will need their best game of the season. 

    I think that this #2-#3 matchup should bring fireworks.  Two teams that have played very well this year, but both teams have shown slight inconsistency through the season.  Both of these teams have Offensive guns, so it will be interesting to see how the defense of both teams adapts.  Goaltending may determine the game, because I can see 4-5 goals a peice in this game.  I’ll take Maine in OT, with BC winning the region.

  • jason stanko

    College looks strong enough to win the region.
    Duhloot needs another rabbit out if its hat.
    Maine.. na.
    Air Force players needed to suck the brains out of a rabbits skull during survival training. The bracket should be a cakewalk for them.

  • Guest 64

    Air Force is going to be bc….. alot of sad faces and hour from campus…. sorry but this is how it is going to go :(

  • xTEDxTHExREDx

    tUMD is going to drop some $@%!$@% knowledge on you beaneaters
    and lobster-shuckers. We’re about to crank it to 11 and enter Rampage mode, no
    survivors. 7-1 dogs. Jack “Captain-Leader-Legend” Connolly-3 goals, 2
    assists. Who’s next? 

    get some.

     ~for yea, it was told, on the 5th day God created the Iron
    Range, to fill out his roster and win the beer league.~

    • Butch

      We shuck clams, not lobsters.

  • maine~iak

    It would have been nice if they didn’t put 3 top teams in the country in the same bracket…….

    • Union Tampa

      Well, pretty sure Union isn’t there so – the top 3 teams aren’t in the bracket.