The playoffs are in full gear across six conferences this weekend. Here is a look at the WCHA, ECAC Hockey, Hockey East and the CCHA. This is not a slight to Atlantic Hockey or the CHA, but I have only seen Army and Air Force in those conferences this season and do not want to evaluate what I have not seen. I have seen everyone else either live or on film — DS.
Yale at Princeton: Yale can score with dangerous offensive weapons. Two sophomores sandwich two freshmen to lead the team in scoring. Sean Backman led the way with 18-8–26, followed by Broc Little, Denny Kearney, and Mark Arcobello. Little has displayed a unique nose for the net and is always in a scoring area. Goaltending is strong as both have proven they can win a game by themselves. Billy Blasé is the top guy. Princeton has Lee Jubinville and he was the Ivy League Player of The Year and posted a 1.41 points per game average. Princeton can move the puck, defend well, and open it up when they have to. Both teams are well coached by good tactical guys. Princeton has shown consistency all season and they get the nod here. The thing about Princeton is if you pull out some film on them, compare it to Gadowsky’s teams in Fairbanks, and his minor pro teams in the old WCHL, you can see the link. They skate, they attack, and they are focused on offense. However, if they underestimate Yale’s offense, it could be a tough weekend in New Jersey. Princeton is the choice here to make the trip to Albany.
Cornell at Union: Still getting used to seeing Cornell on the road in the second round, but Cornell is Cornell and they can win a game on the moon with the way they play. Great defensive team with solid goaltending, they don’t give up many chances and make it tough to get good looks at the net. Ben Scrivens can give up big rebounds but those aren’t much help when you can’t get to them. Colin Greening and Riley Nash provide offense and a presence on the rush and Topher Scott is a solid two way guy who always seems to be open. Raymond Sawada has always impressed with his work ethic.
Union is a scrappy team that works as hard as Cornell and that’s a compliment to Nate Leaman and his staff. They are your classic “find a way to win” team and those teams are dangerous. Defenseman Lane Caffaro has proven to be good on either side of the puck and adds a dimension of offense from the back line. He’s been more disciplined and that is a factor in his improvement. Junior captain Matt Cook has been the heart and soul of that team and leads a team that plays offensively and defensively as a team That’s tough to beat.
Only hangup here has been Union’s bad luck in the playoffs, especially in OT. There’s just something about Cornell, maybe it’s because they are Cornell. The tea leaves point toward the Big Red winning game three in this one.
Quinnipiac at Harvard: Love this matchup. It has everything. Size, strength, speed, skill, goaltending, contrasting styles, and good coaching. The Bobcats posses a team of big strong forwards who can own the offensive zone. They cycle well, protect the puck, and use that size and strength to muscle their way to scoring chances. They are an interesting team in that they can get swept by a team they should sweep but steamroll better teams.
Harvard is a great defensive team in addition to having goaltending in Kyle Richter. They are very hard to play against, the ultimate compliment to any team. Harvard has some dynamic faceoff guys in Jimmy Fraser Doug Rogers. Harvard can get the puck moving and can create offensively with guys like Jon Pelle and freshman Mike Biega, but their strength is how good they are defensively.
Can Quinnipiac’s big bodies on Harvard’s small ice get to the net consistently and generate offense? This one is almost too close to call but we’ll take the home team in the friendly confines of the Bright Center.
Colgate at Clarkson: I know I said I’d love to call Ferris State at Notre Dame this weekend, but I’d take this series also. Really like both programs. Clarkson can really move the puck and has big time high end weapons. Matt Beca and Steve Zalewski combined for 29 goals and 62 points and we haven’t gotten to Nick Dodge yet, who many feel is the team’s best player. Their forwards are very accountable defensively and get a lot of backside pressure against the rush.
Colgate has a unique factor in goalie Mark Dekanich. He’s streaky at times but when the streak is going well, he’ll throw up three consecutive shutouts. The feeling is that Clarkson, as good as they can be offensively, needs to score early in games before Dekanich gets his game into shutdown mode. Tyler Burton has been great his whole career and is very good at finding open space to get shots. Jesse Winchester is the third senior in this trifecta of experience and we all know winning takes good senior leadership.
I give Colgate a puncher’s chance here, but I was impressed enough with Clarkson in last year’s ECAC Hockey Final Four that they get my sentimental nod here.
Princeton, Harvard, Cornell, and Clarkson advance.
UNO at Michigan: Bryan Marshall is every bit the Hobey Baker candidate that fellow CCHA stars Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik are in some respects. Love how Scott Parse and Bill Thomas are gone and Marshall is still a scoring star and a great captain. Like the aforementioned two, as well as Ryan Jones at Miami, he proves that coming back for your senior year is a pretty smart idea in terms of player development.
That being said, Michigan, despite Scooter Vaughn’s injury last weekend, is pretty deep. Kolarik seems ready to come back and even at 75 percent, he’s just fine for me. UNO is a good skating team that demands you match their intensity; they are very well-coached but Michigan might be too deep, too focused, and have too many intangibles. UNO is no easy out so Michigan earns this series the hard way.
Ferris State at Notre Dame: I’ll be honest, if I had my choice of series to broadcast this weekend this would be the one. It’s not a sexy series but it’s ripe for surprises. Notre Dame has gotten great goaltending from Jordan Pearce and Eric Condra, Ryan Thang, and Mark Van Guilder have been terrific. Brock Sheehan could play for me any day. ND is a great shutdown team but it seems that the more they play shutdown they less they create and that could be an issue against a Ferris State team that is opportunistic, enthusiastic, and playing with house money.
ND is 2-3-3 in its last four weekend series and while the goals against are low, so are the goals for. That’s a lot to ask of a rookie goalie in the playoffs. Jimmy Howard as a junior at Maine could handle that pressure. Same goes for Jeff Lerg at Michigan State or John Curry at BU, who I think might have pulled off a win or two in last year’s tourney if his hip wasn’t so bad. Mitch O’Keefe for Ferris has had some great moments at FSU and he might be on the verge of stealing a series. Since a loss to Northern Michigan on CSTV in January, he’s 4-1-3 with wins over Notre Dame, Miami, and Michigan. That’s pretty good!
If there is a first-round upset, it just might be here. This should be a great series.
Bowling Green at Miami: Miami doesn’t get the credit it deserves for being an elite NCAA team but this team is really good in every area. Well-coached, good speed, gamebreakers offensively, shutdown defensemen and goaltending. They have a great home-ice advantage at Steve Cady Arena, which is an awesome building. BG is an improved team that can compete with the big boys, but they are depth challenged. Derek Whitmore has been great with 27 goals and has been the consummate leader. Jacob Cepis has 15 goals including an OT game-winner that helped propel BG past Lake State and sophomore Todd McIlrath is showing signs of a big series. Nick Eno has been solid in goal.
That said, Miami is loaded. Jones, Miele, Davis, Cannone, Ganzak, Martinez, and Zatkoff power that engine and that is a lot of horsepower. Pat Cannone as a rookie center has been a stellar pivot on the top line and shows no signs of slowing down. Miami is a good rush team, does well getting pucks low and creating offense, has size, speed and skill. BG will have to be stingy in its end but I’m thinking Ricoville should have a bit to cheer about by Sunday night as the RedHawks prepare for the weekend at the Joe.
Northern Michigan at Michigan State: This is another good one because NMU swept MSU a month ago in Marquette. However, MSU responded the next game by blowing out Michigan at Munn. MSU has a major advantage in that they do not get rattled and have a champion’s swagger. They are never out of games and know what it takes to gather short-term focus in the national tourney.
Michigan State can run and gun but would rather control tempo. They can shut you down and make the neutral zone look like I-96 on a summer Friday afternoon. However, where they are dangerous is in transition as they are deceptively good at getting the puck moving offensively. In a conference full of real good goalies they have the best one, and there is probably no goalie in college hockey who serves as a better motivator to his team than Lerg.
Northern has some jump in their attack and is very tenacious, especially on the cycle and on the walls. They win battles in all three zones and that makes them a tough team to deliver a knockout blow to. When they get goaltending they become a confident team at the other end and have shown they can play an up-tempo game if encouraged to do so. Northern has been really competitive against the elite teams, and don’t fear playing on the road or playing good teams. MSU will have their hands full but will be on the winning side of the handshake line as they take the first step on the road to a possible repeat.
Northeastern at Vermont: Seen a lot of Vermont lately live and on film. Haven’t seen as much of Northeastern so let’s start with the Catamounts. Joe Fallon in goal has been very good in the second half, like lights out good. The final weekend of the season he was excellent in a split at UNH, robbing the Wildcats of a chance to become Hockey East’s first ever 20 game winner. Fallon’s confidence has allowed his physical play to reach the heights it has in the past. He looks composed and his economy of movement is great. Pucks find him now as opposed to earlier in the season when he was desperately looking for pucks.
Earlier this semester is when Vermont rescued its season. They were a young group that had trouble finding themselves, and after the Christmas break they had a team meeting to get their focus back. Then after being swept at BC in a weekend when head coach Kevin Sneddon felt they didn’t compete very well, the coaching staff brought every kid into Sneddon’s office and asked them if they were on board or not. The staff then got much more active in terms of demanding accountability and the Catamounts haven’t looked back since. They are the top shutdown team in Hockey East and their game is tailor-made for the playoffs. They have three solid lines but will need to find offense if they want to win Hockey East, which they probably need to do to gain an NCAA bid.
Northeastern, under Greg Cronin, is a solid team which had a better start than finish but might be the hardest-working team in Hockey East. Brad Thiessen won 15 games and five players have double-digit goal numbers. Ryan Ginand plays with as much heart as anyone in the conference and Northeastern can manufacture goals and win on the road. The last time Vermont started at home was when they were still in the ECACHL and hosted Dartmouth. The atmosphere was electric: expect that again. I like how Vermont has grown as a team, and feel they’ll outlast a good Northeastern team.
Providence College at Boston College: I would say if there is an upset brewing in Hockey East this might be it, but I don’t think it will happen. Having had a chance to see Tim Army’s team at the Great Lakes Invitational and also on film recently, you have to be impressed with their commitment to chase and battle for pucks and get shots on goal. Army likes a team in motion and they can quick up well, forecheck aggressively, and no matter what the score they never bail out, as evidenced in a 50-shot 5-0 loss to Michigan in December. Tyler Sims is solid in goal.
The Eagles have my two favorite players on their roster in Tim Filangieri and Mike Brennan, who I feel represent this team well in that they play hard, play with an edge, and compete like mean SOB’s. Their offense is as good as anyone and Nathan Gerbe is probably the best pure goalscorer in the game. John Muse has gone wire-to-wire in goal as a freshman, replacing Cory Schneider. That was no small task but as early as game one of the season, in the Ice Breaker against Michigan, you could see Muse was for real. Guys like Matt Greene, Pat Gannon, and Ben Smith symbolize the team’s grit factor and also can contribute offensively. Smith is the best kept secret east of Albany.
The Eagles will win this series, but keep an eye on Providence, which keeps getting better.
Massachusetts at New Hampshire: UMass had a great first half, and was No. 5 in the nation at one point. Then they played a home and home with UNH in early January. They were swept and haven’t recovered. UMass plunged into a 2-8-1 tailspin after that before winning against BU and sweeping Merrimack to finish the season. You have to like a three-game win streak entering the playoffs, but they are running into a team playing as well as anyone in the nation in UNH. This team is really good, has three solid lines, is stacked defensively, and has great veteran leadership. Mike Radja, Matt Fornataro and Danny Dries form an awfully good first line and Bobby Butler, James VanRiemsdyk, and Jerry Pollastrone are a great second line. They have depth up front and on defense and Joe Charlebois is excellent in his own zone. When it all breaks down, Kevin Regan holds down the fort and he is a legit Hobey Baker candidate.
UNH is on a mission and is in the right frame of mind. Lake Whittemore proves too much for the Minutemen and UNH advances.
UMass-Lowell at BU: Would this be a good time to admit that I miss having Maine in the playoffs? Ok, never mind that. BU is a great story because this is a team that went through its usual midseason drama, suspended its captain, and did what hasn’t happened in a long time and that was lose a Beanpot semifinal. I was convinced that was it for BU. Then what does Jack Parker do? He rallies the team and they finish second. BU was a team that couldn’t establish a goalie, couldn’t defend, and couldn’t score. Special teams, especially the penalty kill were off a bit. Yet here they are as the No. 2 seed in Hockey East and that’s pretty impressive.
Lowell is a lunchpail gang that works hard. Led by sophomore Kory Falite, who led the team in goals, Lowell brings a balanced attack with four double-digit goal scorers. Barry Goers and Maury Edwards are two defensemen that were responsible for 27 points and allow Lowell to add depth to the attack. Lowell will compete and this series won’t be easy, but Pete MacArthur wants to win a national title and that’s why he came back. He makes BU better, and they’ll win this series.
Wisconsin at St. Cloud: The Badgers are an interesting team. They can look lousy but can also look very disciplined and systematic. They had an up-and-down season and some of their vets didn’t play as well as they needed to. That being said, they are a battle-tested team and there are a lot of players on that team that feel they have a lot to prove.
Look at their season results and you see nothing that really excites you. Look at their scoring and nothing really wows you. However, they are Wisconsin and I’d rate Mike Eaves among the best in the business in terms of winning short tournaments. Kyle Turris, Ben Street and Michael Davies were the only three to crack the 10-goal mark but Wisconsin’s strength is in their character. Patrick Johnson is a guided missile and plays on skill and emotion. Blake Geoffrion, Ben Grotting and Sean Dolan provide depth and grit and Ben Ford is a proud senior who has battled through a season of ups and downs. Jamie McBain is as good as any defenseman in the conference, especially offensively, and Kyle Klubertanz needs to make good on his final postseason in Madison.
St. Cloud is in high gear right now. They have lost once since February 9 (to Wisconsin) and have beaten some good squads as of late. Ryan Lasch, Garrett Roe and Andreas Nodl lead a potent offense and St. Cloud has shown it can be a rush team, a chip-and-chase team, and a gritty team They are solid in goal with Jake Weslosky, who seems to have the nod over Shane Connelly in goal, but I like Connelly’s gamesmanship. It might not be the popular pick, or even the smart man’s pick, but I’m picking Wisconsin to upset St. Cloud. Just a hunch.
Minnesota at Minnesota State: I know the Purple Bull had a great season. I know they have a good team. I know Minnesota had a subpar season and is a little outmanned for the first time in the Lucia era. Don’t care. I’m taking the Gophers. With the exception of a 4-1 Saturday night loss at Denver, the Gophers kept it a one-goal game most of the second half and for the first time since Robb Stauber I believe in the Gophers’ goaltending.
Anchorage at CC: CC will win this one. Went out on a limb here. Two players have impressed me all year in Richard Bachman and Chad Rau, but Rau has been good just about every time I’ve seen CC in my years at CSTV. Billy Sweatt is explosive and Steve Schultz has been a very good first-year player. There’s not much to say about CC other than they are really good, are a legit national-title contender, and play an exciting style. This will be a good tuneup for the Xcel Center and beyond. CC is like UNH; they have gone under the radar a bit but they should get picked up around the time they win a regional and show up in Denver. CC is in the Michigan-UNH-North Dakota neighborhood.
Michigan Tech at North Dakota: North Dakota was my favorite to win the whole ball of wax in the preseason but I hate picking against Tech. Jamie Russell and his staff have cultivated a very good team and a great culture at Tech, and the Huskies are a team on the rise. Loved their play at the GLI this season. However, NoDak is too deep and Jean-Phillipe Lamoureux is as good as any goalie in the nation if not better. Tech can pack it in and play very well defensively but NoDak will patiently pound you with their size and depth. I think Tech plays this very well but loses to a team that is just better.
Minnesota Duluth at Denver: Peter Mannino won a national title as a freshman and hasn’t been heard from much since. His play in goal has been fine, but Denver hasn’t gotten over the hump the past two seasons. This could be different. Despite losing Brock Trotter, and despite getting hammered by CC last weekend and splitting with Tech the weekend before, Denver is a good team and they are very well-coached. This series could go either way and I can see Denver losing. Really liked what I saw from Duluth on Saturday night in beating Minnesota at Minny on senior night. I’m staying with Denver.