The Chargers lost their first 15 games of the season before beating Bowling Green last Saturday.
West Regional final – Grand Rapids, Mich.
No. 2 North Dakota vs. No. 4 Yale
Matthew: North Dakota was the only WCHA team of the four playing in Friday’s opening day of the NCAA tournament to progress to a regional final, and UND was made to work for its success in a 2-1 triumph over Niagara. Many UND fans are happy their team won’t face Minnesota in Saturday’s regional final, but Yale will provide a much tougher test than the Purple Eagles did in the opening round. The No. 15 Bulldogs’ upset win over the second-ranked Gophers Friday afternoon was hardly a fluke – Minnesota largely dug its own grave, including a turnover in the Gophers’ own zone that led to an overtime game-winning goal for Yale nine seconds into the extra period – and UND can’t afford to overlook them. It’s worth keeping in mind that UND lost to Yale in a regional in 2010, but I don’t see history repeating itself here. UND wins and punches its ticket to the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh.
Tyler: North Dakota didn’t look nearly as dialed in as I thought it would be Friday but it did face a great goaltender, Hobey Baker finalist Carsen Chubak, who turned in a splendid performance. From a psychological angle, UND can’t rest on its laurels knowing it doesn’t have to face Minnesota, but, if you watched Yale Friday, there’s no reason to overlook a team that seemed as poised as the Bulldogs did against the Gophers. I see UND playing focused, taking care of business and advancing to the Frozen Four. UND wins and perhaps its fans can erase the memory of the regional loss to Yale in 2010.
Midwest Regional semifinals – Toledo, Ohio
No. 4 St. Cloud State vs. No. 1 Notre Dame
Matthew: Notre Dame has been virtually perfect so far this month, winning four games in a row against Bowling Green and sweeping through the last-ever CCHA playoffs, conceding only five goals in that competition. However, I think St. Cloud State is very dangerous as a No. 4 regional seed, and the Fighting Irish will pay if they overlook the Huskies at all. I wish I was more convinced by SCSU’s defense and goaltender Ryan Faragher – the Huskies are giving up an average of 2.49 goals so far this season – but I don’t think high-flying SCSU seniors like Drew LeBlanc and Ben Hanowski will allow their collegiate careers to end with a whimper. I’m picking SCSU to win in what would be less of an upset than fourth-over-first results in these regional semifinals normally suggest.
Tyler: St. Cloud State is the No. 4 seed no top seed wants to play and, if not for a few slip-ups early in the season, the Huskies would be seeded higher. Ryan Faragher needs to be better in goal for SCSU than he was last week, now facing a very skilled Irish team that enters the tourney on one of the better hot streaks in the country. SCSU’s power play struggled down the stretch but is 4-for-13 in the playoffs, while Notre Dame’s penalty kill is middle-of-the-road. There’s definitely some talent on that top unit for SCSU, so if it gets a fair amount of opportunities and it takes advantage, I’m calling a Huskies win.
No. 3 Minnesota State vs. No. 2 Miami
Matthew: Minnesota State’s 7-2 loss at the hands of Wisconsin in the teams’ WCHA Final Five quarterfinal last week leaves me very concerned for MSU this time around against Miami. The RedHawks boast the country’s second-best scoring defense (1.73 goals per game), and, although Michigan handed Miami a 6-2 thumping in MU’s last game (CCHA playoff semifinal Mar. 23 in Detroit), freshmen netminders Ryan McKay and Jay Williams have been superb this season. MSU hasn’t played against a top-ten defense since splitting with Minnesota nearly two months ago, and, unfortunately for the Mavericks, I think the RedHawks will shut them down and advance to the Midwest Regional final.
Tyler: MSU needs Stephon Williams to be on top of his game for MSU to be successful. He’s coming off an upper-body injury he suffered last Thursday against Wisconsin when he appeared to get dinged in the head by a Badger. Another key is special teams, where if Miami’s top-notch penalty kill neutralizes MSU’s fourth-ranked power play, the Mavericks season will end Saturday. MSU became a little too reliant on its power play, scoring five of its 10 playoff goals with the man advantage and were fortunate to get nearly five power plays per game since the playoffs started. I’m taking Miami.
West Regional – Grand Rapids, Mich.
No. 4 Yale vs. No. 1 Minnesota
Matthew: Yale is perfect so far this season against WCHA opposition – the Bulldogs won at both Denver and Colorado College back around Thanksgiving – and perhaps that ought to ring some alarm bells for Minnesota. The Golden Gophers will be looking to redeem themselves, however, for a flat performance last Friday against Colorado College in Minnesota’s only Final Five appearance this season, and I think the Gophers will keep the passing lanes open, get their scoring chances and not allow Yale to dictate Friday’s play. Minnesota wins and advances to the West Regional final.
Tyler: Yale blew past non-tournament teams in five straight games down the stretch and then didn’t even show up for the ECAC Tournament, getting outscored 8-0 in two losses. Minnesota needs to take advantage of its chances, which it didn’t do in the loss to Colorado College. If the Gophers create some opportunities off the odd-man rush and keep it a free-flowing game, Minnesota’s depth will take over. Gophers win.
No. 3 Niagara vs. No. 2 North Dakota
Matthew: In terms of the stranger-things-have-happened angle, given Niagara pulled off one of the more famous upsets in NCAA tournament history back in 2000 against New Hampshire, I wouldn’t be stunned if the Purple Eagles win this game. That more than likely won’t happen, though. North Dakota’s goaltending has been very suspect this season – neither junior Clarke Saunders nor freshman Zane Gothberg are in the nation’s top 30 netminders statistically – but UND has far too many weapons on the blue line and deep in the attacking zone for Niagara to handle. North Dakota wins and gets an opportunity to avenge its’ 5-2 loss to Minnesota in last year’s West Regional final.
Tyler: North Dakota missing its opportunity to advance and give itself have a chance to go for another Final Five title will do nothing but have the team motivated going into this weekend. UND will take advantage of a Niagara team that’s also struggling and advance.
Northeast Regional – Manchester, N.H.
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 1 Massachusetts-Lowell
Matthew: Considering both Lowell and Wisconsin are red-hot entering their Northeast Region semifinal in Manchester, it’s very unfortunate for both teams that the PairWise Rankings brought these two together in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The River Hawks boast one of the nation’s best defenses and has only allowed six goals so far in March, but I love the Badgers’ game lately – eight wins for UW so far this month and the Badgers’ 24 goals from five WCHA playoff games speak volumes to how good Wisconsin has looked lately – and UW is my one No. 4 seed to beat a No. 1 in this year’s NCAA tournament.
Tyler: This game features two of the hotter teams coming into the regionals. The Badgers are 8-1 with a nation-high 36 goals scored in March and Lowell is 7-1 with just six goals allowed this month. This one looks really close on paper and both teams play a really tight style but I’m going to take Lowell, which is located 40 minutes down the road from Manchester.
No. 3 Denver vs. No. 2 New Hampshire
Matthew: Although New Hampshire isn’t the top seed in this regional, the atmosphere in Manchester Friday evening will make it seem as though the Wildcats are the host school. That would only make things worse for Denver if they come out flat and looking snakebit following a WCHA playoff showing in which the Pioneers were shut down at home by a hot goalie in the form of Colorado College netminder Joe Howe. On Friday, DU will face another solid goalie in UNH’s Casey DeSmith (2.24 goals-against average, .924 save percentage), and I’m not sold enough on the Pioneers to be convinced they’ll find safe passage into the regional final. UNH wins.
Tyler: History tells us not to side with Denver in this matchup because the Pioneers are 1-4 in first-round games since they won back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005. It doesn’t help that Denver is has to travel east and New Hampshire is hosting. One thing the Pioneers can us to their advantage is its week off after missing the Final Five. They didn’t have to travel to Minnesota and New Hampshire on back-to-back weekends unlike most years, when they make similar trips on consecutive weeks. Both teams are limping into the tournament with records around .500 but I’m going to take the host team Wildcats.
Colorado College used a certain mentality that nearly helped the Tigers win the Final Five and earn a berth in the NCAA tournament.
We don’t need to win three games in a row. We need to win one game three times.
“That was the mentality we used against North Dakota last night,” said CC goaltender Joe Howe. “All that mattered tonight was leaving it all on the ice against Minnesota.”
The Tigers’ Cinderella run ended Saturday when Wisconsin beat them in the title game. The Badgers were in the same situation, needing to win the Final Five to earn the WCHA’s automatic bid to get in the tourney.
Any matchup involving Wisconsin or Colorado College against a team that was in position for an at-large bid, the Badgers or Tigers won (also of note: the teams that won the shots on goal battle lost each of the first four games).
Wisconsin and CC showed this weekend how dangerous teams playing for their seasons can be.
First-place SCSU sweats out Friday, Saturday
One of the last St. Cloud State players to leave the locker room after the Huskies fell 4-1 to Wisconsin Friday, Nic Dowd was as dejected his teammates that exited before him.
He was unsure whether or not SCSU’s season would continue. Until Saturday night when Massachusetts-Lowell eliminated Boston University, the Huskies season was in Limbo.
“Hopefully we can sneak in there,” Dowd said Friday. “I think we’ve earned a spot in the tournament. We won our conference and that’s hard to do.
“We didn’t compete against some teams we should’ve beaten earlier in the year and hopefully it doesn’t come back to bite us. A lot of teams don’t get a second chance and hopefully we will.”
Friday afternoon was a nightmare for SCSU, considering what was happening out east with underdogs knocking off high seeds and threatening to steal at-large bids. Brown beat Quinnipiac in the ECAC, Canisius beat Niagara in Atlantic Hockey and BU beat Boston College in Hockey East.
That might be the only time a MacNaughton Cup winner left its tournament hopes in the hands of results in other tournaments.
The PairWise Rankings determine the NCAA tournament field and takes into account every game a team plays at any time during a season. Those home losses to Northern Michigan in January almost killed SCSU’s chances to qualify.
Head east: it’s regional week
Six teams from the WCHA qualified for the NCAA tournament and they’ve been placed into three of the four brackets, leaving the East Region without a WCHA team.
When you draw up the brackets by ranking the teams 1 through 16, WCHA teams are spread out over all four brackets, which seems ideal with the high amount of teams from the league that made the tourney.
But the NCAA put travel distance and attendance numbers ahead of bracket integrity and moved North Dakota from the East Regional to the West where it could face Minnesota in the second round.
It’s a good move because it regionalizes the bracket a little more and it provides the potential for a rivalry game with a Frozen Four berth on the line.
In the Northeast, Denver and Wisconsin are the two least fortunate WCHA teams in their regional draws, given their opponent locations.
The Pioneers play the host New Hampshire, which is located 39 miles from the arena in Manchester. Wisconsin faces No. 1 seed Massachusetts-Lowell, which is around 35 from Manchester.
Both low seeds, SCSU and MSU play Notre Dame and Miami, respectively, in Toledo. South Bend, Ind. (Notre Dame) is a 2 1/2-hour drive to the Huntington Center in Toledo and Oxford, Ohio (Miami) is three hours away.
The Xcel Energy Center is really the only arena in the within a short driving distance for fans in the heart of WCHA territory under current rules that require regional sites to be neutral.
The Resch Center in Green Bay, Wis. is stretching it in terms of travel distance and Denver’s Pepsi Center is great for fans in Colorado, but when Minnesota doesn’t host in St. Paul, count on flying.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Here are videos of the postgame news conferences after Wisconsin’s 3-2 victory over Colorado College in the WCHA Final Five championship game:
Colorado College v Wisconsin
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Here are videos of the postgame news conferences after Colorado College’s 2-0 win over Minnesota in the WCHA Final Five semifinals on Friday.
Courtesy Minnesota Athletics
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Here’s video of the news conferences after Wisconsin’s 4-1 victory over St. Cloud State on Friday in the WCHA Final Five semifinals:
Wisconsin’s Mike Eaves, John Ramage and Joel Rumpel
St. Cloud State’s Bob Motzko, Ben Hanowski and Drew LeBlanc
St. Cloud State v Wisconsin:
Matthew: Wisconsin struggled mightily through most of this season to score and to sort out its special teams units, and yet the Badgers are as little as 60 minutes of game time away from playing for the Broadmoor Trophy and the WCHA playoff championship. UW has scored 14 goals in its last three games, and that sort of form will give them a fighting chance Friday against St. Cloud State. The Huskies will be desperate to win the Broadmoor for their own after having to share the MacNaughton Cup (regular season championship) with Minnesota, and SCSU has too many weapons that have been scoring consistently all season, and I think they’ll outpower the options from UW that have only started to really light up the scoreboard lately. SCSU, 3-1, with an empty-netter near the end of the game.
Tyler: Wisconsin took advantage of Minnesota State’s string of bad mistakes in the first period and buried them early Thursday, and continued to pour it on in the second period. That’s a lot less likely to happen Friday against St. Cloud State. I see the Huskies preventing the Badgers from stretching the ice as much as they did Thursday and SCSU’s array of weapons will be plenty to handle. SCSU wins
Minnesota v Colorado College:
Matthew: The Gophers are unarguably the more talented team in this match-up and will have the home Twin Cities crowd on its side, but certain factors could swing this game CC’s way. Tigers goaltender Joe Howe has been phenomenal in his team’s playoff run, beating arch-rival Denver on the road in the first round before stopping 32 North Dakota shots in Thursday’s second quarterfinal game in St. Paul, a surprise 4-3 overtime win for CC. Also, it will be interesting to see whether the masses that came to St. Paul from Grand Forks, N.D. will be back Friday cheering against Minnesota. I think the Gophers will pull this game out, but it could be just as close as CC’s quarterfinal game was. Minnesota, 3-2.
Tyler: All three of CC’s regulation goals Thursday stemmed from wins along the boards (one in the offensive zone, one in its own zone and one in the neutral zone) as they grinded out a win against UND. They’ll need a grinder mentality again and another outstanding performance by Howe in net. I think four physical games in seven days are enough to drain the Tigers’ energy going into a game against the more-talented and rested Gophers. Minnesota wins
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Here are videos from the postgame news conferences after Colorado College’s 4-3 overtime victory over North Dakota in the WCHA Final Five quarterfinals:
Colorado College’s Scott Owens, Peter Stoykewych, Rylan Schwartz and Alexander Krushelnyski
North Dakota’s Dave Hakstol, Drake Caggiula and Danny Kristo
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Here’s some postgame video reaction from Wisconsin’s 7-2 victory over Minnesota State on Thursday in the WCHA Final Five quarterfinals:
Wisconsin’s Mike Eaves, Tyler Barnes, Jefferson Dahl, Frankie Simonelli, video courtesy Wisconsin Athletics
Minnesota State winger Eriah Hayes
Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings