The Queen City will have its chance to help crown the kings of college hockey, with four teams trekking to U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati for the NCAA Midwest Regional to be held Friday and Saturday.
The matchups include an East-West showdown between a traditional power and a squad experiencing a historic campaign, and a matchup between two familiar foes who have met on the ice and the gridiron plenty of times over the years.
Midwest Regional (Cincinnati)
• North Dakota vs. Northeastern, 2 p.m. EDT Friday, ESPNU
• Michigan vs. Notre Dame, 5:30 p.m. EDT Friday, ESPNU
• Regional championship game: 6 p.m. EDT Saturday, ESPN2
The third overall seed, North Dakota (30-6-4) receives top billing in the Midwest bracket under first-year coach Brad Berry. Coming off a tie in the NCHC tournament’s consolation game vs. Denver, North Dakota proved its mettle throughout the year by edging fellow No. 1 seed St. Cloud State for the league’s regular season title, and UND has made two consecutive Frozen Four appearances.
Vancouver draft pick Brock Boeser leads the way with 25 goals and 26 assists, but he’s far from the only player to watch. Chicago pick Nick Schmaltz has 10 goals and 32 helpers while Drake Caggiula has 19 tallies and 25 assists. North Dakota is also third in the nation in defense, with goalies Cam Johnson and Matt Hrynkiw spearheading a defense that allows just 1.85 goals per game.
North Dakota will face a tough task in Northeastern, which started the season 1-11-2 but is on a 13-0-1 run that includes a Hockey East tournament title — their first since 1988. Their last loss was in the Beanpot to Boston College, and since then the Huskies (22-13-5) have averaged 4.4 goals per game.
“I’m so thrilled and proud of our whole team who battled hard and showed a lot of resilience and resolve throughout the course of the year,” Northeastern coach Jim Madigan said after the Hockey East title game win against UMass-Lowell.
Zach Aston-Reese leads the way in scoring with 14 goals and 29 helpers, and his goal in the third period of the Hockey East title game gave the Huskies the title. Nolan Stevens has a team-high 19 tallies as well.
Michigan and Notre Dame have quite a tradition on the football field, met in the NCAA tournament in basketball this past week and will now reprise their old CCHA rivalry in Cincinnati.
For Michigan, this matchup will bring back plenty of good memories, as the second-seeded Wolverines won the 1996 national championship — Red Berenson’s first as coach — in Cincinnati in 1996.
If the Wolverines (24-7-5) are to return to the top of the heap, the Big Ten champions will be led by the CCM line of Kyle Connor, JT Compher and Tyler Motte — the three highest scoring players in Division I. Freshman phenom Connor leads the NCAA with 35 goals and 69 points, Compher has a national-best 46 assists among his 60 points, and Motte has a sterling 31-23–54 line himself.
In addition, the three scored four goals in the Wolverines’ 5-3 win over Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament title game. The other tally, the game-winner in the third, went to first-round draft pick Zach Werenski, a defenseman tabbed by the Ohio-based Columbus Blue Jackets.
“Look at our top guys. The CCM line scored four of the five goals tonight,” said Berenson, whose team has the nation’s best power play and top scoring offense, after the Big Ten title win. “There’s a sense of urgency, I think, with our players.”
Notre Dame (19-10-7) didn’t make it to the Hockey East semifinals — it ran into Northeastern in the quarterfinals, setting up a potential rematch in the regional title game — but had a 15-5-2 record in the league’s regular season.
It’s a team effort for the Fighting Irish, with the team’s leading scorers — Boston draft pick Anders Bjork and Montreal choice Jake Evans — tied with 33 points, lowest of any squad in Cincinnati. Goaltender Cal Petersen has a 2.19 GAA and .928 save percentage. The Irish are 15th in the nation in scoring (3.14 goals) and 14th in scoring defense (2.31).
Michigan and Notre Dame were in the CCHA together before the existence of the Big Ten, with the Wolverines holding a 74-54-4 edge in the all-time series. The teams last met in the 2013 CCHA title game — the last game ever for the conference — in a 3-1 win for Notre Dame.