2009 NCAA Tournament preview

By DJ Powers

The season began with 58 teams. Now it is down to the “Sweet Sixteen”. When the NCAA Tournament gets underway this weekend at the four regional sites, one thing will be for certain – there will be a new national champion.

The defending NCAA Tournament champion Boston College Eagles are among several notable teams that failed to qualify for this year’s tournament. Other notable teams absent include Colorado College, Michigan State University, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Minnesota, who hosts this year’s West Regional.

The 16-team field is comprised of six automatic bids and ten at-large bids. The teams that have earned the six automatic bids as their respective conferences’ tournament champions are: the Air Force Academy (Atlantic Hockey), Bemidji State University (CHA), Boston University (Hockey East), University of Minnesota-Duluth (WCHA), University of Notre Dame (CCHA) and Yale University (ECAC).

Boston University is the overall top seed in this year’s tournament. The Terriers are one four teams representing Hockey East this year. The others are: the University of New Hampshire, Northeastern University and the University of Vermont.

Also with four teams in the tournament is the CCHA. In addition to Notre Dame, Miami University, the University of Michigan, and the Ohio State University also represent the conference.

The ECAC and the WCHA each have three teams in the tournament. All of the ECAC’s representatives are Ivy League schools. In addition to Yale, it also includes Cornell University and Princeton University.

In addition to Minnesota-Duluth, the University of Denver and the University of North Dakota also represent the WCHA.

The final two conferences in Atlantic Hockey and College Hockey America (CHA) are represented only by their respective automatic bids.

This year’s tournament will feature over 80 NHL prospects representing 28 NHL teams playing on 14 of the 16 participating teams. Air Force and Princeton are the only participants in this year’s tournament without an NHL prospect on their roster.

The Colorado Avalanche, the New York Islanders and the Ottawa Senators have the most prospects playing in this year’s tournament with six each, while the Detroit Red Wings and the Vancouver Canucks have none.

Of the 14 tournament teams, Boston University and the University of Michigan have the most active NHL prospects with 13 each, followed by the University of North Dakota with 12.

The four regional sites for this year’s tournament are in Bridgeport, CT (East), Manchester, NH (Northeast), Grand Rapids, MI (Midwest) and Minneapolis, MN (West). The East and West regionals get underway on Friday, Mar. 27. The Northeast and Midwest regionals get underway on Saturday, Mar. 28.

The winners of each regional bracket move on to the Frozen Four, which will take place at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. on April 9 and 11.

EAST REGIONAL

#1 University of Michigan vs. #4 Air Force Academy

If you like high-powered offenses, then this contest between the Michigan Wolverines and the Air Force Falcons will definitely be one to watch. Both teams rank among the top five in the nation in offense, with each averaging over 3.60 goals per game.

This year marks the first time that the Wolverines and the Falcons have ever met in the NCAA Tournament. The last time these two teams met was way back in 1973 in the IMA Tournament. Michigan is making their unprecedented 19th straight and 32nd overall NCAA Tournament appearance, while Air Force will be making their third consecutive (and overall) appearance.

Michigan comes into the NCAA Tournament after a 5-2 loss to Notre Dame in the CCHA Mason Cup Championship game last Saturday. The loss was just their fourth in their last 24 games going back to the end of November. Sophomore Aaron Palushaj (STL) leads the Wolverines in scoring with 50 points (13 goals, 37 assists) in 38 games. His 50 points is tied for third in the nation, while his 37 assists lead all NCAA Tournament players. He also ranks third in the nation in points per game (1.32). Fellow sophomore Louie Caporusso (OTT), a top ten finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, leads the team with 24 goals. His 24 goals also rank tied for fourth in the nation.

While Michigan has a plethora of NHL talent on their roster, two players to keep an eye on are senior defenseman Mark Mitera (ANA) and freshman David Wohlberg (NJ). Mitera, who serves as one of the team’s captains this season, made a triumphant returned to the lineup on Feb. 27 versus Ferris State after missing 33 games due to a knee injury he suffered in the season opener versus St. Lawrence back in October. In his seven appearances thus far coming into the NCAA Tournament, the rock solid Mitera has posted three points on one goal and two assists and has a plus-4.

“We’ve fitting him into the rotation and he’s shown some good glimpses of what he can do, but it would be unfair to expect Mark to get to mid-season form when he’s only played six games,” said head coach Red Berenson. “So that’s the hard thing. Mark was our best defenseman last year and we’re expecting him to be a rock on defense, and that’s what we’re expecting now, but it’s hard to realistically expect that because he’s so far behind everyone else. But he’s holding his own and giving us some good leadership and obviously some important minutes on the ice. Mark has no physical effects from the surgery. That’s been the great part. The only thing has been in just catching up to the rhythm of the game. But we’re glad to have him back because he can be a difference maker.”

After a rather slow start to his collegiate career, David Wohlberg has emerged as one of the most exciting rookies in the country to watch. His outstanding season earned him the CCHA Rookie of the Year honor and a spot on the CCHA All-Rookie team. To date, Wohlberg has played in 39 games and leads the Wolverines in rookie scoring with 30 points (15 goals, 15 assists). His 15 goals and four game-winners are both tied for second on the team. Where Wohlberg was particularly dangerous this season was in CCHA conference play where 23 of his 30 points were accumulated.

Air Force comes into the NCAA Tournament after successfully defending their Atlantic Hockey Tournament championship crown for the second time, posting back-to-back shutouts against Mercyhurst in the title game last Saturday and Bentley College in the semi-final game on Friday.

Like their Michigan opponents, Air Force is loaded with outstanding offensive talent. The Falcons have nine players on their roster with 20 or more points. Sophomore and Hobey Baker top ten finalist Jacques Lamoureux leads the team and all NCAA Tournament players in scoring with 52 points (32 goals, 20 assists). He also leads the nation with 15 power play goals. Senior defenseman Greg Flynn leads the Falcons with 33 assists.

Two Air Force players worth keeping an eye on are Flynn and junior goaltender Andrew Volkening. Flynn, the brother of Nashville Predators prospect and University of Minnesota forward Ryan Flynn, possesses an excellent combination of sturdiness, grit and tremendous offensive ability. He currently leads the nation in defenseman scoring with 40 points (seven goals, 33 assists) and points per game (1.03). His plus-22 is also among the highest in the nation in that category.

“Greg Flynn is very highly underrated,” said head coach Frank Serratore in speaking about his top defenseman. “He’s flown under the radar primarily because Jacques (Lamoureux) has been scoring a pile of goals and also the kind year that (Andrew) Volkening has had for us. Flynn, in my opinion, is our top pro prospect. He’s a big, strong, durable guy. He’s our fiercest competitor too. Flynn has got great blue collar skill and at the pro level, I think he could be a good 4, 5 or 6 guy because he not has got that physical presence and the durability to play every night, but he’s also got enough skill where he can do more than just make that first pass coming out of the zone. He can contribute some second level offense as well.”

Junior Andrew Volkening hasn’t missed a beat since the end of last season. He has been able to continue his strong play between the Falcons pipes throughout this season. Coming into the NCAA Tournament, Volkening has compiled a 27-10-2 record in 39 games that includes five shutouts, two of which came in the Atlantic Hockey Tournament last weekend. His 2.02 goals against average ranks ninth in the nation. Volkening won the Atlantic Hockey Goaltending title after posting 20 wins and a 2.09 goals against average in conference play.

#2 Yale University vs. #3 University of Vermont

Two teams with a number of similarities in style of play go head-to-head in this contest between two former ECAC adversaries in Yale and Vermont.

This year marks the first time that the Yale Bulldogs (aka Elis) and the Vermont Catamounts have met in the NCAA Tournament. The Elis are making their third NCAA Tournament appearance and their first since 1998. The Catamounts will be making their fourth NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 1997. This is also Vermont’s first NCAA Tournament appearance as a member of Hockey East as well. The two teams last met in February of 2005.

Yale comes into the NCAA Tournament after capturing their first-ever ECAC Tournament championship by shutting out Cornell 5-0 in the title game last Saturday. In addition to winning the ECAC Tournament championship, Yale also won the Ivy League championship this year as well.

“The whole thing is just incredible,” head coach Keith Allain said in a recent press release. “You dream about moments like this and now we have a chance to do something special. UVM is very fast, plays an up-tempo game and has some big wins this year. They are clearly a quality opponent."

What may surprise many about Yale is that they are one of five tournament participants (Air Force, Boston University, Michigan and Notre Dame are the others) that currently rank in the top ten in the nation in both team offense and team defense. The Elis rank eighth in both offense (averaging 3.39 goals per game) and defense (allowing an average of 2.18 goals against per game). Junior Mark Arcobello and sophomore Broc Little co-lead the team with 35 points each. Little also leads nation with five shorthanded goals. Junior Sean Backman leads the team with 20 goals. One notable key cog missing from Yale’s lineup is outstanding junior two-way defenseman Tom Dignard, who suffered a season-ending injury back in January.

Two Yale players to watch are Backman and senior netminder Alec Richards. The dynamic Backman has garnered considerable NHL interest this season with his speed and clutch play. He plays on the left side on one of the ECAC’s most potent lines that also features Arcobello and freshman Brian O’Neill. To date, Backman has posted 33 points (20 goals, 13 assists) playing in all 33 games. Where he is particularly dangerous is on the power play, where eight of 20 goals have come. The Cos Cob, CT native was named to the All-Ivy League First Team and All-ECAC Second Team honors this year as well.

Former Minnesota High School Brimsek Award winner Alec Richards is enjoying the best year of his collegiate career. His consistency and rock solid play in net has been a driving force behind Yale’s success this season. The Robbinsdale, MN native currently sports a 19-4-1 record that includes four shutouts. His 1.97 goals against average ranks seventh in the nation, while his .926 save percentage ranks tied for ninth. Richards’ stellar season also earned him spots on the All-Ivy League Second Team and the All-ECAC Third Team.

The Vermont Catamounts come into the NCAA Tournament after being swept by UMass-Lowell in the Hockey East Quarterfinals two weekends ago.

“The Yale Bulldogs – having a tremendous season,” said head coach Kevin Sneddon in a recent Hockey East teleconference. “I think Keith Allain certainly has my vote for coach of the year. He has turned that program from a team that was towards the bottom of the league in the ECAC to a team coming off of a championship weekend. So in three short years, he had done a great job with the Bulldogs. They play a great style – very up-tempo, great speed in their forwards and contributions from their defensemen offensively, and Alec Richards has done a great job in net for them. I think our teams match up very well, but we also have to realize we need to be a on our best defensively against a very dangerous team.”

One noticeable attribute that has worked in the Catamounts favor this season is their ability to utilize their team speed effectively. It is an attribute that they share with their opponents. Vermont has a number of players on its roster that make plays at a relatively high speed. Junior Viktor Stålberg (TOR) leads the team in virtually all categories including points (43), goals (23), power play goals (7) and shots (148); playing in all 36 games.

Two Catamounts to watch for are Stålberg and sophomore defenseman Kyle Medvec (MIN). The electrifying Stålberg, a top ten finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, has been one of Hockey East’s most consistent point producers all season long. And it was in conference play where the Swedish-born sniper has really made his mark. Of his 43 points, 34 have come in Hockey East play, including his conference-leading 19 goals. Stålberg was also named to the All-Hockey East First Team.

While his enormous frame and added strength are the attributes that immediately jump out about Kyle Medvec, where he has made the greatest strides this season has been his play with the puck, specifically in his improved passing. The Burnsville, MN native has played in all 36 games to date, posting 11 points (two goals, nine assists). His plus-10 is tied with Stålberg for third on the team in that category.

WEST REGIONAL

#1 University of Denver vs. #4 Miami University

One of the more intriguing match-ups of the tournament has University of Denver head coach George Gwozdecky facing his former player and assistant in Miami University head coach Enrico Blasi.

This will be the second time that the Pioneers and the RedHawks have faced each other in the NCAA Tournament. The last time these two teams met in the tournament was also in the West Regional back in 2004. Denver will be making their second straight and 20th overall NCAA Tournament appearance, while Miami will be making their fourth consecutive and seventh overall appearance.

The Pioneers come into the NCAA Tournament after falling 4-0 to Minnesota-Duluth in the WCHA Final Five Championship game. Sophomore Anthony Maiani currently leads Denver with 41 points (11 goals. 30 assists) playing in all 39 games. Junior Rhett Rakhshani (NYI) leads the team with 15 goals.

Two Pioneers to watch are a pair of top-flight freshmen in center Joe Colborne (BOS) and defenseman Patrick Wiercioch (OTT). The duo was both named to the WCHA All-Rookie teams after an outstanding regular season. After a rather slow start to his collegiate career, Colborne has developed into one of the nation’s top rising stars. To date, he has posted 30 points (nine goals, 21 assists) in 39 games. His 30 points currently rank him tied for 18th in the nation in scoring. Wiercioch, an electrifying offensive defenseman and a mainstay on Denver’s power play, currently leads the Pioneers in rookie scoring with 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in 35 games. His 33 points also ranks tied for fifth in the nation in rookie scoring, while his 0.94 points per game ranks second.

“Well certainly both of them have had terrific freshman years,” head coach George Gwozdecky said of Colborne and Wiercioch. "Both guys made the WCHA All-Rookie Team, which they richly deserved. We’ve come to rely on Joe and Patrick for their contributions and their strong play. And the beauty of it is they still have a lot to learn and improve on. They’ve both come a long ways. So I think that bodes well for them as well as the future of our program. I think the biggest area that they’ve improved on is just the immediate adjustment to the play at this level. It’s rare that a freshman can have a significant impact throughout the course of the year, especially the second half of the year, where things become so much more difficult and teams are defending so much better. We’ve got only two seniors that play on a regular basis, so that tells you the impact that these two young, outstanding freshmen have had on our program.”

Another Denver player to keep an eye that will be returning to the lineup this weekend is the superbly gifted Tyler Bozak. The sophomore sniper is one of the most highly sought-after collegiate free agents, having garnered interested from many NHL teams. Bozak had been enjoying an excellent sophomore campaign, posting 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in 18 games, before a knee injury sidelined him back in December.

“We are very happy to be able to have Tyler back in the lineup,” said Gwozdecky. “He is scheduled to be in the lineup on Friday. He has been skating and started practicing with us on Monday. So it’s really good to have him back in the lineup for the things that he brings to the team, and obviously giving us a little more offensive depth. So there’s no question that it’s nice to have Tyler back. He’s been out for almost four months, so he’s raring to go.”

The very young Miami RedHawks come into the NCAA Tournament after falling to Northern Michigan in the CCHA Quarterfinals two weekends ago. Sophomore Carter Camper, an All-CCHA First team selection, leads Miami with 39 points (20 goals, 19 assists) in 36 games.

Excellent team defense has been and continues to be a trademark of the Miami hockey program, but an area where the RedHawks have been particularly dangerous this season has been in penalty killing. The team leads the nation in that category with a 90.2 percent efficiency rating.

Two Miami players to watch for are sophomore Tommy Wingels and freshman goaltender Connor Knapp. Wingels, a draft selection of the San Jose Sharks last summer, has blossomed into a tough, reliable defensive forward for the RedHawks. To date, he has posted 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) through 37 games. Wingels also ranks second on the team with 56 penalty minutes.

Towering goaltender Connor Knapp has shared the netminding duties with fellow freshman Cody Reichard. Coming into the NCAA Tournament, Knapp has posted 13-5-3 record that includes two shutouts in 23 games. His 2.09 goals against average currently ranks tenth in the nation. One attribute noteworthy about the York, NY native is that he possesses great athleticism for such a tall netminder. Knapp, who is eligible for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, was also named to the CCHA All-Rookie team.

#2 University of Minnesota-Duluth vs. #3 Princeton University

This contest between the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs and the Princeton Tigers will feature a goaltending matchup that is not to be missed.

This year marks the first time that Minnesota-Duluth and Princeton have met in the NCAA Tournament. The two teams last met in 1980 during the regular season in Duluth. The Bulldogs will be making their sixth appearance in the NCAA Tournament and first since 2004 this year, while the Tigers will be making their second consecutive and third overall appearance.

Minnesota-Duluth is coming off of a sensational run in the WCHA Final Five that saw them defeat Minnesota, North Dakota and Denver in a span of three days en route to becoming the first-ever team to participate in the Final Five play-in game to win the WCHA Tournament championship. Senior MacGregor Sharp and sophomore Justin Fontaine co-lead the team in scoring with 47 points each playing in all 41 games thus far. Sharp leads Minnesota-Duluth with 25 goals, while Fontaine leads with 32 assists.

Juniors Alex Stalock (SJ) and Matt Greer (CBJ) are two Bulldogs players to keep an eye. Stalock was very good during the regular season, but he was absolutely spectacular in the WCHA Final Five. In the three games of the WCHA Tournament, he allowed just one goal. That goal came in the second period of the Final Five Play-in game versus Minnesota last Thursday.  In the month of March so far, he has not allowed more than one goal in a game. Coming into the NCAA Tournament, Stalock has posted a 20-12-8 record that includes five shutouts in 40 appearances. His .926 saves percentage ranks tied for ninth in the nation, while his 2.10 goals against average ranks 12th. Stalock won the WCHA goaltending title after posting a 2.39 goals against average in conference play. He was also named to the All-WCHA First Team.

Matt Greer may not be talked about as much as Stalock, but his leadership and the strong support role that he has played throughout season have been crucial elements in the success of Minnesota-Duluth this year. Greer has played in 38 games, posting seven points (five goals, two assists). What maybe perhaps the most overlooked aspect about Greer’s contributions to the team is what he has done off of the scoresheet, whether it’s helping to kill penalties or simply mentoring the younger players on the team.

“Matt’s been a tremendous leader for us,” head coach Scott Sandelin said of Greer. “He’s a really quiet and smart guy. He’s been very reliable at both ends of the rink. Matt plays his role. He kills penalties and helps out defensively. And he has the ability to chip in (a goal) here and there. Matt is a key guy who makes sure that everyone understands their roles on this team and how they respond.”

The Princeton Tigers are coming off of a 2-2 tie with St. Lawrence in the ECAC Consolation game last Saturday. In last Friday’s thrilling ECAC Tournament semi-finals, the Tigers took Cornell to double overtime before falling 4-3 to the Big Red. Junior Dan Bartlett leads Princeton in scoring with 27 points (16 goals, 11 assists). His 16 goals and plus-19 also lead the team.

“Obviously they’re a great program and I know the coaches there,” said Princeton head coach Guy Gadowsky on his team’s meeting Minnesota-Duluth. “They do an excellent job and what they did in the WCHA Tournament was phenomenal, playing three great teams and giving up one goal is unheard of, so they’re obviously playing extremely well. And Stalock has just been on fire.”

Two Princeton players worth keeping an eye on are junior forward Cam MacIntyre and senior goaltender Zane Kalemba. MacIntyre, who plays on the left side of the Tigers top line with Dan Bartlett and Sam Sabky, is a hard-nosed winger that can score and create opportunities for his linemates. He returned to the lineup after missing much of the season due to injury. In his 13 appearances to date, MacIntyre has posted five points on one goal and four assists.

Senior standout Zane Kalemba has picked up right where he left off last season. The Ivy League and ECAC Player of the Year was also named a top ten finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as well. Kalemba is the backbone of a Princeton team that possesses the nation’s fifth-best defense, allowing just over two goals per game. Coming into the NCAA Tournament, Kalemba has posted a 22-9-1 record that includes two shutouts. His .935 save percentage ranks second in the nation, while his 1.74 goals against average ranks third.

NORTHEAST REGIONAL

#1 Boston University vs. #4 The Ohio State University

Two of college hockey’s elite NHL prospects will be showcasing their talents in this matchup that have the top overall seeded Boston University Terriers facing off against a much-improved Ohio State Buckeyes.

This year marks the first time that Boston University and Ohio State have faced one another in the NCAA Tournament. The two teams last met back in Dec. 1998 in the Mariucci Classic holiday tournament. The Terriers will be making their 32nd NCAA Tournament appearance and their first since 2007, while the Buckeyes will be making their sixth appearance and their first since 2005.

Boston University comes into the NCAA Tournament after a thrilling yet controversial 1-0 win over UMass-Lowell in the Hockey East Tournament championship game last Saturday. As good as the Terriers have been in conference play this season, they have been an absolutely perfect 9-0-0 against non-conference opponents, which include tournament teams Denver, Michigan and North Dakota. Sophomore phenom and top ten Hobey Baker finalist Colin Wilson (NSH) leads the team with 50 points (15 goals, 35 assists). Senior Jason Lawrence leads Boston University with 21 goals.

“I think the mental side of it has made Colin a catalyst for our team,” said associate head coach David Quinn. “I think he’s grown up a little bit. I think Colin is taking some pressure off of himself this year too. He had put so much undo pressure on himself last year because it was his draft year; the World Junior Championships were happening and all that. So he just came in this year and wanted to be the best player that he could be for BU. He certainly has done that. I think what makes Colin such a special player is his hockey sense and playmaking ability. He’s that rare combination of size, strength, vision and skill. And that’s a pretty deadly combination.”

One area that has been a key to the Terriers success this year has been their ability to spread around their scoring, including significant contributions from their defensive corps. Boston University has 11 players with 20 or more points coming into the NCAA Tournament, and of those 11, four are defensemen.

The two Boston University players worth looking out for are a pair of defensemen in top-flight senior Matt Gilroy and sophomore Kevin Shattenkirk. Gilroy, also a Top Ten finalist for the Hobey Baker Award and the 2009 recipient of the Walter Brown Award, has become a Mr. Everything of sorts for Boston University this season. The question isn’t what can he do, but rather what can’t he do?

This past summer, Gilroy received offers from 24 NHL teams and that’s not likely to change once the Terriers season ends this year. He currently leads the team in defensive scoring with 32 points (eight goals, 24 assists) playing in all 41 games to date. Of his eight goals, six have come on special teams – five on the power play and one shorthanded. Gilroy was also named to the All-Hockey East First Team.

The talented and offensive-minded Shattenkirk is one of three Colorado Avalanche prospects on the Terriers roster (sophomore defenseman Colby Cohen and senior winger Brandon Yip are the others). Shattenkirk has continued to build on his outstanding freshman campaign last season and his statistical numbers reflect that. To date, Shattenkirk has played in 39 games, posting 26 points (seven goals, 19 assists). His plus-25 ranks tied for second on the team.

The Ohio State Buckeyes enter the NCAA Tournament after falling to Alaska in the CCHA Quarterfinals two weekends ago. Like their opponent, the Buckeyes success has also been due to their ability to spread out their scoring. Ohio State currently ranks seventh in the nation in team offense, averaging 3.41 goals per game. The Buckeyes have eight players with 20 or more points thus far. Senior Corey Elkins leads the team with 40 points (18 goals, 22 assists). Sophomore John Albert (ATL) leads the Buckeyes with 28 assists.

An area that had been problematic for Ohio State in the past that vastly improved this season is getting consistency in goal. Sophomore Dustin Carlson has been superb between pipes, helping to lower the team’s goals against average from 3.3 at the end of last season to 2.7 coming into the NCAA Tournament. At the same time, the Buckeyes are also averaging roughly more one goal per game as well.

Two Ohio State players worth looking out for are freshman sensation Zac Dalpe (CAR) and freshman offensive defenseman Matt Bartkowski (FLA). Both players were selected to the CCHA All-Rookie team. The highly touted Dalpe has been more about just numbers this season in the Scarlet and Gray. His tremendous skill, energy and attention to detail have been invaluable to the Buckeyes success. Coming into the NCAA Tournament, Dalpe has posted 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 36 appearances. Of his 25 points, 18 have come in CCHA conference play, which ranked fourth among all CCHA rookies.

“Zac brings the energy and is obviously a talent,” head coach John Markell said. “He’s plays with passion and he’s got skill. He came out of the gates this year as a freshman really, really hard and he’s been able to help make us successful. He went through an injury and came back from that. We’ve been playing him in different positions. We’d like to see Zac get back on the scoreboard a lot more, but he’s not deviating from hard work. We’d like to see him finish more, but not at the cost of his defensive play. So Zac continues to play at all positions for us. He’s doing the little things to make us a better team and he’s not sacrificing good defensive play to do it, so I think that’s where Zac has grown.”

Fellow freshman Matt Bartkowski has provided some grit as well as some superb mobility and offensive support from the Ohio State blueline this season. As one of the Buckeyes top defensemen this season, he logs upwards around 25 to 30 minutes of ice time per game and has become a mainstay on the power play as well. To date, Bartkowski has played in 40 games and posted 19 points (four goals, 15 assists). His plus-16 ranks fourth on the team.

#2 University of North Dakota vs. #3 University of New Hampshire

Two teams looking to get back to their winning ways go head-to-head in this contest as the University of North Dakota will face off against regional host University of New Hampshire in what should be a terrific matchup between two of college hockey’s perennial powerhouses.

This year marks the first time that the North Dakota Fighting Sioux and the New Hampshire Wildcats have met in the NCAA Tournament. The two teams last met in Dec. 2007. The Fighting Sioux will be making their seventh consecutive and 24th overall NCAA Tournament appearance, while New Hampshire will be making their ninth consecutive and 19th overall appearance.

After capturing the MacNaughton Trophy as the WCHA’s regular season champions, North Dakota comes into the NCAA Tournament following losses to Minnesota-Duluth in the WCHA Final Five semi-final last Friday and to Wisconsin in the consolation game on Saturday.

“They’re a team that has real good skill,” head coach Dave Hakstol said of New Hampshire in a recent team press conference. “They have a lot of speed I think throughout their lineup up front and that’s going to be something that we have to deal with their transition game and with their speed coming up the ice. I think also for us, a real key to the game is to make sure that we push them back and make them play in their own zone as much as we can.”

The always tough Fighting Sioux continue to be one of the top offensive teams in the country. Coming into the NCAA Tournament, the Fighting Sioux are averaging 3.36 goals per game, which ranks them ninth in the nation. Senior standout and former Hobey Baker recipient Ryan Duncan leads the team in a number of categories, including points (38), goals (19), power goals (9) and game-winners (4). Two defensemen in senior Brad Miller and junior Chay Genoway co-lead the team with 29 assists each.

Two players definitely worth keeping an eye on are Genoway and freshman Jason Gregoire (NYI). Genoway, who is undrafted, has established himself as not only the best defenseman on the North Dakota roster, but among the best in the country. And in the process, he has also gotten the attention of a few NHL teams as well. He was named the WCHA’s Defensive Player of the Year as well as named to the All-WCHA First Team with his quickness, superb defensive zone play and puck distributing ability. To date, Genoway has posted 32 goals (three goals, 29 assists) in all 41 games.

Rookie Jason Gregoire has been as good as advertised this year. He currently leads the Fighting Sioux in rookie scoring with 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) playing in all 41 games. Gregoire has shown a knack for scoring timely goals. Of his 11 goals, six have come on special teams – five on the power play and one shorthanded. He also has three game-winners on the season as well. Earlier in the year, Gregoire was named the HCA’s National Rookie of the Month for January after posting 16 points in 16 games.

New Hampshire enters the NCAA Tournament after falling to Boston College in the Hockey East Quarterfinals two weekends ago. The Wildcats have traditionally been one of the top offensive teams in the nation, but that isn’t the case this season. The 109 total goals scored by the team thus far this season are among the fewest of any NCAA Tournament participant. Only Bemidji State, Cornell and Princeton have scored fewer goals, but all three have also played fewer games. Even more surprising is the fact that the Wildcats do not have a player on their roster this season who has posted 20 or more goals. Top-end sophomore and Hockey East All-Second Team selection James vanRiemsdyk (PHI) leads the team in scoring with 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists).

“James brings a lot of, not just scoring goals,” head coach Dick Umile said in a recent Hockey East teleconference. “He is a kid that works real hard for us. Some nights he might look like he is quiet out there, but he is doing a lot of good things defensively and all of a sudden he will a make a great pass or he’ll make a great play, but we are very satisfied with James’ play. Obviously this is a weekend you want everyone playing their best games, especially the seniors, this is their last shot.”

Two Wildcats players to watch for are junior Peter Leblanc (CHI) and sophomore Mike Sislo. While vanRiemsdyk has garnered much of the attention, Leblanc and Sislo continue to be two of New Hampshire’s most reliable players that can excel in any type of situation. And both have played in all 36 games to date.

The quick and shifty Sislo leads New Hampshire with 18 goals and ranks second on the team with 28 points. Where the sophomore has really made his mark this season has been on special teams. Of his 18 goals, seven have come on special teams – five on the power play and two shorthanded.

The versatile Leblanc has played at both wing and center this season. To date, he has posted 27 points (12 goal, 15 assists), which ranks tied for third on the team. One area where Leblanc has established himself is in scoring timely goals. He co-leads the team with three game-winners.

MIDWEST REGIONAL

#1 University of Notre Dame vs. #4 Bemidji State University

Two outstanding conference tournament champions face off for the first time ever as the University of Notre Dame and Bemidji State University face off in what shaping up to be an exciting match to watch.

Notre Dame will be making their third consecutive and fourth overall NCAA Tournament appearance, while Bemidji State will be making their third appearance since moving up to Division I and their first since 2006.

Notre Dame comes into the NCAA Tournament after posting a terrific 5-2 comeback win over Michigan in the CCHA Mason Cup championship game last Saturday. As head coach Jeff Jackson explained, he sees similarities between Notre Dame’s previous opponent Michigan and their current opponent Bemidji State, most notably their team speed.

“They have some similarities as far as the speed level goes," Jackson said, "So we have to be conscious of that. The way that Bemidji forechecks is similar to Michigan, and they’re a good transition team. So I think all in all that the Michigan game hopefully helps us going into this.”

The Fighting Irish possess the nation’s stingiest defense having allowed an average of just 1.64 goals per game. They are also the only tournament team that ranks in the top three in the nation in both special teams categories. Notre Dame possesses the nation’s top power play with a 23 percent success rate, while their penalty killing is second in the nation with an 89.7 percent success rate. Senior and All-CCHA Second Team selection Erik Condra (OTT) leads the team with 38 points (13 goals, 25 assists), while sophomore and All-CCHA Team honorable mention Calle Ridderwall leads the team with 17 goals. Senior Jordan Pearce has firmly established himself as one of, if not the best goaltender in the country. His 30 wins, eight shutouts and 1.61 goals against average all lead the nation.

Two Notre Dame players to keep an eye are sophomore defenseman Ian Cole (STL) and sophomore centerman Ben Ryan (NSH). Cole, an All-CCHA First Team selection, has emerged as one of the best all-around defenseman in the country, combining toughness with smart defensive zone play and continually improving offensive capabilities. Cole leads Notre Dame in defenseman scoring with 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) through 37 games. His plus-16 and 56 penalty minutes also leads the Irish.

Ben Ryan is one of two Nashville Predators prospects on the Notre Dame roster (left wing Ryan Thang is the other). Ryan has quietly established himself as a clutch goal-scorer. In Notre Dame’s CCHA Tournament wins over Northern Michigan and Michigan, Ryan posted both game-winning goals. Coming into the NCAA Tournament, Ryan has appeared in 38 games, posting 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists). His five game-winning goals are tied for the team lead and ranks tied for seventh in the nation.

“Benny is a guy that we rely on a lot to play both ends of the ice,” Jackson said. “He’s got the instincts offensively, and the ability to make plays. Benny’s certainly shown that he can do more than just be a role player. He’s got the ability to do more offensively and I think he’s starting to show that more.”

Bemidji State comes into the NCAA Tournament after a thrilling 3-2 overtime win over Robert Morris to capture the CHA Championship crown two weekends ago. Sophomore and CHA All-First Team selection Matt Read leads the team with 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists). Senior Tyler Scofield leads Bemidji State with 18 goals.

Speed and superb goaltending are the Beavers greatest strengths coming into the tournament. Bemidji State’s top line combination of Read, Scofield, and senior Matt Francis has wreaked havoc on the opposition this year with their quickness and tremendous scoring ability.

“We do play a puck pressure game and we want to make sure that we play with speed and play fast,” said head coach Tom Serratore. “That’s the one thing that has to happen. We have to play that way because that’s what is going to allow us some success. We still have to worry about the way we play. We are talking about what we need to do against Notre Dame, and the most important component of playing a team like Notre Dame is taking care of the puck. We want to make sure that we minimize our mistakes because if we do that then we can be difficult to play against and then who knows what can happen.”

The goaltending match-up between Notre Dame and Bemidji State will be something to watch. Sophomore and CHA All-Second Team selection Matt Dalton has given the Beavers rock solid goaltending all season long. In his 28 appearances to date, Dalton has compiled a 17-10-1 record. His 2.24 goals against average ranks 17th in the nation, while his .918 save percentage ranks tied for 20th. Where Dalton really made his mark this season was in conference play, where he posted an 11-5-1 record with a 1.94 goals against average and a .924 save percentage.

Read and Dalton are the two Bemidji State players to watch. Read is a small, quick winger that can dart through traffic quite well. His great hands and vision makes him both an outstanding finisher as well as playmaker. Dalton is a goaltender with a very good athleticism that doesn’t get rattled very easily. This season, he has demonstrated not only consistency but that he can be both a game saver and come up with key saves at crucial times as well.

#2 Northeastern University vs. #3 Cornell University

Some stellar goaltending and two of the nation’s top defensive teams will be in action in this matchup that has Northeastern University and Cornell University going head-to-head in what is shaping up to be one of the best and evenly matched contests of the tournament.

This year marks the first time that the Northeastern Huskies and the Cornell Big Red have met in the NCAA Tournament. The two teams last met in Dec. 2005 in the Florida College Classic holiday tournament. Northeastern will be making their fourth NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 1994, while Cornell will be making their 17th appearance and first since 2006.

“We’re excited to move forward, everybody has documented and written about the number of years that Northeastern has been absent from the tournament so I think we’re just excited to get after it and play Cornell out in Grand Rapids,” head coach Greg Cronin said in a recent Hockey East teleconference. “I’ve seen them on tape, they play the same style they played for years under Mike Schafer there. They try and pound you into the boards, take the middle of the ice away and they don’t allow you the space to create some odd man rushes. They’re very strong in the transitional game and they try and play a wall game basically, so we’re going to have our hands full.”

Northeastern comes into the NCAA Tournament after falling 3-2 in overtime to UMass-Lowell in the Hockey East Tournament semi-finals last Friday. The Huskies combination of aggressive forechecking, sound defense and the great goaltending from junior Brad Thiessen have made them not only one of the top teams in the country, but also one of the most difficult to play against. Northeastern sports a defense that ranks tenth in the nation and allows an average of just over two goals per game. Equally impressive has been their strong penalty killing, which ranks tied for 14th in the nation coming into the NCAA Tournament with an 86.4 success rate.

Two Huskies players not to be missed are Thiessen and freshman Steve Quailer (MON). Few, if any team in college hockey has relied as much on their goaltending as Northeastern has this season. And Thiessen has answered the call time and time again. Thiessen is a top ten Hobey Baker and took Hockey East Player of the Year honors with his stellar performance in playing all but five minutes and 26 seconds of all 40 games thus far. Coming into the NCAA Tournament, Thiessen has posted a 25-11-4 record and leads the nation in minutes played with 2436:02. The Huskies workhorse sports a .932 save percentage, which ranks sixth in the nation, and a 2.09 goals against average, which ranks 11th. What is perhaps the most impressive aspect about Thiessen’s play is the fact that he has faced an average of over 30 shots per game this season.

When freshman Steve Quailer first arrived at Northeastern this past fall, few knew much about him. But that has all changed. The 2008 draft selection of the Montreal Canadiens has brought a nice combination of grit and offensive skill to the Huskies squad this season. He currently leads the team in rookie scoring with 25 points (10 goals, 15 assists) playing in all 40 games. His plus-11 is tied for second on the team.

Cornell comes into the NCAA Tournament after being shut out 5-0 by Ivy League rival Yale in the ECAC Tournament championship game last Saturday. The cornerstone of the Big Red’s success has been their traditionally strong defense and it is no different this year. They have the fourth-best team defense in the nation that has allowed an average of two goals per game thus far. Junior Ben Scrivens has been excellent between the pipes, sporting a 21-9-4 record that includes seven shutouts.

While Cornell possesses literally one of the biggest teams in the country, they’ve also added some speed to it this season as well. Sophomore Riley Nash (EDM) leads the team with 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) in 34 games to date. Senior Colin Greening (OTT) leads Cornell with 14 goals.

The Nash brothers are two notable Cornell players well worth keeping an eye on. They are one of three brother combinations on the Big Red roster, along with the Kennedys and the Devins.

The dynamic Riley Nash has established himself as not only one of the elite players coming out of the ECAC but in all of Division I. He, along with Greening, have been the catalysts of the Cornell offense this season. Nash’s added strength has greatly enhanced his ability to protect the puck as well as being able to win the one-on-one puck battles, particularly along the boards. Nash was named to the ECAC All-First Team as well as the Ivy League All-Second Team.

“I think Riley has continued to get better and stronger,” head coach Mike Shafer said. “He’s obviously got great skills, hockey sense and awareness on the ice. So that hasn’t really changed. I think Riley’s a little stronger this and year, and he need to continue to get stronger as a player. Having that extra strength has allowed him to finish chances that he might not have been able to finish last year or got to the net when he might not have been able to get to the next in the previous year. I think Riley’s also gotten more physical, but he’s such a mature player with his hockey sense that he thinks the game so well.”

His brother and junior offensive-minded defenseman Brandon Nash has progressed quite nicely for the Big Red. His size and great set of hands have already caught the interest of a few NHL teams. One area where Nash has made the greatest strides this season is in his decision-making away from the puck, which has greatly improved his overall defensive zone, play as well. Nash currently leads Cornell in defenseman scoring with 17 points (two goals, 15 assists) in 32 games to date.

Related Articles