College Hockey:
Northeast Regional preview: Two teams roll along, two teams stumble in

The 2013 Northeast Regional field includes two of the hotter teams in the country and two teams that had to sit out last weekend after losing league quarterfinal series.

Massachusetts-Lowell and Wisconsin face off in the first game, both on the heels of a conference tournament championship.

For the River Hawks, it was the first Lamoriello Trophy in school history; Wisconsin claimed its first Broadmoor Trophy in 15 years.

New Hampshire and Denver, meanwhile, had to wait out the conference championship weekend before getting into the field as at-large selections.

Here’s a look at the Northeast Regional at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H.:

Connor Hellebuyck was the tournament MVP as Massachusetts-Lowell won the Hockey East playoff title last Saturday (photo: Melissa Wade).

Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks

Schedule :: Stats :: Roster

Coach: Norm Bazin, second season

Record: 26-10-2 (16-9-2 Hockey East, first)

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

Regional seed: First

Last tournament appearance: 2012

Best NCAA finish: Regional final in 1994, 1996, 2012

Why they’ll get to the Frozen Four: This is one of the most solid top-to-bottom teams in the nation that is playing its best hockey at the right time.

Why they won’t get to the Frozen Four: The River Hawks drew the “Bracket of Death” featuring a first-round matchup against a Wisconsin team that is red hot as well as New Hampshire and Denver, against whom Lowell is a combined 0-4 this season.

USCHO columnist Dave Starman may have given the ultimate compliment to Massachusetts-Lowell on Sunday night while hosting the ESPNU selection show. Starman picked Lowell to win this year’s NCAA tournament.

While the excitement level in the bar in which Lowell watched the selection show peaked at this point, minutes later it was quickly torn away by co-host Barry Melrose.

Melrose selected Wisconsin, Lowell’s first-round opponent, to win the championship, something that paints an accurate picture of just how difficult it will be for the River Hawks to escape the Northeast Regional, despite being the top seed.

“It seems like our whole bracket is chock full of difficult teams,” Lowell coach Norm Bazin said. “We feel we’ve got an extra-difficult bracket. But we feel that Hockey East has been an excellent league this year that has prepared us well.”

This is the second straight year that Lowell has reached the NCAA tournament, the first time that has happened in school history. And while the River Hawks beat Miami in the opener last year, a loss to top-seeded Union in Bridgeport a year ago was a sign that Lowell maybe wasn’t ready for prime time.

To prepare this year, Bazin added three stronger, bulky defenseman that move the puck well. In addition, young forwards have supplemented the talented scoring that the River Hawks already had in place.

And then there is the backbone of the team, freshman goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. The rookie earned himself a second-team all-Hockey East nod and then validated that with a Hockey East tournament MVP performance last weekend as Lowell captured its first Lamoriello Trophy.

“When you have nine freshmen, you try to give them all opportunities,” Bazin said. “They’ve all found their niche, which has really given us an energy boost.

“You start with goaltending, where Hellebuyck has been a real shot in the arm. He’s done a real good job here, particularly in the stretch.”

Bazin is hardly a stranger to Mike Eaves-coached Wisconsin teams. An assistant at Colorado College for eight years, Bazin knows that his team will have to penetrate a difficult defense if it is to be successful. That’s something, though, that the River Hawks are used to, given teams like Providence and Merrimack that pose an equal threat.

Truly, if there is any secret to Lowell’s success, it will be in the mental makeup of the dressing room. This is a team that has taken many steps forward this season, particularly in winning the regular season and postseason titles in Hockey East.

That, though, is all in the past and if Lowell is to reach the school’s first Frozen Four, there is an understanding that this team will have to be near flawless in Manchester this weekend.

“Last weekend was a real high for our team and UMass-Lowell in general,” Bazin said. “We feel we’re a stronger threat than we were last year. But Wisconsin is going to be a great opponent. They’re the WCHA champions and they’re going to give us all we can handle. We’re sure of that.”

– Jim Connelly

Trevor van Riemsdyk is one of two New Hampshire defensemen with more than 20 points (photo: Melissa Wade).

New Hampshire Wildcats

Schedule :: Stats :: Roster

Coach: Dick Umile, 23rd season

Record: 19-11-7 (13-8-6 Hockey East, tie-third)

How they got in: At-large bid

Regional seed: Second

Last NCAA tournament appearance: 2011

Best NCAA finish: Runner-up in 1999, 2003

Why they’ll get to the Frozen Four: If games become a battle of special teams, UNH gains a big advantage.

Why they won’t get to the Frozen Four: Playing five-on-five, the Wildcats can struggle to score and their team defense hasn’t played at a championship level since December.

Going into the holiday break, New Hampshire looked like a Frozen Four team and maybe then some. The Wildcats sported an 11-2-2 record that included three wins over Massachusetts-Lowell, two over St. Cloud State, and a 2-1 record over just-outside-the-NCAA-bubble Boston University.

The Wildcats stifled teams with exceptional defense, averaging only 1.69 goals against per game. Goaltender Casey DeSmith set a school scoreless record based on three straight shutouts and four in five games.

Then something in their holiday punch turned that team destined for Pittsburgh into one that could manage only an 8-9-5 record the rest of the way, in part because it surrendered an extra goal (2.68) per game.

“The goaltending, when we did make mistakes, made the big saves in the first half,” New Hampshire coach Dick Umile said. “I’m not saying Casey didn’t make those saves in the second half, but we found ways to give up goals, whether it was a bad defensive play or lost faceoffs.

“Overall, we know what we are capable of doing: that we need to put together 60-minute games and not have lapses. Sometimes it’s the way the puck bounces, but I don’t think that’s taken away from our confidence.”

The Wildcats don’t feature one mega-stud on offense, spreading the scoring instead across six players who topped 20 points, including two defensemen — Trevor van Riemsdyk and Eric Knodel.

But what they do feature are exceptional special teams. The Wildcats topped Hockey East in net special teams, lapping the field with a plus-17 mark. Their penalty kill (92.3 percent) led the league and their power play (19.5) ranked second only to Boston College.

“They’re definitely important in the playoffs, and we have confidence there,” Umile said. “We know we can kill on the PK and generate good opportunities on the power play. Sometimes they don’t go in, but you have to make sure you get good looks and screen the goaltender.

“We had trouble scoring goals in the second half, but there are a lot of great goaltenders in our league. That being said, you’ve got to make sure you get the looks and get into that gritty, dirty area out front with a screen and find ways to get pucks by the goaltender. Everybody in the NCAA tournament has great goaltending, so it’s going to be even more difficult. But there’s confidence there on our specialty teams.”

– David H. Hendrickson

Juho Olkinuora has a .921 save percentage and a 2.55 goals against average for Denver (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Denver Pioneers

Schedule :: Stats :: Roster

Coach: George Gwozdecky, 27th season, 19th at Denver

Record: 20-13-5 (14-9-5 WCHA, tie-fourth)

How they got in: At-large bid

Regional seed: Third

Last NCAA tournament appearance: 2012

Best NCAA finish: Champions in 1958, 1960, 1961, 1968, 1969, 2004, 2005

Why they’ll get to the Frozen Four: Denver has had few problems finding opponents’ nets this season, as the Pioneers have Division I’s third-best scoring offense, averaging 3.39 goals per game. If that trend continues in Manchester, N.H., the Pioneers will put themselves in a great position to punch their ticket to Pittsburgh.

Why they won’t get to the Frozen Four: The other goaltenders in the Northeast Regional could easily get on a major roll like Colorado College’s Joe Howe did against Denver in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. Keep in mind all four starting goaltenders in this regional are among the nation’s top 20 statistically.

Denver is playing in arguably the toughest regional of this year’s NCAA tournament, but the Pioneers do have the luxury of having played all three teams earlier this season.

DU will be looking for revenge Friday, though, when it faces New Hampshire for the second time this season. The Pioneers hosted UNH on Nov. 24 and jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, but the Wildcats fought back and eventually came away winners from a 6-4 goalfest at Magness Arena.

That loss came early into a rough patch of the season for the Pioneers in which they went 0-5-3 between Nov. 23 and Dec. 15.

“We had a few big lapses in that game, and it was right at the beginning of a pretty bad time for us in the season,” Denver senior defenseman and captain Paul Phillips said. “We know how they play. We’ve played them before, and we played them good for a little bit of the game at least.

“They’re a really good team, though, and they’ll be close to home. We’ll be ready to go, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Denver missed out on its last-ever WCHA Final Five after losing in the league playoffs’ first round at home to in-state rival Colorado College in three games, and the Pioneers will be looking for redemption in New Hampshire.

The carrot being held in front of Denver is certainly big enough. The Pioneers went 1-2-1 this season against teams in this year’s Northeast Regional — DU manhandled Massachusetts-Lowell 6-1 in the Pioneers’ official home opener Oct. 19 — and avenging setbacks from earlier in the season would be made all the sweeter if it also means a trip to the Frozen Four.

Only a fool would think the Pioneers don’t have an arsenal strong enough to make that happen. No one Denver skater has mind-blowing offensive numbers, but nine have at least 20 points to their names. Goaltender Juho Olkinuora has been among the WCHA’s best this season, posting a .921 save percentage and 2.55 goals against average.

The Pioneers did have to do some scoreboard-watching and hope that chips fell the right way in order for them to make this year’s NCAA tournament, but coach George Gwozdecky said that his team is primed to take advantage of the at-large bid it received for this competition.

“I think basically what that says is our schedule was the second-most difficult schedule in the country,” Gwozdecky said. “And we won some important games, especially nonconference games, in that schedule, and I think based upon that, it’s one of the reasons we were able to maintain our three-seed status throughout this weekend.

“Our guys were really upset” about losing to Colorado College, Gwozdecky added. “CC played a good series, but we were very upset, and certainly this team has earned the opportunity to play in the national tournament, and certainly we want to be able to take advantage of that second opportunity.”

– Matthew Semisch, with Candace Horgan contributing

Captain John Ramage and Wisconsin are 20-5-2 since Dec. 13 (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Wisconsin Badgers

Schedule :: Stats :: Roster

Coach: Mike Eaves, 11th season

Record: 22-12-7 (13-8-7 WCHA, tie-fourth)

How they got in: Automatic qualifier, WCHA playoff champion

Regional seed: Fourth

Last NCAA tournament appearance: 2010

Best NCAA finish: Champions in 1973, 1977, 1981, 1983, 1990, 2006

Why they’ll get to the Frozen Four: The Badgers are riding a monster hot streak heading into the NCAA tournament, having scored at least three goals in each of UW’s five WCHA playoff games and having scored at least that many in all but one of the Badgers’ nine games so far this month.

Why they won’t get to the Frozen Four: If Massachusetts-Lowell and its defense are as good as advertised, Wisconsin will have problems even surviving past the first day of the tournament.

Life is as good for the Wisconsin Badgers at this point in the season as it was bad nearer the start.

Injuries to key returning players like forward Mark Zengerle, a controversial suspension given to highly touted freshman forward Nic Kerdiles and the sudden departure of assistant coach Bill Butters hampered UW early on, and the Badgers opened the season with a 2-7-5 record through their first 14 games.

They have gone 20-5-2 since Dec. 13, though, and UW is entering this year’s NCAA tournament having just won the Badgers’ first WCHA playoff championship in 15 years.

Things aren’t perfect for Badgers coach Mike Eaves’s club — UW has never been at full-strength this season thanks to the Kerdiles suspension and injuries to others, one of which is still keeping Derek Lee (knee) out of action — but they’re much better than they were.

The Badgers have scored at least three goals in eight of their nine games in March, and sophomore goaltender Joel Rumpel (.923 save percentage and 1.84 goals against average this season) has been on top form lately, earning WCHA all-tournament team honors.

Eaves said that the team’s low point this season undoubtedly came early on, but he said that it wasn’t as though the team’s mechanics weren’t there. They just couldn’t do enough to pull out more wins than they did.

“It was the first 10 games,” Eaves said. “I think we lost to Colorado College at home and one game in overtime and we lost to [Minnesota State], and coming back into the room, it was almost unbelievable. We weren’t playing terrible, but instead of finding ways to win games, we weren’t scoring enough to find ways to win those games.

“During that time, you’re trying to say the right things to keep these young men with us and to come back and work, and during those first 10 games, our season could’ve fallen right apart. But I think that through the leadership from some of our older guys and the coaches working together and staying with it, we turned the ship around and got the wind in our sails.”

He gives most of the credit to his players, who had the fortitude to stick with Eaves’ system through the hard times early on and eventually reap the rewards, which included capturing the Broadmoor Trophy as WCHA playoff champions in UW’s final season in the league.

“[It's been] one of the most enjoyable journeys right now, I think because of where we were,” Eaves said. “It was tough, there’s no two ways about it. It was tough coming to the rink and making tough decisions where we were going to make [each day] the best day we have right now, because that’s all we can control, and these young men bought into it.

“A lot of the credit has to go to the guys in the locker room, because we [as coaches] are there 15 percent of the time with them. It’s the other 85 [percent] they’re around each other: Class, lifting [weights], eating, and what they say to each other and how they hold each other accountable. They carried the flag when [the coaches] weren’t there, so they get a great deal of the credit.”

– Matthew Semisch

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  • Joseph Crowley

    Lowell will have a tough task if it is to win its first D-I National Championship. But I think the Riverhawks are more than capable of making such a run. A nice WCHA/HE regional as a final hurrah for that great WCHA league before it morphs into three new leagues.

    I know which region I will be watching since I do not have a dog (terrier) in this fight.

  • Bob Neal

    Being a big Lowell fan I am hoping for the best, but it will be tough. Lowell’s lack of scoring and a weak PP are a little troubling. It should be 2 awesome games on Friday. DU and UW are solid and UNH is at home. Two weeks off for DU and UNH might be good for them. Easily the best Regional. Lets go Riverhawks!

  • http://twitter.com/Narcogen Narcogen

    It’s hard to look at the bracket UML has drawn, and compare it to the bracket BC has drawn, and to conclude that no good deed goes unpunished. UML won the RS and playoff championship in Hockey East, and were ranked ahead of BC in the PWR. Isn’t that supposed to give them a higher seed, and an easier route?

    • Joseph Crowley

      If I were Lowell, I would prefer to be closer to home (Manchester) and face two of three tough opponents so that my team would not “look past” any team, the way some players might in the East regional.

      Manchester has been a good regional for Hockey East teams to be successful in the past.

      • Tom Jones


      • Terrier Hockey

        That’s a nice perspective.

    • fcc56

      The real fault here lies in the rigid mathematical formula that the PWR mimics that the NCAA has locked itself into for the hockey tournament. Theoretically, BC (#6) is penalized for its poor play since the holiday break (two wins and two ties against teams with winning records since getting blasted by Minnesota at the end of December) by playing the #1 seed, while UML (#3) is rewarded by playing the #14 seed.

      It’s not BC’s fault that Quinnipiac is not a legitimate #1 seed (if not as badly “over-seeded” as Gonzaga in basketball), or that Wisconsin right now is better than a #14–down the stretch they’ve beaten Minnesota, Minnesota State, and St. Cloud (twice). I think it would be difficult to make a serious argument that Quinnipiac is better than Wisconsin. I saw some of QC’s televised Feb. game against Yale, and they seem to have good size, decent speed, and some skill, but Yale just isn’t all that good this season, so QU’s easy win in that game doesn’t count for too much, and in general QU’s resumé is lacking in quality wins.

      BC definitely catches a break though, with #12 and #16 in its region, presumably thanks to QU being #1. UML would be feasting in this region, but BC will need to find some goaltending and stay out of the penalty box just to get past Union.

    • Tom Jones

      Yes and yes; but unfortunately, the NCAA rewards higher seeds with a closer regional game (to promote the regional level’s overall attendance).

  • fcc56

    I Would love to see Lowell come out of this region, but I think it’s going to be difficult, based on what I saw in the HE tournament. Others may disagree (and that includes the broadcasters for those games), but Lowell seems to be only average in team speed, which could be trouble against either Denver or UNH – teams that traditionally bring a lot of speed – should Lowell get past Wisconsin.

    The thing I noticed most in those tournament games, however, is UML’s apparent lack of organization on offense. It seems the team has little idea of what it wants to do once it gains the offensive zone other than throw the puck toward the net and hope for the best. Far too many “shots” in those games missed the goal by five or ten feet. That may work against Providence, but it’s not going to get them to Pittsburgh. This lack of structure on offense may account at least in part for UML ranking 32nd on the PP.

    The bad news for UML against Wisconsin is that UML Is 22nd in D1 in scoring while Wisconsin is 4th in defense. The good news is that Wisconsin is even worse in scoring – 33rd – while UML is 6th in defense.

    Barry Melrose’s comments on college hockey may be entertaining, but they contain little of value, especially when he’s predicting the champion. :)

    • DU_Fan

      UML fans should take heart. Barry Melrose knows zero about college hockey, and could be the worst announcer ever to get a contract from ESPN. On the other hand, the writers of this article are correct calling this Region “The Regional of Death”. No matter what happens, the NCAA did UML no favors for winning both “seasons” in HE. As one who will be watching the UNH-DU game I can only hope that Melrose is not on the broadcast team. Maybe they will do us all a favor and ship him to BC’s regional.

      • Bob Neal

        He stays closest to CT. as last year he was in the lousy Regional, Bridgeport. He will probably be in Providence. What a self centered jerk.

        • DU_Fan

          I hope you are right, he really hates the WCHA and CCHA and doesn’t try to hide it. He was in Albany in 2010 and kept saying how RPI was outplaying Denver throughout the game, Even though RPI beat us fair and square as their goalie had a great game, we outshot them 40-25. What a moron he is, and will always be. He tries to be bigger than the game, the hell with the players. Just think if he was a ref, talk about calling 30 penalties just to get noticed.

          • Buckyfan24

            That was not RPI in 2010. It was RIT.

          • DU_Fan

            Of course, had a bad case of dyslexia..Thanks for the correction,

    • Joseph Crowley

      In a league like Hockey East, all the small fast players seem to go to BC and the big fast players seem to go to BU, the rest of the league has to recruit differently.

      Having Norm Bazin as two-time coach of the year means the recruits going to Lowell play the way the coach wants it played. Lowell was the class of Hockey East this year after a slow start and Hellebuyck has awesome positioning and technique. Holding BU to one goal and out-dueling Providence’s goaltender Jon Gillies are very encouraging signs for playoff hockey.

      Since there is no overwhelming offensive team in the tournament, this might favor the defensively sound teams. There are some really good players on the Riverhawks squad and I wish them the best this year.

      • Terrier Hockey

        I’m less than thrilled with how BU recruits defensemen. Lowell added 3 monsters on defense. BU just never has the size on D and I’ve never bought into the “offensive defenseman” hype.

        • Joseph Crowley

          Those are the players that want to go pro, so that is why they end up at places like BU, BC, North Dakota, etc.

          I was really impressed with Matt Grzelcyk this year. If he sticks around, you might see why. He was great down the stretch.

    • Bob Neal

      I am cautious about my Lowell team, but I think they have great speed. I believe that they play too defensive sort of like the Boston Bruins. I think they have talent and speed, but play too close to the vest. They dearly need to improve the PP. If UW or Lowell score 3 goals, that will be enough. Open it up Riverhawks!

  • ChuckGandCrew

    I think the Pairwise needs to add a over the last 20-25 games component, so teams that are playing well in the second half aren’t punished. This is without question the toughest bracket and aside from Minn, I think the champion is coming out of this region. UML can handle speed, BU is the fastest team in HE, and they did OK against them this year. What I’m pissed about is that UNH fans get a discounted ticket price at a ‘home rink’ that is closer to UML.

    • Joseph Crowley

      BU and BC are the fastest teams in Hockey East and Lowell did just fine against them. They did so by playing great defense, having a top-notch goal-tender and being better as a five-man unit. They maximize their talent and put themselves in positions to win close games.

      It is possible someone can steam-roll them with a highly talented team. I just fail to see which dominant offensive team that is in this year’s tournament.

      As a BU fan, I think BC is a little faster than BU. I might be wrong.

      • ChuckGandCrew

        Re: faster team. With the exception of last Sat I would have agreed with you. The BU team that played last Sat looked like the fastest team in HE.

        • Terrier Hockey

          BU last week was unreal. Where was that speed all season?

    • Afterfurtherreview

      They had a past 16 games and it didn’t work, so they took it out. It is supposed to be about the entire season and many of the non-conference games are played in the first 2 months. This is just a strange year that Wisconsin, who would have been out came back to win the WCHA. The hot teams are not punished, it’s true bracket integrity, #3 should be playing #14. It’s unfortunate that they are the two hottest teams, but they are not being punished.
      You could get discounted tickets too. Do you think Ticketmaster knows you are not a UNH fan when you buy the tickets? The password to get discounted tickets is pretty complicated to figure out too. So, if that pisses you off, maybe you should have figured out how to get the discount yourself.

      • ChuckGandCrew

        I kinda think the first few weeks aren’t the best barometer of how good a team is. BC looked dismal (last year?) when they had three goalies. I wasn’t saying there is an issue with the selection process, I was saying there is room for improvements in the Pairwise rating system. And there are plenty of unethical methods of obtaining tickets, I was discussing a matter of principals.

        • Afterfurtherreview

          I agree with the first few weeks not being the best barometer, but it’s important for the non-league games to count. There are certainly plenty of ways it could be improved, so I agree there too.
          I wouldn’t consider putting in a passcode, that is readily available to you unethical, especially in this economy. There is no reason Ticketmaster has as many fees as they do anyways.

  • Tom Jones

    Hey Barry M., please keep picking inferior teams over UML (and focus on the NHL). If you we’re coaching any team in any sport, would you consider your team hotter if they were 6-0 (in your team’s last 6 games) or 18-1 (in your team’s last 19 games) leading into the national tourney? Now take a deep breadth and answer honestly. The Riverhawks are the hottest team in the land. Regardless of what any reader believes, we have the strongest goalie in college hockey, who only gives our young solid and talented team a chance to win every game. Barry, you better recognize this sooner, rather than later to redeem some of your outrageous college hockey on air contributions! Let’s go UML!

    • DU_Fan

      Wow. “inferior teams”. Don’t think you can find one in this regional. Best goalie also up for question. Stats don’t always tell the tale when you are in a one-and-done situation. Haven’t seen Hellebuyck, but have seen Rumpel and Olkinoura. Either one are more than capable of a shutout.

      • Joseph Crowley

        This BU fan and Hockey East fan has seen more than enough of Hellebuyck to say he is the real deal. Is that enough to beat other teams? No, the Riverhawks must continue to play great defense.

        As for the inferior teams comment above, it might be a little hyperbole from a Lowell fan. It is the first time in Division I that Lowell was the class of Hockey East.

        • DU_Fan

          Good explanation. Maybe if UML continues playing the way they did this year, hyperbole won’t be necessary. My point was there are 4 tough teams in this bracket, and any goalie is capable of winning a one-and-done game. Even the “real deal”, I have no doubt Hellebuyck is excellent, can let in a weak goal and lose.

      • ChuckGandCrew

        Yea. Rumpel looked great.

        • Tom Jones

          Did you watch any of the games today? ONE goalie, defense and offense stood out head and shoulders above the rest. HINT: They are playing tomorrow at 630 in Manchester! I am really not feeling anything for the overrated and underachieving teams that lost today, when it counted. The balance of the tourney should be better hockey to watch! Enjoy all the games.

          • ChuckGandCrew

            I was being sarcastic, responding to a WCHA fan boasting about how great their goalies are.

      • Tom Jones

        I saw them today, when it counted and they folded (giving up 11 goals between them, isn’t exactly CLOSE to a shutout). If you knew what you were speaking of you would see who is one SO behind the national leader in 2/3rds the games. Wake up CCHA & WCHA, the beast are still in the HE! Would you bet against BC this season or historically, probably not. How much hyperbole did I previously write? Like I always say, “here me now, believe me later!”

        • Terrier Hockey

          Hellebuyck and Gillies are phenomenal. HE goalies have some game. DeSmith is great as well


    The way to put a quick end to the WCHA chest-thumping is for two of its teams to exit Stage Left by late tonight. But I predict a Wisconsin-UNH Final. Lowell can’t bank on one-goal games to drop from the sky continuously that magically turn into wins.

    • Joseph Crowley

      Like Minnesota to Yale and Wisconsin finding out how good Hellebuyck really is.

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