It is the hunt for the national championship. For some, it is a pursuit building off the success of winning a conference championship, while for others, it is a second life at winning the big prize later this month. My last week of playoff picks, just in the East, went 5-4-0 (.556), which brings the final season totals to a contending level 107-38-14 (.717). From here on out, it is a friendly competition with my partner in crime for the West here at USCHO, Brian Lester, in predicting all the games remaining right through to the Frozen Four and championship game. I believe we have split the bragging rights battle the past two seasons, so Mr. Lester, here is my opening salvo of picks for Saturday in the NCAA first round games.
Saturday, March 9, 2019
Plymouth State at No.7 Hobart
Tim: The Panthers, winners of the MASCAC, have not been in an NCAA tournament game since their opening round loss in 2015 to Norwich. The Statesmen have appeared in each of the last four NCAA tournaments, only to be ousted in their first contest in the tournament. Home ice should matter in this one, as does an experienced Hobart squad that will be looking to get a win in front of their passionate home crowd. Hobart 4-2
Brian: Plymouth State is in the NCAA tournament for the third time in program history, but has never won a game. The Panthers will try to end that drought on the road against Hobart. This Panthers team is anchored by Michael Covach, who has scored 12 goals and dished out 28 assists. Hobart is in the tournament for the ninth time and has seen Jonas Toupal and Zach Tyson pave the way. Toupal has 12 goals and 14 assists. Tyson has come through with 20 assists to go along with his six goals. Hobart is at home and has more tournament experience. Hobart 5-3
Manhattanville versus No. 11 Massachusetts-Boston
Tim: Manhattanville truly earned its UCHC crown, needing mini-game efforts on the road to take down Elmira and Utica in the past two weeks. The Beacons have been sitting at home since their semifinal loss to Hobart in the NEHC tournament. The home team is well rested, the visitors like the challenge of the road — sounds like a perfect formula for great hockey. The Beacons get it done, but with some bonus hockey time required. Massachusetts-Boston 5-4
Brian: Mass.-Boston is hosting an NCAA tournament game for the first time. This is also the first time the Beacons have played the Valiants. The Beacons went to the Frozen Four the last time they made the tournament in 2016, and the Valiants last played in the Frozen Four in 2007. Both teams are averaging close to four goals per game. Mass.-Boston allows nearly three goals per outing. The Valiants are giving up under two goals per game. This could very well be one of the more interesting matchups of the tournament, as both teams are loaded with veterans. The Beacons have 10 seniors, the Valiants have 13. Going with the home team in this one. Massachusetts-Boston 3-2
No. 12 University of New England at No. 8 Trinity
Tim: Last season saw the Nor’easters first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament, where they fell in a first round game to NESCAC’s champions from Colby. Trinity has been a fixture in recent years in the tournament and may leverage not playing in last year’s event to motivate a hungry Bantams squad that has won nine games in a row and is unbeaten in their last 16 games. Only nonconference foe Manhattanville was able to knock off the Bantams this season. Experience counts, along with a stingy defense. Trinity 3-1
Brian: Trinity won it all in 2015 and was in the championship game two years ago. The Bantams are hoping to make another run this season. Trinity features one of the better offenses in the country, putting up 3.33 goals per game behind scoring threats Lucas Michaud and Dylan Healy. Michaud has tallied 10 goals and 15 assists. Healy has come through with seven goals and 15 assists. New England is making its second consecutive appearance into the tournament and the second in the history of the program. The Nor’easters are a high-scoring team, averaging 4.76 goals per game and have converted 28.1 percent of the time on the power play. Brady Fleurent is a phenomenal playmaker, tallying 13 goals and 33 assists. Ryan Bloom has scored 21 goals to go along with 20 assists. Trinity is 1-1 all-time against New England. I’m going with the road team. New England 5-4
No. 6 Augsburg at No. 3 St. Norbert
Tim: These two teams better be ready to go the distance if last weekend’s 4OT thriller for the Auggies is a measuring stick for what is needed to win in an NCAA tournament. The two teams played in the regular season way back in December, with Augsburg capturing a 6-5 overtime win and 3-3 overtime tie on home ice. Augsburg is unbeaten in its last eight, while the Green Knights are riding a season high 13-game win streak. Going with the home team and oh yeah, it is yet another overtime classic. St. Norbert 3-2 (OT)
Brian: These two teams are meeting in the NCAA tournament for the fourth consecutive year. The Green Knights have prevailed each time and have the luxury of playing this game at home, where they are 16-0-2 on the season. Augsburg has won seven times in true road games this season and is hoping to finally get over the wall against St. Norbert. Both teams are great on both ends of the ice, with both teams scoring more than 100 goals on the season. Alex Rodriguez leads the Auggies with 21 goals and 17 assists. Riley Christensen is the points leader for the Green Knights, tallying 13 goals and 19 assists. Something has to give. Augsburg is unbeaten in its last eight. St. Norbert has won its last 13 games. I’m going with the Auggies upset, though it wouldn’t surprise me if St. Norbert came out on top. Augsburg 4-3
While Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Oswego State, Norwich, and Geneseo all await the outcome of these games to determine their quarterfinal opponent, four more teams will go home to end their season, and the battle for the national championship comes down to just a couple more weeks of great hockey. “Drop the Puck!