2015 NCAA Hockey Tournament Preview: East, Midwest regionals feature strong Minnesota State, Miami squads

By DJ Powers

Joey Laleggia - University of Denver; Jimmy Vesey - Harvard University - 2015 NCAA Tournament - East & Midwest Regionals

Photo: University of Denver defenseman Joey LaLeggia (L) and Harvard University forward Jimmy Vesey (R) are two standouts taking part in the East and Midwest regionals at the 2015 NCAA Hockey Tournament (courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

 

The 16 schools that make up the field for the 2015 NCAA Hockey Tournament have been chosen, with the regionals that makeup the tournament getting underway beginning today. Two of those regionals, the Northeast and West, go off today and were previewed by Hockey’s Future yesterday. The East and Midwest regionals begin tomorrow, and are previewed below.

East Regional
Venue: Dunkin’ Donuts Center, Providence, RI
Championship game: March 29th at 5:00 PM on ESPNU

#4 Providence College vs. #1 Miami University
TV: ESPNU at 6:30 PM

This year’s marks the first time the two teams have met in the NCAA Tournament. Miami and Providence College last met in October of 2013.

The RedHawks will be making their 12th tournament appearance and first since 2013.

Miami comes into the NCAA Tournament after a stellar finish that culminated in capturing the NCHC Tournament championship. However, the RedHawks will also be without two top forwards, junior Riley Barber (WSH) and senior Blake Coleman (NJD), to start the tournament. Barber suffered a knee injury in the NCHC championship game and could potentially miss the remainder of Miami’s postseason. Coleman will be serving a mandatory one-game suspension after being assessed a game-misconduct, his third of the season, during that same game.

Despite the losses of Barber and Coleman, Miami will still be a dangerous team up front due to their tremendous depth. Junior Sean Kuraly (SJS) and sophomore Anthony Louis (CHI) will be among those being relied on to help pick up the slack. Kuraly’s 18 goals rank third on the team, while his nine game-winners and seven power play goals both lead the RedHawks. Louis ranks fourth on the team with 34 points (eight goals, 26 assists).

The speed of Miami isn’t limited to their forwards. The RedHawks defense also possesses excellent speed and mobility. Among them is freshman Louie Belpedio (MIN). The Skokie, IL native has exceeded expectations this season, becoming a vital cog in the RedHawks machine. Belpedio has posted 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 39 games to date. He has been especially good on Miami’s power play, where half of his goals have been scored. Most recently, Belpedio earned a spot on the NCHC All-Rookie Team.

The RedHawks traditionally platoon their goaltenders. While that was the case earlier in the season, junior Jay Williams has since emerged as Miami’s go-to guy between the pipes. The McLean, VA native currently sports a 19-8-0 record that includes five shutouts in 27 games. His 1.89 goals-against average ranks fifth nationally.

Providence College will be making their second consecutive and 11th tournament appearance overall.

While this regional is in the city of Providence, the Friars are not the host team. Providence College enters the NCAA Tournament after a heartbreaking series loss to New Hampshire in the Hockey East quarter-finals two weeks ago.

For the Friars, it all starts with junior netminder Jon Gillies (CGY). The South Portland, ME native is the backbone of Providence College and how he goes, so usually go the Friars. Gillies, an All-Hockey East First Team selection, has appeared in 35 games so far and sports a 20-13-2 record that includes four shutouts. His .931 save percentage ranks second among all goaltending prospects, while his 1.95 goals-against average ranks seventh nationally.

Like Miami, Providence College possesses excellent speed and depth up front. Among those leading the Friars offensive charge is junior Mark Jankowski (CGY). The Dundas, ON native has played in 33 games so far, posting 23 points (six goals, 17 assists). He missed games earlier in the season due to injury and illness. While Jankowski is known more for his playmaking, he has improved his finishing ability, and is shooting far more often this season.

Sophomore Anthony Florentino (BUF) and freshman Jake Walman (STL) are a part of an outstanding and mobile Friars blueline. Both defensemen have posted 12 points each. Florentino has played in 36 games. Walman is one of only five players to have played in all 37 games to date. Florentino and Walman utilize their superb skating quite effectively at both ends of the ice.

#3 Boston College vs. #2 University of Denver
TV: ESPN2 at 3:00 PM

The Pioneers and the Eagles are no strangers to facing one another as this marks the second consecutive year that the two will meet in the NCAA Tournament. This contest is a rematch of last year’s Northeast regional semi-final game that took place on Mar. 29th, 2014. It is also features two of the nation’s best defensive corps.

The Pioneers will be making their eighth consecutive and 26th tournament appearance overall.

Denver comes into the NCAA Tournament after defeating North Dakota in the NCHC Tournament consolation game on Saturday. The Pioneers have tremendous depth throughout their forward lines and defensive corps, and two outstanding young netminders.

Denver has platooned sophomore Evan Cowley (FLA) and freshman Tanner Jaillet all season, including the post-season with Jaillet seeing slightly more games. Both have posted great numbers this season. Cowley has appeared in 20 games, posting a 9-6-2 record that includes three shutouts. Jaillet sports a 14-7-0 record that include one shutout in 25 appearances.

One of the Pioneers strengths is their defense. Senior Joey LaLeggia (EDM) anchors a stellar defensive corps that has been key to Denver’s success this season. The NCHC Player and Defenseman of the Year has posted 38 points (13 goals, 25 assists) in 35 games. His 38 points rank third in the nation among all defensemen. While LaLeggia is noted for his offensive prowess, his vastly improved defensive game has made him a bigger threat on the Pioneers blueline.

Freshman sensation Danton Heinen (BOS) and junior Quentin Shore (OTT) are among those leading Denver’s offensive charge. Heinen made an immediate impact for Denver and has become one of the best and most consistent rookies to emerge in the NCAA this season. The NCHC Rookie of the Year leads the Pioneers with 45 points (16 goals, 29 assists) in 38 games. Shore has posted 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 37 games. The local product has developed a knack for scoring timely goals. Of his 10 goals, four have come on special teams – three on the power play and one shorthanded. Shore also has three game-winners.

The Eagles will be making their sixth consecutive and 34th overall tournament appearance.

Boston College comes into the NCAA Tournament after falling to Vermont in the Hockey East Tournament quarter-finals two weeks ago. The Eagles are one of the nation’s youngest teams this season and have great depth throughout their lineup.

Like Denver, defense is also one of the Eagles strengths this season. Boston College’s predominantly young blueline possesses elite-level skill and tremendous speed. Junior Michael Matheson (FLA) provides both leadership and stability that have been crucial to the Eagles success this season. Matheson has played in all 37 games this season, posting 23 points (two goals, 21 assists). Top freshman Noah Hanifin continues to not only exceed expectations, but is an impact player for Boston College as well. He co-leads all Eagles rearguards with 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in 36 games to date. Most recently, Hanifin was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team.

Sophomore Thatcher Demko (VAN) continues to give Boston College excellent goaltending. After appearing in 25 games last season, Demko has seen significantly more time this season and has risen to the challenge. The San Diego, CA native has appeared in 34 games to date and sports a 19-12-3 record that includes one shutout.

Boston College’s offensive production has come more by committee this season. Leading the Eagles up front are a pair of Minnesota Wild prospects in freshman Alex Tuch and sophomore Adam Gilmour. Tuch leads the team with 28 points (14 goals, 14 assists) in 36 games. He joined teammate Hanifin on the Hockey East All-Rookie Team. Gilmour co-leads Boston College with 17 assists and ranks second with 26 points in 37 games. Gilmour has been particularly good on the power play this season where five of his nine goals have been scored.

Midwest Regional
Venue: Compton Family Ice Arena, South Bend, IN
Championship game: March 29th at 7:30 PM on ESPNU

#4 Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) vs. #1 Minnesota State University-Mankato
TV: ESPNU at 4:00 PM

This year’s tournament marks the first-ever meeting between the two schools – in the NCAA Tournament or otherwise – as Division I programs. This matchup pits two teams with great offensive depth and speed.

The Mavericks will be making their third consecutive and fourth overall tournament appearance. Minnesota State-Mankato has been one of the nation’s most dominant teams this season. The Mavericks effective use of their team speed both offensively and defensively is part of what has made them so successful. Minnesota State-Mankato comes into the NCAA Tournament having captured the WCHA’s regular season and tournament championships.

Another reason behind the Mavericks success can be attributed to the resurgence of junior goaltender Stephon Williams (NYI). The Fairbanks, AK native has been stellar between the pipes this season. He currently leads all goaltending prospects with a 1.64 goals-against average and a .803 winning percentage. He sports a 25-5-3 record that includes five shutouts in 34 games.

Minnesota State-Mankato possesses tremendous depth and experience up front. Among those leading the Mavericks charge are junior Teddy Blueger (PIT) and freshman sensation C.J. Franklin (WPG). Blueger has developed into one of the best two-way forwards coming out of the WCHA. His greatly improved finishing ability has not only increased his goal total but has also allowed him to become a more-well rounded player. Blueger’s linemate Franklin has quietly put together a terrific and consistent rookie campaign that earned him a spot on the WCHA All-Rookie Team. He has amassed 27 points (eight goals, 19 assists) in 36 games so far.

Senior Zach Palmquist anchors Minnesota State-Mankato’s excellent defense that features size, grit and some speed. Palmquist, a WCHA All-First Team selection, is an offensive defenseman who is excellent in transition and plays sound positional defense. He has played in all 39 games to date, posting 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists).

The Tigers will be making their second tournament appearance and first since their magical run to the Frozen Four in 2010.

RIT comes into the NCAA Tournament as the hottest team in the nation. The Tigers, who won the Atlantic Hockey Tournament championship, is on a seven-game winning streak. Like Minnesota State-Mankato, RIT possesses outstanding team speed and great depth up front.

Leading the offensive charge is senior Matt Garbowsky. The Atlantic Hockey Player and Offensive Forward of the Year leads the Tigers with 53 points (26 goals, 27 assists) in 38 games. Garbowsky centers one of the nation’s most lethal lines that also features fellow senior Brad McGowan and junior Josh Mitchell. The trio has combined for a whopping 148 points (64 goals, 83 assists) this season. Furthermore, they have accounted for 16 of RIT’s 22 power play goals this season.

The Tigers have platooned senior Jordan Ruby and sophomore Mike Rotolo all season. Both have put up similar numbers and have played remarkably well. Ruby comes into the tournament with a 10-7-4 record that includes two shutouts in 21 games. Rotolo comes in with a 9-6-1 record that includes one shutout in 17 appearances. Ruby, who backstopped RIT to the Atlantic Hockey Tournament crown, could potentially be tapped as the starter.

Junior Alexander Kuqali anchors a rock solid Tigers defensive corps that is also very young. The Pittsburgh, PA native has posted 21 points (four goals, 17 assists) this season and is the team’s only defenseman that has played in all 38 games. Kuqali has provided both leadership and stability on RIT’s blueline that has contributed to the team’s success.

#3 Harvard University vs. #2 University of Nebraska-Omaha
TV: Tape delay at 8 AM EST on Mar. 29 on ESPNU. Live streaming on ESPN3.com/Watch ESPN at 7:30 PM on Mar. 28

This year’s marks the first time the two schools have met in the NCAA Tournament. The Mavericks and the Crimson last met back in December of 1998. This matchup features two of the nation’s most underrated goaltenders going head-to-head.

Omaha will be making their third tournament appearance and first since 2011.

The Mavericks come into the NCAA Tournament after being bounced from the NCHC Tournament by St. Cloud State two weeks ago.

Being one of the youngest teams in the nation this season has been more of a blessing than a curse for Omaha. The Mavericks rookies have been key contributors to the team’s success. Furthermore, freshmen such as Tyler Vesel (EDM) and David Pope (DET) have also helped fill the hole left by injured senior co-captain Dominic Zombo. Vesel leads Omaha in rookie scoring with 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in 36 games. Pope, who was recently moved up to the Mavericks top line that also includes sophomores Jake Guentzel (PIT) and Austin Ortega, has posted 12 points (seven goals, five assists) in 30 games.

One of Omaha’s strengths is in goal. The Mavericks have relied heavily on senior Ryan Massa this season, and he has responded. The Littleton, CO native sports a 12-7-6 record that includes one shutout in 26 appearances. His record doesn’t tell the whole story, however, as he has been able to steal some crucial games for Omaha that has helped get his team to this year’s tournament.

Junior Brian Cooper (ANA) is one of the anchors of the Mavericks tough and sizable blueline. The Anchorage, AK native has posted 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 36 games this season. Cooper has become more of an offensive contributor while continuing to be a steadying defensive presence.

The Crimson will be making their 22nd tournament appearance and first since 2006.

Harvard comes into the NCAA Tournament after a stellar performance in the ECAC Tournament that culminated with the Whitelaw Cup as tournament champions. The Crimson has been plagued by injuries to key players this season, but now have a healthy roster.

Harvard has gotten excellent production, particularly in the postseason, from their 10 NHL prospects. Among those productive prospects are juniors Jimmy Vesey (NSH) and Colin Blackwell (SJS). Vesey has been one of the nation’s most consistent and dominant players this season. The ECAC and Ivy League Player of the Year currently leads the nation with 31 goals and is tied for second with 57 points in 36 games to date. After missing nearly the last two seasons due to post-concussion issues, Blackwell has become a mainstay in the Crimson lineup since the postseason began. During the current stretch, he has chipped in six points (five goals, one assists) thus far.

Another key player that returned to Harvard’s lineup is senior defenseman Patrick McNally (VAN). The Glen Head, NY native suffered what was originally thought to be a season-ending leg injury back in January. Amazingly, McNally returned to the lineup in the ECAC quarter-finals versus Yale two weeks ago. His return has been especially vital to the Crimson’s power play. Despite being limited to just 20 games this season, McNally has put up some very good numbers. His 21 points (six goals 15 assists) lead the team’s defensemen in scoring.

Senior Steve Michalek (MIN) has been both the backbone and workhorse for Harvard this season. The Glastonbury, CT native has appeared in all 38 games to date and has played all but 65:23 minutes. He currently sports a 21-12-3 record that includes three shutouts. In the ECAC Tournament championship game, Michalek made his 36th start, setting a new Crimson single-season record.

Part 1 | Part 2

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