Tuesday Morning Quarterback: Frozen Four Edition

Scott: Jim, the regionals are in the books, so to start with, let’s review our picks for the Frozen Four. I’d say we didn’t do too badly, each getting three of the four Denver bids correct. We each had Boston College, North Dakota and Michigan coming out of their regionals, and my hat’s off to folks who correctly foresaw Notre Dame making it out of the West with New Hampshire, Colorado College and Michigan State all in the Springs as well. I was at the Midwest Regional in Madison, Wis., all weekend, and was treated to some impressive performances — Ryan Duncan’s hat trick Saturday, a Wisconsin explosion against Denver later that evening, and then a barnburner Sunday that ended with UND heading to the Frozen Four. No one can say Wisconsin didn’t put on a show for the home fans at the Kohl Center, but I have the feeling the Badgers will be angry the whole offseason at some of the chances they had in that game that didn’t quite go in. UW could have been up by four or five goals with some different bounces, and in that case I can’t see the Sioux making the comeback. How was your weekend?

No. 1 Michigan, led by Hobey Baker finalist Kevin Porter, is the favorite headed into the Frozen Four (photo: Ray Bartnikowski).

No. 1 Michigan, led by Hobey Baker finalist Kevin Porter, is the favorite headed into the Frozen Four (photo: Ray Bartnikowski).

Jim: What a weekend of hockey. That’s all I can say. Great games, great goals, great saves and in the end, a solid four-team Frozen Four field. Like you said, three-fourths of this ran in line with what we thought — Notre Dame was the only surprise team heading to Denver. But that doesn’t mean that we lacked other surprises. I was pleasantly surprised with the effort of Air Force, which for much of the game on Saturday outplayed Miami. The Falcons were the victims of some poor officiating and one rough mistake — a too many men on the ice penalty midway through the third that led to Miami’s tying goal. I was also surprised by Wisconsin’s performance. A week ago I griped that this team got in with a below-.500 record. Now I eat crow as the Badgers came within a bounce of the Frozen Four. The one thing I can’t let pass, though, was the demise of the WCHA. I knew the league would struggle to get more than two teams to the Frozen Four, but out of six bids, to get only one to Denver is awful. As a WCHA follower, you must be hanging your head in shame!

Scott: It’s hard to find much upside in the WCHA’s performance, that’s for sure. Apart from Wisconsin, as you’ve already pointed out, the league didn’t have much to cheer about last weekend — and the Badgers were taken out by another WCHA team, leaving just UND in the mix now. To be fair, if you believe the seeds, the conference got exactly what it was “supposed” to — one number-one seed, one Frozen Four team. But as we both said last week, Colorado College should have been a solid bet coming out of its own rink in the West, and the Tigers’ performance against Michigan State is going to leave a bad taste for them. As a Spartan alum, it’s tough for me to get too upset about that in a personal way, but I’m sure the WCHA was hoping for, and even betting on two Frozen Four teams. I heard a lot of griping at the Kohl Center about how the NCAA selection committee supposedly hosed the league by putting three teams there, but I don’t buy it. The league had at least one team in each of the four regionals, including two hosts, and had an excellent chance for multiple representatives in Denver. Instead, the WCHA went a combined 3-4 (1-2 against nonconference opponents). The big winner is obviously the CCHA, which justified its four bids with a combined 6-2 record, with one of those losses being Michigan State to Notre Dame. And to think that Notre Dame, like Wisconsin, was very much in doubt even to make the NCAAs right to the end. That, along with Air Force’s second straight near-miss, shows that the talent gap between the top seeds and the bottom is narrower and narrower.

Jim: I will give all the credit in the world to the CCHA. This is a league that has produced the top two teams in the country (according to the polls) for much of the year, yet no one — you and I included — ever gave much credit to the other 10 teams. Michigan State and Notre Dame certainly proved their worth this weekend and the fact that the league guaranteed itself a place in the national title game must have commissioner Tom Anastos beaming. One thing not to be lost, as well, is the fact that Miami is but a two-minute defensive lapse from being the third team in the Frozen Four, something that’s only happened twice in the modern era. Speaking of Miami, I also have to credit Boston College on a gutsy comeback, pulling victory from the jaws of defeat. Miami was a very skilled team that banged the Eagles around all afternoon Sunday but BC found a way to win. I’d say the Eagles and Notre Dame are your two underdogs heading into Denver. So do you think either stand a chance?

Scott: Both of the semifinals are being played by teams who have already faced each other this season, so if we take a look at those results they may tell us something. Notre Dame played Michigan twice in CCHA action in January, a home-and-“home” in which the nominal home game for the Fighting Irish was played in Michigan’s backyard at the Palace of Auburn Hills. The Wolverines won both of those games, with the Yost game a 3-2 final decided by Louie Caporusso’s winner in the final minute of regulation and the Palace matchup a 5-1 blowout. So that evidence, along with Michigan’s stellar play of late (taking nothing away from Notre Dame — after all, the Irish are going to Denver too) tells me we should expect a Michigan win. Boston College and North Dakota is much harder to call — the one matchup between the two was all the way back in October, and ended in a 0-0 tie after just two periods thanks to fog and bad ice at Conte Forum, a game we’ve previously discussed. The tea leaves are less clear in this game, but I’m going to take North Dakota on the grounds of Jean-Philippe Lamoureux’s starring role in net for UND. That sets up a Michigan-North Dakota final, where I have to give the nod to the Wolverines. Your take?

Jim: I really would love to see Cinderella, a.k.a. Notre Dame, continue her ride, but I think the clock is about to strike midnight. Michigan, from all accounts that I heard over the weekend, is simply a fantastic team and it seems unlikely that the Irish can survive. That said, one-game scenarios are the best grounds for an upset. On the other side of the coin, I have to take Boston College. The Eagles proved last weekend they can skate with a rough yet skilled team like North Dakota. This could be one of the fastest games played all season and it’s a crying shame that they’re playing this as the early game. As for the finals, if Michigan gets there, it’s impossible for me to bet against the Wolverines. On another note, Nathan Gerbe, Ryan Jones and Kevin Porter will make up this year’s Hobey Hat Trick. My money still lies with Porter. How about you? Any surprises in the final three?

Scott: I think Porter locked up the Hobey with his five-goal performance at the East Regional. He was already the favorite as the engine driving the nation’s best team, but if the voters were thinking of looking elsewhere he put an end to that by delivering on the big stage at the regional. Putting Jones in the Hat Trick is clearly a nod to the critical role he’s played in shaping Miami into a national contender during his career, but with the two of them playing in the same conference and Porter’s numbers being the better of the two — not to mention his team’s performance — Jones will in all likelihood have to be content with being among the final three contenders. A stronger case can be made for Gerbe, who also shined last weekend, but the momentum is obviously behind Porter. And since the award is decided before the Frozen Four, there’s no opportunity for Gerbe to wrest that momentum away. It’s Porter in a runaway. And on that note, we’ll see you in Denver!