WCHA Picks: Mar. 29 (NCAA Tournament)

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.