2015 NCAA Hockey Tournament Preview: BU, UND highlight Northeast and West regionals

By DJ Powers
Jack Eichel - Boston University; Zane McIntyre - University of North Dakota - 2015 NCAA Tournament, Northeast and West Regionals

Photo: Boston University forward Jack Eichel and University of North Dakota goaltender Zane McIntyre are two Hobey Baker top 10 finalists competing in the Northeast and West regionals of the 2015 NCAA Hockey Tournament (courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire (L) and Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images (R))

 

This year’s 16-team field for the 2015 NCAA Hockey Tournament features 103 NHL prospects representing 28 of the 30 NHL teams. The Chicago Blackhawks and the San Jose Sharks lead all teams with seven prospects each in the tournament. The Carolina Hurricanes and the Dallas Stars are the only NHL teams that do not have at least one prospect playing in the tournament.

The tournament also features two of the top three collegians eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft in Boston University freshman Jack Eichel and Boston College freshman defenseman Noah Hanifin.

All of the participating teams in this year’s tournament except RIT have at least three NHL prospects on their rosters (although not all may play). The University of Minnesota leads with 15 prospects followed by the University of North Dakota with 14.

The six teams that have earned the automatic bids into the tournament are: RIT (Atlantic Hockey), Minnesota (Big Ten), Harvard (ECAC), Boston University (Hockey East), Miami (NCHC) and Minnesota State-Mankato (WCHA).

The top seeds in each regional are: Boston University (Northeast), North Dakota (West), Miami (East) and Minnesota State-Mankato (Midwest). Minnesota State-Mankato is the top overall seed in this year’s tournament.

The following is a closer look at the four brackets (in two parts). Part one looks at the Northeast and West regionals that begin on Friday, Mar. 27th and conclude on Saturday, Mar. 28th. Part 2 looks at East and Midwest regionals that begin on Saturday, Mar. 28th and conclude on Sunday, Mar. 29th. The winners of each regional will advance to the Frozen Four on April 9 and 11th at the TD Garden in Boston, MA.

All games will be televised on either ESPNU or ESPN2 as well as streamed on ESPN3.com/Watch ESPN. For Canadian viewers, TSN will broadcast the games. Please check the listings in your area. The times listed are local for that regional.

Northeast Regional
Venue: Verizon Wireless Center, Manchester, NH
Championship game: March 28 at 5:30 PM on ESPN2

#4 Yale University vs. #1 Boston University
TV: ESPNU at 2:00 pm

This year’s marks the first time the two schools have met in the NCAA Tournament. The Terriers and the Bulldogs last met back in November of 2006. This matchup pits one of the nation’s top offensive teams against the nation’s top defensive team.

The Terriers will be making their 33rd tournament appearance and first since 2012. Boston University has experienced a remarkable turnaround from last season, claiming both the Hockey East regular season and tournament titles. The Terriers success has been based in part on their explosive offense that is averaging an NCAA-best 3.89 goals per game.

Leading the way is freshman phenom Jack Eichel. The Hockey East Player and Rookie of the Year centers one of the nation’s most prolific lines that also includes senior Evan Rodrigues and junior Danny O’Regan (SJS). The trio has combined for an astounding 168 points (63 goals, 105 assists) so far this season. Eichel, who was also named one of the 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, leads the nation in a number of categories including points (66), assists (42) and plus/minus (+46).

Junior team captain Matt Grzelcyk (BOS) anchors an excellent and mobile defense. Although the Charlestown, MA native is noted more for his offensive prowess, his defensive side has developed quite nicely and is equally as good. Grzelcyk, an All-Hockey East First Team selection, currently is tied for fourth nationally in scoring among defenseman with 36 points (10 goals, 26 assists) in 37 games to date.

Towering junior Matt O’Connor has assumed the starting job this season and continues to give the Terriers top-notch goaltending. He sports a 22-3-4 record that includes one shutout in 31 appearances to date. O’Connor also currently leads the nation with a .828 winning percentage.

The Bulldogs will be making their seventh appearance and first since winning the National Championship in 2013. Yale, who won the Ivy League title this season, is coming off of a loss to rival Harvard in the ECAC Tournament semi-finals on Mar. 15th.

Like Boston University, the Bulldogs possess excellent team speed, but they are particularly dangerous in transition. Furthermore, Yale possesses the nation’s stingiest defense, allowing an average of just 1.59 goals per game.

Sophomore Alex Lyon, who won the ECAC’s Ken Dryden Award as the conference’s top goaltender, is the backbone of the Bulldogs. He currently leads the nation in goals-against average (1.58), save percentage (.939) and shutouts (7) while sporting a 17-9-5 record in 31 games to date.

The stifling defensive corps in front of Lyon is a nice mix of size, mobility and toughness. Junior Rob O’Gara (BOS), who was named the ECAC’s Best Defensive Defenseman, anchors the Bulldogs blueline. The Nesconset, NY native leads the Bulldogs with 15 assists and a +17 rating in 32 games this season.

Sophomore John Hayden (CHI) is among those leading Yale’s offensive charge up front. The Greenwich, CT native followed up a strong World Junior Championship performance with an excellent second half. Hayden has established himself as a dangerous presence on the Bulldogs power play, where three of seven goals to date having been scored with the mad advantage. Overall, he has amassed 18 points (seven goals, 18 assists) in 28 games.

#3 University of Minnesota vs. #2 University of Minnesota-Duluth
TV: ESPNU at 5:30 PM

The Bulldogs and the Golden Gophers have a long history of facing one another, but this marks just the second time, and first since 2004, that the two teams have faced off in the NCAA Tournament. This contest is a rematch of this year’s North Star College Cup consolation game that took place on Jan. 24th.

The Bulldogs will be making their 24th overall tournament appearance and first since 2012.

In recent weeks, Minnesota-Duluth was marred by injuries and illnesses that eventually led to an unceremonious end to their NCHC Tournament run at the hands of Denver in the conference quarterfinals two weeks ago. The good news is that the Bulldogs head into the NCAA Tournament rested and healthy.

The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect tandem of junior Tony Cameranesi and sophomore Dominic Toninato lead Minnesota-Duluth up front. Cameranesi leads the Bulldogs with 20 assists and 28 points. Toninato leads the team with 20 goals. While both are centers, their contrasting styles have been key cogs to Minnesota-Duluth’s success. Cameranesi has developed into a reliable and creative playmaker while Toninato blends an ultra-aggressive style with excellent finishing ability.

One of the most pleasant surprises for the Bulldogs this season has been the rock solid goaltending of freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo. The Vantaa, Finland native took over the starting job early in the season and has been quite good since. He sports a 17-13-3 record with one shutout in 34 appearances to date. Most recently, he was named to the NCHC All-Rookie Team.

Junior Andy Welinski (ANA) anchors Minnesota-Duluth’s outstanding defensive corps. The local product has provided crucial stability to a Bulldogs blueline that has been plagued with injuries and illnesses this season. He leads all Minnesota-Duluth defensemen with 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 38 games to date. Welinski has been especially good on the Bulldogs special teams; of his nine goals, four have come on special teams – three on the power play and one shorthanded.

The Golden Gophers will be making their fourth consecutive and NCAA-best 36rd overall appearance at the NCAA Tournament.

Minnesota is coming off a strong finish to a rather inconsistent season that culminated with the Big Ten Tournament championship. With 15 drafted players, the Golden Gophers have more prospects on their roster than any other team in this year’s tournament.

Minnesota’s most consistent and dominant player this season has been junior defenseman Mike Reilly (CBJ). The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year not only leads the nation in scoring by a defenseman, but is also among the top scorers overall. Reilly’s 36 assists and 42 points in 38 games both lead the Golden Gophers. His 42 points is also a new career-high.

Offensive production has been one of Minnesota’s strengths this season. The Golden Gophers rank fifth nationally with an offense that is averaging 3.58 goals per game. However, they’ll also be looking for stepped up production from players other than seniors Kyle Rau (FLA) and Travis Boyd (WSH). Rau leads Minnesota with 20 goals, while Boyd leads the team with 10 power play goals. Both rank second and third on the team with 41 and 40 points, respectively.

After a stellar sophomore campaign in 2013-14, junior Adam Wilcox (TBL) hasn’t quite been able to duplicate it this season. Nevertheless, he continues to give the Golden Gophers outstanding goaltending and is playing some of his best hockey right now. Wilcox sports a 22-11-3 record that includes six shutouts in 37 appearances to date.

West Regional
Venue: Scheels Arena, Fargo, ND
Championship game: March 28 at 8:00 PM on ESPNU

#4 Quinnipiac University vs. #1 University of North Dakota
TV: ESPNU at 7:00 pm

This year’s marks the first time the two teams have met in the NCAA Tournament. North Dakota and Quinnipiac last met back in October of 2006. One significant note about this matchup is that both teams will be without the services of their respective top goal scorers.

North Dakota will be making their NCAA-best 13th consecutive and 30th overall tournament appearance.

North Dakota is coming off a disappointing weekend that saw them fall to St. Cloud State and Denver respectively in the NCHC Tournament’s quarter-final and third place games. North Dakota comes into the NCAA Tournament without the services of senior Mark MacMillan (MTL). The Penticton, BC native suffered a season-ending knee injury at the end of February. Prior to his injury, MacMillan had been the motor that drove North Dakota’s offense.

Even with MacMillan out of the lineup, North Dakota will still have plenty of firepower when they open tournament play on Friday. Among the offensive leaders is senior Michael Parks (PHI). The St. Louis, MO native ranks second on North Dakota’s roster with 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) in 39 games this season. Parks has been particularly good on North Dakota’s special teams this season; of his 12 goals, five have come on special teams – three on the power play and two shorthanded.

The defensive tandem of junior Jordan Schmaltz (STL) and sophomore Keaton Thompson (ANA) are among those patrolling North Dakota’s prospect-laden blueline. Schmaltz, an NCHC All-Second Team selection, leads the team in defensive scoring with 27 points (four goals, 23 assists) in 39 games to date. Thompson is one of North Dakota’s most improved players this season. The Devils Lake, ND native has played in 34 games, posting 11 points (three goals, eight assists).

Junior Zane McIntyre (BOS) is in the midst of a career year as one of the nation’s top goaltenders, having recently been named the NCHC Goaltender of the Year. The Thief River Falls, MN native is the only netminder in the NCAA that has been named a top 10 finalist for both the Hobey Baker and Mike Richter awards. McIntyre has appeared in 39 games to date and sports a 27-9-3 record that includes one shutout. His 27 wins rank second nationally, while his .731 winning percentage ranks fifth.

The Bobcats will be making their third consecutive and fourth overall tournament appearance.

Quinnipiac is coming off of a loss to Harvard in their ECAC semi-final match last Friday. The Bobcats enter the NCAA Tournament without the possibility of playing without top sniper and power play specialist, sophomore Sam Anas, but Anas will apparently be in the lineup on Friday night. The Potomac, MD native is nursing a knee injury that he suffered two weeks ago in the ECAC quarter-finals versus Union College.

With the loss of Anas, Quinnipiac will look to other forwards such as senior Matthew Peca (TBL) to help pick up the slack. Peca is in the midst of another outstanding year for the Bobcats. As good as Peca was in the first half, he’s been even better in the second half and is playing some of his best hockey right now. Peca, an All-ECAC First Team selection, currently leads the team with 29 assists and ranks second with 36 points in 38 games to date.

Sophomores Devon Toews (NYI) and Connor Clifton (ARI) are part of the Bobcats’ excellent defensive corps that could match up well against North Dakota. The offensive-minded Toews currently ranks second on the team in scoring by a defenseman with 20 points (four goals, 16 assists) in 30 games. Toews missed time earlier in the season due to injury. The hard-hitting Clifton has played in 37 games to date, posting five points (all assists). Although Clifton is known more for his physicality, he has continually improved his overall defensive game and has become more involved offensively, as well.

Since taking over the starting job last season, junior Michael Garteig has been stellar between the pipes for Quinnipiac. The Prince George, BC native currently sports a 22-9-3 record that includes five shutouts in 35 appearances. Garteig, an All-ECAC Third Team selection, ranks eighth nationally with a .631 winning percentage and 13th with a 2.00 goals-against average.

#3 St. Cloud State University vs. #2 Michigan Tech University
TV: Tape delay at 9 am CST on Mar. 28th on ESPNU. Live streaming on ESPN3.com/Watch ESPN at 3:30 pm on Mar. 27th.

This year’s marks the first time the two teams have met in the NCAA Tournament and, interestingly enough, both teams’ mascots are the Huskies. Michigan Tech and St. Cloud State last met back in March of 2013.

The Michigan Tech Huskies will be making their 11th overall tournament appearance and first since 1981.

Michigan Tech has become one of the best stories coming out of the NCAA this season. After a 34-year absence, the Huskies finally make their return to the NCAA Tournament. Two keys to Michigan Tech’s success are their repressive defense and the sensational goaltending of junior Jamie Phillips (WPG). The Huskies currently rank second in the nation with a defense that has allowed an average of 1.77 goals per game and has surrendered just 71 total goals to date.

Junior Jamie Phillips is the big reason behind Michigan Tech’s stellar defense and his numbers are incredible. He leads the nation with 28 wins and is the only netminder in the tournament to have started all of his team’s games (40) so far. The Caledonia, ON native sports a 28-8-2 record that includes six shutouts. Phillips is the only NCAA goaltender, drafted or otherwise, that currently ranks in the top three nationally in goals-against average (1.71), save percentage (.935) and winning percentage (.763).

The defensive corps in front of Phillips is a stifling one. Anchoring the Huskies predominantly young and excellent blueline is sophomore Cliff Watson (SJS). The hard-hitting Appleton, WI native has played in 39 games, posting 13 points (three goals, ten assists).

Another of Michigan Tech’s strengths is their experienced and deep forward lines led by seniors Tanner Kero and Blake Pietila (NJD). Kero, the WCHA Player of the Year, leads the Huskies with 45 points (19 goals, 26 assists) in 40 games to date. Pietila, who has blossomed into one of the best two-way forwards coming out of the WCHA, has posted 30 points (14 goals, 16 assists) also playing in 40 games.

The St. Cloud State Huskies will be making their third consecutive and 11th overall tournament appearance.

The Huskies come into the NCAA Hockey Tournament after falling to Miami in the NCHC Tournament championship game on Saturday. St. Cloud has been hit hard by recent injuries to key players, notably that of stalwart senior defenseman Andrew Prochno and junior center Kalle Kossila. The good news for the Huskies is that both could potentially return to the lineup when the tournament gets underway on Friday.

Injuries have also forced players such as towering sophomore Ben Storm (COL) to be utilized in different roles. Although Storm is a defenseman, he has played many games as a forward this season. The Laurium, MI native has played in 31 games to date, posting five points (two goals, three assists).

One of the most pleasant surprises for St. Cloud State this season has been the outstanding and steady play of sophomore netminder, Charlie Lindgren. The Lakeville, MN native has appeared in 36 games, posting an 18-17-1 record that includes two shutouts.

The Huskies have great depth and speed on their forward lines. Leading St. Cloud State’s offensive charge is junior Jonny Brodzinski (LAK). The Blaine, MN Native leads the Huskies with 20 goals and ranks second on the team with 37 points in 38 games to date. Brodzinski, an NCHC All-First Team selection, has been especially lethal on the power play; of his 20 goals, 11 have come with the man-advantage, a figure that leads the nation.

Part 1 | Part 2

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