2010 NCAA Tournament preview

By DJ Powers

Ninety-five NHL prospects representing 29 NHL teams will be participating in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

The St. Louis Blues are the only NHL team without a prospect in the tournament. The Columbus Blue Jackets lead all NHL teams with seven prospects, followed by the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers with six apiece.

The University of North Dakota leads all tournament teams with 16 drafted prospects, followed by the University of Denver with 13 and the University of Michigan with 11. The University of Alabama-Huntsville, University of Alaska, RIT and Yale University are the only tournament teams without NHL prospects on their rosters.

This year’s field of 16 is comprised of four teams each from the CCHA and WCHA, three from Hockey East, two each from the ECAC and the soon-to-be-defunct CHA, and one from Atlantic Hockey. The teams receiving automatic bids were RIT (Atlantic Hockey), University of Michigan (CCHA), University of Alabama-Huntsville (CHA), Cornell University (ECAC), Boston College (Hockey East) and University of North Dakota (WCHA). Miami University is the top overall seed in the tournament thanks to its accomplishments in the regular season.

The most notably absent team from this year’s tournament is reigning national champion Boston University, whose season ended at the hands of Maine in the Hockey East Championship semi-finals last weekend. The Terriers are the only team from last year’s Frozen Four to not reach the NCAA Tournament this year.

The East and West Regionals begin on Friday. The Midwest and Northeast Regionals begin on Saturday. By Sunday evening the field of 16 will be narrowed to the final four that will compete for the national championship at Ford Field in Detroit next month. All games (some on tape delay) can be seen on ESPNU.

West Regional

West bracket top-seed University of Denver will face off against RIT to kick off this year’s tournament. This year marks the Tigers first ever NCAA Tournament appearance as a D-I program, while the Pioneers will be making their 21st overall appearance.

After finishing the regular season winning 13 of their last 14 games, Denver comes into the NCAA Tournament having lost both the WCHA Final Five semi-final and third -place games to North Dakota and Wisconsin respectively. But the Pioneers have shown great resilience this season to bounce back.

Denver is incredibly deep and possesses outstanding goaltending. They are led by top ten Hobey Baker finalists Rhett Rakhshani (NYI) and Marc Cheverie (FLA). Rakhshani, the WCHA regular-season scoring champion, is having the best season of his career. He has dominated the always-tough WCHA all season, and that has paid big dividends for the Pioneers. Rakhshani comes into the tournament ranked tied for sixth in the nation with 50 points (21 goals, 29 assists) in 40 games.
The team’s lethal top line of Rakhshani, fellow senior Tyler Ruegsegger (TOR) and sophomore Joe Colborne (BOS) is one to watch. The trio has combined for 37 percent of Denver’s total scoring (130 of 349 points) thus far.

Despite a less than stellar outing in the WCHA Final Five, Cheverie is a big reason why Denver is once again a top seed. The WCHA Player of the Year currently ranks second in the nation in save percentage (.932) and shutouts (6), and is seventh with a 2.08 goals against average. He comes into the tournament having posted a 24-5-3 record in 34 appearances. His 24 wins rank tied for second in the nation.

Denver’s opponent, RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) comes into the tournament as the hottest team in the nation having won 10 straight en route to their first-ever Atlantic Hockey Tournament crown.

The Tigers are led by a pair of seniors in defensemen Dan Ringwald and netminder Jared DeMichel. Ringwald, the Atlantic Hockey Defenseman of the Year, is a gifted offensive defenseman who has been one of RIT’s most consistent performers throughout his career. He currently ranks sixth in the nation in defensive scoring with 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) in 38 games. An Atlantic Hockey First Team selection, DeMichel currently leads the nation with 25 wins and has posted a record 25-9-1 with six shutouts in 35 appearances.

The second game in the bracket will be a perennial defense versus offense matchup, as second-seeded Cornell University faces off against third-seeded University of New Hampshire. The two teams last met in January. The Big Red will be making their 18th tournament appearance, while the Wildcats will be making their 20th appearance.

Cornell comes into the NCAA tournament undefeated in their last six contests that include three consecutive shutouts in the ECAC Tournament semi-final and championship games against Brown and Union College respectively. They also possess the nation’s stingiest defense that has given up an average of 1.85 goals per game and have allowed a nation-low 61 total goals against. Cornell is also one of only two NCAA tournament teams this year that have yet to post a shorthanded goal this season.

The Big Red are led by seniors Colin Greening (OTT) and top 10 Hobey Baker finalist Ben Scrivens. Greening, the ECAC Student-Athlete of the Year, currently ranks second on the team with 35 points (15 goals, 20 assists) in 33 games. Of Greening’s 35 points, 24 came in ECAC play. Scrivens, the ECAC’s Ken Dryden Award recipient, currently leads the nation in goals against average (1.78), save percentage (.937) and shutouts (7). He has a 21-8-4 record appearing in all 33 games to date. He has been nothing short of sensational in the post-season. The lone goal he surrendered in post-season thus far came in the first game of ECAC Quarterfinals against Harvard two weekends ago.

The Wildcats make a return to post-season play after being bounced from the Hockey East Tournament Quarterfinals by Vermont two weekends ago and having won the Hockey East regular season championship. They are led by senior and top ten Hobey Baker finalist Bobby Butler and outstanding sophomore defenseman Blake Kessel (NYI). Butler, the Hockey East Player of the Year, is having his best year as a Wildcat. He currently co-leads the nation with 27 goals. His 50 points (27 goals, 23 assists) in 37 games currently rank tied for sixth in the nation. In Hockey East play, he finished tied for first with Maine’s Gustav Nyquist (DET) with 41 points.

Kessel, an All-Hockey East First Team selection, has been a key contributor from New Hampshire’s blueline. He currently ranks second in the nation in defensive scoring with 35 points (nine goals, 26 assists) in 36 games. Of Kessel’s 35 points, 24 came in Hockey East, which also led all defensemen in the conference.

East Regional

The second bracket to get underway on Friday will be the East Regional when the bracket’s second-seeded St. Cloud State faces off against third-seeded Northern Michigan. Both teams will be making their eighth appearance in the tournament.

St. Cloud State comes in having defeating Minnesota-Duluth and Wisconsin before falling to North Dakota in the WCHA Final Five Tournament. Despite having the worst penalty killing (80 percent efficiency) of all tournament teams, the Huskies actually lead all participating teams with nine shorthanded goals scored.

St. Cloud is led by two upperclassmen in junior Garrett Roe (LAK) and senior Ryan Lasch. The Huskies win over the Badgers in the Final Five semi-final last weekend came at a high cost when Roe suffered a neck injury. His status is questionable for the NCAA Tournament. He currently co-leads St. Cloud State with 46 points (19 goals, 27 assists) in 39 appearances.

Lasch, an All-WCHA Second Team selection, has rewritten St. Cloud State’s record books this season. Recently, he became the school’s new career leader in points (180) and assists (102). Lasch co-leads the Huskies with 46 points on 19 goals, 27 assists and has appeared in all 41 games to date.

St. Cloud State will get a tough test from a gritty Northern Michigan team. The Wildcats had a strong performance in the CCHA Tournament. Northern Michigan ousted Ferris State in overtime in the thrilling semi-final game before falling to Michigan in the championship contest last weekend.

Northern Michigan is led by a pair of excellent juniors in Hobey Baker top 10 finalists Mark Olver (COL) and defenseman Erik Gustafsson. Olver, an All-CCHA First Team selection, has been one of the most prolific point producers this season. He won the conference scoring title after posting 35 points in 27 CCHA games. Olver currently ranks 14th in the nation with 48 points (19 goals, 29 assists) through 39 games.

Gustafsson, the CCHA’s Best Offensive Defenseman of the Year, has become one of the nation’s most well-rounded rearguards, playing equally well at both ends of the ice. He currently ranks ninth in the nation and leads the CCHA in defensive scoring with 31 points (three goals, 28 assists) through 38 games. His 31 points are also a new career high.

The second half of the bracket has top-seeded University of Wisconsin facing off against the University of Vermont. The Badgers are making their 23rd tournament appearance while the Catamounts are making their ninth appearance.

Wisconsin fell to St. Cloud State in the WCHA semi-final game and defeated Denver in the third place game of the WCHA Final Five last weekend. The hallmark of this year’s Badger team is an explosive and talent-rich offense that currently ranks second in the nation, averaging nearly four goals per game.

The Badgers are led by a pair of Hobey Baker top 10 finalists in senior Blake Geoffrion (NSH) and junior defenseman Brendan Smith (DET). Geoffrion, an All-WCHA First Team selection, ranks fourth on the team with 43 points (25 goals, 18 assists) in 36 games. His 25 goals rank fifth in the nation. Thirteen of them were scored on the power play, which ties him for second in the nation.

Smith, the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year, has been one of the most exciting players to watch this year. After posting 23 points last season, he has nearly doubled that thus far this season. Smith currently leads the nation in defenseman scoring with 45 points (15 goals, 30 assists) in 38 games. Smith’s 11 power-play goals also co-lead the nation among all defensemen and are just two shy of the school’s single-season record.

Wisconsin’s opponent, Vermont, will be seeking its second consecutive trip to the Frozen Four. The Catamounts return to post-season action after being eliminated by Boston College in the Hockey East semi-final last Saturday. Versus non-conference opponents this year, they have posted a record of 6-1 that includes wins over tournament participants Denver and Alabama-Huntsville.

Towering senior Brayden Irwin leads the Catamounts in a number of categories, including scoring with 34 points (15 goals, 19 assists) in all 37 games to date.

The player to keep an eye on is freshman David Pacan. The sixth-round draft selection (177th overall) of the Chicago Blackhawks last summer has enjoyed a terrific rookie year for Vermont thus far. He currently ranks second on the team in rookie scoring with 15 points (eight goals, seven assists). Pacan has shown a knack for stepping up at key times too. His three game-winning tallies lead the Catamounts.

Northeast Regional

The Northeast Regional will drop the puck on Saturday when bracket top-seed Boston College faces off against Alaska. The Eagles will be making their 29th appearance while the Nanooks will be making their first-ever tournament appearance since becoming a D-I program back in 1984.

Boston College enters the NCAA Tournament on a nine-game unbeaten streak (8-0-1) that includes capturing their ninth Hockey East Tournament title. In that span, the Eagles have outscored their opponents by a whopping 43-20 margin. Boston College also possesses one of the most high-powered offenses in the nation, currently ranking third and averaging 3.87 goals per game. The team also has the nation’s seventh-best power play squad as well, with an efficiency rating of 21.4 percent.

Sophomore Cam Atkinson (CBJ) leads the team with 46 points (24 goals, 22 assists) playing in all 38 games. Atkinson, an All-Hockey East Second Team selection, has been at his best on special teams this season. Of his 24 goals, 12 have come on special teams – 10 on the power play and two shorthanded.

One player to watch on this Boston College team is freshman Chris Kreider (NYR). After a slow start to his first collegiate season, Kreider really picked things up in the second half. Since returning to the Eagles lineup after the World Junior Championships, he has posted 10 points (nine goals, one assist). Kreider, a Hockey East All-Rookie Team selection, comes into the tournament having posted 24 points (14 goals, seven assists) in 34 games.

Facing off against offensively strong Boston College will be an equally defensively strong University of Alaska team. The Nanooks return to post-season play after Northern Michigan eliminated them in the CCHA Quarterfinals two weekends ago. A rock-solid defense has been behind Alaska’s success this season. The Nanooks currently rank ninth in the nation defensively, allowing an averaging of 2.37 goals per game. Their 90 goals allowed are the fewest behind only Miami in the CCHA.

Senior and CCHA Scholar-Athlete of the Year Dion Knelsen leads Alaska in goal scoring with 19 and shares the team’s scoring lead with 41 points in all 37 games.

The one player to watch on the Nanooks team is freshman sensation and CCHA Rookie of the Year Andy Taranto. The Chicago native exploded onto the CCHA scene this year, winning the conference’s rookie scoring title with 31 points in league play. He currently ranks third in the nation in rookie scoring with 41 points (17 goals, 24 assists). His 24 assists and plus-13 also lead Alaska.

Also in the bracket are second-seeded University of North Dakota and third-seeded Yale University. And this could be a classic offense versus defense chess match. The Fighting Sioux will be making their 25th tournament appearance while the Bulldogs (aka Elis) will be making their fourth appearance.

North Dakota enters the NCAA Tournament undefeated in their last five games and winner of their 14th WCHA Tournament championship. The Fighting Sioux boast a talent-laden roster that includes 16 NHL prospects. The Fighting Sioux have the nation’s fourth-best defense that has allowed an average of 2.10 goals per game. And their penalty killing ranks sixth in the nation with an efficiency rating of just under 87 percent.

Two North Dakota players to watch are freshman Danny Kristo (MON) and sophomore netminder Brad Eidsness (BUF). Kristo came to North Dakota as one of the most highly-touted incoming freshmen and he has more than exceeded expectations. He was named the WCHA Rookie of the Year after a stellar season in which he led the WCHA in rookie goal scoring with 10. He currently ranks eighth in the nation in rookie scoring with 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists) in 40 games. Kristo’s nine power-play tallies also lead the team.

No goaltender saw more minutes this season than Eidsness. The WCHA All-Second Team selection currently leads the nation in minutes played (2328:56). Eidsness definitely benifited from playing behind such a stingy defense, and comes into tournament play with a 24-9-4 record. His 24 wins rank tied for second in the nation. He also currently ranks eighth in the nation in goals against average (2.09) and winning percentage (.703). His save percentage is .915.

The strong North Dakota defense will be in for a challenge by an offensively potent Yale team. The Elis return to post-season play after being handed a stunning defeat by Brown in the ECAC Quarterfinals two weekends ago. Yale brings the nation’s top offense into the NCAA Tournament. To date, the Elis have averaged 4.09 goals per game, playing in the fewest games (32) of any tournament participant. One notable player that will be absent from Yale’s lineup is Ivy League Player of the Year and second-leading goal scorer Sean Backman, who suffered a foot injury in a recent off-ice incident.

The Elis are led by a pair of All-Ivy League First Team selections in speedy junior Broc Little and senior defenseman Thomas Dignard. Little, who was also named to the All-ECAC First Team, is small dynamic offensive player. He leads the Elis with 40 points (26 goals, 14 assists) playing in all 32 games to date. His 26 goals and seven game-winners both rank tied for third in the nation.

Dignard, an All-ECAC Second Team selection, has become one of the ECAC’s best all-around rearguards and a key cog on Yale’s power play. He has appeared in 27 games and posted 26 points (six goals, 20 assists). Dignard’s 26 points also rank him second in the ECAC in defensive scoring.

Midwest Regional

The final bracket to get underway will be the Midwest Regional when top-seeded Miami faces off against Alabama-Huntsville. The RedHawks will be making their eighth appearance while the Chargers will be making their second as a D-I program.

The CCHA’s regular season champion RedHawks were handed a humbling defeat by Michigan in the conference semi-finals last weekend. Nevertheless, the excellent season that Miami has had still garnered them the top overall seed in the tournament. The RedHawks have tremendous depth and features the nation’s top goaltending tandem. Miami is one of three tournament teams that come in ranked in the top 10 in both offense and defense, ranking first and eighth respectively. The RedHawks also lead the nation in scoring margin (+1.59) as well.

Junior Tommy Wingels (SJ) and top 10 Hobey Baker finalist goaltender Cody Reichard lead Miami. Wingels, an All-CCHA Second Team selection, continues to be one of the most dominant players in the conference. He currently ranks third on the team in scoring with 42 points (17 goals, 25 assists) playing in all 41 games. His six power-play goals and 17 overall goals both rank second on the team.

Reichard is one of only two underclassmen (Maine’s Gustav Nyquist is the other) to be named a Hobey Baker top 10 finalist. The CCHA Player of the Year has an 18-4-3 record that includes five shutouts. Reichard is the only goaltender in the tournament that currently ranks in the top five nationally in goals against average (1.79), save percentage (.924) and winning percentage (.780).

Miami’s opponent, Alabama-Huntsville, also has some strong goaltending of their own. The Chargers, who claimed the final CHA Tournament title two weekends ago, is the only tournament participant that comes in with a losing record (12-17-3). While they will have the daunting task of getting by Miami, Alabama-Huntsville can put a scare in the tournament’s top team, as Notre Dame found out in 2007.
Two players to watch on the Chargers roster are juniors Andrew Coburn and netminder Cameron Talbot. Coburn, the brother of Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn, plays with an edge to his game and is quite good around the net. He currently co-leads Alabama-Huntsville with 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists). His plus-2 also ranks second on the team.

Few teams in the nation have relied as heavily on their goaltending as Alabama-Huntsville this season. Talbot, an All-CHA Second Team selection, has been the Chargers workhorse all season, playing all but 37:12 minutes. His excellent performance in backstopping Alabama-Huntsville to the tournament championship earned him MVP honors. Talbot comes in with an 11-17-3 record that includes one shutout.

The final matchup to get underway features two of the nation’s fastest teams, as the bracket’s second-seeded Bemidji State University faces off against the third-seeded University of Michigan. The Beavers will be making their fifth tournament appearance and first as an at-large team. The Wolverines will be making their 33rd overall and an astounding 20th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.

Bemidji State returns to post-season play after a surprising loss to Niagara in the CHA Tournament semi-finals two weekends ago. The Beavers possess a well-balanced team that can match the speed of Michigan. Bemidji State’s defense currently ranks fifth in the nation, while their offense ranks sixth. The Beavers have also had great success against non-conference opponents this season.

Bemidji State is led by junior Matt Read and freshman Jordan George. Read, the CHA Player of the Year has picked up where he left off last season. He currently leads the team with 40 points (19 goals, 21 assists) playing in all 36 games. Read also has the nation’s second-best plus/minus with a plus-29. His three short-handed tallies rank tied for sixth in the nation.

George, the CHA Rookie of the Year, has been one of the nation’s most impressive freshmen this year. He currently ranks tied for sixth in the nation in rookie scoring with 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) in 35 appearances. 

Bemidji State will get quite the test against a resurgent Wolverines team. After an inconsistent regular season, Michigan found their groove in the post-season, defeating Michigan State, Miami and Northern Michigan to claim their ninth CCHA Tournament crown. Two keys behind Michigan’s recent success have been increased offensive production and the excellent goaltending of junior Shawn Hunwick.

Two Wolverines to keep an eye are junior Carl Hagelin (NYR) and freshman Chris Brown (PHO). Hagelin, a CCHA All-Tournament Team selection, has been the most consistent player for Michigan this season and is enjoying his best year in the Maize and Blue. He leads Michigan with 47 points (17 goals, 30 assists) playing in all 43 games. His 47 points also rank tied for 13th in the nation as well.

Brown, a CCHA All-Rookie Team selection, certainly lived up to his billing this season. He leads the Wolverines in rookie scoring with 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists) in 43 games. His seven power-play goals lead the team, while his four game-winners are tied for the team lead.