College Hockey:
TMQ: Regionals may have been a sign of what’s to come in college hockey

Matthew: Welcome to this week’s edition of USCHO’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback series. Normally, senior writers Jim Connelly and Todd Milewski co-host this series, but with Todd otherwise engaged this time around, I’ve agreed to step in as a guest host.

Our eagle-eyed readers will know that I cover the WCHA for USCHO along with the fantastic Tyler Buckentine, and last weekend wasn’t a great one for our league. We only saw only one (St. Cloud State) of the WCHA’s six qualifiers for this year’s NCAA tournament survive the weekend and progress to the 2013 Men’s Frozen Four in Pittsburgh. However, Jim, it looks as though the 12 regional games last weekend threw up results that left certain teams from all over the Division I map searching for answers.

Jim: I think the entire regional round was pretty shocking. Think about it: All of the teams in the Frozen Four have never won the tournament and all but Yale have never been to the Frozen Four. Oh, and Yale’s last appearance was 1952.

This Frozen Four may be the harbinger of the reform of college hockey. We are seeing smaller schools recruit players capable of winning the national title. That isn’t easy to do. That is my focus because it isn’t always easy to win recruiting battles, something we have said for years. So how do teams like Massachusetts-Lowell, Yale, Quinnipiac and St. Cloud State get to a Frozen Four in your opinion?

Matthew: What surprises me most from the list of this year’s Frozen Four participants is that both Yale and Quinnipiac are in, thus making Connecticut — at least for the next couple of weeks — arguably a center of the college hockey universe. I’m sure we could both name areas with bigger population figures that won’t be over the moon about that.

Quinnipiac should have found safe passage through its regional and did. Yale getting past Minnesota on the first day of the tournament wasn’t the biggest shock in the world, either — the Gophers looked very average in their 2-0 loss to Colorado College on March 22 at the WCHA Final Five — but I didn’t expect the Bulldogs to also get past North Dakota.

UND also was tripped up by CC at the Final Five, largely thanks to shaky goaltending from Clarke Saunders one night before the Tigers knocked off Minnesota. Unfortunately for coach Dave Hakstol and his group, UND got one the board first against Yale but wasn’t the better team and eventually lost 4-1.

St. Cloud State getting through its regional didn’t entirely surprise me, either. I worry for the Huskies’ defense in the Frozen Four as I’m not completely sold on Ryan Faragher in the St. Cloud nets, but SCSU averaged 3.67 goals per game from its nine outings last month, so it’s largely been a matter of executing passes, keeping the games flowing and making sure they find the opponent’s net more often than Faragher allows the other team to.

I’ll let you talk about Massachusetts-Lowell, Jim, as readers familiar with your background will know that the River Hawks have always been very much on your radar. Did it surprise you at all to see them win that Northeast Regional and punch their ticket to Pittsburgh?

Jim: I did expect Lowell to get to Pittsburgh. This team has played well down the stretch and it is well documented that the River Hawks have the best record in the country since Christmas. What concerned me was Wisconsin and that proved to be little test at all. Lowell was faster, stronger and got better goaltending.

It ended up being a banged-up New Hampshire team that gave Lowell its biggest test, and even there Lowell was able to keep the Wildcats off the board.

So with all four teams on the table, how do you see things playing out in Pittsburgh?

Matthew: This tournament has been so tough to predict with any real accuracy, which explains why only one person out of the more than 10,000 people that are participating in College Hockey Pickem 2013 has a bracket that is still perfect.

It’s not me, by the way. I wish!

Anyway, this may come as a surprise to you, but I’m taking St. Cloud State to win it all. You could very easily make an argument for all four teams remaining in terms of who will win the national championship, but I like the form the Huskies’ offense has been on over the past month-plus, and I feel like Faragher is due to get onto a hot streak of his own in the SCSU nets.

I’m taking St. Cloud to edge Quinnipiac in a close one next Thursday before doing the same Saturday to Lowell, which I think is more than good enough to put an end to Yale’s dream run. I’m probably going to be accused of making a homer pick there, but how do you see it all panning out, Jim?

Jim: I’m actually with you that St. Cloud has a strong chance. I like Lowell’s as well. Similarly, that’s not a homer pick. I just feel like the River Hawks have become so difficult to score on that any of the Frozen Four teams will be frustrated by their stingy defense.

Before we end, the Hobey Baker Award committee will be announcing its Hobey Hat Trick on Wednesday. I’ll put you on the spot: Who would be in your top three?

Matthew: Just a quick aside before we get to our Hobey top three, I think we should mention George Gwozdecky being let go Monday as the coach at Denver. He had a phenomenal 19-year run with the Pioneers, and it’s a shame to see him go. I very much doubt he’ll be out of a coaching job for very long, and I’d like to take this moment to wish him the absolute best of luck for the future.

Anyway, as for the Hobey, it’s a little surprising that only two of the 10 finalists are going to be playing in Pittsburgh. Forward Drew LeBlanc from St. Cloud State and Quinnipiac goaltender Eric Hartzell are the only two still strapping on the pads right now, and I think it stands to reason that, both through their stats and through the fact that they’re still playing, both should be in the final three. I also have a feeling Danny Kristo from North Dakota will sneak in there, too.

Of those three, LeBlanc would be my pick to win it. He’s had a phenomenal senior season and, as I wrote in a feature on him for USCHO earlier this season, he’s balanced his play on the ice over the second half of the campaign with student teaching at St. Cloud Apollo High School. Again, call me a homer for that if you want, but it’s actually less because I cover the WCHA and more because I myself was a Secondary Education major in college.

Who do you like to finish in the Hobey Hat Trick?

Jim: I echo your sentiments on Gwozdecky. Great guy, great coach. He will land a top job very soon.

As for the Hat Trick, I think Hartzell likely played his way into the top three last weekend. Additionally, I like Johnny Gaudreau who put up unreal per game this season and is my pick to win it. If I had to throw a third player in, I’d go with LeBlanc as well. We will see how we compare when the Hat Trick is announced.

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  • Sleeping Giant

    Yes, both “homer picks” for the title, and I’m not surprised, nor do I blame either of you. In my opinion, college hockey is an insular sport; with it rarely televised (though improving) save the biggest games, teams like, say, all four that made the Frozen Four, are mostly unknown, despite any success they have. So we have situations like last weekend, when teams like QU or Lowell, who had success all season, were expected to get dumped by their counterparts that are traditional powers…but it didn’t happen.

    In a long-winded way, what I’m trying to say is I don’t expect a WCHA or HE reporter to respect or even be knowledgeable of teams in other conferences. But that also means that I have very little respect for anything you have to say about the teams you probably saw play 2-3 times this season.

    • andy

      The WCHA and HE have both have a long history of success, many champtionships, but above all, consistency. Is the ECAC’s success this year a fluke or a “sign of things to come”? Who knows at this point? Perhaps Yale & Quinny’s success will attract recruits and fans, and allow a sustained growth in the their programs and the “respect” of the ECAC as a whole. But until then, nothing has changed, and the “Old Guard” still is in place. Even if there is a Quinny/Yale championship, it could be followed up by another 30 years of HE/WCHA(well, NCHC/BIG10) championships. Or it actually could be the beginning of a new era in college hockey. But until further notice, I can’t blame people for being skeptical.

      Yes, they seem like “homer picks”, and perhaps they are. But St Cloud and Lowell went into their regionals as champs of the 2 toughest conferences top to bottom and decimated the 2 teams in front of them. Picking either of them is not a tough pick.

      • lmg6841

        Don’t forget about the AHA. We’re not there yet, but like the ECAC years back, we’re improving.

      • Sleeping Giant

        The merits of the WCHA and HE are certainly deserved, with years of success. And like I said, I certainly don’t blame people who don’t watch other conferences of being skeptical. Lowell and SCSU deserve to be there and you could certainly make the case that they are the favorites.

        My issue is that these seem like uninformed view points from the writers. They have great stats for Lowell and SCSU, the teams they cover, and no insight on QU and Yale. Don’t just go by history.

        • GopherBulldogHockey

          Idk about that John Buccigross seems to really like them and he covered QU last weekend.

        • lmdubbs

          I know you can stream all RPI home games live or on replay on the RPITV website, and I think that is true for other schools that do their own filming or have local TV deals as well. (Occasionally some ECAC games will be on TWC, etc) so it’s not impossible for these guys to do a little research and watch some games outside of their own sphere of comfort.

  • Joseph Crowley

    Interesting that Connor Hellebuyck did not make the final 10 for the Hobey Baker and is arguably the best goaltender in the nation. Then again, he just might help Norm Bazin win Coach of the Year.

    • Bob Neal

      Bazin should have won it last year without any doubt. The coach who won it gained 5 wins from the year before. UMass Lowell went from 5 wins to 25. Hellebuyck didn’t become the main man until Christmas. If, and I mean IF he stays 4 years, watch out. He is awesome. The St. Cloud state coach will probably win. For that school to win the WCHA regular season is pretty good.

    • aznman08

      Think it had to do with the 40% minimum minutes that he didnt have when the hobey top 10 got announced. With what happened this season, Norm should get what he didnt get last year: Spencer Penrose Award.

  • Hamden Hockey Proud

    Quinnipiac and Yale are only about 10 miles apart. When the two teams meet during the season, we call it the Battle of Whitney Avenue. As a further note, Jonathan Quick, LA Kings’ Goalie and 2012 Stanley Cup MVP & Conn Smythe Trophy winner was raised right in between the two schools (1 mile from QU: 9 miles from Yale). Hamden, CT is very proud of both schools and Jon. Hamden has a very proud hockey tradition!

    • Bob Neal

      Yet He went to a HE school, UMass.

      • Hamden Hockey Proud

        True. QU was in the AH at the time and Yale was coached by Tim Taylor – enough said.

      • Hamden Hockey Proud

        UMASS was also actively recruiting Rand Pecknold, QU’s head coach this past Summer for their head coach position.

  • bronxbomberz41

    UNH was without their two best playmakers (thanks DU). Although I don’t know if that would have helped them beat Lowell, they looked really good on the defensive end.

    RE Connecticut being the center of college hockey: Scott Van Pelt on ESPN Radio is constantly talking about how it seems like every kid in the Hartford/Bristol areas play hockey now. That state could become the next big recruiting hot bed. QU and Yale can only help it.

    • Jim Bleth

      Ummmm, yeah………..

      • Michael Flynn

        Jonathan Quick, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Max pacioretty all figure to be on the US olympic team, all from CT.

  • HouseMoney

    Keep picking against the Bulldogs….seems to have worked so far, no? Go Blue!

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