Todd: Jim, we’re down to our final four teams and our final three games of the season. Minnesota-Duluth and Notre Dame on one side of the Frozen Four bracket, and North Dakota and Michigan on the other. Granted, that’s two from the CCHA and two from the WCHA so there’s no eastern representation, but from a marketing standpoint, those are some big names in college athletics to be putting in front of the national audience, don’t you think?
Jim: With no disrespect meant, these four names are a little more palatable to the NCAA and its broadcast partner, ESPN, than, say, Vermont, Rochester Institute of Technology and Bemidji State. Having covered both of the regional finals in the east, I can say that Minnesota-Duluth and Notre Dame and very worthy regional champs. Both played near perfect games in the regional final. It seemed that Michigan and North Dakota both earned that “deserving” moniker. Michigan played a tight game with Colorado College, but from what I saw on TV, it was a pretty dominating win. North Dakota, on the other hand, needs no explanation. The Sioux simply dominated their regional. At this point, you have to think they’re the favorite for national champion, no?
Todd: Like you said, no disrespect meant here, but after watching North Dakota and its almost machine-like drive through the regional in Green Bay, I think the only team that can beat North Dakota is named North Dakota. Maybe Michigan can get into the Sioux’s heads in the semifinals, but North Dakota has everything working right at a perfect time. Then again, the team we think is going to win it doesn’t always get it done, right?
Jim: Ask Boston College and I think you have an answer to your question. I think it’s safe to say that BC was the biggest surprise of the weekend. You might put Miami’s loss to New Hampshire on that same level, but BC’s senior class had dominated the postseason. I do believe that the Eagles would’ve had a very tough time with Michigan in the regional final, had they advanced. But I see a lot of Boston College during the season and I couldn’t believe how poorly their defense played in the first and second periods on Friday night.
Todd: It makes you wonder whether Colorado College exposed a weakness, or Boston College players just had a really bad night at a really bad time. Speaking of Colorado College, how strange to put up eight goals on BC one night and then manage just one late power-play goal a night later in the regional final loss to Michigan. Maybe that sums up the Tigers’ season: Plenty of reason to think they could be a really good team because of the top-end talent, but not enough consistency to make it happen.
Jim: I wondered if CC maybe expended a bit too much energy in the BC game. They grabbed a nice 7-2 lead in the second, but they really had to skate and run around with the Eagles to keep them from coming back (as they knew the Eagles could do). And CC wasn’t the only team to look tired in the regional final. I thought the same could be said for Denver, having played the double-OT game on Saturday, and Yale, which got beat up by Air Force and also needed OT.
All three of these teams played the late game in the first round, which leads me to ponder the regional system in general. Might it be beneficial to the NCAA to play two super regionals in big-time hockey markets? You would send eight teams to each regional. Four would play Thursday-Saturday, four would play Friday-Sunday. You would create a great atmosphere in the city and also take away the unfair advantage of playing the early game in the regional semis. Whaddya think?
Todd: It’s an interesting idea. I think we’ve found out that, unless it’s in a competing team’s home area, the stands are going to be fairly empty for the regionals. Fans can only travel so much, especially in today’s economy. So it’s worth putting forward ideas like that, which could shake up the system yet not be a move back to home-ice regionals. I think you’d still have the problem of attendance, though — I don’t know if the fans of the teams who aren’t playing on a given day are going to attend the games with teams they’re not rooting for.
In the end, if boosting attendance is the major concern, letting the higher seeds host is probably the best answer. I don’t think that’s the right way of doing it, though, because then you’re giving a big boost to the home team. It seems that any way you try to fix the regional system, there’s another problem that comes up.
Jim: I think the attendance issue is bigger in the west than the east as there are more drivable venues in the east for many teams. But you’re right, it’s difficult to fix these issues and I believe they have more impact on the host schools/leagues than the NCAA itself, which gets guaranteed revenues from each host. I liked the atmosphere in Bridgeport and Manchester (though Sunday night’s late start had an impact on attendance). St. Louis looked dead and Green Bay seemed to have plenty of empty seats but still a good atmosphere.
Todd: Green Bay was a good atmosphere because of the North Dakota fans. Love ’em or hate ’em, they make noise for the Sioux. And Western Michigan brought a good cheering section and a band, which were nice to see for the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance in a long time.
Next year’s western regionals are in Green Bay and St. Paul, so I’m sure the NCAA would love to see Wisconsin and Minnesota back in the tournament to help the attendance figures. Michigan Tech is the host in Green Bay, but the Badgers would be the big draw.
Jim: Well, out east you have Worcester and Bridgeport. Certainly, the NCAA is praying Yale stays strong despite its graduation losses. Their fans made the difference in that region. Worcester is almost always safe because of the massive number of teams in the area.
Anyway, moving on. Hobey Baker balloting is this week. I’m looking at the list of 10 finalists and realize only a few had an impact this past weekend. Matt Frattin continues to make his case, while Andy Miele struggled in Miami’s loss. At the same time, Jack Connolly was a monster for Minnesota-Duluth. Carter Camper, Cam Atkinson, Chase Polacek and Paul Thompson were all in action, but none of them did much. Based on this past weekend, I feel like I could predict the Hat Trick.
Todd: Did Miele play himself out of the running in your mind? It’s tough to judge a player on one game, but that’s what happens when the voting takes place after the regionals. Some of those players aren’t going to go out on a high note, and often, they pay the price when it’s a close race.
Jim: Definitely not. Miele is still a leading candidate in my opinion. He still is a shoo-in for the Hobey Hat Trick. Whether he wins it is yet to be seen, but I think he still could be the favorite.
So, before we close, let’s go back to the Frozen Four. Now that we know the teams involved and the matchups, who plays for the national title and who wins the crown?
Todd: As I said, I think it’s North Dakota’s tournament to lose. My guess is they’ll play Minnesota-Duluth in the final, and I’ll pick the Sioux to win there. UMD and Notre Dame might be a toss-up, but I think the Bulldogs’ top line will help them get through. But I didn’t see very many cracks in the Sioux last weekend, so my impression is that beating them is going to take something extraordinary. How do you see it shaping up?
Jim: I flipped a coin on the Notre Dame-UMD game and it came up Irish. So I say it’s Notre Dame vs. North Dakota. And I’m in your corner with the Sioux. Can’t find a way for them to lose. And I’ll go a step further to say that the NoDak-Michigan game might be the national title game.
This will be our last TMQ of the season. On behalf of Todd, let me say thanks for reading and enjoy the Frozen Four.