Todd: Well, Jim, we’re down to 16 teams and 15 games remaining in the college hockey season. How we got here is a long tale, but in the last week, we’ve seen teams just miss making the NCAA tournament and some teams that were waiting on the sidelines have the bubble carry them into the field of 16. I’ll start with this question this week: What memory of last weekend will you carry forward with you?
Jim: I’ll actually give you two memories, both from the Hockey East tournament. The first is the championship game that was probably the most exciting in history. Maine rallied to tie the game three times, including two goals in the closing minutes (one with an extra attacker). Boston College eventually won in overtime, but the excitement of that game was unparalleled. The other memory is how Vermont had to hang on until the last breath of that title game, needing Maine to lose in order to get an at-large bid. In essence, the Catamounts needed a perfect storm of things to happen around the country on Saturday and, in the end, they all did. How about you? What stands out from this past weekend?
Todd: The big memory I carry away may end up being the surprise at how many games in the first two days ended in shutouts. Thursday’s game in the WCHA and the four of the five early games on Friday were blankings. Everyone says how important goaltending is at this time of the season, and maybe that means good things ahead for North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Boston College, RIT and Cornell — the teams that pitched those shutouts. Although it should be noted that St. Cloud State’s Mike Lee got pulled from Saturday’s WCHA championship game after allowing four goals, adding further intrigue to the Huskies’ goaltending situation.
Jim: The same can be said for Boston College as John Muse gave up six goals in Saturday’s title game, hardly something he or Boston College is used to. So now that the NCAA field is set, what stands out to you? I feel like St. Paul is the bracket of death and that top seed Wisconsin will have a struggle to advance. I think conceivably Denver has the easiest region but its play last weekend make me wonder if anything is easy for the Pioneers right now.
Todd: Both great points. Wisconsin often can be its own worst enemy in terms of not generating enough offense to get by. St. Cloud State did a great job in shutting down the Badgers last Friday, but I know Wisconsin players were looking at themselves as a big part of the reason why they were blanked. St. Cloud State, the No. 2 seed in the West, is still looking to break through with its first NCAA victory, and with the way Northern Michigan is playing, it won’t be easy. With Denver, there were a lot of surprised people in St. Paul after the Pioneers’ losses. But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to just having a bad weekend at a bad time. No time left, though, for another one. The thing that I wonder about is Vermont’s place in the tournament. Do you think they are feeling like they have to justify their existence to anyone, maybe especially those from Ferris State?
Jim: I don’t think Vermont feels the need to justify anything. The Catamounts are very confident in the fact that they had a solid out-of-conference schedule and played extremely well against some great opponents. If they feel the need to justify anything, they can do so by beating Wisconsin on Friday night. Sure doesn’t sound like it’s out of the realm of things right now. So now being able to look at the field, who is your final four? Will we see the upsets of last year or can we expect for things to return to order?
Todd: I haven’t put a lot of thought into it yet, but here’s who I’m going with (and why): Michigan out of the Midwest, because I think the Wolverines have finally found the way they need to play, and it took Shawn Hunwick being in net to bring it out of them; Cornell in the East, because Ben Scrivens appears to be playing better than Marc Cheverie right now; Wisconsin in the West, because this seems a lot like 2006; and North Dakota in the Northeast, because the Sioux impressed me greatly last weekend, and I think they’ll have just enough to get through BC. And your picks?
Jim: I agree that Michigan has hit its stride but I think Miami is the better team and if both teams can get by their first-round matchups, I think Miami comes out of the Midwest. I also like Cornell in the East, as I think Denver is entering this weekend on such a low note that it’ll struggle to get past RIT. Cornell should have no problem getting past RIT. I’ll go with the homer pick in Worcester and pick BC over North Dakota for the millionth time. Both teams are playing well but I think BC will have a bit of a home-ice advantage. And in the west, I think this is the most difficult to pick, but I like Wisconsin (though will admit if I had multiple brackets, I might take Northern Michigan as a dark horse!) I’ve seen Vermont play a ton this year and depending on the team that shows up, my pick of Wisconsin could be ruined in the opening round. OK, one more set of predictions — we’ve seen the Hobey Baker finalists. Who, at this point, is in your top three?
Todd: I was talking this over with a few people last weekend, and it really seems like this year’s Hobey winner will be decided by play in the conference championships and the regionals. There just isn’t one hands-down front runner in the group, as far as I can see. Going on that belief, if you look at play last weekend, you’d have to include Cornell goaltender Ben Scrivens for his pair of shutouts. Wisconsin’s Blake Geoffrion did OK with a pair of goals against Denver — whose goaltender, Marc Cheverie, may be playing himself off the list — so I’ll throw him in there. And, even though he didn’t play last weekend, I’m going to add New Hampshire’s Bobby Butler to the mix. Obviously, a lot can change after the regionals. What’s your top three?
Jim: I think taking into consideration what you said, the fact that Maine and Rensselaer have been eliminated really hurts Gustav Nyquist and Chase Polacek. Polacek was never a threat in my mind, but Nyquist is a guy who I think deserves to be in the top three. He was a stud last weekend at the Hockey East tournament, but his season ended a week too early. Personally, I’d put him in my top three along with Scrivens and a guy who you didn’t mention but every time I’ve seen him this year he’s played incredible, and that’s Denver’s Rhett Rakhshani. Seeing as there’s another week of hockey left to be played before the Hobey balloting, let’s see if we’re both thinking similarly next week! Until then …