The selection committee threw the Northeast Regional a curve ball.
Historically a prime-time set of games with local flavor in Manchester, N.H., the NCAA tournament regional became a day-night doubleheader, with a rivalry showdown between former WCHA foes Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth as the showcase.
Northeast Regional (Manchester, N.H.)
• Boston University vs. Yale, 2 p.m. EDT Friday, ESPNU
• Minnesota-Duluth vs. Minnesota, 5:30 p.m. EDT Friday, ESPNU
• Regional championship game, 5:30 p.m. EDT Saturday, ESPN2
The Golden Gophers and Bulldogs have a chance to renew their rivalry, while Yale and Boston University — the 2013 champion and this year’s Hockey East champion — will play the undercard in Friday’s first round.
There’s a lot of hardware between the four teams in the Northeast. Each team has a national title to their name in the last six years, with Minnesota being the lone exception.
As the lone Big Ten representative, Minnesota has even more pressure than usual to deliver. And after coming so close last year, the Gophers have the star power to do it. Kyle Rau, Travis Boyd, Adam Wilcox — the litany of names would fill out all-star teams in any league. And after a Big Ten title, the Gophers enter with a fair degree of momentum.
The fashion with which the Gophers ran through the end of the Big Ten regular season and surged past Michigan in the title game makes the potential for a mouthwatering BU-Minnesota regional final (a rematch from 2012 in St. Paul).
Gophers fans are still smarting from last year’s championship game loss to Union, overpowered by the Dutchmen when destiny seemed to be lining up behind them.
Still, rivalry games produce great hockey and unlikely results. Minnesota-Duluth is in the tournament for the first time since 2012, when it lost to Boston College in Worcester, when they were attempting to reach the Frozen Four in back-to-back years.
The Bulldogs have made their mark on the season with low-scoring games, winning a slew of nonconference and league games in the first half of the year only scoring two or three goals per game.
Lately, even that’s dried up. Five times in the last nine games, the Bulldogs have scored fewer than two goals and were shut out twice in their last three games.
Possession numbers and goaltending haven’t been bad, but giving up three goals seems to be the threshold for losing lately, and for Minnesota-Duluth to reach to the regional final, goal scoring needs to improve, especially to contend with the depth the Gophers have at their disposal.
Speaking of goal scoring, there won’t be a lack of it from the team in scarlet and white in the early game.
On the surface, the Terriers’ season has been defined by the talents Jack Eichel has lent them, but there are plenty of other great story lines.
Evan Rodrigues’ rise from relative anonymity to be the second-most prolific scorer in Hockey East has been remarkable.
Team defense, one of the Terriers’ greatest weaknesses last year, has emerged to be their second-greatest strength. Anchored by a healthy Matt Grzelcyk, the Terriers are far more reliable in front of Matt O’Connor this season, enabling O’Connor to put in a solid season of work in net.
That’s where Yale might have an answer. Alex Lyon has posted a phenomenal seven shutouts this season and sports the best GAA in the nation.
Not to diminish the work of his forwards, but the Bulldogs have only one goal scorer in double digits, Mike Doherty. Yale likely won’t be able to overcome BU with firepower, and will need a stellar performance from Lyon to advance.
Let’s not forget that Yale also had a rough path to get to the Frozen Four two years ago. Instead, the Bulldogs dispatched North Dakota en route to Pittsburgh. The circumstances (and the draw) are a bit different this time around, and there will be undoubtedly more traveling fans in Manchester. But it’s a similarly challenging path for the Bulldogs to make it back to the Frozen Four.