NCAA tournament preview

By DJ Powers

The brackets for the upcoming NCAA Tournament were announced on Sunday. The 16-team field comprises of six automatic bids (conference winners) and ten at-large bids. Boston College, Colorado College, the University of Denver and the University of Minnesota are the top seeds in their respective brackets with Boston College as the top overall seed in the tournament. The Pairwise Rankings (PWR) is used in determining which teams are in the tournament. The U. S. College Hockey Online (USCHO) website provides a thorough explanation of the selection process, which can be found here.

The tournament is made up of four regional brackets: East, Northeast, Midwest and West. Each team is ranked one to four in each bracket, depending upon overall seeding. The tournament uses a 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, etc. format with some exceptions, such as host teams (i.e. Boston University and the University of Minnesota) placed in their respective regional that they host. It is important to note that host schools are NOT automatically given bids to the NCAA Tournament and sometimes do not even make it to the tournament. The NCAA also tries to avoid (whenever possible) having teams in the same conference meet in the opening round of the tournament.

This year the 16-team field breaks down by conference like this: The WCHA has the most teams represented with five, followed by Hockey East with four, the ECACHL with three, the CCHA with two and the Atlantic Hockey and CHA conferences with one apiece.

The tournament’s six conference winners that have earned automatic bids are: Mercyhurst College (Atlantic Hockey), the University of Michigan (CCHA), Bemidji State University (CHA), Cornell University (ECACHL), Boston College (Hockey East) and the University of Denver (WCHA).

The regional semi-finals take place on Friday and Saturday. The regional finals will take place Saturday and Sunday, depending upon the bracket schedules. The Frozen Four semi-finals (the winners of each regional bracket) and the National Championship games will be played on April 7th and 9th respectively at the Schottenstein Center on the campus of the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

Below is a look at each bracket and the teams involved. The numbers in parentheses represent the team’s overall seeding.

EAST REGIONAL

Location: DCU Center, Worcester, MA
Host School: Boston University

1. Boston College (1) vs. 4. Mercyhurst (16)

Top seeded Boston College will face 16th seeded Mercyhurst College in the first match of the East Regional. This will be the first ever meeting between the two schools.

Boston College will be seeking to win their third NCAA Championship (and first since 2001). The Eagles defeated New Hampshire 3-1 on Saturday to capture their sixth Lamoriello Trophy as Hockey East Playoff Champions and the conference’s automatic bid. Hockey East Tournament MVP sophomore Brian Boyle (LA), led the Eagles’ title run. Boston College will be without several key players due to injury, the most notable being top scoring junior (and Hockey East Player of the Year) Patrick Eaves (OTT), who is out with a bruised lung.

This will be Mercyhurst’s third trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Lakers’ most recent trip came in 2003 when they faced Minnesota. Mercyhurst won the Atlantic Hockey Conference title and the automatic bid on Saturday, when they defeated Quinnipiac in a 3-2 overtime thriller. Freshman Ben Cottreau, who captured the Atlantic Hockey Conference’s Rookie of the Year award, is a 2005 NHL Draft eligible player. He is ranked 230th among all North American skaters appearing on Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings.

2. Boston University (12) vs. 3. North Dakota (7)

12th seed and host Boston University will face seventh-seeded North Dakota in the second match of the East Regional. The game will be a rematch of the 1997 National Championship game, where North Dakota defeated BU by a score of 6-4. This will be the fifth NCAA Tournament meeting between the two teams. The match-up features 21 current NHL prospects. However, sophomore Brady Murray (LA) is unlikely to play for UND due to injury.

This year’s NCAA tournament will mark the 28th trip for the BU Terriers, tied for second most in the nation. This will also be head coach Jack Parker’s 20th trip to the tournament, the most among active coaches in the NCAA. The Terriers are coming off of a 5-2 loss to New Hampshire on Friday in the Hockey East semi-finals. Boston University is led by the sensational freshman duo of Chris Bourque (WSH) and Peter MacArthur, both of whom were unanimous selections to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team. MacArthur is a 2005 NHL Draft eligible player, ranked 120th among all North American skaters on Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings.

The North Dakota Fighting Sioux are making their 20th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. They will be looking to win their eighth (and first since 2000) national title. This is UND’s first trip to the NCAA tournament since the departure of longtime head coach Dean Blais. The Sioux are coming off of a 4-2 win over Minnesota in the WCHA Final Five consolation game on Saturday. North Dakota will come into the opening match versus BU with a depleted lineup with sophomores Erik Fabian (knee) and defenseman Robbie Bina (broken neck) joining Murray on the injured list.

NORTHEAST REGIONAL

Location: Mullins Center, Amherst, MA
Host School: University of Massachusetts-Amherst

1. Denver (2) vs. 4. Bemidji State (15)

Second-seeded Denver will face 15th-seeded Bemidji State in the first match of the Northeast Regional. The two teams have never met in the NCAA Tournament since Bemidji State joined the Division I ranks, but they have had two previous regular season meetings, the most recent being in January of 2002 when Denver defeated BSU 6-2.

Denver will be looking to successfully defend their National Championship crown and capture their seventh national title. The Pioneers are coming off of a hard-fought 1-0 win over archrival Colorado College to win the Broadmoor Cup and the WCHA’s automatic bid. Freshman goaltender Peter Mannino set a new school record with his third consecutive shutout in the Saturday night victory. Freshman Paul Stastny, the WCHA’s Rookie of the Year, is a 2005 NHL Draft eligible player, ranked 90th among all North American skaters on Central Scouting Bureau’s mid-term rankings.

The Bemidji State Beavers earned their first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament since moving to Division I after defeating Alabama-Huntsville 3-0 in the CHA Championship game two weekends ago to capture the conference’s automatic bid. Bemidji State will be without the services of top scoring senior (and CHA Player of the Year) Andrew Murray (CBJ). Murray’s collegiate career came to a disappointing end after suffering a broken collarbone in the Beavers regular season finale back on March 5th versus Air Force.

2. New Hampshire (8) vs. 3. Harvard (9)

Eighth seeded New Hampshire will face ninth-seeded Harvard in the second match of the Northeast Regional. The game will be a rematch of the 1994 NCAA Tournament quarterfinals, which saw Harvard defeat New Hampshire 7-1. This match will also feature a combined 18 current NHL prospects.

The New Hampshire Wildcats will be making their 15th appearance (and fourth consecutive) at the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats will also be seeking their first ever NCAA Championship. New Hampshire is coming off of a 3-1 loss to Boston College in the Hockey East Championship game on Saturday. The high-powered trio of senior Sean Collins (COL), sophomore Brett Hemingway (COL) and Hockey East Defensive Forward of the Year, senior Preston Callander lead the offensively potent Wildcats.

This year’s trip to the NCAA Tournament marks the 20th (and fourth consecutive) trip for Harvard. The Crimson will also be looking for their second national title. The Crimson won its lone National Championship back in 1989. In that Tournament, current head coach Ted Donato was named Tournament MVP. Harvard is coming off a 3-1 loss to archrival Cornell in the ECACHL conference title game on Saturday. Harvard senior goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris (PHI), the 2005 recipient of the Walter Brown Award, currently co-leads the nation in save percentage (.947) and is third in goals against average (1.61).

MIDWEST REGIONAL

Location: Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI
Host School: Western Michigan University

1. Colorado College (3) vs. 4. Colgate (14)

Third seeded Colorado College will face 14th-seeded Colgate in the first match of the Midwest Regional. The two schools have never met in the NCAA tournament. They have met six times previously in regular season play. The most recent came back on October 23, 1999 when Colgate defeated Colorado College 3-0. The match will also feature 10 current NHL prospects.

Colorado College will be making its ninth trip in the last 11 years to the NCAA tournament. The Tigers will be seeking their third national championship, and first in nearly half a century. Colorado College is coming off of a disappointing 1-0 loss to in-state rival Denver in the WCHA Final Five Championship game on Saturday. Juniors Brett Sterling (ATL) and Marty Sertich are the nation’s top two scorers.

The Colgate Raiders will be making their fourth appearance in the NCAA tournament, and first since 2000. Colgate will be seeking its first ever Championship title. The Raiders are coming off of an impressive 2-1 win over Vermont in the ECACHL Conference consolation game. Towering senior defenseman Joey Mormina (PHI) was the lone Colgate player named to the ECACHL All-Tournament team after posting three goals this past weekend.

2. Michigan (6) vs. 3. Wisconsin (11)

Sixth seeded Michigan will face 11th seeded Wisconsin in the second match of the Midwest Regional. The game will be a rematch of the second game of this season’s College Hockey Showcase back on November 27th. In that game, the Badgers defeated the Wolverines 3-1. This match features a whopping 26-combined current NHL prospects, more than any other opening match-up in the entire NCAA Tournament. The parade of prospects are led by CCHA Super Six MVP, junior Jeff Tambellini (LA) for Michigan and WCHA All-Conference Second Team selection, sophomore Robbie Earl (TOR) for Wisconsin. The two teams have met each other four times prior to this year’s tournament. The two teams have split the four meetings, with Michigan winning the most recent meeting 4-3 back in 1995.

Michigan will be making its NCAA-best 15th consecutive appearance in the tournament. Overall, this will be the maize and blue’s 28th trip to the tourney, which is tied for second most in the nation. The Wolverines will look to add their tenth NCAA title this year, and first since 1998. Michigan is coming off of a 4-2 win over Ohio State on Saturday night to capture their third Mason Cup and CCHA automatic bid in the last four years.

Wisconsin will be facing a CCHA opponent for the second consecutive year in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Last year, the Badgers faced and defeated Ohio State 1-0 in the Northeast Regional opening game before losing to Maine in the regional final. Wisconsin will be making its 20th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers will be seeking their sixth NCAA Championship and first since 1990. The Badgers are coming off a 3-2 loss to North Dakota in the WCHA Final Five “play-in” game last Thursday.

WEST REGIONAL

Location: Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, MN
Host School: University of Minnesota

1. Minnesota (4) vs. 4. Maine (13)

Fourth seed and host Minnesota will face 13th-seeded Maine in the first match of the West Regional. This game will see a rematch of the thrilling 2002 National Championship game that saw Minnesota defeat Maine 4-3 in overtime. The match will feature 16 combined current NHL prospects. However, Minnesota could be without the services of WCHA All-Rookie Team selection, defenseman Alex Goligoski (PIT), who has a wrist injury.

The Minnesota Golden Gophers will open NCAA Tournament play in the friendly confines of Mariucci Arena. This will be the Gophers’ NCAA-leading 29th trip to NCAA Tournament. Minnesota has also earned a number one seed for the fourth consecutive year. The Gophers will be seeking their sixth (and first since 2003) National Championship. Minnesota is coming off of a 4-2 loss to North Dakota in the WCHA Final Five Consolation Game on Saturday.

The Maine Black Bears will be making their seventh consecutive (and 15th overall) trip to the NCAA Tournament. The seven consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances is the second longest in the nation. The Black Bears will also be seeking their third (and first since 1999) National Championship. Maine is coming off of a heartbreaking 2-1 double overtime loss to Boston College in the Hockey East semi-finals on Friday. Junior goaltender Jimmy Howard (DET), the workhorse of the Black Bears, leads the nation in minutes played with 2247:57, playing in 38 of Maine’s 39 games this season.

2. Cornell (5) vs. 3. Ohio State (10)

Fifth-seeded Cornell will face tenth-seeded Ohio State in the second match of the West Regional. The game will be a rematch of the 2003 Everblades College Classic Tournament Championship game, which was won by Ohio State 4-3.

The Cornell Big Red will be making its 15th NCAA tournament appearance. They will also be seeking their third National Championship title, and first in 35 years. Cornell comes into the tournament as the nation’s hottest team, having gone undefeated in their last 18 games (17-0-1). Cornell is coming off of a 3-1 win over Ivy League rival Harvard on Saturday in the ECACHL Conference title game. Sophomore goaltending sensation David McKee backstops arguably the stingiest defense in the nation. He currently leads the nation in goals against average (1.20) and shutouts (10). He is tied for first in save percentage (.947) and third in winning percentage (.833).

The Ohio State Buckeyes are making their third consecutive and fifth overall appearance in the NCAA tournament. They will also be seeking their first ever National Championship. The Buckeyes are coming off of a 4-2 loss to Michigan in the CCHA Super Six Championship game on Saturday. Freshman Tom Fritsche, a selection to the CCHA’s All-Rookie Team who ranks among the nation’s top scoring rookies, is a 2005 NHL Draft eligible player ranked 105th among all North American skaters on Central Scouting Bureau’s mid-term rankings.

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